Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Fifth Way, also remixed

Thomas writes:

We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

Central to Aristotle’s thought is the normative thesis that all substances have proper functions or ends defined by their immanent forms. Moreover, Aristotle makes the statistical claim that for the most part things things function correctly—they function to fulfill their ends.

The statistical claim is epistemologically important: that an activity or structure is usually exhibited by members of a kind is a central piece of evidence for that activity’s or structure’s correctness. But logically the statistical facts and the normative facts are independent: it is logically possible for all sheep to be three-legged, or for only a few pecan trees to produce pollen.

To see that we are committed to the connection between the normative and the statistical facts, consider the ridiculousness of the hypothesis that one of the ends of salmon is to prove theorems about high-dimensional topology. The utter unsuitability of the salmon brain to that end is conclusive evidence against the hypothesis. But this is only if we think there is a connection between the normative and the statistical facts—without such a connection, we could simply suppose that all salmon fall short of their topological researcher nature.

Note, too, just how massive the coincidence between the normative and statistical facts is: we see it across millions of species.

As Aquinas concedes, in intelligent substances we have some hope of an explanation of the coincidence: the intelligent substance consciously aims at its self-fulfillment. (Though leaning on this may be too much of a concession, because we still need to explain why this aiming isn’t futile, like a crank’s attempts to trisect angles.) But why do unintelligent substances’ activities in fact harmonize with their self-fulfillment, and do so massively, across all the millions of species we have? Why is it that we do not salmon-like fish with mathematical activity as their purpose, snake-like reptiles with flying as their end, and apes whose primary purpose is turning their bodies into gold by exposure to solar radiation?

A theistic explanation of the massive coincidence is compelling, and it provides another theistic solution to the shortcomings of a pure Aristotelian system.

16 comments:

swaggerswaggmann said...

The "coincidence" is simply due to evolution : any beast that start to develop a better way to exploit a ressource is selected, letting another with less pressure on a common ressources. All that slowly making species good at their things. And selecting them to carve for that.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Sure, evolution can explain why various critters are good at growing, eating, reproducing, etc. But that doesn't explain why it is BOTH the case that they are good at these things AND that these things are actually their telos.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

There is no "telos" in evolution, at least not the way you would define telos.
Creatures are good at growing, eating, etc. and also at being a part of an ecosystem. Antelopes are "good at" being food for lions, e.g. because that's how an ecosystem evolves.
There is no coincidence to be explained.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yes, it's a background assumption for the argument that there really is teleology in the world.

Walter Van den Acker said...

That's pretty bold assamption.

swaggerswaggmann said...

Indeed, Walter.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Of course, if someone already believes there is teleology in the world, the Fifth Way may sound convincing, but unless someone has a very strong argument for this telos, I don't find any of Aquinas's ways convincing at all.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The general idea for all my remixes of the 4th/5th Ways is to see them as showing how theistic Aristotelianism fixes different gaps in basic Aristotelianism. Of course, that is only convincing if one accepts basic Aristotelianism. There are, I think, good arguments for basic Aristotelianism, but that's a different matter.

swaggerswaggmann said...

I would argue that even if we push a telos, it came from evolution , the organ make the need, so an animal will do and mainly want to do what he is slowly evolving to. And any "telos" that goes against is selected against, so it cannot develop and only a adapted telos is fixed. So again no coincidence.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex
those "gaps" are filled by evolution, no need for theistic Aristotelianism.
Evolution might work on deism, but it is incompatible with theism.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Evolution makes no reference to the telos of anything. Teleological facts are entirely epiphenomenal with respect to evolution. It could be the telos of mice to reproduce or it could be the telos of mice to fly -- neither makes any difference to evolution. If there really is teleology, its harmony with the actual structure and evolution of organisms needs to be explained. Mice are very bad at flying, and in fact I assume it is not their telos to fly. They are very good at reproducing, and it is their telos to reproduce. The coincidence calls for an explanation. We could imagine animals that have the same physical structure and actual as mice that do not have reproduction as a telos but do have flying as a telos -- such animals would be defective relative to their teleology, since they would be unable to fulfill the telos of flying. But evolution doesn't care whether a telos is fulfilled or not.

You might say: How could a wingless animal like a mouse have a telos of flying? Well, on the basic Aristotelian theory, a telos is an innate primitive feature of the essence of a thing. Why couldn't a wingless mouse-like critter have the telos of flying written on its essence, along with a specification that it ought to have wings? It would just be the case that every instance would be defective for lacking wings and the ability to fly.

swaggerswaggmann said...

Alex, please drop whatever you are smoking and notice that what you call telos is already what the animal has evolved to do, if mice had evolved to fly you would say that there telos is to fly and ask about a coincidence...
It care as the telos is a caricature of what evolution already make, if it no more fulfill it, it is selected against. And die, except if the environment has changed...

Anonymous said...

That is rather rude to say…

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

Evolution is may be combined with basic Aristotelianism to fill in the alleged "gaps". In evolution, the "telos" of every living thing is reproduction.
Under basic Aristotelianism, there can be some telos in a basic organism that it can "evolve" into every living organism that is around today.

jqb said...

"A theistic explanation of the massive coincidence is compelling"

Only for one who knows nothing at all about evolution.

"Yes, it's a background assumption for the argument that there really is teleology in the world."

Ah, so magic woo stuff a background assumption for an argument that concludes with magic woo stuff.

jqb said...

"it is their telos to reproduce."

Says who?

"The coincidence calls for an explanation."

There is no coincidence and nothing to explain--at least not for well-informed rational intellectually honest people.