The Petri Dish Only Confirms that Kant was Correct: Or Technical, Teleological, and Practical ‘Purposiveness’ in Science and Morality (15 Pages)- Updated July 2019

Updated July 2019


The Petri Dish Only Confirms that Kant was Correct by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Pdf version with footnotes (rather than endnotes), page numbers, and proper formatting of the table portraying Newton’s Laws of Motion and Kant’s Laws of General Mechanics:

Presented at: “Religion, Society, and the Science of Life” Conference at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, 21 July, 2017

The Petri Dish Only Confirms that Kant was Correct:

Or Technical, Teleological, and Practical ‘Purposiveness’ in Science and Morality[1]

“The most important issue is to know how one properly fulfills one’s place in creation and correctly understands what one must be in order to be a human being.”  (Immanuel Kant, Handwritten Comments to ‘Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime’), ed. by Marie Rischmüller [Hamburg, 1991] 36 [McGaughey translation])

“At many places my presentation would have had far more clarity, if it hadn’t needed to be so clear.”  (Immanuel Kant, Reflexion #16 von Reflexionen Kants zur Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Leipzig, Fues’s Verlag (R. Reisland), 1884):  7 [McGaughey translation])


The “Call for Papers” of our conference begins:  “’There will never be a Newton for the blade of grass,’ Kant wrote in 1784, a quarter-century before the birth of Charles Darwin, and less than a half-century before the first synthesis of an organic compound in a laboratory.”  Proof texting must be called-out wherever it occurs.  What does Kant say?  “[…] [I]t would be absurd […] to hope that there may […] arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws that no intention has ordered […].” (Critique of Judgment AA V: 400 ; emphasis added) He also said:  “We can by no means prove the impossibility of the generation of organized products of nature through the mere mechanism of nature, because […] we have no insight into their primary internal ground, and thus we cannot reach the internal and completely sufficient principle of the possibility of nature […].” (Critique of Judgment AA V: 388) Kant’s point in the third Critique:  because we directly experience only effects, not causes, we must presume that a lawful order purposefully governs theoretical reason (nature) and practical reason (morality).  In the first introduction to the third Critique, Kant writes: “The special principle of judgment is […]: Nature specifies its general laws into empirical ones, in accordance with the form of a logical system [i.e., intentionality (McGaughey)], in behalf of judgment” (“First Introduction” – Critique of Judgment AA XX: 216).  This heuristic strategy of  presumed purposiveness is incapable of proof/disproof (here we have no teleological proof of God), but without its assumption nature is “a raw chaotic aggregate” (“First Introduction” AA XX: 209), not a system, and both an understanding of nature and ourselves is impossible.  The paper proposes that reflecting (not determining) judgment (i.e., a special, internal, motivating feeling) governs, but does not ground, theoretical and practical reason to make both the natural sciences and morality (as “religion” at the core of all historical religions) possible.


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