Teleology

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Plato and Aristotle, depicted here in The School of Athens, both developed philosophical arguments addressing the universe's apparent order (logos) Sanzio 01 Plato Aristotle.jpg
Plato and Aristotle, depicted here in The School of Athens , both developed philosophical arguments addressing the universe's apparent order ( logos )

Teleology or finality [1] [2] is a reason or explanation for something as a function of its end, purpose, or goal. [3] It is derived from two Greek words: telos (end, goal, purpose) and logos (reason, explanation). A purpose that is imposed by a human use, such as that of a fork, is called extrinsic . [2] Natural teleology, common in classical philosophy but controversial today, [4] contends that natural entities also have intrinsic purposes, irrespective of human use or opinion. For instance, Aristotle claimed that an acorn's intrinsic telos is to become a fully grown oak tree. [5]

-logy is a suffix in the English language, used with words originally adapted from Ancient Greek ending in -λογία (-logia). The earliest English examples were anglicizations of the French -logie, which was in turn inherited from the Latin -logia. The suffix became productive in English from the 18th century, allowing the formation of new terms with no Latin or Greek precedent.

An intrinsic property is a property that an object or a thing has of itself, independently of other things, including its context. An extrinsic property is a property that depends on a thing's relationship with other things. For example, mass is an intrinsic property of any physical object, whereas weight is an extrinsic property that varies depending on the strength of the gravitational field in which the respective object is placed. As such, the question of intrinsicality and extrinsicality in empirically observable objects is a significant field of study in ontology, the branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being.

Contents

Though ancient atomists rejected the notion of natural teleology, teleological accounts of non-personal or non-human nature were explored and often endorsed in ancient and medieval philosophies, but fell into disfavor during the modern era (1600–1900). In the late 18th century, Immanuel Kant used the concept of telos as a regulative principle in his Critique of Judgment . Teleology was also fundamental to the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.

<i>Critique of Judgment</i> 1790 book by Immanuel Kant

The Critique of Judgment, also translated as the Critique of the Power of Judgment, is a 1790 book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Sometimes referred to as the "third critique," the Critique of Judgment follows the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and the Critique of Practical Reason (1788).

Contemporary philosophers and scientists are still discussing whether teleological axioms are useful or accurate in proposing modern philosophies and scientific theories. An example of the reintroduction of teleology into modern language is the notion of an attractor. [6] For another instance in 2012, Thomas Nagel, who is not a biologist, proposed a non-Darwinian account of evolution that incorporates impersonal and natural teleological laws to explain the existence of life, consciousness, rationality, and objective value. [7] Regardless, the accuracy can also be considered independently from the usefulness: it is a common experience in pedagogy that a minimum of apparent teleology can be useful in thinking about and explaining Darwinian evolution even if there is no true teleology driving evolution. Thus it is easier to say that evolution "gave" wolves sharp canine teeth because those teeth "serve the purpose of" predation regardless of whether there is an underlying nonteleologic reality in which evolution is not an actor with intentions. In other words, because human cognition and learning often rely on the narrative structure of stories (with actors, goals, and proximal rather than distal causation), some minimal level of teleology might be recognized as useful or at least tolerable for practical purposes even by people who reject its cosmologic accuracy.

Attractor

In the mathematical field of dynamical systems, an attractor is a set of numerical values toward which a system tends to evolve, for a wide variety of starting conditions of the system. System values that get close enough to the attractor values remain close even if slightly disturbed.

Thomas Nagel American philosopher

Thomas Nagel is an American philosopher and University Professor of Philosophy and Law Emeritus at New York University, where he taught from 1980 to 2016. His main areas of philosophical interest are philosophy of mind, political philosophy and ethics.

Darwinism Theory of biological evolution

Darwinism is a theory of biological evolution developed by the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882) and others, stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual's ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Also called Darwinian theory, it originally included the broad concepts of transmutation of species or of evolution which gained general scientific acceptance after Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, including concepts which predated Darwin's theories. It subsequently referred to the specific concepts of natural selection, the Weismann barrier, or the central dogma of molecular biology. Though the term usually refers strictly to biological evolution, creationists have appropriated it to refer to the origin of life, and it has even been applied to concepts of cosmic evolution, both of which have no connection to Darwin's work. It is therefore considered the belief and acceptance of Darwin's and of his predecessors' work—in place of other theories, including divine design and extraterrestrial origins.

