Mechanism and materialism, animism and vitalism polarize the rich field of biological theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which are primarily concerned with the question of how the origin of organic life is to be explained. Is the ultimate principle of an organism a divine, preformed germ that — like a russian doll — entails en miniature all predispositions of the prospective living being? Is this germ to be described as the female egg, like ovism presupposed, or as the male sperm, like animalculism believed? Or does organic life begin with an unstructured matter, which inheres in a self-organizing power, like epigenetic theories claimed? Is it possible to describe this force mechanically, in Newtonian terms of attraction and repulsion, or does it require completely new terminological categories like sensitivity, irritability, intelligibility, and spontaneity — in short: a vitalistic power?
…….Notes from the year 1755 already confirm that Kant was aware of an irreducible difference between organisms and things which can be fully explained mechanically. However he was not able to formulate the specific law of biological beings. Although familiar with most of the contemporary theories of the organism of his own time, he follows none of them entirely; and he conceals the problem of the inexplicability of organisms for more than three decades in his philosophical system, although he presents it as complete. It was not until 1788 that Kant discovered that the teleological lawfulness of organic beings could allow him to explain biological organisms theoretically while enabling him to find a place for them in the project of transcendental philosophy. Kant presents the most mature version of his doctrine of the teleology of organic nature in the §§ 61, 62–78, 80 and 81 of the Critique of the Power of Judgment in 1790.


Dr. phil. Ina Goy
kindly supported by Christoph Wehle, Eva Oggionni & Julius Alves
, cwehle@gmail.com