Kant on the Peculiarity of the Human Understanding and the Antinomy of the Teleological Power of Judgment

In Violetta L. Waibel, Margit Ruffing & David Wagner (eds.), Natur und Freiheit: Akten des XII. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter. pp. 1677–1684 (2018)
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Kant argues in the Critique of the Teleological Power of Judgment that the first stage in resolving the problem of teleology is conceiving it correctly. He explains that the conflict between mechanism and teleology, properly conceived, is an antinomy of the power of judgment in its reflective use regarding regulative maxims, and not an antinomy of the power of judgment in its determining use regarding constitutive principles. The matter in hand does not concern objective propositions regarding the possibility of objects or actual features of certain objects, namely, organisms. It is rather a methodological issue as to the appropriate way to explain the generation, development, and function of organisms. Taken in this manner as subjective maxims guiding the explanation and inquiry of organisms, the principles of mechanism and teleology need not necessarily be seen as contradictorily opposed but instead can be combined in the study of organisms. This, however, is not enough to complete the analysis of the antinomy of the teleological power of judgment. In order to show that there is an antinomy in this case, Kant has to establish that both seemingly conflicting maxims are necessary and natural to the human mind. He does it by grounding them in the ‘special character’ or peculiarity (Eigentümlichkeit) of the human understanding. However, it is not entirely clear just what exactly this peculiarity of the human understanding is. Paul Guyer argues that Kant suggests two different accounts of the peculiarity of the human intellect. According to one account, this peculiarity consists in the fact that our understanding forms general concepts and according to another, in its propensity to proceed from the parts to the whole. I will argue in this paper that Kant puts forward a single account, in which the combination of these two features demonstrate the peculiarity of the human understanding manifested in the encounter with organisms. This account explains the necessity of the regulative maxims of mechanism and teleology, and thus completes Kant’s analysis of the antinomy of the teleological power of judgment.
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