A Bellowing Ox and a Roaring Lion — part six

Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways to Prove the Existence of God.

The Fifth Way: Design.

‘The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore, some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God’.

- St Thomas Aquinas, (1225–1274), ‘Summa Theologica’

Teleology signifies the science of ends, its counterpart being etiology signifying the science of causes. Ah, yet another mare’s nest I am about to tangle myself up in knots with, if I may mix my metaphors. ‘Why dost thou laugh? What Mare’s nest hast thou found? — John Fletcher, (1579–1625). ‘What! Have you found a mare’s nest, and laugh at the eggs?’ — Jonathan Swift, (1667–1745). What is a teleological explanation? What is a causal explanation? What are they explaining and whatever it is how good a job do they make of it? Speaking with the utmost generality the problem of philosophy is to explain the universe, for ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics, epistemology, you name it, all the problems they present us with would be solved once the universe is explained, albeit philosophers dispute over whether the explanation is to be found in matter or mind, but first we must ask: what is meant by explanation? When we insist upon an explanation of the universe what is it that we wish to know about the universe? An isolated fact, it is supposed, has been explained upon the discovery of its cause. My hot flush is caused by the existence of Scarlett Johansson, (1984 -). But it is evident enough that the universe cannot be explained this way, for if a chain of causes extends back in time to a first cause that is uncaused then that first cause, being without a cause, is unexplained, and hence the universe is unexplained, and it is still unexplained if you postulate God as the first cause for God is uncaused, and if the chain of causes is infinite with no first cause then no final and ultimate explanation is discoverable.

I gets worse however. David Hume, (1711–1776), defined causes in this way: ‘An object precedent and contiguous to another, and where all the objects resembling the former are placed in like relations of precedency and contiguity to those objects that resemble the latter’. And: ‘An object precedent and contiguous to another, and so united with it, that the idea of the one determined the mind to form the idea of the other, and the impression of the one to form a more lively idea of the other’. Causation isn’t even capable of explaining particular facts. Water is converted into steam when boiled, heat causes water to to form minute water droplets in the air. Why does heat cause vaporization? If I boil a kettle why does not the water freeze and become solid? The problem is that the cause, heat, and the effect, steam, do not resemble each other in the slightest way, nor can we see any connection between them, that heat causes the vaporization of water is a mysterious unexplained and unforeseen fact. Hold on a minute, I hear you protest, surely our ignorance there stems merely from our ignorance concerning intermediate causes. Cause A is followed by effect B, and doubtless between A, heat, and B, steam, there may be innumerable minute molecular or other changes that inhabit such an infinitesimal time that human faculties are incapable of apprehending them, but even were we to know every single one of these intermediate causes and effects the whole process remains mysterious. Each intermediate cause A is so different from its effect B and it is impossible to see how one particular fact can produce a completely different fact. We cannot reason why A should be followed by B. It is not our knowledge of causes that is at fault here but the principle of causation itself, for causation explains nothing, and it still explains nothing even if instead of treating change as a series of discrete phenomena we treated it as a continuous flow.

And what of teleology? Does that explain anything? The word causation is expressive of the action of a cause, the word causality denotes the cause and effect principle itself but in the case of the concept end we have the word end and the Greek equivalent telos and we have the word denoting the science that discusses or defines ends, teleology, but lack a corresponding word to causation and to causality, one that is free of ambiguity anyway, for to speak of teleological causation as describing the effect of a purpose or end in producing its own realization is so imprecise and misleading. Teleology is a branch of philosophy in which there is much disagreement, in which there is a notable lack of clarification of the fundamental concepts, the word finality for instance that is supposed to clarify teleological causation, the quality or condition of being final, what does that mean? Maybe the principle of finality can be employed as a principle for the scientific explanation of nature or expelled from the field of nature as a principle of explanation, though perhaps kept as a kind of short-cut to help the resolution of certain issues concerning whatever may be lacking in a causal explanation, hence it is possible it might be employed chiefly in the field of ethics.

Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804), as is well known, was critical of the teleological argument on the grounds that it was open to an objection anticipated by Hume that the a posteriori evidence fails to yield a ‘determinate concept of a supreme world-cause’, at best the facts suggest the thought of Nature as a teleological system, a thought devoid of ontological validity, a regulative idea necessary to guide the interpretation of Nature, but in no wise constitutive of its order. (Kant distinguished between two kinds of principles. Regulative principles that govern our theoretical activities but offer no (constitutive) guarantees about the objects under investigation, as Kant put it, ‘activities must have goals if they are not to degenerate into merely random groping’, (although I am not averse to a bit of random groping myself). And constitutive principles that determine the way things must be and derive from insight into their nature, and when a stipulation such as everything must have a cause is taken to apply constitutively and universally antinomies, (contradictions, paradoxes), develop). It is a principle of the reflective not of the determinant judgement and under the pretext of empiricism ‘the physico-theologians [those arguing for God from design] have reached their cognition by a very different road from that of experience’. The teleological argument presupposes the cosmological, which in turn presupposes the ontological and the ontological was rejected by Kant on principle: ‘The subjective conditions of our thinking’ cannot be taken as ‘objective conditions of things themselves’. The facts can do little else other than indicating or confirming a hypothesis that goes beyond experience and they do not suffice to prove a purposive order of Nature never mind God.

It is indeed correct that it is to the detriment of the teleological argument that it be split off from the cosmological, hence Plato in the ‘Laws’ when in proving God’s existence he combined inference from communicated, that is to say, contingent, to self-initiated, that is to say necessary motion with that from the uniformity and perfection of the motion of the stars to a divine mover of pre-eminent goodness. (See my article On Plato’s ‘Laws’ — The Rule of Reason). Kant insisted upon the ontological implication while never questioning ‘the necessity, in the speculative interest of reason, to regard all order in the world as if it originated from the intention or design of a supreme reason’. Humean objections are thus put to one side in favour of the speculative interest of reason whereby such objections are of little relevance to the purely regulative value of the idea, but was Kant equally justified in the assertion that ‘we have not the slightest ground for assuming an object corresponding to this idea’?

‘Chaos The Creation’, 1841, Ivan Aivazovsky

Richard Dawkins answers that:

Richard Dawkins, (1941 — ), characterises the fifth way thus: ‘The Teleological Argument, or Argument from Design. Things in the world, especially living things, look as though they have been designed. Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Therefore there must have been a designer, and we call him God….. Aquinas himself used the analogy of an arrow moving towards a target, but a modern heat-seeking anti-aircraft missile would have suited his purpose better…. The argument from design is the only one still in regular use today, and it still sounds to many like the ultimate knockdown argument. The young Darwin was impressed by it when, as a Cambridge undergraduate, he read it in William Paley’s Natural Theology. Unfortunately for Paley, the mature Darwin blew it out of the water. There has probably never been a more devastating rout of popular belief by clever reasoning than Charles Darwin’s destruction of the argument from design. It was so unexpected. Thanks to Darwin, it is no longer true to say that nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Evolution by natural selection produces an excellent simulacrum of design, mounting prodigious heights of complexity and elegance. And among these eminences of pseudo-design are nervous systems which — among their more modest accomplishments — manifest goal-seeking behaviour that, even in a tiny insect, resembles a sophisticated heat-seeking missile more than a simple arrow on target’.

