Teleological Intentionalism vs Teleological Eliminativism

Interesting blog post:
Four approaches to teleology

Which one are you (from above post)?
Platonic teleologist
Aristotelian teleologist
Thomistic (Scholastic) teleologist

While you are at it, what kind of realist do you think you might be.
Platonic realist
Aristotelian Realist
Scholastic (Thomistic) realist

I prefer an Aristotelian-Thomistic outlook.

I’ll provisionally go with Aristotelian teleologist.


Could you explain that in a little more detail, Mintaka? Been on wiki’s Teleology site and jumped over to Aristotle “four causes” from there.

From wiki: A teleological school of thought is one that holds all things to be designed for or directed toward a final result, that there is an inherent purpose or final cause for all that exists.

I see little to make me think there is any design or final result or inherent purpose whatsoever. Perhaps a “final cause for all that exists” but I am sure that would turn out to be natural.

My dictionary defines Teleology as follows: Philosophy the explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes.

Thats seems fine to me in principle. Why is an eye? is a perfectly sane question. Teleology may have its place in Biology, if only as a generator of hypotheses.

And From Mechanist’s link:

The Aristotelian teleologist also affirms teleology but regards it as immanent to the natural order rather than imposed from outside.

So doesn’t this effectively say that a functional unit, like the eye, came about thanks to blind processes inherent in nature?

This seems compatable with Darwinian evolution, unless I’m overlooking some or other subtlety.


Considering your definition, from wiki I get: Teleology would say that a person has eyes because he has the need of sight, while naturalism would say that a person has sight because he has eyes.

I think this is wrong. The purpose of the eye doesn’t explain how or why it came to be? Light sensitive cells provided an evolutionary advantage and eyes was the end result.

1 a : the study of evidences of design in nature b : a doctrine (as in vitalism) that ends are immanent in nature c : a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes
2 : the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose
3 : the use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena

I can’t find myself agreeing with any of these. Whenever old teleological (yep, that has been one of his nicks) brings up teleology, I cringe. When it comes to a question of ‘design’, I just don’t care to beat around the bush. Again wiki defines it as :Teleology (Greek: telos: end, purpose) is the philosophical study of design and purpose.

This seems like putting the cart before the horse.

Which dictionary is your definition from?

Actually, it says a bit more than that. It says that an eye is in a sense inevitable because its constituents “strive to become” an eye. At present, we have no good reason to suppose that an eye necessarily must result despite it having evolved independently several times. Moreover, the types of eyes we know of are hardly perfect. Daniel Dennett calls such features “a good trick” but cautions against interpreting their ubiquity as somehow directed or preordained.

We often give teleological explanations for things – “Why do things fall?” “Because they strive to reach a (local) energy minimum.” – but that is merely a linguistic convenience born from our habit of anthropomorphising things, and it should not be taken to imply purposeful directedness, as should be clear from the example used.


I think it does in a way, yes. The purpose of a rudimentary eye may be to differentiate between light and dark. Say a mutant organism arrives on the scene that uses its slightly modified eye as a tool to also detect movement. This is probably advantageous, and the improved eye is favoured by natural selection. Throughout, the driver of the natural selection is how well the eye functions. So purpose affects selection, and selection drives evolution.

Corollary: A biological feature without a purpose is unlikely to survive natural selection. With the exception of junk DNA proving the rule ;).

Which dictionary is your definition from?
Concise Oxford, 2006.

In that case I may have to recant my Aristotelian teleologism after all! :o


I think it is almost a semantics battle.

When you use purpose above in your eye example, we are really talking about purpose in the sense of “function” whereas teleology thinks of purpose as “goal” or end-point really.

Agreed on the issue of semantics. But perhaps even more so on the issue of jargon. I am a designer by profession and when I first read through this discussion I had to consult my dictionary continually because according to my frame of reference the words “function” and “purpose” for example have come to mean very different things to what they mean in teleological terms. You refer to the “philosophical study of design and purpose” as putting the cart before the horse, which I agree with. But explain please: do you mean to say that teleology is of little or no practical value as a field of study because it implies design as opposed to evolution and natural selection?

I don’t think it is a valid field of study at all. I think it is a philisophical viewpoint with no supporting evidence.

Whishful thinking at its very best. :-\

Don’t you think it is a bit unfair to say that philosophical study of this kind is invalid just because we have not been able to prove it yet? There is not that much evidence to the contrary of teleological thought. I think all ‘fields of study’ could be considered valid, if only because at least there are questions flying around. :-[

I don’t think it is unfair at all. I happen to think theology* for instance, to be a particularly big waste of time. As do I for astrology. To name two other “fields of study” I consider invalid.

If there are evidence to substantiate any teleological assertions, we’d be able to point to it. This blog by skeptico sums it up quite well for me.

That there are questions is not the problem. Finding real answers to them is what is important. And if the evidence leads to teleology, we’d follow it there. Currently, I’d say that is a no go.

*always reminds me of Having a Degree in Theology is like having a Doctorate in Teletubby Anatomy or an advanced degree in Warp Core Physics ;D

I reckon the two of you should first settle on a definition of “teleology” in relation to science because it looks like you’re talking at cross-purposes.

Science presently rejects any ultimate teleology for want of evidence for such.

I accept mintaka’s definition from the Oxford dictionary.

We’ll have to establish what “purpose” means in it and if it is as I suspect, a goal or objective, then I stand by my rejection of teleology as a valid phenomenon or field of study.

What is the goal and objective of science?

To aquire knowledge and better our understanding of the universe.

Would you agree then that science is a teleological endevour carried out by teleological agents?
Teleological endeavour because its purpose and objective is to aquire knowledge and better our understanding of the universe.
Teleological agents because scientists carry out these goals and objectives.

I admit humans can plan and design endeavors with specific goal(s) or objective(s) in mind.

Science is one such.

I am ready to shout fallacy now. Where are you going with this?

I suppose we could refer back to good old wikipedia - “Teleology (Greek: telos: end, purpose) is the philosophical study of design and purpose.” Specifically philosophical study, I am not saying that there is any proof for it or reason for us to believe that the school of thought is even ‘provable’ (yes i know that is not actually a word) As has been said: the goal and objective of science is to aquire knowledge and better our understanding of the universe’ but if one is to reject the possibility of intelligent design completely, what would be the point of trying to accomplish this? why would we bother?

“Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.” Do you mean to say that science, trying to better understand the universe, is being pursued with the final result already in mind?

I’m not rejecting the possibility of anything, ever. Should we now investigate the possibility of Flying Pink Invisible Unicorns? When evidence present itself, we’ll do it. As it is, we can safely shelf that one.

"Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end." Do you mean to say that science, trying to better understand the universe, is being pursued with the final result already in mind?
No, [b]theology[/b] does that. And [b]ID[/b]. And the [b]Philosophy of Teleology[/b]. Science says, lets follow the evidence. Which is why is is good and the former three, ridiculous at best.