by Marinus Jan Marijs
Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the evolution theory:
“An honest and unswerving scrutiny of nature forces upon the mind this certain truth, that at some period of the earth’s history there was an act of creation, a giving to the earth of something which before it had not possessed; and from that gift, the gift of life, has come the infinite and wonderful population of living forms. Then, as you know, I hold that there was a subsequent act of creation, a giving to man, when he had emerged from his ape-like ancestry, of a spirit or soul. Nothing in evolution can account for the soul of man. The difference between man and the other animals is unbridgeable. Mathematics is alone sufficient to prove in man the possession of a faculty unexistent in other creatures. Then you have music and the artistic faculty. No, the soul was a separate creation. “But are these the only two instances of interference from outside?” “Ah, we come to a great question. I deal with it in a book which Chapman and Hall are to publish this winter. In some ways this book will be my final contribution to the philosophic side of evolution. It concerns itself with the great question of Purpose. Is there guidance and control, or is everything the result of chance? Are we solitary in the cosmos, and without meaning to the rest of the universe; or are we one in ‘a stair of creatures,’ a hierarchy of beings? Now, you may approach this matter along the metaphysical path, or, as a man of exact science, by observation of the physical globe and reflection upon visible and tangible objects.
My contribution is made as a man of science, as a naturalist, as a man who studies his surroundings to see where he is. And the conclusion I reach in my book is this: That everywhere, not here and there, but everywhere, and in the very smallest operations of nature to which human observation has penetrated, there is Purpose and a continual Guidance and control”.
So Wallace, in “Man’s Place in the Universe” (1903), already discussed the teleological anthropic principle.
J. B. S. Haldane:
“Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.”
J. B. S. Haldane a British-born geneticist and evolutionary biologist generally credited with a central role in the development of neo-Darwinian thinking Quoted in; Hull, D., Philosophy of Biological Science, Foundations of Philosophy Series, Prentice–Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1973.and: Mayr, Ernst (1974) Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Volume XIV, pages 91–117.
So Wallace one of the greatest evolutionary biologist, claimed a teleological principle in nature.
Teleology is already to be found by Plato and Aristotle.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
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.
Teleology was explored by Plato and Aristotle, by Saint Anselm during the 11th century AD, and later by Carl Jung and Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgment. It was fundamental to the speculative philosophy of Hegel.
A thing, process, or action is teleological when it is for the sake of an end, i.e., a telos or final cause. In general, it may be said that there are two types of final causes, which may be called intrinsic finality and extrinsic finality.
- A thing or action has an extrinsic finality when it is for the sake of something external to itself. In a way, people exhibit extrinsic finality when they seek the happiness of a child. If the external thing had not existed that action would not display finality.
- A thing or action has an intrinsic finality when it is for none other than its own sake. For example, one might try to be happy simply for the sake of being happy, and not for the sake of anything outside of that.
The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos (root: τελε-, “end, purpose”) and -λογία “a branch of learning”. The term was coined in 1728 by the German philosopher Christian von Wolff.
In the Phaedo, Plato argues that true explanations for any given physical phenomenon must be teleological. He bemoans those who fail to distinguish between a thing’s necessary and sufficient causes, which he identifies respectively as material and final causes (Phaedo 98-9):
Imagine not being able to distinguish the real cause, from that without which the cause would not be able to act, as a cause. It is what the majority appear to do, like people groping in the dark; they call it a cause, thus giving it a name that does not belong to it. That is why one man surrounds the earth with a vortex to make the heavens keep it in place, another makes the air support it like a wide lid. As for their capacity of being in the best place they could be at this very time, this they do not look for, nor do they believe it to have any divine force, but they believe that they will some time discover a stronger and more immortal Atlas to hold everything together more, and they do not believe that the truly good and ‘binding’ binds and holds them together.