- ‘The God Delusion’

Edward Feser answers that:

According to Catholic philosopher and Christian apologist Edward Feser, (1968 — ): Dawkins is assimilating the fifth way to Paley’s argument, [Christian apologist William Paley, (1743–1805), see below], and they are not the same argument in several respects. Thomas’ argument has nothing to do with complexity and it has nothing to do with biology specifically, and it has nothing to do with complex examples of purpose, even the most rudimentary goal directed purpose in nature would in Thomas’ view be sufficient, for what Thomas is appealing to here is the idea of final cause as Aristotle, (384–322 BC), understood it. An acorn points beyond itself to the end state or outcome of becoming a tree, though final causes as Thomas understood them exist in far more rudimentary things. Feser gives an example that phosphorus in the head of a match has by virtue of its chemistry a tendency to generate flame and heat when you strike the match as long as the match hasn’t been damaged by submerging it in water say, and you strike the match and it generates flame and heat, the phosphorus and the match head point beyond themselves towards that end state, but as a simple cause and effect pattern it does not have anything to do with for example the different parts of the eyeball having to be just so if an organism is going to be able to see.

Organic systems have to function just the way they do for organisms if the organism is going to survive and reproduce, but it is nothing as fancy as that for Thomas’ fifth way, anywhere in nature where you find the most rudimentary kind of cause and effect even if it is just one particle knocking into another particle the way that ancient atomists thought all physical causation ultimately worked that would be enough for Thomas’ purposes. If A regularly generates B as an efficient cause that can only be because generating B is the final cause or outcome that A naturally points to, it is nothing to do with complexity, nothing to do with biology, so Darwin’s account of evolution by natural selection is completely irrelevant to the fifth way. As a matter of fact it would even for Thomas be an example of the very thing he is talking about because when you talk about evolution or genetic mutation you talk about natural selection operating upon those traits that are either advantageous or not, you are talking about cause and effect regularities in nature and every time you have a cause and effect regularity a regularity in efficient cause regularly generates B for Aquinas that entails a final cause, A naturally points to B as its natural outcome.

And so far from Darwinism being a challenge to the fifth way for Thomas it is just one more example among others of causal regularities that point to final causality, nothing to do with complexity, biology, nor with weighing probabilities, the way the fifth way works nothing could point to a certain outcome as to a final cause like the acorn pointing towards the tree as its natural outcome or the phosphorus and the match pointing to the flame and heat as its natural outcome, unless there were some intellect aiming something towards its final cause because until the flame exists or the tree actually exists that the acorn is going to grow into the idea here is that if the acorn points towards the oak tree or the phosphorus and the match point towards flame and heat but there is no flame and heat yet or there is no tree yet how exactly can a cause even a final cause that does not yet exist, how can it have any effect on the world? And Thomas argues that the way these final causes exist is as ideas in an intellect, the way that the acorn points towards the oak is because the idea of becoming an oak exists in the mind of God as he points acorns in that direction, as he points phosphorus in the direction of generating heat and so forth, nothing to do with what comes up in the dispute with Paley on the one hand and Darwin on the other.


‘In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever; nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place’.

- William Paley, ‘Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature’, 1802.

Paley’s response is that ‘the watch must have had a maker’ because ‘its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose [that being to tell time)’. He then reasons that since the natural world shows not only as much but more design toward a purpose, it too must have had a maker. This argument from design for the existence of a creator, God, is an argument by analogy, the watch is to the watchmaker as the natural world is to the creator God. And what are we to make of the analogy? Is the natural world as ‘framed and put together’ like a watch? If we point out instances that suggest otherwise Paley would respond that he needs only one instance of design and he focuses upon the human eye in order to See below about this relation) conclude that there is indeed a designer. To which we may point out that the human eye is hardly a model of consummate design work it is rather useless without light for instance, (my note: which is why if there was an invisible man as in H. G. Wells, (1866–1946), novel with light passing through him he would be blind .. I hate plot holes!), but Paley would retort that imperfections in design are relevant to the attributes of a creator, such imperfections might suggest, for instance, an unimaginative or inept designer while he,Paley, is concerned with establishing only the existence of a creator.

Do the parts of the natural world work together for some purpose? Perhaps the purpose of much of the natural world including ourselves is not as evident as the purpose of the watch. Paley could respond that it does not matter whether we understand how the parts work together, it matters only that they are designed to do so, but if we do not know what the purpose of the natural world is how can we say it is designed for some purpose? Even if the parts of the natural world do fit together for the achievement of some purpose or other is a creator God the only explanation available to us? Perhaps the world is that way by chance, to which Paley could retort that the watch, and by analogy the natural world, is too complicated, too organized, to have been the result of chance, a boil on the bottom (not his example) might be the result of chance but not an eye. But why not see design in the stone as well as the watch? Perhaps the world was always that way but Paley would say that appealing to some infinite regress still leaves design unaccounted for. But if as seems to be suggested by evolutionary theory the parts fit together because those that did not fit together, which is to say, did not adapt to their environment, did not survive. The evolutionary theory however may offer a challenge to Paley’s argument but not the conclusion for proponents of theistic evolution would say that a God designed the developmental processes that led to the world that now exists rather than as Paley claims designing the world as it is.

Further note:

What is Dawkins’ point about the sophisticated heat-seeking missile and the simple arrow on target? That infrared is radiated strongly by hot bodies, (ok mentioning Scarlett Johansson again here would be so cheap and obvious I won’t do it), is something that was discovered, by a mind, heat-seekers were then designed, by a mind, for a very specific purpose, to seek out hot bodies.

‘The Creation of Light’, 1913, Gaetano Previati

I answer that:

During the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century final causes came to be regarded as unnecessary and useless in scientific explanation, the new mechanistic philosophy had no need for them and the great English philosopher and scientist (who was much too busy to have written the plays of William Shakespeare, (1564–1616), as well), Francis Bacon, (1561–1626), likened them to the Vestal Virgins, decorative but sterile. Isn’t that great? If Dawkins was a scholar he could have used that and given his dismal book a more scholarly and thoughtful look about it. Incidentally, academics who have read ‘The God Delusion’ will have noticed that he will say things like, here discussing if God is needed for morality: ‘As Einstein said, ‘If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed’.’ And he doesn’t cite the source. I did a Google search and it took me about two minutes to discover Einstein never said it. What he did say, in ‘Religion and Science’, 1930, was: ‘A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him [that is, to the scientific mind] for the simple reason that a man’s actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God’s eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes. … Man would indeed be in a poor way [traurig bestellt um] if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death’. You may think Dawkins gets it near enough but he puts it in inverted commas as though it were a direct quote. When discussing Thomas he gives no quote at all and we are to take it on trust that what he says Thomas said is actually what Thomas did say. And when he does give a ‘quote’, here from Einstein, it is clear he is repeating either something he heard or something he got off the internet. In both cases he simplifies the original thought. ‘A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says is never accurate’, said Bertrand Russell, (1872–1970), ‘because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand’. (In ‘A History of Western Philosophy’).

