It is certainly true that in early modern thought the emergence of a new science changed the image of the universe in a mechanistic way. It must be considered, though, that most of the main protagonists of this revolution (Kepler, Newton, Leibniz, ‘biologists’ like Leeuwenhoek, Hartsoeker, Hooke, Malpighi, Redi, etc.) still continued to consider the importance and the utility of a finalistic explanation of natural phenomena. Concepts like “function”, “self-organization”, “organism” have roots in early modern thought: not only from a (...) linguistic and semantic point of view. They were the basis of an epistemology in which different kinds of categories are strictly related. Aim of the paper is to take into account the relevance of the mechanical explanation of natural phenomena in Leibniz’s thought and at the same time to highlight the polarization between mechanical explanations and finalistic consideration that emerges in his philosophy. The specific aim of the paper is to analyze and to develop this kind of dialectic between “teleology” and "mechanism", with particular reference to the concept of “living being”. (shrink)
In this paper, I consider Descartes’ Sixth Meditation dropsy passage on the difference between the human body considered in itself and the human composite of mind and body. I do so as a way of illuminating some features of Descartes’ broader thinking about teleology, including the role of teleological explanations in physiology. I use the writings on teleology of some ancient authors for the conceptual (but not historical) help they can provide in helping us to think about the (...) Sixth Meditation passage. From this, I draw several points, most notably that the Sixth Meditation passage is primarily concerned with the natures of body and composites, and that the issue of teleological explanation is derivative of this primary interest. So, we – and Descartes – must come to terms with what he takes the nature of the composite to be such that it has an intrinsic end-referred nature which grounds teleological explanations. I consider three possibilities: the human composite is a third type of substance – a hylomorphic substance; there is a sort of “satisfaction” relationship between mind and body (each of which retains its own distinct nature in the composite) such that the mind confers teleological value on the body; and there is a sort of “satisfaction” relationship between mind and body (each of which retains its own distinct nature in the composite) such that the mind recognizes teleological value in the body. None of these interpretations is without problems. So in the concluding section, I sketch a program for future research, specifically, trying to render Descartes’ teleological thinking consistent by distinguishing between the metaphysical natures of things (the concern of his Sixth Meditation passage) and the physical natures of things (his concern in his physiological writings). (shrink)
The reigning orthodoxy on biological teleology assumes that teleology either must be reduced (or eliminated) or it depends on a supernatural agent. The dominant orthodox sect rejects supernaturalism and eliminitivism, and, given the poverty of competing views has been allowed to become complacent about the adequacy of favored reductivist accounts. These are beset by more serious problems than proponents acknowledge. Moreover, the assumption underlying orthodoxy is false; there is an alternative scientifically and philosophically plausible naturalistic account of (...) class='Hi'>teleology. We can share reductivists’ realism about biological teleology, embrace ontological and epistemological naturalism about science as well as science’s the ontic authority yet accept sui generis teleology conceived along ontologically emergentist lines. I sketch one such emergentist account, one that deserves serious consideration if supernaturalism and eliminitivism are as impoverished as reductionists believe. (shrink)
Aristotle's has been the most influential philosophy in the whole history of science. Monte Johnson examines its most controversial aspect: Aristotle's emphasis on the importance of goals and purposes to scientific understanding--his teleology. In some cases this policy has proved deeply flawed, for example in his earth-centric cosmology, or his anthropology purporting to justify slavery and male domination. But in many areas Aristotle's teleology has been successful, and remains influential, for example in adaptationist evolutionary theory, embryology, and genetics. (...) Johnson's book shows also how Aristotle's theory has profound implications for environmental ethics and for the theory of value in general. (shrink)
it is one of the central commitments of Leibniz’s mature metaphysics that all substances or monads possess perfect spontaneity, that is, that all states of a given monad originate within it.1 Created monads do not truly interact with each other, for Leibniz. Instead, each one produces all of its states single-handedly, requiring only God’s ordinary concurrence. Several commentators have pointed out that implicit in Leibniz’s view is a distinction between different types of spontaneity: a general type of spontaneity that all (...) monads have perfectly and at all times, and a narrower type of spontaneity that monads possess in only some of their actions. Some commentators make a similar case for two types of teleology:.. (shrink)
Most interpreters think that for Leibniz, teleology is goodness-directedness. Explaining a monadic action teleologically, according to them, simply means explaining it in terms of the goodness of the state at which the agent aims. On some interpretations, the goodness at issue is always apparent goodness: an action is end-directed iff it aims at what appears good to the agent. On other interpretations, the goodness at issue is only sometimes apparent goodness and at other times merely objective goodness: some actions (...) do not aim at what appears good to the agent, but merely at what is objectively good—that is, at what God knows to be good—and that is sufficient for teleology. My paper, on the other hand, argues that both of these interpretations are mistaken. Monadic teleology, I contend, does not have to consist in striving for the good; neither goodness nor God is required to make monadic actions teleological. (shrink)
In this piece I address the question of how the two parts of the *Metaphysics of Morals* are to be related to each other through invocation of the notion of practical schematism. In the process I argue that understanding the notion of moral teleology will help us address the relationship between Kant's principles of right, virtue and the categorical imperative.
