• Dfpolis
    466
    Teleology is a projection of nature that explains its processes in terms of ends or goals. As famously exemplified by Aristotle, employing a teleological perspective does not exclude other modes of explanation. He saw formal, material, efficient and final "causes" each as rational, but incomplete, explanations of natural processes. Many contemporary thinkers see teleology as obsolete, prescientific, anthropocentric, and generally "a bad thing." For example, the theory of evolution is proffered as illustrating the triumph of mechanism over teleology. Meanwhile, biology students are taught to eschew talk of biological ends.

    I see rejecting teleology is utterly irrational, because mechanistic and teleological explanations are not in conflict. Philosophical naturalists reject finality, not because doing so is rational, but because it threatens their faith position -- allowing a religious position to dictate scientific methodology. Since mechanism focuses on means, while teleology focuses on the consequent ends they are not opposed, but complementary.

    Objections to teleology include variations on the following:
    1. It assumes vitalism, some extra life force beyond the laws of nature.
    2. It involves backwards causation: the future reaches back in time to pull a system to its end.
    3. It is incompatible with known mechanistic explanations.
    4. It is “mentalistic,” assuming mind in nature when there is none.
    5. It is empirically untestable.
    6. Teleology is a metaphor, not an explanation.

    1. If one is fully committed to physical determinism, one is necessarily committed to the proposition that the laws of nature, together with the prior physical state, fully specify future states. Thus, teleology need posit no vitalistic principle and objections to vital­ism are irrelevant.

    2. The future does not “pull” the present forward. Teleology acts via present intentionality. Just as human goals are attained by implementing our present intentions, so the concurrent operation of the laws of nature result in physical "final states."

    3. This objection is based on irrational either-or thinking. As noted earlier, finality and mechanism are not op­posed, but related as ends and means. Mathematically, they are convertible representations of the same phenomena. Mechanisms can serve ends and ends require means.

    4. Mind in nature is a conclusion drawn from the data of teleological processes, not a premise in deriving them. Thus, the “mentalistic” objection is question begging. Rather than engaging the evidence, it uses an a priori denial of the conclusion to reject data.

    5. The assertion that teleology is “empirically un­test­able” is baseless. Aristotle made falsifiable claims for final causality:
    • Means-ends relationships exist in nature (Physics ii, 8, 199a8ff) – con­firmed whenever behavior is a means to an end such as com­mun­ica­tion, reproduction, or nutrition;
    • There are target forms (Physics ii, 8, 199b15-18) – verified by convergent evolution, the stability of toolkit genes and evolutionary stasis in stable environments -- as argued in my my article, "Mind or Randomness in Evolution (https://www.academia.edu/27797943/Mind_or_Randomness_in_Evolution).
    • Means are prepared in advance of need (Physics ii, 8, 199a10ff) – confirmed by the existence of unexploited potentials in toolkit genes and their refractory nature.

    6. Metaphors have no predictive power, but teleology does. Many biological processes are too complex to calculate mechanically; however, their ends are clear. We cannot cal­culate how a spider will respond to a fly caught in its web, but its ends predict its behavior. Re­jecting teleology’s predictive power is the irrational imposition of a dogmatic faith position.

    Thus, the standard objections to teleology are either a priori or fail under empirical scrutiny.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.4k
    That's a very good post. Thanks for the reference to your paper. I'll read it carefully.

    I don't quite understand your response to the first objection, though.

    1. If one is fully committed to physical determinism, one is necessarily committed to the proposition that the laws of nature, together with the prior physical state, fully specify future states. Thus, teleology need posit no vitalistic principle and objections to vital­ism are irrelevant.Dfpolis

    Are you saying that teleology doesn't entail vitalism since it is consistent, on your view, with "physical determinism"? Are you thus committed to defend a form of compatibilism regarding teleology and (nomological or physicalist) determinism?
  • Hanover
    4k
    For example, the theory of evolution is proffered as illustrating the triumph of mechanism over teleology.Dfpolis

    Evolution offers a triumph over teleology by providing a causal explanation for teleology, thus clarifying the primacy of causality over teleology.

    If I want to know why the bird flies south in the winter, and all I am told are the details related to how the bird's neurons fire and muscles contract, surely I know less than if I'm told "so he can find food when it gets cold." Such is hard to deny. However, if I want to know why the bird wants to eat and I keep asking these "why" questions, at some point I'm going to resort to causality (namely evolution). To do otherwise (i.e. to keep reaching toward a higher teleos), one would be reaching toward God. It's therefore not that teleological explanations are irrelevant under the scientific model, it's that they are reducible to causal ones.

    If one took a different approach and thought of teleological explanations as primary, one would demand to know the purpose of one's life, not just demand a recitation of the meandering path that led one to one's dead end job.

    But the kicker is is that evolution can only be a true triumph over teleology if one is satisfied that the existence of evolution does not itself require a teleological explanation. And isn't that where the theological/scientific compatibility arises, where the theologian finally concedes the existence of evolution, but then asks for what great purpose did our Creator implement the existence of evolution?
  • frank
    1.7k
    Evolution offers a triumph over teleology by providing a causal explanation for teleology, thus clarifying the primacy of causality over teleology.Hanover

    Science journalists like Richard Dawkins do give this impression. Real evolutionary biologists don't agree. Teleology never has any place in evolution.

