Does the Principle of Causal Closure Account for Natural Teleology?

  • Miguel García-ValdecasasEmail author
Part of the Historical-Analytical Studies on Nature, Mind and Action book series (HSNA, volume 2)


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.


Causal closure Physicalism Teleology Aristotle 


  1. Barnes, J. 1985. The complete works of Aristotle, 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Broadie, S. 1982. Nature, change and agency in Aristotle’s physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Charlton, W. 1970. Aristotle’s ‘physics’ book I and II. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  4. Charlton, W. 1985. Aristotle and the harmonia theory. In Aristotle on nature and living things: philosophical and historical essays in honor of David M. Balme’s seventieth birthday, ed. A. Gotthelf. Pittsburgh/Bristol: Bristol Classical Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, S.M. 1989. Aristotle on hot, cold, and teleological explanation. Ancient Philosophy 9: 255–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cooper, J.M. 1982. Aristotle on natural teleology. In Language and logos: studies in Ancient Greek Philosophy presented to G. E. L. Owen, ed. M. Schofield and M. Nussbaum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cooper, J.M. 1987. Hypothetical necessity and natural teleology. In Philosophical issues in Aristotle’s biology, ed. A. Gotthelf and J.G. Lennox. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Davidson, D. 1980. Mental events. In Essays on actions and events. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  9. Gotthelf, A. 2012. Teleology, first principles, and scientific method in Aristotle’s biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Johnson, M.R. 2005. Aristotle on teleology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kim, J. 1993. Supervenience and mind: selected philosophical essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Leunissen, M. 2010. Explanation and teleology in Aristotle’s science of nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lewis, D. 1966. An argument of the identity theory. Journal of Philosophy 63: 17–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Nagel, T. 2012. Mind & cosmos. Why the materialist Neo-darwinian account of nature is almost certainly false. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Papineau, D. 2002. Thinking about consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Papineau, D. 2009. The causal closure of the physical and naturalism. In The Oxford handbook of philosophy of mind, ed. B.P. McLaughlin et al. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Stoljar, D. 2009. Physicalism. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, ed. E.N. Zalta.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mind-Brain Group, Institute for Culture and Society (ICS)University of NavarraPamplonaSpain

Personalised recommendations