Change of place v. telos

Natural motion does not seem to have a telos, at least if it is fundamentally change of place. Falling arises from a force that remains the same at arriving, changing with respect to a background is not something that can be frustrated or done well, excitement of molecules is not the goal of ones in a rest state. There is something like an operatio, and there is an actualization of some potency, but even the loosest sense of “pointed to” or “directed at” is a poor fit for the paradigm case of a chuck of ice in space. Aristotle ultimately had to give this sort of motion an end as being the cause of generation and corruption, but this seems to require a far more localized and earth-centered system than the one we actually have.

Maybe it would be better to divide motion from activity, or the pure transitivity of changing place from the kinesis that attends life, and is really just an auxiliary to its immanent activity. Generation is a motion only as an auxiliary to life as an immanent operation. Nature provides life with an undifferentiated palate so that the goals of life need not conflict with it. Natural motion lacks any Aristotelian place of repose because this would not be a sort of material that life could work with.

This would seem to be hard to square with any sense of nature having agency, though, and so calls for a more radical critique if it is to go through.



  1. theofloinn said,

    July 23, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Natural motion =is= a state of rest, no? Equate “rest” with “state of equilibrium.” All systems governed by a potential function tend toward the lowest level of that potential. Physicists talk of “attractors” and “attractor basins” which sounds somewhat telos-y. Inertia:inanimate bodies::life:animate bodies. Both “struggle” to maintain their current state.

    • July 24, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Aristotle had an account of what a telos of place would look like: fire was trying to get to the heavens and if it ever got there it would rest (presumably, stop licking upwards, become sphere-shaped, and start orbiting in a perfect circle). On this account the place was a real fulfillment of the object and conferred on it a positive value. But I can’t think of any way in which, say, a gravitational center does this kind of work. Place gives the motion some intelligibility and predictability, or at least determination to some set of outcomes, but it lost the sense of being a goal that made a real difference to the object changing place. I’m raising the question of whether this loss is fatal to a notion of local-motion teleology. I’m of no strong opinion either way (just fiddling around in the argument garage at the moment).

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