What is teleology? Teleology in philosophy Types of teleogy


For millenia, philosophers believed that nature was full of goal-directed processes.
In modern times, this idea fell out of favour.
Quarks and electrons have no goals, and everything is reducible to their interactions...
...isn't it?

What is teleology?

The term “teleology” covers a wide range of phenomena that involve performing some function or seeking, or occurring for the sake of, some goal.

Traditionally, teleology was thought to be a pervasive, irreducible feature of nature. In more modern times, it is usually treated as reducible to blind physical processes.

Teleology crops up in many areas of philosophy.

Philosophy of Biology
Why does the heart pump blood? Is it a matter of mere evolutionary advantage, a fortuitous mutation that aided survival? Or is the good of the organism in play?
Philosophy of Language
Do words have meaning in virtue of their functional role—for example, in virtue of their role in survival? Proponents of teleosemantics say “yes”. Others disagree.
Philosophy of Action
Can intentional action be reduced to physical processes within the human brain? Donald Davidson thinks these are two sides of the same coin. Others disagree.
Are there irreducibly goal-directed processes? If there are, do they entail supernaturalism? An interesting “yes/no” proposal has been suggested by Thomas Nagel.
Has morality an intrinsic aim to it? Does human nature set a goal for us that we ought to achieve? Virtue ethicists and consequentialists tend to believe that ethics is teleological, while Kantians typically deny that it is.
Philosophy of Religion
Theists believe that God created the world with specific goals in mind. A number of philosophers have tried to construct arguments for God's existence based on this idea.
Everything that nature makes is for the sake of something. For just as art is present in the products of art, so in the things themselves there is evidently an analogous cause or principle. And that the heaven, if it had an origin, was generated and is maintained by such a cause, there is therefore even more reason to believe.
Aristotle: The Parts of Animals (641b10–24)
If we ask ‘What does a cat have sharp, curved claws for?’ and answer simply ‘To catch mice with,’ this does not imply a profession of any mythical teleology.
Konrad Lorenz: On Agression

The reality of teleology: options

We see that certain things lacking awareness, viz, natural bodies, move so as to attain a goal. Nothing however that lacks awareness tends to a goal, except under the direction of someone with awareness and with understanding; the arrow, for example, requires an archer. Everything in nature, therefore, is directed to its goal by someone with understanding and this we call ‘God’.
Aquinas: Summa Theologiae (I, q2 a3 c)
The predicaments of contemporary philosophy, whether analytic or deconstructive, are best understood as arising as a long-term consequence of the rejection of Aristotelian and Thomistic teleology at the threshold of the modern world.
Alasdair MacIntyre: First Principles, Final Ends