Modernity is marked by the reduction of causes to efficient causes, and the elimination of final causation, of teleology or purpose.Final causes are not so easily eliminated, Hart argues (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 78-9).

Our experience is not “an immediate perception of phenomena - appearances, that is - which come to us directly through our senses, but through sensations as interpreted by thought, under the aspect of organizing eidetic patterns. We do not encounter the material substrate of things, but only the intelligible forms of things, situated within an interdependent universe of intelligible forms, everywhere governed by purposes: organic, artificial, moral, aesthetic, social, and so forth.” We encounter hammers and iPhones and staircases, which are all for something, their uses and purposes built into their very existence as things.

What, Hart asks, is a chess game? Even if it is possible to reduce every aspect of the game “without remainder to molecules and electrical impulses and so on,” still that does not add up to the game. That ensemble of things and forces has to be “organized to an end by higher forms of causality.” They exist as a game of chess because each bit and force that make it up are directed to an end, which is the game itself. Purpose is intertwined in the hardware of the thing, rather than an external imposition of will on an ensemble of forces and things that is notitself the game of chess. Purpose is ontological, not voluntarist.

More on: History, Philosophy

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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