Purposive Organization: Whitehead and Kant

by Gordon Treash

Gordon Treash is professor of Philosophy at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, EOA 3C0, Canada. He has recently co-edited and contributed to the Festschrift for Ivor Leclerc, Metaphysics as Foundation (SUNY). He has translated several of Kant’s early essays and is the author of three papers appearing in the Proceedings of International Kant Congress.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 246-258, Vol. 21, Number 4, Winter, 1992. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Kant’s mature thought tests Whitehead’s insistence that experience and rationality represent a high degree of specialization and abstraction.

In section two of the chapter of Process and Reality which Whitehead called, "Organisms and Environment" he announced that. "the philosophy of organism aspires to construct a critique of pure feeling, in the philosophical position in which Kant put his Critique of Pure Reason" (PR 113/172-73). Such a critique of feeling would, he insisted, ". . . supersede the remaining Critiques required in the Kantian philosophy" (PR 113/172-73). The context of this programmatic announcement makes Whitehead’s intentions abundantly plain. The philosophy of organism is to frame a theoretical alternative to the errors inherent in what he termed the Kantian or Hegelian traditions that have regarded experience as, ". . . the product of operations which lie among the higher of the human modes of functioning" (PR 113/172-73). This understanding of experience is responsible for having foisted a serious misapprehension on philosophy, and it is a misunderstanding that is the root of many weaknesses of modern thought. The fatal error is the conception that all. ". . . ordered experience is the result of schematization of modes of thought, concerning causation, substance, quality, quantity" (PR 113/172-73). These categories are essential to human experience, but human experience is complex, and in its complexity abstract because it is tied to sense perception. The philosophy of organism, by contrast, focuses upon the experience constituted by primitive feeling which, ". . . is to be found at a lower level." So the criticism of Kant and Hegel central to Whitehead’s proposal to substitute a critique of feeling for Kant’s three critiques is that neither Kant nor Hegel recognized that the experience with which the former was preoccupied and which Hegel wrote the Science of Logic to transcend is not by any means primitive and absolute. Rather, it is -- and must be understood as being -- derivative and relative to the complexity of the subjects that enjoy it.

If that much of Whitehead’s comment about the three Critiques is clear, it is also the case that prima facie the proposal raises an implausible expectation. For even when it is recognized that human experience is complex and abstracted from the immediacy of feeling, it is still the case that so far as we know only human beings, and, it is important to add for Kant, creatures whose cognitive functions are similar in significant ways to human beings, enjoy the moral experiences which are the concern of the second Critique. Again, as far as is known, only human beings, and those creatures that happen to have cognitive equipment similar to ours, enjoy the experiences of the beautiful and the sublime which occupy the third Critique. In fact much the same rejoinder is apposite when applied to the facile dismissal of the first Critique. Even if it can be shown that human experience is complicated and not primitive it remains possible only because it is spatial and temporal and is organized by the intervention of categories such as quantity, quality, or cause and effect. To that extent Whitehead has overstated his case. The material of the three Critiques is not immediately and automatically obviated by his discovery of the complexity and abstraction of ordinary or scientific experience, or moral and aesthetic encounters. This, in turn, renders the attempt to reconcile Whitehead to Kant (or Kant to Whitehead) at least a plausible undertaking; and I shall suggest here as I have done elsewhere1 that one important consequence of the undertaking is that positive achievements of critical philosophy -- whether in ethics or aesthetics or the philosophy of nature -- can be placed within a more adequate context than either Kant or those who like Hegel worked with many of the assumptions established by Kant were able to provide for their work.

That first result is, to be sure, a modest discovery and no more than an additional indication that Whitehead was not a Kant scholar.2 For readers whose acquaintance with Kant’s work is not so sharply circumscribed, however, something rather more significant is apparent, for despite his having sounded the Aufhebung motif and despite the differences that follow from Whitehead’s conviction about which experience is primitive, there are highly important systematic similarities between the philosophy of organism and themes Kant developed in the critical period. These similarities, I will conclude, highlight and emphasize the importance of Whitehead’s insistence that human experience is an end-point, not the beginning of inquiry.

Although it is quite impossible to document this fully within the compass of one brief study, some of it can be captured with a considerable degree of precision by reference to the treatment of purpose, and purposive organization. On the reading of Kant which is dominant among English language interpreters, that itself is a most dubious, one might say suspicious, program. This largely positivist interpretation of the critical program insists that Kant’s overriding philosophic interest was to salvage what could be saved of the Newtonian philosophy of nature in light of the skeptical attacks embodied in Hume’s Treatise and Enquiries, which seemed to have undermined it entirely by excising necessity from the understanding of the world available to human beings. Whitehead appears to have understood Kant in this way. Indeed, the fact that in a key passage he even uses the verb "save" to describe Kant’s program is a convenient index of how completely he had assumed this perspective (PR 72/111).

