View that there are final causes (see Aristotle's four causes) in nature; that is, that at least some things other than the products of deliberate human activity can be explained in terms of their end or purpose.
The idea that the world, or certain features of it, were amenable to such explanation goes back at least to a century before Aristotle (384-322 BC) and probably much further, but Aristotle was the first to dispense with a conscious designer, be it God, the gods, or nature.
Questions which arise include:
- What is really meant by assigning a final cause?
- How does assigning one relate to assigning a function (as in 'The heart's function is to pump blood')?
- Can one assign both a final cause and an ordinary mechanical cause without danger of over-determination - do the notions co-operate or compete?
- What counts as good evidence for a final cause?
C Taylor, The Explanation of Behavior (1964)