Etymology

The word teleology builds on the Greek τέλος, telos (root: τελε-, "end, purpose") [8] and -λογία, logia, "speak of, study of, a branch of learning". The German philosopher Christian von Wolff coined the term (in the Latin form "teleologia") in 1728 in his work Philosophia rationalis, sive logica. [9]

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.

Historical overview

In western philosophy, the term and concept of teleology originated in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle's Four Causes give special place to each thing's telos or "final cause." In this, he followed Plato in seeing purpose in both human and sub-human nature.

Plato Classical Greek philosopher

Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been called the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

Platonic

In the Phaedo , Plato through Socrates argues that true explanations for any given physical phenomenon must be teleological. He bemoans those who fail to distinguish between a thing's necessary and sufficient causes, which he identifies respectively as material and final causes (Phaedo 98–99):

Phædo or Phaedo, also known to ancient readers as On The Soul, is one of the best-known dialogues of Plato's middle period, along with the Republic and the Symposium. The philosophical subject of the dialogue is the immortality of the soul. It is set in the last hours prior to the death of Socrates, and is Plato's fourth and last dialogue to detail the philosopher's final days, following Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito.

Socrates classical Greek Athenian philosopher

Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the main contemporary author to have written plays mentioning Socrates during Socrates' lifetime, though a fragment of Ion of Chios' Travel Journal provides important information about Socrates' youth.

Imagine not being able to distinguish the real cause, from that without which the cause would not be able to act, as a cause. It is what the majority appear to do, like people groping in the dark; they call it a cause, thus giving it a name that does not belong to it. That is why one man surrounds the earth with a vortex to make the heavens keep it in place, another makes the air support it like a wide lid. As for their capacity of being in the best place they could be at this very time, this they do not look for, nor do they believe it to have any divine force, but they believe that they will some time discover a stronger and more immortal Atlas to hold everything together more, and they do not believe that the truly good and 'binding' binds and holds them together.

Plato, Phaedo 99

Plato here argues that while the materials that compose a body are necessary conditions for its moving or acting in a certain way, they nevertheless cannot be the sufficient condition for its moving or acting as it does. For example, (given in Phaedo 98), if Socrates is sitting in an Athenian prison, the elasticity of his tendons is what allows him to be sitting, and so a physical description of his tendons can be listed as necessary conditions or auxiliary causes of his act of sitting ( Phaedo 99b; Timaeus 46c9–d4, 69e6). However, these are only necessary conditions of Socrates' sitting. To give a physical description of Socrates' body is to say that Socrates is sitting, but it does not give us any idea why it came to be that he was sitting in the first place. To say why he was sitting and not not sitting, we have to explain what it is about his sitting that is good, for all things brought about (i.e., all products of actions) are brought about because the actor saw some good in them. Thus, to give an explanation of something is to determine what about it is good. Its goodness is its actual cause—its purpose, telos or "reason for which" (Timaeus 27d8–29a).

Aristotelian

Aristotle argued that Democritus was wrong to attempt to reduce all things to mere necessity, because doing so neglects the aim, order, and "final cause", which brings about these necessary conditions:

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....

Aristotle, Generation of Animals V.8, 789a8–b15

In the Physics Aristotle rejected Plato's assumption that the universe was created by an intelligent designer using eternal forms as his model. For Aristotle, natural ends are produced by "natures" (principles of change internal to living things), and natures, Aristotle argued, do not deliberate:

It is absurd to suppose that ends are not present [in nature] because we do not see an agent deliberating.

Aristotle, Physics 2.8, 199b27-9; [10] see also Physics 2.5–6 where "natures" are contrasted with intelligence [11]

These Platonic and Aristotelian arguments ran counter to those presented earlier by Democritus and later by Lucretius, both of whom were supporters of what is now often called accidentalism:

Nothing in the body is made in order that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use.