    In biology in general, though, it's built into the way we talk about organisms. We think of them as causally closed systems.
  • tim wood
    1.3k
    Teleology is a projection of nature that explainsDfpolis
    This is it, it seems to me. As explanation, it stands or falls as explanation; and as explanation I'll leave its value to others to determine. A problem arises on the insistence of its advocates that it's accurate/true. As explanation, it needs be neither. As accurate/true, it must be exactly that: accurate and true: but by the terms in which it is usually presented, it can't be.

    Simply, as description, it can't be. And as explanation in human terms, it cannot be (because the subjects are not human). Teleology, then, as a modern model, falls best in the category of poetry.
  • Wayfarer
    6.8k
    There's an interesting Wikipedia article on the word 'teleonomy', coined in 1958 to describe the apparent 'purposefulness and goal-directedness of structures and functions in living organisms'.

    Biologists for a while were prepared to say a turtle came ashore and laid its eggs. These verbal scruples were intended as a rejection of teleology but were based on the mistaken view that the efficiency of final causes is necessarily implied by the simple description of an end-directed mechanism. … The biologists long-standing confusion would be removed if all end-directed systems were described by some other term, e.g., 'teleonomic', in order to emphasize that recognition and description of end-directedness does not carry a commitment to Aristotelian teleology as an efficient causal principle.
    ....
    The concept of teleonomy was largely developed by Mayr and Pittendrigh to separate biological evolution from teleology. Pittendrigh's purpose was to enable biologists who had become overly cautious about goal-oriented language to have a way of discussing the goals and orientations of an organism's behaviors without inadvertently invoking teleology. Mayr was even more explicit, saying that while teleonomy certainly operates on the level of organisms, the process of evolution itself is necessarily non-teleonomic.

    Mayr says, 'The existence of complex codes of information in the DNA of the germ plasm permits teleonomic purposiveness. On the other hand, evolutionary research has found no evidence whatsoever for a "goal-seeking" of evolutionary lines, as postulated in that kind of teleology which sees "plan and design" in nature. The harmony of the living universe, so far as it exists, is an a posteriori product of natural selection.
    ....
    Philosophy: In teleology, Kant's positions as expressed in Critique of Judgment, were neglected for many years because in the minds of many scientists they were associated with vitalist views of evolution [and 'vitalism' is strictly taboo]. Their recent rehabilitation is evident in teleonomy, which bears a number of features, such as the description of organisms, that are reminiscent of the Aristotelian conception of final causes....

    Kant's position is that, even though we cannot know whether there are final causes in nature, we are constrained by the peculiar nature of the human understanding to view organisms teleologically. Thus the Kantian view sees teleology as a necessary principle for the study of organisms, but only as a regulative principle, and with no ontological implications.

    Note the careful way in which goal-directed behaviour is accommodated while avoiding any suggestion that evolution itself is teleological (don't mention The War :yikes: ). To suggest otherwise is to fall in with the kinds of views described as 'orthogenetic':

    the biological hypothesis that organisms have an innate tendency to evolve in a definite direction towards some goal (teleology) due to some internal mechanism or 'driving force'. According to the theory, the largest-scale trends in evolution have an absolute goal such as increasing biological complexity. Prominent historical figures who have championed some form of evolutionary progress include Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Henri Bergson.

    It might also be noted that Hegelian philosophy naturally falls into this category. But all of these are generally regarded as unacceptable from the viewpoint of mainstream biological science.

    My view is that methodological naturalism certainly must put aside or bracket out any consideration of an overarching purpose or intentionality. But I think a problem arises when this bracketing is then interpreted as a metaphysical principle in its own right, that is, it becomes a declaration about the absence of purpose. And so much of 20th century philosophy has assumed just such an absence of purpose as a metaphysical (or anti-metaphysical) axiom; the belief that science has shown that the Universe unfolds according to purpose-less laws, which is, to all intents, the inverse of Christian eschatology. It is certainly writ large in many existentialist and materialist philosophies and is the animating force (pardon the irony) behind the 'ultra-darwinism' of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Jerry Coyne.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.4k
    There's an interesting Wikipedia article on the word 'teleonomy', coined in 1958 to describe the apparent 'purposefulness and goal-directedness of structures and functions in living organisms'.Wayfarer

    It seems to me that passing off the evidence of teleology in living organisms as mere 'teleonomy' is a mistake. This is an attempt to distinguish irreducible teleology from reducible teleology, while claiming that the latter merely has the appearance of the former. But this reductionist thesis also seems to rest on a equivocation between ultimate, or external, teleology and intrinsic teleology. Arguments from design typically are arguments for ultimate teleology. The acknowledgement of the irreducibility of teleology, as it is being manifested in living organisms (and also, I would argue, in human functional artifacts!) doesn't entail anything about ultimate teleology, or the existence of a divine plan preexisting the evolution of living beings.

