Do We Need Final Causes?

One of the things that Edward Feser thinks is missing from modern accounts of, well, everything is the idea of a final cause.  Roughly, this is the idea that everything has an end to which it is, in some sense, striving to achieve, which makes up a large part of what it means to be that sort of thing.  Now, this isn’t just the case for deliberately designed things nor for things with intentionality that can define ends for themselves.  He believes that everything has an end that it is striving to achieve, which explains why it has the properties it has and why it acts the way it does.  Of course, he doesn’t think that things that don’t have minds actually consciously strive towards those ends, for obvious reasons, but nevertheless we can explain what they do by appealing to their final end … and, in some ways, only by appealing to their final end.

What first got me strongly questioning this idea is something that’s going to seem like a bit of a facetious argument.  Feser commented that the final cause/end of the Moon is to orbit the Earth, which explains why it does that and doesn’t just wander off for a tour of Mars or something.  Now, at the time I had my disks of Space:  1999 out because I was planning on watching them after finishing off some documentaries (I started it but decided to switch to watching “Hunter” instead).  Anyway, the premise of that show is that a sizeable amount of nuclear waste stored on the Moon become unstable and explodes, pushing the Moon out of Earth’s orbit.  It spends the series hurtling through space away from the Earth with no way to get back.  So it’s not pushed out into a long orbit.  It breaks orbit entirely, never to return.

So, then, what is the end of the Moon in that situation?  Does it maintain its original end of orbiting the Earth?  Then that final end isn’t really in any way influencing its behaviour, because not only is it not orbiting the Earth, it can’t be said to be in any way striving to do that.  Or has the explosion changed its actual end, so that it is now striving to wander aimlessly across space?  Then the final end is not some sort of permanent part of the object, and moreover it seems to be something that we are deriving merely by looking at what it is actually doing at the moment, and not by looking at anything inherent to the object itself.  So if we are forced to maintain the original end even if the object isn’t capable of carrying that end out, then the final end might end up being useless in explaining what the object is doing and so becomes uninteresting, but if we change the end when the behaviour of the object changes sufficiently then it seems like the final end is meaningless since it is derived from the behaviour of the object.

In fact, that’s my counter-proposal to the Scholastic/Aristotlean idea of final causes:  for objects that are not designed or not not intelligent, all we do instead is look at what an object is doing and what context/system it is in and determine from that what purpose if any the object currently has.  After all, the alternative either forces objects to maintain a final cause that is completely irrelevant to their behaviour, or else reduces to same thing anyway.  So it’s either absurd or no better than my suggestion.  So why maintain final causes?

One of the most common reasons Feser gives for the need for things like final causes is that we need something solid to decide what behaviours count and which ones don’t.  After all, for any object there are behaviours that we would consider crucial to its purpose and those that are accidental, just as we have properties that are essential and properties that are accidental.  In the case of the Moon, the fact that it can be seen to rise and set over the Earth is accidental, and is in fact the result of its end to orbit the Earth.  But if there is no such thing as a real final cause, then it seems like it’s impossible for us to say which of those is actually the primary purpose of the Moon.  Each of them is equally likely and equally reasonably the primary purpose if all we have to go on is the behaviour of the object.

The obvious answer to this is, of course, that we go by how most objects of that type tend to act and so use those commonalities to define what the primary purpose is.  But this causes issues with defective objects.  We might well be able to filter out defective objects from proper objects if there are far more proper objects than defective ones, but what if it’s the other way around?  What if most of the objects of a type we encounter are defective and so are acting improperly?  We would conclude that the purpose of those objects is indeed that defective purpose.  So we can’t rely on simply the majority of the objects we’ve seen to come to the right conclusion about what its purpose is.

The defense against this, though, is that for all practical purposes Feser’s alternative of the final cause isn’t in any better shape.  We don’t have some sort of preternatural ability to suss out the final cause of something by observing it, anymore than we can ascertain its purpose that way without appealing to a final cause.  So what he is going to have to do is follow the same process as I am suggesting:  look at the object and the systems that it is in, and other objects of that type, and so determine what the final cause is from that.  This means that he would also likely misjudge the final cause of an object or type of object if most of the examples of it he encountered were defective.  So Feser is going to look at the behaviour of the object to determine the final cause in the same way as I am suggesting we do, and he is likely to make the smae mistakes in classifying that as I am.  So, then, it doesn’t seem like his final cause is all that different from my proposal.