Lucretius, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), IV, 833; cf. 822–56.

Disfavor

Since the Novum Organum of Francis Bacon, teleological explanations in physical science tend to be deliberately avoided in favor of focus on material and efficient explanations. Final and formal causation came to be viewed as false or too subjective. [12] Nonetheless, some disciplines, in particular within evolutionary biology, continue to use language that appears teleological when they describe natural tendencies towards certain end conditions; although some argue that these arguments ought to be, and practicably can be, rephrased in non-teleological forms, others hold that teleological language cannot always be easily expunged from descriptions in the life sciences, at least within the bounds of practical pedagogy. This is discussed further below.

Economics

A teleology of human aims played a crucial role in the work of Ludwig von Mises especially in the development of his science of praxeology. More specifically he believed that human action, i.e. purposeful behavior, is teleological based on the presupposition that an individual's action is governed or caused by the existence of their chosen ends. Or in other words an individual selects what they believe to be the most appropriate means to achieve a sought after goal or end. Mises however also stressed that teleology with respect to human action was by no means independent of causality as he states "no action can be devised and ventured upon without definite ideas about the relation of cause and effect, teleology presupposes causality" [13]

Modern and postmodern philosophy

Historically, teleology may be identified with the philosophical tradition of Aristotelianism. The rationale of teleology was explored by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgement and, again, made central to speculative philosophy by Hegel and in the various neo-Hegelian schools  proposing a history of our species some consider to be at variance with Darwin, as well as with the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and with what is now called analytic philosophy   the point of departure is not so much formal logic and scientific fact but 'identity'. (In Hegel's terminology: 'objective spirit'.)

Individual human consciousness, in the process of reaching for autonomy and freedom, has no choice but to deal with an obvious reality: the collective identities (such as the multiplicity of world views, ethnic, cultural and national identities) that divide the human race and set (and always have set) different groups in violent conflict with each other. Hegel conceived of the 'totality' of mutually antagonistic world-views and life-forms in history as being 'goal-driven', that is, oriented towards an end-point in history. The 'objective contradiction' of 'subject' and 'object' would eventually 'sublate' into a form of life that leaves violent conflict behind. This goal-oriented, 'teleological' notion of the 'historical process as a whole' is present in a variety of 20th-century authors, although its prominence declined drastically after the Second World War.

In contrast, teleological based "grand narratives" are eschewed by the postmodern attitude [14] and teleology may be viewed as reductive, exclusionary and harmful to those whose stories are diminished or overlooked. [15]

Against this postmodern position, Alasdair MacIntyre has argued that a narrative understanding of oneself, of one's capacity as an independent reasoner, one's dependence on others and on the social practices and traditions in which one participates, all tend towards an ultimate good of liberation. Social practices may themselves be understood as teleologically oriented to internal goods, for example practices of philosophical and scientific inquiry are teleologically ordered to the elaboration of a true understanding of their objects. MacIntyre's book After Virtue famously dismissed the naturalistic teleology of Aristotle's 'metaphysical biology', but he has cautiously moved from that book's account of a sociological teleology toward an exploration of what remains valid in a more traditional teleological naturalism.

Ethics

Teleology informs the study of ethics.

Business ethics

Business people commonly think in terms of purposeful action as in, for example, management by objectives. Teleological analysis of business ethics leads to consideration of the full range of stakeholders in any business decision, including the management, the staff, the customers, the shareholders, the country, humanity and the environment. [16]

Medical ethics

Teleology provides a moral basis for the professional ethics of medicine, as physicians are generally concerned with outcomes and must therefore know the telos of a given treatment paradigm. [17]

Consequentialism

The broad spectrum of consequentialist ethics, of which utilitarianism is a well-known example, focuses on the end result or consequences, with such principles as utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill's "the greatest good for the greatest number", or the Principle of Utility. Hence, this principle is teleological, but in a broader sense than is elsewhere understood in philosophy. In the classical notion, teleology is grounded in the inherent natures of things themselves, whereas in consequentialism, teleology is imposed on nature from outside by the human will. Consequentialist theories justify inherently what most people would call evil acts by their desirable outcomes, if the good of the outcome outweighs the bad of the act. So, for example, a consequentialist theory would say it was acceptable to kill one person in order to save two or more other people. These theories may be summarized by the maxim "the ends can justify the means."

