Of the three classical theism topics being discussed in this series (part 1 and part 2 here), the loss of a teleological view of the world has the most devastating consequences. Many things that are objectively bad our modern society now calls good.
The world needs to rediscover this core teaching of classical theism now more than ever. I truly believe this teaching is one of our best chances to demonstrate the rationality of Christianity to a culture that increasingly thinks Christianity is archaic, irrational, and bigoted.
It is also our best defense for preventing a worst-case scenario where holding to Christian values about identity and marriage becomes illegal. This isn’t an overreaction or an irrational fear. All the things we see happening to Christians in the public sphere as of late show a culture that is growing increasingly hostile and even specifically targeting Christians for holding to historic biblical values. 1
So begins a look at the concept of teleology. Once again, this topic of teleology is going to be especially hard to condense into a single blog post so I will break it up into two.
In this first post, I will define what the concept of teleology is and why classical theists have held to it. I will also begin to describe how teleology was lost in the modern mind and deal with objections from its opponents.
Then, in the second post, I will explore how these errors from rejecting teleology manifest in the secular world today, followed by a look at some errors within the church.
What is Teleology?
Teleology is the study of the order that is apparent in the world around us. By order, I mean that there are natural goals or ends, that each thing that exists tend towards.
For instance, an acorn is oriented towards growing into a tree. A kitten is oriented towards growing into a cat. Things behave according to an order. We don’t see acorns that sometimes grow into elephants.
This isn’t to say that things have an awareness of these goals, it is just to say it is a thing’s very nature to act in accord with what it is.
Aristotle’s 4 Causes
A teleological view of nature arises from Aristotle’s idea of 4 causes. It is what Aristotle called the final cause of a thing.
In an Aristotelian view, every substance that exists can be reduced to:
- Material Cause – the stuff it is made out of
- Formal Cause – what the thing is, its attributes and capacities 2
- Efficient Cause – what brought it into existence
- Final Cause – the goal a thing is naturally pointed at. 3
A shoe could thus be explained as follows. The material it is made of is a type of fabric and rubber. The form is the general shape and attributes of the shoe. The efficient cause is the person who made the shoe. The final cause is to make walking easier.
Purpose vs. Natural End
It is worth noting that teleology isn’t simply saying that everything has a purpose. 4 What is the purpose of a cat?
Rather, teleology is stating that every natural thing has a nature that is directed towards an end, similar to how an archer’s arrow is aimed at a target. Again, an example being a kitten is directed towards growing into a cat and not into a horse.
Sometimes speaking of purpose definitely makes sense, like the eyes purpose is for seeing. The deeper issue is that there are ends towards which all things are directed at, an order that all things follow.
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Teleology
It is also important to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic teleology.
Intrinsic teleology is the idea that inherent within a thing, its very nature determines what ends it naturally points at. For instance, a heart naturally pumps blood. It is a pump for the circulatory system of an organism as a result of its very nature.
A watch, on the other hand, doesn’t naturally tell time. It just has parts that move according to how the person designed it. The ability to demonstrate time is actually imposed on the watch from the outside, by a person who interprets the motion of the parts of the watch to communicate the time. This is teleology that is extrinsic.5
Intrinsic teleology will be what we are concentrating on for the rest of this discussion. It will be important because as we shall see next, what makes a thing good is its ability to fulfill its intrinsic telos, its natural final end.
A Thing is Good if it Realizes its Essence
Classical theists believe a thing is good in proportion to how well it is realizing its natural end.
For instance, the philosopher Edward Feser gives an example of a good versus bad triangle. A triangle has a nature towards which anything that claims to be a triangle is pointed at and can be judged. A triangle’s nature is to be a three-sided closed plane figure in which all its angles add up to 180 degrees (in Euclidian space at least).
A good triangle would be one in which someone took the time to use tools to draw all sides as perfectly as possible. A bad triangle would be one in which the sides of the triangle were hastily drawn and not straight. What makes the hastily drawn triangle bad is that it failed to realize fully the nature of what a triangle is. 6
We could say the same for biological beings too. A good dog is one that most closely realizes its nature. A dog that is missing one leg, then, can rightly be said to be defective as it is not realizing its natural end fully. A lioness that eats her cubs rather than nurturing them could equally be said to be defective. 7
The connection between a thing’s nature and its goodness or badness is imperative as we will now look at the implications of this for human action.
