Classics of Biology

By August Pi Suñer; Charles M. Stern | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
CAUSATION AND DESIGN

FINALITY AND DETERMINISM

EVEN the most primitive view of the world impresses on man a coviction of intent. Since man acts from his own knowledge of objects within his understanding, phenomena are attributed to the intervention of "entities," "entelechies," as conceived from the standpoints of human consciousness and will. The primitive, in time and space, populates things with mystical spirits through whose agency the activity of the whole is maintained.

Such anthropomorphic myths observe events and foresee the consequences whereby their eventual effect will come to pass, finally, in a manner suitable for achieving a particular object in mind. Happenings develop teleologically "in order" to arrive at a particular result, in physical nature and still more so in the more complex sphere of living things, thus causing Aristotle (to mention but one instance) to say "life is not form but objective."

This proves to be no obstacle against even Aristotle himself, among so many other active minds, to assert that knowledge must be based upon the study of tangible events, on a basis of observation and experience, in order to establish by inductive reasoning the causes of such events. The profound ideological revolution which such a proposition signifies should be noted; namely, the endeavour to explain the world by the world itself without the help of myths. Hence we cast aside the symbol of Prometheus who wrested the secret of fire from the gods, attempting to eliminate imaginary deities in favour of an actual explanation of things as they enter our perceptions. If when we achieve some act or do some deed, it comes about through our own will, arbitrarily, and we can likewise not do it, or omit to do it, and if in connection with such act we observe some particular effect which does not occur unless that act be done, we cannot fail to conclude that such deed or act is indeed the cause of the effect, that one occurrence conditions and decides a second, and hence that such causal relationship occurs in acts depending upon ourselves just the same as in those which are outside us.

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