Oct 13, 2012

Kant’s Teleology

By Marsigit
Yogyakarta State University

In the Critics of Judgment (The Kritik der Urteilskraft), Kant considered teleology in nature as it is posed by the existence in organic bodies of things of which the parts are reciprocally means and ends to each other.

According to him, in dealing with these bodies, one cannot be content with merely mechanical principles; yet if mechanism is abandoned and the notion of a purpose or end of nature is taken literally, this seems to imply that the things to which it applies must be the work of some supernatural designer; but this would mean a passing from the sensible to the supra-sensible, a step proved in the first Critique to be impossible.

Kant answered this objection by admitting that teleological language cannot be avoided in taking account of natural phenomena; but it must be understood as meaning only that organisms must be thought of "as if" they were the product of design , and that is by no means the same as saying that they are deliberately produced; Kant called this kind of judgment as 'teleological judgment’ (Burnham, 2004).

Kant insisted that there are things, such as living beings, whose parts exist for the sake of their whole and their whole for the sake of their parts, however these “organic” things cannot be brought under the rules that apply to all other appearances, what are we to do with them?

He hen claimed that while efficiently causal explanations are always best there will never be a Newton for a blade of grass, therefore the organic must be explained as if it were constituted as teleological.

Burnham, 2004, has a broadly speaking that a teleological judgment concerns an object the possibility of which can only be understood from the point of view of its purpose in which Kant will claim that teleological judgments are also reflective, but in a different way has different indeterminacy with respect to the concepts typical of natural science.

According to him, reflective judgments the judgment doing a job for itself, rather than being a mere co-ordinator of concepts and intuitions; thus, reflective judgments might be the best place to search for judgment's a priori legislating principle.

Burnham, 2004, noted that Kant believes he has demonstrated the necessity of the general suitability that he called the finality or purposefulness of nature for the purposes of our judgment; Kant offers a number of arguments to prove the existence and validity of this principle and suggested that without such a principle, science would not be possible and our judgments about beauty would not exhibit the communicability, or tendency to universality even in the absence of a concept, that they do.

Objective Purposiveness and Science

Burnham, 2004 elaborated that, on Kant’s account, a teleological judgment, is a judgment concerning an object the possibility of which can only be grasped from the point of view of its purpose; the purpose in question Kant calls an 'intrinsic purpose' in which the object was not made according to a purpose that is different from the object but that the object itself embodies its purpose.

Kant perceived about living organisms, which are both cause and effect, both blueprint and product, of themselves; he problem here is that such a notion is paradoxical for human thought in general, and certainly incompatible with scientific thought.

Burnham, 2004, noted from Kant the first paradox as that our minds necessarily supplement judgment with the concept of causation through purposes, while the second paradox is that teleological judgments are required, even in science - but not to explain organisms, rather simply to recognize their existence, such that biological science can then set about trying to understanding them on its own terms.

According to Kant, the main difference between aesthetic and teleological judgments is the reality of the purpose for the object; the object of aesthetic judgment was purposive without a purpose while the objects of teleological judgment do have purposes for which a concept or idea is to hand. Kant then claimed there are two types of real purposes: first, an extrinsic purpose which is the role a thing may play in being a means to some end, and the purpose in which the reason behind it being made.

According to Burnham, 2004, Kant takes teleology as a constitutive principle that is, as a principle of scientific knowledge; Kant also claimed that such a teleological causation is utterly alien to natural causation as our understanding is able to conceive it, however, since natural mechanical causal connections are necessary, this means that a physical end has to be understood to be contingent with respect to such mechanical natural laws.

Further, Kant claimed that teleological judgment is merely reflective, and its principle merely regulative; the teleological judgment gives no knowledge and it simply allows the cognitive faculty to recognize a certain class of empirical objects that might be subjected to further, empirical, study.

Burnham, 2004, noted that Kant argued the impossibility of the ability to experience something as alive and therefore ordinary scientific judgments will be unable to fully explore and explain certain biological phenomena, and thus teleological judgments have a limited scientific role; such judgments only apply to individual things on the basis of their inner structure, and are not an attempt to account for their existence.

However, Kant believed to have discovered a role for teleological judgments within natural science although it is limited.

The Peculiarity of the Human Understanding

Burnham, 2004, noted from Kant that because of a fundamental 'peculiarity' of the human understanding, a proper concept of a natural purpose is impossible for us, and has to be supplemented with the concept of production according to a separate purpose; our minds is as intellectus ectypus that is cognition only by way of images therefore, it is impossible for us to understand something that is at the same time object and purpose.

Therefore, this characterization of the human intellect raises the possibility of another form of intellect as intellectus archetypus that is cognition directly through the original in which there would be no distinction between perceiving a thing, understanding a thing, and the thing existing; this is as close as our finite minds can get to understanding the mind of God.