Morality is a Teleological View of Human Action
Humans are unique creatures in creation in that we have a level of awareness to be able to reflect on what is good and right action. In other words, we alone, are moral agents. We alone are rational animals.
As we just saw above, since what makes a thing good or bad is in relation to how well it is realizing its nature, this equally applies to morality as well. To act in accord with our nature is to do good. To act against our nature is bad. 8
The human intellect is oriented toward truth. As rational animals, it is a human being’s final end to aim at truth, even if we fail to realize it. In other words, to pursue truth for us is what is good and fail to do so is bad. This leads to St. Thomas Aquinas’ famous first principle of natural law:
Good is to be pursued and evil is to be avoided.
— St. Thomas Aquinas
The essence of natural law for humans, then, is to act rationally.
Whatever is contrary to the order of reason is, properly speaking, contrary to the nature of man, as man; while whatever is in accord with reason, is in accord with the nature of man, as man. Now man’s good is to be in accord with reason, and his evil is to be against reason, as Dionysius states. . . . Therefore human virtue, which makes a man good, and his work good, is in accord with man’s nature, just in so far as it accords with his reason: while vice is contrary to man’s nature, just in so far as it is contrary to the order of reason. 9
–St. Thomas Aquinas
An interesting consequence of this view of is that everyone always acts towards what they perceive to be good. We simply can’t help from doing so.
However, people often are mistaken about what is truly good for them and instead choose a false good.
A drug addict would be a good example. Some part of them likely realizes they are not doing good, but another part of them convinces themselves that the perceived good of getting high makes it ok. 10
Where Secular Morality Got Off the Rails
“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.”
— Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science,” New York Times Magazine, 1930
When the secular person states that morality is simply doing what helps humans flourish, they are, in a sense, correct. And theists do agree that we can all be moral, whether we believe in God or not. The problem is without teleology (and ultimately, God), there is no way to ground what a non-theist claims to be good and bad. It is just an argument by assertion.
What makes the statement true that human flourishing for the greatest number is good instead of the dictator that thinks what is good is whatever keeps them in power? They are both just assertions.
You can even devise a scenario where more people would flourish under the dictator who committed evils against a few to gain power. On a secular view of morality, what is wrong with this view, then?
What is wrong with all secular views of morality can be objectively demonstrated by teleology.
Teleology is an empirical science by nature. Secular morality is arguments from emotion. Teleology grounds morality in the intrinsic ends that are inherent in everything that exists, secular morality grounds it in what most people simply agree upon at any given moment.
Science Rejects Teleology
Interestingly, with the rise of the modern scientific method came a rejection of formal and final causes. Many scientists deny that there are any final ends in nature. Instead, science primarily concerns itself solely with efficient causes (#3 of Aristotle’s 4 causes mentioned above). This resulted in a mechanistic view of the universe which, as we shall see, without teleology is ultimately just not tenable. 11
This has persisted especially into the modern mind, where many prominent and vocal scientists and philosophers continue to deny that science has any room for a concept like teleology.
Panglossianism is bad because it asks the wrong question, namely, What is good?… The alternative is to reject such teleology altogether. Instead of asking, What is good? we ask, What has happened? The new question does everything we could expect the old one to do, and a lot more besides. 12
And another example:
Karl Marx was exultant: “Not only is a death blow dealt here for the first time to ‘Teleology’ in the natural sciences but their rational meaning is empirically explained” (quoted in Rachels 1991, p. 110). Friedrich Nietzsche saw—through the mists of his contempt for all things English—an even more cosmic message in Darwin: God is dead. 13
Science is Impossible Without Teleology
The scientific method only works because it studies the laws and regularities of nature. But to say that there are laws of nature and that things follow natural regularities is to describe teleology. Therefore, to deny teleology in favor of the scientific method is to deny science itself.
If there weren’t these regularities (ends at which all things aim) then science couldn’t study anything as it is all about studying causes and effects. 14
As stated before, purposes are not the point of teleology, order towards a goal is. In this sense, we can say that all the regularities of nature, including the negative charge of an electron, have a telos as they are ordered towards a natural end.15
To deny teleology is to deny something that is truly self-evident about the world around us. It is an orderly place. It is also to deny that science is possible or that we should even trust our ability to know anything! 16
If there isn’t really order in the universe, why in the world should we trust the orderly systems we craft with science to describe the world around us? Worse yet, why should we even trust the laws of logic that we use to think about anything at all?