As I was listening to Feser discuss final causes (on YouTube) I was reminded of Bacon’s decorative and sterile Vestal Virgins except that the decorations Feser decorates his explanations by final causes with are cheap and shabby. What is he adding to the account of an acorn turning into an oak by bringing a final cause into it and what does finality even mean here? Ok, efficient causation in itself may produce no explanation if such causation is reduced to constant conjunction, to account for the occurrence of B by saying that it is caused by A, that is, A is always accompanied or followed by B, or to put it another way that B occurs after A in this instance because it always does, which is much the same sort of explanation that Molière, (1622–1673), gave of why opium produces sleep: ‘Because there is in it a dormitive power’. Opium always induces sleep. But if it is God who is directing everything every time there is a cause and effect even down to one particle knocking against another He must be very busy indeed, for what we have here is akin to Nicolas Malebranche’s, (1638–1715), Occasionalism, the view that there is only one efficient cause, God, while created things are at most occasions for divine activity and bodies and minds act neither on themselves nor on each other and God alone brings about all the phenomena of nature and the mind, and changes occurring in created things will exhibit regularities, thus satisfying the Humean definition of causation, because God in creating the world observes order thereby binding Himself to act according to laws of nature chosen in accordance with His general will that the world be as good as possible, and thus for instance the laws be simple and few in number, (what laws? God is using a phenomenon as an occasion to bring about another phenomenon albeit they may occur regularly together but why do they need to be connected by a law?)

It may well be reasonable enough to oppose teleological explanation while supportive of the Humean analysis of cause though for Bacon and his contemporaries the principle concern was with the methods of the newly born physical sciences of their day, the most successful of which was classical mechanics, a science that quickly became, and until the 19th century still was, the model for all and presumed the existence of a world of solid material particles the motion of which was governed by forces dependent solely upon their masses and their mutual spatial relations. Hence from the seventeenth century onward efficient causation meant mechanical causation and what was not reducible to this kind of mechanics was regarded as to that extent inexplicable. Some thinkers following René Descartes, (1596–1650), granted that there may well be another sphere of being of which a different sort of account was to be given, a sphere of conscious thought, but even they conceived everything else in terms of mechanical automatism including the living bodies of animals and men. ‘For what’, asked Thomas Hobbes, (1588–1679), ‘is the Heart, but a Spring; the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheeles, giving motion to the whole Body?’ As Hume wrote:

‘It is universally allowed, that matter, in all its operations, is actuated by a necessary force, and that every natural effect is so precisely determined by the energy of its cause, that no other effect, in such particular circumstances, could possibly have resulted from it. The degree and direction of every motion is, by the laws of nature, prescribed with such exactness, that a living creature may as soon arise from the shock of two bodies, as motion, in any other degree or direction than what is actually produced by it. Would we, therefore, form a just and precise idea of necessity, we must consider whence that idea arises, when we apply it to the operation of bodies. It seems evident, that, if all the scenes of nature were continually shifted in such a manner, that no two events bore any resemblance to each other, but every object was entirely new, without any similitude to whatever had been seen before, we should never, in that case, have attained the least idea of necessity, or of a connexion among these objects. We might say, upon such a supposition, that one object or event has followed another; not that one was produced by the other. The relation of cause and effect must be utterly unknown to mankind’.

Jean-Paul Sartre, (1905–1980), in ‘Nausea’, describes such a scenario rather vividly:

‘I see it, I see this nature … I know that its obedience is idleness, I know it has no laws: what they take for constancy is only habit and it can change tomorrow. What if something were to happen? What if something suddenly started throbbing? Then they would notice it was there and they’d think their hearts were going to burst. Then what good would their dykes, bulwarks, power houses, furnaces and pile drivers be to them? It can happen any time, perhaps right now: the omens are present. For example, the father of a family might go out for a walk, and, across the street, he’ll see something like a red rag, blown towards him by the wind. And when the rag has gotten close to him he’ll see that it is a side of rotten meat, grimy with dust, dragging itself along by crawling, skipping, a piece of writhing flesh rolling in the gutter, spasmodically shooting out spurts of blood. Or a mother might look at her child’s cheek and ask him: ‘What’s that — a pimple?’ and see the flesh puff out a little, split, open, and at the bottom of the split an eye, a laughing eye might appear. Or they might feel things gently brushing against their bodies, like the caresses of reeds to swimmers in a river. And they will realize that their clothing has become living things. And someone else might feel something scratching in his mouth. He goes to the mirror, opens his mouth: and his tongue is an enormous, live centipede, rubbing its legs together and scraping his palate. He’d like to spit it out, but the centipede is a part of him and he will have to tear it out with his own hands. … ‘What’s the matter with your science? What have you done with your humanism? Where is your dignity?’ I will not be afraid — or at least no more than now. Will it not still be existence, variations on existence? … Existence is what I am afraid of’.

The standard mechanistic outlook of seventeenth-century science was characterised by an opposition to teleological explanations and this persisted until the rise of the biological sciences in the nineteenth century although it became less taken for granted as the progress of biology gave rise to various forms of vitalism which sought to reintroduce teleology into nature, at least so far as the phenomena of life were concerned, thereby ensuing the dispute between mechanists and vitalists, a dispute over where the Cartesian dividing line should be drawn, whether to assimilate living phenomena to mental or to material, although of course now Cartesian dualism is somewhat obsolete as is the classical mechanics and the disputes concerning teleology, it has been supposed, out of the picture. Vitalism is a belief that starts from the premise that living organisms are fundamentally different from non-living entities because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than are inanimate things. Henri-Louis Bergson, (1859–1941), proponent of an élan vital, (vital force or impulse of life, a creative principle immanent in all organisms and responsible for evolution), in order to explain evolution and the creative impulse of humankind in a less mechanical more lively manner through the notion of a vital impetus which explains evolution in a less mechanical and more lively manner has been characterised as a supporter of vitalism even though he criticises it explicitly given that there is neither ‘purely internal finality nor clearly cut individuality in nature … Here lies the stumbling block of vitalist theories … It is thus in vain that one pretends to reduce finality to the individuality of the living being. If there is finality in the world of life, it encompasses the whole of life in one indivisible embrace’.

‘King David and the 24 Elders adoring God the Father’, 1744–48, Johann Jakob Zeiller

Dawkins’ assertion that: ‘There has probably never been a more devastating rout of popular belief by clever reasoning than Charles Darwin’s destruction of the argument from design. It was so unexpected. Thanks to Darwin, it is no longer true to say that nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed’ puts his lack of awareness and understanding of the depth of issues involved on full display. If something looks designed then it is designed, whoever thought that? What does ‘looks designed’ even mean? Why did a rock not ‘look designed’ by Paley but a watch did? Because his point was that a watch has a clear purpose or end. And teleology itself albeit supposedly banished from the natural sciences (if genes are ‘selfish’ doesn’t that mean they have an end, their own thriving with no consideration for the thriving of anyone or anything else?) raises so many complex issues that really do require ‘clever reasoning’ to untangle. So much to be said about it but I will give it a quick shot. After all teleology is a central concept in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s, (1770–1831), philosophy, so it is worth our while to know what he understands by the concept, the role it plays within his philosophy, and how he sets about defending his position. And as is so often not understood by the likes of Dawkins, (‘For an empty-headed man will be wise, When a wild donkey’s colt is born a man’. ‘Job’ 11:12), philosophers do not arrive at a position in a vacuum, ideas have a history, the debate on teleology having focussed upon the question of the status of teleological judgments, whether they are objective (there’s that word again whatever it means), and appropriate in the area of scientific theory, and how they are to be properly analysed, what are such judgements actually asserting?

