By Tobias Baiarrio

Society is on the road toward nihilism. Humanity is currently in the grip of the mechanistic perspective of modern science, often ignoring the implications for teleology of these technological advancements. To address this issue, this paper will look at how Aristotle previously considered nature. Following Aristotle’s idea of telos, we must examine how this idea changed with the introduction of Newton’s axioms. Newton’s axioms changed how we understand motion and nature as a whole. After the abolishment of teleology due to Newton’s axioms, the philosopher Martin Heidegger replaces the teleological notion with historical Dasein With the idea of historical Dasein, Heidegger introduces relativism, claiming that human thought is grounded in and thus confined by the historical epoch in which it arises. The historical Dasein presents problems in how modern science is continued; science raises ethical problems, but every ethical decision is now seen as subjective. Not only does relativism put the morality of science into question, it also leads to a complete disregard for moral truths, resulting in nihilism. In order to leave the bleak world of nihilism, we can re-establish teleology in society through the teleological principles found within Darwin’s theory of evolution Ultimately, Darwin’s teleology within the theory of evolutionis the most plausible teleological understanding to be adopted by our scientific and mechanistic society.

To understand what is and is not teleological, it is appropriate to address Aristotle’s telos or “that for the sake of which.” Telos refers to a clear end or purpose that is the cause of something. As stated by Aristotle, it is a cause “in the sense of end or ‘that for the sake of which’ a thing is done” (Aristotle 241). In other words, we pursue things for an end or purpose; for example, “the reduction of flesh, purging, drugs, or surgical instruments are means towards health” (241). The telos of these examples is health as the reason they are created and pursued is to either maintain or better the health of an individual. If we consider the universe’s telos in its classical sense, we see that within the universe, “All natural beings have a natural end, a natural destiny, which determines what kind of operation is good for them” (Strauss 7).

However, modern science refutes classical teleology in favour of a mechanical perspective (i.e. understanding the universe in terms of how rather than why). Strauss points to how Aristotle would understand the difference between the two perspectives: “From the point of view of Aristotle … the issue between the mechanical and the teleological conception of the universe is decided by the manner in which the problem of the heavens, the heavenly bodies, and their motion is solved” (Strauss 8). Celestial bodies and motion are thus the determining factors in our considerations of nature. Heidegger’s perspective on Newton’s axioms changed the concept of celestial bodies and motion and opposes Strauss’s proposed teleology of the universe.

As established by Heidegger, Newton’s axioms changed Aristotle’s concept of celestial bodies and motion. Heidegger claims that after Newton’s axioms, “One does not ask for the cause of the continuity of motion and therefore for its perpetual occurrence, but the reverse: being in motion is presupposed, and one asks for the causes of a change in the kind of motion presupposed as uniform and in a straight line” (Heidegger 286). Put simply, we no longer ask where this motion will end, but how it began. The mechanical perspective put forward by Newton and reported by Heidegger ultimately changes Strauss’s proposed telos of the universe from “All natural beings have a natural end, a natural destiny, which determines what kind of operation is good for them” (Strauss 7) to “all beings travel uniformly in a straight line with no predetermined end or purpose” (Heidegger 286).

Through Newton’s new concept of motion, the teleological idea of nature also changes from an internal direction (nature having a clear end or purpose) into a way to describe the position of matter. Although the concept of teleology itself does not change, the way we view nature and aspects of nature change. As Heidegger describes, “Nature is no longer the inner principle out of which the motion of the body follows; rather, nature is a mode of the variety of the changing relative positions of bodies, the manner in which they are present in space and time, which themselves are domains of possible positional orders and determination of order and have no special traits anywhere” (Heidegger 288). When motion and celestial bodies are perceived mechanically, Aristotle’s teleological universe seemingly no longer applies. The same universal laws of nature that apply to rocks and comets also apply to human beings and human nature. Aside from where humans are within the principles of space and time, there is no significance to humanity or inherent nature; rather, humans are bodies that present themselves in different ways within time and space and have no special traits. Through this new definition of motion, Heidegger takes humanity out of Aristotle’s definition of internal motion, moving away from the telos of humanity with it.

Rather than Aristotle’s teleological view of ‘that for the sake of which’ Heidegger proposes the historical Dasein, introducing historical relativism. Heidegger argues that individuals are trapped within an inescapable historical frame of thought: “Every sort of thought, however, is always only the execution and consequence of a mode of historical Dasein, of the fundamental position taken toward Being and toward the way in which beings are manifest as such, i.e., towards truth” (Heidegger 294-295). What we define as the truth is actually “only the execution and consequence of a mode of historical Dasein” (294-295). For example, Heidegger argues that before the distinct emergence of the mathematical, all truth was centred around Church and faith: all “proper knowledge” was merely an interpretation of the source of revelation that came from the traditions of the Church, and “Whatever more experience and knowledge had been won adjusted itself (as if by itself) to this frame” (295). Although there is contention about Heidegger’s historical Dasein as there is evidence of individuals reaching out of their “historical instance” (e.g. Aristotle’s unfavourable views on slavery in Politics), Heidegger may attribute these ideas to the influential source of the time (in Aristotle’s case, perhaps Heidegger would argue that the influential source at the time was Socratic skepticism, also explaining the extreme progression of metaphysics within a short period).