There are several important difficulties inherent in such an interpretation with which it is unable to cope successfully even so far as the first Critique is concerned, as the various members of the "ontological school" of Kant interpretation were arguing as early as the third decade of this century. More immediately connected to the issue of purpose and purposive organization, however, is that to regard Kant as preoccupied only with providing a stable foundation for a Newtonian philosophy of nature is a reading of his thought that cannot be sustained at all in light of important parts of the Critique of Judgment. Indeed, that there even was a third Critique is a serious objection to any rigidly positivistic interpretation. After all, Kant had described judgment in Critique of Pure Reason as, "the ability to subsume under rules." That is why although, ". . . the understanding is subject to instruction and being outfitted by rules, judgment by contrast is a particular talent which can never be learned but rather only exercised" (CPR A133/B172). Judgment is only the talent or the ability to capture singular or particular instances under more general rules; and although some cognitive exercises can be learned, this ability to subsume under appropriate general rules is not one of them. The clever person performs the task of subsumption quickly and easily: the one properly described as dumb is incapable of ever achieving the appropriate "fit" of the particular to the universal, although he may well have his fill of whatever can be imparted by instruction, including a full store of universal propositions and particular instances.

There is nothing either original or originating about judgment conceived as the ability to include singular or particular instances under rules. It is a conception completely familiar to Aristotelians, and to the extent that it regards judgment merely as the subsumption of particulars under universals it treats the faculty as static. His correspondence makes it clear that Kant did not remain content with that entirely static conception of judgment for long. As early as December 1787, at least two and a half years before he had completed the Critique of Judgment, he described three abilities or capacities of mind (Vermögen) -- faculties in that restricted sense -- to Carl Leonard Reinhold. These capacities were, ".. the faculty of knowledge, the feeling of pleasure and pain and the faculty of desire." He continued to tell Reinhold that he had, ". . . found the a priori principles for the former in the critique of pure (theoretical) reason, and those for the third in the critique of practical reason. I am also seeking those for the second. . ."3 So by the time he wrote to Reinhold. Kant had come to realize that there is a cognitive function with its own sphere of concern which is somehow related to feelings of pleasure and displeasure. He does not identify this as the ability to judge in the letter to Reinhold, but when he does do so in the third Critique the immediate consequence is that instead of being an ancillary to the operation of the understanding the capacity of judgment will occupy a position analogous to that of pure practical reason. It will need to be understood as an originating cognitive function and operate along with the function of pure speculative understanding and pure practical reason. As pure practical reason copes with the Faktum of obligation and the freedom of the willing agent entailed by that obligation without negating the necessity and universality of scientific law for the physical world, the critique of judgment will explore the domain of the feeling of pleasure and displeasure. As Kant put it at the end of the third section of the introduction he published with the Critique of Judgment,

It is to be at least provisionally noted that judgment likewise contains an a priori principle and is joined with the faculty of desire, necessarily pleasure and displeasure (whether as is the ease with the lower [faculty] this precedes the principle, or as is the case for the higher one only follows from the determination [of the faculty] by the moral law). Judgment will bring about a transition from the domain of natural concepts to the domain of the concept of freedom, as it makes possible the transition from understanding to reason in its logical use. (CJ XXV)

This, Kant concludes here, means that a full-fledged critique of human cognition will involve an analysis of pure understanding, of pure judgment and of pure reason. The powerful addition to the treatment of judgment which is accomplished by the Critique of Judgment is Kant’s assurance that like the other capacities or faculties of pure and practical reason, judgment is pure because it is "legislative a priori" (CJ XXV).

The distinction between determinative and reflective judgment that Kant emphasized so strongly in the discussion of the third Critique facilitated greatly the treatment of judgment as a third cognitive function with a distinct legislative capacity a priori. Determining judgment is constitutive of what the experiencing subject undergoes and for that reason is crucial to the experience of objects. Its function is to determine the concept fundamental to the relevant experience. It is the ability, "to determine a fundamental concept by means of a given empirical representation." Reflective judgment, by contrast, centers upon the principles which regulate the reflexive activity of the subject involved in the experience. It is the "capacity of reflecting about a given representation in terms of a certain principle for the sake of a concept made possible by that principle."4 More briefly, reflective judgment is regulative, and not constitutive in Kant’s critical terminology; and this is crucial here because it is its regulative nature that renders it possible for him consistently to add an account of feeling as connected to the faculty of reflective judgment. The function of reflection, or of reflective judgment, is the one in which principles of feeling which are not determinative, but which are none-the-less a priori, can be formulated. These are the principles destined to regulate how subjects organize their internal or their reflective lives, and as such they are not nearly so relevant, or not relevant at all, to how the concepts deployed in experience are determined, or with how they in turn determine the experience. This is why they become essential only as judgment is conceived by Kant’s third Critique to be both legislative and focused upon feeling.