[A principle point I wish to get across in this article which I know is too long is how jejune a mind the likes of Dawkins has. Darwin proposed the theory of evolution through natural selection and by a bit of ‘clever reasoning’ explains how simple life forms evolve into complex ones over long periods of time and how the appearance of design in living creatures needs no appeal to a Designer and that’s that. Rather, to address arguments such as Thomas’ fifth way one must go in deep into the question of teleology and connected issues, not even well known philosophers such as Thomas, or Hume, or Kant, dig deeply enough and at times offer us but meagre fare, so it is to be hoped that by digging into teleology here you will at least get some sense of how enriching and exciting a philosophical journey can be, as opposed to the aridness, shallowness, puerility, and naivety of ‘The God Delusion’. Thinking is struggle but it has such wonderful rewards].

The questions are not separate one from the other for the analysis one gives of teleological judgments inevitably affects the status one attributes to them and an exegesis of teleology should begin with the question of the status of such judgments and then proceed to the more fundamental issue, the question of analysis, for the question of the status of teleological judgments is ultimately the question of whether teleological forms of explanation have a legitimate role to play in comprehending the world, whether they constitute proper forms of scientific explanation, and by scientific explanation is not meant only those forms of explanation found in those generally agreed upon serious empirical disciplines but more widely those forms of explanation, empirical or otherwise, that are a part of any rigorous and comprehensive understanding of the world. And just as the status of teleology concerns explanation so in addition the analysis of teleology is basically the analysis of teleological explanation. In the Ancient world the status of teleological explanations was somewhat unproblematic given Aristotelian final causes and hence questions concerning teleology were addressed within this Aristotelian framework but with the scientific advances of Galileo Galilei, (1564–1642), and Isaac Newton, (1642–1726), teleological explanations fell out of favour being explicitly rejected by Bacon, Descartes, and many others of the time as teleological explanation and scientific explanation came to be regarded as mutually exclusive.

But is it so? Such a view of teleology was resisted with limited success by Gottfried Leibniz, (1646–1716), (‘the future can be read in the past; the distant is expressed in the proximate’, he said), but by the time Hegel addresses the issue he had Kant to contend with who did not believe that teleological explanations belonged in the body of science nor that they express objective structures of the world. For Kant the natural world is a Newtonian world and ultimately a set of attractive and repulsive forces whereby teleological concepts are not constitutive, the constitutive principles necessary to any objective experience of the world essentially being the principles behind Newton’s mechanics, the experienced world is a Newtonian world, a grand mechanism, a world wherein there are no objectively justifiable attributions of purposive behavior for its structure is fixed only by the Kantian categories alone. (Kantian categories: pure concepts of the understanding, characteristics of the appearance of any object in general prior to it being experienced). All appearances fall under laws of nature that are only specifications of the categories themselves but in order to see that a thing is only possible as a purpose, that is to say, to be compelled to search for the causality of its origin not in the mechanism of nature but in a cause whose faculty of action is determined through concepts, it is necessary that its form not be possible according to merely natural laws. And yet can causality be searched for outside the mechanism of nature? Kant, unlike Bacon and Descartes, did not reject teleology as entirely senseless or spurious for within his system it is granted the status of a regulative principle but then teleological concepts play a mere albeit necessary restricted explanatory role in scientific endeavour for it is a significant fact about the constitution of our cognitive faculties that we need to regard the world as if it were the product of design but this tells us nothing about the objective nature of the world, a problem of course for Thomas’ fifth way.

The thought here is that teleology may be an essential strategic option in any psychological journey of discovery but it cannot constitute a satisfactory scientific explanation of an objective reality, for it presupposes a totality that is given and that in its very nature cannot be fully given. Attributions of design to nature are simply provisional and short cuts helping us on our way yet ultimately to be abandoned in favour of mechanistic explanations that tell us how the objective world is actually constituted though Kant also took the view that some attributions of design would never finally be cashed out in mechanical terms and that therefore certain phenomena would forever remain beyond the grasp of science. One such phenomenon is the world-whole itself, another the natural organism, (beyond the grasp of science?) Kant characterized an organism as something that is ‘both cause and effect of itself’ (he seems to be wanting his cake and eating it to if I may say so) for organisms have an internal natural purpose or end and are not just organized but self-organizing and an organized being is not simply a machine with merely motive power but possesses in itself formative power of a self-propagating kind that it communicates to its materials though they have it not of themselves, it organizes them, in fact, and this cannot be explained by the simple mechanical faculty of motion. Consequently, application of the term organism is not objective for it is not founded upon the constitutive employment of the categories but upon the regulative employment of an idea of reason hence although we may have to believe that we live in a world which is populated by organisms among which we count ourselves we can never know this to be the case for the concept of an organism is not a scientific, objective concept. Hegel reasonably enough will have none of this, Kant’s position makes dog’s dinner out of the biological sciences that had gained a new energy and vitality around the turn of the century. Even according to Kant’s own exposition there would have been an obligation to concede in the case of natural productions a knowledge not confined to the Kantian categories of quality, cause and effect, composition, constituents, and so on, for the principle of inward adaption or design had it been kept to and carried out in a scientific application would have led to a different and a higher method of observing nature.

‘Jesus Christ receives the world from the hands of God the Father’, c. 1657, Antonio Fernández Arias

The world is replete with organisms ourselves included and which a science of biology can account for but for Kant we cannot apply the scientific treatment to any teleologically characterized phenomenon and yet our attributions of purposes and functions to objects we encounter are as objective as our attributions of causality in general and furthermore knowledge cannot be self-reflective within the Kantian perspective, knowledge knowing what knowledge is, in virtue of the fact that there cannot be knowledge of intentional or psychological phenomena given the teleological characterisation of such phenomena and of the process of knowing itself. (Intentionality, in the philosophy of mind, the power of minds and mental states to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. Mental states having intentionality means that they are mental representations or that they have contents). Teleology is involved in our intentional states at several different levels and desires aim at various satisfactions and as knowers we aim at truth (although of course we are much more complicated than that, with our subconscious desires etc.) and yet with internal states characterized as intentional states the implication is that they are responsible for some ideal of rationality however imperfect. We are aware of other minds in the world. How so? For Kant our recognition of ourselves as persons is no more than a fact of moral consciousness, not a piece of objective knowledge, a position constrained by his belief that mechanical and teleological explanations, albeit not contradictory, could not compatibly be applied to the same facts: ‘one method of explanation excludes the other’. Hegel disagrees. There is no conflict between the two forms of explanation, indeed, teleological explanation presupposes mechanical explanation, for an end is that for which a mechanical chain occurs, ends work through an agency, but the agency itself is effected by efficient causation. There being organisms and minds, purposiveness in nature, depends upon there being law-governed efficient causation in nature as well and so teleological notions could be objectively applied to phenomena in the world, and upon there being phenomena in the characterization of which teleological notions essentially occurred and for which science itself must employ teleological patterns of explanation.

