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A telos (from the Greek τέλος for "end", "purpose", or "goal") is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle. It is the root of the term "teleology", roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions. Teleology figures centrally in Aristotle's biology and in his theory of causes. It is central to some philosophical theories of history, such as those of Hegel and Marx.


Telos has been consistently used in Aristotle's several times to denote "goal".[1] It is considered synonymous to the term teleute (end), particularly in Aristotle's discourse about the plot-structure in Poetics.[1] The philosopher went as far as saying that telos can encompass all forms of human activity.[2] This is demonstrated in the way one can say that the telos of warfare is victory or the telos of business is the creation of wealth. Within this conceptualization, there are telos that are subordinate to other telos since all activities have their respective goals. For Aristotle, these subordinate telos can become the means to achieve more fundamental telos.[2]

In contrast to telos, techne is the rational method involved in producing an object or accomplishing a goal or objective; however, the two methods are not mutually exclusive in principle. These are demonstrated in the cases of writing and seeing. In Martin Heidegger's analysis, the former is considered a form of techne since the end product lies beyond (para) the activity of producing while, in seeing, there is no remainder outside of or beyond the activity itself at the moment it is accomplished.[3]

One running debate in modern philosophy of biology is to what extent teleological language (as in the "purposes" of various organs or life-processes) is unavoidable, or is simply a shorthand for ideas that can ultimately be spelled out non-teleologically. Philosophy of action also makes essential use of teleological vocabulary: on Davidson's account, an action is just something an agent does with an intention—that is, looking forward to some end to be achieved by the action.

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  1. ^ a b Nyusztay, Ivan (2002). Myth, Telos, Identity: The Tragic Schema in Greek and Shakespearean Drama. New York: Rodopi. p. 84. ISBN 9042015403.
  2. ^ a b Baggini, Julian (2016). Philosophy: Key Texts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 14. ISBN 9780333964859.
  3. ^ McNeill, William (2012). Time of Life, The: Heidegger and Ethos. New York: State University of New York Press. p. 6. ISBN 079146783X.

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