Steinbeck's Nonteleological Perspective

Topics: Meaning of life, John Steinbeck, Teleology Pages: 8 (3025 words) Published: April 19, 2005
There is no meaning to life. Life has no inherent meaning. The meanings of our lives are chosen by what we feel and experience or are assigned to us by others. The ends of our existence cannot be foreseen and will not be limited by such things as destiny. These are the ideas and philosophies of those who believe life to be non-teleological. A famous literary example of a non-teleologist is a man named John Steinbeck. Throughout his life Steinbeck experimented with Darwinism, transcendentalism, realism, socialism, naturalism, and Taoism (Endnotes 1). Each of these ways of thinking show up in Steinbeck's philosophy and therefore his work cannot be classified specifically. All that may be said is that he had a non-teleological way of thinking. As nature played such a major role in his life, Steinbeck's characters are shaped by nature and their surroundings give purpose to their lives. These characters' fates are not pre-determined. Instead every event in the natural world gives new meaning to a life. As a result of Steinbeck's non-teleological beliefs, his characters' lives contain no inherent meaning and their ever-changing paths are influenced by occurrences and over the passage of time.

A surprisingly few number people know what the meaning of teleology is but a large majority of the population have very strong feelings towards its basic principle. Teleology is the philosophical study of evidences of design in nature. It is the fact or the character of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose. Teleology may be used to describe natural processes or nature as a whole, conceived as determined by final causes or by the design of a divine providence. The philosophy allows that for any "natural phenomenon," design or purpose may be used as an explanation (Webster's 2350). A more familiar way of questioning if one believes the principle idea of teleology or not, is whether one believes in the idea of destiny or choice.

Teleology and non-teleology are interesting philosophies in that believers of either idea are not necessarily categorized as non-believers of the opposing philosophy. In fact, both teleological and non-teleological thinkers use ideas and theories from each other to strengthen their own beliefs. For example an object or a behavior is said to be teleological when it gives evidence of design or appears to be directed toward a certain end. (Teleological Explanations 1) Objects that are considered to be teleological would include most objects made by people. For instance, we do not use a knife to cut objects because the blade is sharp, we made the knife in order to cut the object. But teleologists admit that there are objects that are non-teleological. We take advantage of the shape of mountains by skiing on them, but mountains are not the shape they are in order for us to ski on them (1). This can also be explained as "ends exist in the mind which studies nature, not in nature itself" (1). Teleologists must admit that there on non-teleological parts of life, otherwise their philosophy would include such ridiculous beliefs as sodium and chloride being combined to taste salty rather than the salty taste being an effect of the two elements bonding. Steinbeck was correct in thinking that as a non-teleological thinker he must also take into account the teleological outlook on life. Steinbeck said: "Teleological answers necessarily must be included in the non-teleological method since they are a part of the picture even if only restrictedly true and as a soon as their qualities of relatedness are recognized. Even erroneous beliefs are real things and have to be considered proportional to their spread or intensity" (Log from the Sea of Cortez 171). Steinbeck believed teleology to be only a small part of the big picture and that by not expanding their view and opening their minds teleologists would have a very limited knowledge of life. Steinbeck said: "‘All truths must embrace all extent apropos errors...

Cited: Ricketts, Edward Flanders and John Steinbeck. Log from the Sea of Cortez. New York: Penguin USA, 1995.
Steinbeck, John Ernst. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
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---. The Pearl. New York: Penguin USA, 2000.
---. The Red Pony. New York: The Viking Press, 1945.
---. Travels with Charley: In Search of America. New York: Penguin USA, 1980.
---. The Winter of our Discontent. New York: Viking Press, 1945.
"Teleology and Teleological Explanations." Dr
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"Viking 's America and Americans" and "Notes." Scott Simkins. 16 October 2003. The
University of Southern Mississippi, 1966
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