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General conclusion summarizes the entire project, restating its principal objectives and achievements. (1) It emphasizes that evolution does not oppose or contradict the classical Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical and theological view of reality. (2) It stresses the importance of the constructive proposal of metaphysics of evolutionary transitions, which takes into account the interplay of chance and teleological order in speciation. (3) It refers to the importance of the distinction between creation and divine governance of the universe, where the evolutionary origin of the new living beings belongs to the latter category and not to the former. (4) Finally, it emphasizes the relevance of Aquinass view of divine action as applied to the notion of divine concurrence in evolutionary transitions. All these aspects contribute to the contemporary Aristotelian-Thomistic model of theistic evolution developed in the volume. The research presented in it proves that, despite a certain dose of skepticism toward classical philosophy and theology, the longstanding legacy of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition remains vigorous and ready to enter a vivid and fruitful conversation with contemporary philosophy and science.
Chapter three engages in the investigation of the meaning and role of natural selection, teleology and chance in evolutionary processes. From Aristotle and Aquinas, through Darwin and the twentieth-century evolutionary synthesis, to the most current philosophy of evolutionary biology, the fate of the notion of goal-directedness is traced and it is defended as indispensable and intrinsically related to chance in processes that affect the fittingness of organisms, which is tested by natural selection.
This chapter explores two scripts of thauma (marvel/wonder) regarding the interior of the human body: the first derives from the Aristotelian idea that a purpose can be assigned to virtually everything in the world, our interior organs included; as soon as the design within our bodies has been figured out, our interior instantly enters the realm of the beautiful. The second script of marvel pertains to the idea that there are little ‘machines’ and ‘sub-machines’ inside of us, with their own complex structures and their own distinctive power to make us marvel at their artistry and efficiency. Considerable attention has been paid recently on the reevaluation of the presumed polarity between teleology and mechanics in ancient Greek philosophy and medicine. Rather than assume a mutually exclusive relationship between the two, scholars argue that the two models can be seen as converging and combining with each other in a number of significant ways. An organ which looks like a machine is still working with a specific purpose; in fact, its machine-like design can be adduced as a confirmation of the fact that nature did everything in wisdom. Differences, however, persist, and one of them relates to the important issue that teleology ascribes the purpose of things to an invisible force, whereas a mēchanē has a human constructor. To argue that the body can be figurally understood in analogy with a machine can thus be seen as opening, among other things, new avenues concerning the question of how we look at and appreciate the body’s marvellous properties: kallos in this case, while still being thought to ultimately derive from a superhuman designer, is simultaneously more concretely understood and appreciated in practice with direct reference to the inventiveness of the human mind.
In recent times, self-interest has been seen as the main driving force of behaviour and function in organisms. This is particularly evident in the concept of the selfish gene. However, as elaborated in this book, living systems strongly depend on cooperative behaviour, which is found everywhere in nature. All the way from millions of minute bacteria cooperating in the way they feed and grow, to massive whales talking with each other across oceans, organisms communicate with each other, and that communication is used as the glue of cooperation, even between distinct species. The idea of nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’ is at best a distorted perspective of the entirety of nature. However, in the grand scheme of things, both cooperation and competition are part of the story, and – whether wittingly or unwittingly – organisms form part of and interact with their ecosystems.
The view of living systems as machines is based on the idea of a fixed sequence of cause and effect: from genotype to phenotype, from genes to proteins and to life functions. This idea became the Central Dogma: the genotype maps to the phenotype in a one-way causative fashion, making us prisoners of our genes.
Living systems are characterised by intelligence. Treating organisms as gene-driven automata, blindly reacting to events, does not take account of their social or ecological being. Living systems anticipate the actions and reactions of other living systems. As in a chess game, anticipation can consider many options. Nevertheless, the chess analogy only gets us part of the way to understanding this characteristic of life. It is more like a chess game in which the players can create the rules, much as happens in a game of poker, in which anticipation is the key to success, including assessment of the other’s power of anticipation. Life is rule-creating, rather than rigidly rule-following. This does not mean there is no logic to what happens or how organisms behave; there is, and often it involves a clear strategy. But this is not regulated by genes. Much behaviour may be programmed, and much is learned; the logic, however, is situational (that is, dependent on circumstances) and subject to change. The ability to adapt to circumstances is an example of evolved functionality. Therefore, dogmatic models of life, seeking to reduce behaviour to little more than a set of algorithms, misunderstand the intelligence of organisms.
