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Kant’s main work on teleology is contained in the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), especially in the second of its two main parts, “Critique of the Teleological Power of Judgment”. Most of this material is dedicated to analyzing judgment of complex systems as teleological by nature (rather than design) – and arguing that, although we can never have theoretical knowledge that anything in nature is teleological, such judgment is nonetheless necessary and beneficial for us. Kant also connects his analysis and these conclusions with his positions on religion and morality.

Key works

Responses to Kant’s treatment of teleology are especially prominent in post-Kantian German philosophy. For example, Hegel emphasizes in his Science of Logic (1812-1816) the importance of Kant’s analysis of natural teleology, but argues that we can have knowledge of real natural teleology. For comprehensive references, see the excellent online Ginsborg 2008. Some representative and important recent works are as follows: On teleology and biology, two especially important recent interpretations are Ginsborg’s (especially Ginsborg 2004) and McLaughlin’s (McLaughlin 1990). On our supposed need for teleological judgment of nature, see Guyer 1990 and Ginsborg 1990. On the place of this material within the project of the third Critique, see Zuckert 2007. On the connection to morality and religion, see Guyer 2000

Introductions 1. Ginsborg 2006 2. Ginsborg 2008
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  1. Crompton Llewellyn Davies (1895). Kant's Teleology. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 3 (2):65 - 86.
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  2. Michael Kraft (1982). Kant's Theory of Teleology. International Philosophical Quarterly 22 (1):42-49.
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  3. Susan F. Krantz (1992). Humility and Teleology in Kant's Third Critique. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 66:85-98.
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  4. Mary-Barbara Zeldin (1973). Kant's Concept of Teleology. Studi Internazionali Di Filosofia 5:265-269.
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Kant: Teleology in Science
  1. T. P. A. (1971). Review of J. D. McFarland, Kant's Concept of Teleology. [REVIEW] Review of Metaphysics 24 (4):750-750.
  2. Gary Banham (2001). Transcendental Philosophy and Artificial Life. CultureMachine 3.
  3. Bruno Bauch (1914). Über den Begriff des Naturgesetzes. Kant-Studien 19 (1-3):303-337.
  4. Lewis White Beck (1988). The Extraterrestrial Life Debate. 1750-1900. The Idea of a Plurality of Worlds From Kant to Lowell. Journal of the History of Philosophy 26 (2):324-326.
  5. Claus Beisbart (2009). Kant's Characterization of Natural Ends. Kant Yearbook 1 (1).
  6. Paul Bommersheim (1927). Der vierfache Sinn der inneren Zweckmäßigkeit in Kants Philosophie des Organischen. Kant-Studien 32 (1-3):290-309.
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  7. Angela Breitenbach (2009). Teleology in Biology: A Kantian Perspective. Kant Yearbook 1 (1).
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  8. Angela Breitenbach (2008). Two Views on Nature: A Solution to Kant's Antinomy of Mechanism and Teleology. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 16 (2):351 – 369.
  9. Robert E. Butts (1990). Teleology and Scientific Method in Kant's Critique of Judgment. Noûs 24 (1):1-16.
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  10. Luigi Caranti (2005). Logical Purposiveness and the Principle of Taste. Kant-Studien 96 (3):364-374.
    In both Introductions to the Critique of Judgment Kant seems to identify the a priori principle at the basis of aesthetic judgments with the principle that guides reflective judgment in its cognitive inquiry of nature, i.e. the purposiveness of nature or systematicity. For instance Kant writes.
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  11. Alix A. Cohen (2007). A Kantian Stance on Teleology in Biology. South African Journal of Philosophy 26 (2):109 - 121.
    The aim of this paper is to show firstly why Kant believes we should hang on to teleology, and, secondly, that his views on the matter are still relevant to contemporary epistemology despite the fact that theories of evolution now allow purely mechanical explanations of organic processes. By considering Kant’s account in light of that of Daniel Dennett, I elucidate what I believe to be the strength of Kant’s theory, namely, the pragmatic role it assigns to reflective teleological principles. (edited).
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  12. Willem A. deVries (1991). The Dialectic of Teleology. Philosophical Topics 19 (2):51-70.
    An analysis of Hegel's chapter on teleology in the Science of Logic. Hegel argues that the 'intentional model' of teleology assumed by Kant actually presupposes a natural or organic teleology more like along Aristotelian lines.