Hegel believed Kant’s analysis of teleology to be deficient and one-sided for Kant emphasized an intentional model of teleology that Hegel saw as the subjective end and Hegel believed in a more basic model, a functional model of teleology. Teleological explanations are functional explanations. The basic idea of the intentional model of teleology is this. If A did B in order to C then attributed to the subject A is a complex intentional state involving beliefs and desires, cognitive and evaluative elements, that is causally sufficient for A’s doing B. The goal, end, or telos enters into this account only in the description of the intentional state, so we are neither committed to its existence nor to its possessing a kind of backwards causal efficacy. Some such account deals with the teleological description and explanation of human action as well as a considerable amount of animal behaviour but we do not limit teleological ascriptions to these cases alone. A distinctive sound is heard on my laptop in order to alert me to a WhatsApp message having been sent to which sound i respond like Pavlov’s dog thinking I know who it is. An intentional model of teleology can hence account for the ascription of purposes to a piece of equipment upon which purposes are bestowed while depending upon (in an extended sense) our purposes and intentions. But the model rubs up against difficulties upon confronting ascriptions of purpose to things bereft of intentional states and are neither pieces of equipment nor normally associated with the application of a teleological account. the liver produces bile in order to carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion, but the intentional model fares badly albeit there is a deeply felt intuition that natural functions are teleological in some manner or other but are out of reach of the intentional model. If the teleology of natural functions is to be explicated this must be done through some other model of teleology. Hegel analyses teleology in the ‘Science of Logic’ giving it his customary triadic arrangement beginning with the subjective end moving through the means and concluding in the realized end. Whatever plausibility and utility the intentional model has it does not provide an adequate understanding of teleology, it does not reveal teleology in its truth, that is to say, it has on offer merely a partial understanding of teleology under certain specific conditions but does not get to the heart of the matter so far as the reality of teleology in concerned in that it reduces final causation to the form of efficient causation without respecting what is peculiar to final causation in and of itself. In the initial form in which teleology appears in the Hegelian analysis is the subjective end, the end has a merely subjective, ideal being external to the objective world, it ‘is the subjective Concept as an essential effort and urge to posit itself externally’. Designating something subjective classifies it as mind dependent or mind determined in some significant way in explicit contrast to what is mind independent or objective though in Hegelian usage subjectivity retains the contrast to objectivity while generalizing the connotations of mind determination, the subjective is inward, concealed, not fully realized, in contrast to explicit, external, public, and fully determined objectivity.

Hegel thereby makes sense of the application of his model of teleology to organisms and other natural objects even without the postulate of a personal deity designing them, (take note Dawkins, Darwin’s ‘clever reasoning’ indeed. This is clever reasoning). His analysis of the subjective end is an analysis of the intentional model of teleology for the subjective end has both cognitive and evaluative aspects. For instance, the subjective end ‘not only particularizes or makes into a determinate content the still indeterminate universal, but also explicitly posits an antithesis of subjectivity and objectivity’. That is to say it is present in the mind, the indeterminate universal, as a specific intentional content with objective reference, the cognitive aspect of the subjective end, and ‘at the same time [it] is in its own self a return to itself, for it stamps the subjectivity of the concept, presupposed as against objectivity, with the mark of defect’, the evaluative aspect of the subjective end. ‘One must distinguish the inner, subjective, intentional realm and the external, objective realm toward which it aims. The subjective end is an ‘internality … confronted by an objective, mechanical and chemical world to which its activity relates itself as to something already there. Furthermore, subjectivity in determining itself makes itself into particularity, gives itself a content which, enclosed within the unity of the Concept, is still an inner one; … and in the same moment in which the subject of the end determines itself it is related to an indifferent, external objectivity which is to be equated by it with the said inner determinateness, that is to say, is to be posited as something determined by the Concept’. The subjective end is thus described in terms of the presence of a particular intentional object within the mind with a specific direction of fit to objective reality and while the intentional model of teleology is inadequate that does not mean that it should be discarded as simply wrong, rather it is a partial model plausible and useful only when applied within certain conditioning confines. Such conditions by and large match those of individual human action and its intended products but because the intentional model is limited in its scope and application it can neither cover all proper instances of finite teleology nor serve as a world principle.

The subjective end or intentional model of teleology is finite in that it is a determinate content opposed to other determinate contents, subjective ends are particular purposes of particular persons, and there is nothing necessary or self-justifying about them, the specific purposes people have themselves or bestow upon objects are largely contingent and do not flow from the nature of the objects or people themselves. Subjective ends are individualized, multiple, independent, arbitrary, and thoroughly contingent and nothing in the explanatory form itself requires otherwise but a fully adequate explanatory form would not allow for arbitrary or contingent elements at the fundamental level hence the intentional model of teleology does not offer us an ultimate explanatory form for it necessarily leaves fundamental questions unanswered. Furthermore, insofar as the subjective end is confronted with an external objective world it is not itself an objective reality and this leaves its efficacy within the objective causal order unexplained, the subjective end stands over against an other that limits it, hence it is finite. The intentional model of teleology can stand up only to the extent that we understand how the intentional, subjective realm connects with the objective, causal realm, the kind of dilemma facing the Cartesian mind/body, subjective/objective split that imposes an obligation to explain the connection between the two. And because its determinateness has the form of objective indifference it has the shape of a presupposition and from this side its finitude consists in its being confronted by an objective mechanical and chemical world to which its activity relates itself as to something already there. To this extent end still has a genuinely extra-mundane existence in that it is confronted by this objectivity just as the latter on the other hand confronts it as a mechanical and chemical whole not yet determined and pervaded by the end.

The subjective end is standardly thought of as connected to its ultimate realization via a chain of means-end links but in any such chain there seems to be an inevitable gap separating the subjective order from the objective world. How can a subjective state be objectively efficacious? What kind of a means could bridge this gaping crack if I may so put it? One must keep the peculiarity of teleology to the forefront, the end, the final cause, is productive of itself, and this entails that final causation is of a quite different kind from mechanical causation, for in the latter cause and effect must be capable of intrinsic characterizations under which they are logically independent and the connection between the two logically independent event kinds is given through a law that permits an inference from an occurrence of the one kind of event to the occurrence of the other. In final causation the explanatory load is not borne by a law, in teleological explanations cause and effect are so described that the connection is intrinsic albeit the connection is not necessarily in any simple sense purely logical.