But then Feser can say that, effectively, my view is just a final cause without calling it a final cause, and so defend himself that way.  To rebut that, I would return to the issue of the Moon from Space: 1999.  I never have to claim that any object has any set purpose.  So I can indeed conclude that the Moon here orbits the Earth and isn’t going to wander off around the other planets because, well, what it’s actually doing is orbiting the Earth.  I don’t have to give it a purpose, but if I did I could say that its purpose as part of the solar system is to orbit the Earth.  And then in the Space:  1999 I can say that what it’s doing is wandering aimlessly through space.  Again, I need not give it any kind of set purpose, and given its situation it doesn’t really make sense to give it one.  Feser, on the other hand, is committed to giving it a set purpose, which leads to the issue outlined above. 

Moreover, I can easily say that an object maintains a purpose that it was given intentionally even if it is being used for something else.  So if someone takes a bicycle wheel and uses it to drive a water pump I can easily say that its designed purpose is for use on a bicycle but that it is being used to drive a water pump and so has that purpose in that system.  I can do this even if the second purpose is not intentionally conferred upon it.  If a ship sinks and gets turned into a coral reef, I can say that the purpose of the ship was to sail the sees, but that now that it has sank in the system it is currently in it is providing a coral reef.  Feser starts to have to introduce multiple final causes or else pick one as the “real” final cause, but I have no such concern since I’m merely describing what is happening and what has happened in the past, not making a metaphysical claim.  Thus, I don’t insist that these causes are real or have to really exist in the object itself, but am merely describing the history of the object.

Which returns us to the Moon from Space:  1999.  In my view, I can easily say that the Moon used to orbit the Earth but doesn’t orbit it any longer.  This is because I’m not bound to find any kind of purpose in either situation, and can indeed just talk about what it’s doing.  If the Moon is captured by an alien race that builds a space station inside of it, then I can say that it has the purpose of being a space station.  In short, I am not at all bound to say that anything has a purpose if that purpose isn’t intentionally given.  However, I’m also not forced to deny that something like the heart has the purpose of pumping blood, because if it’s in a human body that’s what its purpose is.  But that purpose is granted to it by the system it is in, not something inherent to the heart itself.  If an alien race takes Spock’s brain out of his head and uses it to run their underground base, I can say that when the brain is part of that system its purpose is to run the base without having to say that that is inherently the purpose of the brain.  If Kirk and the others come back and insist that the brain be returned to Spock’s body, I can justify it on the sense that it was part of that system first and so is the property of that system, and so should be restored to its proper place in that system where its purpose will be to run Spock’s body.  I do not have to insist that either of those is that object’s proper purpose and so get into a debate over what would happen if Spock’s body had died and so there was no body to return to.  The debate is over property, not purpose.  Feser can make the same sort of moves, but only if he abandons proper purpose, at which point we can again wonder what a final cause is doing for us.

Ultimately, I think that abandoning final causes makes things a lot simpler, and so it seems like an unnecessary complication.  Feser and others have made cases for why it’s necessary — and I’m sure some will take a stab at showing me ones that I’ve missed — but I am unconvinced.  There, of course, does exist things like purpose but the biggest issue I have with a final cause is that it forces us to give a purpose to everything, and it really seems like there are lots of things and situations where giving those things a purpose seems nonsensical and pointless.  My alternative allows us to give things a purpose when it makes sense and talk about their purposes when it makes sense but completely ignore purposes when it doesn’t, which is ultimately why I prefer it.

29 Responses to “Do We Need Final Causes?”

  1. John Says:

    A part of the confusion may lie in thinking that final causes have to be something spectacular – they don’t. A final cause is simply the things that something is about. An object may even have many final causes varying in prominence – a final cause just is a thing’s tendency in behaviour, or the various tendencies if there is no one specific leaning – including potencies. Another confusing thing could be that some things are assigned final causes wrongly or awkawrdly – I think Feser here is using the moon example not to illustrate some sort of internally ordained purpose of the moon that is absolutely intrinsic to its nature such that it would be damaged if it didn’t fulfill it, but simple the idea of final ends as such so the audience can understand the basic nature of what final causality is.