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  13. Igor Eterović (2011). Kant's Teleology as the Basis for Orientation in Ecology. Filozofska Istrazivanja 31 (2):299-309.
  14. Ido Geiger (2009). Is Teleological Judgement (Still) Necessary? Kant's Arguments in the Analytic and in the Dialectic of Teleological Judgement. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17 (3):533 – 566.
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  15. Hannah Ginsborg (2006). Kant's Biological Teleology and Its Philosophical Significance. In A Companion to Kant. Blackwell Publishing.
    The article surveys Kant’s treatment of biological teleology in the ’Critique of Judgment’, with special attention to the question of whether the notion of natural teleology is coherent. It argues that our entitlement to regard nature as teleological is not established by the argument of the ’Antinomy’, but rather results from our entitlement to regard the workings of our own cognitive faculties in normative terms. This implies a view of the relation between biological teleology and the representational character of mind (...)
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  16. Hannah Ginsborg (2004). Two Kinds of Mechanical Inexplicability in Kant and Aristotle. Journal of the History of Philosophy 42 (1):33-65.
    I distinguish two senses in which organisms are mechanically inexplicable for Kant. Mechanical inexplicability in the first sense is shared with artefacts, and consists in their exhibiting regularities irreducible to the regularities of matter. Mechanical inexplicability in the second sense is peculiar to organisms, consisting in the reciprocal causal dependence of an organism's parts. This distinction corresponds to two strands of thought in Aristotle, one supporting a teleological conception of organisms, the other supporting a conception of organisms as natural. Recognizing (...)
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  17. Stephen Houlgate (2011). Nature and History: Ultimate and Final Purpose. In Will Dudley & Kristina Engelhardt (eds.), Immanuel Kant: Key Concepts. Acumen. 184-199.
  18. Patrick Paul Kain (1999). Review: Reath, Herman, Korsgaard (Ed), Reclaiming the History of Ethics: Essays for John Rawls. [REVIEW] Kantian Review 3:114-122.
  19. Immanuel Kant (1928). Kant's Critique of Teleological Judgement. Oxford, the Clarendon Press.
  20. Daniel Kolb (1992). Kant, Teleology, and Evolution. Synthese 91 (1-2):9 - 28.
    This essay examines Kant's idea of organic teleology. The first two sections are devoted to Kant's analysis and justification of teleological conceptions in biology. Both the idea of teleology and Kant's anti-reductionism are derived from basic elements of his critical treatment of the human intellect. The third section discusses the limitations Kant places on accounts of origins in the life world. It is argued that the limitations Kant places on accounts of the origins of species do not follow from his (...)
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  21. James Kreines (2008). The Logic of Life: Hegel's Philosophical Defense of Teleological Explanation of Living Beings. In , The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy. Cambridge Univ Pr.
    Kant argues that we necessarily conceive of living beings in irreducibly teleological terms, but that we cannot know that living beings themselves truly satisfy the implications of teleological judgment. Hegel argues in response that we can know that living beings are teleological systems. Both Kant and Hegel here advocate positions distinct from those most popular today. And although much of the biological science of their time is now outdated, each has philosophical arguments of lasting interest and import. I focus on (...)
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  22. Gerhard Lehmann (1962). Kant und der evolutionismus. Zur thematik der Kantforschung Paul menzers. Kant-Studien 53 (1-4):389-410.
  23. Brandon C. Look (2006). Blumenbach and Kant on Mechanism and Teleology in Nature: The Case of the Formative Drive. In Justin E. H. Smith (ed.), The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
  24. Shidan Lotfi (2010). The 'Purposiveness' of Life. The Monist 93 (1):123 - 134.
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  25. Richard N. Manning (2011). A Spinozistic Deduction of the Kantian Concept of a Natural End. Philo 14 (2):176-200.
    Kant distinguishes “natural ends” as exhibiting a part-whole reciprocal causal structure in virtue of which we can only conceive them as having been caused through a conception, as if by intelligent design. Here, I put pressure on Kant’s position by arguing that his view of what individuates and makes cognizable material bodies of any kind is inadequate and needs supplementation. Drawing on Spinoza, I further urge that the needed supplement is precisely the whole-part reciprocal causal structure that Kant takes to (...)
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  26. John D. McFarland (1970). Kant's Concept of Teleology. [Edinburgh]University of Edinburgh Press.