Consequentialism stands in contrast to the more classical notions of deontological ethics, such as Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative, and Aristotle's virtue ethics (although formulations of virtue ethics are also often consequentialist in derivation). In deontological ethics, the goodness or badness of individual acts is primary and a desirable larger goal is insufficient to justify bad acts committed on the way to that goal, even if the bad acts are relatively minor and the goal is major (like telling a small lie to prevent a war and save millions of lives). In requiring all constituent acts to be good, deontological ethics is much more rigid than consequentialism, which varies by circumstances.

Practical ethics are usually a mix of the two. For example, Mill also relies on deontic maxims to guide practical behavior, but they must be justifiable by the principle of utility. [18]

Science

In modern science, explanations that rely on teleology are often, but not always, avoided, either because they are unnecessary or because whether they are true or false is thought to be beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge. [12] But using teleology as an explanatory style, in particular within evolutionary biology, is still controversial. [19]

Biology

Apparent teleology is a recurring issue in evolutionary biology, [20] much to the consternation of some writers. [19]

Statements implying that nature has goals, for example where a species is said to do something "in order to" achieve survival, appear teleological, and therefore invalid. Usually, it is possible to rewrite such sentences to avoid the apparent teleology. Some biology courses have incorporated exercises requiring students to rephrase such sentences so that they do not read teleologically. Nevertheless, biologists still frequently write in a way which can be read as implying teleology even if that is not the intention. These issues have recently been discussed by John Reiss. [21] [ page needed ] He argues that evolutionary biology can be purged of such teleology by rejecting the analogy of natural selection as a watchmaker; other arguments against this analogy have also been promoted by writers such as Richard Dawkins. [22]

Some authors, like James Lennox, have argued that Darwin was a teleologist, [23] while others like Michael Ghiselin described this claim as a myth promoted by misinterpretations of his discussions and emphasized the distinction between using teleological metaphors and being teleological. [24]

Biologist philosopher Francisco Ayala has argued that all statements about processes can be trivially translated into teleological statements, and vice versa, but that teleological statements are more explanatory and cannot be disposed of. [25] Karen Neander has argued that the modern concept of biological 'function' is dependent upon selection. So, for example, it is not possible to say that anything that simply winks into existence without going through a process of selection has functions. We decide whether an appendage has a function by analysing the process of selection that led to it. Therefore, any talk of functions must be posterior to natural selection and function cannot be defined in the manner advocated by Reiss and Dawkins. [26] Ernst Mayr states that "adaptedness... is an a posteriori result rather than an a priori goal-seeking." [27] Various commentators view the teleological phrases used in modern evolutionary biology as a type of shorthand. For example, S. H. P. Madrell writes that "the proper but cumbersome way of describing change by evolutionary adaptation [may be] substituted by shorter overtly teleological statements" for the sake of saving space, but that this "should not be taken to imply that evolution proceeds by anything other than from mutations arising by chance, with those that impart an advantage being retained by natural selection." [28] J. B. S. Haldane said, "Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he's unwilling to be seen with her in public." [29] [30]

Selected-effects accounts, like the one Neander suggests, face objections due to their reliance on etiological accounts, which some fields lack the resources to accommodate. Many such sciences, which study the same traits and behaviors regarded by evolutionary biology, still correctly attribute teleological functions without appeal to selection history. Gualtiero Piccinini and Corey J. Maley are a proponent of one such account which focuses instead on goal-contribution. With the objective goals of organisms being survival and inclusive fitness, Piccinini and Maley define teleological functions to be “a stable contribution by a trait (or component, activity, property) of organisms belonging to a biological population to an objective goal of those organisms.” [31]

Cybernetics

Julian Bigelow, Arturo Rosenblueth, and Norbert Wiener have conceived of feedback mechanisms as lending a teleology to machinery. Wiener, a mathematician, coined the term 'cybernetics' to denote the study of "teleological mechanisms." [32] Cybernetics is the study of the communication and control of regulatory feedback both in living beings and machines, and in combinations of the two. In the cybernetic classification presented in "Behavior, Purpose and Teleology", teleology is feedback controlled purpose. [33] [34]

