The Tetrast
Sketcher of various interrelated fourfolds.

Telos, entelechy, Aristotle's Four Causes, pleasure, & happiness

June 23, 2013.

Latest significant edit: April 12, 2016.

If, in some everyday sense, ends govern beginnings and means, then in what such sense, if any, do entelechies, i.e., forms in their finality or stability, govern ends (as culminations), means, and beginnings (impetuses)?

In short: I conceive of entelechy as more distinct from end than do Aristotle, C. S. Peirce, and others. As the good, the well, etc., has, in Aquinas's phrase, "the rational character of an end," so (pace Aquinas) the true, the sound, the (fallibilistically) wise, has the rational character of an entelechy; the entelechy pertains to confirmation, disconfirmation, etc. — but of what? — merely of hitting, so to speak, a chosen target? Finally a remark by John Dewey led me to see that one observes, imagines, etc., an entelechy, an actual or potential settled state or legacy, in order to check not only whether one has hit or would hit a pre-designated target, but also whether the end, targeted as good, really has been or would be good, or bad instead, or better or worse, etc., in light of unintended consequences, conflicts of values, etc. From that standpoint, an entelechy is a structure supporting, checking, and balancing the involved impetuses, means, ends, and sub-entelechies too. Hedonism focuses on the end (telos) and ignores the entelechy; I don't know whether anybody has said that before. ■

My ideas on entelechy and the Four Causes diverge in some ways from tradition. General references:

In old posts on this blog I have discussed an expansion of the means-end dichotomy to a tetrachotomy:
1. Beginning, impetus.
2. Middle, means, resource, development.
3. End, telos, culmination, actualization.
4. "Check," standing-finished, entelechy. (Not absolute finishedness or retirement from evolution or learning.)

They have a nice regularity and completeness, non-eclectically paralleling the four possible turns of being or becoming: commencing, continuing, ceasing, and refraining. (Still, it's just a simplistic link-up of ideas requiring flexibility and, in some sense, recursiveness. For biological example and as Stephen Jay Gould argued somewhere, not every organism's final stage should be regarded as its only adult stage.)

Said parallel was what guided me, in thinking also of Aristotle's Four Causes, to the idea of a fourth stage beyond beginning, middle, end, a "checkedness" stage (long before I started my blogs). Eventually I correlated it to the idea of form and, in particular, form as structure, a more or less stable (and thus relatively final) balance of forces or motions; not form as appearance or look (original meaning of Latin species and Greek eidos). After a while longer I learned that my idea of that stage might correspond more or less to Aristotle's idea of entelechy (pronounced en-TEL-eh-kee).

I correlated the four stages one-to-one with Aristotle's Four Causes (after some dithering on my part) and eventually with such things as modalities (in a broadened sense) and processes; levels of concrete phenomena; and human causal capacities:

Summary of some analogies and correlations
# Teleological term. Aristotelian
(with somewhat
revised principles — agent, patient, act, borne).
Correlated modality. Associated kind of processes. Analogous level of
concrete phenomena.
Analogous causal principle of the psyche,
—along with some notable modes, & excellences.
1. Beginning, impetus. Efficient cause
(more or less forceful agent as cause).
Optima & feasibles. Decision processes. Forces, motion. Volition, conation.
—Struggle / striving; & strength (of character), dedication.
(Psyche as agent).
2. Middle, means, resource, development. Matter, material
(more or less enduring patient, bearer, allower, fosterer, as cause).
Probabilities. Stochastic processes. Physical matter,
physical material process.
Ability, handling, etc. (psychomotor, mental, social, etc.)
—Practice; & skill.
(Psyche as patient, bearer, allower, fosterer; like Latin patiens insofar as it diverges from Greek páschonta (from páschô) which it usually translates).
3. End, culmination, actualization, etc. End, telos
(more or less vigorous act as cause).
Information, news. Communicational & control / cybernetic processes. Life. Affectivity (in the broad sense of any feeling of good or bad, i.e., sentiment, emotion, pleasure, pain, desire, etc.)
—Valuing; & sensibility, appreciation, devotion.
(Psyche as acted-on, undergoing).
4. Entelechy, standing-finished. Form
(more or less stable borneness, balance, as cause).
Bas(is)es, givens, data, etc. Inference processes. Mind. Cognition.
—Assessing as to lessons; & (fallibilistic) knowledge ('ruling' arts, productive arts/sciences, affective arts, and theoretically-oriented sciences, maths, etc.).
(Psyche as borne, balanced).