It is important that the significance of Kant’s manoeuvre not be underestimated. By delineating a cognitive function -- now called judgment -- which is subject to critique because it has a recognized legislative function, he has gone a good part of the distance necessary to evade the objection that feelings of pleasure and pain are at a considerable remove from rational principles, even if it is possible to accord these feelings a place in the scheme of things. This means that to a very considerable degree in the third Critique Kant has developed a "critique of feeling"; and that marks a major alteration of, and addition to, the critical philosophy. Even if it is not precisely what Whitehead recommended, it suggests very strongly that the work of the third Critique is not to be dispensed with as easily as Whitehead seemed to believe it could be. Whatever else it means it certainly committed Kant to engage in a rational exposition of the feelings of pleasure and displeasure and to integrate these with the other cognitive functions. More than an interesting coincidence makes that as accurate a brief description of Process and Reality as of the Critique of Judgment, and I will show significant substantiative similarities are connected to these programmatic ones.

The magnitude of the shift represented by Kant’s determination to treat judgment as legislative a priori may be calculated by recalling that just nine years earlier in a long footnote that he appended to the transcendental aesthetic of the first Critique Kant had complained that only the Germans were guilty of having tried to create a "critique of taste," failing to recognize that the basis for such a critique could be nothing more than the hope ignited by Baumgarten ". . . of being able to align the critical judgment of the beautiful with rational principles and thus to elevate the rules of such an evaluation to the status of a science."5 This hope, he had insisted, must always be frustrated because feelings or taste cannot be understood as grounded in originating understanding or reason.

The project embodied in the third Critique thus signals a significant and fundamental shift within the critical period itself and is a stern warning against assuming that everything Kant wrote after 1781, when the first Critique was published, was cut from the same cloth. But an even more dramatic example of how Kant’s thought about the beautiful developed over the years of his creative activity is provided by the contrast between the third Critique and the essay he had published nearly thirty years earlier called Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime. The work is little, if any, more than an empirical anthropology, a list of the various responses to, and ways of coping with, the experience of the beautiful or the sublime adopted by the national groups Kant was familiar with -- or thought that he was familiar with. The descriptions which constitute the book will either amuse or annoy the reader, but unlike the other work he completed at the time, this essay holds out no promise of philosophic insights yet to be honed. The systematic reason why it does not is because there Kant was without a doubt regarding feelings of pleasure or displeasure as phenomena without a rational, cognitive content, which is to say that he had not yet understood the necessity of a critique of feeling.6

This bit of history is useful inasmuch as it serves to illuminate the change within the critical period. From the perspective of Kant’s analysis of cognition and the cognitive faculties, what happened is abundantly clear: When he wrote the first Critique Kant was still thinking of feeling as he had done at least since the mid-sixties, as non-rational and purely emotive. However, in less than a decade he came to realize that judgment is a legislative, cognitive faculty demanding recognition on a level with the understanding and pure practical reason and that it is not merely another function or exercise of the understanding. The immediate implication of that is to expand the architectonic of human intellectual functions. Now science and common experience are treated in the first Critique by pure theoretical reason and the understanding, morality in the second Critique by pure reason employed practically, and the feelings of pleasure which are attached to an exposition of whatever is beautiful by judgment in the third Critique. Instead of being treated as private and thus as entirely uninteresting for rational thought it is appropriate to claim universality and necessity for some of these feelings of pleasure and displeasure. That is what is implicit in any effort to subject them to a critical analysis, even although the analysis is focused upon reflective and not determining judgment.

