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Teleology is the study of the purpose or design of natural occurrences. A teleology is any philosophical account that holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that, analogous to purposes found in human actions, nature inherently tends toward definite ends. Teleologies may be formulated as natural, human, or in terms of a deity. Telic accounts tend toward a goal or definite end, and may thus be interpreted as opposing mechanistic accounts.

CONTENT : A - F , G - L , M - R , S - Z , See also , External links


Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author

A - F[edit]

  • Because the Systems Age is teleologically oriented, it is preoccupied with systems that are goal-seeking or purposeful, that is, systems that can display choice of either means or ends, or both. It is interested in purely mechanical systems only.
  • If teleological study of the world is philosophy, and if the Law commands such a study, then the Law commands philosophy.
    • Averroes, The Decisive Treatise, Determining the Nature of the Connection between Religion and Philosophy (12th century)
    • FM 44 as cited in: Oliver Leaman (2002) An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy. p. 179
  • As we divided natural philosophy in general into the inquiry of causes, and productions of effects: so that part which concerneth the inquiry of causes we do subdivide according to the received and sound division of causes. The one part, which is physic, inquireth and handleth the material and efficient causes; and the other, which is metaphysic, handleth the formal and final causes.
  • This misplacing hath caused a deficience, or at least a great improficience in the sciences themselves. For the handling of final causes, mixed with the rest in physical inquiries, hath intercepted the severe and diligent inquiry of all real and physical causes, and given men the occasion to stay upon these satisfactory and specious causes, to the great arrest and prejudice of further discovery. For this I find done not only by Plato, who ever anchoreth upon that shore, but by Aristotle, Galen, and others which do usually likewise fall upon these flats of discoursing causes.
    • Francis Bacon, The Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605)
  • The natural philosophy of Democritus and some others, who did not suppose a mind or reason in the frame of things, but attributed the form thereof able to maintain itself to infinite essays or proofs of nature, which they term fortune, seemeth to me... in particularities of physical causes more real and better inquired than that of Aristotle and Plato; whereof both intermingled final causes, the one as a part of theology, and the other as a part of logic, which were the favourite studies respectively of both those persons. Not because those final causes are not true, and worthy to be inquired, being kept within their own province; but because their excursions into the limits of physical causes hath bred a vastness and solitude in that tract.
    • Francis Bacon, The Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605)
  • The simultaneity of the disappearance of literature (as aesthetic) and history (as development), which we can observe around us in the academy, points to a fundamental commonality; unraveling one implies unraveling the other, since both are grounded in the same goal-oriented structures that postmodern sensibility opposes. Both civilizational history and autonomous literature are constitutively teleological, dependent on notions of progress toward goals, and they both therefore face resistance from the antidevelopmentalism of contemporary intellectual life.
    • Russell Berman, Fiction Sets You Free: Literature, Liberty and Western Culture (2007)
  • What in the whole denotes a causal equilibrium process, appears for the part as a teleological event.
  • Mechanism... provides us with no grasp of the specific characteristics of organisms, of the organization of organic processes among one another, of organic 'wholeness', of the problem of the origin of organic 'teleology', or of the historical character of organisms... We must therefore try to establish a new standpoint which — as opposed to mechanism — takes account of organic wholeness, but... treats it in a manner which admits of scientific investigation.
  • Today our main problem is that of organized complexity. Concepts like those of organization, wholeness, directiveness, teleology, control, self-regulation, differentiation and the like are alien to conventional physics. However, they pop up everywhere in the biological, behavioural and social sciences, and are, in fact, indispensable for dealing with living organisms or social groups. Thus, a basic problem posed to modern science is a general theory of organization.
    • Ludwig von Bertalanffy, "General System Theory" (1956) in General Systems, Yearbook of the Society for General Systems Research, vol. 1, 1956
  • A second possible approach to general systems theory is through the arrangement of theoretical systems and constructs in a hierarchy of complexity, roughly corresponding to the complexity of the "individuals" of the various empirical fields... leading towards a "system of systems."… I suggest below a possible arrangement of "levels" of theoretical discourse. ...(vi) ...the "animal" level, characterized by increased mobility, teleological behavior and self-awareness...
