Monthly Archives: September 2017

Telic and Atelic

Telic and Atelic

Telic activities have goals. Atelic activities have more to do with “being”.

CREDIT: NYT

As Aristotle wrote in his “Metaphysics”: “If you are learning, you have not at the same time learned.” When you care about telic activities, projects such as writing a report, getting married or making dinner, satisfaction is always in the future or the past. It is yet to be achieved and then it is gone. Telic activities are exhaustible; in fact, they aim at their own exhaustion. They thus exhibit a peculiar self-subversion. In valuing and so pursuing these activities, we aim to complete them, and so to expel them from our lives.
Atelic activities, by contrast, do not by nature come to an end and are not incomplete. In defining such activities, we could emphasize their inexhaustibility, the fact that they do not aim at terminal states. But we could also emphasize what Aristotle does: They are fully realized in the present. “At the same time, one is seeing and has seen, is understanding and has understood, is thinking and has thought.” There is nothing you need to do in order to perform an atelic activity except what you are doing right now. If what you care about is reflecting on your life or spending time with family or friends, and that is what you are doing, you are not on the way to achieving your end: You are already there.