If feelings of pleasure can be explicated rationally, the objects which give rise to those feelings are elicited into prominence, and for that reason art plays an important role in the book. For art -- what comes of artifice, or techne -- is at times beautiful and as such is essential to stimulation of feelings of pleasure in response to the beautiful object. However -- and this is the element most crucial to the present discussion -- since art is possible only when purpose or purposiveness is realized or enacted in matter, the student is constrained to confront purpose and purposiveness directly. To be sure, such purpose is introduced by the subject and is not a characteristic of the things outside that subject (Cf. CJ §62), but its subjectivity is what insures that purposiveness . . . is valid for everybody (CJ § 57). So, by the time he had completed the third Critique Kant had systematized what he told Reinhold; that the feeling of pleasure constitutes a distinct part of philosophy in addition to its theoretical and practical parts, and that the treatment of these feelings will entail purpose although the field of teleology "will be found to be the poorest in a priori determining grounds."7

The description of judgment as a capacity or faculty of purpose and the description of the subjectively purposive in its connection to the beautiful marks an important addition to the structure of Kant’s thought. However, to this juncture it is manifestly only the subjective aspect of purpose and purposiveness that is involved. This is why Kant balances that subjective bias immediately by arguing strongly in favor of an objective, or object based, purpose as well; and the discussion of objective purposiveness and its implication provides the most significant systematic affinities to Whitehead. In the first introduction to the third Critique which Kant did not publish with the book, due in part at least to its length (nearly sixty pages in the Academy edition), he is explicit and clear about objective purpose in nature.

Insofar as it lies within our power we can, and ought to be, concerned to investigate nature in its causal connections according to the purely mechanical laws of such connections in experience, for in these connections lie the true physical grounds of explanation whose coherence constitutes scientific natural knowledge attained by means of reason. But now, we find amongst the products of nature particular and widely dispersed species that contain within themselves...a connection of efficient causes. For these we must posit the concept of a purpose as its foundation, if we wish to pursue experience, that is observation, in accordance with a principle appropriate to its internal possibility.8

What sorts of objects permit, even require, conceptualization as purposive is explained in the numbered paragraph that follows. In the first place, Kant argues, the existence and the form of the parts of such an entity are possible only through their relation to the whole. Secondly it is necessary that, ". . . the parts [of such an entity] are combined into the unity of a whole such that each is reciprocally the cause and the effect of their form" (CJ § 65). Such entities are, as Kant terms them, "organized beings," and the second part of the Critique of Judgment explains that they constitute such a being just because each part of the organized whole is dependent for its existence and its form upon the relation it has both to the whole itself and to the other members of that whole. Similarly, the form and being of the whole is a consequence of the relationships which pertain between its members or parts. In short, both the parts and the entire entity are simultaneously the cause and the effect of what each is, and Kant does describe them in precisely this way. "I would say provisionally, ‘a thing exists as a natural purpose if it is both cause and effect of itself although in an equivocal sense," (CI § 64). It is an important aspect of Kant’s position here that the beings are organized in virtue of this mutually effecting relation that pertains between its members. That mutual relationship is what distinguishes an organized being from other sorts of entities.

This makes the role played by the conception of purpose most crucial since, "An organized entity includes within itself creative force [bildende Kraft]. and indeed such a force that it communicates to matter which lacks it and organizes matter. Thus the organized entity has a creative propagating force that cannot be explained through motive force (mechanism) alone" (CJ § 65).9 Creative force. bildende Kraft, is not merely mechanical power or the communication of motion. Were that all it involved then mechanical laws would suffice and there would be no difference in principle between organized entities and those which are not organized, or what is the same thing between organized beings and mere collections of matter. However, Kant is insisting that there are instances in nature -- instances that are widely dispersed -- for which the mechanical communication of motion does not provide an adequate explanation. These are the entities in which it is essential to think of a creative force that is largely, if not entirely, responsible for the entities’ being what, and as, they are. It is because such beings are organized entities that the force which is essential to their being and nature must be understood as directed or as purposive, for without direction it could never be creative. Lacking purposive direction, any force will be only a disruptive and a destructive impulse. Purpose, in other words, is absolutely essential to the conception of organized entities as constituted by the relations between their members. Not only are the members or the parts of organized beings mutually related, but the purpose or purposiveness of their relation is crucial to establishing the difference between them as organized entities and those beings which are the product of purely mechanical causes. Because in organized entities the parts, ". . .produce a whole from their own causality" (CJ § 65) the parts and the whole require reference to purpose to provide the direction and control of the causality involved. They are organized in terms of, and because of, the purpose relevant to their members.

