Extract from Kaehler MS, student notes from Kant's lectures on physical geography, 1775
The London Post-Kantian Seminar (2019-2021)
Research Networking Grant (R11148) - with G. Anthony Bruno (Royal Holloway)
The London Post-Kantian Seminar is a workshop series that will rotate through philosophy departments at University of London colleges, showcasing new work by established scholars, early career researchers, and graduate students specialising in post-Kantian thought. For more information about our events, see the LPKS website. For details of the grant, see here.
The Road Not Taken: Kant and Organised Systems (2017-2020)
Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (ECF-2017-035)
Since Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum western science has travelled down a road marked by two distinctive features. On one side it has developed a powerful account of nature according to physical causes. Yet on the other side it has opened a problem: many aspects of our everyday experience – such as organisation, mind, and value – don’t seem to fit in this account of nature. If scientists want to stay on the scientific road and take such aspects seriously, it seems as though they must give reductive accounts that operate on the physical level. These accounts render such aspects subservient to physical conditions, or even illusory, drastically reducing their importance for our best account of nature and hence for our decision-making that aims to put this account to use.
While the road of science paves much of contemporary life, the focus on organisation in Developmental Systems Theory (DST) splits off on a new venture. DST is a new field of research in biology that views organisation as the condition on which Darwin’s principle of natural selection is possible. While philosophers have previously aimed to explain biological organisation through reduction (Mayr 2004, Sober 2000) or supervenience (Chalmers 1996), thereby staying on Bacon’s Way, developmental systems theorists (e.g. Oyama 1985, Griffiths & Gray 2001, Barbieri 2008, Kauffman 2013) and philosophers inspired by their work (e.g. Dupré 1993, Mossio & Bich 2014) refer to multiple levels of causation to explain how organisms are part of the causal domain of physics and yet capable of interaction with their constraining environment through causally efficacious organising principles. The alternative presented by DST is far from new. It follows signs left in the history of science; in particular, in Kant’s account of organised systems in Critique of the Power of Judgment (CPJ). It follows a road once taken but later abandoned in the ascendance of neo-Darwinism.
Hitherto work on Kant’s CPJ has been unsystematic and obscure. For this reason developmental systems theorists who call on CPJ have been criticised for projecting contemporary problems onto Kant (Richards 2000) and, more seriously, for denaturalising biology (Zammito 2006). Such criticism undermines the exciting potential of DST to lead us beyond a centuries-old impasse. Therefore, this project aims to discern, reconstruct, and present the unexplored possibilities captured in Kant’s CPJ for the sake of advancing current debates. The historical goal is to open a new area of scholarship attentive to the extensive investigation of organised systems in the late-18th and 19th centuries stemming from Kant’s work. The practical goal is to free (a) DST from the confines of restrictive philosophical accounts of nature, and, more generally, (b) scientific inquiry – in the broadest sense of the term – from the ideal of physical reduction.
For initial work on the historical dimension of the project, see 'Kant and Experimental Philosophy'. For a sketch of the systematic dimension, see 'Two Directions for Teleology: Naturalism and Idealism'.
Trinity College, Cambridge