About this topic

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
Related categories

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Kant: Teleology in Science
  1. Transcendental Philosophy and Artificial Life.Gary Banham - 2001 - CultureMachine 3.
  2. Über den Begriff des Naturgesetzes.Bruno Bauch - 1914 - Kant-Studien 19 (1-3):303-337.
  3. The Extraterrestrial Life Debate. 1750-1900. The Idea of a Plurality of Worlds From Kant to Lowell.Lewis White Beck - 1988 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 26 (2):324-326.
  4. Kant’s Characterization of Natural Ends.Claus Beisbart - 2009 - Kant Yearbook 1 (1).
    What is it to judge something to be a natural end? And what objects may properly be judged natural ends? These questions pose a challenge, because the predicates “natural” and “end” seemingly can not be instantiated at the same time – at least given some Kantian assumptions. My paper defends the thesis that Kant’s “Critique of Teleological Judgment”, nevertheless, provides a sensible account of judging something a natural end. On the account, a person judges an object O a natural end, (...)
  5. Der vierfache Sinn der inneren Zweckmäßigkeit in Kants Philosophie des Organischen.Paul Bommersheim - 1927 - Kant-Studien 32 (1-3):290-309.
  6. Biological Purposiveness and Analogical Reflection.Angela Breitenbach - 2014 - In Eric Watkins & Ina Goy (eds.), Kant's Theory of Biology. De Gruyter. pp. 131-148.
  7. Kant on Biology and the Experience of Life.Angela Breitenbach - 2013 - In Margit Ruffing, Claudio La Rocca, Alfredo Ferrarin & Stefano Bacin (eds.), Kant Und Die Philosophie in Weltbürgerlicher Absicht: Akten des Xi. Kant-Kongresses 2010. De Gruyter. pp. 19-30.
  8. Teleology in Biology: A Kantian Perspective.Angela Breitenbach - 2009 - Kant Yearbook 1 (1).
  9. Umweltethik nach Kant. Ein analogisches Verständnis vom Wert der Natur.Angela Breitenbach - 2009 - Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 57 (3):377-395.
    Kant is often characterised as the chief exponent of an anthropocentric ethics that can ascribe to nature only a purely instrumental value. By contrast, this paper argues that Kant′s teleological conception of nature provides the basis for a promising account of environmental ethics. According to this account we can attribute to nature a value that is independent of its usefulness to human beings without making this value independent from the judgment of the rational valuer.
  10. Two Views on Nature: A Solution to Kant's Antinomy of Mechanism and Teleology.Angela Breitenbach - 2008 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 16 (2):351 – 369.
  11. Teleology and Scientific Method in Kant's Critique of Judgment.Robert E. Butts - 1990 - Noûs 24 (1):1-16.
  12. Logical Purposiveness and the Principle of Taste.Luigi Caranti - 2005 - 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.
  13. Finality and the Idea of Life-the Hegelian Reception of the Teleology of Kant.F. Chiereghin - 1990 - Verifiche: Rivista Trimestrale di Scienze Umane 19 (1-2):127-229.
  14. Kant’s Natural Teleology? The Case of Physical Geography.Robert R. Clewis - 2016 - Kant-Studien 107 (2):314-342.
    Name der Zeitschrift: Kant-Studien Jahrgang: 107 Heft: 2 Seiten: 314-342.
  15. Kant on Epigenesis, Monogenesis and Human Nature: The Biological Premises of Anthropology.Alix Cohen - 2006 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (4):675-93.
    The aim of this paper is to show that for Kant, a combination of epigenesis and monogenesis is the condition of possibility of anthropology as he conceives of it and that moreover, this has crucial implications for the biological dimension of his account of human nature. More precisely, I begin by arguing that Kant’s conception of mankind as a natural species is based on two premises: firstly the biological unity of the human species (monogenesis of the human races); and secondly (...)
  16. Kant's Antinomy of Reflective Judgment: A Re-Evaluation.Alix Cohen - 2004 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 23 (1):183.
    The aim of this paper is to show that there is a genuine difficulty in Kant’s argument regarding the connection between mechanism and teleology. But this difficulty is not the one that is usually underlined. Far from consisting in a contradiction between the first and the third Critique, I argue that the genuine difficulty is intrinsic to the antinomy of reflective judgement: rather than having any hope of resolving anything, it consists in an inescapable conflict. In order to support this (...)
  17. A Kantian Stance on Teleology in Biology.Alix A. Cohen - 2007 - 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).
  18. Kant on Epigenesis, Monogenesis and Human Nature: The Biological Premises of Anthropology.Alix A. Cohen - 2006 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37 (4):675-693.
