tel·​e·​o·​log·​i·​cal ˌtē-lē-ə-ˈlä-ji-kəl How to pronounce teleological (audio) ˌte- How to pronounce teleological (audio)
variants or less commonly teleologic
: exhibiting or relating to design or purpose especially in nature

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.

Examples of teleological in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web This catalog for an ingenious exhibition in Madrid arranges dozens of modernist paintings, plus African sculpture and Japanese woodblocks, in the exact order Barr mapped them — revealing the ambitions, and also limitations, of a teleological art history. Roberta Smith, New York Times, 26 Nov. 2020 Contrast Defoe’s confident, teleological, early-eighteenth-century Puritanism. James Wood, The New Yorker, 19 Sep. 2022 How else to make sense of a world without any intrinsic narrative, no teleological release? Emma Cline, The New Yorker, 23 Dec. 2021 From the rally scene on, Ahmed takes it more or less as a given that progress is cyclical, not teleological. Lily Meyer, The Atlantic, 12 Aug. 2021 Western Marxists had already seen their teleological view of history reduced to ruin. Andrew Stuttaford, National Review, 30 July 2021 In this sense, history is not only rational but also providential: designed, purposive, teleological. James Wood, The New Yorker, 25 May 2020 To Kierkegaard, this sweeping teleological view left no room for human agency. Christopher Beha, Harper's Magazine, 27 Apr. 2020 Importantly, Thunberg’s criticisms of growth economics aren’t programmatic and teleological enough to place her on the left. Osita Nwanevu, The New Republic, 25 Sep. 2019 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'teleological.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1797, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of teleological was in 1797


Dictionary Entries Near teleological

Cite this Entry

“Teleological.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Medical Definition


te·​le·​o·​log·​i·​cal ˌtel-ē-ə-ˈläj-i-kəl How to pronounce teleological (audio) ˌtēl- How to pronounce teleological (audio)
variants also teleologic
: exhibiting or relating to design or purpose especially in nature
teleologically adverb
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!