Aristotle on Teleology

Paperback | February 5, 2008

byMonte Ransome Johnson

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Monte Johnson examines the most controversial aspects of Aristiotle's natural philosophy: his teleology. Is teleology about causation or explanation? Does it exclude or obviate mechanism, determinism, or materialism? Is it focused on the good of individual organisms, or is god or man theultimate end of all processes and entities? Is teleology restricted to living things, or does it apply to the cosmos as a whole? Does it identify objectively existent causes in the world, or is it merely a heuristic for our understanding of other causal processes? Johnson argues that Aristotle'saporetic approach drives a middle course between these traditional oppositions, and avoids the dilemma, frequently urged against teleology, between backwards causation and anthropomorphism. Although these issues have been debated with extraordinary depth by Aristotle scholars, and touched upon bymany in the wider philosophical and scientific community as well, there is no comprehensive historical treatment of the issue. Aristotle is commonly considered the inventor of teleology, although the precise term originated in the eighteenth century. If teleology means the use of ends and goals in natural science, then Aristotle was rather a critical innovator of teleological explanation. Teleological notions werewidespread among his predecessors, but Aristotle rejected their conception of extrinsic causes such as mind or god as the primary causes for natural things. Aristotle's radical alternative was to assert nature itself as an internal principle of change and an end, and his teleological explanationsfocus on the intrinsic ends of natural substances - those ends that benefit the natural thing itself. Aristotle's use of ends was subsequently conflated with incompatible 'teleological' notions, including proofs for the existence of a providential or designer god, vitalism and animism, opposition to mechanism and non-teleological causation, and anthropocentrism. Johnson addresses thesemisconceptions through an elaboration of Aristotle's methodological statements, as well as an examination of the explanations actually offered in the scientific works.

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Monte Johnson examines the most controversial aspects of Aristiotle's natural philosophy: his teleology. Is teleology about causation or explanation? Does it exclude or obviate mechanism, determinism, or materialism? Is it focused on the good of individual organisms, or is god or man theultimate end of all processes and entities? Is te...

Monte Ransome Johnson is a Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University in Missouri.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.79 inPublished:February 5, 2008Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199238502

ISBN - 13:9780199238507

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Table of Contents

IntroductionI. Teleology as a Critical Explanatory Framework1. Historical background to the interpretation of Aristotle's teleology2. Preliminary study of Aristotle's causes3. Teleological notions4. Teleological dialecticPart II. Teleological Explanations in Natural Science5. Teleology and elements6. Teleology and organisms I: general principles7. Teleology and organisms II: specific explanations8. Teleology and humans9. Teleology and the cosmos10. Conclusion

Editorial Reviews

`...valuable contributions to the field of Aristotelian studies'Andrea Falcon, Rhizai