Action and Teleology

Very interesting (yet arcane) paper found from PrestoPundit entitled "The Insuperable Limits to Reduction in Biology." It is a very dense, but worthwhile read for insights on objectivity/subjectivity and why biology differs from physics or chemistry (in, if I have read it correctly, the volitional differences between an organism and a cloud of gas), which obviously can be extended to answering why the methods of the physical sciences are inappropriate for the social sciences (such as the reliance on mathematical models and the insistence on empirical testability as proof). An excerpt:

We are able, for example, to model the abstract pattern of a dissipative chaotic system geometrically although any of the particular states of the system are not themselves predictable. We are unable, that is, to predict any particular unknown state of a dissipative chaotic system by a calculation from some prior state of the system because any error of measurement will be magnified in our prediction of any future state (Stone, 1989, p. 126). We are, however, able to account for the general pattern of the system based on the geometric form of our mathematical model. As Mark Stone explains, ".. these paths [modeled by a non-linear equation] will converge to a recognizable geometric form, and for a given type of chaotic system the attractor will always be the same .. once a scientist has discovered the attractor of a chaotic system, then he has a model of the system, and that model will serve as an explanation." (Stone, 1989, p. 129)

As Friedrich Hayek explains, models of this sort provide, ".. the explanation not of individual events but merely of the appearance of certain patterns or orders." (Hayek, 1967, p. 40) For example, Hayek points out that Darwin's theory of natural selection, ".. can explain and predict only kinds of phenomena, defined by very general characteristics: the occurrence, not at a narrowly defined time and place but within a wide range, or changes of certain types; or rather the absence of other types of changes in the structure of the succeeding organisms." (Hayek, 1967, p. 13; compare Scriven, 1959; Rosenberg, 1985, p. 65, p. 174) In this manner, a model or theory of this general kind indicates only the general characteristics of events or a range of phenomena to be expected, rather than a singular event to be expected at a particular place and time (see Hayek, 1967, p. 11; Hayek, 1978, p. 33; compare Hempel, 1965, pp. 336-337; Salmon, 1990, p.9).

My argument is that teleological ascriptions are derived from the very paradigm of purposive phenomena: human action. No one doubts that we are each able to anticipate the future course of our own actions. It must also be admitted that in many instances these anticipated bodily movements are not accompanied by any experience which could be identified as the reason or cause of these movements. For example, we frequently bend a finger -- and fully anticipate doing so -- without contemporaneous experiencing any particular belief (e.g. that the bending of our finger will cause a gun to fire) or desire (e.g. that the man who stole our car should die) which could be provided as the reason or cause for our movements. In these cases we simply instantiate our anticipated actions without regard to any consciously held 'motivating cause' like anger and without regard to the constraints of any consciously held belief about the effects of our actions upon the world beyond our body.

(definition of Teleology)

Share this