On Purpose

Item Information
Item#: 9780691172460
Author Ruse, Michael
Cover Hardback
On Hand 1

A brief, accessible history of the idea of purpose in Western thought, from ancient Greece to the present

Can we live without the idea of purpose? Should we even try to? Kant thought we were stuck with purpose, and even Darwin's theory of natural selection, which profoundly shook the idea, was unable to kill it. Indeed, teleological explanation-what Aristotle called understanding in terms of "final causes"-seems to be making a comeback today, as both religious proponents of intelligent design and some prominent secular philosophers argue that any explanation of life without the idea of purpose is missing something essential.

InOn Purpose, Michael Ruse explores the history of the idea of purpose in philosophical, religious, scientific, and historical thought, from ancient Greece to the present. Accessibly written and filled with literary and other examples, the book examines "purpose" thinking in the natural and human world. It shows how three ideas about purpose have been at the heart of Western thought for more than two thousand years. In the Platonic view, purpose results from the planning of a human or divine being; in the Aristotelian, purpose stems from a tendency or principle of order in the natural world; and in the Kantian, purpose is essentially heuristic, or something to be discovered, an idea given substance by Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection.

On Purposetraces the profound and fascinating implications of these ways of thinking about purpose. Along the way, it takes up tough questions about the purpose of life and whether it's possible to have meaning without purpose, revealing that purpose is still a vital and pressing issue.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Prologue xi

1 Athens 1

2 Jerusalem 23

3 Machines 42

4 Evolution 61

5 Charles Darwin 76

6 Darwinism 91

7 Plato Redivivus 114

8 Aristotle Redivivus 129

9 Human Evolution 153

10 Mind 166

11 Religion 195

12 The End 210

Epilogue 239

Notes 241

Bibliography 267

Index 285