by     Reginald O. Kapp




SO much for well known facts. Philosophers discuss them, as I have said already, in terms of the convenient word "teleology". They are justified. For to unite a number of related facts under one general term saves discussion from becoming cumbersome. But there is a danger in any such very general term. One may lose sight of the realities for which it stands. To avoid this danger let us now remind ourselves that the word teleology, when used here, is intended to cover such related facts of everyday experience as purpose, giving a thought to the future, forming a plan, taking the necessary action so that the plan may be put into effect, creating specified order, organising things. Can all this, we are led to ask - and it is one of the most relevant questions that scientists can be called upon to consider can all this be attributed wholly to the unaided action of matter on matter?

Perhaps we should ask first whether such things really happen. There are philosophers who believe that, in spite of appearances to the contrary there are no such things in this world as teleological events. A suitable name for their belief would be antiteleology.

There are others who believe that such teleological concepts as plan, purpose, specified order, organisation, are realities and that they are wholly the result of material circumstances. These philosophers believe in the ability of matter to behave teleologically. They say that teleological events are deducible from the properties of matter, that they are implied in the laws of physics, that what is fundamental in teleology has a general validity and is manifest everywhere and at all times. They regard the planning, the specified order, the organisation to be observed in human affairs as but special applications of general principles manifest in various ways throughout the material universe. A suitable name for this belief would be panteleology.

Neither these two beliefs, the belief that there is planning nowhere and the belief that there is planning everywhere, raises much of a question as to the source of human planning. If antiteleology is correct, our everyday experience of teleology does not need to be explained. It has been explained away. And if panteleology is correct, our everyday experience has already been satisfactorily explained in terms of the laws of physics. The source of teleology is to be found in material systems.

It is only localised teleology, according to which there is no planning for the future in the absence of life, but there may be such planning when life is present, it is only such a teleology that raises a question as to the cause of planning. Only because physicists, from their knowledge of the nature of matter, are led to declare that matter cannot plan for the future or take effective steps for the implementation of a plan, only for this reason need one seek to discover what does plan and what does take the effective steps. Only for this reason is one obliged to consider seriously whether the brain may be, not the originator, but the instrument of the planning.

None of these three alternative theories, antiteleology, panteleology and localised teleology, is compatible with everything that most people would like to believe. And so, human nature being what it is, many tend to oscillate between them, supporting, by implication if not explicitly, each at a different part of their argument. This is the principal reason why argument about teleology is usually so confused and exasperating. The three theories are mutually exclusive and anyone who finally makes up his mind in favour of one of them must sacrifice the other two though this may mean also the sacrifice of some attractive belief that he has cherished all his life. It is much to ask for such a sacrifice from anyone. But scientists are often called upon to make sacrifice of cherished convictions. For them the criterion of truth must always win when it comes into conflict with the criterion of attractiveness. So let me make a plea for a clear choice between these three theories about teleology, even though it must result in the rejection for evermore of two of them.


Consider first how difficult it is to be a consistent antiteleologist. Who would be one must deprecate the use of any words that belong to the vocabulary of teleology. He must never say "purpose". For that word implies, if it implies anything, that a situation will be met that has not yet arisen. And as the vis a tergo cannot, by definition, be influenced by such a situation, a purpose cannot, according to antiteleology, have any influence on the course of events.

Nor may he say "adaptation to function". For this expression implies, if it implies anything, that things are so disposed that a given function may be served if and when, on some future occasion, the need arises. It implies something of which the vis a tergo cannot, by definition, take any account.

Specified order, again, implies, if it implies anything, that the thing specified exists as an idea before it exists as a material fact and, moreover, that this preliminary existence as an idea helps to cause the subsequent material existence. So the antiteleologist who says "order" must make it clear that he does not mean the specified kind. He must not even say "drill". For to drill soldiers is to decide what they are to do just before they do it. It is to take thought for the future. And the anti-teleologist must clearly never speak of a plan. For the word implies, if it implies anything, a planner. So the antiteleologist must always make it clear that what others would call a plan is, to him, an unplanned configuration.

In other words, to plan is to plan for the future. To act with a purpose is to plan for the future. To adapt a thing to a given function is to plan for the future. To organise is to plan for the future. To conceive and implement a specification is to plan for the future. Where there is no planning for the future there is no purpose, no adaptation to function, no organisation, no specified order. There are only such events and configurations as may result from the operation of an aimless vis a tergo. In the opinion of the antiteleologist all events and configurations have resulted thus, including the posting of letters, the drilling of soldiers, the organisation of a factory. In his opinion anyone who uses words that have teleological implications is being misleading; he is defeating the truth; he is perpetuating error.

Even if he himself gives a private antiteleological meaning to such words those who hear him will not do so. They will not understand him as he wishes to be understood. The antiteleologist must never, never use words that may cause those whom he is addressing to believe that teleology is, after all, a reality.

