I am posting a paper (click here) I have been playing with for a little while. I generally don’t post anything that I might publish, but, with some added input and further vision in formulating it, I may be able to turn this into something worth publishing. The essence of the paper is on vitalism and how teleology has not been stripped out of the original nascent formation (i.e., romantische Naturphilosophie) of the biological discipline. The paper grew out of my reading of Timothy Lenoir’s The Strategy of Life: Teleology and Mechanics in nineteenth-Century German Biology. In an instance of virtual eidetic memory, I recalled a very small blip from a book by Henry Margenau, which commented on the teleological nature of the principle of least action, which is principle that governs the evolution of physical systems. Lenoir’s book proposes that Hermann von Helmholtz represented a point in history in which physio-chemical reduction advanced to the point of completely doing away with teleology. However, as I explain in the paper, that’s not so; in fact, Helmholtz, at best naturalized teleology by way of sewing the physical principle into chemical and biological systems.
I didn’t want to write a paper attacking Lenoir, just because Lenoir’s book has been beaten from pillar to post, over that past three decades. Then again, I am not sure there is an equally sufficient and well-motivated way to develop this paper. My alternative —a extraordinary expenditure of time— is to write the history of biology and the transformation of vis viva, its conflation and semi-merger with the liebenige kraft (and so on), and then stitch the philosophy into the historical narrative to bring full context to the philosophical development. Rounding out the paper would involve delving deeper into Helmholtz’ technical works on chemistry, etc. to illustrate the institution of the principle of least action. It would be quite an involved process, rereading and organizing the mountain of texts I have gone through (e.g., Lotz’, Roux, du Bois Reymond, Müller, and so on).
One additional point I have to make, being a philosopher of physics, is that the teleological component of the paper is contingent upon the nature of time and causality, the former being crucial. For instance, if the world is structured as block universe, then there is no teleology (all within the paper accepted). I don’t just mention this for the sake of completeness, but for stimulation, as I think what comes out of this paper —the conclusion regarding teleology persisting in biology— could have a broader impact on the philosophy of physics.
Feel free to supply any suggestions on possible approaches I can take with the paper, suggestions on structure or narrative, or even email me if you’d like a Word doc version to supply comprehensive remarks, etc.