Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Michael Ruse on Final Causes


Philosopher of biology Michael Ruse offers a critique of final causes, partially in response to recent work by philosopher Thomas Nagel.

Ruse's argument is not fully developed here but is compelling (he has argued persuasively and at greater length elsewhere in his published work). However, this piece is misleadingly titled, because from the fact there are no final causes it does not fully that life does not have a purpose. There is more than one sense of the word 'purpose'. Life could have a purpose in the sense of there being a reason to live or a source of meaning for living organisms, even if there is no purpose in the sense of a final cause. (I somehow doubt that Ruse himself chose the title for this piece; it may have been the editor of Aeon Magazine.)

Another minor problem with the piece: Ruse may have incorrectly characterized the relation between Plato and Aristotle's views on final causes. Ruse seems to draw a contrast between Aristotle's First Cause and Plato's demiurge, though the correct comparison is between Aristotle's First Cause and Plato's One (or The Good), both of which serve as the metaphysical ground of all other beings, and which do not function as divine craftsmen or designers in the conventional theistic sense.

Other than that, this is a great introduction to the issue for anyone who is still tempted by belief in final causes.
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