Front Page Titles (by Subject) § 77.: Of the peculiarity of the human Understanding, by means of which the concept of a natural purpose is possible - The Critique of Judgement
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
§ 77.: Of the peculiarity of the human Understanding, by means of which the concept of a natural purpose is possible - Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement 
Kant’s Critique of Judgement, translated with Introduction and Notes by J.H. Bernard (2nd ed. revised) (London: Macmillan, 1914).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of the peculiarity of the human Understanding, by means of which the concept of a natural purpose is possible
We have brought forward in the Remark peculiarities of our cognitive faculties (even the higher ones) which we are easily led to transfer as objective predicates to the things themselves. But they concern Ideas, no object adequate to which can be given in experience, and they could only serve as regulative principles in the pursuit of experience. This is the case with the concept of a natural purpose, which concerns the cause of the possibility of such a predicate, which cause can only lie in the Idea. But the result corresponding to it (i.e. the product) is given in nature; and the concept of a causality of nature as of a being acting according to purposes seems to make the Idea of a natural purpose into a constitutive principle, which Idea has thus something different from all other Ideas.
This difference consists, however, in the fact that the Idea in question is not a rational principle for the Understanding but for the Judgement. It is, therefore, merely the application of an Understanding in general to possible objects of experience, in cases where the judgement can only be reflective, not determinant, and where, consequently, the object, although given in experience, cannot be determinately judged in conformity with the Idea (not to say with complete adequacy), but can only be reflected on.
There emerges, therefore, a peculiarity of our (human) Understanding in respect of the Judgement in its reflection upon things of nature. But if this be so, the Idea of a possible Understanding different from the human must be fundamental here. (Just so in the Critique of Pure Reason we must have in our thoughts another possible [kind of] intuition, if ours is to be regarded as a particular species for which objects are only valid as phenomena.) And so we are able to say: Certain natural products, from the special constitution of our Understanding, must be considered by us, in regard to their possibility, as if produced designedly and as purposes. But we do not, therefore, demand that there should be actually given a particular cause which has the representation of a purpose as its determining ground; and we do not deny that an Understanding, different from (i.e. higher than) the human, might find the ground of the possibility of such products of nature in the mechanism of nature, i.e. in a causal combination for which an Understanding is not explicitly assumed as cause.
We have now to do with the relation of our Understanding to the Judgement; viz. we seek for a certain contingency in the constitution of our Understanding, to which we may point as a peculiarity distinguishing it from other possible Understandings.
This contingency is found, naturally enough, in the particular, which the Judgement is to bring under the universal of the concepts of Understanding. For the universal of our (human) Understanding does not determine the particular, and it is contingent in how many ways different things which agree in a common characteristic may come before our perception. Our Understanding is a faculty of concepts, i.e. a discursive Understanding, for which it obviously must be contingent of what kind and how very different the particular may be that can be given to it in nature and brought under its concepts. But now intuition also belongs to knowledge, and a faculty of a complete spontaneity of intuition would be a cognitive faculty distinct from sensibility, and quite independent of it, in other words, an Understanding in the most general sense. Thus we can think an intuitive Understanding [negatively, merely as not discursive1 ], which does not proceed from the universal to the particular, and so to the individual (through concepts). For it that contingency of the accordance of nature in its products according to particular laws with the Understanding would not be met with; and it is this contingency that makes it so hard for our Understanding to reduce the manifold of nature to the unity of knowledge. This reduction our Understanding can only accomplish by bringing natural characteristics into a very contingent correspondence with our faculty of concepts, of which an intuitive Understanding would have no need.
Our Understanding has then this peculiarity as concerns the Judgement, that in cognition by it the particular is not determined by the universal and cannot therefore be derived from it; but at the same time this particular in the manifold of nature must accord with the universal (by means of concepts and laws) so that it may be capable of being subsumed under it. This accordance under such circumstances must be very contingent and without definite principle as concerns the Judgement.
In order now to be able at least to think the possibility of such an accordance of things of nature with our Judgement (which accordance we represent as contingent and consequently as only possible by means of a purpose directed thereto), we must at the same time think of another Understanding, by reference to which and apart from any purpose ascribed to it, we may represent as necessary that accordance of natural laws with our Judgement, which for our Understanding is only thinkable through the medium of purposes.
