Against Formal Causation in Non-Conscious Nature

Ward, Arthur
The problem of natural teleology in biology has traditionally focused on reconciling Aristotle’s efficient and final causation. In this paper, however I emphasize the importance of formal causation in natural teleological explanations and suggest that undermining its legitimacy is a backdoor route to undermining natural teleology itself. Formal causation, I argue, represents the “phenotype” of an object, to use a familiar word from genetics. This means that formal causes specify not only intrinsic “genotypic” qualities of an object but also a range of environments in which the object is “properly” to inhabit. Such environmental specificity is possible through conscious activity, but is not found anywhere in non-conscious nature.