from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun The philosophical interpretation of natural phenomena as exhibiting purpose or design.
  • noun The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena.
  • noun Belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in history.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun The doctrine of final causes; the theory of tendency to an end.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Biol.) The doctrine of the final causes of things.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun philosophy The study of the purpose or design of natural occurrences.
  • noun by extension An instance of such a design or purpose, usually in natural phenomena.
  • noun The use of a non-natural purpose or design to explain an occurrence.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun (philosophy) a doctrine explaining phenomena by their ends or purposes


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Greek teleios, teleos, perfect, complete (from telos, end, result; see kwel- in Indo-European roots) + –logy.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Ancient Greek τέλος (telos, "purpose") + λόγος (logos, "word, speech, discourse")


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  • Intelligence, this is a question altogether foreign to any argument from teleology, seeing that teleology, in so far as it is _teleology_, can only rest upon the observed facts of the cosmos; and if these facts admit of being explained by the action of a single causative principle inherent in the cosmos itself, teleology is not free to assume the action of any causative principle of a more ultimate character.

    A Candid Examination of Theism George John Romanes 1871

  • By the way, teleology is a word I seldom hear, and this is the first time it's come up in an interview.

    Ingrid Hill - An interview with author 2010

  • Perhaps dropping the term teleology helps avoid the confusion witnessed here and it would make it easier to avoid the conflation of terminology used by the ID movement but understanding the history of these arguments is what is important to understand the arguments.

    Francisco Jose Ayala: Darwin's Gift: To Science and Religion - The Panda's Thumb 2007

  • If you want to spin that as "we don't know whether teleology is the explanation", I can't really argue with that, but don't pretend that makes teleology "just as likely" as a non-teleological explanation.

    An Ode to ID 2009

  • In other words, how can you explain teleology by dysteleology?

    Against Darwinism 2009

  • To be as clear as possible: teleology is a post hoc inference, not a propter hoc assumption.

    Alternative to Dembski's Theodicy? 2009

  • The moment teleology is discussed, out goes the science – or at least, in comes the contamination with philosophy.

    Against Darwinism 2009

  • This means that the inference to teleology is an inference by exclusion.

    Alternative to Dembski's Theodicy? 2009

  • The moment teleology is discussed, out goes the science – or at least, in comes the contamination with philosophy.

    Against Darwinism 2009

  • What the standard histories of philosophy write about Aristotle's teleology is unfortunately largely wrong, and must be ignored.

    Against Darwinism 2009


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  • ... to think about the teleology of homosexuality, to answer the question "What are homosexuals for?" in a nonpolitical but vital way.

    - Andrew Sullivan, Love Undetectable

    January 3, 2009

  • The doctrine of final causes? The doctrine of adaptation to purpose?

    My pea-sized brain can't grasp the meaning of this word. The examples don't help.

    October 5, 2012

  • We should probably blame Charles Sanders Peirce for that Century definition. I'll have to read a little more to figure out what he actually thought of teleology.

    October 5, 2012

  • In the meantime, philosophypagesdotcom says τελος (télos) is the "Greek term for the end, completion, purpose, or goal of any thing or activity. According to Aristotle, this is the final cause which accounts for the existence and nature of a thing. Following Wolff, modern philosophers (often pejoratively) designate as teleological any explanation, theory, or argument that emphasizes purpose." --

    October 5, 2012

  • Yes, indeed, CSP has much to answer for. And who is due the credit or blame for the puzzling visual?

    October 6, 2012

  • Simon Newcomb, perhaps?

    April 5, 2013