Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Teleological

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is teleological. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Teleological (and its less common variant teleologic) is a philosophical term meaning “exhibiting or relating to purpose or design especially in nature.”

// Their teleological theory on the origin of human beings was heavily challenged.


“Hegelianism—at least as [Søren] Kierkegaard understood it … —treated history as an intelligible process by which humanity progressed toward a state of spiritual freedom. … To Kierkegaard, this sweeping teleological view left no room for human agency.” — Christopher Beha, Harper’s, 27 Apr. 2020

Did You Know?

Perhaps teleological was destined to serve a role in English. The word, along with its close relative teleology, comes to us by way of New Latin, from the Greek root telos, meaning “end or purpose.” 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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