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Natural History and the Formation of the Human Being

Kant and Herder on Active Forces

Lecture by Dr Anik Waldow (Sydney), organized by the Department of the History of Philosophy

In his review of the Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784/85) Kant objects to Herder’s conception of reason as a force that has evolved out of a general principle of life found in all animate beings. On the standard reading, this objection is taken to express Kant’s conviction that any attempt to ascribe to matter occult, invisible forces amounts to metaphysical excess, and as such violates the limits of knowledge that his critical philosophy defends.

In this paper I explore a slightly different reading by investigating Kant’s pre-critical account of creation and generation. I argue that, strictly speaking, the epistemic stricture that his critical project imposes on him is not the reason for his attack on Herder, but only aggravates a problem that Kant has been struggling with since his earliest writings. This is the problem that on the one hand he wants to distinguish non-purposive forces operative in the realm of nature from those intentional powers governing the mind, while on the other hand such a distinction cannot easily be defended.

By revealing that Kant had a longstanding interest in ruling out purposive activity in nature, we cannot only better understand why he abandoned the concept of active matter shortly after the Herder review, but also see more clearly what it is that drives his arguments against a purposive nature in the Critique of Judgement.

When & Where?

Wed 16 April 2014, 15:15-17h
Faculty of Philosophy, room Omega

Last modified:24 March 2014 1.39 p.m.