The basic idea is that the descriptions of the cause and of the effect used in proper teleological explanations carry an explanatory load in virtue of the fact that they are not accidentally true of the object involved but rather reveal its very essence, they reveal something about the internal ontological structure of the object in a way that no mechanical explanation can for whereas mechanical explanations enable one to understand how something interacts with other things teleological explanations enable one to understand what something is in the first place. However in teleology the content becomes significant given that teleology presupposes a Concept, something absolutely determined and therefore self-determining and so has made a distinction between the relation of the differences and their reciprocal determinedness, that is the form, and the unity that is reflected into itself a unity that is determined in and for itself and therefore a content: ‘The end … is expressly stated as containing the specific character in its own self, — the effect, namely, which in the purely causal relation is never free from otherness. The end therefore in its efficiency does not pass over, but retains itself, i.e., it carries into effect itself only’.

‘Creation of the World’, (detail), Dome of the Chigi Chapel, 1513/1515, Raphael

The contrasts between the mechanist explanations and teleological explanations run deep but the intentional model of teleology, the subjective end model, minimizes such contrasts by assimilating teleology to mechanical causation albeit it differs from standard mechanical causation only in that the cause is confined to a special, inner, subjective realm but the conceptions most crucial to teleology, self-production, realization of one’s essence, are missing. The Cartesian dilemma of connecting the subjective and objective realms continues to haunt such analyses, and when mechanists are confronted with apparently non-accidental correlations between events, but no true law-like correlations among the events seem to hold directly, they search for an intervening cause, a third thing that causally links together the original events or objects. Endeavouring to use such a strategy to explain the connections between the subjective and objective realms imposes significant requirements upon the intervening cause, the means, an examination of which leads us into an ever deeper insight into the nature of teleology, an examination of the notion of a means by which a subjective end is realized. The intentional model of teleology has a useful sphere of application, the explanation of human action and the purposiveness of human-made products, equipment and so on, but it has been misapplied to attempt to account for phenomena beyond its explanatory powers. Phenomena unable to be explained through this model of teleology are those to which the notion of inner design applies, and these fall into two categories, the purposiveness of the world, supposedly a divine purposiveness, and the purposiveness of organisms in nature. The former misuse an understanding of divine purposiveness in terms of the intentional model, and was one of the worst mistakes a philosopher could make, according to Hegel, given that it presupposes the idea of an extra-mundane God which would be a concept of a finite God, a contradiction. The implications of applying the intentional model to the understanding of divine purposiveness are indeed not to bear thinking about: ‘The more the teleological principle was linked with the concept of an extra-mundane intelligence and to that extent was favoured by piety, the more it seemed to depart from the true investigation of nature’.

In acting as if organisms were akin to artificially made products of a possible intelligence as Kant proposed then we should once again have to suppose the conceptually impossible, namely, a finite God. The intentional model of teleology is incoherent, it could not have application, since whether applied to God or to humans, it seems to presuppose an extra-mundane intelligence that is nonetheless effective in the world, and this is a manifest absurdity. The intentional model of teleological ascriptions is an abstraction from a more complex, more fundamental form of teleology, an abstraction which is useful under certain conditions, more specifically, given an explanatory model that sets an extra-mundane, non-mechanical (and non-chemical) intelligence apart from an objective, mechanical world, there is no way to understand the efficacy of that intelligence. There must be something to bridge the gap, a means to the end, and that something may be understood (metaphorically?) as a three-termed syllogism whereby the subjective end, the intention, is the minor term, and the goal to be achieved is the major term, and to get them together there must be a middle term, a means. The analysis of the properties such a means must have leads on to the ultimate conception of teleology whereby the means is not dictated by the intention or goal for there are different ways to realize a goal and the same course of action can serve different goals. However, it is clear that the means must itself be mundane: ‘Like the goal, the means must belong to the causal order, for otherwise its efficacy would remain mysterious. But the means must also be something that is immediately subjected to the intention: Universality is the relation of the activity of the end and the means. … To the end [the intention], therefore, which is the posited Concept, it [the means] is absolutely penetrable, and receptive of the communication, because it is in itself identical with the end. … Consequently the object has the character of being powerless against the end and of serving it; the end is the object’s subjectivity or soul, that has in the object its external side’. Is Hegel like Kant in wanting to have his cake and eat it too, demanding that there be certain things that are both mechanical and somehow under the immediate control of mind? Pas de tout. I wish to open a bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 wine excellent vintage, I reach for the corkscrew as a means of realising my dreams, do I regard my arm as a means, a tool to use in carrying out my intention? I could do but then I could regard my muscles as tools to use in raising my arm. A point is reached somewhere where I am no longer manipulating external things, but rather as an animate body I simply act and my intention is embodied in and expressed through my movement.

Once the intention, the subjective end, is no longer regarded as causing the action and hence as being external to the action but is thought of as embodied in the action as dwelling in and informing the movement the relation between the objective event or movement and the subjective end or intention is an identity relation. An understanding of the concept of a means mediating between the subjective end and the objective world assists in our realization that there are certain special objects in the world in the absence of which the intentional model of teleology could not have application, thereby rejecting the traditional Cartesian distinction between mind and body and good riddance for now we see the relation between thought and action, mind and body, in terms of expression and embodiment, not in terms of the interaction between two substances. And furthermore, precisely where we draw the line between means and end is in any particular instance somewhat arbitrary. I may have gone to university in order to learn philosophy and learn philosophy in order to get a job as a philosopher and get a job as a philosopher in order to live. Or perhaps I studied philosophy in order to be philosophical about not getting a job. There are no clear-cut divisions of such things into means and ends, for is working merely a means to or a part of life itself? Which are the means and which the ends ultimately depends upon what will make the best sense of the whole course of a life in its environment and social context. And such patterns can be broken down and subjective ends, intentions, assigned to subjects, nut they are abstractions from the total behaviour of the organism in its context. Though the ultimate justification of intention attributions rests upon their explanatory power relative to the whole of the organism’s behaviour which itself still underdetermines the intention attributions we choose from, this does not preclude us from having a considerable amount of talent in correctly attributing intentions on the basis of small amounts of behaviour particularly if we are very familiar with the context of the behaviour. The Cartesian tradition is incapable of dealing satisfactorily with the objective existence of organisms yet the concept of an intention, pivotal to the Cartesian philosophy of mind, presupposes that of an animated body, an organism, for only in such beings is the objective reality rich enough to support and be supported by a subjectivity dwelling within. No animated bodies then the concept of a subjective end, an intention, is a mere hanger-on and of no use to boot.

