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Changing ideologies: monism and duality


Changing ideologies: teleology
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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Let me now come to another one of these ideologies that was very detrimental and played quite a role in the period after Darwin published The Origin of Species. That is teleology, and teleology said… and there were whole evolutionary theories: the orthogenetic theories, Teilhard de Chardin, with his… omega principle is a case; Fairfield Osborn, with his… Henry Fairfield Osborn with his aristogenesis; the Russian evolutionist Berg with his nomogenesis. All these authors said there's something in living nature that leads to ever greater… that leads to progress and ever greater perfection. And that was because they had a belief in cosmic teleology. Well, every year, just about every year, a book… a new book comes out on teleology and always it's a complete mess, because the authors don't realize, these philosophers, that the term 'teleological' has been used for five entirely different sets of phenomena, and unless you clearly discriminate between the five you cannot explain anything. Now the first one, not used by very many but used by certain philosophers, is what I call teleomatic. If I have a stone in my hand and I open my hand it comes down to an end stage on the floor. Anything… or if I have a red hot piece of iron and I bring it inside a room it eventually acquires room temperature, and that's the end point. Any such end point that is strictly controlled by universal laws like gravitation, or thermodynamics, is a teleomatic process. It has nothing to do with any cosmic teleology. The second one is teleonomic, and that is any process that reaches a goal of strives toward a goal, and the basis of this goal being programmed in the genetic… or coded in the genetic programme of this organism, is a teleonomic process. And that includes all activities of living organisms that are directed toward a goal. It is always… the genetic programme is always involved in one way or another. So that's the second one. The third one is something that doesn't actually have any movement… any movement to a thing, but there are things – and the German philosopher Emanuel Kant talked about this a great deal – that are simply things that we know in the Darwinian… language would say are well adapted. Now, he considered the heart a teleological organ because it pumps blood through the body, or… the eye is a teleological organ because it permits vision and so forth. But actually there is no movement involved, there is no endpoint involved, therefore I prefer just to refer to this category as adapted entities or adapted processes. The fourth one is something I long, in my earlier papers, ignored because it bothered me, and that is purposive activities, and I thought it was something strictly human. But, in the meantime, the studies of the animal behavior people have shown that purposive behavior is widespread in higher organisms, particularly the mammals and birds, and is connected with the existence of a considerable amount of intelligence that permits planning. If a pride of lions, for instance, splits into two parts in order to surround a victim, then it is a… a purposive action based on planning, and that's the fourth of the teleological process. And the fifth one is cosmic teleology, the intrinsic drive to perfection and so forth, and that one simply doesn't exist. So, now the modern explanation of teleological says there are four processes involved that can be explained scientifically and the fifth one doesn't exist.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Henry Fairfield Osborn, Lev Berg, Immanuel Kant

Duration: 4 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008