Organized entities, then, are beings in which the purposive relations which pertain between the members are responsible for what the whole is. As a consequence of their mutual causal relationships such entities manifest an organic unity rather than show themselves as the outcome of mere collection or aggregation. Internally organized beings are organic entities in that sense. Yet Kant’s description of the organized beings makes it plain that the extent of such organized existence is broader than that of the beings which are organic in the sense of living entities. Accordingly, not all organized entities are living although certainly any living being is an organized entity. What is chiefly important in this connection is Kant’s understanding that because of the immanent causality each part manifests, organized entities are those whose parts stand in constitutive relationships with other parts and with the whole, which relation is controlled by purpose. It follows from this description and is equally true, of course, that the organized and organic whole stands in a constitutive relation with its parts, and that these constitutive relations are ones which also involve purpose. Kant did not emphasize the conclusion as strongly as he might have done, but it is a thoroughly consistent reading to argue that for the scheme being sketched the constitutive relations effect, and are affected by, the context that the whole and its members provide. It is the direct involvement of the purposes relevant to the members and to the whole which allows the entities to organize themselves without reference to an external source, and this is vital to Kant’s description. The organized beings, as he puts it, "Organize themselves and in every species of their organized products they follow a single exemplar in general but still with the deviations which are requisite for its sustenance under the circumstances" (CJ § 65).

This means that by the time he reached this section of the third Critique, Kant had developed a scheme which required purpose to be attributed to a wide class of natural entities, the organized beings. The assurance that it is impossible to deal adequately with the experience we have of these entities unless purpose is posited as their basis or foundation is central to the argument. It amounts to the conclusion that only on the supposition that they and their parts entail purpose is the experience of living -- and more generally of any organized -- beings possible, even although it is admittedly quite impossible to capture such purposive relationships within the perimeters set by the categories of the understanding. The crucial purposive relations are not categorical, but the third Critique moves a long way towards the recognition that only when such mutual relations are presupposed can the phenomena of organized and creative life be opened to experience. This conclusion is deeply embedded in the distinctly Kantian conviction that reflective judgment imposes the obligation upon the subject to conceive or think organized entities in this way. That is manifestly not equivalent to determining them to be permeated by purposive relation in independence of any and all knowing or cognizing subjects; but even granting that restriction -- and it is certainly a major caveat -- the third Critique is firm in insisting that organic and organized beings can be explicated only when the complications of the purposive relations that exist between the members and the parts of such a being are factored into the equation.10

An additional consideration is relevant here. Although Kant does not explicitly say this, it is impossible to evade the conclusion that the purposive element of the organized entity is intimately related to the way in which both its internal and external contexts are essential to its being and its character. All that is requisite to support this result is the premise that entities are organic or organized ones when the constitution of their parts is at least to some extent determined by the fact of their being parts of just that whole, and this is the characteristic of them that Kant uses to distinguish organized entities from those which are not organized. Equivalently, the whole will need to be conceived as being such that its existence and form are determined by just the members that it has. Hence, the members or parts as well as the organic whole itself all are conceived as being simultaneously both efficient causes and results or effects of the organization they constitute. To continue the argument that Kant did not complete, these results will require that for each individual account be taken of the purposes embodied in its becoming this or that member of this or that whole. Any given member or part is the cause of itself chiefly, and perhaps entirely, because it is able to accomplish the requisite and relevant accommodation to the context provided by its whole. To affect such accommodation is patently a procedure that can be accomplished only by a purposive, creative entity, and entities display their purposive creativity in assuming membership in such a whole. A merely mechanical or reactive being could at most repeat what confronted it, and so the member of an organized whole, and the purpose it shows forth, contribute to both the reason for the whole being as it is and to what the member is itself. It would not be just that member were it not a member of precisely that whole. But it is also true -- almost trivially so -- that the whole would not be what it is without that member. There is. in other words, a wide-spread reciprocity of purposive cause and effect posited by, or implicit in, Kant’s description of organized and organic wholes. The purposes of members reflect in the whole, but similarly the purposes relevant to the whole resonate in the individual members. In briefer compass, the purposiveness embodied in both the members and in the whole is simultaneously the cause and the effect of the member and of the whole.

All of this provides the systematic explanation for a passage in the third Critique which causes positivist Kantians great uneasiness because it is a direct refutation of the propensity to read Kant as striving merely to justify rigid mechanism. In the seventy-fifth paragraph which he entitled, ‘The Concept of an Objective Purposiveness of Nature is a Critical Principle of Reason for Reflective Judgment," Kant drove home with considerable vigor the implications of recognizing such a notion of organized entities.

It is quite certain that we will never adequately learn to know organized beings and their inner possibility in terms of merely mechanical principles of nature, and much less will we be able to explain them. This is so certain that it can consistently be said it is absurd for men to grasp for such an Outcome or to hope that a Newton will arise sometime to make understandable the production of a blade of grass according to natural laws that no intent has ordered. On the contrary, one must positively deny that mankind has this insight. (CJ § 75)11

No Newton will ever completely articulate the laws of living, organized, or organic entities just because each such entity -- and each part of such an entity -- is the result of purposes unique, or at least relevant, to it and to its parts.

