Breaking Aristotle’s Bridge: The Modern Philosophical Critique of Teleology

  • Alexander S. Rosenthal-Pubul


There is arguably no aspect of the “modern turn” more wide ranging in its consequences than the critique of classical teleology. In the Aristotelian system teleology is the essential bridge connecting natural philosophy to ethics and politics. Just as for Aristotle there are ends ‘within nature as a whole, so there is an end of man which defines his place within the natural order. The discovery of the natural human telos will structure the Aristotelian concept of “the good life” at which ethics and politics aim. Aristotle’s claims on behalf of the theoretic life as the best form of life rest on his teleological claims concerning rational activity as the telos of man. Tearing down Aristotle’s bridge was fundamental to the project of early modern philosophy which established the new modern science. The arguments against final causality, and restriction of science to material and efficient causes was central for three luminaries of modern thought – Sir. Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Benedict Spinoza. Although, these arguments are surprisingly weak, they nonetheless were epochal in their consequences. The exclusion of the ethical-political good from the science of nature resulted not only in a new science but also in a new politics – as is seen with the system of Hobbes.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander S. Rosenthal-Pubul
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Advanced Governmental StudiesJohns Hopkins UniversityWashington, DCUSA

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