Colloquium Series

Colloquium: James Lennox (University of Pittsburgh)

Fri May 26th 2023, 3:30 - 5:30pm
90-92Q and via Zoom

Title: Organisms, Agency, and Aristotle

Abstract: There is a tension at the heart of Aristotle’s understanding of those powers and activities unique to organisms, and one interesting dimension along which one can range interpretations of Aristotle’s teleology concerns how interpreters choose to resolve it.  That tension manifests itself in two intimately related, yet distinct, features of Aristotle’s philosophical discussions of teleological causation: his constant appeals to the productive activities of craftsmen in explaining teleological processes; and the regular use of normative language to characterize the goals of such processes. There is, I maintain, an analogous tension in recent defenses of biological teleology.

This talk will thus divide quite naturally into two parts: I will first characterize the tension I have in mind in Aristotle’s natural philosophy and briefly outline two distinct ways to resolve the tension illustrated by two esteemed interpreters of Aristotle’s teleology–David Charles and Allan Gotthelf.  I will then switch gears and turn to a number of recent discussions of organic activity, with two aims in view: [i] to show that there are tensions in these discussions that are analogous to those in Aristotle and [ii] to draw on my understanding of the disagreements between Charles and Gotthelf to lay out a way forward in resolving these tensions that can be reasonably characterized as Aristotelian.

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