Ethics in Darwin's Melancholy Vision
Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences 2011 Mar; 42(1): 20-9
Darwinian natural selection draws on Malthus' harsh vision of human society to explain how organisms come to be adapted to their environments. Natural selection produces the appearance of teleology, but requires only efficient causal processes: undirected, heritable variation combined with effects of the variations on survival and reproduction. This paper draws a sharp distinction between the resulting form of backwards-directed teleology and the future-directed teleology we ascribe to intentional human activity. Rather than dismiss teleology as mere illusion, the paper concludes with an account of how future-directed teleology came to be a justifiable part of how we understand ourselves.