The reason why secular-minded approaches are skeptical of teleology is that this order needs an explanation of why it exists. Of course, God is the conclusion of this argument. This is the brunt of Aquinas’ Fifth Way. 17
Psalms 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
There is no way to produce morality from a secular point of view. People have been trying for years, but they are all dead ends.
Most attempts at secular morality are some kind of a variation of consequentialism. 18 This is a theory of morality that aims at maximizing value. A typical application is one should choose whatever causes the least amount of harm to the greatest number of people. 19
Sam Harris is one such popular atheist public thinker who thinks we can have objective morality without God by simply always aiming at what will maximize human flourishing and minimize suffering for people. 20 Again, the classical theist agrees with these aims, but for the secularist, these aims are just assertions. There is no reason why we ought to do this.
Plus, this axiom of aiming at maximizing human flourishing works in most cases, but it is the fringe cases that show why this can’t be the ground for morality. Consequentialism leads to the conclusion that you are sometimes morally obligated to do what is evil to maximize flourishing for the greater good.
If we simply want to maximize human flourishing then a doctor should be morally obligated to kill one healthy person to save the lives of all the other people their organs could go to. We would, of course, all object. But on consequentialism, you have to begin to make deviations from your axiom to try and explain why. It is not much of an axiom after all, then. 21
On a natural law point of view, it is always wrong to do what is evil so that good may come of it.
Principle of Double Effect
Classical theism has a principle of double effect that states you are acting morally responsible if you always do what is good, even though something bad may come of it.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides four conditions for the application of the principle of double effect:
- The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
- The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
- The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
- The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect“ (p. 1021).
A common example here is of treating a pregnant mother, say who has cancer, even though the treatment may harm the child. Of course, this would only be moral if there were no other options for treatment. In this case, you are doing what is good (treating the mother), even though a bad consequence may also come of it (harm to the child). In this case, you are not directly morally responsible for the harm to the child.
This is vastly different from inaction in the case of not helping a person who is drowning. If you are able to help, but simply choose not to, you are not avoiding an evil act by not acting. Here, inaction itself would be evil.
The teleological view of morality is always objectively grounded in a thing’s nature; it is never acting in a way that frustrates natural ends. It doesn’t mean it will always be immediately apparent what is right and wrong to do, though. Some cases will require much thought, but it is nonetheless always objective and consistent.
Cannot Derive an “Ought” From an “Is”
This will lead some to one of the most common charges towards people who claim objective morality exists. The claim is there is no way to derive an ought from an is.
Moral relativists, especially, will claim all we can say is that things exist. They claim that there is no inherent value to anything that exists, rather, all value is subjective and is only made up in our minds.
With a teleological conception of morality, there is no fact/value or ought/is distinction, though. This objection just doesn’t apply.
One such objection (famously raised by “New Natural Lawyers” as well as by secularist critics) is the charge that the “old” natural law theory commits a “naturalistic fallacy” by failing to take note of the “fact/value distinction.” For from the Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, there simply is no “fact/value distinction” in the first place. More precisely, there is no such thing as a purely “factual” description of reality utterly divorced from “value,” for “value” is built into the structure of the “facts” from the start. A gap between “fact” and “value” could exist only given a mechanistic understanding of nature of the sort commonly taken for granted by modern philosophers, on which the world is devoid of any immanent essences or natural ends. No such gap, and thus no “fallacy” of inferring normative conclusions from “purely factual” premises, can exist given an Aristotelian-Thomistic essentialist and teleological conception of the world. “Value” is a highly misleading term in any case, and subtly begs the question against critics of the “fact/value distinction” by insinuating that morality is purely subjective, insofar as “value” seems to presuppose someone doing the valuing. Aristotelians and Thomists (and other classical philosophers such as Platonists) tend to speak, not of “value,” but of “the good,” which on their account is entirely objective. 22
Here, we will break before jumping into a description of all the ills that have befallen the world by rejecting teleology.
Many people just don’t see how upside down the world is today. I think that many would if they began to consider morality from a teleological standpoint. It is logical and it is what nature shows us.
I suspect a large part of why the world now doesn’t even know about teleology, is because many people just don’t trust that the God of the Bible exists anymore.
I also suspect another large part is people love their sins. We love our sins so much that we are willing to find any way to convince ourselves that they are, in fact, ok. As a result, our rational beliefs in what make things moral (teleological morality) have to go.
