Teleology and Free Will

Presentation to the Melbourne Philosophy Forum, 7th of November, 2010

1.0 Teleology; Intrinsic and Extrinsic

1.1 Teleology is any philosophical account that argues that final causes exist in nature. Meaning that design and purpose - analogous to those found in human actions - are inherent also in the rest of nature. (Greek - telos, root: -, "end, purpose"). Studies of teleology can be found in the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Anselm, Kant, Hegel, Marx and Arendt. Bronowski used the term "telescopic imagination" - as a human attribute (The Ascent of Man)

1.2 The first exposition of teleology is in Plato's Phaedo, where he distinguishes between the necessary (material) and the sufficent (final). Socrates is in prison because of his physical nature (material), but the reason why he is in prison is because of his goodness. This goodness is his teleology the "reason for which" (Timaeus). Democritus (and in the Roman times, Lucretius) argued against teleology in favour of necessity using naturalism. This was criticised by Aristotle who argued that "natures" were teleological - he also criticised Plato's view on the grounds that natures do not deliberate; "It is absurd to suppose that ends are not present [in nature] because we do not see an agent deliberating." (Physics)

1.3 Intrinsic teleology was throughly explored explored by Aquinas (following Plato, Aristotle etc). "By the form which gives it its specific perfection, everything in nature has an inclination to its own operations and to its own end, which it reaches through these operations." (Summa Contra Gentiles). An argument against intrinsic teleology is the fact that many beings move away from a perfect state (disease, death).
Intrinsic teleology is also usd (for example) by the Roman Catholic Church to argue against homosexuality, and by advocates of intelligent design..

1.4 Extrinsic teleology argues that a final purpose exists external to the being itself, such as Aristotle's claim that animals are designed - their purpose - is to be used by people. It can also lead to an anthropic principle to the point of superstition e.g., "I scored a goal in the football match because of my lucky shoes" - this position was easily criticised by Bacon, Descartes and Spinoza.

2.0 Aristotle's Teleology

2.1 A popular rendition of Aristotle's work in teleology is what are commonly known as the "Four Causes"; Material Cause, Formal Cause, Efficient Cause and Final Cause. However this rendition has been Latinised into Modern English idion and not Greek idiom. The keyword in Greek is "aitia", which can mean both cause and case. Aristotle constructed a causation model using four cases; the cases are not causes 'in themselves'.

2.2 An essential concept is the keyword 'hylomorphism', the doctrine that physical objects results from mater and form. Aristotle used hylomorphism in his first two cases. Material (or Elemental) Case - what are the essential ingredients? Formal (or Identifying) case - what is the thing for - or about?

2.3 Aristotle then looks for answers to the question; the hylomorphic (background) becomes the holomorphic (foreground), a Gestaltan effect. The Efficient (or moving) case, the point at which change/alteration occurs, the 'unmoved' has become the 'moved' and the final (or endgame) case, the final product, effect, cause or telos.

3.0 Historical Narratives

3.1 Hegel and Marx both argues for a teleological grand historical narrative, where society (or spirit) itself had a purpose. In Hegel the 'objective spirit' of identity comes into conflict of world-views until reaching and end-point through the process of dialetical development (Abstract-Negative-Concrete), "History is the Idea clothing itself with the form of events" (Philosophy of Right). In Marx, the historical narrative is expressed through the antagonism between classes of the relations of production with an ultimate end-state of communism, a classless, stateless society.

3.2 An intrinsic, historical narrative can also be identified in Arendt, who argues that the purpose of politics, of conscious motivation and mutual organisation in the public arena, is a desire for freedom. Thus this becomes a 'human nature'. Habermas also follows this with the notion of 'human interests'.

4.0 Will and Purpose

4.1 Self-motivated purposes are not teleological in the sense described above, but they still have a purpose. A business organisation has a purpose for its actions (for example, a 'balanced scorecard', a 'triple bottom line' etc). Health organisations prescribe particular medicines because they have a purpose not to cause harm ("primum non nocere") etc.

4.2 Self-motivated purposes however also have to confront the metaphysical conflict between free will and determinism. This includes arguments that free will is impossible in a universe where movement is predictable on a sub-atomic level, or limited by conditional choice, or is simply not applied because rational, conscious evaluation does not occur. On the other hand at the very least an illusion of free will appears by the existence of self-control over one's bodily actions, and by our capacity to use our "imagination" to consider future alternatives.