Mechanism and teleology

1.) We take it as given that mechanical explanations are opposed to teleological ones even while we have no experience of a machine that is not made for a purpose and it’s not clear that an analogous extension of the idea of a machine can be alienated from being a tool for producing something of value, even if machines differ from mere tools by having a sort of autonomy. It’s easy enough to imagine finding ourselves in the face of a machine that was utterly unknown to us and whose action we analyzed only by pushes, pulls, and other ways of exchanging velocity for force, but this is to put off or bracket the question of teleology as opposed to answering it one way or another.  Maybe this analysis is approaching a teleological account, maybe it is forever incapable of giving one, maybe there is not one to give, maybe the question requires a different discourse…

2.) True, we’re assembling a theory or a model and these will always be underdetermined by facts. But all this means is that the end we approach seeing will share in the hypothetical character of the mechanism we are putting together in thought.  Being given the model kit is not like being given a set of legos: the observed action of what you are trying to explain is a limit on what can be put together.

3.) Anti-teleology doesn’t deny purpose, only that purpose plays a causal role in the generation of the object. If you find a branch on the ground and use it to fish it doesn’t follow that trees grow branches so that you can fish. This made sense on a Cartesian account where human minds or God could use things that were laying about for their own ends, but it’s not clear we can give a coherent account of what is going on if the one who is exploiting things for their own ends is the same sort of thing as what he exploits.

4.)  Leibniz gave an account of nature as infinitely layered machine complexity. There is always something about art that is other than the artifact: if you buried a bed and it sprouted it would grow a tree and not a bed. Leibniz is denying this of nature in an interesting way: one never finds “stuff” in nature, i.e. parts that are meant for something else, and so explanation of nature can never bottom out in some fundamental moving piece that pushes all the rest. So long as you follow out this sort of explanation, you will therefore go on forever. There is no Humean fundamental fact to find. For all that, there is another axis of explanation that ties the mechanism to the program/ subconscious / meme like causality of the monad, of which even an infinite mechanism is an encoding.


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