New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics


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If such a Darwinian rejoinder is committed to an error theory with regard to teleology and so to this notion of an ultimate objective, then it is surely incompatible with Neo - Aristotelian teleological realism. But if the notion of an ultimate evolutionary objective is interpreted in terms of methodological teleology , then it is not in principle incompatible with Neo - Aristotelian teleological realism.

What this means is that Neo-Aristotelian realists can accept the concept of an ultimate goal as merely a formalized heuristic tool that helps scientists investigate and model behavior, model evolutionary outcomes, and reveal how complex behavioral repertoires emerge and interact to determine such outcomes. At the same time, they can insist that organisms are still genuinely purposive entities, but representation of their purposive nature is not grounded in and does not require the notion of an ultimate goal.

When it comes to contrast between the Darwinian teleological realist and the Neo - Aristotelian realist views, the conflict is much more pronounced. The first thing to recognize is that the differences between these two realist views are not just semantic; they pick out different orders of purposiveness that are justified by different conceptions of the purposive nature of biological entities.

The power of this view is the way it orients rigorous behavioral observation, makes predictions about how living things will behave under various circumstances, and shows unity to the game of life as it is played out in the countless variety of life-forms. The problem with this Darwinian view can be seen, I suggest, by focusing on how this view leads us to understand the process of reproduction. What purposive rationale is there for reproduction?

Ironically, while Dawkins appears to be critical of and to get rid of teleological explanation in biology, it is reintroduced at this crucial point. Of course, the evolutionist need not understand reproduction as purposive in this way.

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The right way for the Darwinian teleological realist to make her point is to resist the temptation to suggest that reproduction serves a purpose whether of genes, individuals, groups, or species while stressing that all other life-cycle events, vital processes, and behaviors serve the purpose of reproduction. This way of putting the matter recognizes that we do need not answer the question of what purpose reproduction serves—i. Thus, while reproduction itself does not serve a purpose, other traits and behaviors serve the purpose of reproduction. Nothing about the reproductive phase of the life-cycle forces us to consider it the vital activity for the sake of which all other vital activities occur.

Warblers migrate southward from New Hampshire in August in order to find insects to eat—full stop.

There is no need for further purposive explanation of this activity. Another way to put this point is to think about the different values placed on survival and reproduction in evolutionary thought. Organisms do all sorts of things in the course of their life-cycles, and the functions of many of their activities can be identified without referring to reproduction. Indeed, organisms can and do function even if successful reproduction does not take place Thompson , p.

Empirical field observation by behavioral ecologists has shown that competition for resources and mating opportunities is crucial for understanding the purposes that social behaviors come to serve in the life-histories of organisms See, for example, Clutton-Brock and Harvey These dynamics give behavioral, morphological, and physiological traits distinctively competitive and cooperative purposes within these unfolding life-cycle patterns. For instance, aggressive behavior in a female meerkat can often serve the purpose of protecting a valuable resource or guarding a mate from rivals or it can help to establish an immigrant male meerkat in a new group by fending off resident males See Lott for an extensive and insightful discussion of these issues in relation to moral theory.

Heinämaa, Sara 1960-

This is because typical female mole-rat life-cycles involve competition for mating opportunities with unrelated males, and male mole rat life-cycles involve competition for the chance to mate with the queen. In these biological systems, whole organisms themselves can be said to serve the purpose of reproduction, but in these cases it is of the reproduction of the higher-order whole organisms and collectives to which they belong.

Of course, while in these cases whole organisms can be said to serve the purpose of reproduction, the reproduction of these higher-order entities does not serve any available vital purpose. In this section, I have argues that it is misguided to see reproduction as serving the purpose of spreading genes or traits, it is also misguided to see reproduction as serving the purpose of outcompeting other organisms, and it is misguided to see reproduction as serving the purpose of evolution as a whole—unless of course one resorts to a form of theism.

But since this is neither informative nor explanatory, it appears that the question of the purpose of reproduction is not a biologically meaningful one.