Far more than this would be involved in a complete account of Kant’s critical philosophy of nature, but it is sufficient to establish that purpose and purposiveness play a much larger role in his thought than has been concluded from a reading of the first Critique alone. The reflective judgment of purpose as embodied in an art work is ingredient in our apprehension of the beauty of that work; but it is at least as important, if not more significant, that an adequate apprehension of nature entails recognition -- more strongly, the postulation -- of objective, purposive, and constitutive relationships between the parts of organized entities and the whole. The organic and organized entities are radically different from simple aggregations of parts precisely because they are wholes in which constitutive relationships pertain between the members of the whole among themselves and between the whole and its members. Further, the relevant relations all involve purpose; and accordingly Kant has argued that nature, at least organized nature which includes -- but is not exhausted by -- all that is alive, can only be understood completely when it is regarded as being organized so that purpose plays a vital role in its being and structure, however determining judgment may treat it. To this extent, and for this reason, Kant is able to contemplate nature as constituting a teleological system of organized beings.12

This points to close systematic affinities between what Kant had begun to adumbrate in the third Critique and leading themes of Process and Reality. For example, Whitehead’s description of an actual entity as, ". . . a purposed self-creation out of materials which are at hand in virtue of their publicity" (PR 289/443) is an accurate summary of the relations which pertain in organic and organized entities. Kant’s third Critique contends that these entities can be experienced only when they are thought to involve precisely the sort of "purposed self-creation" Whitehead described. Whitehead, to be sure, was speaking of all actualities and not a sub-class of beings as Kant conceived organized and organic entities to be. That difference may well have significant implications, but not ones that are relevant to the notion of organized being. The members of organized wholes to which Kant attributes purpose and purposive relation are responsible for the whole being as it is, but the whole and the context it provides is also part of the reason why the individual members are what they are. This is equally true of actual entities and of the complex organizations of actual entities that Whitehead termed "societies." Both societies and their constituent actualities are organized wholes, and in their organization they achieve organic unity in just the sense Kant described. For each such organized unity, or society, the nature of the individual members of the whole or of the society is in every case both the cause and the effect of that complex. Similarly, the whole social nexus is simultaneously both part of the cause and part of the effect of the actualities which constitute it. In other words, exactly like the parts of Kant’s organized beings, in divergent senses Whitehead’s actual occasions or actual entities are simultaneously both the cause of themselves and the effect of what they are; and like Kant’s organized entities themselves the social nexus are also the cause and the effect of the individuals that are its members.

Yet Kant does not, and cannot, totally reject materialism and mechanism, and equivalently he is not in the position to affirm the complete generality of the constitutive sort of organization that plays such a leading role in his description of nature. Those restrictions, I shall conclude by suggesting, provide strong evidence in favor of the contextualization of Kant’s results which was mentioned at the outset.

The former restriction is explicit in his conviction that, "...the natural products which previously we took as purposes of nature (Naturzwecke), have no other origin than the mechanism of nature" (CJ § 82) and similar claims abound throughout the second part of the third Critique. Thus, despite the organic conception that is invoked to insure that thought about some of the entities which constitute nature is adequate, Kant remained convinced that the material and mechanistic understanding of nature was an alternative which cannot be evaded. Despite all the diverse purposes that can be conceived as the foundation of natural phenomena, there is no indication that any of them is the result of more than a completely unintentional, non-teleological mechanism (CJ § 82). Neither in the work that he published prior to 1770, that is the "pre-critical" philosophy, nor in the books of his mature reflection, did Kant ever doubt that progress in the understanding of nature was synonymous with progress in the extension of mechanistic laws to ever wider range of phenomena. Indeed, as a sensed being even the moral agent, man, must be apprehended under the universally prevalent mechanism of nature.

Once this is understood, the reason why Kant could not attempt to generalize the notion of constitutive relation implicit in his discussion of organized beings becomes apparent. It is important, indeed it is absolutely essential, to think of certain natural entities as organized and organic beings. But such conception is not knowledge as knowledge is described in any of the three critical essays. Accordingly, to the extent that the science of nature is knowledge, the conception of purposive organic beings must be regarded as secondary or subsidiary for it. Such a conclusion is of course implicit, if it is not explicit, in the distinction between reflective and determining judgment that plays such a large role in the third Critique. All that is achieved so far as purposive organization is concerned is accomplished by reflective judgment after all; and this means that the conclusion of the inquiry will be relevant to the conceptions, or better to the thoughts, about such organized beings that are entertained by human -- and any other cognitively similar -- beings. None of it will pertain to, or be at all determinative of, the nature of the organized beings. Thus although Kant was prepared to extend considerably beyond a narrow Newtonian materialism and mechanism, he did not intend to reject the foundations of the doctrine as misleading. Quite to the contrary, these foundations were to be retained as paradigms of natural knowledge. Since this was so, it was utterly impossible to suggest that the non-mechanistic conception of organized beings has any application beyond the range of the reflective judgment of organized or organic and living things. To have admitted an extension of that sort would have rendered the philosophy of nature incomprehensible by imputing purpose and purposiveness to non-human and perhaps even non-sentient beings and in that it would have introduced a considerable barrier to the extension of the rational knowledge of nature.

