Blumenbach and Kant on mechanism and teleology in nature: The case of the formative drive

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19 Scopus citations


In the middle of his detailed and subtle discussion of teleology in the Critique of Judgment, Kant makes the following remarkable claim: [I]t is quite certain that we can never adequately come to know the organized beings and their internal possibility in accordance with merely mechanical principles of nature, let alone explain them; and indeed this is so certain that we can boldly say that it would be absurd for humans even to make such an attempt or to hope that there may yet arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws that no intention has ordered; rather, we must absolutely deny this insight to human beings. Kant's relatively well known denial of the possibility of a “Newton for a blade of grass” might lead one to think that he was universally skeptical of the work of those engaged in what we would now call “biology.” Yet Kant took work in natural history very seriously, as John Zammito shows in chapter 14 of this volume, and the Critique of Judgment actually represents one of the most important moments in philosophical thinking regarding the science of life. Moreover, in the appendix of the third Critique, Kant reveals himself to be a strong supporter of a very specific position in the modern debate regarding animal generation: the epigenesis of his younger contemporary Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), who had advocated the existence of a fundamental force – the Bildungstrieb, or “formative drive” – in matter that explains reproduction, nutrition, and regeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511498572
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2006 and Cambridge University Press 2009.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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