In fact our Understanding has the property of proceeding in its cognition, e.g. of the cause of a product, from the analytical-universal (concepts) to the particular (the given empirical intuition). Thus as regards the manifold of the latter it determines nothing, but must await this determination by the Judgement, which subsumes the empirical intuition (if the object is a natural product) under the concept. We can however think an Understanding which, being, not like ours, discursive, but intuitive, proceeds from the synthetical-universal (the intuition of a whole as such) to the particular, i.e. from the whole to the parts. The contingency of the combination of the parts, in order that a definite form of the whole shall be possible, is not implied by such an Understanding and its representation of the whole. Our Understanding requires this because it must proceed from the parts as universally conceived grounds to different forms possible to be subsumed under them, as consequences. According to the constitution of our Understanding a real whole of nature is regarded only as the effect of the concurrent motive powers of the parts. Suppose then that we wish not to represent the possibility of the whole as dependent on that of the parts (after the manner of our discursive Understanding), but according to the standard of the intuitive (original) Understanding to represent the possibility of the parts (according to their constitution and combination) as dependent on that of the whole. In accordance with the above peculiarity of our Understanding it cannot happen that the whole shall contain the ground of the possibility of the connexion of the parts (which would be a contradiction in discursive cognition), but only that the representation of a whole may contain the ground of the possibility of its form and the connexion of the parts belonging to it. Now such a whole would be an effect (product) the representation of which is regarded as the cause of its possibility; but the product of a cause whose determining ground is merely the representation of its effect is called a purpose. Hence it is merely a consequence of the particular constitution of our Understanding, that it represents products of nature as possible, according to a different kind of causality from that of the natural laws of matter, namely, that of purposes and final causes. Hence also this principle has not to do with the possibility of such things themselves (even when considered as phenomena) according to the manner of their production, but merely with the judgement upon them which is possible to our Understanding. Here we see at once why it is that in natural science we are not long contented with an explanation of the products of nature by a causality according to purposes. For there we desire to judge of natural production merely in a manner conformable to our faculty of judging, i.e. to the reflective Judgement, and not in reference to things themselves on behalf of the determinant Judgement. It is here not at all requisite to prove that such an intellectus archetypus is possible, but only that we are led to the Idea of it,—which contains no contradiction,—in contrast to our discursive Understanding which has need of images (intellectus ectypus) and to the contingency of its constitution.
If we consider a material whole, according to its form, as a product of the parts with their powers and faculties of combining with one another (as well as of bringing in foreign materials), we represent to ourselves a mechanical mode of producing it. But in this way no concept emerges of a whole as purpose, whose internal possibility presupposes throughout the Idea of a whole on which depend the constitution and mode of action of the parts, as we must represent to ourselves an organised body. It does not follow indeed, as has been shown, that the mechanical production of such a body is impossible; for to say so would be to say that it would be impossible (contradictory) for any Understanding to represent to itself such a unity in the connexion of the manifold, without the Idea of the unity being at the same time its producing cause, i.e. without designed production. This, however, would follow in fact if we were justified in regarding material beings as things in themselves. For then the unity that constitutes the ground of the possibility of natural formations would be simply the unity of space. But space is no real ground of the products, but only their formal condition, although it has this similarity to the real ground which we seek that in it no part can be determined except in relation to the whole (the representation of which therefore lies at the ground of the possibility of the parts). But now it is at least possible to consider the material world as mere phenomenon, and to think as its substrate something like a thing in itself (which is not phenomenon), and to attach to this a corresponding intellectual intuition (even though it is not ours). Thus there would be, although incognisable by us, a supersensible real ground for nature, to which we ourselves belong. In this we consider according to mechanical laws what is necessary in nature regarded as an object of Sense; but we consider according to teleological laws the agreement and unity of its particular laws and its forms—which in regard to mechanism we must judge contingent—regarded as objects of Reason (in fact the whole of nature as a system). Thus we should judge nature according to two different kinds of principles without the mechanical way of explanation being shut out by the teleological, as if they contradicted one another.
From this we are enabled to see what otherwise, though we could easily surmise it, could with difficulty be maintained with certainty and proved, viz. that the principle of a mechanical derivation of purposive natural products is consistent with the teleological, but in no way enables us to dispense with it. In a thing that we must judge as a natural purpose (an organised being) we can no doubt try all the known and yet to be discovered laws of mechanical production, and even hope to make good progress therewith; but we can never get rid of the call for a quite different ground of production for the possibility of such a product, viz. causality by means of purposes. Absolutely no human Reason (in fact no finite Reason like ours in quality, however much it may surpass it in degree) can hope to understand the production of even a blade of grass by mere mechanical causes. As regards the possibility of such an object, the teleological connexion of causes and effects is quite indispensable for the Judgement, even for studying it by the clue of experience. For external objects as phenomena an adequate ground related to purposes cannot be met with; this, although it lies in nature, must only be sought in the supersensible substrate of nature, from all possible insight into which we are cut off. Hence it is absolutely impossible for us to produce from nature itself grounds of explanation for purposive combinations; and it is necessary by the constitution of the human cognitive faculties to seek the supreme ground of these purposive combinations in an original Understanding as the cause of the world.
[1 ][Second Edition.]