The Wolffian Roots of Kant's Teleology

H. van den Berg

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


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. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)724-734
JournalStudies in the History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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