Part I [sections 2–4] draws out the conceptual links between modern conceptions of teleology and their Aristotelian predecessor, briefly outlines the mode of functional analysis employed to explicate teleology, and develops the notion of cybernetic organisation in order to distinguish teleonomic and teleomatic systems. Part II is concerned with arriving at a coherent notion of intentional control. Section 5 argues that intentionality is to be understood in terms of the representational properties of cybernetic systems. Following from this, section (...) 6 argues that intentional control needs to be seen as a particular type of relationship between the system and its environment. (shrink)
Kant’s treatment of teleology and life in the Critique of the Power of Judgment is complicated and difficult to interpret; Hegel’s response adds considerable complexity. I propose a new way of understanding the underlying philosophical issues in this debate, allowing a better understanding of the underlying structure of the arguments in Kant and Hegel. My new way is unusual: I use for an interpretive lens some structural features of familiar debates about freedom of the will. These debates, I argue, (...) allow us to see more clearly the underlying structure of a great many philosophical issues. Aside from some suggested avenues of approach, however, I do not aim to interpret what Kant or Hegel has to say about freedom of the will. The idea is to use this interpretive lens to better understand the philosophical issues at stake in their disagreement concerning teleology and life. This will clarify the precise philosophical burden that must be met by Kant’s argument in defense of his skepticism, and why his case has considerable philosophical force. But it will also explain why Kant’s argument itself inevitably provides the opening for Hegel’s reply, and sets a standard that Hegel will meet in a surprising way. Finally, this approach will explain why we can learn a great deal from the philosophical arguments in Kant and Hegel about this topic, despite the intervening years of such great progress in the biological sciences: by looking to Kant and Hegel we can better understand the structure of underlying philosophical terrain of the issues concerning teleology and life—terrain we are still fighting over today. (shrink)
Meteorology IV.12, the final chapter of Aristotle’s “chemical” treatise, is a major text for the traditional view that Aristotle believed in universal teleology, the idea that everything in the cosmos—including the elements, earth, water, air, and fire—is what it is because of the goal or good it serves. But in the context of the rest of Meteorology IV, a different picture emerges. Meteorology IV.1–11 analyze the dispositional properties of material compounds (malleability, elasticity, etc.), examine the behavior of stuffs when (...) heated and cooled, and provide the resources to classify kinds in terms of their material composition and dispositional properties. Meteorology IV.12 places itself within that larger investigation but takes a different approach, examining those same materials from the perspective of their functions in bodies of greater complexity (e.g., the function of flesh in an organism). I argue that the teleological account of, say, the elements is limited to their function in the composition of complex kinds, such as living organisms, and that outside such a complex the elements behave as they do, not for the sake of some good they serve but “of necessity,” according to their material natures and interactions with other materials. (shrink)
Michael Tyeâ€™s considered position on visual experience combines representationalism with externalism about color, so when considering spectrum inversion, he needs a principled reason to claim that a person with inverted color vision is seeing things incorrectly. Tyeâ€™s responses to the problem of the inverted spectrum ( 2000 , in: Consciousness, color, and content, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA and 2002a , in: Chalmers (ed.) Philosophy of mind: classical and contemporary readings, Oxford University Press, Oxford) rely on a teleological approach to (...) the evolution of vision to secure the grounds upon which people with normal color vision can be justly called â€˜rightâ€™ and those with inverted color vision can be called â€˜wrongâ€™. I demonstrate that since the inverted spectrum thought experiment requires that both sorts of vision be behaviorally indistinguishable, no biologically acceptable concept of teleology will allow Tye to draw the distinction he needs. (shrink)
The main claim in this paper is that because organisms have teleological constitutions, the reduction of biology to physical science is not possible. It is argued that the teleology of organisms is intrinsic and not merely projected onto them. Many organic phenomena are end-oriented and reference to ends is necessary for explaining them. Accounts in terms of functions or goals are appropriate to organic parts and processes. siis is because ends as systemic requirements for survival and health have explanatory (...) significance with respect to the processes that contribute to and constitute them. Reductionism cannot accommodate this sort of higher-level to lower-level explanation and so cannot account for why lower-level phenomena are as they are. Reductionism, it is claimed, is ultimately descriptive and not explanatory because it cannot regard teleological requirements as themselves basic. In seeking to explain them away it forfeits explanatory power. (shrink)