  27. Peter McLaughlin (1990). Kant's Critique of Teleology in Biological Explanation: Antinomy and Teleology. E. Mellen Press.
  28. Dalia Nassar (forthcoming). Sensibility and Organic Unity: Kant, Goethe, and the Plasticity of Cognition. Intellectual History Review:1-16.
    In this paper, I trace a ‘leading thread’ from Kant’s Critique of Judgment to Goethe that involves a shift from a conceptual framework, in which a priori concepts furnish necessity and thereby science, to a framework in which sensible experience plays a far more significant and determining role in the formation of knowledge. Although this shift was not enacted by Kant himself, his elaboration of organic unity or organisms paved the way for this transformation. By considering both the methodological difficulties (...)
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  29. Dalia Nassar (2014). Pure Versus Empirical Forms of Thought: Schelling's Critique of Kant's Categories and the Beginnings of Naturphilosophie. Journal of the History of Philosophy 52 (1):113-134.
    The Origins of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie and its relation to his transcendental philosophy have for a long time intrigued historians of philosophy.1 When did Schelling’s interest in the philosophy of nature commence,2 and what inspired this apparent transition in his thought?3 How did his Naturphilosophie figure into his later departure from Fichte, and in what ways did his early commitments influence this departure?4 These have been the overarching questions of the debate, and they have been answered from varying angles. However, by (...)
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  30. Lawrence Pasternack (2011). Regulative Principles and ‘the Wise Author of Nature’. Religious Studies 47 (4):411-429.
    There is much more said in the Critique of Pure Reason about the relationship between God and purposiveness than what is found in Kant's analysis of the physico-theological (design) argument. The ‘Wise Author of Nature’ is central to his analysis of regulative principles in the ‘Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic’ and also appears in the ‘Canon’, first with regards to the Highest Good and then again in relation to our theoretical use of purposiveness. This paper will begin with a brief (...)
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  31. Marcio Pires (2013). Sobre o Uso de Princípios Teleológicos Na Filosofia, de Kant. Trans/Form/Ação 36 (1):211-238.
    O conceito de memes surgiu em 1976 com Richard Dawkins, como um análogo cultural dos genes. Deveria ser possível estudar a cultura através do processo de evolução por seleção natural de memes, ou seja, de comportamentos, ideias e conceitos. O filósofo Daniel Dennett utilizou tal conceito como central em sua teoria da consciência e pela primeira vez divulgou para o grande público a possibilidade de uma ciência dos memes chamada "memética". A pesquisadora Susan Blackmore (1999) foi quem mais se aproximou (...)
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  32. Marcel Quarfood (2006). Kant on Biological Teleology: Towards a Two-Level Interpretation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 37 (4):735-747.
    Kant stresses the regulative status of teleological attributions, but sometimes he seems to treat teleology as a constitutive condition for biology. To clarify this issue, the concept of natural purpose and its role for biology are examined. I suggest that the concept serves an identificatory function: it singles out objects as natural purposes, whereby the special science of biology is constituted. This relative constitutivity of teleology is explicated by means of a distinction of levels: on the object level of biological (...)
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  33. Matthew Ratcliffe (2001). A Kantian Stance on the Intentional Stance. Biology and Philosophy 16 (1):29-52.
    I examine the way in which Daniel Dennett (1987, 1995) uses his 'intentional' and 'design' stances to make the claim that intentionality is derived from design. I suggest that Dennett is best understood as attempting to supply an objective, nonintentional, naturalistic rationale for our use of intentional concepts. However, I demonstrate that his overall picture presupposes prior application of the intentional stance in a preconditional, ineliminable,'sense-giving' role. Construed as such, Dennett's account is almost identical to the account of biological teleology (...)
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  34. Nils Roll-Hansen (1976). Critical Teleology: Immanuel Kant and Claude Bernard on the Limitations of Experimental Biology. Journal of the History of Biology 9 (1):59 - 91.
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  35. Alicia Juarrero Roqué (1985). Self-Organization: Kant's Concept of Teleology and Modern Chemistry. Review of Metaphysics 39 (1):107 - 135.
  36. Daniel Rothbart & Irmgard Scherer (1997). Kant's Critique of Judgment and the Scientific Investigation of Matter. Hyle 3 (1):65 - 80.