—Plato, Phaedo 99
Plato here argues that, e.g., the materials that compose a body are necessary conditions for its moving or acting in a certain way, but that these materials cannot be the sufficient condition for its moving or acting as it does. For example (given in Phaedo 98), if Socrates is sitting in an Athenian prison, the elasticity of his tendons is what allows him to be sitting, and so a physical description of his tendons can be listed as necessary conditions or auxiliary causes of his act of sitting (Phaedo 99b; Timaeus 46c9-d4, 69e6). However, these are only necessary conditions of Socrates’ sitting. To give a physical description of Socrates’ body is to say that Socrates is sitting, but it does not give us any idea why it came to be that he was sitting in the first place. To say why he was sitting and not not sitting, we have to explain what it is about his sitting that is good, for all things brought about (i.e., all products of actions) are brought about because the actor saw some good in them. Thus, to give an explanation of something is to determine what about it is good. Its goodness is its actual cause – its purpose, telos or “reason for which” (Timaeus 27d8-29a).
Similarly, Aristotle argued that Democritus was wrong to attempt to reduce all things to mere necessity, because doing so neglects the aim, order, and “final cause,” which brings about these necessary conditions:
Democritus, however, neglecting the final cause, reduces to necessity all the operations of nature. Now they are necessary, it is true, but yet they are for a final cause and for the sake of what is best in each case. Thus nothing prevents the teeth from being formed and being shed in this way; but it is not on account of these causes but on account of the end….
—Aristotle, Generation of Animals V.8, 789a8-b15
In the Physics Aristotle rejected Plato’s assumption that the universe was created by an intelligent designer using eternal forms as his model. For Aristotle, natural ends are produced by “natures” (principles of change internal to living things), and natures, Aristotle argued, do not deliberate:
“It is absurd to suppose that ends are not present [in nature] because we do not see an agent deliberating.”
—Aristotle, Physics 2.8, 199b27-9; see also Physics 2.5-6 where “natures” are contrasted with intelligence
Modern and postmodern philosophy
Historically, teleology may be identified with the philosophical tradition of Aristotelianism. The rationale of teleology was explored by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgement and, again, made central to speculative philosophy by Hegel and in the various neo-Hegelian schools — proposing a history of our species some consider to be at variance with Darwin, as well as with the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and with what is now called analytic philosophy — the point of departure is not so much formal logic and scientific fact but ‘identity’. (In Hegel’s terminology: ‘objective spirit’.)
Individual human consciousness, in the process of reaching for autonomy and freedom, has no choice but to deal with an obvious reality: the collective identities (such as the multiplicity of world views, ethnic, cultural and national identities) that divide the human race and set (and always have set) different groups in violent conflict with each other. Hegel conceived of the ‘totality’ of mutually antagonistic world-views and life-forms in history as being ‘goal-driven’, that is, oriented towards an end-point in history. The ‘objective contradiction’ of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ would eventually ‘sublate’ into a form of life that leaves violent conflict behind. This goal-oriented, ‘teleological’ notion of the ‘historical process as a whole’ is present in a variety of 20th century authors.
Teleology and science
In modern science, explanations that rely on teleology are avoided, either because they are unnecessary or because whether they are true or false is thought to be beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge.
Some authors, like James Lennox, have argued that Darwin was a teleologist, Lennox, James G. (1993). “Darwin was a Teleologist” Biology and Philosophy, 8, 409-21.
On Page 92 of Charles Darwin’s autobiography:
“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.” (Charles Darwin)
With the arrival of modernism and empirical science, the teleological world view was replaced by a mechanical world view. The enormous explanatory value of this new approach, the development of the scientific method and its practical applications would revolutionize society. The long held teleological view was now seen as outdated. However, with the arrival the new cosmology, new insights into the nature of reality started to take shape: the fine tuning of the universe of the cosmological constants, the Anthropic Principle, General systems theory etc. brought back the concept of teleology, but now no longer as a philosophy only based upon intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.
“What in the whole denotes a causal equilibrium process, appears for the part as a teleological event”. Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1929) cited in Cliff Hooker ed. Philosophy of Complex Systems (2011) p. 190
“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.” Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Modern Theory of Development (1933)
“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
“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.” Ervin László, Introduction to Systems Philosophy (1972)
“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