    The moon may not have orbiting around the Earth as an intrinsic final cause, but the nature of the relationship between the Earth and moon DOES have this as a final cause – the Earth is of such and such a size that if such and such an object were close to it such and such a relationship would develop.

    You can also imagine some final causes as straight lines stretching from a circle describing all the various potentials that can be actualised with it, with maybe some happening more often due to the object behaving in a certain manner, which is also related to formal causlity – a thing’s nature defines it’s potentialities and behaviour to at least some extent.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      As noted in the post, Feser et al can indeed make the final cause much more generic and derived from behaviour. But it is clear that a final cause crucially involves talking about ends and specific ends, and so if he’s going to derive those ends from behaviour it’s difficult to see how he’s doing anything different than I am, but I don’t actually have to use language that talks about purposes unless there is either a teleological or systematic purpose. So my view does the same things and is simpler.

      You can also imagine some final causes as straight lines stretching from a circle describing all the various potentials that can be actualised with it, with maybe some happening more often due to the object behaving in a certain manner, which is also related to formal causlity – a thing’s nature defines it’s potentialities and behaviour to at least some extent.

      Actually, that won’t work, because some potentialities are clearly not related to the actual final cause and would follow from the formal cause instead, like accidents. If you try to include all potentialities, then you can’t separate the essentials from the accidents and Feser would lose the one argument he has against my approach.

  2. John Says:

    Well again, it seems it would be possible to make the term “purpose” more generic as well. The difference between your account and Feser’s would just be a preference in giving other things purposes in an analogical sense. And deriving ends from behaviour doesn’t seem like something in competition with final causality, since behaviour reflects a thing’s nature, and a thing’s nature or form also determines it’s final causes.

    As for including all potentialities in final causality – that can be easily categorised as well. Some potentialities are more general and intrinsic to a thing’s nature, from which other smaller potentialities derive. For example, the moon is primarily a material object whose mass causes a certain amount of gravity, and is of a certain size, which entail how it behaves in space and how other things interact with it – it’s end is to be and act according to this in various situations. It is secondarily our satellite that orbits the Earth in a certain way – and this secondary property flows from the primary properties it has.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Sure, but this brings me back to my last points: my way of doing things would seem to do everything Feser’s does and avoids certain complications. The closer he would bring his to mine to avoid those, the more I’ll simply point out that mine is simpler and doesn’t involve attaching actual teleology to unintentional objects and actions. So what we’d need is a reason that discussing things in terms of final causes is better than my approach, and that’s what I don’t see.

  3. jayman777 Says:

    Technically, I think the moon is an aggregate rather than a substance. It is not the case that everything has a final cause, only that every substance has a final cause.

    More importantly, I think substances with a mass have a final cause related to gravity (they can have other final causes too). It isn’t the case that mass A’s final cause is to orbit mass B. Rather, any particular orbit is the result of gravity, among other things. This appears to account for the moon’s current behavior as well as a hypothetical scenario in which it breaks out of its current orbit.

    I don’t think an exhaustive description of the moon can leave out gravity, as you imply when you say you don’t need to give it a purpose. Final causes explain the regularity we observe.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Well, first, this is Feser’s example, not mine, so even if he’s being loose with his phrasing to make a simple example it has to be reasonable in some sense to say that the Moon’s purpose and final end is to orbit the Earth. It can be overly simplified, but it has to be accurate.

      Second, I don’t imply that I would leave out gravity in denying it a purpose. What I mean is that I can analyze its behaviour by appealing to properties and context instead of having to give a purpose for everything or anything. So I’d certainly be analyzing the impact of gravity and how that determines its behaviour, but what I wouldn’t need to do is analyze that in terms of purposes or ends. I can just describe the influence gravity has on its behaviour without having to attach specifically to it a specific purpose that it, itself, actually has.