The classification system underlying cybernetics was criticized by Frank Honywill George, who cited the need for an external observability to the purposeful behavior in order to establish and validate the goal-seeking behavior. In this view, the purpose of observing and observed systems is respectively distinguished by the system's subjective autonomy and objective control. [35]

See also

Related Research Articles

Biological anthropology Branch of anthropology that studies the physical development of the human species

Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, is a scientific discipline concerned with the biological and behavioral aspects of human beings, their extinct hominin ancestors, and related non-human primates, particularly from an evolutionary perspective. It is a subfield of anthropology that provides a biological perspective to the systematic study of human beings.

The teleological or physico-theological argument, also known as the argument from design, or intelligent design argument is an argument for the existence of God or, more generally, for an intelligent creator based on perceived evidence of deliberate design in the natural world.

Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, establishing and verifying facts, applying logic, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics and art, and is normally considered to be a distinguishing ability possessed by humans. Reason, or an aspect of it, is sometimes referred to as rationality.

Virtue ethics normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character

Virtue ethics are normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character. Virtue ethicists discuss the nature and definition of virtues and other related problems. These include how virtues are acquired, how they are applied in various real life contexts, and whether they are rooted in a universal human nature or in a plurality of cultures.

Adaptation Trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism maintained and evolved by natural selection

In biology, adaptation has three related meanings. Firstly, it is the dynamic evolutionary process that fits organisms to their environment, enhancing their evolutionary fitness. Secondly, it is a state reached by the population during that process. Thirdly, it is a phenotypic trait or adaptive trait, with a functional role in each individual organism, that is maintained and has evolved through natural selection.

A telos is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle. It is the root of the term "teleology", roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions. Teleology figures centrally in Aristotle's biology and in his theory of causes. It is central to some philosophical theories of history, such as those of Hegel and Marx.

Teleonomy is the quality of apparent purposefulness and goal-directedness of structures and functions in living organisms brought about by the exercise, augmentation, and, improvement of reasoning. The term derives from two Greek words, τέλος telos and νόμος nomos ("law"), and means "end-directed". Teleonomy is sometimes contrasted with teleology, where the latter is understood as a purposeful goal-directedness brought about through human or divine intention. Teleonomy is thought to derive from evolutionary history, adaptation for reproductive success, and/or the operation of a program. Teleonomy is related to programmatic or computational aspects of purpose.

The philosophy of biology is a subfield of philosophy of science, which deals with epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical issues in the biological and biomedical sciences. Although philosophers of science and philosophers generally have long been interested in biology, philosophy of biology only emerged as an independent field of philosophy in the 1960s and 1970s. Philosophers of science then began paying increasing attention to biology, from the rise of Neodarwinism in the 1930s and 1940s to the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 to more recent advances in genetic engineering. Other key ideas include the reduction of all life processes to biochemical reactions, and the incorporation of psychology into a broader neuroscience.

Adaptationism is the Darwinian view that many physical and psychological traits of organisms are evolved adaptations. Pan-adaptationism is the strong form of this, deriving from the early 20th century modern synthesis, that all traits are adaptations, a view now shared by few biologists. Adaptationists perform research to try to distinguish adaptations from byproducts or random variation. George Williams' Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966) was highly influential in its development, defining some of the heuristics used to identify adaptations.

<i>After Virtue</i> Book by philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre

After Virtue is a book on moral philosophy by Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre provides a bleak view of the state of modern moral discourse, regarding it as failing to be rational, and failing to admit to being irrational. He claims that older forms of moral discourse were in better shape, particularly singling out Aristotle's moral philosophy as an exemplar. After Virtue is among the most important texts in the recent revival of virtue ethics.

Evolutionary ethics Field of inquiry that explores how evolutionary theory might bear on our understanding of ethics or morality.

