New paper published in Synthese: Mossio, M. & Bich, L. “What makes biological organisation teleological?”

What makes biological organisation teleological?


This paper argues that biological organisation can be legitimately conceived of as an intrinsically teleological causal regime. The core of the argument consists in establishing a connection between organisation and teleology through the concept of self-determination: biological organisation determines itself in the sense that the effects of its activity contribute to determine its own conditions of existence. We suggest that not any kind of circular regime realises self-determination, which should be specifically understood as self-constraint: in biological systems, in particular, self-constraint takes the form of closure, i.e. a network of mutually dependent constitutive constraints. We then explore the occurrence of intrinsic teleology in the biological domain and beyond. On the one hand, the organisational account might possibly concede that supra-organismal biological systems (as symbioses or ecosystems) could realise closure, and hence be teleological. On the other hand, the realisation of closure beyond the biological realm appears to be highly unlikely. In turn, the occurrence of simpler forms of self-determination remains a controversial issue, in particular with respect to the case of self-organising dissipative systems.

The final publication is available at Springer via:

The preprint is available here


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  • "To say that a system is complex […] is to say that we can describe the same system in a variety of distinct ways […]. Therefore a system is simple to the extent that a single description suffices to account for our interaction with the system; it is complex to the extent that it fails to be true." (Robert Rosen, 1978)
  • “Complexity is not an intrinsic property of a system nor of a system description. Rather, it arises from the number of ways in which we are able to interact with the system. Thus, complexity is a function not only of the system’s interactive capabilities, but of our own”
    (Robert Rosen, 1985)

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