Life at the vegetable-organismic level is distinguished by its being governed by species-level standards of functionality, a kind of telos. (I don't mean retroactive causation by an end; I just mean the ways in which an organism's character depends on biological functions or "purposes," dependences that help explain the organism's character to us.) But what about smart living things? I have thought that, in a living mind, cognition of an expected or imagined final form or structure, like a legacy, is involved — one has an idea of how one will verify (in the legacy of side effects, after-effects, etc.) that one has achieved one's goal. The issue of verifiability of having hit a chosen target tends to influence one's choice of target. Eventually I came to see this as a matter of not just of verification, but of learning lessons with potentially broader applications (potential learnings as influencing the choice of target).

Still, I got stuck in trying to think of how these understandings influence goals themselves in general, not only via desire for lessonfully verifiable outcomes but as goals per se — not only knowledge goals, and not only one's means for reaching one's goals (i.e., not only verifiability that it was by the intended means that one hit the target). How would final forms, final states, come more fully into their own as ways to explain things about living minds likewise as ends, functions, actualizations, help explain things about organisms generally? This was my biggest brain glitch ever; I missed the key staring me in the face.

For example, identifying entelechy with form, especially final form (as is more or less traditional), I fretted about the dictum that form follows function, i.e., that form is a means to the end of function, in which cases form is just another means or resource and not fully a cause in its own right, whereas my guiding idea has been that for each of the Four Causes there is a concrete level or sphere where it comes into its own as an explanatory cause. The same problem arises if one classifies final form simply as a further telos, i.e., a further or more detailed culmination, end, or goal. (Note that the distinction between final and pre-final forms is no more over-nuanced than the distinction between the matter out of which a thing is made and the matter in which a thing consists.) Anyway, eventually my focus drifted to other aspects of my four-ist "project."

Now, one can think of a structure as an organization, i.e., a division (and coordination) of labor. So far, that seems only a guidance of means. Finally an idea of John Dewey's helped things fall into place for me. Dewey is quoted in the following passage from "Limited Horizons: The Habitual Basis of the Imagination" by Jason Hills in Transactions v. 48, n. 1:

In Dewey's words, structure is "a character of events…. A set of traits is called a structure because of its limiting function in relation to other traits of events" (LW 1:64). A significance of a structure is that it determines the telos of an activity or complex of activities.

At Hills's blog Immanent Transcendence I said in a comment:

[....] The imagined entelechy, the imagined potential legacy-structure, pertains furthermore to questions of whether the good that one seeks would really turn out to be good at all.

That's the key. Misusing the word "teleiosis" to emphasize telos as culmination, I went on to say:

Therefore as organization the entelechical structure guides the ends, the means, and the beginnings wherein one decided to pursue the ends in the first place. Now, insofar as the traditional idea of _telos_ seems closer to teleiosis, a culminal action, than to entelechy, hedonism seems a ditch hard to escape. But in fact hedonism focuses on only one aspect of _telos_. It focuses on teleiosis and ignores entelechy. [....]

Think. In other words, as Aretha Franklin sings, "Think!" Note that the freedom about which she sings (click for the lyrics) is not just the freedom, for cinematic example, of her man to quit their restaurant and go play with the Blues Brothers, but the freedom to THINK and make a thoughtful choice rather than acting automatically on impulse. (In the movie he walks off the job anyway, with comically contrarian directness.)

The entelechy, the final form, is a structure of supports, checks, and balances. It also guides or influences the (already telos-limiting) structure in which one is already operating.

Note, I'm not saying that thinking and recognizing are the key to everything. There are also to fight, work, and love. For every key—a season and harmonies. Usually like dimensions, all at once in varying proportions:
1. Struggle/striving & strength (of character), dedication.—Conflict, competition, etc. ("So be it?!").
2. Practice & skill—Facilitation, co-operation, etc. ("So be it.").
3. Valuing & sensibility, appreciation, devotion.—Community, distinctively shared values ("Is it?!").
4. Cognitively assessing & (fallibilistic) knowledge.—Systems (such as knowledge disciplines) of checks & balances and (structural) supports ("It is.").

By learning and imagination of entelechies, one can consider unintended consequences, develop general values, and deal with conflicts among values — those affairs about which Plato's Socrates dialogued so much. Psychologists and philosophers aren't the only people interested in the question of what is well-being or, in that sense, happiness (a further question is that of happiness as one's feeling or appreciation of well-being). One addresses questions of well-being in all learning's basic forms:
1. Struggle as trial & error, and variation.
2. Practice & repetition.
3. Valuation & emulation​/​replication (better known as identification & imitation).
4. Assessment (as to lessons) & testing (the reasoning process, inquiry).