    I myself am happy to defend the idea of the irreducibility of internal teleological explanations (aptly characterized by @Dfpolis as simple means/end relationships) while being agnostic (or unconcerned) about ultimate purposes of life or evolution. The purposes at issue, in internal teleological explanations, merely are the purposes that living organisms manifest as features of the way in which they are functionally organized and constitutively embedded into their environments (or Umwelten). Their thus manifesting, in their physiology and behavior, irreducible teleological features can be acknowledged independently of the question of the evolutionary explanation of the emergence of those features also being 'teleological', or not, in the ultimate or external sense of 'teleology'.

    I had also begun to argue, however, in a manuscript titled Autonomy, Consequences and Teleology, that the Darwinian(*) process of natural evolution though natural selection is teleological, in the internal sense, in a manner that is entirely derivative from the internal teleological structure of the physiology (and/or behavior) of living beings that aren't merely being passively sorted out by natural selection, but that are thus selected while (and as a partial result of) being actively struggling to survive, and seeking to flourish, within their natural and social co-evolved Umwelten.

    (*) I'll later edit this post to provide references to a couple of interesting papers that have argued that Darwin himself likely was more of an Aristotelian (internal) teleologist than he was a reductive physicalist; although he was, for sure, arguing against external teleology, or against Paley's design argument.
  • frank
    1.7k
    I had also begun to argue, however, in a manuscript titled Autonomy, Consequences and Teleology, that the Darwinian(*) process of natural evolution though natural selection is teleological, in the internal sense, in a manner that is entirely derivative from the internal teleological structure of the physiology (and/or behavior) of living beings that aren't merely being passively sorted out by natural selection, but that are thus selected while (and as a partial result of) being actively struggling to survive, and seeking to flourish, within their natural and social co-evolved Umwelten.Pierre-Normand

    Yet both selected and unselected organisms exhibit the intention to flourish. Or are you saying we should look at the whole group (or the group and its environment) as an evolving, living thing?
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.4k
    Yet both selected and unselected organisms exhibit the intention to flourish. Or are you saying we should look at the whole group (or the group and its environment) as an evolving, living thing?frank

    What I am suggesting is that the selection process is teleological in the very same sense in which the organism's physiological and behavioral activities are teleological (or structured by means/end relationships), and for the very same reason. An organism, for instance, engages in some sort of behavior in order to quench its thirst. If it tends to succeed, thanks to some heritable feature of its physiology or anatomy, then this feature tends to be positively selected. And the reason why descendants thereafter exhibit this feature, and have the ability to engage in the behavior that such structures enables, is precisely because they subserve the end that was being actively pursued by the ancestor: namely, quenching its thirst. I conclude that the process of evolution through natural selection does have a telos, but that telos isn't external to the life form of the evolving organism; it is rather internal to it. The main engine of evolution is the organism's already existing struggle to flourish and survive (in very specific ways) in its day to day existence.
  • frank
    1.7k
    An organism, for instance, engages in some sort of behavior in order to quench its thirst. If it tends to succeed, thanks to some heritable feature of its physiology or anatomy, then this feature tends to be positively selected. And the reason why descendants thereafter exhibit this feature, and have the ability to engage in the behavior that such structures enable, is precisely because they subserve the end that was being actively pursued by the ancestor: namely, quenching its thirstPierre-Normand

    So the feature was highlighted for selection by the organism's quest to survive. I'm not sure that will generalize, though. Consider the moths who turned black because they lived in a town that was covered in coal dust. The white moths were all eaten by birds. The black moths weren't trying to hide. And I can't think of some behavior they were engaged in that links turning black to their quest to survive. Can you?

    I'll later edit this post to provide references to a couple of interesting papers that have argued that Darwin himself likely was more of an Aristotelian (internal) teleologist than he was a reductive physicalist; although he was, for sure, arguing against external teleology, or against Paley's design argument.Pierre-Normand

    But keep in mind that Darwin thought evolution is natural selection. We now know that natural selection is only one way that organisms change. It's a more important feature of evolution in creatures like bacteria.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.4k
    So the feature was highlighted for selection by the organism's quest to survive. I'm not sure that will generalize, though. Consider the moths who turned black because they lived in a town that was covered in coal dust. The white moths were all eaten by birds. The black moths weren't trying to hide. And I can't think of some behavior they were engaged in that links turning black to their quest to survive. Can you?frank

    I agree that there are cases, such as this one, where the organism is entirely passive with respect to the natural selection process. But I am also happy to concede that, in such cases, the feature thereby selected (viz. the moths's being black) can be fully explained causally in a non-teleological manner. Other mechanisms of evolution, such as genetic drift, likewise, are non-teleological. Nevertheless, the internal functional organization of an organism's physiology (and behavior) does provide specific directions (or ends/teloi) to the selection process. In short, I am arguing for the irreducibility of teleological explanations, not for their being the sole forms of explanations of all the inherited features of organisms.
  • frank
    1.7k
    I am arguing for the irreducibility of teleological explanations, not for their being the sole forms of explanations of all the inherited features of organisms.Pierre-Normand

    :up:
  • Dfpolis
    466
    Evolution offers a triumph over teleology by providing a causal explanation for teleology, thus clarifying the primacy of causality over teleology.Hanover

    How does it establish primacy? Human beings are part of nature and are clearly goal-seeking organisms. In us, goals have a clear primacy. I first decide to go to the store, then employ the means (mechanisms) required to effect getting to the store. If my car is not working, I may walk, take a bus, or call a Lyft or taxi. It is because of this temporal and dynamical primacy that finality is called "the cause of causes." The same is seen in other organisms, but with less variety. The end of obtaining food is prior to spiders spinning webs. The desire to mate is prior to mating behavior.