These missing pieces of classical theism all truly go hand in hand. When you lose one, the others quickly follow.
We have to find a way to get these concepts back into the common square of knowledge.
If you love me keep my commandments.
“Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.”
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
- Here is a link to an article that lists several events that happened within about a week of each other where Christians were targeted for their faith. ↩︎
- Formal causes can be much more nuanced and complicated than a simple one sentences description can lead on. I want to hold off on any robust explanation for later posts, as it would take up way too much space here to do so. It is another key part that is missing from the modern idea of metaphysics, though, so I hope to eventually cover it again at length. ↩︎
- “Following Aristotle, the Scholastics took the view that a complete understanding of a material substance required identifying each of its “four causes.” Every such substance is, first of all, an irreducible composite of substantial form and prime matter (irreducible because on the Scholastic view, substantial form and prime matter cannot themselves be understood apart from the substances they compose, making the analysis holistic rather than reductionist). The substantial form of a thing is its nature or essence, the underlying metaphysical basis of its properties and causal powers; it constitutes a thing’s formal cause. Prime matter is the otherwise formless stuff that takes on a substantial form so as to instantiate it in a concrete object, and apart from which the form would be a mere abstraction; it constitutes a thing’s material cause. That which brings a thing into existence constitutes its efficient cause. And the end or goal towards which a thing naturally points is its final cause.” Feser, Edward. Teleology A Shopper’s Guide. 2010. EPSOCIETY.org. p. 142-143 ↩︎
- The second point is that in the broad sense everything has a function as well as a nature or real essence, the former being given by the latter. For “function” in its broadest sense just means the natural specific activity of something.31 In this sense we can ask what the function/purpose of condensation is in the water cycle, or what the function/purpose of the strong nuclear force is in radioactive decay. To describe such functions does not require making any reference to a designer, human agent, invention, conceived objective, and the like. Nor does it involve the use of biological or quasi-biological metaphor, as when we speak, for instance, of the life cycle of a star.32 The description, devoid of metaphor, is simply of the natural specific activity of certain entities, events, or process- es, usually in the context of larger entities, events, or processes. We are, however, fairly selective in our use of teleological language when describing the natural world. The question “What is the function/purpose of a stone?” is evidently strange and rarely asked, though one could imagine a geologist posing it in the context of an inquiry into the formation of some mineral, for instance. But stones, like everything else, are law-governed entities and so do in fact have a natural, specific activity; the use of an attenuated functional vocabulary seems inescapable in many cases, though whether we choose to use a broad range of teleological vocabulary (terms such as “purpose,” “objective,” “desire,” “try”) is less important. Oderberg, David. Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Law. P. 63-64 ↩︎
- “Where final causality or teleology is concerned, several crucial distinctions need to be kept in mind so that common misunderstandings are avoided. (See Feser 2010 for a detailed discussion.) First, we need to distinguish intrinsic finality from extrinsic finality. That the parts of a watch are directed toward the end of telling time has nothing to do with the nature of the parts themselves. The time-telling function is imposed on the parts entirely from outside, by the watchmaker and the users of the watch. The finality here is thus extrinsic. By contrast, the tendency of an acorn to grow into an oak is intrinsic to it in the sense that it is just in the nature of an acorn to grow into an oak. Whereas the metal bits of a watch would still be metal bits whether or not they played a role in a timepiece, an acorn would not be an acorn if it did not have a tendency to develop into an oak. (This distinction is very closely connected ‘to the Aristotelian distinction between artifacts and true substances, which will be examined in chapter 3.)As this indicates, there is also a second distinction to be drawn between an end or goal on the one hand, and a thing’s directedness toward that end or goal on the other. Hence there is a difference between the end of telling time, and the parts of a watch functioning together so as to realize that end; and there is a difference between the end of becoming an oak, and an acorn’s pointing to that end. An end or goal is itself always extrinsic to a thing. Actually telling time is different from the parts of a watch having the function of telling time. Actually being an oak is different from an acorn’s having a tendency to become an oak. But the directedness toward an end is not always extrinsic. Sometimes it is extrinsic, as in the case of the watch parts, but sometimes it is intrinsic, as in the case of the acorn.” Edward Feser. Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. p. 98 ↩︎