Moreover, all causation that works through the imagined, expected, believed, known, etc. (e.g., as in economic affairs), is entelechiacal causation channeled through cognition. Even biological evolution, as a quasi-learning process of trial and error, involves an entelechiacal influence, as stands out for example in convergent evolution. Again, I use the word "causation" in an Aristotelian sense, NOT in the sense of retroactive efficient causation. Biological evolution has arranged for us to be able to let ourselves be determined by what will be, what would be, etc. I feel diffident about discussing things like "emergent properties." I'll just say that, if you believe that all causation is mechanical, then you believe that mechanical causation can arrange for ink marks on paper to depend actually on an expansion of π to a huge number of digits; and you believe that your mechanical causation can arrange for you to be determined, by real things, real possibilities, and even real indeterminacies, to truths about them and their possibilities and indeterminacies. That determination to truth is what I'm discussing.

I went on in that comment at Hills's blog to say that, thanks to entelechy, an intelligent eudaemonism beats a silly hedonism, but I didn't know that "eudaemonism" generally rejects the relevance of feeling, affectivity. I don't see how one can have well-being if one doesn't properly 'feel' and appreciate the good; it's not that well-being consists purely in feeling good (it doesn't), and it's not only that, indeed, well-being devoid of any kind of good feeling would starve the spirit and thus not be well-being; it's also that affectivity helps guide and spur one as to good and bad. If one simply doesn't care about anything, one will not gain or keep well-being, except maybe in some overly narrow sense and by hardly believable luck. On the other hand, by intelligence one can cultivate improved affective appreciations. Thus with good logic may one self-sacrifice for others; in one sense it is a sacrifice; in the sense of love it may involve a trade-off, yet finally not a sacrifice — I mean, not the kind of sacrifice that some have a way of demanding when they contrive to rob you blind or worse.

Hedonism's tunnelvisionary focus on culminal pleasure is bound to divorce the good from the pleasure itself. It concentrates on the feeling of good; it concentrates on sensory pleasure as a reward drug, which it partly is. Hedonism increases one's vulnerability to manipulation by oneself or others, just as belief that only the perceptually familiar is real increases one's vulnerability to deception by oneself or others. Nothing is more typical of affectivity than sensory affectivity, especially sensory pleasure and pain, so that is where hedonism, focused on telos as actualization, culmination, leads. We have these affective capacities built into us to keep us focused on survival, reproduction, etc. But we also have the inborn capacity to improve on these, to consider consequences, and to look to final forms, end states, entelechies — supposed, expected, noticed, remembered — to help determine, guide, influence (I don't mean create absolutely and ex nihilo) our impetuses, decisions, and rules, our means and methods, and our goals, appreciations, and values.

This is not to say that the good is generically an entelechy. Rather, the good has the rational character of an end as a fulfillment, an attaining of fulfillment, a culmination (which may be ongoing, not just a one-time event), as guided by entelechy (also possibly ongoing, evolving in its feasibility, probability, etc.). Happiness in the sense of well-being, including healthy appreciations, is, at least generically, an end (telos), not an entelechy. The true or valid or sound has the rational character of an entelechy. A kind of firmness or groundedness of one's being, including soundly based true cognitions, is, at least generically, an entelechy, not an end or culmination. In particular, a true-seeming cognition is not automatically a sound entelechy. This is likewise as a feeling or emotion that "feels good" is not automatically a good end or culmination.

1. The strong, forceful, etc., has the rational character of a beginning, an impetus.

2. The apt, suitable, resource-rich, etc., has the rational character of a middle, a means.
∞ 3. The good, well, healthy, vibrant, has the rational character of an end, a (possibly ongoing) culmination.

4. The univocal / consistent, true, valid, sound, (fallibilistically) wise has the rational character of an entelechy, a having-in-completeness, a standing-finished (by which, again, I don't mean absolute finality or retirement from evolution or learning).

Note: I cannibalized from this post in a 9/19/2013 message to peirce-l.

Note: "Having-in-completeness" is one of Joe Sachs's translations (another is "being-at-an-end") of entelecheia, in the "Energeia and Entelecheia" section of his article "Aristotle (384-322 BCE): Motion and its Place in Nature" in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. A traditional interpretation of entelechy, written entirely or mostly by C. S. Peirce, appears in the Century Dictionary:

entelechy (en-tel´e-ki), n. [ L. entelechia, Gr. ἐντελέχεια, actuality, ἐν τέλει ἔχειν, be complete (cf. ἐντελής, complete, full): ἐν, in; dat. of τέλος, end, completion; ἔχειν, have, hold, intr. be.] Realization: opposed to power or potentiality, and nearly the same as energy or act (actuality). The only difference is that entelechy implies a more perfect realization. The idea of entelechy is connected with that of form, the idea of power with that of matter. Thus, iron is potentially in its ore, which to be made iron must be worked; when this is done, the iron exists in entelechy. The development from being in posse or in germ to entelechy takes place, according to Aristotle, by means of a change, the imperfect action or energy, of which the perfected result is the entelechy. Entelechy is, however, either first or second. First entelechy is being in working order; second entelechy is being in action. [.... See full definition at link.]