But can he practise what he preaches? Of course not. To limit his vocabulary to those words that he declares to be scientifically justifiable is to place upon himself a discipline beyond human endurance. And for this simple reason. It is to leave unsaid many things that everyone knows to be important.

But, of course, no one remains an antiteleologist for long. At every turn he who would be one repudiates by implication what he explicitly asserts in his theory. He says a hundred times a day things that can only be true if his theory is false.


And rather than become conscious of this he may turn panteleologist. He will then assert emphatically that there is such a thing as planning. "Why", he will declare, "how could any scientist say that the material universe is no more than an unplanned configuration? Nature's plan is manifest everywhere. Belief in cosmic order is fundamental for every scientist." But he may be far from noticing that he is being inconsistent.

Panteleology is the theory most often proclaimed from the pulpit. The theologian sees the whole universe as a result of divine planning. He speaks of God as the Great Architect. He thinks of the laws of physics as imposed on the world by a Divine Legislator of infinite wisdom and foresight, whose purpose at the Creation was that everything should be for the best. In the view of many theologians all things above the earth and on the earth and beneath the surface of the earth conform to God's sublime plan. What would be was foreseen at the world's beginning. What should be then provided the reason for what was done. Nothing in the material universe is, according to this. doctrine, ever left to chance. A blind vis a tergo never operates alone. High tide at X . . . serves a purpose just as much as the posting of a letter does. More so, in fact, for the succession of the tides is considered to serve a higher and a greater purpose.

The panteleology of those who base their belief on science rather than on religion is not precisely the same as that of the theologian. But the difference is not very noticeable. Many who cannot accept the theologian's view that law and order have been imposed on the material universe by Divine Authority nevertheless see law and order in all things, inanimate as well as animate. In support of their theory they quote, perhaps, the smooth elliptical paths of planets, the beautiful symmetry of crystals, the structure of atoms, the valency of carbon. With Dr. Joseph Needham, F.R.S. they may then attribute crystal formation, not to the aimless motion of molecules, but to an element of drill.* And with Professor Donnan, F.R.S., they may believe that the sun has a "potency for creating order" and "an enormous store of organised energy”. **

According to panteleology law and order are manifest everywhere, in the regular succession of the tides, the systematic change of the seasons, the familiar alternations of night and day. They are illustrated by Newton's laws of motion, by the law of gravitation, by Ohm's law, by the principle of conservation of energy, by the laws of chemical combination, by those that are embodied in steam tables. It is only because the universe is governed by law and not by chance, the panteleologist says, that astronomers can predict an eclipse of the sun, chemists can foretell the result of combining oxygen with hydrogen, an engineer can calculate the amount of work to be obtained from a given steam engine. "Law and order", says the panteleologist, with the comforting assurance that Science proves him right, "law and order govern the whole physical world". And the layman is reassured on weekdays that what he has heard from the pulpit on Sundays is true.

Those who hold such views cannot believe that a vis a tergo alone controls the course of events anywhere at all. For the term vis a tergo in philosophy is understood to mean a physical force that is not influenced by what shall be or what will be, only by what is and what has been. And a law that is characterised by its effect in creating order must, by definition, prohibit disorder. Such a law must, like the laws on the statute book, exist before the situation to which it applies. To say that in pursuing their elliptical paths the planets "obey" a law is to say that they find, as they move across the sky, a law already in existence that prohibits them from pursuing any other path. It is to deny that the laws of physics are completely unrestrictive; to deny that these laws permit every thing and prohibit nothing. And so the layman understands it when he hears it said that the material universe is governed by law and order and not by chance. To say that the laws of physics make for order is to speak teleologically.

It is the same with the word organisation. To say that a system is organised is, may I repeat, to say that it has existed as a specification during the time it took to achieve it as a material fact. If that is not meant the word organisation is wrongly used and another one ought to be substituted, one that does not carry teleological implications. Those scientists who say that potential energy is the same thing as organisation (and there are a few who do say so) convey the notion, very acceptable to many laymen, that potential energy has that specific relation between its component parts that characterises an organisation and is observable, for instance, in a factory. It is a relation in which the system is adapted to circumstances that may arise on a future occasion. If the scientists who say that potential energy is organised do not mean this they use language in a misleading, a mischievously misleading, way.

Be that as it may, the belief is very widespread among scientists that the world is an orderly structure, regulated in every detail by law and order and not by chance. Panteleology is probably more common than antiteleology and more often defended than the localised teleology that I am advocating. Panteleology, in the form that I have just described, may, indeed, almost be described as the orthodox cosmology of scientists. Any who, like Eddington, have thrown doubt on it have been regarded as dangerous heretics. Many scientists, I have noticed, are quite shocked by the suggestion that the laws of physics are not in the least like the laws of a country, that they do not make for order, that they do nothing to prevent chaos, that they serve no purpose of any kind, that they never state what shall be but merely what is, that they permit everything logically possible and prohibit nothing, that the laws of physics are, in short, nothing but a way of describing the drift of a purposeless, aimless, uncontrolled, unplanned, completely unrestricted universe, in which the course of events is entirely left to chance.

