Aristotle is commonly considered the inventor of teleology, although the precise term originated in the eighteenth century. If teleology suggests the use of ends or goals in natural science, then Aristotle was a critical innovator of teleological explanation. Teleological notions were widespread among Aristotle’s predecessors, but he rejected their conception of extrinsic causes such as intelligence or god as the primary cause for natural things. Instead, he considered nature itself as an internal principle of change and as an end, and his teleological explanations focus on what is intrinsically good for natural substances themselves.
Aristotle’s philosophy was later conflated with the teleological proof for the existence of god, the anthropic cosmological principle, creationism, intelligent design, vitalism, animism, anthropocentrism, and opposition to materialism, evolution, and mechanism. An examination of both his explicit methodology and the explanations actually offered in his scientific works – on physics, cosmology, theology, psychology, biology, and anthropology – show, however, that Aristotle’s aporetic approach to teleology drives a middle course through traditional oppositions between causation and explanation, mechanism and materialism, naturalism and anthropocentrism, realism and instrumentalism.