Situation theory, as developed by Barwise and his collaborators, is used to demonstrate the possibility of defining teleology (and related notions, like that of proper or biological function) in terms of higher order causation, along the lines suggested by Taylor and Wright. This definition avoids the excessive narrowness that results from trying to define teleology in terms of evolutionary history or the effects of natural selection. By legitimating the concept of teleology, this definition also provides promising new (...) avenues for solving long standing problems in the philosophy of mind, such as the problems of intentionality and mental causation. (shrink)
Santayana's epiphenomenalism is best understood as part of his thinking about teleology and final causes. Santayana makes a distinction between final causes, which he rejects, and teleology, which he finds ubiquitous. Mental causation is identified with a doctrine of final causes which he argues is an absurd form of causation. Thus mental causes are rejected and Santayana embraces epiphenomenalism.
Revaluation of the problem of natural teleology seems an important precondition for elucidating our environmental crisis and for formulating an 'econological ethics', because it calls for a recognition of an intrinsic value in nature and organisms. Therefore, it is necessary to show that the concept of natural teleology is not in contradiction with scientific theories, in particular not with the theory of evolution. In this paper I shall argue that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the concepts of (...)teleology and chance in modern thinking. This as a result of a radical transformation of the Aristotelian concept of teleology by Christian theologians during the Middle Ages. This confusion resulted in the rejection of teleology from evolution and in an exaggeration of the role of chance. However, not a solution for the problem of teleology is given here, but only an attempt to prove that neither the fossil-record, nor the role of chance in evolution can give adequate arguments for the negation of teleology in evolution. That is not to say that, therefore there exists teleology in evolution, but the problem of teleology in nature cannot, be solved by the scientific theory of evolution, but only be elucidated by philosophical analysis. At the end of the paper it is argued that teleology must be rather presupposed in evolution. (shrink)
Against the background of the current discussion about self-organization theories and complexity theories and their application within biology and ecology, the question of teleology gains a new significance. Some scholars insist on the total elimination of any reference to teleology from the realm of the natural sciences. However, it seems especially hard to eradicate teleological expressions from scientific language when the issue of understanding living beings is at stake. For this reason, other scholars opt for a middle path (...) that allows for some teleological language. Yet, it is an open question whether teleological expressions are to be considered as playing a merely metaphorical or a necessary heuristic role in the sciences. Moreover, the ontological presuppositions, which underpin different positions in the debate, need to be depicted and analyzed. This paper aims at addressing the question of teleology within the life sciences by taking into account both Kant’s critical philosophy and Whitehead’s ontology. My analysis starts with Georg Toepfer’s distinction among different concepts of teleology and then focuses on the role of “internal purposiveness” (innere Zweckmäßigkeit) for biology today. I show how purposiveness (Zweckmäßigkeit; hereafter: ZM) corresponds to a very complex form of reciprocal causation (Wechselwirkung) rather than to any model of final causation. Drawing on Kant’s analysis of “natural purposes” in the Critique of Judgment as well as selforganization theory, I claim that reciprocal causation – however complex it might well be – is not sufficient to describe living beings adequately. However, since the natural sciences are still caught up in the presuppositions of modern scientistic and materialistic ontology, a step beyond mere efficient causation seems to be impossible within their methodological framework. And yet, as I will show, a genuine teleology of nature implies the idea of anticipation of totality. This kind of teleological consideration is presented at first in its role as a regulative concept in Kantian terms. Finally, I follow the path of Whitehead’s ‘philosophy of organism’ and claim for natural teleology the state of a necessary ontological presupposition. Whitehead’s ontology offers an ontological underpinning for teleological issues that, by avoiding any recourse to supernatural forces, invites life and natural sciences to a fruitful dialogue at the limit of their methodological boundaries, pressing them beyond their unreflected presuppositions. (shrink)
A comprehensive definition of the phenomenon called "life" led to the addition of many dimensions to the natural sciences, and especially the conscious mental dimension. Historical attention is paid not only to those employing the natural philosophical paradigms, but also to evolutionary theories and to the Kantian teleological philosophy. The belief that science can solve the riddle of life is a category of purposal thinking. A revised version of critical teleology is essential for comprehension of life.