    As mentioned in the OP, specific capabilities, such as the ability to develop wrists (found in Tiktaalik roseae, a 375 million year old fossil land-exploring fish), vision (encoded in Pax6, which controls vision in organisms as diverse as verte­brates, mol­lusks, and fruit flies) or specific beak and jaw forms (diverse expressions of BMP4), are latent in toolkit genes, but unexpres­sed until needed. In other words, toolkit genes develop adaptive flexibility before the environmental pressure to express that flexibility.

    The only priority I see is epistemological. We developed an understanding of physics and chemistry before we understood evo-devo.

    If I want to know why the bird flies south in the winter, and all I am told are the details related to how the bird's neurons fire and muscles contract, surely I know less than if I'm told "so he can find food when it gets cold."Hanover

    And surely you know more if you are told both. Remember, I am not saying that mechanism and teleology are opposed. My thesis is that they are complimentary. I think it is fair to say that the need for adequate nutrition drove the evolution of the animals' migratory capabilities, rather than say that the advent of migratory capabilities led to migrate.

    if I want to know why the bird wants to eat and I keep asking these "why" questions, at some point I'm going to resort to causality (namely evolution).Hanover

    I suggest you read Aristotle's discussion of his four "causes" in Metaphysics A, 3-7. As he makes clear, "why" is not a univocal question. It can seek a variety of distinct modes of explanation. You can tell me all of the mechanisms involved in eating, but I would still have no idea what purposes these mechanisms serve.

    If one took a different approach and thought of teleological explanations as primary, one would demand to know the purpose of one's life, not just demand a recitation of the meandering path that led one to one's dead end jobHanover

    Yes, one would. The purpose of life is one of the main questions driving philosophical reflection and religious meditation. Further, while why anyone in particular ended up in a dead-end job is outside the purview of scientific thinking, which deals with universals, it is surely explained by the ends or motives that led them to take the job.

    And isn't that where the theological/scientific compatibility arises, where the theologian finally concedes the existence of evolution, but then asks for what great purpose did our Creator implement the existence of evolution?Hanover

    No, not really. Historically, the compatibility of science and theology can be traced back at least to the doctrine of the two books in which God reveals Himself: the book of revelation and the book of nature. Medieval Christendom promoted science as a way of understanding God via His work. (See, e.g., James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution.)
  • Dfpolis
    466
    Thank you for the kind words.

    Are you saying that teleology doesn't entail vitalism since it is consistent, on your view, with "physical determinism"? Are you thus committed to defend a form of compatibilism regarding teleology and (nomological or physicalist) determinism?Pierre-Normand

    Yes, I see teleology as compatible with physical determinism, which says, essentially, that ends are implicit is present states and the laws of nature. However, this has to be contextualized by two other positions I have defended on this form:
    (1) That natural science is self-limited to objective physicality by the Fundamental Abstraction of science. This leaves natural science bereft of data on the subject as an intentional agent. So, the physical sciences lack the data and concepts to connect what they know of the physical world to the intentional operations of knowing subjects. Thus, we have no rational basis for extending conclusions about the purely physical to questions involving human intentionality.
    (2) That the laws of nature are a species of intentionality:
    (a) They and committed human intentions are the only known species in the genus of logical propagators.
    (b) They and committed human intentions both are intentional in virtue of exhibiting Brentano's essential characteristic of "aboutness." Just as my intention of getting to the store is about by arriving at the store, so the laws of nature are about the final states they effect.

    So, my commitment to determinism in the realm of physics does not commit me to determinism in the realm of intentional operations of knowing subjects.
  • SophistiCat
    528
    Meanwhile, biology students are taught to eschew talk of biological ends.Dfpolis

    I don't know about that. I was never a biology student (and neither were you, AFAIK), so I don't know what students are taught; but teleology in biology is a controversial but well-explored topic. I wonder whether you are actually familiar with any of that discussion.

    Philosophical naturalists reject finality, not because doing so is rational, but because it threatens their faith positionDfpolis

    Oh boy. You know, when you write something as obnoxious as that, one is discouraged from reading further.
  • Dfpolis
    466
    In biology in general, though, it's built into the way we talk about organisms. We think of them as causally closed systems.frank

    As the teleological nature of biology is baked into the laws of nature, there is no question of going outside of the natural order. So, again, this is not an either/or issue. It is a matter of viewing the same data from various perspectives. Still, thinking of anything in a certain way, say as a causally closed system, does not make them that way.
  • Dfpolis
    466
    Simply, as description, it can't be. And as explanation in human terms, it cannot be (because the subjects are not human).tim wood

    It seems that you are offering no argument, merely a claim. If humans are part of nature (and why should we not be?) then goal orientation is part of nature, and the only question is its range of application.

