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


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Aristotle’s teleological explanations are most successful in the domain of living things, and there is good reason to think that organisms are the objects of his most important teleological remarks. The attempts to apply teleological explanations to less complex entities (such as the elements) and more complex entities (such as cities) have been judged by history a failure. His explanations of organisms, on the other hand, have been celebrated by molecular biologists, embryologists and developmental biologists, and advocates of adaptationism in evolutionary biology. Teleology as a scientific proposition seems to require a sufficient level of complexity, but to break down at levels of too much complexity (at the level of human behavior, or of society, for example) or too little complexity (at the level of inanimate entities, for example). But whatever the scientific verdict on Aristotle’s teleology, it is clear that his conception of intrinsic ends has important implications for axiology (the theory of value). For he has shown how it is possible to identify objective goods, independent of human minds, and to avoid the dilemma between radical egalitarianism on the one hand and arbitrary or self-serving hierarchy on the other.

Keywords: axiology; genetics; science; biology; intrinsic good; value; environmental ethics; egalitarianism; hierarchy

Chapter.  4679 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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