Teleology and mechanism: a dialectical approach

Synthese 201 (5):1-23 (2023)
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Abstract

The paper proposes a dialectical approach to our understanding of the relation between teleology and mechanism. This approach is dialectical both in form and content. In _form_, it proposes a contemporary interpretation of Hegel’s metaphysical account of teleology. This account is grounded in a dialectical methodology, which consists in scrutinizing the inherent limitations of a theoretical position that lead it to suppress itself and evolve into a better one. I apply the same methodology to the function debate. For Hegel, teleology can be understood in three main variants, which can be fruitfully mapped onto the three main positions in the function debate, the key conceptual distinction being whether teleological principles are understood as extrinsic or intrinsic. When it comes to autonomous systems, i.e. systems that embody the regime of _Geist_, extrinsic functionality must be grounded in intrinsic functionality. My approach is dialectical also in _content_, insofar as it concludes that intrinsic functional ascriptions rely on the relation of co-determination between the parts and the whole of a system, as well as between the system and its environment.

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