    The existent, that which operates in reality, behind teleological explanation is some form of intentionality -- either a law of nature, or a committed human intention.

    As for the truth of teleology as an explanation, the only question is: Is teleology adequate to reality. Obviously no human truth is exhaustive, but many provided us with insights adequate to various intellectual needs. The fact that we can use teleology to predict how a hungry spider will respond to an insect being caught in its web (while we still can't model it neural net adequately to make the same prediction), shows that teleological explanation is often adequate to reality.
  • tim wood
    1.3k
    I think it is fair to say that the need for adequate nutrition drove the evolution of the animals' migratory capabilities,Dfpolis
    Exactly so! Evolution is what needs to be understood first, and not as the behaviour of living things. Evolution is an idea, a theory. The two must be kept separate in thinking, and not confused with each other.

    A bird flies south in winter, north in summer. Evolution gives a satisfactory and simple account of this: there were at one time a lot of birds. Some stayed home and developed cold weather survival abilities, some flew away. Of those that flew, some found a path that led to survival, and they learned that path. All the others died. Period.

    Nowhere in this is the idea that any bird ever "wanted" to leave, say, Northern Saskatchewan and fly to Tierra del Fuego - and back. But teleology, in invoking purpose and attributing it to the living thing, supposes exactly this.
  • tim wood
    1.3k
    It seems that you are offering no argument, merely a claim.Dfpolis
    Sure: 1) a description is not what it describes, and 2) Non-human things are not human things. I think these stand as self-evident.

    As for the truth of teleology as an explanation, the only question is: Is teleology adequate to reality.Dfpolis
    I reproduce part of my post from above.
    As explanation, it stands or falls as explanation; and as explanation I'll leave its value to others to determine.tim wood

    In short, I agree. But do you agree with my limitation on teleology? It may help if you distinguish "nature" from human nature - perhaps one as genus, the other as species.
  • Dfpolis
    466

    The biologists long-standing confusion would be removed if all end-directed systems were described by some other term, e.g., 'teleonomic', in order to emphasize that recognition and description of end-directedness does not carry a commitment to Aristotelian teleology as an efficient causal principle.

    Talk about fighting straw men! Aristotle never claimed ends were efficient causes. The author lacks the most rudimentary understanding of Aristotle's four "causes." Take building a house as an example. The final cause or end (telos) of house building is, say, to provide shelter. The formal cause is the plan of the house -- how its parts are arranged to effect that end. The material cause is the parts assembled according to that plan. The efficient cause is the building crew that assembles the parts according to the plan to effect the end. No "cause" is in conflict with any other, nor does any "cause" alone explain the building of the house. Specifically, the goal of providing shelter is not the building crew -- as implied by the quotation above.

    Changing name of goal directed explanation from "teleologic" to "teleonomic" does no more than force one to Google two terms when one would do nicely.

    Pittendrigh's purpose was to enable biologists who had become overly cautious about goal-oriented language to have a way of discussing the goals and orientations of an organism's behaviors without inadvertently invoking teleology.

    This is very amusing! Pittendrigh, a biological organism, is assigned the goal of preventing the inadvertent invocation of goals in biological organisms. On what rational grounds would anyone, including the author, want to avoid goal talk? Clearly the author sees the rationality of Pittendrigh having, and acting upon, a goal. This is a clear case of performance belying doctrine.

    evolutionary research has found no evidence whatsoever for a "goal-seeking" of evolutionary lines, as postulated in that kind of teleology which sees "plan and design" in nature. The harmony of the living universe, so far as it exists, is an a posteriori product of natural selection.

    On the contrary, as explained in my article, evolutionary biology has discovered copious evidence of goal seeking. First, the existence of numerous examples of convergent evolution shows that certain biological forms are naturally preferred over others. Second, the advent of refractory toolkit genes before there is any evolutionary pressure for their latent modes of expression provides us with many examples of means being laid down before they are required to effect their ends. Third, the discovery of punctuated equilibrium in evolution shows that there are "ends" ecosystems tend to and remain at in response to new environmental circumstances. Of course, these phenomena are explained by the normal operation of the laws of nature, but the operation of adequate means is evidence for, rather than against, the existence of ends.

    Kant's position is that, even though we cannot know whether there are final causes in nature, we are constrained by the peculiar nature of the human understanding to view organisms teleologically. Thus the Kantian view sees teleology as a necessary principle for the study of organisms, but only as a regulative principle, and with no ontological implications.

    The entire structure of Kantian philosophy has been rebutted by modern physics. Kant saw space, time, and time-sequenced causality as forms of thought necessarily imposed on reality by the mind. That makes alternate understandings of space, time and causality literally unthinkable. Yet, Special Relativity falsifies this by conceiving space and time in radically different ways. Similarly, the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum theory, whether true or false, rejects the universality of causality in nature -- showing that a revised understanding of causality is not unthinkable. Thus, space, time and causality are not forms of thought imposed a priori, but empirically derived concepts. The fact that many biologists question teleology shows that it, too, is not an a priori form, but empirically derived.