Social Justice and Its Critics

How can we make sense of the pervasiveness and apparent indispensability of the language of purpose next to other kinds of cause and effect in the biological world? Such language is rife in both scientific literature on evolution and in popular accounts of living things. In this paper, I have reconstructed different paths in the scientific and philosophical literature for understanding this language: teleological error theory , methodological teleology , and finally both Darwinian and Neo - Aristotelian teleological realism.

Teleological error theory and methodological teleology reject the reality of purposive characteristics of the living activity of whole organisms or their parts altogether. One powerful reason to desire such a realist vindication of teleological language is an uncontroversial fact that I alluded to earlier. It is a desideratum to understand how the teleological characteristics of psychologically directed agency relate to the characteristics of biological life more generally. The realist accounts of teleology surveyed here both support conceptions of cognitively guided purposiveness as pre-figured by the characteristics of non-cognitive life more generally, but in very different ways.

If the organism really does have an ultimate objective of reproduction, then we are in a position to speak not only of what an organism does, but also of what it should do given that it has this natural purpose.

Introduction

One motivation for denying realism, then, can come from the sense that this sort of normative talk is value-laden and therefore unscientific and metaphorical. Another can come from the side of normative ethical theory through the judgment that the sorts of norms evolutionary biology might appear to entail are not in line with our best moral reasoning.

The Neo-Aristotelian views surveyed here are also aimed at offering resources for a rapprochement between biology and normative moral theory, but one that does not require thinking in terms of reproductive success Thompson ; Foot ; Lott The question of the place and status of teleology in biology in general is foundational for understanding the relationship between biology and normative ethical theory, and I hope to have shown here a variety of different positions that might be relied upon in order to address such questions.

Finally, I have offered considerations in favor of the Neo - Aristotelian position that the question of whether or not and in what ways biological entities are purposive is not an evolutionary question of their origins and how they change over time. Nor does this question force us to first answer questions of how living things arose from non-living matter in the first place. Indeed, only when we have decided whether or not, and in what sense, organisms really are purposive does it make sense to ask how natural purposes could have arisen out of non-purposive material processes at all.

But the question of origins of life presupposes a representation of what living things are and this is something that evolutionary theory does not provide. These questions pertain to biological reality, but they are not the kinds of questions that are tractable for evolutionary, or any other form of biological explanation. I would like to thank the reviewers of this article for very useful suggestions on a previous draft and also Micah Lott for helpful comments. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.

Hist Philos Life Sci. Published online Nov Peter Woodford. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Corresponding author. Received Apr 15; Accepted Nov 7. Abstract This paper examines the points of disagreement between Neo-Darwinian and recent Neo-Aristotelian discussions of the status of purposive language in biology.

Introduction Why do birds migrate? Are there natural purposes? Natural purpose for Neo-Aristotelians Recent Neo-Aristotelian writers have developed an approach to purposiveness in biology independently of the Neo-Darwinian positions described above.

She writes: [T]he male peacock displays his brilliant tail in order to attract a female during mating season. Acknowledgements I would like to thank the reviewers of this article for very useful suggestions on a previous draft and also Micah Lott for helpful comments. Footnotes 1 Thanks to Micah Lott for this formulation. Limitations of inclusive fitness. Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences-Biology. Functions: New essays in the philosophy of psychology and biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Folk biology and the anthropology of science: Cognitive universals andcultural particulars.

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Biology Letters. Life, the universe, and everything. Biology and Philosophy. The evolution and ecology of cooperation—history and concepts. In: Korb J, Heinz J, editors. Ecology of social evolution. Berlin: Springer Verlag; Capturing the superorganism: A formal theory of group adaptation.

Journal of Evolutionary Biology. Darwinian populations and natural selection. Fisher the evolutionary biologist. Optimization of inclusive fitness. Journal of Theoretical Biology.


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New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics
New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics
New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics
New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics
New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics
New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics
New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics New Perspectives on Aristotelianism and Its Critics

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