Friday, January 12, 2007

Teleology: The afterparty

Maybe this posting was the real point of my earlier musings on teleology and the anthropic principle ... :=)

A friend asked why "intelligent design" - what has that got to do with purpose? I mentioned that Spinoza believed in a universe with design but no purpose. A better phrase than "intelligent design" would thus be "purposive design" - that captures the nature of the controversy better.

BTW, you might wonder what happened to Aristotle's four-fold causality after that Scientific Revolution thingie 300 years ago or so. Scientists have mostly come to rely on Aristotle's second and third categories. The material or efficient cause is the physical entity in the objective world. The formal cause is the abstract law, the ghost of Plato's Ideas, but grasped in our minds. Formal causes are the mind's form of comprehension; they're in the mind, but not just in the mind. First causes have been reduced to "initial conditions." Final causes have been rendered suspect, although for any living entity, especially conscious ones with intentionality, they're unavoidable. Locke has a sensible discussion of these issues, in somewhat different and slighty archaic language, that hasn't really been improved upon in the last three centuries.

Locke was also the first to state the basic duality of Western thought in a clearly modern form. From Plato to Descartes, it was the duality of mind and body, or body and soul. Locke was the first to recast this as a duality of subject and object. Again, the issue hasn't really moved since then, although Hume and Kant did a lot to reformulate the issue in terms familiar today.

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