Tag: Atelic vs Telic

Built Houses for a Month

One common way to gauge whether an English verb phrase is telic is to see whether such a phrase as in an hour, in the sense of “within an hour”, (known as a time-frame adverbial) can be applied to it. Conversely, a common way to gauge whether the phrase is atelic is to see whether such a phrase as for an hour (a time-span adverbial) can be applied to it.[2][3][4][5] This can be called the time-span/time-frame test. According to this test, the verb phrase built a house is telic, whereas the minimally different built houses is atelic:
Fine: “John built a house in a month.”
Bad: *”John built a house for a month.”

→ built a house is telic
Bad: *”John built houses in a month.”
Fine: “John built houses for a month.”

→ built houses is atelic


Telic and Atelic Activities

Philosophy Bites takes on:
The Meaning of Life; or, How to Avoid the Midlife Crisis

What’s the solution? Key, Setiya argues, is to distinguish between telic and atelic activities:

Telic: “Almost anything we call a ‘project’ will be telic: buying a house, starting a family, earning a promotion, getting a job. These are all things one can finish or complete”.

Atelic: “not all activities are like this. Some do not aim at a point of termination or exhaustion: a final state in which they have been achieved and there is nothing more to do. For instance,… you can go for a walk with no particular destination. Going for a walk is an ‘atelic’ activity. The same is true of hanging out with friends or family, of studying philosophy, of living a decent life. You can stop doing these things and you eventually will, but you cannot complete them in the relevant sense…. they do not have a telic character”. So, “If you are going for a walk, hanging out with friends, studying philosophy, or living a decent life, you are not on the way to achieving your end. You are already there”.