Teleological variations of non-deterministic processes are defined. The immediate past of a system defines the state from which the ordinary (non-teleological) dynamical law governing the system derives different possible present states. For every possible present state, again a number of possible states for the next time step can be defined, and so on. After k time steps, a selection criterion is applied. The present state leading to the selected state after k time steps is taken to be the effective present (...) state. Hence, the present state of a system is defined by its past in the sense that the past determines the possible states that are to be considered, and by its future in the sense that the selection of a possible future state determines the effective present state. A system that obeys this type of teleological dynamics may have significantly better performance than its non-teleological counterpart. The basic reason is that evolutions that are less optimal for the present time step, but which lead to a higher optimality after k time steps, may be preferred. This abstract concept of teleology is implemented for two concrete systems. First, it is applied to a general method for function approximation and classification problems. The method at issue treats all problems handled by conventional connectionism, and is suited for information with inner structure also. Second, it is applied to a dynamics in which forms of maximal homogeneity have to be produced. The relevance of the latter dynamics for generative art is illustrated. The teleology is `deep' in the sense that it is situated at the cellular level, in contradistinction with the teleology that is usually met in cognitive contexts, and which refers to macroscopic processes such as making plans. It is conjectured that deep level teleology is useful for machines, even though the issue if natural systems use this teleology is left open. (shrink)
In Aristotle's teleological view of the world, natural things come to be and are present for the sake of some function or end. Whereas much of recent scholarship has focused on uncovering the physical underpinnings of Aristotle's teleology and its contrasts with his notions of chance and necessity, this book examines Aristotle's use of the theory of natural teleology in producing explanations of natural phenomena. Close analyses of Aristotle's natural treatises and his Posterior Analytics show what methods are (...) used for the discovery of functions or ends that figure in teleological explanations, how these explanations are structured, and how well they work in making sense of phenomena. The book will be valuable for all who are interested in Aristotle's natural science, his philosophy of science, and his biology. (shrink)
Constitutivists seek to locate the metaphysical foundations of ethics in nonnormative facts about what is constitutive of agency. For most constitutivists, this involves grounding authoritative norms in the teleological structure of agency. Despite a recent surge in interest, the philosophical move at the heart of this sort of constitutivism remains underdeveloped. Some constitutivists—Foot, Thomson, and Korsgaard (at least in her recent *Self-Constitution*)—adopt a broadly Aristotelian approach. They claim that the functional nature of agency grounds normative judgments about agents in much (...) the same way that the functional natures of artifacts and bodily organs ground normative judgments about those kinds of things. I argue that the neo-Aristotelian conclusions about goodness which follow so straightforwardly from teleological premises are not genuinely normative. Functions are not by their very nature normatively significant. Other constitutivists—notably J. David Velleman and Paul Katsafanas—eschew Aristotelian talk of functions in favor of an approach based on the idea that agency has a constitutive aim. Velleman and Katsafanas both claim that aims are normatively significant. I argue that the fact that agency has a constitutive aim is merely a fact about the motives that produce and regulate actions. And so we are still left with a gap between the teleological and the normative. I conclude by suggesting that constitutivists have failed to find a way to bridge this gap not because none exists, but rather because they have been looking in the wrong place. The constitutivist project can be salvaged, but only if it is supplemented with a reductive metanormative account of reasons for action, an account that links reasons to sound or successful practical reasoning. (shrink)