    Kant's theory of judgment establishes the conceptual framework for understanding the subtle relationships between the experimental scientist, the modern instrument, and nature's atomic particles. The principle of purposiveness which governs judgment has also a role in implicitly guiding modern experimental science. In Part 1 we explore Kant's philosophy of science as he shows how knowledge of material nature and unobservable entities is possible. In Part 2 we examine the way in which Kant's treatment of judgment, with its operating principle of (...)
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  37. Thomas Teufel (2011). Kant's Non -Teleological Conception of Purposiveness. Kant-Studien 102 (2):232-252.
    In this paper I argue, first, that Kant's technical definition of purposiveness in § 10 of the third Critique is designed to abstract from all forward-looking considerations (teleological, intentional, normative, etc.) that accompany the conventional understanding of the term. Kant seeks to establish a strictly backward-looking, etiological conception of purposiveness in order to capture the causal link connecting artifacts with their concepts. I argue, second, that he succeeds. Kant's etiological conception of purposiveness neither collapses into mere mechanism, nor smuggles normative (...)
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  38. Thomas Teufel (2011). Wholes That Cause Their Parts: Organic Self-Reproduction and the Reality of Biological Teleology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 42 (2):252-260.
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  39. Emil Ungerer (1922). Der Darwinismus und die logische Struktur des biologischen Artbegriffs. Kant-Studien 27 (1-2):86-100.
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  40. Hein van den Berg (2013). The Wolffian Roots of Kant's Teleology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):724-734.
  41. Hein van den Berg (2009). Kant on Vital Forces: Metaphysical Concerns Versus Scientific Practice. In E. O. Onnasch (ed.), Kants Philosophie der Natur. Ihre Entwicklung im Opus postumum und ihre WIrkung. Walter De Gruyter. 115-135.
  42. Dieter Wandschneider (1988). Kants Problem der Realisierungsbedingungen Organischer Zweckmäßigkeit Und Seine Systemtheoretische Auflösung. Journal for General Philosophy of Science 19 (1):86-102.
    Summary Kant's characterization of organic inities by the principle of aninner, and that is to say, immanently natural andmind-independent purposiveness has continued to retain validity. Difficulties however exist for Kant's theory from theconditions of their realization. The following inquiry attempts to describe to what extent this difficulty has currently found asystem-theoretical solution: The realizability of cyclical causal relationships proves itself here to be a fundamental prerequisite. The possibility forself-regulating systems thus consequently ensues. Decisive for the cybernetical reconstructability ofinner purposiveness is (...)
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  43. Robert Wicks (2007). Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kant on Judgment. Routledge.
    Kant’s Critique of Judgment is one of the most important texts in the history of modern aesthetics. This GuideBook discusses the third Critique section by section, and introduces and assesses: Kant's life and the background of the Critique of Judgment the ideas and text of the Critique of Judgment , including a critical explanation of Kant’s theories of natural beauty The continuing relevance of Kant’s work to contemporary philosophy and aesthetics This GuideBook is an accessible introduction to a notoriously difficult (...)
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  44. John Zammito (2006). Teleology Then and Now: The Question of Kant's Relevance for Contemporary Controversies Over Function in Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 37 (4):748-770.
    Kant -- drawing on his eighteenth-century predecessors -- provided a discerning and powerful characterization of what biologists had to explain in organic form. His difference from the rest is that he opined that was impossible to explain it. Its ’inscrutability’ was intrinsic. The third ’Critique’ essentially proposed the reduction of biology to a kind of prescientific descriptivism, doomed never to attain authentic scientificity. By contrast, for Locke, and ’a fortiori’ for Buffon and his followers, ’intrinsic purposiveness’ was a fact of (...)
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  45. Rachel Zuckert (2007). Kant on Beauty and Biology: An Interpretation of the Critique of Judgment. Cambridge University Press.
    Kant's Critique of Judgment has often been interpreted by scholars as comprising separate treatments of three uneasily connected topics: beauty, biology, and empirical knowledge. Rachel Zuckert's book is the first to interpret the Critique as a unified argument concerning all three domains. She argues that on Kant's view, human beings demonstrate a distinctive cognitive ability in appreciating beauty and understanding organic life: an ability to anticipate a whole that we do not completely understand according to preconceived categories. This ability is (...)
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  46. Clark Zumbach (1984). The Transcendent Science: Kant's Conception of Biological Methodology. Distributors for the U.S. And Canada, Kluwer Boston.
    CHAPTER I Teleological phenomena that the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence... David Hume. ...
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