  • For the Middle Ages man was in every sense the centre of the universe. The whole world of nature was believed to be teleologically subordinate to him and his eternal destiny. Toward this conviction the two great movements which had become united in the medieval synthesis, Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian theology, had irresistibly led.
  • The image of Gaia as a sentient being was the main implicit argument for the rejection of the Gaia hypothesis after its publication. Scientists expressed it by claiming that the hypothesis was unscientific because it was teleological...
  • By strenuously opposing vitalist and teleological arguments, the mechanists still struggle with the Newtonian metaphor of God as a clockmaker. The currently emerging theory of living systems has finally overcome the debate between mechanism and teleology. views living nature as mindful and intelligent without the need to assume any overall design or purpose.
  • The attachment to a rationalistic, teleological notion of progress indicates the absence of true progress; he whose life does not unfold satisfyingly under its own momentum is driven to moralize it, to set up goals and rationalize their achievement as progress.
  • A teleology directed to material ends has been substituted for the lust for adventure, variety, and play.
  • The universe was a language with a perfectly ambiguous grammar. Every physical event was an utterance that could be parsed in two entirely different ways, one causal and the other teleological.
  • Nothing can be more hopeless than to attempt to explain this similarity of pattern in members of the same class, by utility or by the doctrine of final causes.
  • Saussure... winds up contradicting the most interesting critical motive of the Course, making of linguistics the regulatory model, the "pattern" for a general semiology of which it was to be, by all rights and theoretically, only a part. The theme of the arbitrary, thus, is turned away from its most fruitful paths (formalization) toward a hierarchizing teleology... One finds exactly the same gesture and the same concepts in Hegel.
  • Greek and medieval knowledge accepted the world in its qualitative variety, and regarded nature's processes as having ends, or in technical phrase as teleological. New science was expounded so as to deny the reality of all qualities in real, or objective, existence. Sounds, colors, ends, as well as goods and bads, were regarded as purely subjective — as mere impressions in the mind. Objective existence was then treated as having only quantitative aspects — as so much mass in motion, its only differences being that at one point in space there was a larger aggregate mass than at another, and that in some spots there were greater rates of motion than at others. Lacking qualitative distinctions, nature lacked significant variety. Uniformities were emphasized, not diversities; the ideal was supposed to be the discovery of a single mathematical formula applying to the whole universe at once from which all the seeming variety of phenomena could be derived. This is what a mechanical philosophy means.
  • Not til the late nineteenth century was the doctrine of the subordination of time and change seriously challenged. Bergson and William James, animated by different motives and proceeding by different methods, then installed change at the very heart of things. Bergson took his stand on the primacy of life and consciousness, which are notoriously in a state of flux. He assimilated that which is completely real in the natural world to them, conceiving the static as that which life leaves behind as a deposit as it moves on. From this point of view he criticized mechanistic and teleological theories on the ground that both are guilty of the same error, although from opposite points. Fixed laws which govern change and fixed ends toward which changes tend are both the products of a backward look, one that ignores the forward movement of life. They apply only to that which life has produced and has then left behind in its ongoing vital creative course, a course whose behavior and outcome are unpredictable both mechanistically and from the standpoint of ends.
  • Teleology is not the antithesis of causality, but subordinate to it. It is, of course, inadmissible to consider "final causes" as implying that an object or end is capable of having effect. No event that has not yet taken place can possibly act. But results are caused by the keeping of the end in view, and it is in this way that the final becomes an efficient cause. These final efficient causes are not in the slightest degree metaphysical, for they derive from organic matter.
  • Within science, all causes must be local and instrumental. Purpose is not acceptable as an explanation... Action at a distance, either in space or time, is forbidden. Especially, teleological influences of final goals upon phenomena are forbidden. ...The choice of laws of nature, and the choice of initial conditions for the universe, are questions belonging to meta-science and not to science. ...Teleology is not forbidden when explanations go ...into meta-science. The most familiar example of a meta-scientific explanation is the so-called Anthropic Principle. ...It accords with the spirit of modern science that we have two complementary styles of explanation, the teleological style allowing a role for purpose in the universe at large, and the non-teleological style excluding purpose...
  • Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future,
    And time future contained in time past.
    What might have been and what has been
    Point to one end, which is always present.
    ...Desire itself is movement
    Not in itself desirable;
    Love is itself unmoving,
    Only the cause and end of movement,
    Timeless, and undesiring
    Except in the aspect of time
    Caught in the form of limitation
    Between un-being and being.
  • Since the fabric of the universe is most perfect and the work of a most wise Creator, nothing at all takes place in the universe in which some rule of maximum or minimum does not appear ...there is absolutely no doubt that every affect in the universe can be explained satisfactorily from final causes, by the aid of the method of maxima and minima, as it can be from the effective causes themselves … Of course, when the effective causes are too obscure, but the final causes are readily ascertained, the problem is commonly solved by the indirect method...
    • Leonhard Euler, Methodus Inveniendi Lineas Curvas (1744), Tr. W.A. Oldfather, C.A. Ellis & D.M. Brown
  • Christians believed in a teleological cosmos, one created by an omniscient God, a Grand Designer, for a specific purpose. This comforting view was threatened by the new statistical methods in physics, and also by Darwin's theory of evolution, which assumes that chance may intervene between generations to introduce new characteristics.
  • The concept of teleological mechanisms, however it be expressed in many terms, may be viewed as an attempt to escape from these older mechanistic formulations that now appear inadequate, and to provide new and more fruitful conceptions and more effective methodologies for studying self-regulating processes, self-orienting systems and organisms, and self-directing personalities. Thus, the terms feedback, servomechanisms, circular systems, and circular processes may be viewed as different but equivalent expressions of much the same basic conception
  • The dominant concept in Aristotle's philosophy of nature is his notion of causation. ...The final cause states that each substance has an inherent purpose. Thus there must be a purpose or design in the acorn such that it always grows into an oak tree. This aspect of existence is indicated by the word entelechy; this means the purpose that guides things to develop in one way rather than another.

G - L[edit]

  • Knowledge of anything implies knowing it from these four points of view, or knowing its four causes. The End or final cause, however, as is natural, rises to an eminence beyond the other conceptions, and though it must always stand opposed to matter, it tends to merge the other two causes into itself. The end of anything, that for the sake of which anything exists, can hardly be separated from the perfection of that thing, from its idea and form; thus the formal cause or definition becomes absorbed into the final cause. (Eth. III. vii. 6)
  • The End mixes itself up with the efficient cause, the desire for the end gives the first impulse of motion, the final cause of anything becomes identical with the good of that thing, so that the end and the good become synonymous terms. And this is not only the case with regard to individual objects, but all nature and the whole world exist for the sake of, and in dependence on, their final cause, which is the Good. This, existing as an object of contemplation and desire, though itself immovable, moves all things. And so the world is rendered finite, for all nature desiring the Good and tending towards an end is harmonised and united.
    • Sir Alexander Grant, The Ethics of Aristotle: Illustrated with Essays and Notes ibid.
  • It is best... to exclude religious associations (as being un-Aristotelian) from our conception of the ethical τέλος, and then we may be free to acknowledge that it is evidently meant to have a definite relation to the nature and constitution of man. Thus Aristotle assumes that the desires of man are so framed as to imply the existence of this τέλος (Eth. I. ii. i.)
  • In the old philosophy, a curious conjunction of ethical and physical prejudices had led to the notion that there was something ethically bad and physically obstructive about matter. Aristotle attributes all irregularities and apparent dysteleologies in nature to the disobedience, or sluggish yielding, of matter to the shaping and guiding influence of those reasons and causes which were hypostatised in his ideal 'Forms.'
  • The Pythagoreans had found in the astral order the proportions of the concordant musical scale... a harmonia... Thereby they created the most enchanting symbol of Greek cosmic piety: "harmony," issuing in the inaudible "music of the spheres," [as] the idealizing expression for the same fact of irrefragable order that astrology stresses less optimistically... Stoic philsophy strove to integrate the idea of destiny as propounded by contemporary astrology with the Greek concept of harmony: heimarmene to the Stoics is the practical aspect of the harmony, i.e., its action as it affects terrestrial conditions and the short-lived beings here. And since the stellar movements are actuated by the cosmic logos and this logos functions in the world-process as providence (pronoia), it follows that in this wholly monistic system heimarmene itself is pronoia, that is, fate and divine providence are the same. The understanding of and willing consent to this fate... as the reason of the whole distinguishes the wise man, who bears adversity... as the price... for the harmony of the whole. The existence of the whole... is the ultimate and no further questionable, self-justifying end in this teleological scheme: for the sake of the cosmos its constituent parts exist... for the sake of the whole organism. Man... is by no means the highest mode of being, he is not the end of nature, and the cosmos is not for his sake.
  • But let us now dismiss these poetical fictions; because with what is divine they have mingled much of human alloy; and let us now consider what the deity has declared concerning himself and the other gods. The region surrounding the Earth has its existence in virtue of birth. From whom then does it receive its eternity and imperishability, if not from him who holds all things together within defined limits, for it is impossible that the nature of bodies (material) should be without a limit, inasmuch as they cannot dispense with a Final Cause, nor exist through themselves.
  • Moral Teleology supplies the deficiency in physical Teleology, and first establishes a Theology; because the latter, if it did not borrow from the former without being observed, but were to proceed consistently, could only found a Demonology, which is incapable of any definite concept.
  • Teleology,... as science, belongs to no Doctrine, but only to Criticism; and to the criticism of a special cognitive faculty, viz. Judgement. But so far as it contains principles a priori, it can and must furnish the method by which nature must be judged according to the principle of final causes.
  • The privilege of aiming at a merely mechanical method of explanation of all natural products is in itself quite unlimited; but the faculty of attaining thereto is by the constitution of our Understanding, so far as it has to do with things as natural purposes, not only very much limited but also clearly bounded. For, according to a principle of the Judgement, by this process alone nothing can be accomplished towards an explanation of these things; and consequently the judgement upon such products must always be at the same time subordinated by us to a teleological principle.
  • In his famous book, What is Life?, Erwin Schrödinger asks, "What is the source of the order in biology?" He arrives at the idea that it depends upon quantum mechanics and a microcode carried in some sort of aperiodic crystal—which turned out to be DNA and RNA—so he is brilliantly right. But if you ask if he got to the essence of what makes something alive, it's clear that he didn't. Although today we know bits and pieces about the machinery of cells, we don't know what makes them living things. However, it is possible that I've stumbled upon a definition of what it means for something to be alive. For the better part of a year and a half, I've been keeping a notebook about what I call autonomous agents. An autonomous agent is something that can act on its own behalf in an environment. Indeed, all free-living organisms are autonomous agents. Normally, when we think about a bacterium swimming upstream in a glucose gradient we say that the bacterium is going to get food. That is to say, we talk about the bacterium teleologically, as if it were acting on its own behalf in an environment. It is stunning that the universe has brought about things that can act in this way. How in the world has that happened?
    • Stuart Kauffman, The Adjacent Possible: A Talk with Stuart Kauffman, (2003)
  • As soon as I begin to want to make my thinking teleological in relation to something else, interest enters the game. As soon as it is there, the ethical is present...
  • Today we know that on the sub-atomic level the fate of an electron or a whole atom is not determined by its past. But this discovery has not led to any basically new departure in the philosophy of nature, only to a state of bewildered embarrassment, a further retreat of physics into a language of even more abstract symbolism. Yet if causality has broken down and events are not rigidly governed by the pushes and pressures of the past, may they not be influenced in some manner by the "pull" of the future—which is a manner of saying that "purpose" may be a concrete physical factor in the evolution of the universe, both on the organic and unorganic levels. In the relativistic cosmos, gravitation is a result of the curvature and creases in space which continually tend to straighten themselves out—which, as Whittaker remarked, "is a statement so completely teleological that it certainly would have delighted the hearts of the schoolmen."
    • Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe Epilogue (1959, 1963)
    • Footnote: referenced E.T. Whittaker, Space and Spirit (1946)
  • If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of "purpose" must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
    • Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe Epilogue (1959, 1963)
  • General systems theory is the scientific exploration of "wholes" and "wholeness" which, not so long ago, were considered metaphysical notions transcending the boundaries of science. Hierarchic structure, stability, teleology, differentiation, approach to and maintenance of steady states, goal-directedness — these are a few of such general system properties.
  • Contrary to what you may assume, I am not a pessimist but an indifferentist—that is, I don't make the mistake of thinking that the resultant of the natural forces surrounding and governing organic life will have any connexion with the wishes or tastes of any part of that organic life-process. Pessimists are just as illogical as optimists; insomuch as both envisage the aims of mankind as unified, and as having a direct relationship (either of frustration or of fulfilment) to the inevitable flow of terrestrial motivation and events. That is—both schools retain in a vestigial way the primitive concept of a conscious teleology—of a cosmos which gives a damn one way or the other about the especial wants and ultimate welfare of mosquitos, rats, lice, dogs, men, horses, pterodactyls, trees, fungi, dodos, or other forms of biological energy.
    • H.P. Lovecraft, Letter to James F. Morton (1929), quoted in "H.P. Lovecraft, a Life" by S.T. Joshi, p. 483
  • Neither Lynn Margulis nor I have ever proposed a teleological hypothesis. Nowhere in out writing do we express the idea that planetary self-regulation is purposeful, or involves planetary foresight or planning by the biota. ...Yet we met persistent, almost dogmatic, criticism that our hypothesis is teleological.

M - R[edit]

  • Western social Darwinists, who include modernisation and development theorists and their kindred spirits (UN agencies, human rights organisations and activists, NGOs, the IMF, the World Bank, the US State Department, etc) would see the possible "advance" of the Arab world (as well as the rest of the "underdeveloped" world) toward a western-defined and sponsored modernity as part of a historical teleology wherein non-Europeans who are still at the stage of European childhood will eventually replicate European "progress" toward modern forms of organisation, sociality, economics, politics and sexual desires. What is emerging in the Arab (and the rest of the third) world is not some universal schema of the march of history but rather the imposition of these western modes by different forceful means and their adoption by third world elites, thus foreclosing and repressing myriad ways of movement and change and ensuring that only one way for transformation is made possible.
  • As an anthropologist, I have been interested in the effects that the theories of Cybernetics have within our society. I am not referring to computers or to the electronic revolution as a whole, or to the end of dependence on script for knowledge, or to the way that dress has succeeded the mimeographing machine as a form of communication among the dissenting young. Let me repeat that, I am not referring to the way that dress has succeeded the mimeographing machine as a form of communication among the dissenting young. I specifically want to consider the significance of the set of cross-disciplinary ideas which we first called “feed-back” and then called “teleological mechanisms” and then called it “cybernetics,” a form of cross-disciplinary thought which made it possible for members of many disciplines to communicate with each other easily in a language which all could understand.
  • Instead of accepting the Victorian myth of a struggle for existence in a blind and meaningless universe, one must, with Professor Lawrence Henderson, replace this with a picture of a partnership in mutual aid, in which the physical structure of matter itself, and the very distribution of the elements on the earth's crust, their quantity, their solubility, their specific gravity, their distribution and chemical combination, are life furthering and life-sustaining. Even the most rigorous scientific description of the physical basis of life indicates it to be internally teleological.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934) citing Henderson's The Oder of Nature (1925) & The Fitness of the Environment (1927)
  • I am utterly amazed, utterly enchanted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: that I should have turned to him just now, was inspired by "instinct." Not only is his overtendency like mine—namely to make all knowledge the most powerful affect — but in five main points of his doctrine I recognize myself; this most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world-order, the unegoistic, and evil.
  • Our culture is teleological—it presumes purposive development and a conclusion.
