Function and teleology

  • Beckner M
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The view of teleology sketched in the above remarks seems to me to offer a piece of candy to both the critics and guardians of teleology. The critics want to defend against a number of things: the importation of unverifiable theological or metaphysical doctrines into the sciences; the idea that goals somehow act in favor of their won realization; and the view that biological systems require for their study concepts and patterns of explanation unlike anything employed in the physical sciences. An important part of their defense has been the contention that teleological language can be eliminated without loss from the sciences. I have argued that this is true: any phenomenon that can be described in teleological language can be described otherwise.
On the other hand, eliminability does not mean translatability. I have suggested—I do not see how to prove it—that the teleological character of a sentence is so fundamental that it would be preserved under translation. Teleological character is conferred on a sentence by the manner in which it fits into a conceptual scheme designed for the description of certain classes of systems possessing net-like organization. The elimination of teleological language thus involves a conceptual shift, and involves a different method of classifying the elements of a system.
The guardians of teleology—myself among them—have insisted that teleological language is perfectly legitimate. This conclusion is plain if my account of ldquoappropriatenessrdquo is correct. Indeed, the development of conceptual schemes which render functional ascriptions appropriate is seen to be just a special case of a general scientific procedure: the designing of languages aimed at bringing to light those causal relations which are most interesting to us.

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  • Morton Beckner

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