Despite the renewed interest in Aristotle’s Generation of Animals in recent years, the subject matter of GA V, its preferred mode(s) of explanation, and its place in the treatise as a whole remain misunderstood. Scholars focus on GA I-IV, which explain animal generation in terms of efficient-final causation, but dismiss GA V as a mere appendix, thinking it to concern (a) individual, accidental differences among animals, which are (b) purely materially necessitated, and (c) are only tangentially related to the topics (...) discussed in the earlier books. In this paper, we defend an alternative and more integrated account of GA V by closely examining Aristotle’s methodological introduction in GA V.1 778a16-b19 and his teleological explanation of the differences of teeth in GA V.8. We argue for the unity of both GA V and of GA as a whole and present a more nuanced theory of teleological explanation in Aristotle’s biology. (shrink)
In this paper I examine the role of optimality reasoning in Aristotle’s natural science. By “optimality reasoning” I mean reasoning that appeals to some conception of “what is best” in order to explain why things are the way they are. We are first introduced to this pattern of reasoning in the famous passage at Phaedo 97b8-98a2, where (Plato’s) Socrates invokes “what is best” as a cause (aitia) of things in nature. This passage can be seen as the intellectual ancestor of (...) Aristotle’s own principle, expressed by the famous dictum “nature does nothing in vain but always what is best for the substance from among the possibilities concerning each kind of animal” (Progression of Animals II, 704b12-18). The paper is focused around exploring three questions that arise in connection with Aristotle’s use of this optimality principle: (1) How do we understand the concept of “the best” at work in the principle? (2) How does Aristotle conceive of “the range of possibilities”? And, finally, (3) what role does optimality reasoning play in Aristotle’s natural science? Is it a special form of demonstration in which the optimality principle functions as one of its premises, or is it a heuristic device that helps uncover those causally relevant features of a natural substances that ultimately serve as middle terms in demonstrations? In the final section I return to the comparison between Plato and Aristotle and argue that, while both see the natural world as the product of an optimizing agent and while both see this assumption as licensing a pattern of reasoning that appeals to a certain conception of “the best”, they disagree fundamentally over what the optimization agent is and how it operates. Thus, despite their general agreement, it would be a mistake to think that Aristotle simply took over Plato’s use of optimality reasoning without significant modifications. (shrink)
Thought experiments de facto play many different roles in biology: economical, ethical, technical and so forth. This paper, however, is interested in whether there are any distinctive features of biological TEs as such. The question may be settled in the affirmative because TEs in biology have a function that is intimately connected with the epistemological and methodological status of biology. Peculiar to TEs in biology is the fact that the reflexive, typically human concept of finality may be profitably employed to (...) discover mechanical-experimental causal relations in all living beings—with the obvious caveat that we do not hypostatise and interpret this concept as an ontological quality, since this would land one in an implicitly animistic, pre-Galilean view of nature. From a methodical point of view, the concept of finality is an essential assumption as well as a powerful heuristic tool in the practice of biology, that is, in the investigation of living beings in an intersubjectively testable and reproducible way. (shrink)
This is a short overview of the biological functions debate in philosophy. While it was fairly comprehensive when it was written, my short book A Critical Overview of Biological Functions has largely supplanted it as a definitive and up-to-date overview of the debate, both because the book takes into account new developments since then, and because the length of the book allowed me to go into substantially more detail about existing views.
I argue for a teleological account of events in progress. Details aside, the proposal is that events in progress are teleological processes. It follows from this proposal that final causes are ubiquitous: anything happening at any time is an event with a telos.