  4. John Says:

    Well, I don’t think your proposal is even all that inconsistent with Feser’s – the key difference in that case would seem to be in how we define final causality, and whether or not it’s fitting for inanimate tendencies to be called teleology – I think the term teleology or final causality is an analogous one to at least some degree across cases, and doesn’t mean exactly the same in every example. And it seems that’s what Feser is saying – a thing’s tendencies just are the ends or final causes it has. Teleology then has several categories – the most basic would be only tendencies and inclinations, while intentions and design are higher and richer varieties of teleology that include the lower but transcend it as well.

    So basically, properties and context reveal purpose to us – it isn’t something isolated from them. Purpose then doesn’t mean something strictly singular, or imposed on something solely from the outside, but is intrinsic to things and is revealed by their properties and behaviour.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      That’s really the issue, though: if my view isn’t all that different from Feser’s, then he’d need to show that my view is really his but under a different name. But since I reject the teleological implications and analogies, that can’t be true. So then he’d need to show that I need to add those things to make my view work, and I can’t see anything that would make me do that. So most of your replies here seem aimed at defending his view from the charge that it can’t do the things mine does, but that isn’t sufficient, because if the two views are that similar then I argue that mine is preferable because it doesn’t require teleology and is simpler, and so we have no reason to accept his. So we’d need something that his view can handle that mine can’t.

  5. John Says:

    In that case, I think Feser would argue that there really is a true analogy to teleology here. For example – the very idea of behaviour doesn’t make sense unless there is a certain end of that behaviour, or what it is about. Say the moon currently floats in space at a certain speed – well floating in space at a certain speed is one of the moon’s ends in these circumstances.

    It’s one of the things the moon points towards – something which isn’t actualised yet, but is what it’s current behaviour is about or points to. That just is what an end is.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Yeah, but that sort of analysis is exactly the problem. The Moon in Space: 1999 has the end of … floating aimlessly in space, and maybe coming into orbit around a planet. But this is a more complicated and more confusing analysis than simply saying that what it’s DOING is floating aimlessly in space and might come into orbit around a planet if it gets close enough. I don’t need to claim that in any way that it’s the end of that behaviour to do exactly what it’s doing, and again the issue with that is that it’s not what it was “meant” to do, and it’s only the accident that put it into that situation in the first place, so it would have had to change that end and so its initial final cause. So the teleological analogy here becomes convoluted and problematic.

      So to say that the very idea of behaviour doesn’t make sense unless there is an end of that behaviour doesn’t seem necessary. Some behaviour can easily be described as “What the thing is doing” without looking at there being a specific end that it is directed towards. There ARE cases where it makes sense to at least loosely talk about an end, but those are either directly intentional — intentional behaviour of intentional beings, for example, or the purpose such beings give to the things they create — or else only get a purpose or end from their participation in a process or system, where we derive that end from the role they play in that process or system (things like the acorn growing into an oak tree or the heart pumping blood). But Feser needs to argue that every object has these, and that these things are internal to or perhaps rather part of the object itself, which I never need to do.

      So, again, unless there’s something that his view can explain that mine can’t, mine is simpler and seems to give us everything we need. Hence the question: What do we need the final cause analogy or for Feser rather final causes themselves for?

  6. John Says:

    Sorry for the late reply, I’ve had some things to work on. Anyways:

    What a thing is DOING requires that it be ABOUT something. And that thing can also easily be conceived of as an end. Say the moon is floating in space – floating isn’t an action the moon does necessarily, and the floating will have certain physical consequences as well.

    In a certain sense, it IS the end of the moon’s behaviour to float in certain circumstances – that’s just a consequence that follows from it’s nature and environment. It really isn’t that complicated – ends aren’t things distinct from behaviour – they are one of the things that make it intelligible in the first place.

  7. John Says:

    Also, I think one thing that might be the cause of confusion is the idea that an end is always related to intention in the same way across cases. This might be behind your point that ” I don’t need to claim that in any way that it’s the end of that behaviour to do exactly what it’s doing, and again the issue with that is that it’s not what it was “meant” to do, and it’s only the accident that put it into that situation in the first place, so it would have had to change that end and so its initial final cause. “

    But that’s just not true – an end doesn’t have to be something that a thing was strictly meant to do; that wording implies a type of quasi-designed uniformity that final causality just doesn’t entail. Among other things an end just is what a thing tends to do in certain situations – and this is something that is intrinsic to the thing.

