Kant’s influence on the development of biology: A critical consideration from historical and contemporary perspectives

Dissertation, Cardiff University (2018)

Abstract
Previous discussions of Kant’s influence on German biology have resulted in contradictory accounts. Zammito argues both that Kant could not have influenced German biology because his account is fundamentally incompatible with the presuppositions of biological naturalism, and biology only emerged because biologists misunderstood Kant’s philosophy. I argue that his account exposes an important difficulty when considering Kant’s influence on the development of biology, since it correctly identifies a fundamental incompatibility between biological naturalism and Kant. However, this does not demonstrate that Kant could not have been influential on the development of biology. Instead, I propose a broader conception of influence that includes both intentional and non-intentional forms of misunderstanding. I examine Kant’s influence on the development of biology in the British Isles. Both in the history of science and contemporary research, the literature tends to focus on Kant’s ‘Critique of Teleological Judgment’ as this is where Kant discusses how biological entities require us to judge them as if they possessed the properties of self-organization, growth and reproduction. I argue that Kant’s influence on biology in the British Isles originates from his account of scientific methodology in his earlier work, the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant’s account was influential on William Whewell. Kant argued that the unity of science was merely a presupposition for scientific enquiry, whereas Whewell argued this unity was an inherent property of the world that science was discovering. I argue that Whewell intentionally misinterpreted aspects of Kant’s philosophy to develop a more naturalistic theory of science. Whewell was influential on the development of Darwin’s scientific methodology in the Origin as he argues for the correctness of his theory on the basis that it displays consilience. Whewell’s account of science was not only influential for the development of biology but also for more recent accounts of scientific methodology and reductivist accounts of science. I argue that this dual philosophical-historical approach provides the basis for a richer, more adequate understanding of how Kant’s philosophy has continued to exert a strong though often unrecognised influence on developments in biological theory such as immunology and contemporary accounts of biological autonomy. All the same that influence is highly problematic because of the original incompatibility between transcendental idealism and biological naturalism. Understanding how aspects of Kant’s philosophy are intertwined with both the development of biology and contemporary philosophy of biology allows us to assess the conjoint costs and benefits of the synthesis between Kant’s philosophy and philosophy of biology.
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