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Kant on Teleology
Mississippi Academy of Sciences (2012)
  • Georgia Rae Rainer, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Kenneth J. Curry, University of Southern Mississippi
Immanuel Kant was born (1724) into a society that largely embraced a mechanical universe in which matter theory rested on material properties of size, shape, solidity, and motion. But the development of organisms from undifferentiated matter could not be explained by the properties of matter alone. The ontogeny of organisms appeared to have a goal toward which matter was organized, and the parts of organisms seemed in so many instances to play both cause and effect of each other. Kant argued that human artefacts were explained in part by the intention of the designer and in part by the mechanics of construction and subsequent operation. By contrast, organisms were not the product of a designer, but did indeed seem to be ends in the themselves, i.e., designed. Hence he referred to organisms as purposes of nature or natural purposes. We could understand much about organisms in mechanical terms, but not their goal-directed organization. Ultimately Kant argued that we can understand organisms through mechanism subordinated to a natural teleology, where that natural teleology was a heuristic device. Darwin proposed in 1859 that new species came from pre-existing species through natural selection. Biological natural selection provides a theoretical basis for understanding apparent design ranging from biomolecules through organisms and their ontogeny, to populations and species. Natural selection is understood to operate without any internal or external design. We suggest that natural selection at least partially answers Kant’s teleological dilemma with a mechanical explanation with apparent, but not actual, design.
Publication Date
February 23, 2012
Citation Information
Georgia Rae Rainer and Kenneth J. Curry. "Kant on Teleology" Mississippi Academy of Sciences (2012)
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