    The moon by it’s nature just is the type of thing that has certain tendencies in certain situations – and those tendencies are it’s ends. That fact isn’t changed if it has different tendencies in different situations – and it’s “end” isn’t changed when that happens, since the ends are built into the moon from the beginning.

    Again, I think the objection stems from an unconscious understanding of “end” as something strictly imposed on something uniformly, rather than just the tendencies it has in any given context that it has by its very nature.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Well, the thing is, as I pointed out, my view drops all talk of ends except when we explicitly need to reference a specific end, which allows me to use end to refer to those cases without having to drop back and explain that the end in the “normal” cases isn’t the same sort of end. As an example, imagine that instead of the Moon in Space: 1999 it’s a human-built space station. In that case, I can clearly stated that the end of that station was to orbit the Earth, but that once it was blown out of orbit it isn’t doing that anymore. If, however, we could say that the Moon has the end of floating through space then we’d want to say that about the space station as well, which would make the above statement horribly confusing, or impossible to actually state.

      The other issue is that tying ends and final causes just to whatever the thing is doing takes away the one thing that Scholastics could say their system is better at than my system is: figuring out whether something is defective or deficient or not. In theory, they could say that the Moon floating in space is a defective Moon by appealing to its final cause of orbiting the Earth, which it is no longer doing. So, essentially, to tie final cause that tightly to its actual behaviour would weaken that.

      Yes, its final cause would give it tendencies, but it’s really, really difficult to find an inherent tendency that would still allow us to use its initially orbiting the Earth to make sense of its tendencies after it was blown out of orbit, which is the main point here.

      So, again. one of the main issues is that if we take final causes to cover cases where all we have are tendencies and no set end, then it doesn’t seem like we need to appeal to them at all for anything since all we’d be doing is appealing to tendencies anyway, and my main argument here is that that is sufficient without appealing to final causes.

      • John Says:

        1) Except there’s an important distinction there – human-built space stations have an external end by design, unlike the physical moon which doesn’t have it like that.

        And we do need to distinguish specific ends when talking about objects in different situatoins – floating in space is distinct from rotating around the Earth.

        2) One thing to mention is that many Scholastics would point out that inanimate things don’t have the actual ability to be defective on their own fully since they can’t consciously go against their own nature – which is why it’s harder for a rock to be deficient as a rock than for a human or animal. Another thing is that it isn’t just final causes which are important to a thing being deficient or not, but also it’s nature or formal cause.

        Regarding the moon example, the important thing to remember is that the moon orbiting the Earth as a primary end is only meant as a speculative example by Feser, not a literal analysis of the moon as such – the moon isn’t absolutely deficient if it fails to orbit the Earth, and Feser would likely agree with that, so the problems that come up with distinguishing ends is because the one end proposed isn’t actually the major end. In reality, an actual deficiency related to the moon would more likely be something like disintegration or a force-field preventing motion.

        3) About contrasting tendencies with set ends – I don’t think that’s a valid opposition. Ends aren’t set in stone things opposed to general tendencies – general tendencies are a form of end. A tendency just is an inclination to a specific goal or pattern.

        Again, I think the moon example Feser used is causing the confusion – it shouldn’t be taken that seriously. We don’t need to fret over what the moon’s final cause is if it isn’t primarily one thing or another.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        1) Except there’s an important distinction there – human-built space stations have an external end by design, unlike the physical moon which doesn’t have it like that.

        That’s actually my point, though. Because I don’t drop into the sorts of teleological and purposeful terminology that the Scholastics do, I can easily differentiate cases that have a set purpose or end — intentionally designed things, or things in a system — without having to say that I’m talking about a different type of end in the “normal” cases. If we don’t need to call it an end to make something work, then my approach is cleaner.

        And we do need to distinguish specific ends when talking about objects in different situatoins – floating in space is distinct from rotating around the Earth.

        But what I disagree with is that we need to call that an end and say that the object’s behaviour is aimed towards fulfilling a purpose. The Space: 1999 example shows how odd that gets in such a case, and I noted that I can get around it by simply talking about what it is currently doing and not bothering to ascribe it any kind of purpose or end except in those cases where it makes SENSE to do that.

        Another thing is that it isn’t just final causes which are important to a thing being deficient or not, but also it’s nature or formal cause.

