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Aristotle on Teleology$
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Monte Ransome Johnson

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199285303

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0199285306.001.0001

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Teleology and Elements

Teleology and Elements

(p.131) 5 Teleology and Elements
Aristotle on Teleology

Monte Ransome Johnson

Oxford University Press

Did Aristotle consider the properties of the elements to be teleologically explicable? According to some commentators, he did not, but considered these to operate according to material, moving, or mechanical causes. According to others, he did, and this is evidence of his commitment to an “overall” or “global” teleology. Both of the positions are wrong. Aristotle did consider each of the elements teleologically explicable, but he considered the beneficiaries of their properties and motions to be the elements themselves. This is relatively clear in the case of ether, the element that composes the heavenly bodies: it has a simple motion in a circle, which is a manifestation of the intelligence of the extra-terrestrial bodies. But the other elements are included in a cycle of transmutation that guarantees their perpetual existence. This is a benefit to them according to the axiom: it is better to exist than not exist. Thus, rainfall is a necessary and cyclical process (happening completely independently of the needs of living things), but it is also somehow benefits the elements that are transformed in the process, for in so doing they complete cycles that resemble or imitate the eternal cycles of the heavenly bodies.

Keywords:   elements, matter, ether, stars, celestial, terrestrial, meteorology, transformation, anthropocentric, rainfall

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