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  • Temporality of Life and Finality
  • Juan Manuel Garrido (bio)

1. The Intimate Relation Between the Temporality of Living Beings and Finality

A remarkable feature of living phenomena—think of metabolism, growth, reproduction, desire, thinking, ageing, and so forth—is that they seem not only embedded in time, as are all other natural phenomena, but also they seem to constitute, in themselves, singular formations of time. In developing organisms, for instance, cells differentiate, migrate, and die according to quite a rigorous program, which contains the ancestral memory of naturally selected characteristics out of which it is itself composed. Genes prescribing the formation of tissues ought to be activated at precise moments and in coordinated fashion. Organs cannot be induced without regard to the general tempo of the whole organism. Every single phenomenon of life seems to occur according to an original, self-produced, and self-regulated time; it seems to be regulated by an inner rhythm to some extent independent of the external influence of the physical world. Living organisms organize [End Page 133] themselves as if they had present to themselves their own present, their own past, and the task of constructing their own future. On the contrary, the movement of falling objects, which is determined by the law of gravity, seems indifferent to the object's own temporal becoming: its falling is not determined in accordance with the possibilities created by its own history.

The experience of biological objects is certainly constituted, as is the experience of every other natural object, by temporal succession (the pure form of all natural phenomena, as Kant would say). The second Analogy of Experience of the Critique of Pure Reason states that every natural causation presupposes temporal succession. Biological mechanisms qua biological, however, not only presuppose and are conditioned by temporal succession, but they also produce or form their own original time. This is in strict correlation with the fact that we are no longer dealing with physical or simply efficient causation, but with a productive, teleological one, where time is not the frame structuring the mere succession of events but is itself created by the goal-oriented succession of stages of the process that produces a determinate entity.

Aristotle holds that the temporal order of the stages of production in teleological processes is determined by the very essence () of the thing in construction. The earlier productive phases come first because they exist for the sake of those that come later, and the later phases are only possible insofar as they are sought by the earlier ones. "Further, where a series has a completion, all the preceding steps are for the sake of that [ ]. . . . Each step then in the series is for the sake of the next [ ]" (1950, II 8, 199a10-15). A house cannot be made from the ceiling; rather, the possibility of the house presupposes a determinate sequence in which foundations and walls must preexist the ceiling. Nature acts in this manner as well. This is easily shown by the fact that, if someone wants to imitate a product of nature, he or she ought to proceed exactly according to its model, following the same successive stages of production that nature followed. The production of a being or in general a teleological process, by or , follows an irreversible constitutive order, whose outcome embodies the time and presents the history and future possibilities of its [End Page 134] own coming into existence. It is or it shows itself while being or showing the process of its own coming into existence.

Nothing similar happens when considering merely mechanical causation. Here events succeed one another without becoming each other's past or each other's purpose. Mechanical causation is indifferent to matter's progression in time, to its history, to its possibilities, and so on. At any moment of the trajectory, one can deduce the causes and calculate the effects; it is as if the entire trajectory were always already given. As Prigogine states, while deploring the narrowness of modern dynamics: "la dynamique définit tous les états comme équivalents puisque chacun permet de déterminer tous les autres, de prédire la totalité des trajectoires qui constituent l'évolution du système" ("dynamic...


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