This paper connects two ideas. The first is that some common responses to ethical views are responses to their degrees of pragmatism, where a view’s degree of pragmatism is its sensitivity to ethically relevant changes in the actor’s circumstances. I claim that we feel the pull of opposing pro-pragmatic and antipragmatic intuitions in certain cases. This suggests a project, of searching for an ethical view capable of doing justice to these opposing intuitions in some way. The second central idea is (...) that a theory of pattern-based reasons looks more promising than the obvious alternatives to fulfil this role, amongst Teleological theories at least. Pattern-based reasons are reasons to perform some action because of the goodness or rightness of a larger pattern of action—such as a pattern that a group could perform or that the actor could perform over an extended period—of which the immediate action is a mere part. Existing theories of such reasons share two features that prevent them explaining the intuitions we wish to explain: they consider only one pattern at a time (they are monist), and they treat patterns as eligible only if the agents concerned are willing to realise them (they accept the Willingness Requirement). But we need not accept these doctrines. Moreover, a theory of patternbased reasons without them is able to explain the pro- and anti-pragmatic intuitions in an elegant way, and has other attractive features. (shrink)
In Aristotle's biological works, there is an apparent conflict between passages which seem to insist that only hypothetical necessity (anagk ex hypotheses) operates in the sublunary world, and passages in which some biological phenomena are explained as simply (hapls) necessary. Parallel to this textual problem lies the claim that explanations in terms of simple necessity render teleological explanations (in some of which Aristotle puts hypothetical necessity to use) superfluous. I argue that the textual conflict is only apparent, and that Aristotle's (...) notion of coincidental sameness allows him to avoid the superfluity problem. (shrink)
In this paper I examine Aristotle's account of sexual difference in Generation of Animals, arguing that Aristotle conceives of the production of males as the result of a successful teleological process, while he sees the production of females as due to material forces that defeat the norms of nature. My suggestion is that Aristotle endorses what I call the "degrees of perfection" model. I challenge Devin Henry's attempt to argue that Aristotle explains sex determination exclusively with reference to material necessity (...) (in particular, levels of "vital heat" in the male semen), for Aristotle's notion of "sufficient" or "deficient" vital heat is itself teleological. If, as Aristotle is aware, male and female embryos appear with approximately equal frequency in most species, how, in light of Physics II, can he conceive of the former as in accordance with nature, and the latter as somehow contrary to nature? My proposal is that Aristotle's notion of what happens usually (ως επì τò πoλυ) is bifurcated: the usual need not be more frequent. (shrink)
Most contemporary metaphysicians think that a teleological approach to mereological composition and the whole-part relation should be ignored because it is an obsolete view of the world. In this paper, I discuss Descartes’s conception of individuation and composition of material objects such as stones, machines, and human bodies. Despite the fact that Descartes officially rejected ends from his philosophy of matter, I argue, against some scholars, that to appeal to the notion of disposition was a way for him to maintain (...) teleological reference within a mechanistic conception of nature. Through a study of Descartes’s texts, I also want to make clear why it might be difficult to entirely ignore teleological notions, when one wants to account for composition and unity of material objects. (shrink)
This article is the sequel to 'Intentionality and Modern philosophical psychology, I. The modern reduction of intentionality,' (Philosophical Psychology, 3 (2), 1990) which examined the view of intentionality pioneered by Carnap and reaching its apotheosis in the work of Daniel Dennett. In 'Intentionality and modem philosophical psychology, II. The return to representation' (Philosophical Psychology, 4(1), 1991) I examined the approach to intentionality which can be traced back to the work of Noam Chomsky but which has been given its canonical treatment (...) in the work of Jerry Fodor. In this article, the last in the series, I explore a very recent approach to intentionality which has been associated especially with the work of Ruth Garrett Millikan and Colin McGinn, and might, if the phrase were not so rebarbative, be called “the biologizing of intentionality'. (shrink)
I focus on Fodor’s model of the relationship between special sciences and basic physics, and on a criticism of this model, that it implies that the causal stability of, e.g., the mental in its production of behaviour is nothing short of a miraculous coincidence. David Papineau and Graham Macdonaldendorse this criticism. But it is far less clear than they assume that Fodor’s picture indeed involves coincidences, which in any case their injection of a teleological supplement cannot explain. Papineau’s and Macdonald’s (...) problem is subtly different from a similar one presented by Adrian Cussins. This is no more effective against Fodor’s picture, but the kind of account of the relation between the physical and the psychological which could constitute a solution to Cussins’ problem is one which, for independent reasons, a physicalist of Fodor’s stripe ought to provide. (shrink)
This work is an examination of teleological attributions i.e. ascriptions of proper functions and natural ends) to the features and behavior of living things with a view to understanding their application to human life.