Aristotle's Conception of Final Causality

Allan Gotthelf

in Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199287956
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191738296 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Aristotle Studies Series

Aristotle's Conception of Final Causality

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Starting from the premise that Aristotelian explanation proceeds via the concepts of natures and potentials (and not, say, laws), this chapter argues that for Aristotle the generation of a living organism is not the actualization of the natures and potentials of the materials from which organisms develop, but rather the actualization of a primitive, irreducible potential to produce out of the appropriate materials an organism of a certain form. Each of the major texts in which Aristotle defends his natural teleology is shown to argue for or presuppose that material causes are insufficient to produce such an end. Aristotle's teleology is thus is an empirical thesis and not an a priori one brought to nature. A Postscript articulates various aspects of this view more precisely, showing that a part is for the sake of something only if it has come to be for the sake of something.

Keywords: Aristotle; final causality; teleology; irreducibility; being and coming‐to‐be; the good; contemporary biological teleology; Generation of Animals

Chapter.  23152 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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