Term of Art: Teleology

“Teleology: A teleological explanation either explains a process by the end-state towards which it is directed; or explains the existence of something by the function it fulfills. In sociology, the former tends to be confined to theories of purposive human action, whereas the latter is a feature of functionalism. It is widely argued that teleological explanations are admissible only with reference to individuals and groups since they alone have explicitly formulated purposes or goals. Societies, by contrast, set themselves no such objectives. Evolutionary and systems theories, as well as theories which imply a historical logic or inevitability (such as historical materialism), are often criticized as being unacceptably teleological—although there have been controversial attempts to argue that even these explanations can be translated into conventional causal accounts.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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