Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for November 10, 2019 is:

teleological • tel-ee-uh-LAH-jih-kul  • adjective

: exhibiting or relating to design or purpose especially in nature


“The standard story about mass printing is a story of linear, teleological progress. It goes like this: Before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, books were precious objects, handwritten by scribes and available primarily in Latin. Common people … were left vulnerable to exploitation by powerful gatekeepers—landed élites, oligarchs of church and state—who could use their monopoly on knowledge to repress the masses. After Gutenberg, books became widely available, setting off a cascade of salutary movements and innovations….” — Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker, 23 Sept. 2019

“A team of psychology researchers at Boston University (BU) asked chemists, geologists and physicists … to evaluate explanations for different natural phenomena. The statements included purpose-based (or teleological) explanations such as ‘Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe,’ or ‘The Earth has an ozone layer in order to protect it from UV light.’ Scientists who were not under time pressure tended to accurately reject these purpose-based explanations. Meanwhile, scientists who were instructed to assess the statements quickly were more likely to endorse these teleological explanations….” — Live Science, 29 Oct. 2012

Did you know?

Teleological (which comes to us, by way of New Latin, from the Greek root tele-, telos, meaning “end or purpose”) and its close relative teleology both entered English in the 18th century, followed by teleologist in the 19th century. Teleology has the basic meaning of “the study of ends or purposes.” A teleologist attempts to understand the purpose of something by looking at its results. A teleological philosopher might argue that we should judge whether an act is good or bad by seeing if it produces a good or bad result, and a teleological explanation of evolutionary changes claims that all such changes occur for a definite purpose.

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