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71. Teleological Explanation

ANDREW WOODFIELD


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics explanation, science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00074.x


Extract

Human curiosity leads people to ask what things are for . Teleological explanations answer “What for?” questions by appealing to forward-looking reasons. Children learn that certain things - a snapped twig, a pattern of pebbles washed up by the tide - are not thought to be explainable in this way. But there is a vast range of phenomena which adults do try to explain teleologically. Children accept these explanations and learn rules for constructing them. Folk acceptability is no guarantee of scientific acceptability, however. Many thinkers have held that the study of purposes is no business of science. Let us distinguish between supernatural purposes and natural purposes. Even if mainstream science eschews the former, it smiles on the latter. There are four main domains where natural teleology is found: 1  goal-directed behavior; 2  artifacts endowed with functions by organisms that design, manufacture, and use them to serve their goals; 3  features and parts of living things which have natural functions for their possessors; 4  social phenomena which have functions within social organizations. Goal explanations are widely employed in psychology, ethology, and Artificial Intelligence; natural function explanations figure in biology; social function explanations occur in anthropology, sociology, and sociobiology. Contemporary philosophy has investigated the meanings, the logical ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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