Don’t get me wrong: I understand why skepticism towards moral teleology is appealing. I myself am still skeptical, even though I just wrote an entire book defending the idea. It’s open access, so you can go see for yourself how persuasive you think it is.
Isn’t there something unpleasantly self-congratulatory about the idea that history is somehow biased towards moral improvement? It seems like a sign of delusional privilege more than healthy realism, a lullaby for passengers on a sinking ship. And I agree that the teleological structure of social change, even if it were to exist, is hard to appreciate; Hegel thought that we need to look at history with reason for it to look back at us with reason. Or, as Paul Auster once put it: stories only happen to those who tell them.
Contemporary philosophers try not to succumb to teleological temptations, regardless of how alluringly the narrative is crafted. Perhaps this is for fear of appearing superficial. There is an exploitably thin line between depth and gloom that is all too easily trespassed, which makes it easy to confuse the two; still, the strength of this anti-teleological resolution is at least somewhat surprising, because for much of history, the idea that human development had some sort of goal was virtually taken for granted. Theorists of decadence like Rousseau or Nietzsche thought so, however dubious a goal they thought it was moving towards. Even cyclical theorists like Oswald Spengler assumed goals, albeit many, bound up in cycles of cultural blossoming and decay. And, of course, teleological thinking is central to many religious traditions and their visions of judgment day, a return to a golden age, a rediscovery of a paradise lost – in this world or the next.
These days, the very attempt to defend the idea is seen as hopelessly naïve and wiggish, the product of wishful thinking more than a sober scrutiny of the facts. In fact, Allen Buchanan and Rachell Powell formulate not as a result, but as one of the desiderata for any viable theory of moral progress that it not be teleological: “As a scientifically informed secular theory, our account eschews teleological thinking about nature, human nature, and the nature of society” (Buchanan and Powell 2018, 29). This, they claim, is due to the fact that such directional accounts of history lack naturalistic credentials and empirical support. One main “defect of some secular conceptions of moral progress was that they claimed, without evidence, that moral progress was inevitable, not merely feasible. Given a near total lack of solid empirical grounding, the claim that moral progress was inevitable was even shakier than the claim that it was feasible” (27). There are “iron laws of progress” (31).
In my book, I try to defend a moderate, naturalistically respectable account of moral teleology. I agree that history has no iron laws and no predetermined goals. But I do think that there are mechanisms in place that more or less reliably push social change in a certain direction, and I try to explain what those mechanisms are, how they work, and why the changes they bring about ought to count as progressive. We need to steelman teleology, then see how well it fares.
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"I try to defend a moderate, naturalistically respectable account of moral teleology. I agree that history has no iron laws and no predetermined goals. But I do think that there are mechanisms in place that more or less reliably push social change in a certain direction, and I try to explain what those mechanisms are, how they work, and why the changes they bring about ought to count as progressive. We need to steelman teleology, then see how well it fares."
If there is no archē then there is no tēlos required to guide it. These arrive in a language (game) that maker- animals use.
Our humanity arose in evolution so we humans are not made, but we make up/do/over/for (at a recursive remove this becomes us in history... our later stories). Therefore if we make and world-build out of reasons that were not made (in our image or otherwise) (because evolution) then the archē and the tēlos [are/is] ours alone, we make the tēlos and project it back where it was not. We survive so it makes sense to us, but, there was no beginning, so there is no end. We world-build anyways, we say we were always here, and we make it so, thus complexity arises in economics and the illusion of progress, a story we can tell apart as a part of us, now, then, so we have made ourselves in this image... such a confounding confusion, success in our failure, we live as if the tēlos is not us, but we live on anyways.
Evolution baptizes with sin.