Teleology, Ecology, and Unity and the French Enlightenment
An important marker of a modern conception of science lies in the rejection of teleology (final causes) and an understanding of the place of humans in the unity of nature. Although the philosophers were not the first writers to hold a nonteleological view of the world, they were among the first western writers to develop the idea as a central literary theme with the backing of modern science, especially astronomy. I discuss final causes and the alternate belief in the unity of nature in Fontenelle’s Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, English writer Shaftesbury’s Characteristics, Voltaire’s Micromégas, Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker, and Diderot’s D’Alembert’s Dream, and other works. Although these works operate differently and employ different genres, they are all rhetorical responses to unscientific and irrational assumptions held in contemporary European society, and they remain relevant and startlingly modern in point of view.