Friday, February 25, 2011

Teleology: what it is and why the Existentialists wouldn't like it

Teleology is, according to Merriam-Webster, "the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose."A couple words come to mind when I read this particular definition: destiny and predestination

The Existentialists would hate this.

Jean-Paul Sartre, through Nausea, states that things don't come in pre-made categories. This flies in the face of teleology, which pretty much says that we're being directed to an already-decided purpose or end.

Furthermore, because things don't come in already-determined, already-defined categories, this essence of a thing is meaningless: what matters is that it simply IS (like I mentioned on Tuesday, what matters is not that a cactus is spiny, but that there is a cactus to begin with). Sartre subsequently turns "essence precedes existence" upside down and instead declares that "existence precedes essence," since in order to have an essence a thing must already exist.

Now, since the sole existence of things is all that matters, once one realizes this they become wholly, really free. Because any meaning a thing might have (like social and cultural constructs) comes solely from our actions, we realize we can be anything we want to be. (But wait! This doesn't mean you can be a Hedonist and just get away with it! Because you have absolute freedom, according to Sartre (and other Existentialists), you also have absolute responsibility. Isn't that less fun!) 

Back to teleology-- if our social and cultural surroundings don't really have any meaning, any bearing on us and who we are, and since then we can be anything we choose to be, then we don't have to follow a predetermined, natural process toward some end. The handsome young prince DOESN'T have to go wake up Sleeping Beauty, and can instead spend his days in the pub after fighting dragons. 

I like that ending better anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Since no one else seems to be commenting,

    Could it be that the cactus is spiny because we “see” it that way, through our perceptions, through our reality? Just as how we view someone does not define who they are, our interpretations of the cactus does not truly define it. But the “spinyness” of the cactus is not a relevant debate to the man who just sat in it. Of course one could go on to say that in a quantum kind of way the cactus does not exist (at least in our frame of reality) until we interact with it and find out it is spiny.

    As to your "sole existence of things is all that really matters" Could this be Kierkegaard’s leveling or grounding? Maybe not to show that life is meaningless in a manner of speaking but to show that by removing all physically interactions, to get away from the “spinyness” of the cactus, we are able to rid ourselves of Descartes’ demons and actually get back to our base state. You could say that this base state was the base state we were “born” with. If you leaned a little more Kantian than Lockeian you could even go as far as to say that instead of a blank slate, at this base state, we are truly in contact with that upper truth Plato loved so much. Could this be why many oral societies believe that to truly see the nature of things we must remove the senses and the calluses they bring? A prolonged derangement of the senses you might say. Whether it is through drugs, chanting, fasting, or sensory deprivation it is not the method (or spinyness) but the destination (or the fact the cactus exists)

    Since Prince Charming or anyone else can go to the pub that would imply things are not pre-determined. Would this not imply in a deterministic sense that while having “no meaning” our surroundings do have a causal effect on our existence? And if these external surrounding affects have effects on our “physical” bodies but do not affect who we are, does this mean we are composed of at least two parts. Say a body and a soul. Or at least a part that is in this physical world subject to the laws of science and bounded by a beginning and end. And a second part that has no beginning or end in this reality.