Teleology: A History

October 30, 2020
Teleology: A History

Teleology is the belief that some things happen, or exist forthe sake of other things. It is the belief that, for example,salmon swim upstream in order to spawn, and that bears have clawsfor the sake of catching fish. This volume takes up the intuitiveyet puzzling concept of teleology as it has been treated byphilosophers from ancient times to the present day. It includesnine main chapters centered on the treatment of teleology in Plato,Aristotle, the Islamic medieval tradition, the Jewish medievaltradition, the Latin medieval tradition, the early modern era,Kant, Hegel, and contemporary philosophy. Each chapter probescentral questions such as: is teleology inherent in its subjects oris it imposed on them from the outside? Does teleology necessarilyinvolve intentionality, that is, a subject's cognizing some end,goal, or purpose? What is the scope of teleology? Is it, forexample, applicable to elements and animals, or only to rationalbeings? Finally, is teleology explanatory? When we say that salmonswim upstream in order to spawn, have we explained why they swimupstream? When we say that bears have claws for catching fish, havewe explained why bears have claws? The philosophical discussions ofthe main chapters are enlivened and contextualized by fourreflection pieces exploring the implications of teleology inmedicine, art, poetry, and music.