April 29, 2016 • Philosophy Colloquium: Sarah Jansen


Fri, 04/29/2016 - 15:00 to 17:00


The Spring 2016 Philosophy Colloquium Series presents Sarah Jansen, Carleton College.  The title of her talk is "Aristotle's Celestial Teleology."  (Abstract below.)

Friday, Apr 29, 2016, 3-5pm, Maloney Seminar Room, Social Sciences 224 (1145 E South Campus Drive 85721).

This paper explores the role Aristotle assigns to tËloc in his account of celestial motion (in Met. L.6-10 and De Cael. I-II). In recent years, studies of Aristotle’s natural teleology use Aristotle’s biological works as the prism through which to understand Aristotle’s teleology more generally. This (now dominant) interpretive
paradigm tends to assimilate celestial teleology to the biological model: each entity acts so as to realize its tËloc, which benefits it. (So, for example, the blue jay has wings so that it can fly, where flying benefits the blue jay, and not the falcon for whom the blue jay is food. In like manner, Saturn eternally rotates so that it can achieve the highest end for itself, where eternally rotating benefits Saturn.) This deflationary interpretation of Aristotle’s teleology has achieved a certain scientific respectability. And as applied to Aristotle’s biology, it is, I think, correct. However, Aristotle’s cosmology cannot be assimilated to the deflationary model. Cosmology, being prior to biology (Meteor.I.1.338a20-b22, 339a5-9), concerns itself with broader causal structures (and not merely the functional roles of parts within organisms). This is borne out in the cosmological-teleological explanations Aristotle provides, which introduce final causation extending beyond the individual substance and its parts. To cite one example (I examine three in the paper), the heavenly spheres eternally rotate “for the sake of” - and so as to benefit - the ästra they bear along (Met. L.8.1074a17-31). I end by suggesting that divorcing Aristotle’s celestial teleology from the biological model sheds new light on Aristotle’s “cosmic teleology,” or the view that natural substances are all organized “to one end.” Proponents of the deflationary view interpret Aristotle’s cosmic teleology narrowly: all natural substances are organized to one end in the sense that all natural substances “aim at” the prime mover. In this view, natural substances that are fundamentally out for themselves populate Aristotle’s universe; any happy harmony of ends is either an accident or the result of individual substances artificially imposing their ends on other substances. However, if my interpretation of Aristotle’s celestial teleology is right, then a stronger interpretation of Aristotle’s cosmic teleology may be in order: natural substances are organized “to one end,” insofar as they exist and function in ways that are for the sake of other natural substances. It is in the very nature of natural substances to support the ends of other natural substances, and a harmony of ends is part of the basic fabric of Aristotle’s universe. This has clear implications for Aristotle’s theory of value.



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