    Of course, what is empirically derived has ontological implications. Whatever informs the mind is existentially adequate to so inform it.

    the biological hypothesis that organisms have an innate tendency to evolve in a definite direction towards some goal (teleology) due to some internal mechanism or 'driving force'.

    Clearly, this is part of the picture. The laws of nature and refractory toolkit genes are internal principles that partly determine the line evolutionary development will take. Another major factor is the set of challenges imposed by the environment. As we now know, evolution is not a matter of endless and aimless genetic drift, but of the rapid convergence on a new stasis described by the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

    My view is that methodological naturalism certainly must put aside or bracket out any consideration of an overarching purpose or intentionality.Wayfarer

    Why? If humans are natural and teleological explanation applies to us, why should methodological naturalism exclude it a priori? This seems a very arbitrary dogma. It is far better to take an empirical approach and let nature tell us the limits of goal seeking.

    I agree with your closing. Ultra-Darwinism is ultra irrational.
  • Dfpolis
    466
    I was never a biology student (and neither were you, AFAIK),SophistiCat

    Actually, my brother Gary was a world-famous biologist (and philosophical naturalist), and we had many detailed discussions on these issues.

    You know, when you write something as obnoxious as that, one is discouraged from reading further.SophistiCat

    By not engaging, you confirm me in my position that we are discussing a faith position, not a rational conclusion.
  • Dfpolis
    466
    Nowhere in this is the idea that any bird ever "wanted" to leave, say, Northern Saskatchewan and fly to Tierra del Fuego - and back. But teleology, in invoking purpose and attributing it to the living thing, supposes exactly this.tim wood

    I think this confuses purpose and conscious purpose. Aristotelian teleology is not limited to conscious purpose. The telos of a seed is the mature plant it can become. It need have no knowledge of its end.
  • Dfpolis
    466
    a description is not what it describestim wood

    A description is a fiction unless it is adequate to some reality.

    Non-human things are not human things.tim wood

    Are not humans part of nature? If we have real ends, then ends exist in nature, and the only question is their extent of application.

    But do you agree with my limitation on teleology? It may help if you distinguish "nature" from human nature - perhaps one as genus, the other as species.tim wood

    I agree that we are part of nature, not the whole of nature. That does not mean that seeds lack a determinate potential (telos) to become mature plants.
  • tim wood
    1.3k
    That does not mean that seeds lack a determinate potential (telos) to become mature plants.Dfpolis

    Well that seems the whole point. We understand the seed is "geared" to become a mature plant. Is that exactly all you mean by "telos"? Because it is not at all clear to me that the seed has any potential anywhere (or, where is it?). In other words, the potential is all ours.
  • Dfpolis
    466
    it is not at all clear to me that the seed has any potential anywhere (or, where is it?). In other words, the potential is all ours.tim wood

    As Aristotle points out, potencies are known by analogy. We don't see the potential. If we did it would not be potential, but actual. Still, we've seen that tomato seeds sprout into totato plants, grains of wheat into wheat stalks, and acorns into oak trees. So when we see another tomato seed, grain of wheat or acorn we know, by analogy, that it has a determinate potential to grow into a certain kind of plant. That is how all scientific knowledge is applied -- by analogy. We've never seen the exact new case before, but we've seen cases very like it, and, in analogy with those cases, we know what to expect.

    So, the potential is not ours. It is immanent in the seed. Given the the structure of the seed and the laws of nature (which are also immanent), the seed will, under the proper conditions, germinate and grow into a plant.
  • Wayfarer
    6.8k
    Talk about fighting straw men! Aristotle never claimed ends were efficient causes. The author lacks the most rudimentary understanding of Aristotle's four "causes."Dfpolis

    Yes, I do understand that - the quote is from the wikipedia entry on 'teleonomy' and, as you say, betrays a misunderstanding of the whole notion of final causes as 'that towards which something is directed'.

    The entire structure of Kantian philosophy has been rebutted by modern physics.Dfpolis

    I'm sorry, but I can't agree. Many of the pioneers of quantum physics, particularly Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger and Pauli, and Ernst Cassirer who wrote extensively on the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics, were arguably neo-Kantian in important respects. Here's an essay on Kantian quantum physics by Kelly Ross. And Bernard D'Espagnat echoed many themes from Kant in his acceptance of the Templeton Prize.

    My view is that methodological naturalism certainly must put aside or bracket out any consideration of an overarching purpose or intentionality.
    — Wayfarer

    Why? If humans are natural and teleological explanation applies to us, why should methodological naturalism exclude it a priori?
    Dfpolis

    Because of what methodological naturalism deals with. Its job is to consider causal relationships evident in empirical experience, not to seek first principles or ultimate causes. What I’m saying is that the problems start when that morphs into positivism, when it pretends to be more than it is. Strictly speaking natural science is, or ought to be, agnostic with respect to metaphysics; something along the lines of Wittgenstein's circumspection about 'what cannot be stated'.
  • Dfpolis
    466
    The entire structure of Kantian philosophy has been rebutted by modern physics. — Dfpolis

    I'm sorry, but I think that is entirely mistaken
    Wayfarer

    Then you will not mind explaining how what Kant thought to be literally unthinkable (alternate views of space, time and causality) were thought and accepted in light of empirical discoveries. To say that advances in physics falsified Kant's conjectures is not to say that everyone realizes that it did so.