        Yes, formal causes are more important there, but the point of that was noting that that is one thing that Scholastics could say a final cause can provide that my view can’t, which is an argument in its favour, that I at least deflected that all they’d be doing is looking at what it generally does and is doing, and so we don’t need to assert a specific cause to note something that is defective wrt its behaviour.

        Again, I think the moon example Feser used is causing the confusion – it shouldn’t be taken that seriously. We don’t need to fret over what the moon’s final cause is if it isn’t primarily one thing or another.

        Perhaps, but then that leaves us without an example to suss out the differences here, and so far no one has found an example where my view which eliminates ends for those things completely doesn’t work. It’s not much of a rebuttal against my view to say “Well, the moon doesn’t really HAVE a set end of purpose”, because then my reply is “So then why bother saying that it has one AT ALL?”

      • John Says:

        Well, one reason why we still need ends there is that we still have tendencies – and tendencies are always for something. That “for” there is a final cause or end.

        So if the moon has a tendency to float around when alone, then floating around is the end of the moon in that circumstance. If the moon has a tendency to rotate when around other objects, then rotating is the end of the moon in that circumstance.

        Again, this being an end doesn’t mean exactly the same thing in other, more intentional cases. An end in terms of a tendency needn’t be viewed as a purpose in the strict and uniform sense of the word, for example. But it’s still an end nonetheless.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Well, one reason why we still need ends there is that we still have tendencies – and tendencies are always for something. That “for” there is a final cause or end.

        I disagree with that. For the longest time, I had a tendency to fall asleep during James Bond movies. There was no end or “for” for that tendency. And if we want to limit it to inanimate objects, my truck has a tendency to not want to catch if I plug the block heater in when it’s not cold enough. That doesn’t seem to have any kind of end or “for” for that either.

        In fact, tendencies are pretty much the anti-ends, as they are simple regularities that either have no purpose or have an outdated purpose, and are always things that sometimes happen but never really HAVE to happen, and so while they happen regularly they also DON’T happen with regularity, and we actually calculate tendencies for anything as things that will happen a lot of the time but might not happen. That’s not at all like the sorts of ends Feser talks about.

        Again, this being an end doesn’t mean exactly the same thing in other, more intentional cases. An end in terms of a tendency needn’t be viewed as a purpose in the strict and uniform sense of the word, for example. But it’s still an end nonetheless.

        Which gets back to having to talk about ends in two different ways in the different cases, which then should make us wonder why we should call the tendency an end at all. And in philosophical arguments, an insistence on considering it an end suggests we should look to see what calling it an end is doing that calling it something else wouldn’t, in search of equivocations.

      • John Says:

        In those cases, it’s easy to describe it as “VS has a tendency for falling asleep during Bond movies” or “His truck has a tendency for stalling when it’s too hot”. The word “for” there simply means what those tendencies point to or are about. There is something in them which points to a certain result as a goal of behaviour in certain circumstances.

        The result / object of those tendencies isn’t currently actual, but is something that things point towards in certain contexts given their natures.

        You can say that this isn’t an end because it doesn’t have a purpose – but this seems once again to collapse in a strictly uniform understanding of end. Some ends are inherently reason-driven which is why inanimate things don’t have ends in that sense – they aren’t conscious. But this doesn’t change the fact tendencies always point to something.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        In those cases, it’s easy to describe it as “VS has a tendency for falling asleep during Bond movies” or “His truck has a tendency for stalling when it’s too hot”. The word “for” there simply means what those tendencies point to or are about. There is something in them which points to a certain result as a goal of behaviour in certain circumstances.

        The problem is that in the examples you gave, your “for” is describing the behaviour itself, not what end or purpose that behaviour supposedly has and is directed towards. This is why you can replace it with the non-purposeful “to” and have it be equally comprehensible without losing anything. So what I’d really need you to do is show that meaningful end or purpose in any sense of end that that behaviour actually has.

        But this doesn’t change the fact tendencies always point to something.

        But what do the tendencies point to in the examples I’ve given? And it’s difficult to see what could be meant by end if there is no purpose — which doesn’t have to be conscious — and all of Feser’s examples deliberately invoke a purpose that the behaviour is aimed at so that seems off.

