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Teleology – A History - Oxford Scholarship Online
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Teleology: A History

Jeffrey K. McDonough


Teleology is the belief that some things happen, or exist, for the sake of other things. It is the belief that, for example, eyes are for seeing and gills are for breathing. It is the belief that people go to the cinema in order to see films and that salmon swim upstream in order to spawn. The core idea of teleology is thus intuitive enough. Nonetheless, difficult questions arise as we dig deeper into the concept. Is teleology intrinsic or extrinsic—that is, is teleology inherent in its subjects or is it imposed on them from the outside? Does teleology necessarily involve intentionality—that i ... More

Keywords: teleology, intrinsic, extrinsic, intentionality, scope, explanation, Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Ibn Sīnā, Scholastic, Jewish, science, function, biology, Moses ben Maimonides, Baruch Spinoza, William Harvey, Robert Boyle, Pierre Maupertuis, science, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Hegel

Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2020 Print ISBN-13: 9780190845711
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2020 DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190845711.001.0001


Affiliations are at time of print publication.

Jeffrey K. McDonough, author
Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University