Organisms furnish us with the best instances of the fundamental structures of teleological processes albeit even organisms because of their finitude are not perfect instances but manifest the central characteristic of teleological processes, that is to say, self-production, and they do so not in a feeble sense whereby intentional purposiveness is also a case of self-production but in a robust sense whereby an existent being produces itself, sustains itself, one may go so far as to say creates itself, albeit not ex nihilo. By the Hegelian syllogistic model the organism is at one and the same time the mean and both extremes of the syllogistic structure of teleology and the same descriptive format can be used to attribute purposiveness in both intentional and functional teleology. A does B in order to C, but with functional teleology it cannot be the case that this is a one-time event. I went to my local supermarket in order to see Scarlett Johansson having heard she was shopping there and I may never do such a thing again, a one-off opportunity, but to say that yesterday evening at 18.00 pm my liver produced bile in order to carry away waste and break down fats in my small intestine during digestion of a yummy pizza with veggie toppings may be true but rather strange sounding a natural process to be undergone many times in my lifetime, and whereas the intentional model attributes purposiveness directly to event tokens (note: type–token distinction, the difference between naming a class (type) of objects and naming the individual instances (tokens) of that class), in functional teleology event tokens must inherit their purpose from their respective event types. My liver is working away now to generate bile in order to assist digestion simply because it is generically the case that livers generate bile to assist with digestion whereas it is not the case that people generally go to my local supermarket to see Scarlett Johansson, a special state of affairs is needed to support such an attribution. Such type-specificity functional teleology is behind Hegel’s claim that: ‘in contrast to the subjective end, the means, as immediate objectivity, has a universality of existence that the subjective individuality of the end still lacks’.

Besides the fact that attributions of function are type-specific and not token-specific the other obvious difference between functional and intentional teleology is that functional teleology does not attribute any intentional states, beliefs or desires, to the subject of the attribution for the explanatory power of a functional explanation arises not from the poorly understood causal efficacy of inner, subjective states, but from an orchestration of individually normal interactions directed at some ultimate goal. In particular if subject A does B in order to C, then A does B because B contributes to achieving the goal C, and C must either contribute to or itself be the self-realization of A. Such explanations presuppose some sort of inherent goal-structure for the organism or object we apply them to and an object’s possession of some goal-structure might itself be in need of explanation in which case the teleological explanation cannot be considered complete. For instance, natural selection explains why there are numerous objects that inherently aim at survival or at least species survival but natural selection was not an explanatory device available to Hegel nor would he have found it particularly agreeable.

A aims at C is to say that C is good or at least good for A, movement toward a good is often supposed to be directly intelligible, the connection between being good and being a goal may well be analytic, but the ultimate goal of any teleological activity is self-realization and this situates teleology at the heart of metaphysics for it amounts to an assertion that things being what they are is itself ultimately a teleological affair. The Hegelian conception of the concept sheds extra light on an understanding of how self-realization, teleology, and the being of things are integrated. Kant focused upon the notion that the idea of the organism and its form are explanatory of the parts and the processes of the organism and in talking about the form of the organism Kant apparently did not mean its spatial configuration, indeed form has a richer more Aristotelian overtone and Hegel also stresses strongly the part that the concept of the organism plays in explaining its parts and processes. It is the concept of a thing that dictates its goal, that indeed is its goal and the Hegelian notion of a concept is related to the Aristotelian concept of an essence, an entelechy, (the realization of potential). s Aristotle’s paradigms of entelechies are organisms and Hegel employed organic metaphors to elucidate his understanding of the role of concepts in the world, the natural good of an organism is not simply a matter of its survival or even the survival of its species but rather t for each kind of thing there is an ideal paradigm of that kind of thing, its concept, of which all the individuals of the kind are approximations. As Aristotle said to know something as it is by nature is to know it at its best and natural organisms unlike artificial products seek to realize their ideals on their own with more or less success in individual cases. Kant holds that organisms have in themselves a ‘formative power of a self-propagating kind’ and Hegel holds that this formative power can be understood only in terms of the internal activity of the concept of the organism whereby the organism is what it is because of the ideal, the concept, that it strives to embody, and this ideal is ideologically effective within the organism, which is to say, an organism is ensouled by its concept.

‘The Annunciation’, Melchior Broederlam (c. 1350–1409)
‘The Divine Breath’

Natural teleology such as the liver generating bile in order to assist digestion always aims at self-realization but how does generating bile contribute to the self-realization of a liver? To define a liver as a generator of bile and that without such generation a liver would not be a liver renders the connection trivial and analytic and without explanatory function.

The liver generates bile in order to assist digestion in order to keep the organism alive and only in the context of a living organism is the liver a liver,the parts of an organism realize themselves by maintaining the organism which realizes itself by maintaining its parts. Complex real world interactions that are reflected in the conceptual realm as well, the concept of a liver is intrinsically connected with the concept of an organism in complex ways and the differentiation of the organism into relatively autonomous functional subsystems is inherent in the concept of an organism for the higher the organism the more thoroughly differentiated is its internal structure. Higher organisms are better embodiments of the ideal type constituted by the concept of an organism and the understanding of kinds of thing as implying ideal types generalizes to inorganic entities as well, a stone for instance, albeit they have no internal source of movement toward the ideal or the concept or ideal is not active within the inorganic thing. The latter is material, soulless. A simply material thing is self-external, that is to say, no appeal to the concept of the thing, to its essence as dwelling within it, as soul, is necessary in order to explain the individual thing, for it is determined in all its aspects by other things outside and for this very reason the only form of teleology that can apply directly to inorganic things is the external, intentional form for inorganic things are not self-realizers and their teleology is strictly derivative from the fundamental teleology of self-realization. Be that as it may material things do belong to natural kinds (generalizations grouping particular characteristic traits) and natural kinds are defined by virtue of ideal and ideals presuppose a teleological structure and it is the overarching teleological structure within which material nature can gain its definition that is central to the realized end.

Hegel accepts Kant criterion for natural purposiveness, that is ‘that its parts should so combine in the unity of the whole that they are reciprocally cause and effect of each other’s form’. Kant concedes that the whole is there because of its parts and the parts are there because of the whole but the two becauses are very different, the first being objective, capable of clear justification, the second subjective, regulative, useful in prompting further scientific research. But for Hegel they are both objective. Teleological explanations appeal to the paradigm of the relevant kind of thing whether biological or not but this ideal is not subjective it is what defines that kind of thing. It is not something pulled out of one’s fundament but is there, objectively present and explanatorily unavoidable and given the connection between the concepts of kinds of things and teleology a threat to the objectivity of teleological explanation is also a threat to the objectivity of things. To say that the ideals definitive of different kinds are simply subjective is to subjectivize the world entirely, to make the ontological structure of the world an artificial product of our perspective alone. Hegel dissents. The ontological structure of the world, its division and integration into natural kinds, is intrinsically teleological, the type of fundamental comprehension of the world that comes from understanding its internal structure essentially calls for teleological modes of explanation and understanding and it is not a realm for mechanical explanations or efficient causation, for apprehending the world at this level requires taking formal and final causation seriously.

And so we come to the realized end. In Hegel’s day human action and natural organisms were not the only significant candidates for teleological explanations, a major unresolved question was the purposiveness of the world as a whole. May purposiveness be correctly and objectively attributed to the world? Before Hegel such purposiveness had been conceived as stemming from the divine designer who from His chair outside the world bestowed order and divine purpose upon the world, as Hegel explains: ‘Purposiveness shows itself in the first instance as a higher being in general, as an intelligence that externally determines the multiplicity of objects by a unity that exists in and for itself, so that the indifferent determinatenesses of the objects become essential through this relation’. And furthermore: ‘The formal disadvantage from which this teleology immediately suffers is that it only goes as far as external purposiveness’. It does not even make sense to think of the world as if it had such purposiveness, the only design that could apply to the world would be inner design, understanding the world on the analogy of an organism. And this indeed is illuminating and worth our while fir the loose ends causing no end of trouble for the application of inner design to organisms can be overcome at the level of the world whole.

