Three Meanings of “End” In Teleology
The word “end” has three meanings in teleological accounts of things, although all the meanings have a unity in being a “that to which” something goes.
On the most basic level, the word “end” means simply “that to which something goes”. Hydrogen and oxygen, under certain conditions, form water, under different conditions, they make hydrogen peroxide. Depending on the conditions, “water” or “hydrogen peroxide” are the ends of the process. Wood stuck in a fire will burn up, and so under these conditions, “burning up” is the end of wood, and “to burn” is the end of the fire. All that the teleological account of such things notices is a determinate result from the action. In condition X, result Y will happen.
On a higher level, the word “end” means “that perfection to which something goes”. Seeds grow into full plants, and eventually acquire the power to make other plants, which they did not have before. This end is called “maturity”- a concept that has no place in the first and most basic meaning of the word “end”.
On a higher level than this, the word “end” can mean “that perfection that something goes to knowingly“. The word “knowingly” means two things here- the knowledge of sense alone, and the knowledge of sense united to intellect. A dog can chase a Frisbee with the end of catching it, and a man can throw a Frisbee, with the end of enjoying himself.
The confusion of these three meanings makes a trainwreck of teleology. Confuse the first with the second, and you’ll think any number of impossible things: that hydrogen is somehow “better off” for making water, or that teleology is impossible, since we see no maturity in chemicals, etc. Confusing the third meaning with any of the others ends up making teleology seem like some bizarre occult belief that invests chemicals and plants with knowledge.
Chemical reactions have no good or perfection in themselves. The closest they come to goodness is the good they have by providing good to another. Water isn’t better off because it condenses in a cloud and falls to the earth, but rain is a good for crops, and crops are good for man. It may be interesting to speculate about how it is good for water to condense under certain conditions, or if there is any such good to condensation at all, but answering this problem is does not affect the consideration of condensation as teleological. Condensation has some term- it makes vapor water fall from clouds, as opposed to hovering there or floating up. Teleology demands no more than this.
All thins should make clear that there is no opposition between mechanism and teleology. Mechanism can be accounted for teleologically without any destruction of its findings. Teleology simply gives an account for the presence of ends in things. It considers ends as such, and famously sees that all ends require a participation in intelligence, and that this intelligence reduces to a divine intellect. But this consideration happens after we see ends for what they are, and see them as present in all things in one way or another.