The Important of Teleological Thinking

There was a time in the history of the Western world, no one would do, think, act on anything without considering the purpose and end for which he is doing, acting, thinking that way. There were a time people thought in term of end and purpose. They did not do something because they have the capacity and means to do. They did something because they wanted to accomplish something that elevates the human person to a more flourishing state. So, their thinking was not simply people oriented, it was specifically human dignity oriented. At that period, leaders and thinkers could see a little further than their own toes. Their needs were not put before the human race’s needs. Scientists and philosophers of old would not do something merely because it brings pleasure to people. However, since Descartes came up with his method in the 16th century, conceiving actions in term of end and purpose have been going downhill. Scientists and politicians do and say things because they want to fulfill their own selfish interest, be it fame, wealth and power. They no longer conceive things in term of Aristotle’s four causes. The point I want to stress here is that without those four causes, especially the last one, we cannot be anything but a boat on the deep sea without a captain. In this imbroglio, we are nothing but sheep without a shepherd, or wayfarer without a destination.

What are Aristotle’s four causes and do they make sense? The first of the four causes are the Material cause: “that from which a thing comes to be. Material cause is the raw material (matter) out of which something is made. For instance, in the case of human being, our material cause is body. In the case of a table, it is wood. The second of the four causes is the Formal cause is the form i.e. that which makes matter a particular type of thing. What allows us to recognize something as a particular type. In our case, our soul is considered the formal cause. For a table, it is its shape (eidos). What allows us to recognize human beings as human being is because they possess a soul. The soul allows us to look a certain way (upright posture), and act a certain way. The formal cause is what allows us t distinguish a table from a chair though they are both made of woods. We recognize and are able to identify a table because of its shape—its formal cause. The third cause is the Efficient cause. It is what initiates something, or what brings it into existence, or as Aristotle put it, efficient cause is the source of the primary principle of change or stability. An artist who creates a piece of art is the efficient cause of that piece of art. The person who comes up with the idea of a great business plan is the efficient cause of that business. And the fourth cause is the Final cause. It is the end, the purpose (telos) for which something is made. The final cause allows us to ask ‘what something is for’. What we considered at this stage is the ‘why’ of a thing. What is the why of a table? What is the why of a human being? What is the why of the universe? This can be asked about anything.

Now what interests me and the reason why I am writing this article is because our culture, apart from some Christian’s groups, completely rejects this way of thinking. As a result, we are having all the confusions we currently have in our conception of arts, ethics, traditional understanding of marriage, friendship etc. As soon as we return to this way of thinking, all our confusions and unending arguing everything would make sense. Sadly, not knowing the ultimate why of something does not hamper us from doing the thing, but deep down something fundamental is lacking. For example, even though I may not know what I want to accomplish in writing this article, I can still write an awesome article that speaks to many. It may happen that this article helps someone to see the light, but the disaster it causes later may surpass the few people it reaches. Its disastrous consequence may outdo any good help it may bring. Now someone may say that I could never predict all the consequence of an action, be it an article, a scientific discovery, or a sentence I utter. I agree. Our limited mind can never see all the consequences of an action. However, some of the consequences are so evident, no one can say they could not see them coming.

Thinking teleologically gives shape, meaning, and direction to a story, be it our story, an imaginary story written in a book, or a story heard on the radio or TV. If we turn on the TV for the 5pm news and find a reporter explaining something, would we get the point he is making without knowing why he is telling the story. Had Dante not understood ‘why’ Virgil wanted to take him through hell, purgatory, and heaven, would he actually trust him through these scary roads? Had M. L. King, M. Ghandi not clearly defined their purpose during their respectives civil right movement, would they have accomplished anything? If a business owner does not define his long and short term goals, could he really prevail in this competitive market? Goal/purpose/end defines the direction we go. We don’t go to Europe by going through the North Pole, or the Bermuda triangle. Ask C Columbus, he will tell you that if one wants to reach India, they have a specific direction they need to follow otherwise that person will end up in the Americas. Our society has lost its sense of purpose. As a result, relativism and terrorism rule. It is purpose that helps people to flourish or accomplish ultimate happiness, or leads them closer to the true, the good, and the beautiful. Nothing should be done because we have the capacity to do it. This has been the failure of most scientists in the last century. They believe because they can do something, they must do it. Something should be pursued only if it helps human beings to be more human. Otherwise, it should be abandoned even if we have the means to do.

Do you think our (governments and churches’) plans include elevating the human person to a higher standard of being human?

