Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version



Siena, Kathryn. Biological Teleology in the Modern World. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 2024.


Copyright Kathryn Siena 2024.


In humans, the heart moves blood through the body. Does the heart therefore have a teleological explanation? Aristotelian teleology (described in Aristotle’s Physics) is the cause-for-the-sake-of-which, or the end towards which something moves. It is evident from current scientific knowledge that there is some sort of orientation of organisms toward an end. This orientation, following Aristotle’s definition of teleology, is conceptually distinct from efficient causation. This orientation is also metaphysically distinct from efficient causation because efficient causal explanations do not properly describe the orientation. However, two common ways of describing teleological explanations imply efficient causation as a metaphysical element. One way is by phrasing the teleological explanation as a counterfactual. The second way is by using consequences in the teleological explanation. Teleological explanations should instead be expressed in terms of function. The function of organisms and all of their component systems is to survive. Ultimately, this paper defends the idea that organisms possess an actual teleological orientation toward survival.