    I do not know the philosophy of all the luminaries you mention, but i have read enough of Heisenberg and Bohr to know that their views on observation are Aristotelian, not Kantian. Heisenberg even wrote a paper in which he proposed that energy was Aristotelian prime matter.

    Because of what methodological naturalism deals with. Its job is to consider causal relationships evident in empirical experience, not to seek first principles or ultimate causes.Wayfarer

    Yes, science is not concerned with metaphysical first principles, but in reviewing the work of his predecessors in Metaphysics A, 3-7, Aristotle is not considering transcendent matters, but the work of the physikoi -- those who sought to understand nature. So, material, formal, efficient and final modes of explanation are approaches to the understanding of empirical reality in terms of immanent, not transcendent, principles. Thus, there is no reason to exclude them when we observe them on a daily basis in the lived world.

    We see material modes of explanation in the atomic theory of chemistry, in nuclear and high-energy physics, and in DNA-based genetics. We see formal modes of explanation in the equations of mathematical physics, in the biological role of the geometric structure of compounds and in the dynamics of gene expression. Efficient causality plays a role in every branch of science. Still the role of final causality, though real, is denied.

    For example, I wrote my dissertation on the S-Matrix Formulation of the Neutral Kaon System. S-Matrices are mathematical structures that link initial and final states directly, without explicit consideration of the intervening dynamics. Thus, they are the mathematical expression of final causality -- telling us that this initial state is, immanently, that final state.

    I have already given simpler, but equally empirical, examples involving spider webs and the determinate potential of seeds. Let me expand a bit on the modeling of neurophysical processes. We know for a fact that the response of neurons to stimuli is nonlinear. So, the mathematical models of neural processes puts us in the realm of chaos theory, and its concomitant unpredictability. As confirmation of this, we have chaotic models of epileptic seizures. This means that not only can we not now predict the behavior of spiders' neural systems via efficient or formal causality, we have no expectation of doing so in the future. Still, we can predict using final causality. It is utterly irrational to refuse to do so because it offends naturalists' belief system.
  • Wayfarer
    6.8k
    Then you will not mind explaining how what Kant thought to be literally unthinkable (alternate views of space, time and causality) were thought and accepted in light of empirical discoveriesDfpolis

    A snippet from Kant

    I understand by the transcendental idealism of all appearances the doctrine that they are all together to be regarded as mere representations and not things in themselves, and accordingly that space and time are only sensible forms of our intuition, but not determinations given for themselves or conditions of objects as things in themselves. To this idealism is opposed transcendental realism, which regards space and time as something given in themselves (independent of our sensibility). The transcendental realist therefore represents outer appearances (if their reality is conceded) as things in themselves, which would exist independently of us and our sensibility and thus would also be outside us according to pure concepts of the understanding. (CPR, A369)

    The transcendental idealist, on the contrary, can be an empirical realist, hence, as he is called, a dualist, i.e., he can concede the existence of matter without going beyond mere self-consciousness and assuming something more than the certainty of representations in me, hence the cogito ergo sum. For because he allows this matter and even its inner possibility to be valid only for appearance– which, separated from our sensibility, is nothing – matter for him is only a species of representations (intuition), which are called 'external', not as if they related to objects that are external in themselves but because they relate perceptions to space, where all things are external to one another, but that space itself is in us. (A370)

    It is exactly the 'mind-independence of sensible objects' which has been called into question by physics - which is why I think Kant's basic thesis is still directly relevant.

    i have read enough of Heisenberg and Bohr to know that their views on observation are Aristotelian, not Kantian. Heisenberg even wrote a paper in which he proposed that energy was Aristotelian prime matter.Dfpolis

    I have read a little of Heisenberg's Physics and Philosophy and also of Bohr's ideas on complementarity. I don't think that there is a binary choice between Aristotle and Kant; Kant's 'categories of the understanding' were derived from Aristotle in the first place. Both Bohr and Heisenberg drew on a wide range of sources of philosophy, including even Eastern philosophy, so it's not one or the other. Heisenberg's speech 'The Debate between Plato and Democritus' (representing idealism and materialism) comes down decisely in favour of the former.

    There's a really interesting interpretive model by Ruth Kastner, which draws on the Aristotelian notion of 'potentia':

    Considering potential things to be real is not exactly a new idea, as it was a central aspect of the philosophy of Aristotle, 24 centuries ago. An acorn has the potential to become a tree; a tree has the potential to become a wooden table. Even applying this idea to quantum physics isn’t new. Werner Heisenberg, the quantum pioneer famous for his uncertainty principle, considered his quantum math to describe potential outcomes of measurements of which one would become the actual result. The quantum concept of a “probability wave,” describing the likelihood of different possible outcomes of a measurement, was a quantitative version of Aristotle’s potential, Heisenberg wrote in his well-known 1958 book Physics and Philosophy. “It introduced something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality.”

    I think this is important because it reinstates the understanding that reality comes in degrees - that there are things that are more or less real, or, put another way, real possibilities - something which I think was lost in the transition to modernity.