- Consider, to begin with, a simple example. It is of the essence or nature of a Euclidean triangle to be a closed plane figure with three straight sides, and anything with this essence must have a number of properties, such as having angles that add up to 180 degrees. These are objective facts that we discover rather than invent; certainly it is notoriously difficult to make the opposite opinion at all plausible. Nevertheless, there are obviously triangles that fail to live up to this definition. A triangle drawn hastily on the cracked plastic seat of a moving bus might fail to be completely closed or to have perfectly straight sides, and thus its angles will add up to something other than 180 degrees. Indeed, even a triangle drawn slowly and carefully on paper with an art pen and a ruler will contain subtle flaws. Still, the latter will far more closely approximate the essence of triangularity than the former will. It will be a better triangle than the former. Indeed, we would quite naturally describe the latter as a good triangle and the former as a bad one. This judgment would be completely objective; it would be silly to suggest that we were merely expressing a personal preference for angles that add up to 180 degrees. It would be equally silly to suggest that we have somehow committed a fallacy in making a “value” judgment about the badness of the triangle drawn on the bus seat on the basis of the “facts” about the essence of triangularity. Given that essence, the “value judgment” follows necessarily. This example illustrates how an entity can count as an instance of a certain type of thing even if it fails perfectly to instantiate the essence of that type of thing; a badly drawn triangle is not a non-triangle, but rather a defective triangle. It illustrates at the same time how there can be a completely objective, factual standard of goodness and badness, better and worse. To be sure, the standard in question in this example is not a moral standard. But from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, it illustrates a general notion of goodness of which moral goodness is a special case. Feser, E. (2015). Neo-scholastic essays. South Bend, IN: St. Augustines Press.P. 380-382 ↩︎
- An important point here is that the word “defective” is being used in a technical sense. It is simply stating anything that doesn’t realize that end perfectly (like a perfect circle) is defective to some degree. It isn’t being used to assign the value of worth. This would be an important distinction because any person that has defects does not have less worth because of them. In fact, every person has defects of one kind or another, as we all fail to realize our telos perfectly. Because we are God’s creation, made in his image, we all have infinite worth. Thankfully, in the life to come, everything will be perfect and we will all realize our telos perfectly. The book of Revelation especially talks of the perfection of the life to come as in Revelation 7:13-17 and Revelation 21:4-8 ↩︎
- If you look at something like Thomas Aquinas and here his ideas are, as they so often are grounded in Aristotle, morality is fundamentally grounded in human nature. This is the idea of morality as natural law. And there is a link to religion, but it’s not as direct as atheists often suppose it’s more indirect. The idea is that what’s good or bad for something is determined by its nature, that things by their nature have certain tasks they have to perform, they have certain ends or goals they have to fulfill in order to flourish, the kinds of things that they are. So forget about human beings for the moment, right? Just think of something like to use some stock examples like to use a tree or an animal, like a squirrel or a bird or something, right? A tree, given its nature as a tree, if it’s going to flourish, has to realize certain ends or goals. It’s got to sink roots into the ground, to give it stability and to take in water. It’s got to grow bark to protect it from the elements and insects. But if it doesn’t realize those goals, you might say, it’s not going to be a very good tree. It’s not going to flourish as a good specimen of a tree. Same thing with the squirrel if it’s going to flourish as that kind of animal, as a squirrel, it’s got to gather It’s nuts and acorns for the winter. It’s got a scamper about and if a predators and so forth. If it fails to do those things it’s not going to flourish as a squirrel.Now human beings are like that too. We have certain ends we have to pursue, certain goals we have to realize our reach, if we’re going to flourish as the kinds of things that we are. For example, human beings are rational animals, unlike other animals, we’ve got intellects, we’ve got rationality and free choice. So we need to learn things about the world. We need to study, we need to investigate the what we need to do things like science and philosophy, or we’re not going to flourish as the kinds of things that we are. Now just as it’s a matter of objective fact that a tree that fails to sink roots is a bad tree in the sense of a bad specimen, a defective specimen of a tree, and the squirrel that fails to gather acorns and nuts and so forth is a defective or bad specimen of being a squirrel, so to a human being that fails to realize the ends or goals that are built into our nature is a bad specimen of a human being. Edward Feser on Ben Shapiro Sunday Special Ep 17 9/2/2018 ↩︎
- **Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae. I-II q. 71 a. 2 ** ↩︎