That points towards another aspect of Kant’s critique of teleology and teleological judgment. Purpose, he had been convinced since at least the mid-sixties, is a characteristic of human intelligence and human experience and cannot be conceived apart from such a context. This is what makes it cogent and significant to insist that in virtue of their reflective judgment human beings can, and indeed must, think purposefully under the conditions sketched above. However, to go further and posit a general purposiveness of nature was simply impossible for him to accomplish on his assumption that purpose is completely grounded in the subject. Patently, in the context of the Critique of Judgment, that kind of generalization would have collapsed the distinction between determining and reflective judgment. Yet the distinction was essential to the exploration of purpose because it was this distinction that defined the borders of a domain within which notions that are not categorical, not tied to the categories of the understanding and not requiring to be schematized as determinatives of a possible experience, play a significant role.

There is, however, a considerable price to be paid for the move. If the application of purpose and purposiveness is essentially limited in this way to human, or human-like, instances, the danger of quickly reducing an investigation of teleology to the absurd is a very immediate one. The general criticism of purpose, or of the purposive interpretation of nature, where purpose is understood from the human perspective alone, was nearly a commonplace by the middle of the eighteenth century and its recognition wide-spread. Kant had been fully aware of the absurdity that lurks behind any interpretation of purpose conceived in that way at least since his 1763 essay on the existence of God. Then, as the culmination of a probing examination of the problem he had quoted Voltaire’s satirical treatment of the tendency to treat human purpose as paradigmatic. The investigator seeking for human purpose in nature will be led, Voltaire mocks, to exclaim, "See, the reason why we have noses is without a doubt to have a place to put our spectacles."13

This, however, brings the discussion round full circle to the interesting and significant point of Whitehead’s criticism of Kant, and is the reason why his contextual argument is of considerable importance here. Kant, like most if not all of the other thinkers of the modern era, had devoted his analysis to human experience and human rationality, and he undertook to regard nature entirely from that perspective. It was that perspective which led to the distinction between determining and reflective judgment and the restriction of teleological judgment to the reflective domain. Whitehead’s insistence that experience and rationality represent a high degree of specialization and abstraction is, I have been trying to suggest, indirectly tested by the examination of purpose present in Kant’s mature thought. The restrictions implicit in his promising and otherwise positive exposition of telic organization make apparent the wide ramifications the starting point has. More explicitly they emphasize and make most urgent the question of whether if Kant’s strategy exacts too high a price, something not unlike Whitehead’s may not be the more reasonable alternative.14



1Cf. "The Nature of Nature" in Metaphysics as Foundation, edited by P Bogaard and G. Treash (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992) and "Substance, Relation, Teleology: Whitehead and Kant" in Whitehead and Kant: The Inversion, edited by Ernest Wolf-Gazo and Patricia Mazzarella (Washington: Georgetown Press, forthcoming).

2Although it is not by any means conclusive, the remark at the end of Part II of Process and Reality about objects and thought suggests that Whitehead learned most, if not all, of what he did know of Kant from Norman Kemp Smith. In any case the comment deserves more careful attention than it has received. Whitehead notes there that:

The function here ascribed to an ‘object’ is in general agreement with a paragraph (P. 249, 2nd edition) in Professor Kemp Smith’s Commentary on Kant’s Critique, where he is considering Kant’s ‘Objective Deduction’ as in the first edition of the Critique: "When we examine the objective, we find that the primary characteristic distinguishing it from the subjective is that it lays a compulsion upon our minds, constraining us to think about it in a certain way. By an object is meant something which will not allow us to think at haphazard.

There is of course the vital difference, among others, that where Kemp Smith, expounding Kant, writes ‘thinking,’ the philosophy of organism substitutes ‘experiencing’ (PR 215/328).

