Teleological Concept of Nature

Aristotle employed the teleological approach to explain the world. The adjective teleological is derived from the Greek word telos which means ‘aim’. The teleological approach was used until the middle ages. It was largely abandoned in scientific discourse in favour of causal analysis.

However, as Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) argued in his Critique of Pure Reason, normal scientific discourse must be enhanced if one wishes to understand life, for living things cannot be explained purely mechanically but must be interpreted teleologically, i.e. one must ask, what is it for? In everyday life we ask, What is the nectar in apple blossoms for? The proximate answer is because the “nectar attracts bees which pollinate the flower. The nectar fulfils a certain purpose for the living thing. In this vein, we want to bring the question what is it for? back into scientific discourse: What is the purpose of nature? What is the purpose of life?” (Faber/Manstetten 2010: 85). Mainstream Economics views nature only as an environment that is used as a supplier of resources and a receiver of waste and pollution from economic activity, be it extraction, production or consumption.

In contrast, Ecological Economics has developed a teleological concept of nature which allows us to formulate a concept of nature so encompassing as to enable us to develop a conceptual basis for Ecological Economics.

This concept reintroduces the teleological approach to generate new perspectives and fruitful questions to help secure the foundation of natural life. Since this concept is purely theoretical one, it does not give a practical example.

Key Contributers: Dale AdamsReiner Manstetten