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Teleological Explanations in Evolutionary Biology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2022

Francisco J. Ayala*
The Rockefeller University


The ultimate source of explanation in biology is the principle of natural selection. Natural selection means differential reproduction of genes and gene combinations. It is a mechanistic process which accounts for the existence in living organisms of end-directed structures and processes. It is argued that teleological explanations in biology are not only acceptable but indeed indispensable. There are at least three categories of biological phenomena where teleological explanations are appropriate.

Research Article
Copyright © 1970 The Philosophy of Science Association

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I wish to express my appreciation to Professors Th. Dobzhansky, E. Mayr, and E. Nagel, who read an earlier version of this paper and made many valuable suggestions.


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