Aristotle's Concept of Teleology

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Aristotle's Concept of Teleology

In his Physics, Aristotle examines the theories and ideas regarding nature of his predecessors and then, based upon his own ideas, theories and experiments, argues against what he believes are incorrect conclusions. One idea that Aristotle argues specifically is teleology. Teleology is the idea that natural phenomena are determined not only by mechanical causes but by an overall design or purpose in nature. In this essay, I will examine what Aristotle's concept of teleology was and look at why he held this conception. First, let's talk about what we mean by teleology. Teleology is the study of ends, purposes, and goals. The word comes from the Greek word telos which means "end" or "purpose". In cultures which have a teleological world view, the ends of things are seen as providing the meaning for all that has happened or that occurs. If you think about history as a timeline with a beginning and end, in a teleological view of the world and of history, the meaning and value of all historical events derives from their ends or purposes.

That is, all events in history are future-directed.
Aristotle's thought is consistently teleological: everything is always changing and moving, and has some aim, goal or purpose. To borrow from Newtonian physics, we might say that everything has potential which may be actualized. An acorn is potentially and oak tree for example. The process of change and motion which the acorn undertakes is directed at realizing this potential. Aristotle believed that things in nature occur because they serve a purpose. He maintains that organisms develop as they do because they have a natural goal or telos in Greek. "Nature", writes Aristotle, is "a ‘principle of motion and change' "(Physics, 200b1), where "motion" or "movement" (or change as we discussed in our classroom) describes the "fulfillment of what exists potentially, in so far as it exists potentially"(201a) in...
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