University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
240 occurrences of e
[Clear Hits]
expand section 
expand section 

expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
collapse sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
16  expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
10  expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
10  expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
12  expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 

240 occurrences of e
[Clear Hits]


The prehistory of the design argument is to be sought
in the forms of thought characteristic of early man.
Though these forms are difficult to reconstruct with
any certainty, it does seem probable that mythopoeic
consciousness was devoid of the sharp distinction be-
tween animate and inanimate that we suppose to be
obvious. Since the natural world was simply addressed
in personal or quasi-personal terms, there seems to have
been no sense of analogy in attributing purposive be-
havior to the cosmos and its contents; purpose was
immediately to be read off from natural events and
things just as it was directly to be found in human

Thus far, of course, there is no question of argument.
Argument arises in Greece with pre-Socratic specula-
tion, and even then mythopoeic roots are not wholly
severed to whatever extent the living, purposive char-
acter of nature is taken as a datum of experience rather
than as an explicit consequence from evidence. It is
not clear, in this context, exactly what was meant by
Anaximander, a younger contemporary of Thales in
Miletus, when he affirmed that the indefinite primal
stuff (the ἄτειρον) of the universe “steers all.” If this
“steering” is to be understood as somehow conscious
and purposeful, then in Anaximander we may have
found at least the germ of the design argument as early
as the first half of the sixth century B.C.; that is, Anaxi-


mander may have argued that only because the ἄτειρον
“steers” all according to “justice” can one understand
why the universe remains in orderly balance as it does.
Aristotle, further, tells us that Anaximander credited
this “steering” substance with being “divine” (Physica
III 203b 7), though we must realize that such divinity
would have had very little in common with the an-
thropomorphic divinities of popular religious thought
or with any supernatural being. On the other hand,
it is likewise possible that Anaximander conceived of
the ἄτειρον as “steering” quite mechanically, or per-
haps as manifesting only the immanent purposiveness
common to the “life” of nature as a whole.

Another partial hint of the design argument is found
in Heraclitus, at the very end of the sixth century or
early in the fifth, B.C., whose emphasis on the fluxing
character of all things led him to infer the need for
a unifying formula of the flux, the Logos, which rules
the struggle of opposites in the world of constant
change and insures that long-term balance prevails.
Once again it is not possible to be sure from extant
sources whether Heraclitus conceived of the Logos as
intelligent and purposeful, though subsequent signifi-
cant Logos traditions in Stoicism and Christianity de-
velop this theme, but at least the essential intellectual
demand for some agent to account for observed order
in a changing world was self-consciously sounded by
Heraclitus himself.

Explicit appeal to “mind” (νοῦς) as the needed agent
was first made by Anaxagoras, probably in Athens
toward the middle of the fifth century, B.C., when he
developed a theory of the universe in which some
principle of ordered change was seen to be necessary
over and above the infinite and confused swarm of
qualitatively distinct but intrinsically inert items that
he believed to make up the universe. Mind, being the
one reality that can remain itself while ordering and
controlling other natures very different from itself and
from each other, is uniquely qualified to rule the mixed
realm of nature. “For it is the finest of all things and
purest, it has all knowledge about everything and the
greatest power; and mind controls all things...” (Kirk
and Raven, p. 373). Still this position falls short of a
full design argument, however, if Socrates' complaint
(Phaedo 98B) is justified, that Anaxagoras' appeal to
“mind” as a cosmic orderer had no bearing on the
deeper question “why” matters should stand as they
do and not in some other way. It appears that “mind”
was drawn in by Anaxagoras as an ordering dynamic
principle only, and not as belonging to a moral agent
expressing ends in view through the organization of
the world order.

For an unequivocally clear statement of such an
argument we must await the writings of Plato in the
fourth century B.C., but a close approximation of what
Socrates was hoping for can be found in one of Anax-
agoras' somewhat younger contemporaries, Diogenes
of Apollonia. Diogenes was an eclectic thinker, for the
most part, combining the interests of the early Milesian
philosophers in identifying a primal world-substance
with the quest of Heraclitus and Anaxagoras for expla-
nations of the ordered dynamics of change. Like Hera-
clitus, Diogenes was much impressed by the regularity
of the world and the need to account for it; and like
Anaxagoras he specified that this account could only
be given in terms of “intelligence” (νόησις). Intelligence
he identified with warm air, following Anaximenes (the
Milesian successor of Anaximander), and he explained
its method of working through the mechanism of rare-
faction and condensation. Beyond all this, however,
Diogenes made an explicit teleological claim—one that
we shall find very prominently in Plato and later
tradition—that intelligence disposes of all things “for
the best” (κάλλιστα) (frag. 3, Simplicius Phys. 152, 13).

