The Misappropriation of Teleonomy

  • Nicholas S. Thompson


The word “teleonomy” has been proposed to refer to the study of goal-directed processes without the encumbrances of teleological explanations. Those who have proposed the new term have disagreed about which of the encumbrances of teleological thought they were seeking to avoid. Various biological authors have sought to attach the concept of teleonomy to particular explanatory systems, such as natural selection or cybernetics. But in so doing they have reinstituted the most crippling weakness of teleological thought: the failure to provide a definition independent of explanation by which goal-directed processes may be identified. Any attempt to attach teleonomy to a particular explanatory system prevents its use for a more important purpose, to provide a concept by which to refer to organization in nature without prejudice to the manner in which that organization is to be explained. The availability of such a concept would be useful in avoiding patterns of circular thought, which are all too familiar in the behavioral and biological sciences.


Natural Selection Explanatory System Organizational Property Descriptive Concept Teleological Explanation 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas S. Thompson
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of Psychology and BiologyClark UniversityWorcesterUSA

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