Final cause

In philosophy, final cause is the conception that everything has a teleological purpose or final location in the structural composition of the world or universe.

In c.322BC, Aristotle introduced the concept of “final cause”, amid his four-part cause theory of motion.

In 1605, English philosopher Francis Bacon, in his Advancement of Learning, demolished the "final cause" theory of Aristotle, siding with Democritus in his place; the following be a representation: [1]

“The handling of final causes, mixed with the rest in physical inquiries, hath intercepted the severe and diligent inquiry of all real and physical causes, and given men the occasion to stay upon these satisfactory and specious causes, to the great arrest and prejudice of further discovery. For this I find done not only by Plato, who ever anchoreth upon that shore, but by Aristotle, Galen, and others which do usually likewise fall upon these flats of discoursing causes. For to say that “the hairs of the eyelids are for a quickset and fence about the sight;” or that “the firmness of the skins and hides of living creatures is to defend them from the extremities of heat or cold;” or that “the bones are for the columns or beams, whereupon the frames of the bodies of living creatures are built;” or that “the leaves of trees are for protecting of the fruit;” or that “the clouds are for watering of the earth;” or that “the solidness of the earth is for the station and mansion of living creatures;” and the like, is well inquired and collected in metaphysic, but in physic they are impertinent. Nay, they are, indeed, but remoras and hindrances to stay and slug the ship from further sailing; and have brought this to pass, that the search of the physical causes hath been neglected and passed in silence. And, therefore, the natural philosophy of Democritus and some others, who did not suppose a mind or reason in the frame of things, but attributed the form thereof able to maintain itself to infinite essays or proofs of nature, which they term fortune, seemeth to me (as far as I can judge by the recital and fragments which remain unto us) in particularities of physical causes more real and better inquired than that of Aristotle and Plato.”

In 1917, American physicochemical physiologist Lawrence Henderson summarized the following about Bacon’s battle with Aristotle’s final cause theory: [2]

“Bacon—while admitting that Aristotelian principle that mechanism and teleology appear to be two complementary aspects of things and that the latter may be conceived as real—discovered the peculiar feature of physical science that it must proceed as if final causes did not exist, i.e. that physical science can recognize only one kind of causation, which is physical causation, which is a return to Democritus and Empedocles.”


Juarrero-Deacon affair
The seeming dispute, in the 2012 so-called Juarrero-Deacon affair, on alleged plagiarism charges, is that both Cuban-born American philosopher Alicia Juarrero (Dynamics in Action, 1999) and American anthropologist Terrence Deacon (Incomplete Nature, 2011) independently employ the same formula of argument in their work, which was summarized (Ѻ) by Juarrero as follows:

Dynamics in Action (1999) & Incomplete Nature (2011) = Final cause (Aristotle) + Far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics (Prigogine)


The following are noted quotes:

Nature has not fixed aim in view and all final causes are merely fabrications of men.”
Benedict Spinoza (c.1650)

“For Descartes, by founding a philosophy which rejected all authority except that of the human reason, was, of course, led to abandon the study of final causes,—an old and natural superstition, by which, as we shall hereafter see, the German philosophers were long impeded, and which still hangs, though somewhat loosely, about the minds of men. Whewell, for instance, says, that we must reject final causes in the inorganic sciences, but must recognize them in the organic ones; which, in other words, simply means, that we know less of the organic world than of the inorganic, and that because we know less, we are to believe more; for here, as everywhere else, the smaller the science the greater the superstition. Whewell’s Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Volume One (pgs. 620, 627, 628); and his History of the Inductive Sciences, Volume Three (pgs. 430, 431). If the question were to be decided by authority, it would be enough to appeal to Bacon and Descartes, the two greatest writers on the philosophy of method in the seventeenth century, and to Auguste Comte, who is admitted by the few persons who have mastered his Philosophie Positive, to be the greatest in our own time. These profound and comprehensive thinkers have all rejected the study of final causes, which, as they have clearly seen, is a theological invasion of scientific rights.”
Henry Buckle (1856), History of Civilization, Volume One (pg. 427)

Purpose pertains to man, not to nature, and man’s purposes are often shrouded in mystery, even to himself. We will leave out all theological or eschatological considerations, since they germinate from theories steeped in religion, destiny or final cause or purpose of existence.”
Morris Zucker (1945), commentary on some who have ascribed purpose to history [3]

1. (a) Bacon, Francis. (1605). The Advancement of Learning (Ѻ). Publisher.
(b) The Advancement of Learning – Wikipedia.
(c) Henderson, Lawrence J. (1917). The Order of Nature (pgs. 23-24). Harvard University Press.
2. Henderson, Lawrence J. (1917). The Order of Nature (pgs. 23-24). Harvard University Press.
3. Zucker, Morris. (1945). The Philosophy of American History: The Historical Field Theory (pg. 638). Arnold-Howard Publishing Co.

External links
Final cause (section) – Wikipedia.

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