Where is the living mind that thinks? Culture is the matrix of the mind. Organisms owe their social and mental abilities to the ‘nesting’ of causation between all levels of their functioning. Higher levels mould what the lower levels can do. This is how living systems can use their flexibility, from cultural and linguistic variability to the water-based jiggling around of their molecules, to enable the evolution of rational and ethical social organisation. It is within this purposiveness that genuine freedom and responsibility are to be found.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a tool created by living organisms, us humans. Like the hydraulic robots of the seventeenth century which inspired Descartes’ mechanical view of organisms, AI has become the latest in a list of mechanical metaphors for life. Yet it is just as limited, just as much a mistaken view of organisms. It views life as just processing further and further information faster and faster. Computers exist to process rapidly. That is their function, given to them by the humans who created them. Organisms use processing to help them create objectives, purpose.
Standard evolutionary theory represents genes as the target of evolution. But organisms may functionally develop without alterations in their DNA, and they may also buffer changes in the DNA to retain function. It is organisms that are the agents in the process of evolution. Outside a living system, DNA is inactive, dead. Furthermore, many significant transitions in evolution have not depended on new DNA mutations. They arose from the fusion or hybridisation of organisms with existing but different DNA. All the molecular processes in a living system are constrained by its purpose. Viewed this way, genes are the most constrained elements in organisms. Evolution of different species has occurred through extraordinarily creative and varied processes that include cooperation and fusion of existing species and the exchange of DNA and organelles. It is much more like nature using preformed tried and tested functionality than through slow gradual mutation. Evolution can occur in leaps and bounds.
If the dichotomy between replicator and vehicle is wrong, then what is it that replicates? The purpose of reproduction is not replication, at least not exactly. Reproduction brings about change. It shakes up the templates and provides new avenues to explore in adapting to a changing environment. It creates and propagates variation. But it also provides a way for the lessons learned in one generation to be passed on to the next. Reproduction is sensitive to the environment of the parent generation and enables change through the germ line.
We are writing this book as agents with a purpose. Agency and purposeful action is a defining property of all living systems. Yet modern science has presented a reductionist, gene-centred view of life, where life is reduced to biochemistry, particularly DNA and proteins. It has even carved out its own areas of study – genomics and proteomics – as if these components can be understood in isolation from the organisms themselves. But they cannot. The gene-centric view of life creates a fundamental problem. If all action can be reduced to genes, or is controlled by them, then purposeful agency cannot exist. Indeed, it has been referred to as an illusion. At best, modern science gives this problem to philosophers, assuming that the answer does not lie in biology itself. This is a mistake. Casting the issue aside ignores the most creative aspect of living things: problem-solving and the agency of organisms.
In the preceding chapters, we showed why the idea that living organisms are really driven by their genes is a profound misunderstanding of how living systems work. On the contrary, they are open systems at all levels of organisation. How things work at the molecular level is constrained and regulated at the cellular level. The interaction of cells is regulated at the tissue level, and tissues at the organ level, and organs at the system level. The system is regulated by the behaviour of the organisms, and organisms by social and ecological interactions. The psychosocial level is unique. If there is a privileged level of causation, then it lies at the psychosocial level and not at the level of genes. This is the level at which wilful agency is initiated and organisms can be genuinely selfish or altruistic. In truth you cannot be selfish if you do not have the choice to be altruistic, which is why selfishness cannot be applied at a genetic level, neither metaphorically nor literally.
Life is definitively purposive and creative. Organisms use genes in controlling their destiny. This book presents a paradigm shift in understanding living systems. The genome is not a code, blueprint or set of instructions. It is a tool orchestrated by the system. This book shows that gene-centrism misrepresents what genes are and how they are used by living systems. It demonstrates how organisms make choices, influencing their behaviour, their development and evolution, and act as agents of natural selection. It presents a novel approach to fundamental philosophical and cultural issues, such as free-will. Reading this book will make you see life in a new light, as a marvellous phenomenon, and in some sense a triumph of evolution. We are not in our genes, our genes are in us.
