“Purpose” in science and morality

IMG_0018A New video in the ongoing Kaufman-Pigliucci series is out, this one on the question of whether teleology, the idea that things have a “purpose” in the strong Aristotelian sense of the word, still makes sense in light of modern science and philosophy.

We begin our discussion by examining various meanings of “purpose” in science and in morality, and then by exploring Aristotle’s take on the subject. I argue that “what is it for?”, i.e., looking for functions, makes perfect sense in evolutionary biology, but not in other sciences, such as chemistry or geology. That’s because of the special role of natural selection in evolution. Accordingly, we explore the relationship between form and function and how the two reciprocally shape each other in living organisms.

We then move to ethics, exploring the idea of moral laws. From there, we discuss the different paths to human flourishing and how they relate to the concept of meaning and purpose. Finally, I explain once again what Sam Harris gets wrong about the relationship between science and ethics. But you can skip that bit if you are (understandably) tired of that particular dead horse… (or you can read my original critique here).

Here is the full video:


Categories: Sophia Videos

156 replies

  1. Socratic:
    “Height, we know, is highly heritable, with control under just a few genes, from what we can tell and thus also narrowly heritable. Schizophrenia is less heritable by degree of genetic influence, and, to the degree it is heritable, is under the control of far more genes.”

    Yes, height is highly heritable. No, not with control under just a few genes.


  2. Bradley, it seems I misspoke, based on older knowledge; I hadn’t realize this count had been expanded. That said, I’ll still venture for height its “relatively few genes” compared to schizophrenia; if not, still pretend it is for the sake of argument, or plug in some other narrowly heritable trait.


  3. Massimo, nice link with the Paul B. piece. To riff on it, and Robin, “relativity” in physics isn’t the same as “everything goes” physics.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never play world games

    I thought Wittgenstein thought everything was word (language) games.


  5. Yes, height is highly heritable. No, not with control under just a few genes

    The fact the height is nearly normally distributed (within a population with similar nutrition) would indicate it controlled by quite a few genes … or order 10 or more.

    In my finch beak length simulation I use 16 (mostly because 16 bit ‘words’ and tools to manipulate them are readily available in c/c++.


  6. Robin, “relativity” in physics isn’t the same as “everything goes” physics

    Indeed “relativity” in physics has nothing to do with “relativity” in ethics and space-time in relativity is still absolute in relativity though dynamic in General Relativity.

    Everything does not go in physics. Don’t waste your time trying to violate momentum conservation, travel faster than light or build perpetual motion machines.



%d bloggers like this: