Teleological Notions

Monte Ransome Johnson

in Aristotle on Teleology

Published in print November 2005 | ISBN: 9780199285303
Published online February 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191603143 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Aristotle Studies Series

 Teleological Notions

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The key term of Aristotle’s teleology is “the cause for the sake of which”. Aristotle discusses in several key texts (Physics, On the Soul, Metaphysics, Eudemian Ethics) the fact that this has two different senses: aim and beneficiary. The aim of a knife is cutting, but the beneficiary is the person who does, or orders, the cutting. Aristotle uses this distinction to show how natural things have both aims and are beneficiaries of their functions. He also shows how non-natural things, such as god, can operate as causes for the sake of which, but not as beneficiaries. Eternal things (like the unmoved mover, forms of living things, the universe itself, nature, and so forth) cannot be beneficiaries, because they cannot undergo change. Thus, the beneficiaries of Aristotle’s teleology are the elements, plants, and animals that can both undergo change and have functional aims. A survey of other terms of Aristotle’s teleology, such as “nature does nothing in vain”, the terms “complete” or “perfect”, as well as “end” and “entelechy” further show the specific orientation of Aristotle’s teleology, as do his use of axiological terms such as “better” and “fine”.

Keywords: terminology; final cause; for the sake of; nothing in vain; complete; perfect; normative; axiology; function; activity

Chapter.  19315 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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