      • John Says:

        I was thinking of mentioning the “to” part as well, because it also illustrates this – the thing is, tendencies by their nature always point to something. They are always about something. Ice cubes for example tend to melt when heated – so they point to melting in certain conditions. Being melted just is the end in this case – all tendencies are towards a specific behaviour which they point to.
        Heat
        This pointing to just is an end. Ice cube —————-> To be melted. It’s a possible end that follows from the ice cube’s nature.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        This doesn’t really address my criticism, though. All you’re doing is restating the behaviour and saying that the “purpose” of the tendency is towards that behaviour. So why talk about the purpose at all and not simply about the behaviour itself? A tendency is a name for a simple description of regular behaviour, but in general analysis in terms of ends adds in an ADDITIONAL thing that the behaviour is aimed towards (generating saliva, for example, is a behaviour that has another end of helping to break down food for digestion and so for nutrition). What ends are the examples I’ve given aimed at? If you can’t find one over and above the existing behaviour, then it seems like the end analysis is at best meaningless as it tells us nothing at all.

      • John Says:

        You gave examples such as falling asleep during bond movies and a truck not moving when it’s too hot. Say you are watching a bond movie and feel sleepy – the resolution of that would be you completely falling alseep. As for the truck not moving – while it is being heated its movement slows and stops. The inability to move is distinct from the heating process.

        To illustrate what I mean further, take an ice cube. Ice cubes have a tendency to melt – say a cube is being heated; in that case, the end result of the melting is a completely melted and liquid ice cube.

        The end result isn’t actual yet nor collapsible into momentary behaviour – it is something the ice cube points to under conditions of warmth. That right there is an end – it is that which a behaviour points towards and is about.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Say you are watching a bond movie and feel sleepy – the resolution of that would be you completely falling alseep

        Well, the issue is that we still need to talk about what the tendency itself points towards. You can rework my tendency to fall asleep during James Bond movies to be a tendency to feel sleepy during them and from that to fall asleep, but then you haven’t done anything to explain or even outline the tendency to feel sleepy. So, as noted, if all you can do is say that the behaviour is pointed at itself, that starts to ACTUALLY look like a soporific property: all you can say about the tendency is that it tends towards what it tends towards and that then its purpose is what it tends towards. Feser generally avoids this by making the purposes more derivable from other properties, but as you have made tendencies purposes and ends in a sense themselves that’s not really going to work. You’d want to give that tendency itself an additional different tendency, and one far more than “You fall asleep when you feel sleepy while watching the movies”. Because in that case, it’s not even the biological “sleepy after eating” one (that’s a separate one).

        Now, certainly, there are REASONS for most tendencies, so perhaps the issue is that we are talking about tendencies when we should be talking about other things. But I do recall, I think, that it was you who made tendencies purposes and ends in and of themselves, and that’s all I’m denying here.

      • John Says:

        Well, tendencies point towards that which they are tendencies of. Even if you didn’t fall asleep during Bond movies, you would still be sleepy during them, and that tendency exists in you and points to that specific thing in certain conditions.

        This may not be purpose as understood in the richer cases of consciousness and systems, but it’s still a real pointing towards something – tendencies always point to something which is fulfillable. And that pointing towards is an end.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Well, tendencies point towards that which they are tendencies of. Even if you didn’t fall asleep during Bond movies, you would still be sleepy during them, and that tendency exists in you and points to that specific thing in certain conditions.

        Not only does that not seem to be necessarily the case, it also seems empirically false [grin]. I didn’t feel any more or less sleepy than I did during other movies that I DIDN’T fall asleep during. What makes it a tendency is indeed the fact that it isn’t perfectly regular and there doesn’t seem to be a set reason for why it happens. With some of them we can find explanations but in general tendencies break that sort of analysis because it is as least exceptionally difficult to determine why it kicks in in some cases and not in others. That may just be an epistemic issue with not being able to do a deep enough analysis, but that’s enough to suggest that tendencies are NOT the best examples to use when talking about purposes, because it is deucedly hard to figure out what purpose or end they are actually aimed towards, and so whether or not it is, in fact, pointing towards ANYTHING.

        You would, ironically, have better luck with the nature ends that Feser and most Scholastics tend to actually use as examples.

