That title is an attention grabber isn’t it?
But as you will see it is entirely relevant to our discussion concerning why the question “Does Nature Act For and End?” is a very interesting question. (See reason #2 below!)
So as promised here are the four reasons (although there are certainly many others)
- The Natural scientist and indeed everyone who would like to know something about the natural world needs to be interested in this question because as we all know, in everything we do, every enterprise we undertake, every game we play, trip we make, endeavor we make, we need to first consider what the point of it is. What is the goal? What is the point?
Well it turns out that Science is about knowing why things are the way they are. And that which explains “why something is the way it is” is obviously “the cause” or causes. When we know “the causes,” then we know “the why.”
So therefore the scientist who wishes to know why things are the way they are must consider whether nature, when it produces things, produces them for an end. He must ask whether nature has a reason for producing the things that it does, because if it does then this will be a cause and therefore a key in understanding things in nature.
Now, this might appear quite obvious. But consider this as well, Aristotle asserts that the “final cause” (i.e. that for the sake of which something is… or is done) is not just one of the four causes that he describes in his book on nature, but the final cause is the “causa causarum,” the cause of causes! What he means by this is that if one understands the end for which something is done, he will then be in a position to understand why the thing is composed out of what it is composed out of, he will understand why it is arranged the way it is arranged, and he will be able to understand the nature and character of the one who makes the thing.
2. The question “Does nature act for an end?” is very significant for the Ethicist and for everyone who is living? Why? Well simply because Ethics makes absolutely no sense if Nature does not act for an end!
Another way of putting it is this. Virtue and “virtuous living” means obtaining a habit and living life in accordance with our nature. But this assumes that nature acts for an end.
Do you see what I mean here? If nature has produced our minds and our bodies (and it has…I mean, we were not produced by some artificial process were we?) then the question is did nature produce our minds and our bodies for some reason? If there is a reason like, for example, to gain knowledge or to possess health and fitness, then clearly a whole set of virtues or good habits arises-namely the habits that enable us to perform actions which help us to obtain these ends.
But if nature had no point in producing our minds and our bodies…then we are absolutely unconstrained to behave in any determinate way…we could act according to whim or fancy with impunity. Ethics disappears along with the norms of decent human behavior.
In other words each person needs to consider the question “does nature act for an end?” because otherwise he will simply not know what to do with himself!
I think this is an excellent reason. If nature has produced man for some end, then a whole life of activity to reach that end results. One simply has to sit down and start thinking about the best way to proceed. What habits should I form that will enable me to live a life in accordance with my nature? Voila …Ethics!
So imagine asking some freshmen in college “does nature act for an end?” If he says “No” or “I don’t know” then it follows that he will simply have no idea what to do with himself?
And if I come along and say “well I think you would serve my interests very well as a door stop.” What would he respond except that perhaps he may not want to. But then it becomes simply a question of who is the stronger.
On the other hand, the one who thinks nature acts for an end, might have a very good chance at making the case that a human being is not meant to serve as a door stop but is rather suited for some other more elevated purpose.
Important question to ask and answer!
3. Does nature act for an end is a significant question for the artist or artisan…but most especially for the one who practices an art whose aim is to help nature.
The arts are divided into two sorts. One sort, we used to call the mechanical arts, are concerned with producing things that are useful for men, such things as chairs and tables or spoons and automobiles and many other things. The other kind of art has to do with those who are trying to find ways to help nature, for example doctors and farmers and midwives.
One does not ordinarily say that the ‘chair maker’ is trying to help the tree grow a chair. As far as I know a tree is not trying to make chairs (except of course for maybe the cherry tree!)
But the midwife and the framer are definitely attempting to aid nature in what it is already trying to do. These are special arts for this reason.
But consider, what if nature is not trying to do anything? What if nature is not acting for some purpose?
Well then, the doctor is then free to practice medicine, not in a way that aids and helps nature, but rather in any way that suits his interests or the interests of his employer or the state. Scary!
4. Well, you probably saw this one coming. The question “does nature act for an end?” is important for the Theologian.
It doesn’t take long to see that if nature acts for an end then it does so because of some intelligence. This is the principle sign of intelligence, namely ordered activity. That is what mind does. It orders. Reason loves order and making order.
But one who considers nature finally figures out that nature does not act for an end because it (i.e. nature) has a mind of its own.
Therefore one might consider that if nature acts for an end but not because it has a mind of its own, therefore it acts for end because of some other intelligence or mind.
And thus one sees that this whole consideration might lead the Theologian to a very powerful argument towards the existence of God.
So in short, to be brief, let me state, without undue repetition, that the question “does nature act for an end?” is a very significant question!