Even organisms do not exhibit the perfect coincidence between end and objectivity that teleology demands: ‘The goal of the organism, even the goal of realizing as perfectly as possible its natural kind, is still something finite. Because no finite object can achieve perfect coincidence between end and objectivity, no finite object is ever itself a fully realized end’. Hegel employs a variation of the third-man argument, (see my article On Plato’s Parmenides — Being and Non-Being), to demonstrate this:

‘If we consider one of the premises, the immediate relation of the subjective end [in this context, the implicit goal striving to realize itself] to the object which thereby becomes the means, then the former cannot immediately relate itself to the latter; for the latter is no less immediate than the object of the other extreme, in which the end is to be realized through mediation. Since they are thus posited as diverse , it is necessary to interpolate between this objectivity and the subjective end a means of their relation; but this means is likewise an object already determined by the end, and between that object’s objectivity and the teleological determination a new means must be inter- polated, and so on to infinity. Thus there is posited the infinite progress of mediation. The same thing takes place in respect of the other premiss, the relation of the means to the as yet undetermined object. …. The conclusion or the product of the purposive act is nothing but an object determined by an end external to it; consequently it is the same thing as the means. In such a product, therefore, only a means, not a realized end, has resulted, or the end has not truly attained an objectivity in it’.

In order to argue for the need to consider the world-whole teleologically Hegel contends that teleology cannot be applied in a fully satisfactory way to anything less than the world-whole. Why does he not then infer the general illegitimacy of teleology? Because the inadequacy of teleological explanations of finite objects and events is not a form of illegitimacy, rather, such explanations are inadequate because they are essentially incomplete, pointing to an infinite set of prior and posterior conditions that cannot be grasped within the explanation. This same inadequacy besets mechanical and chemical explanation forms as well, indeed these latter are condemned forever to remain incomplete, for they cannot be applied to the totality of things to which they apply in virtue of the fact that they always presuppose further links in the causal chains. That there are things ordered by mechanical and chemical principles remains beyond their competence to explain while teleology can apply not only within the infinite field of finite objects but in virtue of its inherently self-reflexive structure it can apply to that field as a totality, indeed, it exemplifies its essential structure without external accretions only when applied to the totality. That there are things to which mechanical, chemical, and teleological explanatory forms apply is itself capable of teleological explanation, for that is the sense in which teleology is the truth of mechanism and chemism, that is to say, teleology is the sole adequate foundation from which the latter phenomena can be understood and the fully realized end can be nothing less than the entire system of subsidiary ends, means, and objects: ‘We cannot construct the whole out of independent and autonomous parts linked in means-ends relations; we must recognize the priority of the whole and see the subsidiary parts as subsequent analysanda distilled out of the whole. The movement of the end has now reached the stage where the moment of externality is not merely posited in the Concept, where the end is not merely an ought-to-be and a striving to realize itself, but as a concrete totality is identical with the immediate objectivity’.

Such concepts involved in our understanding of things in the world are subordinate to the concept of a concept, it is their soul which they embody and by which they are informed. The particular concepts are the realization of the concept of a concept, just as individual things are realizations of particular concepts and there are differences in these relations, since relations between concepts are not through and through contingent like relations between individuals and concepts are but the concept of a concept is teleologically responsible for the particular concepts, the concept of a concept is a peculiar kind of thing, it is self-reflective, it is one of its own realizations, it is self-explanatory, purely intelligible. The concept of a concept, the Absolute Idea, is the concept of the absolute totality and provides us with the ultimate goal of goals, which is the final cause of the world-whole itself. On dealing with science’s inability to answer questions about purpose Dawkins dismisses them as illegitimate: ‘Why should anyone assume that there is a purpose? You are assuming that the ‘why’ question is a sensible or legitimate question. Not all questions are. You have no right to expect an answer to a silly question’. A deep question will of course seem silly to a silly person. If we ask why-questions as opposed to how-questions about particular events or things in the world we are asking for an explanation that situates them within and accounts for them by reference to the totality. Such an explanatory strategy will never permit us to predict a particular event nor to explain any event in its full particularity any more than an understanding of the purposes of an locomotive would permit one to predict whether it has a throttle lever or a train brake lever or explain just how the the steam pressure gauges work.

World teleology will not in general say why that particular event took place at that particular time, it explains rather by situating the particular event into a larger context of historical trends, goals, and mechanisms and by classifying the event as of a certain kind, and once we have understood the nature of the totality, the essence of the world, such an explanation is legitimate and respectable. The totality, the world-whole, necessarily has a certain essential structure and uncovering the nature of the totality is the fundamental project of the Hegelian system, and self-realization is an intrinsic good, movement toward which needs no further explanation, self-realization (which sounds so existentialist but is rationally and deeply thought out as opposed to existential vagueness) is the fundamental value in Hegelian thought, albeit intentionality has place in the system but true final causation is formal causation. Teleological explanations appeal to what the thing is and insofar as all explanations, including mechanical ones, depend upon things having certain intrinsic properties, belonging to a kind, all explanations presuppose teleological explanation. If I enquire about why a certain event happened there is a point in the chain of questions where my question about why X did so and so can only be answered with X is the kind thing that behaves that way. Is this a genuine explanation? Indeed it is for it is explaining the part by reference to a whole, for the kind attains its identity within a system kinds of thing and pointing out the kind to which a thing belongs situates it in the store and management of the conceptual resources of the world.

At the limiting case, the world-whole, such a strategy of explanation by functional situation reaches the limit where explanation and that which is to be explained coincide. Absolute Idealism is attune to the structure of our concepts while illuminating the profound interconnections among our concepts as seen in the foregoing analysis of the interrelations between intentional explanation and functional explanation. Once the debate about the status and nature of teleological explanation focused upon the intentional model just as Kant had but through taking this model seriously one is driven back toward the more fundamental functional model of teleology. Apart from an increased interest in the philosophical problems of biological and social explanation the development of the field of so-called artificial intelligence and the elaboration of a functionalist solution to the mind- body problem have been responsible for an increased interest in the concept of a function, indeed in this present age it is noticeable that in the philosophy of mind much of the focus is upon the conditions of intentionality, the presuppositions and status of attributions of intentionality to objects, almost as though a complex functioning organism is taken to be a fundamental unit that is prior to and irreducible to its parts.

‘Hyperions Destiny Song’

by Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843)

You wander above in the light

on soft ground, blessed genies!

Blazing, divine breezes

brush by you as lightly

as the fingers of the player

on her holy strings.

Fateless, like sleeping

infants, the divine beings breathe,

chastely protected

in modest buds,

blooming eternally

their spirits,

and their blissful eyes

gazing in mute,

eternal clarity.

Yet there is granted us

no place to rest;

we vanish, we fall -

the suffering humans -

blind from one

hour to another,

like water thrown from cliff

to cliff,

for years into the unknown depths.

‘The silence’, Maximilian Pirner, (1854–1929)



David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.

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