teleology - 11/8/11 Teleology and Function Haldane [in the...

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11/8/11 1 Teleology and Function l Haldane [in the `30s] can be found remarking, b Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he's unwilling to be seen with her in public. ` Today the mistress has become a lawfully wedded wife. Biologists no longer feel obligated to apologize for their use of teleological language; they flaunt it. The only concession which they make to its disreputable past is to rename it b teleonomy ` . z David Hull (1982) Aristotle: For the sake of what? "Democritus, however, neglecting the final cause, reduces to necessity all the operations of nature. Now they are necessary, it is true, but yet they are for a final cause and for the sake of what is best in each case. Thus nothing prevents the teeth from being formed and being shed in this way; but it is not on account of these causes but on account of the end; these are causes in the sense of being the moving and efficient instruments and the material. to say that necessity is the cause is much as if we should think that the water has been drawn off from a dropsical patient on account of the lancet alone, not on account of health, for the sake of which the lancet made the incision." Aristotle, Generation of Animals V.8, 789a8-b15 The Spookiness of Teleology For Aristotle, natural phenomena were teleological – Events happened to produce results • These results explain the events even through they come after the events l Nature adapts the organ to the function, and not the function to the organ z ( De partib. animal ., IV, xii, 694b; 13) Teleology seems to involve backwards causation—the effects (function) of some causal process are its cause – In the case of human planning, it is not the actual effect that causes the action, but the thought of the effect – But there is only prior thought for biology if one is a creationist
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11/8/11 2 Teleology—Hard to Kill The scientific revolution seemed to remove purpose from the world – Events happened solely because of prior causes – Captured by the quest for mechanisms in biology • Mechanisms explained their effects in terms of preceding, efficient causes But teleological talk lives on in the language of functions in biology – The heart ` s function is to pump the blood – The kidney ` s function is to filter and remove waste – The function of the ribosome is to synthesize proteins Evident most clearly in the willingness to say that something is malfunctioning. Ernst Mayr on Teleology l Consider the following statement: `The Wood Thrush migrates in the fall into warmer countries in order to escape the inclemency of the weather and the food shortages of the northern climates'. If we replace the words b in order to ` by b and thereby ` , we leave the important question unanswered as to why the Wood Thrush migrates. The teleonomic form of the statement implies that
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teleology - 11/8/11 Teleology and Function Haldane [in the...

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