    (Anyway - all very deep waters, and regrettably in my timezone the day is starting and domestic duties demand my attention.)
  • Dfpolis
    466


    First, as regard Kant's text, Aristotelian moderate realists do not fit the straw man definition of "transcendental realism, which regards space and time as something given in themselves (independent of our sensibility)." Aristotle says:
    Things are 'relative' (1) as double to half, and treble to a third, and in general that which contains something else many times to that which is contained many times in something else, and that which exceeds to that which is exceeded; (2) as that which can heat to that which can be heated, and that which can cut to that which can be cut, and in general the active to the passive; (3) as the measurable to the measure, and the knowable to knowledge, and the perceptible to perception. — Metaphysics, Delta, 15
    Thus, Aristotle never considers actual appearances "as something given in themselves (independent of our sensibility)." For him, being perceptible is not a stand-alone feature. It exists only relative to a perceiving subject. Specifically, space and time do not exist independently of being measured. Aristotle famously defines time as "the measure of change according to before and after." So, space and time are not independent existents (a la Newton), but the result of measuring space-like and time-like measurability, in conformity with Aristotle's general understanding of quantity:
    'Quantity' means that which is divisible into two or more constituent parts of which each is by nature a 'one' and a 'this'. A quantity is a plurality if it is numerable, a magnitude if it is a measurable. — Metaphysics, Delta, 13

    It is exactly the 'mind-independence of sensible objects' which has been called into question by physics - which is why I think Kant's basic thesis is still directly relevant.Wayfarer

    Not at all. What is called into question is the Platonic notion that numbers exist prior to counting and measuring operations. Rather, they are the result of measuring and counting operations. Measure numbers in particular are the result of an interaction between the measurable and the measuring operation. Both relativity and quantum theory tell us that measure numbers depend jointly on the prior state of the system and the type of measurement being made.

    Specifically, with regard to quantum measurements, it is often forgotten that the measure number is the result of an interaction between an unknown system state, and a detector whose precise quantum state is equally unknown. Obviously, one measure number is inadequate to determine two unknowns.

    I pretty much agree with your closing observations.
  • Wayfarer
    6.8k
    Aristotelian moderate realists do not fit the straw man definition of "transcendental realism"Dfpolis

    I wouldn't have suggested otherwise - I think the thrust of this comment is not directed at Aristotelian realism, but at the then-emerging modern empiricists, for whom the 'mind-independence' of phenomena was (and remains) an axiom. Aristotle belonged to an earlier intellectual age, which didn't share in that distinctively modernist understanding.

    It is exactly the 'mind-independence of sensible objects' which has been called into question by physics - which is why I think Kant's basic thesis is still directly relevant.
    — Wayfarer

    Not at all. What is called into question is the Platonic notion that numbers exist prior to counting and measuring operations. Rather, they are the result of measuring and counting operations. Measure numbers in particular are the result of an interaction between the measurable and the measuring operation. Both relativity and quantum theory tell us that measure numbers depend jointly on the prior state of the system and the type of measurement being made.
    Dfpolis

    Why then did Einstein famously ask the question, 'doesn't the moon continue to exist when nobody's looking at it?' (something which of course he did believe - it was posed rhetorically.) The whole controversy that surrounds the 'measurement problem' is precisely one concerning the sense in which the act of observation determines what is being observed. I don't think that Platonic realism has much to do with that particular problem - what is being called into question by quantum physics is whether particles exist before they're observed, and these particles had been presumed to be the 'fundamental constituents of reality'. That is why quantum physics challenges scientific realism. (I've just read Adam Becker's book on this very question, What is Real?)

    Where Kant's philosophy remains relevant, it is because:

    Kant introduced the concept of the “thing in itself” to refer to reality as it is independent of our experience of it and unstructured by our cognitive constitution. The concept was harshly criticized in his own time and has been lambasted by generations of critics since. A standard objection to the notion is that Kant has no business positing it given his insistence that we can only know what lies within the limits of possible experience. But a more sympathetic reading is to see the concept of the “thing in itself” as a sort of placeholder in Kant's system; it both marks the limits of what we can know and expresses a sense of mystery that cannot be dissolved, the sense of mystery that underlies our unanswerable questions. Through both of these functions it serves to keep us humble 1 . — Emrys Westacott
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.5k
    Specifically, space and time do not exist independently of being measured. Aristotle famously defines time as "the measure of change according to before and after." So, space and time are not independent existents (a la Newton), but the result of measuring space-like and time-like measurability, in conformity with Aristotle's general understanding of quantity:Dfpolis

    Don't forget though, Aristotle also said that in another sense, time is that which is measured. So we really have to understand "time" in these two ways, as that which measures, and that which is measured. I don't think it is appropriate to say that the thing which is measured is "time-like" because as the thing measured, it is the real thing. It is more appropriate to refer to the thing which measures as "time-like", because this is just a representation of the real time, that which is measured. See, we make a representation of time passing, with a clock of some sort, and we use this to measure. But this measure is not the real time passing, it is a representation of it, so the measure is what is "time-like", not the thing measured which is real "time", passing.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.