    The aim of this paper is to show that for Kant, a combination of epigenesis and monogenesis is the condition of possibility of anthropology as he conceives of it and that moreover, this has crucial implications for the biological dimension of his account of human nature. More precisely, I begin by arguing that Kant’s conception of mankind as a natural species is based on two premises: firstly the biological unity of the human species (monogenesis of the human races); and secondly (...)
  19. "Kant's Principle of the Formal Finality of Nature and its Role in Experience, Iris Fry in His Critique of Judgment, and Especially in its Two Introductions, Kant Examined the Necessary Conditions for Concrete Knowledge and Ex-Perience. The Object of Investigation Here Was Not the First Critique's" Na.Peter K. Mcinerney Consciousness - 1988 - Journal of Philosophy 85 (11).
  20. Hegel's Appropriation of Kant's Account of Teleology in Nature.Daniel Dahlstrom - 1998 - In Stephen Houlgate (ed.), Hegel and the Philosophy of Nature. Suny Press. pp. 167--88.
  21. Analogical Reflection as a Source for the Science of Life: Kant and the Possibility of the Biological Sciences.Nassar Dalia - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 58:57-66.
    In contrast to the previously widespread view that Kant's work was largely in dialogue with the physical sciences, recent scholarship has highlighted Kant's interest in and contributions to the life sciences. Scholars are now investigating the extent to which Kant appealed to and incorporated insights from the life sciences and considering the ways he may have contributed to a new conception of living beings. The scholarship remains, however, divided in its interest: historians of science are concerned with the content of (...)
  22. The Dialectic of Teleology.Willem A. deVries - 1991 - 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.
  23. Kant's Foundations of Natural Science and the Methodology of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy.Howard William Duncan - 1981 - Dissertation, The University of Western Ontario (Canada)
    The central concern of this work is a presentation of Kant's theory of the foundations of natural science whereby his foundational structures are rendered as a unified system. A systematic account of Kant's views in this regard is possible only if one adopts an interpretive principle that can be employed in the examination of each of the foundations; it is my position that the unifying feature of Kant's mature philosophy is the reliance upon the methodology of the Copernican Revolution in (...)
  24. Kant's Teleology as the Basis for Orientation in Ecology.Igor Eterović - 2011 - Filozofska Istrazivanja 31 (2):299-309.
  25. Is Teleological Judgement (Still) Necessary? Kant's Arguments in the Analytic and in the Dialectic of Teleological Judgement.Ido Geiger - 2009 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17 (3):533 – 566.
  26. Oughts Without Intentions: A Kantian Approach to Biological Functions.Hannah Ginsborg - 2014 - In Eric Watkins & Ina Goy (eds.), Kant's Theory of Biology. De Gruyter. pp. 259-274.
  27. Kant's Biological Teleology and Its Philosophical Significance.Hannah Ginsborg - 2006 - In A Companion to Kant. Blackwell.
    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 (...)
  28. Two Kinds of Mechanical Inexplicability in Kant and Aristotle.Hannah Ginsborg - 2004 - 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 (...)
  29. Kant on Understanding Organisms as Natural Purposes.Hannah Ginsborg - 2001 - In Eric Watkins (ed.), Kant and the Sciences. Oxford University Press. pp. 231--58.
  30. Hegels Analysen des Organischen.Ina Goy - 2016 - Hegel-Jahrbuch 2016 (1):476-481.
    Hegel akzentuiert das Organische und seine Gesetze an mehreren Stellen im Werk. Einzelne Passagen in „Glauben und Wissen“ (1802) und die Methodologie der "Phänomenologie des Geistes" (1807) handeln von der Repräsentation des Organischen im intuitiven und diskursiven Verstand; im Vernunftkapitel der „Phänomenologie“ geht es spezifischer um den Zweckbegriff, um Eigenschaften und Gesetze des Organischen; in Passagen der "Wissenschaft der Logik" (1812 / 1813 / 1816) analysiert Hegel die Teleologie der organischen Natur und die Idee des Lebens. In den "Jenaer Systementwürfen" (...)
  31. The Antinomy of Teleological Judgment.Ina Goy - 2015 - Studi Kantiani 28:65-88.
    The antinomy of teleological judgment is one of the most controversial passages of Kant’s "Critique of the Power of Judgment". Having developed the idea of an explanation of organized beings by mechanical and teleological natural laws in §§ 61-68, in §§ 69-78 Kant raises the question of whether higher order mechanical and teleological natural laws, which unify the particular empirical laws of organized beings, might pose an antinomy of conflicting principles within the power of judgment. I will argue against alternative (...)
  32. Kant’s Theory of Biology and the Argument From Design.Ina Goy - 2014 - In Eric Watkins & Ina Goy (eds.), Kant's Theory of Biology. De Gruyter. pp. 203-220.
