Thesis ID: CBB001561397

Organisms and Teleology in Kant's Natural Philosophy (2008)


Fisher, Mark (Author)

Emory University
Makkreel, Rudolf A.

Publication Date: 2008
Edition Details: Advisor: Makkreel, Rudolf A.
Physical Details: 507 pp.
Language: English

Recent literature on Kant's Critical philosophy has become increasingly concerned with the particular scientific contexts in which Kant develops his theoretical views. Much of this work has focused, with justification, on Kant's understanding of the foundations of physics. Comparatively little has been written on his views concerning the foundations of the life sciences. What has been written, moreover, has often concentrated somewhat narrowly on the text of Kant's ' Critique of Teleological Judgment ' (1790, CTJ ) and on the general issue of mechanistic vs. teleological explanation. The general consensus in the literature has been that Kant argues, first, that organisms cannot be explained mechanically and, then, that the mechanical inexplicability of organisms justifies our use of teleological principles in natural philosophy. There is, however, an equally common recognition that it is difficult to find a good argument for these claims in Kant's text. Rather than assuming that this is best accounted for by Kant's failure to have developed a coherent position, I believe it is more plausible to maintain that Kant's approach to these issues differs significantly from the one generally attributed to him in the literature. According to my interpretation of the CTJ , Kant presupposes that we cannot explain organic functioning mechanically, and argues that the only way to preserve the coherence of natural philosophy given this fact is to adopt the general position argued for, on theoretical and practical grounds, in his first two Critiques . The appearance of a contradiction between mechanism and teleology arises from a failure to distinguish adequately between the empirically real objects of our experience (i.e., organized bodies) and the transcendentally real grounds of their phenomenal states (i.e., the fundamental powers responsible for organizing bodies). If Kant is right, the difficulties facing eighteenth-century anatomists, physiologists, and natural historians are approached more satisfactorily from his own perspective (transcendental idealism) than from the Newtonian and Leibnizean perspectives that predominate during his time. I provide evidence for my interpretation, and for Kant's thesis, by reference both to several different texts in which Kant addresses these issues and to their importance for the development and defense of his Critical philosophy.


Description Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 69/04 (2008). Pub. no. AAT 3310253.

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Authors & Contributors
Beekman, Wim
Jochemsen, Henk
Goy, Ina
Didier Contadini
Carroll, Jerome
Zammito, John H.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Journal of the History of Ideas
History of the Human Sciences
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Oxford University Press
de Gruyter
Natural philosophy
Mechanism; mechanical philosophy
Kant, Immanuel
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von
Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich
Wolff, Christian von
Swedenborg, Emanuel
Schröder, Ernst
Time Periods
18th century
17th century
19th century
20th century, early
20th century

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