3The note which Kant appended to this passage ought to give lie to the impression of him as a dreary pedant. "Lack of judgment is what properly is called stupidity, and such a defect cannot be relieved at all. A dull and limited head which lacks nothing but the appropriate degree of understanding and the appropriate concepts can be trained up until it is learned. But since commonly in such people the other element (secunda Petri) is lacking, it is by no means unusual to encounter very learned men who demonstrate in the employment of their discipline that lack which can never be made good" (AI 34-135/B 172-173). It ought not to be forgotten that by the time he wrote this Kant had spent several terms as dean of the faculty in Königsberg.

4Letter dated 28 and 31 December 1787. Briefwechsel (Meiner: Hamburg, 1972), 335. In this letter Kant forecast to Reinhold that the inclusion of a cognitive capacity to deal with feelings of pleasure and displeasure will, ". . .provide me with material adequate for the rest of my life."

5Section V of the first "Introduction" to the Critique of Judgment, K.G.S. XX 211. See also Ralf Meerbote’s translation and discussion of this text. Kant’s Aesthetics, edited and introduced by Ralf Meerbote (Atascadero: California. Ridgeview, 1991), 10-12.

6Critique of Pure Reason, A21/B35.

7The following excerpt is characteristic of that work: "At the outset of any given acquaintance the Englishman is reserved and quite indifferent to strangers. He has little inclination for the small pleasantries, but on the other hand as soon as he is a friend he is fully prepared to exert himself in order to be useful. He is little concerned about being witty in society or about demonstrating highly-cultivated hesitation. On the other hand. however, he is reasonable and settled. He is a poor imitator, and he does not much concern himself with how others judge him. He simply follows his own taste. In his relations to women he is not much for French politeness but demonstrates a much greater respect so far as they are concerned [than the Frenchman does]. Indeed, perhaps he carries this respect too far inasmuch as in marriage he commonly accords his wife unlimited esteem. He is resolute, from time to time stubborn. He is bold and decisive, often presumptuous; and he works on principle, commonly to the point of obstinacy. He often stands alone, not out of vanity but because he concerns himself so little about others, and he does not easily mould his taste by compliance or imitation. For this reason he is seldom as much loved as the Frenchman, but when known is commonly more highly regarded.... If we make the attempt to apply these notions in some one case, in order to examine, the feeling of honor, for example, the following national differences manifest themselves. Among the French the feeling of honor is vanity, among the Spanish it is arrogance, with the English it is pride, for the Germans it is haughtiness, and for the Dutch it is conceit" (K.G.S.II, 247-249).

8Letter of 28 and 31 December 1787, Briefwechsel 335.

9K.G.S. XX 235, emphasis added.

10Werner Pluhar translates bildende Kraft as "formative power," which tends to suppress to a considerable degree what Kant seems to intend here, i.e., that organic or organized beings are not just formed, but formed from something either identical with, or else very similar to, the purposive elements of its members.

11Kant had begun to discuss organized beings two years before the publication of the Critique of Judgment in an occasional piece. On the Use of Teleological Principles in ‘Philosophy KUS. VII, 157-184. "The concept of an organized being already entails that it is matter in which everything stands to everything else in the relation of means and ends and that this [being] can be thought only as a system of final causes . . ." K.G.S. VII, 179.

12This passage betrays a solid and important continuity with Kant’s earlier philosophy of nature as outlined in The One Possible Basis for a Determination of the Existence of God which he published in 1763. There he had insisted, ". It will be said that it is not possible to discover the natural causes through which the most lowly cabbage is generated according to completely mechanical laws, and yet one dares an explanation of the origin of the universe at large. But still, no philosopher has ever been in a position to render any of the laws of the growth or inner movement of an already existing plant as distinct and mathematically certain as those to which all the motions of the heavenly bodies conform. The nature of the objects is completely altered here. The large, the astonishing, is infinitely more comprehensible than the small and marvelous." Treash translation (New York: Abaris Books, 1979), 189. Kant’s interest in the essay on the existence of God is to demonstrate that physical law holds sway over a much broader array of phenomena than is usually thought, even by Newtonians. That presumption had provided the theoretical basis of his theory concerning the formation of the physical universe first announced in the Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1755).

13The title of § 82 of the third Critique is "On the Teleological System in the External Relations of Organized Entities."

14KGS II, 131, Treash translation 175.

15Reiner Wiehl develops several of the topics explored here from a different perspective, and in much greater detail in his recent papers. Cf. "Whitehead’s Cosmology of Feeling: Between Ontology and Anthropology" in Whiteheads Metaphysics of Creativity, edited by Frederich Rapp and Reiner Wiehl (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), and especially "Kant’s Criticism of Panpsychism from the Perspective of the Whiteheadian Metaphysics of Subjectivity" in Metaphysics as Foundation, edited by Paul Bogaard and Gordon Treash (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).