The almost religious fervour with which some not particularly religious scientists reject this view of the physical world gives food for thought. Why should they object so strongly, one must ask oneself, to the suggestion that in that world things merely shake down in a haphazard manner, uncontrolled by any influence to make for order? Why should it cause a scientist any distress to be told that the laws of physics can all be deduced from the one basic assumption that, in the physical world, there are no restrictive laws? Why any uneasiness at all at the prospect of contemplating a world in which the only laws are statistical ones and the only order such as must result from the sum of a large number of completely unco-ordinated happenings?

The certainty of scientific predictions cannot explain the strength with which some scientists cling to panteleology. For the argument based on this certainty is easily refuted. Predictions do not have to be derived from the type of law that makes for order for them to have a high degree of certainty. Predictions derived from the law of averages have it. A scientist can, with the help of statistical laws, foretell with close accuracy what will happen to a system in which there is no order. So one must find other reasons for the objections often voiced against the theory that the laws of physics do not make for order. I suspect that the true reasons are less intellectual and more emotional.

Can they reside in a feeling that scientific enquiry would not be worth while if the universe of lifeless things, the physicist's universe, were really an aimless, lawless, uncontrolled affair? Those who seek to discover the laws of nature may like to think that they are in search of true laws, not of the colourless, indefinite, elusive laws of statistics. Maybe they would find but little satisfaction in the contemplation of laws that permit everything and prohibit nothing, in laws that, taken all together, sum up to no more than a matter of averages. A young man will embrace science with the object of discovering Nature's plan. He must, to say the least, find it discouraging to be told that Nature never had a plan. It must make him feel that he is dedicating his life to the wrong quest.

Or is the reason rooted even more deeply in human nature? Is it in the loneliness that men must feel who think themselves as born into a vast, lawless, unguided universe? The notion of an uninhabited space extending over nebula beyond nebula is not a cosy one. To the Christian, who can think of his God as present in all parts of it, it does not appear quite companionless. May it be that the atheist, who can dispense with the consoling thought of a personal God, can yet not dispense with the consoling thought of a slightly less personal Mother Nature? Is this the true and profound reason why many, and among them even a few scientists, reject, with more than cold reason, the suggestion that Nature's Laws are not really laws at all, why they like to speak of the order of the physical world?

Whether these be the true reasons I do not know. But I do know that panteleology is comforting, while belief in a chaotic material universe is bleak. Judged by the criterion of attractiveness panteleology must be accepted. Yet judged by the criterion of truth it must be rejected.

I have shown why in Science versus Materialism and it would be redundant to repeat the reasons here. It must suffice to point out that few are consistent panteleologists, just as few are consistent antiteleologists. Most people adopt each of these extremes on some occasions and reject each in favour of the other when it becomes too uncomfortable. And, let me add, most would be hurt to be told that they were panteleologists, even on those occasions when they speak of the order of the physical world, of Nature's plan, of the way in which things are organised, of the means by which this or that purpose is met. The idea of panteleology is pleasant to many who greatly dislike the name.


Antiteleology must be rejected, I have just shown, because no one has yet managed to deny successfully that certain things, such as, for instance, the organisation of a factory, are planned. We all know that, at least in human affairs, law and not chance often govern the course of events. And panteleology is untenable because it can be shown beyond any possibility of doubt that the vis a tergo is often the only cause of an event. Even though some things be governed by law others are, most certainly, governed by chance; they are not planned.

Now planning and leaving things to chance are mutually exclusive. When one says that a thing has been planned one means, by definition, that it has not been left to chance. And when one says that a thing has been left to chance one means, by definition, that it has not been planned. So an event can either be teleological or not. It cannot be both.

This consideration leads to the only tenable theory about teleology, namely that some events are teleological and some are not. Such a theory conforms incidentally to the judgement of common sense. Most people agree (except when they are trying to prove some favoured "ism") that planning is to be found in some places and not in others. They believe in a localised teleology.

They would not necessarily all agree as to which events and configurations are teleological and which are not. Some would limit their list of the teleological ones to those under the control of the human brain. I do not think that such a list is extensive enough and I shall give my reasons later for extending it to cover all activities of living substance. But the extent of the list is not of immediate consequence. What is important is that teleological events and configurations do occur. Can they be deduced from the properties of matter or the laws of physics? If not they cannot be attributed to the unaided action of matter on matter.

If physicists say "no" (and I am sure they do), a study of teleological events and configurations takes us out of the world of material substance and into the work of influences without location, of what I call diathetes But this does not mean that it takes us out of the world of science or into any world of values. It only means that the world of science is larger than is sometimes realised and must cover aspects of reality that are without location The answer "no" raises the great Problem of Interaction It means that some of the causes of a physical event are not forces.

Those who are not content merely to record what happens but would also like to know why and how it happens, those who seek to understand causes as well as effects, cannot afford to ignore the challenge of this problem.

* The Great Amphibian, page 111.
** Nature of 11th April, l948

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