Hegel's assimilation of Aristotelian teleology: Hegel after Darwin

Anthony Robert Catenazzo, Marquette University


Philosophical theories seldom get conclusively refuted. The notion that nature is goal directed, however, seems a likely candidate for polite dismissal. In the dissertation I examine what Aristotle does, and does not, mean by teleology. I then carefully demonstrate that Hegel specifically and self-consciously incorporates Aristotle's model of teleology by invoking purposive structures that yield beings of ever greater unity and complexity that are irreducible to their lower conditional levels. At this point, I examine the rejection of teleological explanations by Darwin and some Neo-Darwinians. In particular, I examine the mechanistic model often employed by biologists that reduces the living organism to a mere vehicle for the gene to make more copies of itself. Such models, I argue, are not philosophically innocent, and they buy their scientific respectability only with a metaphysical purchase. The upshot of this is that a metaphysics of some sort is unavoidable. Our choice then, is not between a respectable empiricism and an indecent metaphysics, but rather it is between good and bad metaphysics, each with different commitments and explanatory power. At this juncture, I canvass the biologists and philosophers of biology who accept some form of ineliminable teleological and holistic structures in biological organisms. In the final section I attempt to show that a hierarchical scale of forms in nature is still a viable idea and that analysis must proceed in terms of overlapping wholes and not reductive parts. I argue here that Hegel has given us the best idea of what such a system would look like. In other words, with some modifications, especially concerning the origin of Geist, we can be respectable Hegelians today, despite the apparent wholesale scientific rejection of teleology.

Recommended Citation

Anthony Robert Catenazzo, "Hegel's assimilation of Aristotelian teleology: Hegel after Darwin" (January 1, 1996). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9717059.