Joe Sachs holds that Aristotle holds that entelechy exists only in, through, and during the "activity" and "expenditure of effort" required to maintain it. One discerns at length that Sachs has Aristotle seeing even a static opposition of forces (a rock pushing downward against the seabed) as involving energeia, activity, whereas nowadays a static opposition of forces is seen, in simple cases at least, as involving potential energy rather than energy being expended, work being done. On the other hand, the example of the rock against the seabed is oddly complicated; maybe we're meant to understand that the rock has not yet come to rest and is still making a little downward progress against the seabed's resistance, with a corresponding expenditure of energy. In that case maybe Sachs is correct and Aristotle's conception of entelechy excludes static final structures and is hence less broad than it has traditionally seemed.

A little more on ends as determinants of means. As C. S. Peirce points out (in MS 634, Sept. 1909, pages 23–28), it is through the mind that prospective ends can work like agents. At the vegetable level, it is through biological evolution that ends or functions help govern the means of organisms. At the material level, thermodynamic decay seems the general end (thanks to the probabilities involved) and, at the mechanical level (outside of General Relativity), conservation of certain quantities seems the general end (thanks to the extremal or optimizational principles involved), and there seems nothing retroactively agentlike about either of those two ends when sufficiently well understood (say physicists; the math is beyond me, but I'm quite willing to believe them on this).

Questions. Does my way of distinguishing between end and entelechy correspond closely or only approximately to Aristotle's distinction between energeia and entelechia, and, likewise, to Aquinas's distinction between the agent cause's end (activity) and the matter's end (form)? Update September 5, 2013: I should add here that I mistakenly thought that I could use the word "teleiosis" to emphasize end as completion, culmination, etc., but have learned that Aristotle used that word to mean something more like development toward an end. The Ancient Greek word teleute won't suffice either. The word telos itself already meant, first of all, end in the sense of reaching an end, the attainment of fulfillment, according to the online dictionaries at Perseus-Tufts. Accordingly I've made corrections throughout this post. End of update.

Peircean pragmatism. My idea of entelechy, especially the renovated version that is the subject of the present post, plainly crosses paths with C. S. Peirce's pragmatic maxim, first published in 1878:

Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.

By the phrase "crosses paths" I imply that my ideas still end up at a different place than Peirce's ideas do. To some extent that is true, but I'm not sure to what extent.

A difference between Socratic and Peircean foresight and imagination as to consequences and legacies, is that Peirce focused more on potential goods than on the potential ills and conflicts that concern so much of the Socratic dialogues.

A ball rolls, but a cube sits, on a slightly inclined plane. Is that not formal causation? It is mechanical causation 'by forms' but not formal causation in Aristotle's sense (and it is quite traditional to see forms as also acting as agent causes into the future). In the Aristotelian sense, a thing's formal cause is, most simply put, the thing's form, period, full stop, not some previous structure that mechanically produced the thing.

(The word 'cause' is redundant in speaking of material, final, and formal causes. Matter, end, and form are causes. The word 'cause' isn't quite redundant in the phrase "efficient cause," but chiefly linguistic are the reasons that we don't call it 'the efficient' or 'the effector'. On the other hand, the phrase 'agent cause', synonymous with 'efficient cause' or 'effector', involves no redundancy; likewise 'patient cause', which refers to the matter or ingredients).

More generally, such things as balls rolling while cubes sit are sometimes taken as "geometrical" or "mathematical" causation; the form, or the mathematical structure, helps explain the phenomenon, even if it is not formal causation, or that which would be mathematical causation, in an Aristotelian sense. In fact, mechanical phenomena are always explained with the help of geometry, just ask Galileo. Motions and forces have directions, etc. Still, what about the mathematicality of form and structure? Is a thing's form simply its mathematicality (whatever that means?)? Aristotle said that the ratio of different kinds of ingredient in a thing is part of the form or formal cause. It is sometimes said that mathematics studies structures. It is also said to study relations in a general sense that includes operations and functions (called "morphisms" in mathematical category theory), not to mention relations, e.g. antiderivatives, that go from one set of values to many sets of values, and relations that go from many sets of values to many sets of values. So which is it, structures or some abstract sort of doings? If that choice comes down to splitting a hair, then splitting what hair?

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