After abandoning the teleological principles proposed by Aristotle, humanity is left with relativism and, eventually, nihilism. After the abolishment of teleology, everything becomes subjective or relative to the individual. Because there is no ‘natural right’ or ‘true justice’ or even an understanding of ‘the good,’ everything is just an idea of natural right and an idea of true justice; this implies that all moral assertions are simply ideas of what we consider the truth. Relativism is an extremely dangerous ideology: “At the very end of the road of relativism, one encounters those who argue that there is no truth whatsoever” (Malcolmson et al. 39). Individuals who believe that because everything is relative, nothing is true are called nihilists. Malcolmson et al. explain, “The nihilist believes that there is no meaning in life, that there is no such thing as God or morality, and that there are no just principles to guide social, economic, or political life” (39). Although the nihilists believe that God or morality never existed, Nietzsche claims that God once existed, “but God died” (Nietzsche 1). Thomas Pangle explains Nietzsche’s claim, stating, “The cause of God’s death is a historically acquired disposition of the soul which renders untenable all beliefs in any objective and trans-historical spiritual values; and the world that remains before man in the wake of this destruction of permanence is not a value-neutral flux of data and subjective ideals” (Pangle 65). Put simply, the death of humanity’s ability to believe in God is caused by the soul’s historical state which renders all universal truths valueless. After the abolition of truth in light of its valueless nature, the individuals of our time, who experience God’s death, view what remains of the world as “repellent in its ugliness and baseness” (65).

The challenges hindering the reintroduction of teleology, as proposed by Kass, stem from the suspicion surrounding the human desire for the mastery of nature and the need to evaluate the implications of technological advancements carefully. To re-establish a positive view of what remains in the world, we must consider the two problems Kass identifies that prolong the seemingly impossible reintroduction of teleology. Kass argues that practically, humans have become suspicious of the project for the mastery of nature. Technology remained largely unambiguous in its uses when the advancements were not as substantial; thus, “Its utility–and hence goodness for human life–was sufficient to attest to its truth” (Kass 251). However, the utility of technological advancements has been under criticism and scrutiny as the advancements have been proven to achieve more. The more utility an advancement has, the harder it is to confine it to “goodness for human life.” Once an advancement has several implications, we must evaluate the cost of each technological step individually and consider it in the long journey. For example, artificially created embryos would be a significant leap in technological advancement; humanity would be capable of granting babies to previously infertile parents. However, this technology may also be used for eugenics programs, as seen in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Without consideration for all the implications of advancements, we will lose sight of the moral questions in the long journey, ignoring the other, perhaps more nefarious, uses of technological advancement.

Kass also points to a philosophical problem within the reintroduction of teleology. Kass argues that philosophically, we will have to contest the theory of evolution as “Man’s evolutionary origin has made untenable the sharp divorce of man from the rest of nature” (Kass 251). However, the problem residing within the theory of evolution is seemingly a false interpretation of Darwin’s work. Kass argues, “Darwin’s non-teleological explanation–the variation, inheritance, struggle for existence–not only assumes but even depends upon the immanent teleological character of organisms” (261). Kass insists that natural selection is inherently teleological; organisms live because they internally strive to live and reproduce, whereas non teleological organisms die out. After all, they do not desire to live and reproduce. Put simply, “[organisms] are not teleological because they have survived; on the contrary, [organisms] have survived (in part) because they were teleological” (262). Darwin’s theory of evolution demonstrates the internal motion present within teleology, showing that for natural selection to be sound, organisms must seek life and reproduction. Thus, teleology in the classical sense is compatible with the theory of evolution.

Aristotle’s telos provides an excellent ground on which contemporary teleology can be built; however, for contemporary society to re-establish teleological principles, we must take a teleological approach rooted in modern science. By analyzing Aristotle’s telos, we have better understood classical teleology. Heidegger then presents how Newton’s axioms change our conception of nature from Aristotle’s internal motion to motion as the measure of matter’s relative position in space and time. To replace Aristotle’s teleology, Heidegger proposes the historical Dasein. The historical Dasein places human thought within the historical instance, making it relative to history. Furthermore, Heidegger’s historicism may progress towards a complete lack of truth, resulting in nihilism. In nihilism, there is nothing but a bleak and ugly world, leaving nothing for humanity. God is dead, and moral ideals are valueless. To re-establish teleology and save humanity from the dangerous prospects of nihilism, Kass identifies two problems we must overcome: technological advancements can no longer be justified simply by the goodness they contribute towards humanity and the lack of difference between humans and other organisms. Technological advancements in modern science have significant implications and can have severe unforeseen consequences. In order to rectify this issue, Kass argues that we need to consider every implication of an advancement. Kass points to the teleological aspects of Darwin’s theory of evolution, bringing the prospect of teleology back into the contemporary frame of mind. Ultimately, re-establishing teleology is crucial to avoid nihilism and ensure a positive view of the world, but it requires careful consideration and analysis in the context of modern science.

Works Cited

Aristotle, and Reeve C D C. Physics. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2018.

Kass, Leon R. Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs. The Free Press,                    1988.

Malcolmson, Patrick, Richard Myers, and Colin O’Connel. “Liberal Education and Value

Relativism: A Guide to Today’s B.A.” University Press of America, Inc., University Press of America, Inc., 1996.

Pangle, Thomas L. “The Roots of Contemporary Nihilism and Its Political Consequences                                     According to Nietzsche.” The Review of Politics, vol. 45, no. 1, 1983, pp. 45–70.

Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History. The University of Chicago Press, 1965.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Project Gutenberg, ,