- This is true even of someone who is convinced that what he is doing is morally wrong. The mugger who admits that robbery is evil nevertheless takes his victim’s wallet because he thinks it would be good to have some money to pay for his drugs; the drug addict who knows that his habit is wrong and degrading nevertheless thinks it would be bad to suffer the unpleasantness of withdrawal; and so forth. We are simply built to pursue good and avoid evil in this thin sense.But suppose that the intellect comes to perceive that what is in fact good for us is to realize the ends that nature has set for us and to avoid anything that frustrates the realization of those ends. Then to the extent that we are rational we will strive to realize those ends. In short, reason is built to pursue what it takes to be good; what is in fact good is the realization of the ends set for us by nature; and thus a rational person apprised of the facts will seek to realize those ends. In this sense to be moral is simply to act rationally and to be immoral is to be irrational. The obligatory force of morality thus follows from the natural end or final cause of reason, just as the content of morality follows from the natural ends or final causes of our various capacities more generally. Morality, for the classical philosophical tradition, is thus doubly dependent on an essentialist and teleological conception of nature. Feser, Edward. Natural Law, Natural Rights, and Private Property. March 18, 2012 http://www.libertylawsite.org/liberty-forum/natural-law-natural-rights-and-private-property/ ↩︎
- “The thinkers who founded modern philosophy and modern science rejected this picture of nature. In particular, they rejected the notions of substantial form, of matter as that which takes on such a form, and of a final cause as an inherent end or telos of a thing. Of Aristotle’s four causes, only efficient cause was left in anything like a recognizable form (and even then the notion was significantly altered, since, as we shall see, efficient causes were regarded by the Scholastics as correlated with final causes). Material objects were reconceived as comprised entirely of microscopic particles (understood along either atomistic, corpuscularian, or plenum-theoretic lines) devoid of any inherent goal-directedness and interacting in terms of “push-pull” contact causation alone. This “mechanical philosophy” underwent various transformations as modern philosophy and modern science developed. The philosophical inadequacy of the contact model of causal interaction soon became evident in light of the critiques of occasionalists, Humeans, and others; and in any event, the model could not survive the empirical difficulties posed for it by Newtonian gravitation, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics. But what has clearly survived the anti-Aristotelian “mechanistic” revolution to the present day is the rejection of teleology as an inherent feature of the natural order. As philosopher of science David Hull has written:Mechanism in its extreme form is clearly false because numerous physical phenomena of the most ordinary sort cannot be explained entirely in terms of masses in motion. Mechanics is only one small part of physics. Historically, explanations were designated as mechanistic to indicate that they included no reference to final causes or vital forces. In this weak sense, all present-day scientific explanations are mechanistic.” Feser, Edward. Teleology A Shopper’s Guide. 2010. EPSOCIETY.org. p. 143 ↩︎
- Ghiselin, Michael. Lloyd Morgan’s canon in evolutionary context. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6 (3):363 (1983) ↩︎
- Dennett, Daniel C.1995. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Simon & Schuster. p. 62 ↩︎
- There really are purposes or goals in nature. That’s something that modern atheism rejects, alongside its rejection of God. The idea that there really is any purpose built into the very nature of the physical world, what Aristotle called final causality, final cause or end or goal or purpose, right? And they often reject this idea on the base of modern science. They say, well, modern science has shown there are no purposes in nature. There are no final causes. What I would say is that modern science has shown no such thing, modern science simply brackets that question off, it doesn’t look for final causes. It looks for things you can put in the language of mathematics, and you can’t put purpose in the language of mathematics. So for scientific purposes, physics just ignores that, that’s very different from showing that it doesn’t exist. Edward Feser interview with Ben Shapiro. ↩︎
- Pigliucci says: “It makes no sense to ask what is the purpose or goal of an electron, a molecule, a planet or a mountain.” But the remark is either aimed at a straw man or begs the question. If by “the purpose of an electron etc.” Pigliucci has in mind something like the kind of purposes that a heart or an eyeball has (which can only be understood by reference to the flourishing of the organism of which these organs are parts), or the kind that an artifact has (which can only be understood by reference to the human purposes for which the artifact was made), then he is of course correct that electrons, molecules, planets and mountains lack such purposes. But not all teleology need in the first place involve the kinds of purposes we see in bodily organs and artifacts, and those who attribute teleology to inorganic phenomena are not attributing to them those specific kinds of teleology. What they have in mind instead is mere directedness toward an end.Now, anything with irreducible causal powers arguably has that sort of mere directedness — what Hoffman calls the “stripped-down core notion” of teleology — insofar as it has a typical sort of effect or range of effects. Contemporary “new essentialist” powers theorists willing to countenance something like “physical intentionality” would attribute this sort of teleology to physical particles. Edward Feser. Conjuring teleology. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/03/conjuring-teleology.html ↩︎
