The Systematic Unity of Kant's Idea of Nature

Dissertation, University of Notre Dame (1983)

Kant's treatment of nature is often understood as an interpretation of the methods and results of natural sciences of his time. A careful reading of the texts, however, shows that Kant's treatment of nature is better understood as explicating the possibility of the unity of the principles of intelligibility found in reason with the contingent objects of the material world. The theme which unifies Kant's thought about nature is not that of providing foundations for science, but rather that of determining how appearances can be thought as intelligible unities. ;Articulating the unity of reason and appearances is complicated by the Critical nature of Kant's idealism. The human intellect is finite. Kant interprets this to mean we have no faculty of intellectual intuition. We must be given objects through sensibility if we are to achieve knowledge. The understanding provides the forms through which various aspects of appearances are conceived, it does not assure us that nature contains coherent objective unities or that nature as a whole will be ultimately comprehensible. Our understanding of both the concept of an object and the notion of systematic unity stems from the faculty of reason and not the understanding. ;Since reason does not determine objects by thinking them, we cannot explain either the recognition of or the search for intelligible form in nature through reason. That the sensible manifold will ultimately be comprehensible through the idea of systematic unity is the idea underlying reflective judgment. The experience of natural beauty in aesthetic judgment indicates that this unity is really possible. ;This interpretation of the unity of Kant's philosophy of nature has the advantage of making sense out of Kant's idealistic interpretation of both teleology and mechanism. Teleological and mechanical interpretations of systematic unity in nature are considered necessary ideas for our intellect. This can be made intelligible only when the ambiguous position of the human intellect which finds itself 'between' the Ideal and the manifold is taken into account
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