Is there a word for "something that pursues goals"?

Animals pursue goals, but so do humans, and we can even say that bacteria pursue goals, or even governments and companies.

  • Never consult a thesaurus when writing your résumé, especially not our local elugameosaurus here.
    – tchrist
    Sep 8, 2019 at 16:31
  • Is this comment in the right place? I'm wondering because there's no reference to a résumé in the question.
    – S Conroy
    Sep 9, 2019 at 13:51

4 Answers 4


An important concept here is that of teleology and telos:

Teleology or finality is a reason or explanation for something as a function of its end, purpose, or goal.

A telos (from the Greek τέλος for "end", "purpose", or "goal") is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle.

Per Merriam-Webster, the adjective form is telic:

  1. Tending toward an end or outcome
  2. Characterizing an action that moves toward a goal

So you could describe the telos of animals, humans and bacteria, or describe them as telic. Or you could be studying the teleology of them.

  • I actually thought of that too, but double checked with the Wiki article and figured it's a bit too broad here. It's original meaning is to describe how everthing has some ultimate purpose. Wiki: "Aristotle claimed that an acorn's intrinsic telos is to become a fully grown oak tree."
    – S Conroy
    Sep 5, 2019 at 13:09

I agree with Jason Bassford's 'goal-oriented'.

Purposive is an alternative synonym; in your context you could speak of purposive organisms.


having, showing, or acting with a purpose, intention, or design.

There is a branch of psychology called purposive behaviourism which includes humans and animals. Here a quote from the Wikipedia article:

This approach of Tolman's was first introduced in his book, Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men, published in 1932. To Tolman, it was obvious that all actions of behavior are goal-oriented, including those for animals.The main difference between behaviorism and Tolman's purposive behaviorism is that behavior is goal oriented.


I can't think of a noun that means that, but the adjective, appropriately enough, is simply goal-directed:

: aimed toward a goal or toward completion of a task
// goal-directed behavior

In short:

They are goal-directed.

A less specific, but perhaps more common, adjective is purposeful:

1 : having a purpose: such as
// purposeful activities
// purposeful ambiguity



Use cases:

the Doppler frequency difference's fomulas are given based on its relationship with the flight altitude, relative velocity and range between target and seeker.
(Effect of target parameters on pulse Doppler radar seeker … in Sys Engg & Elec.,2012. Abstract)

See also:

R denotes the spatial distance between target and seeker; …
(Gaoxiang Zou, A Modified Four Path Method for Calculating Coupling Field of Super-Low Altitude Aircraft Target, J. Comp. & Comm. VI 12, 2018. Abstract)


Minor plane differences between target and seeker will be corrected during boost flight by the Titan 2.
(Aviation Week & Space Technology, Vol. 79, 1963, p.195. Extract, Google Books)

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