With this we find we are in possession of all the
elements ingredient in the design argument: (1) the
observation that there is order in nature or that nature
as a whole is orderly, (2) the asseveration that natural
order is not self-explanatory but requires an ordering
agency of some kind, (3) the identification of this
agency as explicitly aware and acting from intelligent
design, and (4) the attribution to this Intelligence of
benevolent moral purpose.

The first full articulation, in combination, of the
various elements in the design argument was given by
Plato. Here was no mere eclectic, however; the syn-
thesis was distinctly his, and the argument he offered
follows directly from central themes within his own
philosophical position.

One such theme is rooted in Plato's view of soul
as always the source of spontaneous motion. Our first
experience of any genuine originative change springs
from within ourselves. Changes observed in our bodies
or in nature are always derivative, communicated from
something else which is already in motion, that motion
in turn borrowed from still something else, and so
on—until a truly originative or spontaneous motion is
finally introduced to ground the series. “Soul,” there-
fore, comes to have a technical meaning for Plato as
the “self-moving” or the “beginning of motion” wher-
ever or whenever change genuinely originates: “He
who affirms that self-motion is the very idea and es-
sence of the soul will not be put to confusion” ( Phae-

The changing universe, consequently, is not able to
be understood on its own material terms alone. Its
changes demand the postulation of something capable
of initiating change, not merely of transmitting it.


How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the
beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved
changes other, and that again other, and then thousands
upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must
not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the
self-moving principle?

(Laws X, 895).

The only known self-moving principle, however, is
soul. Therefore it follows that soul must be invoked
to account adequately for the changes that we observe.

In the above we have witnessed the birth of the
famous “first cause” argument; and for Plato the design
argument follows immediately upon it. Having estab-
lished that the natural world is ultimately dependent
upon soul, the question must be asked: “What kind
of soul is it that rules the changing universe?” The
answer, Plato says, depends on the kinds of changes
we actually observe. If the soul ruling nature is “good”—
and here Plato makes use of another of his prominent
themes, urging the equation of goodness with rational-
ity, harmony, intellectual coherence—the universe will
exhibit lawful behavior. “But,” Plato allows, “if the
world moves wildly and irregularly, then the evil soul
guides it” (Laws X, 897B). A survey of pertinent fact,
however, particularly astronomical data, will convince
any careful observer that nature changes with the
utmost regularity and that, in consequence: “There
would be impiety in asserting that any but the most
perfect soul or souls carries round the heavens” (Laws
X, 898C).

A more pictorially vivid version of this general posi-
tion is found in Plato's Timaeus where the Demiurge
is represented as a craftsman, fashioning the world of
natural change by copying off eternal formal principles
of reality into a matrix of flux. The myth adds little,
however, to the design argument itself except in pro-
viding an answer to the ultimate question why the
cosmic artisan should have done his work at all. Plato's
suggestion is that the Demiurge acted from pure

He was good; and in the good no jealousy in any matter
can ever arise. So, being without jealousy, he desired that
all things should come as near as possible to being like
himself.... Desiring, then, that all things should be good
and, so far as might be, nothing imperfect, the god took
over all that is visible—not at rest, but in discordant and
unordered motion—and brought it from disorder into order,
since he judged that order was in every way the better

(Timaeus 29E-30A).

Aristotle, although he shared Plato's keen sense of
the order within nature and argued forcefully on other
grounds for the existence of conscious deity at the apex
of actuality, did not advance the design argument we
have been following. Just as he objected to Plato's
alleged “separating of the Forms” from the substances
of the world, so Aristotle argued against separating the
source of order from the natural order itself. The uni-
verse contains goal-directed activity, even in areas of
change where there is clearly no conscious deliber-
ation, but Aristotle argued from this that in this case
“purpose” must be understood as inherent and non-
deliberative. “For natural things are exactly those
which do move continuously, in virtue of a principle
inherent in themselves, towards a determined
goal...” (Physics 199b).

Thus, instead of making the inference from orderly
processes in nature to an intelligent orderer above or
beyond nature, Aristotle offers a thoroughly immanent
view of natural teleology and offers an illustration:
“The best illustration is the case of a man being his
own physician, for Nature is like that—agent and pa-
tient at once” (Physics 199b). God, for Aristotle, neces-
sarily exists as ultimate actuality, but he is too perfect
even to know about the changing, self-correcting do-
main of nature, much less to have taken any part in
designing it. Plato's greatest pupil abandoned both
Demiurge and separate realm of Forms as theoretically
redundant, and with them, as we see, the design argu-
ment for God.