Evolutionary ethics is a field of inquiry that explores how evolutionary theory might bear on our understanding of ethics or morality. The range of issues investigated by evolutionary ethics is quite broad. Supporters of evolutionary ethics have claimed that it has important implications in the fields of descriptive ethics, normative ethics, and metaethics.

In science and philosophy, a just-so story is an unverifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals. The pejorative nature of the expression is an implicit criticism that reminds the hearer of the essentially fictional and unprovable nature of such an explanation. Such tales are common in folklore and mythology.

Four causes

The "four causes" are elements of an influential principle in Aristotelian thought whereby explanations of change or movement are classified into four fundamental types of answer to the question "why?". Aristotle wrote that "we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause." While there are cases where identifying a "cause" is difficult, or in which "causes" might merge, Aristotle held that his four "causes" provided an analytical scheme of general applicability.

Human nature the distinguishing characteristics which humans tend to have naturally

Human nature is a bundle of characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, which humans are said to have naturally. The term is often regarded as capturing what it is to be human, or the essence of humanity. The term is controversial because it is disputed whether or not such an essence exists. Arguments about human nature have been a mainstay of philosophy for centuries and the concept continues to provoke lively philosophical debate. The concept also continues to play a role in science, with neuroscientists, psychologists and social scientists sometimes claiming that their results have yielded insight into human nature. Human nature is traditionally contrasted with characteristics that vary among humans, such as characteristics associated with specific cultures. Debates about human nature are related to, although not the same as, debates about the comparative importance of genes and environment in development.

Structuralism (biology) school of biological thought that objects to an exclusively Darwinian or adaptationist explanation of natural selection, arguing that other mechanisms also guide evolution, and sometimes implying that these supersede selection altogether

Biological or process structuralism is a school of biological thought that objects to an exclusively Darwinian or adaptationist explanation of natural selection such as is described in the 20th century's modern synthesis. It proposes instead that evolution is guided differently, basically by more or less physical forces which shape the development of an animal's body, and sometimes implies that these forces supersede selection altogether.

In biology, function has been defined in many ways. In physiology, it is simply what an organ, tissue, cell or molecule does. In evolutionary biology, it is the reason some object or process occurred in a system that evolved through natural selection. That reason is typically that it achieves some result, such as that chlorophyll helps to capture the energy of sunlight in photosynthesis. Hence, the organism that contains it is more likely to survive and reproduce, in other words the function increases the organism's fitness. A characteristic that assists in evolution is called an adaptation; other characteristics may be non-functional spandrels, though these in turn may later be co-opted by evolution to serve new functions.

Evolutionary psychology has generated substantial controversy and criticism. The criticism includes but is not limited to: disputes about the testability of evolutionary hypotheses, alternatives to some of the cognitive assumptions frequently employed in evolutionary psychology, alleged vagueness stemming from evolutionary assumptions, differing stress on the importance of non-genetic and non-adaptive explanations, and political and ethical issues.

Eutaxiology is the philosophical study of order and design. It is distinguished from teleology in that it does not focus on the purpose or goal of a given structure or process, merely the degree and complexity of the structure or process.

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that examines right and wrong moral behavior, moral concepts and moral language. Various ethical theories pose various answers to the question "What is the greatest good?" and elaborate a complete set of proper behaviors for individuals and groups. Ethical theories are closely related to forms of life in various social orders.

Teleology in biology The use of language of goal-directedness in the context of evolutionary adaptation

Teleology in biology is the use of the language of goal-directedness in accounts of evolutionary adaptation, which some biologists and philosophers of science find problematic. The term teleonomy has also been proposed. Before Darwin, organisms were seen as existing because God had designed and created them; their features such as eyes were taken by natural theology to have been made to enable them to carry out their functions, such as seeing. Evolutionary biologists often use similar teleological formulations that invoke purpose, but these imply natural selection rather than actual goals, whether conscious or not. Dissenting biologists and religious thinkers held that evolution itself was somehow goal-directed (orthogenesis), and in vitalist versions, driven by a purposeful life force. Since such views are now discredited, with evolution working by natural selection acting on inherited variation, the use of teleology in biology has attracted criticism, and attempts have been made to teach students to avoid teleological language.

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Further reading