Teleology is the philosophical study of design and purpose. A teleological school of thought is one that holds all things to be designed for or directed toward a final result, that there is an inherent purpose or final cause for all that exists.

As a school of thought it can be contrasted with metaphysical naturalism, which views nature as having no design or purpose. Teleology would say that a person has eyes because he has the need of eyesight, while naturalism would say that a person has sight because he has eyes.

Individual human consciousness, in the process of reaching for autonomy and freedom, has no choice but to deal with an obvious reality in the collective identities which divide the human race and which set different groups in violent conflict with each other. The totality of mutually antagonistic world views and life forms in history has been observed as being goal driven, that is, oriented towards an end-point in history. The objective contradiction of subject and object would eventually sublate into a form of life which leaves violent conflict behind. This goal oriented, teleological notion of the historical process as a whole is present in a variety of 20th Century writing.

It has been argued that a narrative understanding of oneself, of one’s capacity as an independent reasoner, one’s dependence on others and on the social practices and traditions in which one participates, all tend towards an ultimate good of liberation. Social practices may themselves be understood as teleologically orientated to internal goods, for example practices of philosophical and scientific enquiry are teleologically ordered to the elaboration of a true understanding of their objects.

Science concerns itself with physical causality and is well able to function within the bounds of naturalism, indeed, it has frequently to counter appeals to undemonstrable modes of causality. Yet teleological ideas still find refuge in the unpenetrated beginnings and endings of things. It has been claimed that within the framework of thermodynamics, the irreversibility of macroscopic processes is explained in a teleological way.

Teleological arguments in the field of chemistry have once again often centred around the fitness of materials to form the complex molecular bonds of life. Biology has always been susceptible to teleological thought, even after Darwin proposed survival as the only observable final good.

Norbert Wiener, a mathematician, coined the term cybernetics to denote the study of teleological mechanisms. Cybernetics is the study of the communication and control of regulatory feedback both in living beings and machines, and in combinations of the two.


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