Historical time is a plural entity, not a singular one. Methodologicals rest on difficult ontological assumptions, which translate into four potential notions of history: cyclical, bounded, serial, and eventful. Cyclical history freezes history the most, by assuming that the present merely repeats the past, and thus makes history de facto reversible. It in effect freezes history, and CHA regards this notion of history as ahistorical. Bounded history freezes certain time intervals during which it assumes that history stands still and the past in effect repeats itself, at least for a limited period of time. It is not interested in how the bounded period is qualitatively different from the periods preceeding or following it. Serial history partially unfreezes history and uses time series data to track secular trends through time. Eventful history is the most unfrozen treatment of the past and tries to identify continuities and discontinuities, or distinct periods. Historical tourism refers to notions of history so static and so frozen that they cease to be historical in any meaningful sense of the word. It identifies variants of historical tourism in history proper and in CHA.
This Element introduces Aristotle's doctrine of hylomorphism, which provides an account of substances in terms of their 'matter' and 'form', adapting and applying it to the interface between physics and biology. It begins by indicating some reasons for the current revival of hylomorphism and by suggesting a way of classifying the confusing array of hylomorphisms that have arisen. It argues that, in order for composite entities to have irreducible causal powers which make a difference to how nature unfolds, they must have substantial forms which transform their matter such that the powers of their physical parts are grounded in the composite entity as a whole. It suggests how a contemporary form of hylomorphism might contribute to the philosophy of biology by grounding the non-intentional form of teleology that features in the identity conditions of biological systems, affirming a real distinction between living organisms and heaps of matter. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
In this chapter, I explore the role of the concept of inner purposiveness in the final section of Hegel’s Logic and also the Philosophy of Nature. Hegel defends the claim that the concept is meaningfully applied to living organisms, particularly animals. The concept is actually used precisely where we should expect it, given the argument of ‘Teleology’, both when talking about the internal organisation of animals in parts-organs and when talking about the self-repair or regeneration processes by which they stay alive. By contrast, the concept no longer dominates the description of the natural process that Hegel designates ‘process of the genus’ (or ‘generic process’), in which he considers that natural life is ultimately submitted to externality. I argue that this application and lack of application taken together confirm my views on ‘Teleology’.
In contrast to Plato, Aristotle allowed and argued for the possibility that all human lives have some non-instrumental value. This valuation of life is premised on his teleological conception of nature: insofar as all human lives are natural ends of some sort, they are thus a good. However, this non-instrumental value of mere living is in itself not sufficient to make a life worth living. As in Plato, whether a life is lived well or badly is the decisive factor, and again the state of virtue or vice is the most important consideration. Vice makes a life worse than death, regardless of the other good things in it, but fully fledged virtue is not necessary for a life worth living. In contrast to those who are fully virtuous, other non-vicious humans may need other goods, or at least freedom from other bads, such as serious illness or grave misfortunes, to pass the threshold of a life worth living. In contrast to Plato, Aristotle is less optimistic about the chances of the non-educated elite having a life worth living, though he does not flatly deny that possibility.
This chapter presents the general argument of the book and its main methodological assumptions. The book offers a close reading of the examination of the concept of purpose in The Science of Logic. The concept is understood abstractly, but nevertheless as a causal concept, by means of which we think about what the intrinsic reference to an end means and implies. The chapter clarifies in what sense the approach developed in this book is metaphysical and also what the importance of a better appreciation of Hegel’s chapter on this concept for a correct understanding of the goals and, particularly, the achievements of his entire Science of Logic is.
This chapter develops a novel reading of ‘Teleology’. The chapter shows why there is application for the concept of purpose if an objective process can be conceived of as realising an end. ‘Teleology’ examines what the relevant objective process must consist of. Hegel advocates that where there are causal processes that produce themselves by their peculiar configuration and dynamism, there are purposes that are carried out, provided that such self-production occurs at the expense of objectivity. The implication is that only where there is self-production and because of it, there is purposiveness – inner purposiveness, to be exact. As a consequence, the concept of inner purpose (or end in and for itself) captures the only paradigmatic meaning that the concept of purpose has. In light of Hegel’s argument, the claim that what is made of mechanical processes can truly be an end in and for itself becomes intelligible.
This article examines Kant’s treatment of the design argument for the existence of God, or physicotheology. It criticizes the interpretation that, for Kant, the assumption of intelligent design satisfies an internal demand of inquiry. It argues that Kant’s positive appraisal of physicotheology is instead better understood in terms of its polemical utility for rebutting objections to practical belief in God upon which Kant’s ethicotheological argument rests, and thus as an instrument in the transition from theoretical to practical philosophy. Kantian physicotheology plays this role (a) by criticizing alternative speculative accounts of the ground of nature, and (b) by analogizing from the structure of finite rational agency in order to represent more clearly the action of an ideal agent.