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01/14/2019

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Lukas Wolf

Could this perhaps be related to Boyle's Disquisition About Final Causes? Boyle places himself somewhat in the middle by saying that maybe not everything is a clear instance of design (e.g.: distant stars hardly seem useful for the lighting or heating of the human world), but he also rejects the Cartesian claim that we cannot see any design in the world. His solution is that, even if we cannot see the purpose of everything around us, we can at least see some clear instances of design.

Thus Boyle seems to be an advocate of the restricted [A]-claim, rather than the universal [D]-claim. I'm thinking specifically of the question he discusses in section II. From which he concludes that not everything is a good example of design, and we need to be careful in our claims. But some things are clearly designed. For instance:

"I think, that from the ends and uses of the parts of living bodies, the naturalist may draw arguments, provided he do it with due cautions [...] The inanimate bodies [...] will not easily warrant ratiocinations drawn from their supposed ends.
I think, the celestial bodies do abundantly declare God’s power and greatness, by the immensity of their bulk, and (if the earth stand still) the celerity of their motions [...] but yet I doubt, whether, from the bare contemplation of the heavens and their motions, it may be cogently inferred, at least so strongly as final causes, may be from the structure of animals, that either the sole, or the chief, end of them all, is to enlighten the earth, and bring benefits to the creatures that live upon it"


And if this is a correct assessment of Boyle's position, it follows that this was well-known to Clarke, Paley, etc., because Boyle's Disquisition was one of the key texts on design arguments for these people. Clarke, of course, goes on to make much stronger claims regarding design arguments. Perhaps Paley did not like the strong claims of Clarke or Derham, and therefore adopted a more hedged Boylean approach?

Eric Schliesser

Thank you for your comment, Lukas (if I may?),
Boyle is indeed skeptical about exception-less generalizations, so he would make a good source. (I have blogged a bit about his design arguments.) And like Paley, he thinks that celestial motions are not good starting points for design arguments if you want to show the existence of final causes. (Lessius saw this early.)

But the passages you cite are all about to what degree design is in the service of humans. But once Galileo makes his discoveries, it's clear that any design argument worth having will have to allow that God's providence can't only be focused on human ends. (This is very clear in Newton's General Scholium.) So, we need to distinguish between claims about design in nature and for whom it is functional. So, I don't think this is quite what's needed, but I agree it is suggestive.

Margaret Atherton

Footnote: Berkeley, is Siris, says"Natural productions, it is true, are not all equally perfect." (S 256) Part of the reason he thinks this is so is the familiar order of nature sometimes throws up volcanos kind of consideration, but he also says "things will be produced in a slow length of time, and arrive at different degrees of perfection."

Eric Schliesser

That's swell Margaret. Thank you. I have long wondered if and how much Siris was studied in the second half of the eighteenth century.

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