teleological explanation

teleological explanation

EXPLANATIONS which have the form ‘A occurs for the sake of B’ (A. Woodfield, 1981). Three main forms of teleological explanation can be identified (see also TELEOLOGY):
  1. PURPOSIVE EXPLANATION, which is concerned with the goal-directed behaviour of animals, especially human beings, e.g. explanations in terms of purposes, motives, reasons, etc.;
  2. FUNCTIONAL(IST) EXPLANATIONS of biological or societal characteristics, explained: (i) as the result of a natural or social selection, and (ii) in terms of their continuing contribution (see FUNCTION) to the working and persistence of the plant, animal, society etc. in question (see also SYSTEM, SYSTEMS THEORY, EVOLUTIONARY THEORY);
  3. accounts of the working of machines which relate to the design and purpose of the machine, including machines that ‘behave’ or ‘function in an animal-like way (see also CYBERNETICS).

Everyone accepts that human beings act purposively Furthermore, in explaining human social action it is clear that a knowledge of actors’ beliefs and values will often do much to ‘explain’ their actions. The issue that arises is whether teleological explanations in this sense can suffice in sociology (as some sociologists and philosophers suggest, e.g. WINCH) or whether further, even wholly different, explanations are required for adequate sociological explanation, including the second type of teleological explanation(s) or causal explanations of other kinds (see SOCIAL FACTS AS THINGS, BEHAVIOURISM).

There is little disagreement that functional and evolutionary forms of teleological explanation are appropriately used in explanations of animal behaviour and of the biological realm generally. Usually it is argued that ‘teleological’ functional and evolutionary explanations are no more than one form of causal explanation. Proposed teleological explanations which involve the end-states or end-goals of societies have been far more controversial, for it is often argued that societies have neither aims nor needs apart from the aims and needs of individual human beings (see also METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM).

Against this, the view that functionalist and evolutionary accounts have a legitimate place in sociology continues strongly supported in many areas of sociology Other examples of general theories having a teleological element include Hegelian theory (see HEGEL) and MARXISM. In these cases the attempt is made to identify a general direction of history, in terms of which particular events can be understood. While much criticized (compare DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM, EPISODIC CHARACTERIZATION, POSTMODERNISM), the idea of a directionality in human history still figures in the work of many sociologists (see PROGRESS, EMANCIPATORY THEORY).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Aristotle invokes a specifically human desire, namely, wish (boulesis), to provide a teleological explanation of the pursuit of the specifically human good in terms of virtuous activity.
I suspect that it would, since Gotthelf takes teleological explanation to account for more than how certain biological features come to be; he also sees it as at work in explaining why a living thing is as it is, and why it does what it does.
"Teleological Explanation," which argues that reasons cannot be reduced to causes, and of Timothy O'Connor, "Reasons and Causes," which judiciously examines the problems facing the attempt to treat the explanation of action as exclusively causalist.
It was anticipated that many students would employ the neo-Darwinian model in their explanations and that few students would revert to using a teleological explanation. Students' answers to the group problems, however, showed they used different explanatory models including teleological and neo-Darwinism.
On Inevitability: Teleological Explanation and the Problem of History
'Aristotle on Hot, Cold, and Teleological Explanation'.
1959 "Teleology and teleological explanation", The Journal of Philosophy 56/1: 5-25.
After presenting views for and against a teleological explanation of the universe Golshani concludes by saying "there are some clues to the teleological aspects of our universe in modern science." He gives the example of "anthropic principle" which may be interpreted to mean "God planned the universe with human beings in mind" (p.
This latter point, that we are able to identify teleological systems independently from the causal processes that such a system utilizes in maintaining goal-orientation, is important to understanding how a teleological explanation works.
This does not settle the matter, but it suggests that the teleological explanation is the most probable and that the removal of the theological and or teleological passages in Smith's writings is not a simple matter.
The authors argue for a teleological explanation, which views the minority entrepreneurs in relation to their group affiliation in addition to a dialectical explanation, which considers the minority entrepreneurs as being in a conflict relationship with the majority society.
Yet other recurring topics involve such recognizable and familiar philosophical issues as the emergence of compatibilism as a response to the problem of free will and determinism, or the (distinctively Aristotelian) project of staking out a reasonable middle ground between the blind mechanistic theories of the Presocratics and the most blatantly anthropomorphic form of teleological explanation in terms of conscious intention and purpose.