D.M. Walsh

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780195182057
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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Teleology is a mode of explanation in which the presence, occurrence, or nature of some phenomenon is explained by the end to which it contributes. The model of explanation is “pure mechanism” which holds that there is a single kind of stuff in the world-”matter” that exhibits a single kind of change, motion. It falls into three classes: the argument from nonactuality, the argument from intentionality, and the argument from normativity. These objections are because of early modern thinking about the natural world. These arguments rely on the Platonic model of transcendent teleology. Aristotelian teleology complements our current understanding of goal-directed, self-organizing, adaptive systems. The success of development can be explained by plasticity which is a goal-directed capacity of organisms to produce and maintain a stable, well-functioning living thing. The understanding of how evolution can be adaptive requires us to incorporate teleology.

Keywords: model; mechanism; argument; teleology; evolution; plasticity

Article.  11126 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science ; Metaphysics

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