Darwin was a teleologist


It is often claimed that one of Darwin's chief accomplishments was to provide biology with a non-teleological explanation of adaptation. A number of Darwin's closest associates, however, and Darwin himself, did not see it that way. In order to assess whether Darwin's version of evolutionary theory does or does not employ teleological explanation, two of his botanical studies are examined. The result of this examination is that Darwin sees selection explanations of adaptations as teleological explanations. The confusion in the nineteenth century about Darwin's attitude to teleology is argued to be a result of Darwin's teleological explanations not conforming to either of the dominant philosophical justifications of teleology at that time. Darwin's explanatory practices conform well, however, to recent defenses of the teleological character of selection explanations.

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I would like to thank John Beatty, David Hull and one of this journal's readers for constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

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Lennox, J.G. Darwin was a teleologist. Biol Philos 8, 409–421 (1993).

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Key words

  • Adaptation
  • Darwin
  • final cause
  • natural selection
  • plant sexuality
  • teleology