    • William Pfaff, Barbarian Sentiments - How The American Century Ends (1989)
  • Maupertuis' attempt to introduce teleology into mechanics was met with sharp rebuffs from several scientists... Mixed into the debate were issues of priority, questions of natural philosophy and physics to do with measurement of motion, and fundamental questions concerning the ideological world view. At the center of the discussion was the question of conditionality or causality of the phenomena of the material world, or their teleological predestination through the creator's wisdom. Euler entered the debate in support of Maupertuis. For example, in his "Dissertation on the principle of least action" (1753) Euler criticized the attacks of S. König and certain other scientists... He also wrote that he himself "had conceived of this remarkable property... Only after a great many trials did I arrive at the formula that in motions of that type assumes its least value." …Writing about Maupertuis' principle... Euler emphasized that "all of dynamics and hydrodynamics can with astonishing ease be developed by the single method of maxima and minima." He concludes... "Nature in all her manifestations strives to make something smallest, and this smallest thing... is indisputably grasped by the concept of action."
    • V.V. Rumyantsev, 'Leonarhd Euler and the Variational Principles of Mechanics" (1983) as translated in Nikolai Nikolaevich Bogoli, Euler and Modern Science (2007)
  • When we ask "why?" concerning an event, we may mean either of two things. We may mean: "What purpose did this event serve?" or we may mean: "What earlier circumstances caused this event?" The answer to the former question is a teleological explanation, or an explanation by final causes; the answer to the latter question is a mechanistic explanation. I do not see how it could have been known in advance which of these two questions science ought to ask, or whether it ought to ask both. But experience has shown that the mechanistic question leads to scientific knowledge, while the teleological question does not.
  • The atomists asked the mechanistic question, and gave a mechanistic answer. Their successors, until the Renaissance, were more interested in the teleological question, and thus led science up a blind alley. In regard to both questions alike, there is a limitation which is often ignored, both in popular thought and in philosophy. Neither question can be asked intelligibly about reality, as a whole (including God), but only about parts of it. ...The conception of purpose, therefore, is only applicable within reality, not to reality as a whole.
  • Bacon not only despised the syllogism, but undervalued mathematics, presumably as insufficiently experimental. He was virulently hostile to Aristotle, but he thought very highly of Democritus, Although he did not deny that the course of nature exemplifies a Divine purpose, he objected to any admixture of teleological explanation in the actual investigation of phenomena; everything, he held, should be explained as following necessarily from efficient causes.

S - Z[edit]

  • I am interested in a phase that I think we are entering. I call it "teleological evolution," evolution with a purpose. The idea of evolution by design, designing the future, anticipating the future. I think of the need for more wisdom in the world, to deal with the knowledge that we have. At one time we had wisdom, but little knowledge. Now we have a great deal of knowledge, but do we have enough wisdom to deal with that knowledge?
    • Jonas Salk, "Academy of Achievement interview" (1991)
  • The first thing I would like to point out is that each of us have a different purpose that we have to serve in the evolutionary scheme of things. We are not all equally endowed to do everything. When I speak about teleological evolution, I speak about the idea of "telos," purpose.
    • Jonas Salk, "Academy of Achievement interview" (1991)
  • I speak about universal evolution and teleological evolution, because I think the process of evolution reflects the wisdom of nature. I see the need for wisdom to become operative. We need to try to put all of these things together in what I call an evolutionary philosophy of our time.
    • Jonas Salk, "Academy of Achievement interview" (1991)
  • Evolution disposes of teleology.
  • Clearly, teleology has much in common with the design hypothesis. Both Aristotle and William Paley would say that the gods knew that they wanted you to see, so they designed eyes.
    • Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science Ch.26, "Life: The Molecular Battle" (1998)
  • Teleology can, and has been, extended to suppose that man is designed not only so as to function biologically in a certain way but also to function ethically in a manner related to his biological nature. ...It is surprising how persistent this belief is.
    • Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science Ch.26, "Life: The Molecular Battle" (1998)
  • Men do all things for an end, namely, for that which is useful to them, and which they seek. Thus it comes to pass that they only look for a knowledge of the final causes of events, and when these are learned, they are content, as having no cause for further doubt. If they cannot learn such causes from external sources, they are compelled to turn to considering themselves, and reflecting what end would have induced them personally to bring about the given event, and thus they necessarily judge other natures by their own.
  • ...nature has no particular goal in view, and final causes are mere human figments. ...everything in nature proceeds from a sort of necessity, and with the utmost perfection.
  • Time out of mind it has been by way of the "final cause," by the teleological concept of end, of purpose or of "design," in one of its many forms (for its moods are many), that men have been chiefly wont to explain the phenomena of the living world; and it will be so while men have eyes to see and ears to hear withal. With Galen, as with Aristotle, it was the physician's way; with John Ray, as with Aristotle, it was the naturalist's way; with Kant,as with Aristotle, it was the philosopher's way. It was the old Hebrew way, and has its splendid setting in the story that God made "every plant of the field before it grew." It is a common way, and a great way; for it brings with it a glimpse of a great vision, and it lies deep as the love of nature in the hearts of men.
  • Darwin discarded once and for all the last vestiges of Aristotelian thought concerning the evolution of living beings. A teleological explanation would no longer do. The evolution of life on Earth would no longer unfold according to a "grand design"; nor would it tend to a final cause. On the contrary, it developed at the whim of random mutations and was driven by natural selection.
  • I would say that teleology is theology, and that God is not a "because," but rather an "in order to."
  • Man is an agent... a center of unfolding impulsive activity—"teleological" activity... seeking... some concrete, objective, impersonal end. ...he is possessed of a taste for effective work, and a distaste for futile effort. He has a sense of the merit of serviceability or efficiency and of the demerit of futility, waste, or incapacity. This aptitude or propensity may be called the instinct of workmanship.
  • The scientific world picture does not include … things that have not been constructed, that are not understood as artefacts … Instead of the final cause one starts to speak about purpose, which nature itself does not have. Only humans can set aims and achieve them by their activities if they know the laws of nature and set up various processes based on them and organise them purposively.
    • (2001) Rein Vihalemm, Chemistry as an Interesting Subject for the Philosophy of Science
  • Aristotle feels this so strongly with reference to Plato's external, as contrasted with his own immanent, teleology that, forgetting his own concession elsewhere, he once roundly asserts that the final cause is 'not touched by the Ideas'. Again, what is the relation of the Idea of the Good to other ends (Ideas) or to the special functions of things? Efficient causes Plato attributes at one time to Idea, at another to soul: which is his real doctrine? and what is the relation of Idea to soul? Aristotle, therefore, while willing to admit that Plato made 'stammering' efforts in the direction of efficient and final causes, was perfectly justified in thinking that he had not 'fully worked them out'.
  • Before the age of adulteration it was held that behind each work there stood some conception of its perfect execution. It was this that gave zest to labor and served to measure the degree of success. To the extent that the concept obtained, there was a teleology in work, since the laborer toiled not merely to win sustenance but to see this ideal embodied in his creation. Pride in craftsmanship is well explained by saying that to labor is to pray, for conscientious effort to realize an ideal is a kind of fidelity. The craftsman of old time did not hurry, because the perfect takes no account of time and shoddy work is a reproach to character. But character itself is an expression of self-control, which does not come of taking the easiest way. Where character forbids self-indulgence, transcendence still hovers around. When utilitarianism becomes enthroned and the worker is taught that work is use and not worship, interest in quality begins to decline. … There is a difference between expressing one’s self in form and producing quantity for a market with an eye to speculation. Péguy wished to know what had become of the honor of work. It has succumbed to the same forces as have all other expressions of honor.
  • The famous palaeolithic paintings found in caves such as that at Lascaux in the Dordogne have been interpreted as evidence that, at least implicitly people were operating 20,000 or more years ago with teleological intent in terms of past, present, and future. It may well be that those responsible for the so-called 'Dancing Sorcerer' ...may have felt that the actual performance of the dance was insufficient, since they were concerned with the magical efficacy of the dance after it ended.

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