- Feser: What I would say is, there are several arguments some of the more technical than others that you give for the existence of final cause or purpose in the natural world, but probably the the one that’s easiest to understand for the non philosophers the idea that if there is no final cause or purpose built into nature, at all, right, if the whole idea of final cause or purpose isn’t illusion then that means that human reason itself has no final cause or purpose. It doesn’t aim or point at anything. But if that’s the case, then the human mind, the human intellect doesn’t aim or point at truth as its final cause or goal either. If that’s the case, if the human intellect if the human mind, if human reason isn’t really for anything, it doesn’t have the attainment of truth as its final cause or goal because there are no final causes or goals. That means there really is no such thing objectively as a difference between good reasoning and bad reasoning, between good arguments and logical fallacies. It’s all ultimately just a matter of power of imposing your will on others. Now, I would say you can’t really make coherent sense of that even to give an argument for that claim. You need to presuppose that the arguments a good one not an argument that commits a fallacy even someone wants to deny that there’s a difference between good and bad arguments is gonna have to give you an argument for that and therefore presuppose that there is such a difference. Edward Feser interview with Ben Shapiro.↩︎
- See ST I, Q.2 A.3 to read Aquinas’ Five Ways. As the Fifth Way is not the main topic being discussed here, I will not pursue it any further for now. Hopefully, I will cover each of the five ways in future posts. ↩︎
- There are obviously others, such as deontological ethics (Kant), but they all suffer the same fate. They don’t have anything to ground why we ought to follow them. ↩︎
- Consequentialism is the theory that the fundamental aim of morality is to maximize value. Now I was tempted to say ‘sole aim’, but some consequentialists will disagree with that. They might hold, for instance, that one of the aims of morality is to abide by certain rules, or to cultivate certain virtues. But for them, what gives obedience to a rule or the cultivation of a virtue its point is that, ultimately, such behaviour maximizes value. So although maximizing value might not be the sole aim of morality – the sole answer to the question ‘What should I do to be good?’ and similar questions – still it is the fundamental aim of morality, and all other kinds of decision, action, and so on, derive their justification by reference to it. For my purposes, then, the difference between ‘sole’ and ‘fundamental’ is merely terminological. Oderberg, David S. Why I am not a Consequentialist. p. 1 ↩︎
- “As we come to understand how human beings can best collaborate and thrive in this world, science can help us find a path leading away from the lowest depths of misery and toward the heights of happiness for the greatest number of people. Of course, there will be practical impediments to evaluating the consequences of certain actions, and different paths through life may be morally equivalent (i.e., there may be many peaks on the moral landscape), but I am arguing that there are no obstacles, in principle, to our speaking about moral truth.” Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape. page 25 ↩︎
- “This is the charge that consequentialism allows, indeed requires, certain kinds of action that are obviously wrong and so not to be done. In particular, consequentialism permits and requires actions that are horrendous evils, as evil as anything can be. The typical example often given is of the judge who condemns an innocent man to death in order to satisfy a rioting mob that will murder hundreds of people if the judge lets the innocent man go free. Another is the doctor who kills patients for their organs so he can transplant those organs into many other patients who need them. In general, according to consequentialism, it is at least permitted, often obligatory, for a person to commit what looks to any sane observer like a blatant and serious violation of someone else’s rights, and hence to commit an act of grave injustice, in order to maximize value, or at least to do what he thinks is likely to maximize value. Now, for the non-consequentialist, no intuition his opponent can bring to bear in support of the consequentialist position on this matter is as strong as the intuition that such apparent injustices are indeed injustices, and so to be forbidden on all occasions, no matter what the consequences. According to Elizabeth Anscombe, even to entertain the supposition that the judge is allowed, let alone required, to condemn the innocent man to placate the angry mob is to show evidence of a morally corrupt mind. Someone who thinks the issue debatable, she says, is not someone with whom you should enter into debate.” Oderberg, David S. Why I am not a Consequentialist. p. 5 ↩︎
- Feser, E. (2015). Neo-scholastic essays. South Bend, IN: St. Augustines Press.P. 380-381 ↩︎