Meeting 1.5 – “Objective v. Projective” in Monod


Jacques Monod. Chance and Necessity. Chapter 1


Summary:  Lucas Mix presented a summary of Monod’s arguments.


Monod asks if there is an objective distinction to be made between natural and artificial objects?

Artificial: crafted by humans

Objective:             1)    Having to do with a material object                                                      (Houghton-Mifflin)

2)    Having actual existence or reality

3)    a) Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudice

b) Based on observable phenomena

“the basic premise of the scientific method, to wit, that nature is objective and not projective” p.3

Potential hallmarks of artificiality: macroscopic regularity and repetition

Spacecraft thought experiment: houses v. rocks, check

Crystals could be ruled out for predictable regularity

Organisms show regularity and repetition – they appear projective.

TELEONOMY: “Every artifact is a product made by a living being which through it expresses, in a particularly conspicuous manner, one of the fundamental characteristics common to all living beings without exception: that of being objects endowed with a purpose or project, which at the same time they exhibit in their structure and carry out through their performances (such as, for instance, the making of artifacts).” p.9

How do you differentiate between organism and artifact?

AUTONOMOUS MORPHOGENESIS: Organisms (and crystals) have internally imposed structure, artifacts have externally imposed structure.

REPRODUCTIVE INVARIANCE: This structure entails information content, which organisms always get from an “identical” organism.

There is a teleonomic level proportional to the information necessary to transmit (via invariance) the structures and behaviors of teleonomy.

This is distinct from genetic information content.  Compare mice and humans, which have the same order of genetic information but different teleonomic levels.

Organisms are “strange objects” in the physical world, due to an epistemological contradiction. The cornerstone of the scientific method is the postulate that nature is objective.  In other words, the systematic denial that “true” knowledge can be got at by interpreting phenomena in terms of final causes – that is to say of “purpose.”” p.21

Objective methodology (necessary to science) leads us to believe in projective behavior, inconsistent with the objective universe inherent in scientific methodology.  How can this be resolved?


Questions: What does objective mean?  Can science deal with non-objective claims?  Can teleology be objective?  Can teleonomy?



Discussion focused on questions of teleology.


Monod appears to be invoking objective in at least three ways: referring to an objective (not subjective) world, referring to an objective (not subjective) way of knowing, and referring to an objective (not projective) character for natural things.


We also encountered a number of definitions of teleology, including


Biological Function as a natural category

Biological Function as attributed purpose

Natural Selection as driving force

Natural Selection as a neutral force resulting in biological function

Universal Progress


It was unclear how the various notions of objectivity and teleology mapped onto one another and onto Monod’s argument.


We talked about the historical forces which may have led to Monod’s position, specifically:

Entelechism and Final Causes in Aristotle

Inclinations in Medieval physics

Mechanic Philosophy rejection of final and formal causes

along the lines of Descartes, Gassendi, and Bacon

Late 19th century vitalism in Henri Bergeson

20th century Intelligent Design arguments


What is at stake for Monod and others in the rejection, and reincorporation of teleology in biology?


We ended with discussion of artificial v. natural selection and whether one could be reduced to the other?


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