Teleology and Organisms i: General Principles

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

 Teleology and Organisms i: General Principles

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Elements compose organic bodies, including tissues (homogenous bodies) and organs (heterogeneous bodies), and in so doing are for the sake of the whole organism of which they are the transformed parts. But the starting point for the explanation of living things is the identification of its functions: nutrition and reproduction for plants, perception and locomotion for animals, and virtue and intelligence for humans. Since the functions of plants are fundamental to all other living things, the vegetative functions are the primary ones in biological explanation. Thus, the survival and reproduction of each species is the basis for its explanation, and these are represented as goods for it. But although goods come first in the order of explanation, they come last in the order of development of the organism. Thus, intelligence is the last thing developed by a human, even though everything else has come to be for the sake of this. The reversal of explanatory and genetic order does not, however, imply some kind of mysterious “backwards causation”.

Keywords: backwards causation; organisms; explanation; effect; genetics; order; survival; reproduction; biology; substances

Chapter.  17700 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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