Teleology and Scientific Method in Kant’s Critique of Judgment

  • Robert E. Butts
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 155)


Prior to the publication of his Critique of judgment in 1790, Kant’s writings on science, including the Critique of pure reason and Metaphysical foundations of natural science, emphasized treatment of systematic questions concerning the logic and structure of complete scientific systems, and with questions of the epistemological justification of such systems. The model of scientific systems is of course Newtonian physics; indeed, Kant teaches throughout his career that the only legitimate explanations of natural phenomena are those provided by mathematical physics. A reader of philosophy books during the period 1950–60, who worked through the first Critique and made suitable allowance for Kant’s unrelenting quest for a prioris, might easily have mistaken the author for a logical empiricist.1


Natural Kind Logical Empiricist Newtonian Physic Phenomenal World Universal Gravitation 
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  1. 1.
    Indeed, even earlier Arthur Pap (1946) made such allowance, and gave a convincing reading of Kant as a logical empiricist.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    In a penetrating analysis, Harper 1986 argues that for Kant the physical necessity (he calls it “material necessity”) of laws like Newton’s law of universal gravitation arises from conceptualization of nature as involving natural kinds. Although his account depends entirely upon Kant’s discussion in the “Transcendental Dialectic” and other sections of the first Critique, his conclusions are not incompatible with what Kant claims in the third Critique. Even the materially necessary law of universal gravitation is contingent in the required sense: it might have been otherwise.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Basic to Kant’s treatment of teleology is the unquestioned assumption that we have a nearly perfect understanding of human purposive action because we ourselves act purposively. All forms of design are to be understood by analogy with products of human creative freedom. He writes: “For we have complete insight only into what we can make and accomplish according to our conceptions” (§ 68, 384).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    “It is utterly impossible for human reason, or for any finite reason qualitatively resembling ours, however much it may surpass it in degree, to hope to understand the generation even of a blade of grass from mere mechanical causes” (§ 77, 409-10).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Limitations of space prevent detailed discussion of this idea of reason. See my 1986c, 179-87. For details of Kant’s reconstruction of Newton’s argument to the law of universal gravitation—Kant’s major example of (Whewellian) induction—see Friedman 1986. On Kant’s treatment of (Whewellian) induction as reasoning on natural kinds, see Harper (1986).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For Kant the possibility of a living matter (hylozoism) is not even coherently conceivable (§ 73, 394-95), and thus is incapable of being properly hypothesized.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    In part, his wholesale use of the term “supersensible” relates to portions of the discussion of teleology that do not here concern us: human beings as the final ends of nature, a practical faith in the existence of god—topics the inclusion of which completed the critical system by showing that judgment subsumes both categorial knowing and acting out of duty.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The supersensible is no longer a designer, but a mere record keeper!.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert E. Butts
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe University of Western OntarioCanada

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