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 (2013)
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Abstract

Kant’s teleology as presented in the Critique of Judgment is commonly interpreted in relation to the late eighteenth-century biological research of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. In the present paper, I show that this interpretative perspective is incomplete. Understanding Kant’s views on teleology and biology requires a consideration of the teleological and biological views of Christian Wolff and his rationalist successors. By reconstructing the Wolffian roots of Kant’s teleology, I identify several little known sources of Kant’s views on biology. I argue that one of Kant’s main contributions to eighteenth-century debates on biology consisted in demarcating biology from metaphysics. Kant rejected Wolffian views on the hierarchy of sciences, according to which propositions specifying the functions of organisms are derived from theological truths. In addition, Kant argued that organic self-organization necessitates a teleological description in order to show that self-organization does not support materialism. By demarcating biology and metaphysics, Kant made a small yet important contribution to establishing biology as a science

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Hein Van Den Berg
University of Amsterdam

Citations of this work

Christian Wolff.Matt Hettche & Corey W. Dyck - 2019 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Theoretical Virtues in Eighteenth-Century Debates on Animal Cognition.Hein van den Berg - 2020 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 42 (3):1-35.
Animal Languages in Eighteenth-Century German Philosophy and Science.Hein van den Berg - 2022 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 93:72-81.
Teleology and the Organism: Kant's Controversial Legacy for Contemporary Biology.Andrea Gambarotto & Auguste Nahas - 2022 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 93:47-56.

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