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Some Reasons We Think Philosophy Impractical and Some Reasons We Are Wrong

Living in a society where capitalism is championed as the best means to economic prosperity has consequences. When a society’s schools focus more on how his students will get a job after graduation while undermining how virtuous that student will become later in life, a science like philosophy cannot be highly regarded trampled over. When we believe that being successful means having a lot of money, while being a good person is undervalued, philosophy of course will be underestimated. When a society values appearance, looks, and sense experience in such a profound magnitude, of course philosophy lost his seat of honor in the house of argumentation. I am not proud to say that philosophy in of itself loses the debate, but it is the sad reality. When a society adopts a distorted view of human nature where it no longer means striving for perfection or excellence, that society has issues. When freedom means having the power to do as one sees fit, of course that society will think that philosophy is futile and needs to be pursued only by those who has no need to pursue an ambitious career. Our society wants to devalue anything that does not bring money and fame. I want to tell those people who think this way, not so fast. Money and fame do not bring the happiness they yearn for in the deepest self. They don’t feel the God shaped vacuum in their heart that can never be filled by the fleeting things f this world. As human beings constructed with a physical and a spiritual nature, we were not made for fame and wealth; we were made to live in communion with Our Creator. Among all the sciences, philosophy and theology provide the quickest means to reach Our Creator’s hands. Therefore, philosophy must not be dismissed. It must not be dismissed because it helps us answer the deep questions of life that we are all concerned about. It is true philosophy students are one of the highest unemployed people in the country, which is again due to our view of it. It is no denial that philosophy is not discussed in our TV stations like history and the sciences. However, when everything is said and done, I mean when we get comfort, a roof over our head, a car, a decent standard of living, the first question we ask in one form or another is what the point of it all is. In absence of religion, philosophy is the first that allows us to ponder this non dismissible question. Relying on a lecture I have attended at Providence College and my own insight, I will give some of the reasons why we think philosophy is not beneficial, and some reasons why we are wrong.

The biggest reason behind our incorrect view of philosophy is due to the deep seated cultural view of life. Most people today think that good looks, wealth, and fame make people happy. Therefore, these aids to happiness are no longer seen as means toward happiness, they are seen as happiness itself. The happy life does not mean living in accordance with virtue and excellence. The happy life simply means following whatever allows one to get rich and famous. So our view is too tied up to one of the means that lead to happiness. Moreover, most people have a distorted view of happiness. They believe that happiness is the satisfaction of our desires. Since philosophers are usually concerned with the deep questions of life while seemingly suggesting little about how people can satisfy their desires, they assign philosophy a red card. So it is out of the game. Despite the fact that philosophy departments in our colleges and universities tout themselves as that which gives the tools to attain the highest thing of life, most students entering college don’t care about majoring in philosophy. Although philosophy majors outperform all majors except math in the GRE test for graduate schools, and have highest acceptance in medical schools, that is still not sufficiently appealing to people. Why do those people prefer a fish to the skill of fishing? Why do students not care about the almost guaranteed tool of success in a career and in life?
The most important factor behind that unfortunate choice is that we are too value-blind and money-oriented. We think we know when we actually don’t know. Value is thus very contingent upon people’s level of education. No one who cares about education, and who is actually educated would think that philosophy is impractical. Value is too contingent upon our subjective view of life. Since our culture rejects all her points of reference, since relativism is so prevalent in the mind of our people, of course we have to confuse the means of life with the end of life. Moreover, we never learn from our mistake and we have no role model. One would think that when it dawns upon us that money and what we value are unsatisfactory and leads us nowhere close to happiness, we would give philosophy a chance; everyone keeps looking away as if there is no past; they refuse to give such a noble path a chance. They suffer and the whole society suffers with them due to their foolish choice. Where has happened to our sense of sacrifice? We need to give up some worthless value in order to rise to our being, or in order to start moving toward our end. We should at least try to let go of things; if doing so makes us less happy, then we can go back to them, but if we become more content in doing so, it is probably the right thing to do and must be pursued further.
Have you noticed since this generation overwhelmingly rejects philosophy, they overwhelmingly reject God and religion? They think there is no such thing as first principles. Even if two ideas are contradictory, they still hold on to it. They only believe in what they cannot dismiss like the law of gravity and sciences; everything else is simply body of opinion. They believe that anything that cannot be proved scientifically is false although they cannot prove that statement themselves. We are not heading the right direction folks. It is time to wake up and realize that as a boat needs a captain, as a country needs a leader, as the body needs the soul and the soul needs the body, as matter needs form and the latter needs matter, so it is with us in relation to philosophy. We need it to trigger our mind to thinking about higher things.
The lecture was given by Dr Kelly, Associate Professor San Diego University on April 2013 at Providence College