Teleology and the Dispositional Theory of Causation in Thomas Aquinas

Schmid, Stephan
Thomas Aquinas is known for having endorsed the view that in our universe everything strives for a certain purpose. According to him not only rational agents act for the sake of specific ends, but every active substance (as animals and elements) does. It is this claim I reconstruct and discuss in this paper. I argue that it is based on Aquinas’ understanding of causality which is best –or so I suggest– conceived as a dispositional theory of causation. However, Aquinas does not only provide a natural philosophical account of natural teleology. Rather, he substantiates this account by embedding the phenomenon of natural teleology into a monotheistic framework. As I will point out, this move leads to a severe tension in Aquinas’ theory of natural teleology and ultimately threatens to deprive him of his ability to account for the natural substances’ intrinsic teleology.