Teleology and Organisms ii: Specific Explanations

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 ii: Specific Explanations

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Aristotle normally begins a teleological explanation of a living thing with an identification of its goods (reproduction, pleasure, intelligence, etc.). The existence of these goods implies certain requirements or “hypothetical necessity”. For example, if a fish is to survive and reproduce, it must be able to acquire food, which requires that it move, and so it must have fins, which in turn require tissues, and these must be composed of a certain combination of the elements. Some features of living things are not necessary for its survival, but only as a concomitant to some other necessity (for example the production of waste residua is a product of nutrition, but is not itself for the sake of something), or because it is better for the creature that way. The case of animal behavior shows that Aristotle does not indulge in anthropomorphism: apparently purposeful behavior (such as the weaving of webs by spiders, and the building of nests by birds) is not caused by deliberation. In fact, far from assimilating animal to human behavior, Aristotle goes the other direction and shows how many purposeful human activities (especially in the arts) happen without deliberation.

Keywords: explanation; species; spontaneous; generation; reproduction; necessity; behavior; plant; animal

Chapter.  12545 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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