Kant, in Burnham, 2004, reminded that if reason does not pay sufficient critical attention to the reflection involved, the result is an antinomy between the basic scientific principle of the understanding that is to seek to treat everything as necessary in being subject to natural laws, and the teleological principle that there are some objects that are cannot be treated according to these laws, and are thus radically contingent with respect to them.

He suggested that the teleological reflective judgment is a necessity for human minds because of a peculiarity of minds.

He said that in our understanding of the world, universal principle never fully determines any particular thing in all its real detail, therefore, although necessary in them-selves as part of the order of nature, there must be contingent with respect to our universal concept and it is simply beyond our understanding that there should be a concept determines as necessary all the features of any particular thing.

The Final Purpose and Kant's Moral Argument for the Existence of God

Burnham, 2004, noted Kant that the moral law obligates us to consider the final purpose or aim of all moral action as the 'highest good' (summum bonum) that is the greatest possible happiness for all moral beings.

Kant said that just as moral action must be possible through freedom, so the summum bonum must be possible through moral action; however, the possibility of the summum bonum as the final purpose in nature appears to be questionable; if our moral action is to make sense, there must be someone working behind the scenes, moral action, therefore, assumes the existence of a God; however, that the postulation of God lies within moral action in this way automatically discounts the moral proof from any theoretical validity.

According to Kant, as noted by Burnham, 2004, human beings are not merely natural beings; its capacity for freedom is both a cause which acts according to purposes represented as necessary, and yet which has to be thought as independent of the chain of natural causation/purposes.

Kant suggested that the moral law is conceived of as duty; it acts from the mere pure and universal form of the moral law is everything therefore, the consequences of action do not enter into the equation and the practical faculties in general have to do with desire that is purposes motivating action and the free will is termed the 'higher' faculty of desire.

Kant, as it noted by Burnham, 2004, claimed that the moral law necessarily obligates us to consider the final purpose of moral action, however, it is not to be considered as the ground of morality when the presentation of the result causes the action.

1.Hugo Meynell, 2002, Hume, Kant, and Rational Theism, Telling the Truth Project, http://www.clm.org/ttt, referred that since Hume's time, it may plausibly be maintained that Darwin has hammered the final nail into the coffin of the argument, by showing how the apparent design which is so striking a feature of all living things may be explained by mutation and natural selection over a very long period of time. It would take a great deal of space adequately to consider the question of how far the argument to design can be defended against such objections;but here it suffices to say that the points raised by Hume and Darwin in this connection are simply not relevant to the argument that I have been setting forward, which infers creative intelligence from the intelligibility of the world, not design from its order.
2.It was elaborated in Britannica Online. "Immanuel Kant and Kantianism", http://www.eb.com: 180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=macro/5003/49/toc.html, Kant in the Preface of Critique of Pure Reason , had accepted that the thing-in-itself is a constitutive of knowledge
3.Contingent means possibly true and possibly false


  1. Muhammad Sabri
    S2 PEP B

    Terimakasih postingannya pak, jujur saya belum sepenuhnya mengenai konsep "teleology" I. Kant meski telah membaca secara perlahan postingan diatas, namun yang bisa saya tangkap dari postingan diatas adalah "bahwa Kant berpendapat ketidakmungkinan kemampuan untuk mengalami sesuatu sebagai hidup dan oleh karena itu penilaian ilmiah biasa tidak akan dapat sepenuhnya mengeksplorasi dan menjelaskan fenomena biologis tertentu, dan dengan demikian penilaian teleologis memiliki peran ilmiah yang terbatas" sebagaimana tertulis diatas dalam Burnham, 2004.

  2. Nama: Hendrawansyah
    NIM: 17701251030
    S2 PEP 2017 Kelas B

    Assalamualaikum wr wb

    Jika ditelisik dari postingan tersebut, menurut Khant bahwa hadirnya teologi alam dikarenakan adanya interaksi antara mahluk hidup yang satu dengan yang lainnya.Interaksi yang dapat memberikan hubungan timbal balik serta menguntungkan satu sama lain.Menurutnya bahwa segala yang ada di alam ini tidak hadir dengan sendirinya.Dan tidak dirancang dengan begitu saja tapi memiliki tujuan .Dia mengakui bahwa ada kekuatan yang Maha dahsyat yang ada di luar kamampuan manusia berupa kekuatan supranatural.Namun secara spesifik dia tidak mengungkapkan seperti apa kekuatan supranatural tersebut.Dari pendapatnya mendapat tanggapandan kritikan dari Burnham. Jika dilihat dari runut permasalan di antara dua ilmuwan tersebut yang diperbincangkan letaknya pada teologi dan objek yang ada di fonemena alam.