The Value of Teleology in Biological Explanation
Haverford College. Department of Philosophy
Place of Publication
Table of Contents
In the study of living things, there is a general suspicion of teleology as a legitimate mode of explanation. In its place, materialist accounts have been put forth and used by biologists to explain life processes through purely efficient-causal materialist means. Materialist Robert Boyle levels two major critiques at teleology: that it is gratuitous and obscurantist. In this view, teleology is seen as explanatorily unnecessary and potentially discouraging of investigations into the essential parts of a material entity. Materialism, conversely, is seen as simple, perspicuous, and universalizable. Through a Neo-Aristotelian lens, philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Michael Thompson challenge the view that materialist explanation is sufficient and that teleological explanation is gratuitous and obscure through clarifying the notion of the life-form, or the logos. Teleology is championed as a method of biological explanation that, rather than making accounts of living beings unclear or needlessly complex, makes them perspicuous and simple without sacrificing intellectual rigor or depth of analysis. Materialist accounts, rather than replace teleology, should accompany them in explanations of vital processes.