THE PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE: A brief introduction to cosmology
Adapted from various sources and edited
by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.
Part Four: The Fact of Finality in the Bodily World
Finality is final tendency or teleological tendency; it is tendency towards an end, a purpose, a goal.
That bodies exercise such tendency is manifest. Bodies tend to hold on to existence, each in its own nature and order, and existence is surrendered only to compelling forces of destruction which come from other bodies. Among living bodies, the tendency to grow, to attain a rounded maturity and fruitfulness, is evident to anyone who ever planted a garden or noticed the development of animals or of children. No one denies that things in this bodily world tend to proper and proportionate ends. But some persons deny that this tendency is the manifestation of a purpose, of a design; they deny that this tendency is something intended by the Creator, and that it points on to an ultimate end. Against these we assert the theory of full finality, of end intended, of an ultimate end of the world. (When? Who knows!)
THE ULTIMATE END OF THE WORLD
By the word “end,” in its present use, we mean no simple termination, no finishing and nothing more. We mean purpose, goal, end-in-view. The phrase “the ultimate end of the world” means the final purpose for which the world is made and for which it exists and towards the fulfillment of which it constantly tends. That there is such an end can be shown by establishing the fact of design or plan in the world of bodies; for design or plan is a rational means of reaching an end, a purpose, and, in last analysis, an ultimate purpose or end.
In this world, natural bodies exhibit a true intrinsic finality, for they cling to their being and their nature, and they manifest activity that is consistent, constant, uniformly proportionate to the active nature of the body in each case. The intrinsic finality or tendency of bodies is for what is good for them: self-preservation, quest of food, permanence of their kind through generation or reproduction.
In a secondary way, bodies tend towards what is good for other bodies, as by the abundance of fruits and seeds, few of which can cause reproduction but which serve as food for plants, animals, and men, and which impress reasoning creatures (that is, in the bodily world, human beings) with the great generosity of the Giver of good gifts. Now, this intrinsic finality of bodies is certainly the result of a plan, and of a plan which comes of intelligence, and ultimately of Supreme Intelligence.
The finality of natural bodies, and their magnificent structure which fits them admirably for their connatural activities, are incontrovertible evidence of design and of ultimate intelligence, and so of Ultimate End. Nor can imperfections in bodies be alleged as an argument against design or finality. For imperfections cannot be recognized as such unless by a mind which has the grasp of a standard, by a mind which knows what perfection in the case means; for an imperfection is a falling short of a recognized perfection, that is, of a recognized design, plan, and purpose. You cannot know what imperfect eyesight is unless you have knowledge of what perfect eyesight is. Imperfections are a proof of perfection, that is of the standard. When a person objects that such or such a body falls short of perfection, he acknowledges the existence of the standard of perfection and the normal tendency of a body to attain it.
There is, then, in this world of bodies a finality, a drive towards a certain perfection, a tendency towards a goal or end. Now, ends are often like steps in a stairway, one is subordinate to another. But none of the steps has any meaning at all except in view of the last step. It is the ultimate end which gives meaning to all subordinate ends. Wherever there is a series of connected ends, there is an ultimate end.
The ultimate end of the world must be the end established by the creator; it must be the creator’s purpose in creating. And since end means good, the ultimate end must be the ultimate good, the complete fulfillment of every tendency to good. It must be the Limitless and Necessary Good Itself. In a word, it must be God.
Notice another conclusive argument for the truth that God is the ultimate end of all creatures. God is infinite wisdom; he therefore acts for a most worthy end. But before creation (to speak in imperfect human terms) there is no actuality except God alone; there is nothing that could serve as an end except God himself. Therefore God creates all creatures for himself; God is their ultimate end.
The nature of a thing means its working essence. But in our present use of this term we mean general nature, we mean all bodily substances (since cosmology speaks only of bodies) inasmuch as these produce or undergo effect. We mean the active world around us: the air, the clouds, the running streams, the minerals, the growing plants, the singing birds, the thinking men. We mean all bodily substances as active.
Each natural body has its normal structure and its normal type of activity. All bodies, — man (in his moral or responsible conduct) excepted, — act as they do by necessity. Observing bodies and their structure and activity, we notice their constancy and consistency. We find that water runs downhill, that bodies tend towards the center of the earth, that plants tend to grow to maturity and fruitfulness, that fire burns dry wood, that water is H2O. Such facts and occurrences are not random or occasional, but invariable when bodies are left in their normal condition. We make a record of our constant experience of what bodies are and of what they normally do. We set down such records in physical and chemical formulas. We call them physical laws. What we really mean in calling our record of constant experience by the name of law is this: the Creator, in creating bodies, has manifestly imposed upon them, with their physical structure, a definite range of activity; he has given to natural bodies the law of their being and their doing.
The constant mode of action of the universe in its larger parts (interplanetary attraction, coherency of solar systems, activities in interstellar space such as cosmic radiation) is expressed in formulas called cosmic laws. The constant mode of being and of action of earthly bodies is expressed in formulas called physical laws. Both cosmic laws and physical laws are called natural laws or laws of nature. We must be very careful to make a clean distinction between natural laws and the natural law; for the natural law (always with an article) means the eternal law for human conduct inasmuch as this is knowable to sound human reason. In a word, the natural law is the naturally knowable moral law. On the other hand, natural laws (or laws of nature) are cosmic laws and physical laws which necessitate (inasmuch as they are ordinances of the Creator) the activity of bodies as such, but have no concern with the free-will acts of man.
The harmony of nature so charmed the ancient Greeks that some of them, — notably the Pythagoreans, — considered it the very essential of bodily reality, and so declared that the one suitable name for the bodily world is cosmos or “the beautiful” or “the well ordered.” This harmony is noticed in individual natures too, in the complexity and balance of their parts, in their remarkable fitness for their proper activities. But it is in the larger sense that we consider the harmony of nature; we take it as a suitable arrangement of bodies in the material world for their seemly mutual activities in view of their common ultimate end. This world-harmony we call the order of nature. The working out of the order of nature, or the actual exercise of natural laws, we call the course of nature.
The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.
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