Kant’s treatment of teleology and life in the Critique of the Power of Judgment is complicated and difficult to interpret; Hegel’s response adds considerable complexity. I propose a new way of understanding the underlying philosophical issues in this debate, allowing a better understanding of the underlying structure of the arguments in Kant and Hegel. My new way is unusual: I use for an interpretive lens some structural features of familiar debates about freedom of the will. These debates, I argue, allow (...) us to see more clearly the underlying structure of a great many philosophical issues. Aside from some suggested avenues of approach, however, I do not aim to interpret what Kant or Hegel has to say about freedom of the will. The idea is to use this interpretive lens to better understand the philosophical issues at stake in their disagreement concerning teleology and life. This will clarify the precise philosophical burden that must be met by Kant’s argument in defense of his skepticism, and why his case has considerable philosophical force. But it will also explain why Kant’s argument itself inevitably provides the opening for Hegel’s reply, and sets a standard that Hegel will meet in a surprising way. Finally, this approach will explain why we can learn a great deal from the philosophical arguments in Kant and Hegel about this topic, despite the intervening years of such great progress in the biological sciences: by looking to Kant and Hegel we can better understand the structure of underlying philosophical terrain of the issues concerning teleology and life—terrain we are still fighting over today. (shrink)
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 And although much of the biological science of their time is now outdated, each has philosophical arguments of lasting interest and import.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 (...) Hegel’s case, its philosophical strengths, and its relevance to his broader metaphysical views. (shrink)
Hegel seeks to overturn Kant's conclusion that our knowledge is restricted, or that we cannot have knowledge of things as they are in themselves. Understanding this Hegelian ambition requires distinguishing two Kantian characterizations of our epistemic limits: First, we can have knowledge only within the "bounds of experience". Second, we cannot have knowledge of objects that would be accessible only to a divine intellectual intuition, even though the faculty of reason requires us to conceive of such objects. Hegel aims to (...) drive a wedge between these two characterizations, showing that we can have knowledge beyond Kant's bounds of experience, yet without need of divine intuition. And attention to such knowledge is supposed to show that we have no legitimate need to even conceive of divine intuition and its objects - and no need to conclude that our own knowledge is restricted by comparison, or that we cannot know things as they are in themselves. I focus here on the initial case Hegel uses to introduce this extended argument strategy: we can have more knowledge of natural kinds and laws than would be allowed by Kant's bounds of experience. (shrink)
There are two general approaches to Hegel’s theoretical philosophy which are broadly popular in recent work. Debate between them is often characterized, by both sides, as a dispute between those favoring a more traditional “metaphysical” approach and those favoring a newer “nonmetaphysical” approach. But I argue that the most important and compelling points made by both sides are actually independent of the idea of a “nonmetaphysical” interpretation of Hegel, which is itself simply unconvincing. The most promising directions for future research, (...) for those on both sides of recent debates, will require recognizing that Hegel’s theoretical philosophy includes a metaphysics, and engaging new debates about the specific character of that metaphysics. (shrink)
Kant’s position on teleology and biology is neither inconsistent nor obsolete; his arguments have some surprising and enduring philosophical strengths. But Kant’s account will appear weak if we muddy the waters by reading him as aiming to defend teleology by appealing to considerations popular in contemporary philosophy. Kant argues for very different conclusions: we can neither know teleological judgments of living beings to be true, nor legitimately explain living beings in teleological terms; such teleological judgment is justified only as a (...) “problematic” guideline in our search for mechanistic explanations. These conclusions are well supported by Kant’s defense of his demanding analysis, according to which teleological judgment literally applies to a complex whole only where teleology truly explains the presence of its parts. (shrink)
(i) There are things in themselves. (ii) We can have no knowledge of things in themselves. An obvious worry is that the denial of knowledge should undercut Kant’s own assertion that there are things in themselves.1 Thus Jacobi quips, referring to the thing in itself as a presupposition of Kant’s system: “without that presupposition I could not enter into the system, but with it I could not stay within” (1787, 336).
In this interest of time, I’ll just say something directly: this is an incredible book. Reading it, thinking it through, is extremely rewarding. I haven’t read a work of philosophy that had as much impact on me since being in school myself. The book presents you with new ideas and connections and it forces you to see philosophy and its history in new ways, even if you (like me) had been quite attached to your old ways. The book got into (...) my head. Now I find myself, in idle moments, arguing with Paul up there in my head; as if there is a little copy of him in there now, making the case for his versions of inferentialism and cognitive contextualism. Fortunately, Paul is in my experience unfailingly nice, generous and sympathetic even in argument—otherwise it might not be as nice to have a copy of him in your head. Still, the copy pales in comparison to the original, so it is great to be here. (shrink)