Does the Principle of Causal Closure Account for Natural Teleology?
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This article contrasts the principle of causal closure, which has been defended in the context of physicalism, with an Aristotelian view of nature. The principle of causal closure is also known as “the canonical argument for physicalism” and has helped reductive physicalism to thrive on a number of fronts. The principle of causal closure holds that the perspective of physics is the ultimate arbiter of causality and that its causal analysis is complete for all explanatory purposes. However, reality presents us with many complex phenomena that resist characterization by physics alone. Among these are teleological phenomena, or end-directed behavior. By the close observation of natural regularities, Aristotle understood that the prevalence and sophistication of these regularities cannot be solely attributed to efficient mechanisms. Neither the difficulty of defining the ends of natural substances nor the fact that such ends have been associated historically with “backwards causality” can rule out the necessity of final causes. For one thing, without reference to final causes, biology fails to distinguish living from non-living processes and, as a result, fails to identify crucial information for any biological account of a living organism. Final causes therefore play an implicit role in scientific theories; indeed they are often responsible for successful scientific explanations. Therefore a careful understanding of nature requires the identification of ends qua ends, which some interpreters of Aristotle see as irreducible, built-in, causal dimensions.
KeywordsCausal closure Physicalism Teleology Aristotle
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