Kant, Linnaeus, and the economy of nature

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 83:101294 (2020)
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Abstract

Ecology arguably has roots in eighteenth-century natural histories, such as Linnaeus's economy of nature, which pressed a case for holistic and final-causal explanations of organisms in terms of what we'd now call their environment. After sketching Kant's arguments for the indispensability of final-causal explanation merely in the case of individual organisms, and considering the Linnaean alternative, this paper examines Kant's critical response to Linnaean ideas. I argue that Kant does not explicitly reject Linnaeus's holism. But he maintains that the indispensability of final-causal explanation depends on robust modal connections between types of organism and their functional parts; relationships in Linnaeus's economy of nature, by contrast, are relatively contingent. Kant's framework avoids strong metaphysical assumptions, is responsive to empirical evidence, and can be fruitfully compared with some contemporary approaches to biological organization.

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Aaron Wells
Paderborn University

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