    In this paper, I treat the question of whether and in what regard Kant's theory of biology contains a version of the argument from design, which is the question of whether Kant considers the purposive order of organized nature as a physicotheological proof for the existence of God, and in turn, the existence of God as the supersensible ground for the teleological order of organized nature. As an introduction to the topic, I name traditional examples of the argument from design (...)
  33. Die Teleologie der Natur (§§ 64–68).Ina Goy - 2008 - In Otfried Höffe (ed.), Immanuel Kant. Kritik der Urteilskraft. Berlin: Akademie Verlag / De Gruyter. pp. 223–239.
    A commentary on §§ 64-68 of Kant's "Critique of the Power of Judgment". Nach einer allgemeinen Definition von zweckmäßigen Gegenständen und deren Binnendifferenzierung in künstliche und natürliche Zwecke, setzt Kant in § 64 mit einer vorläufigen Definition des eigentlichen Untersuchungsgegenstandes ein. Dinge sind genau dann Naturzwecke, wenn sie von sich selbst Ursache und Wirkung sind. Kant veranschaulicht diese Definition am Beispiel eines organischen Gegenstandes: an einem Baum. In § 65 soll die vorläufige Definition von Naturzwecken präzisiert und von einem bestimmten (...)
  34. CHAPTER 5: Systematicity, Taste, and Purpose.Paul Guyer - 2009 - In Knowledge, Reason, and Taste: Kant's Response to Hume. Princeton University Press. pp. 198-254.
  35. Nature and History: Ultimate and Final Purpose.Stephen Houlgate - 2011 - In Will Dudley & Kristina Engelhardt (eds.), Immanuel Kant: Key Concepts. Acumen Publishing. pp. 184-199.
  36. Teleology and Its Risks for Reason: A Closer Look at the Antinomy of Teleological Judgment.Dilek Huseyinzadegan - 2013 - In Margit Ruffing, Claudio La Rocca, Alfredo Ferrarin & Stefano Bacin (eds.), Kant Und Die Philosophie in Weltbürgerlicher Absicht: Akten des Xi. Kant-Kongresses 2010. De Gruyter. pp. 899-910.
  37. Being-For: Purposes and Functions in Artefacts and Living Beings.Luca Illetterati - 2008 - In Purposiveness: Teleology Between Nature and Mind. Ontos Verlag.
  38. Purposiveness: Teleology Between Nature and Mind.Luca Illetterati - 2008 - Ontos Verlag.
    Since the rise of modern thought and natural science, teleological discourses have been banished as explanatory tools in natural investigations. The various contributions to this volume embrace the task of rethinking natural purposiveness in accordance with natural science. They set out from the issue of whether, and in which form, it is possible to talk of purposes in nature, without resorting to an account requesting some intentional agent. The legitimacy of such a notion as that of internal teleology has been (...)
  39. Teleology and Reduction in Biology.Jonathan Jacobs - 1986 - Biology and Philosophy 1 (4):389-399.
    The main claim in this paper is that because organisms have teleological constitutions, the reduction of biology to physical science is not possible. It is argued that the teleology of organisms is intrinsic and not merely projected onto them. Many organic phenomena are end-oriented and reference to ends is necessary for explaining them. Accounts in terms of functions or goals are appropriate to organic parts and processes. siis is because ends as systemic requirements for survival and health have explanatory significance (...)
  40. Review: Reath, Herman, Korsgaard (Ed), Reclaiming the History of Ethics: Essays for John Rawls. [REVIEW]Patrick Paul Kain - 1999 - Kantian Review 3:114-122.
  41. Kant's Critique of Teleological Judgement.Immanuel Kant - 1928 - Clarendon Press.
  42. Kant, Teleology, and Evolution.Daniel Kolb - 1992 - 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 (...)
  43. The Logic of Life: Hegel's Philosophical Defense of Teleological Explanation of Living Beings.James Kreines - 2008 - In The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
    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 (...)
  44. Kant und der evolutionismus. Zur thematik der Kantforschung Paul menzers.Gerhard Lehmann - 1961 - Kant-Studien 53 (1-4):389-410.
  45. Hegel’s “Idea of Life” and Internal Purposiveness.Daniel Lindquist - 2018 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 8 (2):376-408.
    The first part of the final section of Hegel's Science of Logic, the section on "The Idea", is titled "Life". Logic being the science of thought for Hegel, this section presents Hegel's account of the form of thought peculiar to thinking about living beings as living. Hegel's full account of this form of thought holds that a living being is (1) a functionally organized totality of members (2) that maintains itself in and through its environment (3) in the manner of (...)
  46. Blumenbach and Kant on Mechanism and Teleology in Nature: The Case of the Formative Drive.Brandon C. Look - 2006 - In Justin E. H. Smith (ed.), The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
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