Imagine not being able to distinguish the real cause,
from that without which the cause would not be able to act,
as a cause. It is what the majority appear to do,
like people groping in the dark; they call it a cause,
thus giving it a name that does not belong to it.
That is why one man surrounds the earth with a vortex to make the
heavens keep it in place, another makes the air support it like a wide lid.
As for their capacity of being in the best place they could be at this
very time, this they do not look for, nor do they believe it to have
any divine force, but they believe that they will some time discover a
stronger and more immortal Atlas to hold everything together more,
and they do not believe that the truly good and ‘binding’ binds
and holds them together.
—Plato, Phaedo 99
The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos (root: τελε-, “end, purpose”) and -λογία, logia, “a branch of learning”. The term was coined in 1728 by the German philosopher Christian von Wolff in his work Philosophia rationalis, sive logica.
A teleology is any philosophical account that holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that — analogous to purposes found in human actions — nature inherently tends toward definite ends.
Teleology was explored by Plato and Aristotle, by Saint Anselm during the 11th century AD, in the late 18th century by Immanuel Kant as a regulative principle in his Critique of Judgment and by Carl Jung. It was fundamental to the speculative philosophy of Hegel.
A thing, process, or action is teleological when it is for the sake of an end, i.e., a telos or final cause. In general, it may be said that there are two types of final causes, which may be called intrinsic finality and extrinsic finality.
A thing or action has an extrinsic finality when it is for the sake of something external to itself. In a way, people exhibit extrinsic finality when they seek the happiness of a child. If the external thing had not existed that action would not display finality.
A thing or action has an intrinsic finality when it is for none other than its own sake. For example, one might try to be happy simply for the sake of being happy, and not for the sake of anything outside of that.
In modern science, explanations that rely on teleology are avoided, either because they are unnecessary or because whether they are true or false is thought to be beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge.But using teleology as an explanatory style, in particular within evolutionary biology, is still controversial.
Thomas Nagel Challenge to Science
The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.
Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.
Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic.
In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility.
Of course there is many critics of Thomas Nagel’s thesis here is one John Dupre:
“So here is the first problem. Reductionism can be understood as a metaphysical thesis, typically based on an argument that if there is only material stuff in the world (no spooky stuff), then the properties of stuff must ultimately explain everything. This is a controversial thesis, much debated by philosophers. But what the last 50 years of work in the philosophy of science has established is that this kind of reductionism has little relevance to science. Even if it turned out that most scientists believed something like this (which I find incredible) this would be a psychological oddity, not a deep insight about science. A more sensible materialism goes no further than the rejection of spooky stuff: whatever kinds of stuff there may turn out to be and whatever they turn out to do, they are, as long as this turning out is empirically grounded, ipso facto not spooky. Such a materialism is quite untouched by Nagel’s arguments.”
My response to Mr. Dupre will be not to try to paste up the fact that many scientist are ignorant of their own metaphysical stands as Material reductionist even if he find it incredible! Why? Because in their arrogance they have embraced scientism as a religious dogma without considering a valid argument for the subjective from a philosophical stand, you can’t blame philosophers for thinking clearly and recognize the value of consciousness and the subjective, regardless if many scientist reduced it to a mere chemical reaction, and the words yourself describe it to dismiss it as:
”a psychological oddity”! What argument will make many scientist understand they are trapped in an ideological position?
Thomas Nagel is asking them to get off from their high horse and bring the goodies, if they can find them!
Now I am aware of Mr. Dupre is a philosopher himself and of his fight against material reductionism:
Dupré advocates a pluralistic model of science as opposed to the common notion of reductionism. Physical Reductionism suggests that all science may be reduced to physical explanations due to causal or mereological links that obtain between the objects studied in the higher sciences the objects studied by physics. For example, a physical reductionist would see psychological facts as (in principle) reducible to neurological facts, which is in turn are reducible to biological facts. Biology could then be explained in terms of chemistry, and chemistry could then be explained in terms of physical explanation. While reductionism of this sort is a common position among scientists and philosophers, Dupré suggests that such reduction is not possible as the world has an inherently pluralistic structure.
And if he criticize Nagel, he ends his critic in a lukewarm embrace, why be so inhibited by what may scientist think?
Can’t philosophers have the right to criticize scientist, if they see them steer from the right course, would Socrates should be in fear to criticize it’s fellow Athenians?
From Nonlife to Life
By Michael Chorost
“The idea of natural teleology would be bolstered if scientists could create life from scratch, using conditions that could have existed on the early earth. Addy Pross, a chemist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel, says that while it wouldn’t prove that life had, in fact, emerged in just that way, it would suggest that natural laws make its emergence either likely or inevitable. Such a scientific breakthrough would also allow a philosophical breakthrough, emboldening the search for natural laws mandating the ascent of life and mind.
In fact, scientists have been trying to create life in a test tube ever since the classic Miller-Urey experiment, in 1952, in which sparking a sealed bulb of chemicals yielded fistfuls of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
Life from nonlife is a tough problem, but Pross sounds a note of optimism in an e-mail: “Being in the thick of this problem I can say that after decades of confusion the new area of chemistry—systems chemistry—is now making significant progress.”
Robert Hazen, a mineralogist and biogeologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, believes that he sees the outlines of the solution: “The real killer experiment will be to develop some kind of flow-through reactor where you keep the whole cycle going, and you actually increase the concentration of all of those components just by providing CO2 and water and hydrogen. If you can do that, it’s a solved problem.”
However, that would not be the end of the intelligent-design argument. ID theorists could ask, reasonably enough, “Where do the natural laws come from?”
The answer is far from clear. Cosmologists have long known that if the universe’s laws were even slightly different, it would not have been possible to form molecules, let alone life. For example, the nuclear strong force has a value of .007. Were it .006, the universe would be entirely hydrogen, and were it .008 the universe would have no hydrogen at all.
Similarly, it’s probably going to be easy to show that such hypothetical life-creating forces as autocatalysis, zero-force evolutionary laws, and dynamic kinetic stability could not exist in universes even slightly different from our own.
The simplest solution is to invoke the strong anthropic principle, according to which infinitely many universes exist, and we live in one that randomly got its constants and laws set just right for us. If you listen to cosmologists like Brian Greene, of Columbia University, you’ll hear that this argument is close to becoming settled physics. We can’t actually see these other universes, Greene concedes, but the math makes other predictions that we can confirm.
Few people find this a truly satisfying answer. It’s not settled physics, say some. It’s an explanation that doesn’t explain, say others.
Regardless, the actual creation of life from nonlife would make it possible to produce a more scientifically grounded version of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. Such a book would be able to argue, from actual evidence, that there are physical laws that push the universe through profound phase changes from nonlife to life, from instinct to intellect. A Mind and Cosmos II would be an epoch-making book: the Origin of Species of the 21st century.”
My views on the teleological argument
Mr. Nagel profess to be an atheist, I will not argue about it, but it seems to me he challenge scientist to come to with the discovery of teleological laws, knowing beforehand, it will be the equivalent of producing something out of nothing, since in my particular view Teleology is just another name for a factor that religions call God, the Divine, the One with No Name, etc. To try to invent another name for it, makes no sense, and it’s high time for scientist to figure out that by themselves, without philosophers, or religious persons to call attention to this fact.