      • John Says:

        Well, it doesn’t really necessarily matter as to why you have the tendency to fall asleep during bond movies – a tendency is always a tendency TO something, and in this case it’s being sleepy or falling asleep during Bond movies. Even if the sleepiness / sleep sets in instantly the fact is that the sleepiness / sleep is the goal of the tendency – you have a tendency to some result, and that tendency is about that.

        Tendencies don’t even need an explanation necessarily – their end is a part of their internal structure as tendencies. As long as there is a specific result that happens in certain contexts internally, that is the end of the tendency – there doesn’t need to be a higher purpose to them, just what they are about.

        You can’t even call tendencies that if they weren’t tendences to something specific.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        By this, though, you have weakened tendencies so much that they aren’t any kind of purpose anymore. It is not the case, for example, that the Moon has a “tendency” to orbit the Earth, which is why it doesn’t just randomly wander off to orbit Jupiter and then come back. If it was a tendency, then we’d be saying that it COULD very well do something else but just doesn’t happen to be doing it right now (just as I might not fall asleep during James Bond movies but tend to). Purposes and final causes are more definite than that. The object is doing something WRONG if it isn’t doing that. It’s not a good example of that thing if it isn’t fulfilling its purpose. So the Moon orbits the Earth not quite by necessity, but certainly by definition as determined by its causes. Tendencies are, again, not that sort of thing, so you can’t use them as an example of Scholastic purposes. And even more again, if they WERE Scholastic purposes then they are SO distinct from purposes that calling them that is confusing and seems to have no real motivation, other than to say that everything has a purpose.

      • John Says:

        I guess one problem is how we understand the term “tendency”. In the examples I used I assumed relative regularity instead of frequent situational change. If we call your sometimes-yes sometimes-not sleepiness during Bond movies a tendency, I guess it’d be an infrequent regularity that depends on additional circumstances as to why you feel sleepy sometimes and other times not. But that’s not the point.

        I think what is ultimately being said with regards to ends and final causes in inanimate objects is that there is something importantly purpose-like in them, even if it isn’t on the same level as in living things or design. Something which can’t be avoided in describing them since there is something in reality that is ultimately analogous to higher-level purposes as we know them.

        The fact is, ice cubes melting doesn’t make sense without “being melted” as the end result towards which they tend in some cases. In many cases that’s all there is to it. It’s not that the ice cube is doing something WRONG if it’s staying solid in the freezer, or if it were prevented from melting near heat in some way – it’s natural tendency just happens to be unactualised, slowed or stopped in some way, or another tendency is operating instead.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        In common language, “tendency” always refers to something that is not regular, and so not a regularity. It is common, but intermittent. From this, we would never say in common language that a tendency has a defined purpose. The entire point of the term is to not that we don’t know what purpose is does or could have (and they tend to be seen as deficiencies, at least in some contexts). So using “regularity” would fit better for what you want to use them for, since those ARE regular and we can talk about them having a purpose (unless there is a technical use that I’m missing).

        I think what is ultimately being said with regards to ends and final causes in inanimate objects is that there is something importantly purpose-like in them, even if it isn’t on the same level as in living things or design. Something which can’t be avoided in describing them since there is something in reality that is ultimately analogous to higher-level purposes as we know them.

        This is precisely what I deny: that assigning them purposes is SO far from higher-level purposes that it’s just confusing and bringing in things by association with the term that don’t actually hold, such as with the Space 1999 example where I ask what it could be.

        The fact is, ice cubes melting doesn’t make sense without “being melted” as the end result towards which they tend in some cases.

        But all things change state at specific temperatures, so saying that that is an end towards which they “move” (I want to leave tend out since that is the term that’s getting us confused) seems very odd. Why not simply say “That’s what things like that do”? Purpose in general makes us think of intentionality, which is clearly absent there, but without intentionality it seems that calling it a purpose seems odd. If I can really reduce all of those cases to “what it does in those contexts/situations” then as noted it seems to me that I can drop ends and purposes and just talk about what it does in those contexts and situations. So if we can’t talk about these things sensibly without talking about purposes and ends in a way that is not the same as intentional ones but that is consistent with it, I’d really need an example where that is clearly the case, which I have yet to see.

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