Action Principles and Teleology

  • Michael Stöltzner
Part of the Springer Series in Synergetics book series (SSSYN, volume 63)


In dealing with action principles, many textbooks on variational calculus or mechanics add a digression on history or even on philosophy. This is a remnant of a long tradition of discussion among physicists and philosophers, mainly on the so-called “Principle of Least Action”. One must admit that this subject is not among the hottest topics in the contemporary debate on the foundations of physics. It is moreover a common opinion that the philosophical notions mentioned in connection with the principle, teleology and final causes, should be kept out of physics. A very decided statement of this spirit can be found in Ref. [1] (p. 155) as the conclusion of an entire book on variational principles: “Hence the teleological approach in exact science can no longer be a controversial issue; it is not only contrary to the whole orientation of theoretical physics, but presupposes that the variational principles themselves have mathematical characteristics which they de facto do not possess.” For the authors variational principles are a mere reformulation of the equations of motion, which is physically equivalent to them.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    W. Yourgrau and S. Mandelstam: Variational Principles in Dynamics and Quantum Theory. Pitman, London 1960 (second edition)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    H. von Helmholtz: Ueber die physikalische Bedeutung des Princips der kleinsten Wirkung. In v. Helmholtz’ wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, Leipzig 1895, Vol. IIIGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    M. Planck: Das Prinzip der kleinsten Wirkung. In Wege zur physikalischen Erkenntnis. München 1944Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    M. Schramm: Natur ohne Sinn ? — Das Ende des teleologischen Weltbildes. Styria, Graz 1985Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    R.P. Feynman, R.B. Leighton, and M. Sands: The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vols. I, II. Addison-Wesley, Reading (Mass. ) 1964Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    R.A. Bentley: A Confutation of Atheism (II), London 1693. Reprinted in Isaac Newton’s Papers and Letters on Natural Philosophy. Edited by I. Bernard Cohen, University Press, Cambridge 1958Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    C. Carathéodory: The beginning of research in the calculus of variations. In Gesammelte mathematische Schriften. München 1954–1957, Vol. II, pp. 93–107Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    G.W. Leibniz: Die philosophischen Schriften. Ed. by G.J. Gerhardt, Berlin 1890 (reprint: Olms, Hildesheim 1961 ), Vol. VIIGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    G.W. Leibniz: Philosophical Papers and Letters. A selection translated and edited with an introduction by L.E. Loemker, Reidel, Dordrecht 1969 (second edition)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    I. Kant: The Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by N.K. Smith, Macmillan, London 1990Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    I. Kant: The Critique of Judgement. Translated by J.C. Meredith, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1991Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    F. Blumenbach: Über den Bildungstrieb und das Zeugungsgeschäfte, Göttingen 1781. Reprinted by Gustav Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart 1971Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    H.-J. Engfer: Über die Unabdingbarkeit teleologischen Denkens. In Formen teleologischen Denkens. Philosophische und wissenschaftstheoretische Analysen, Ed. by H. Poser, Berlin 1981Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    P. Blanchard and E. Brüning: Variational Methods in Mathematical Physics. Springer, Berlin 1992MATHGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    O. Wilder: Über die Prinzipien von Hamilton und Maupertius. In Nachrichten der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, mathematisch—physikalische Klasse. Göttingen 1896, Vol. 2, pp. 122–136Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    G. Marmo and E.J. Saletan: Ambiguities in the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian Formalism: Transformation Properties. Il Nuovo Cimento 40B, 67–89 (1977)MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    T. Regge and C. Teitelboim: Role of Surface Integrals in the Hamiltonian Formulation of General Relativity. Annals of Physics 88, 286–318 (1974)MathSciNetADSMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    M. Eigen and P. Schuster: The Hypercycle — A Principle of Natural Self-Organization. Springer, Berlin 1979Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    B.-O. Köppers: Der Ursprung biologischer Information. Zur Naturphilosophie der Lebensentstehung. Piper, München 1990Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    R. Spaemann: Teleologie und Teleonomie. In Die Frage Wozu?, ed. by R. Spaemann and R. Löw, Piper, München 1991, pp. 300–310Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    C.S. Pittendrigh: Adaption, Natural Selection, and Behavior. In Behavior and Evolution. ed. by A. Roe and G.G. Simpson, Yale University Press, New Haven 1958, pp. 390–416Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    J. Monod: Le hasard et la nécessité. Editions du Seuil, Paris 1970Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    B.-O. Kúppers: Molecular Theory of Evolution. Springer, Berlin 1985 (second edition)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    M. Eigen: Wie entsteht Information ? — Prinzipien der Selbstorganisation in der Biologie. In Berichte der Bunsen-Gesellschaft für physikalische Chemie 80, 1059–1081 (1976)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    A. Kneser: Das Prinzip der kleinsten Wirkung von Leibniz bis zur Gegenwart. In Wissenschaftliche Grundfragen IX, ed. by Hönigswald, Teubner, Leipzig 1928Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    M. Stöltzner and W. Thirring: Entstehen neuer Gesetze in der Evolution der Welt. Submitted to Naturwissenschaften.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    H. Primas: Time-Asymmetric Phenomena in Biology — Complementary Exophysical Descriptions Arising from Deterministic Quantum Endophysics, Open Systems Information Dynamics 1, 3–34 (1992)ADSMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Stöltzner

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations