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Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci.

34 (2003) 73109
This inscrutable principle of an original
organization: epigenesis and looseness of t
in Kants philosophy of science
John H. Zammito
Department of HistoryMS42, P.O. Box 1892, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA
Kants philosophy of science takes on sharp contour in terms of his interaction with the
practicing life scientists of his day, particularly Johann Blumenbach and the latters student,
Christoph Girtanner, who in 1796 attempted to synthesize the ideas of Kant and Blumenbach.
Indeed, Kants engagement with the life sciences played a far more substantial role in his
transcendental philosophy than has been recognized hitherto. The theory of epigenesis,
especially in light of Kants famous analogy in the rst Critique (B167), posed crucial ques-
tions regarding the looseness of t between the constitutive and the regulative in Kants
theory of empirical law. A detailed examination of Kants struggle with epigenesis between
1784 and 1790 demonstrates his grave reservations about its hylozoist implications, leading
to his even stronger insistence on the discrimination of constitutive from regulative uses of
reason. The continuing relevance of these issues for Kants philosophy of science is clear from
the work of Buchdahl and its contemporary reception.
2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Epigenesis; Empirical law; Kant; Blumenbach; Buchdahl; Girtanner
Blumenbach . . . rightly declares it to be contrary to reason that raw matter should
originally have formed itself in accordance with mechanical laws, that life should
have arisen from the nature of the lifeless, and that matter should have been able
to assemble itself into the form of a self-preserving purposiveness by itself; at
the same time, however, he leaves natural mechanism an indeterminable but at
the same time also unmistakable role under this inscrutable principle of an original
E-mail address: (J.H. Zammito).
0039-3681/03/$ - see front matter 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
74 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
organization, on account of which he calls the faculty in the matter in an organized
body (in distinction from the merely mechanical formative power [Bildungskraft]
that is present in all matter) a formative drive [Bildungstrieb] (standing, as it were,
under the guidance and direction of that former principle).
One of the most important contributions of Gerd Buchdahl to the history and the
philosophy of science was his argument for a crucial looseness of t between the
transcendental and the empirical elements in Kants epistemology.
The issues of
Buchdahls exposition remain at the center of ongoing disputes concerning Kants
philosophy of science and indeed Kants transcendental method altogether.
Buchdahl and others seek to rescue Kant from what Peter Strawson once dubbed
the non-sequitur of numbing grossness of making natural science a priori, everyone
who has dealt at all carefully with the Kantian texts is aware of the ambiguities in
the Konigsbergers formulations and the challenge to coherent interpretation they
Buchdahl generously ascribes this to the thinness of the conceptual language
available to Kant for his exposition, and he resists the view that Kant lacked perspi-
cuity regarding the questions at issue.
That is indeed the high road of historical
reconstruction, which renders Kant most charitably for presentist concerns and by
presentist standards. I must confess to a less sanguine view of the historical Kant,
though I enlist wholeheartedly in the endeavor to naturalize Kantian philosophy of
science for our own purposes.
The historical Kants intransigence over the question
of hylozoism, I wish to argue, put decisive obstacles before any naturalistic coher-
ence in his philosophy of science.
One way to situate the issue of the historical versus the reconstructed Kantian
philosophy of scienceone where the difference makes a differenceis to consider
how the scientic community of Kants own day construed Kants proposals.
cularly salient in this context is the group of life scientists that Timothy Lenoir more
than twenty years ago dubbed the Gottingen school.
In Lenoirs view, Kants
philosophy of science played a major role in helping to shape the theoretical foun-
dations of the life sciences led by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach after 1790. Indeed,
from the late 1780s to the late 1790s Blumenbachs ideas on natural history
underwent a thorough revision in light of Kants analysis of the conceptual foun-
dations for the construction of a scientic theory of organic form.
Kant (1790), AA 5, 424.
Buchdahl (1965), (1967), (1969), (1971), (1984), (1986).
Friedman (1986), (1991), (1992a), (1992b); Butts (1991); Allison (1991), (1994); Guyer (1990a),
(1990b); Kitcher (1983), (1986), (1993), (1994).
The allegation, from Strawson (1966), is discussed in all the texts cited above.
On thinness of language, see Buchdahl (1967), p. 213.
In particular, I am very interested in the pragmatist-naturalist reconstructions of philosophers of
science like Kitcher (1993), (1994), and Rescher (2001).
See, e.g., Williams (1973); Barnaby (1988); Gregory (1989).
Lenoir (1980), (1981a), (1981b), (1988).
Lenoir (1980), p. 77. The fullest acknowledgment of Kant, entailing abandonment of ideas Blumen-
bach had long held, came after 1797.
75 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
began serious consideration of the philosophy of Kant in 1786 as a direct conse-
quence of the dispute surrounding Kants reviews of Herders Ideen zur Philosophie
der Geschichte der Menschheit, especially Kants controversy with Georg Forster.
But already ve years before, in 1781, Blumenbach proposed the most important
revision in the eighteenth-century elds of embryology and physiology with his idea
of the Bildungstrieb and his implied endorsement of epigenesis.
The period between
1786 and 1797 brought the Gottingen physiologist and the Konigsberg philosopher
into direct communication, and there is clear evidence that Blumenbach assimilated
many aspects of Kantianism into his scientic methodology. There is also evidence
in the converse direction, i.e., Kants assimilation of Blumenbachs scientic method-
ology into his own exposition of philosophy of science. What is not so clear is the
ultimate cogency of either of these assimilations.
There are important issues of historical reconstruction that remain to be sorted
While one could pursue that in the direction of further developments in the
life sciences, as Lenoir and others have done, I will pursue the other direction: the
implications for Kants philosophy of science. In taking up Kants philosophy of
science in what one commentator has provocatively titled the transcendent science
of biology these scientists encountered head-on the tensions in Kants system of
empirical entailment, precisely those issues of the looseness of t between the
constitutive and the regulative in Kants critical epistemology.
One of the most notable endeavors to assimilate Kantian thought into the practice
of the life sciences at the end of the eighteenth century, and one which has the
distinction of explicit endorsement by both Kant and Blumenbach, is Christoph Girt-
anners U

ber das Kantische Prinzip fur die Naturgeschichte (1796). Girtanners work
offers a very useful starting point for assessing how Kant was being understood by
Blumenbach and the Gottingen school at the decisive moment. Through Girtanner
we can see how the specic issues at stake in Kants biological thought open out
onto the deepest issues of his philosophy of science, indeed of his transcendental
philosophy altogether.
1. Girtanners Kantische Prinzip
In Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view (1798) Kant specically cel-
ebrated Christoph Girtanner for the latters exposition of the theory of race. Under
the heading On the Character of Races Kant wrote: As to this subject I can refer
to what Girtanner has stated so beautifully and carefully in explanation and further
development (of my principles).
Kant also referred to Girtanner repeatedly as auth-
On the dispute itself see Riedel (1980).
Blumenbach (1781).
On this crucial and still not denitively interpreted reception, see Lenoir (1980), pp. 8998; Sloan
(2001); Bernasconi (2001b).
Zumbach (1984).
Kant (1798), AA 7, 320.
76 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
oritative in the lecture materials for his Physical geography, which Rink edited and
published in 1802.
Now, Kant was remarkably chary of publicly praising other
authors, and rarely did he acknowledge that anyone grasped his thought properly,
much less extended it. But Girtanners extension of Kants work followed just the
vein that Kant himself had indicated his theory of race would require were it to
become a serious scientic research program.
Rather ungenerously labeled an outsider and an eccentric by one of the few
scholars to have written of him, Christoph Girtanner deserves a bit more consider-
ation than this would imply.
It is no small thing to have both Immanuel Kant and
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach refer to ones work as the denitive exposition of a
crucial matter in eighteenth-century life science. Girtanner was born in St. Gallen,
Switzerland in 1760.
He studied rst at Lausanne, then at Strasbourg, and nally
from 1780 to 1782 at Gottingen, where he completed a medical degree under the
direction of Blumenbach. Girtanners studies encompassed botany, chemistry and
mineralogy before culminating in medicine. His dissertation was on limestone and
its organic origins. After a brief stint back home in Switzerland as a physician,
Girtanner began to travel. In 1784 he went to Paris, then on to Edinburgh, in each
locus making crucial intellectual contacts. In Paris, he familiarized himself with
Lavoisiers chemical revolution. In Edinburgh he came into contact with William
Cullen and with the theories of the latters maverick student, John Brown.
became an honorary member of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh and a
foreign member of the Royal Society of Science of Edinburgh and proved a crucial
gure in transmitting the thought of the late Scottish Enlightenment to Germany. As
such a crucial intermediary, Blumenbach recommended him in 1786 to become a
corresponding member of the Gottingen Academy of Science.
Back in Gottingen
briey in 1787, Girtanner became a close friend of the other great scientic mind
at that University, Georg Lichtenberg. Then his urge to travel overtook him again
and he went on a grand tour which culminated in his witnessing the events of the
French Revolution in Paris, 1789.
His rst major publication appeared in French in the Journal de physique of 1790,
a two-part essay entitled Memoires sur lirritabilite consideree comme principe de
Kant (1802), AA 9, 185, 234, 313314, 319.
In a letter responding to the publisher Breitkopfs invitation to submit a more extended work on race
in 1778, Kant, declining the invitation, explained: my frame of reference would need to be widely
expanded and I would need to take fully into consideration the place of race among animal and plant
species, which would occupy me too much and carry me into extensive new reading which in a measure
lies outside my eld, because natural history is not my study but only my game . . . (Kant to Breitkopf,
April 1, 1778, AA 10, 227230). The project of extending consideration of race to animals and plants
took up the bulk of Girtanners study.
Querner (1990), p. 125.
Wegelin (1957).
Ibid., pp. 142143.
Querner (1990), p. 124.
Indeed, Girtanner produced a substantial volume of political commentary on the revolution, but that
is another story.
77 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
vie dans la nature organisee.
The rst part surveyed thought on the crucial ques-
tion of organic form and its medical implications, drawing especially on Haller and
without acknowledgementBrown. The second part sought to explain the character
of irritability in terms of Lavoisiers new chemistry. The rst part drew down upon
Girtanner the probably justied charge of plagiarism (of Brown) and the second the
equally justied charge of excessive speculation (on the role of oxygen in
physiology), but the result was to make him a widely known theorist of life science.
Girtanner settled in Gottingen in 1790 as a physician and private scholar. In 1792
he published two major contributions to the propagation of Lavoisiers anti-phlogistic
chemistry in Germany.
In 1794 he published a major work on the illnesses of
children which established him as one of the leading clinical writers of the day, a
status conrmed a few years later in a series of massive works on venereal disease
(1798), on John Browns medical system (1798) and on the work of Erasmus Darwin
(1799). This extraordinary string of publications made Girtanner one of the most
important authors in medical science in the decade. Still, Girtanners study of Kant
did not leap to the publics attention. Indeed, Girtanner had to write his own review
of the work for the Gottingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen.
His book appeared
in 1796; the acknowledgments from Kant and Blumenbach came only some years
later. By 1800, in any event, it could matter no longer to Girtanner, prematurely
dead of a lung disorder.
It would appear that Girtanner began learning about Kant around the same time
Blumenbach did, and that, like Blumenbach himself, Girtanner was stimulated by
Kants controversy with Herder and Forster, which drew the attention of most of
the leading life scientists in Germany.
In 1787 Girtanner corresponded regarding
Kants philosophy of science with Karl Reinhold, who had converted from a defender
of Herder into the decisive popularizer of Kant in 1786.
In 1788, Girtanner formed
a personal acquaintance in Edinburgh with one of Kants disciples, Johann Jachmann,
who served as an intermediary between Blumenbach and Kant in the 1790s.
back in Gottingen from 1790 onward, Girtanner participated in the Blumenbach cir-
cle during the years17951797that Lenoir has contended were decisive for the
assimilation of Kantianism by Blumenbach and his school.
These were the years
of the composition and reception of Girtanners work, which he dedicated to Blumen-
bach as a contribution to that very endeavor.
Girtanner presented Kants thought as the paradigm for a new research program
in the life sciences under the rubric of Naturgeschichte, and he exemplied the power
I have consulted the English version: Two Memoirs translated from the French of Dr. Girtanner,
in Beddoes (1815).
Girtanner (1791), (1795).
See Goettingische Anzeigen 171, St. 2, Bd. 24 (October, 1796). The information that Girtanner wrote
his own review is taken from Querner (1990), p. 123 n.
See the documentation of this controversy in Fambach (1959), pp. 357397.
Sloan (1979), p. 138; Lenoir (1980), p. 99.
Sloan (1979), p. 138. See Jachmann to Kant, October 14, 1790, AA 11, 201213.
Lenoir (1980), p. 88.
78 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
of this new research program and its proposed laws of nature through its application
to racial variation. In invoking racial variation Girtanner was not taking up a periph-
eral matter in Kants thought. Rather, the question of racial variation had assumed
saliency in Kants philosophy of science, as evidenced not only by his two essays
on race but above all by his controversy with Georg Forster around that issue.
have argued that this saliency was already emergent in the original essay on race of
That essay began to set the terms in which the critical Kant understood
himself and wished to be understood as a Naturforscher.
Ten years later, provoked
by Herder and then challenged by one of the premier natural scientists of the day,
Forster, Kant found himself enunciating key premises of his entire philosophy of
science in the essay, U

ber den Gebrauch teleologischer Principien in der Philoso-

phie (1788). As I have argued extensively elsewhere, these considerations owed
directly into the composition of the Critique of judgment over the next two years.
That is, Kants theories of the life sciences, embroiled in the question of racial vari-
ation, must be construed as far more central to the problem of his general philosophy
of science than has hitherto been the case.
The essential point from which Girtanner departed was Kants new conception of
Naturgeschichte. Hitherto the term natural history in German science had really
only signied natural description. It was heuristic and classicatory, as exemplied
above all by Linnaeus.
But Kant, taking up impulses from Buffon, intended to
displace this with a real and genetic conception of the order of living forms
(Naturgattungen in place of Schulgattungen), and therewith to make history central
to the project of the life sciences.
This new research program would ask, in Girtan-
ners words, what the primal form of each ancestral species of animals and plants
originally consisted of, and how the species gradually devolved from their ancestral
This was a new and specic science which would explore and explain
how environmental changes on the earthindeed violent revolutions in nature
occasioned dramatic changes in life forms. Yet however dramatic, the point was that
these were not chaotic changes; rather, the variation in observed traits in current
species emerged always under the guidance of a natural law requiring that in all
Kant (1775/77), (1785b), (1788).
Zammito (2001b).
It is extremely important to reect on the manner in which Kant understood himself vis a` vis science;
the starting point is Adickes (1924).
Zammito (1992), (1998).
Thus I strongly resist the position taken by Stephan Korner that Kants conjectures that the growth
of organisms or the afnity between different species, are not susceptible to mechanistic explanation, do
not form part of the critical philosophy. They are obiter dicta expressing his strong interest in the science
of his day and his expectation of its progress (Korner, 1955, p. 211). By eliding Kants biological
thoughtas even so careful a student of Kant as Michael Friedman (1992b), has done by electing to
discuss only the exact sciencesjust this kind of problem gets concealed.
E.g., Blumenbach (1779), which Kant owned.
Sloan (1979), pp. 127129; Riedel (1980).
Girtanner (1796), p. 2.
79 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
of organic creation, species remain unaltered.
Kants great achievement, in Girtan-
ners eyes, was his conection of this law to a more determinate natural law
(proposed by Buffon) to explain this process, namely that all animals or plants that
produce fertile offspring belong to the same physical [i.e., real] species, notwith-
standing considerable observed variation in traits.
That is, these organisms must
have derived from one and the same stem [Stamme].
While there could be heredi-
tary variations [Abartungen] within the connes of the governing stem, there could
not be degenerations [Ausartungen], that is, permanently heritable departures from
the fundamental traits of the ancestral stem.
Races constituted decisive evidence for
this theory, because their crosses always showed perfect proportion in the offspring:
Halbschlachtigkeit (half-breeding). To account for these internal variations within
species, Kant offered the view that the ancestral stem of each species of organic life
contained a quantity of different germs [Keime] and natural potentialities [naturliche
Girtanner followed Kant literally in identifying Keime with the source
of changes in the parts (organs) of an organic life form, while naturliche Anlagen
occasioned changes only in the size or proportion of such parts.
Kant used winter
feathers in birds to exemplify the rst, and thickness in the husk of grain to exemplify
the second. Girtanner replicated these examples.
To help explicate the process of variation, Girtanner turned to his teacher Blumen-
bach. It was through different directions of the Bildungstrieb, [that] now these and
now those [germs or natural potentialities] developed, while the others remained
Only climate acting on organisms over extended time could educe such
variation, such shifts in the direction of the Bildungstrieb, and thus permanently
alter the primal forces of organic development and movement.
Moreover, once
such shifts in direction took place, once certain germs or natural potentialities trig-
gered into actualization, the rest atrophied and the process proved irreversible.
claim represented one of Kants decisive interventions in the theory of race, separat-
ing him sharply from Buffon, for example.
Girtanner was acutely aware of the way in which Kants natural history interpen-
etrated with his theory of organic form. Not only did Kant require a specic theory
of generic transmission, but he needed a theory of organic life in which to cast it.
The only form of generation that had been empirically observed, Girtanner noted,
was generatio homonyma, the persistence of species, though generatio heteronyma
Ibid., p. 6.
Ibid., p. 4.
The term degeneration came to be used in very disparate ways in 18th-century natural science; the
way Girtanner employed it signied mutation of species. It is not clear that Kant was so careful in his
own usage of this term. See Sloan (1973).
Girtanner (1796), p. 11.
Despite the considerable departure Blumenbach had by then taken from such terminology.
Girtanner (1796), 11.
Ibid., 12.
Ibid., 27.
Bernasconi (2001a).
80 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
[Ausartung] was not impossible (against reason), but only unheard of (against
experience). The essential point was that these both contrasted with generatio aequiv-
oca (spontaneous generation). That by mechanism organized beings should emerge
from unorganized matter . . . contradicts reason as well as experience.
That is, it
contradicts all known laws of experience that matter which is not organized should
have by itself, without the intervention of other, organized matter, organized itself.
Anti-hylozoism, then, was the essential posit of Kants theory of organic form. Girt-
anner stressed this about the idea of organism. Not only was it not a machine in
consequence of the mutuality of cause and effect, of parts and whole, but neither
was it the analogue of art, for organized Nature organizes itself.
In the terminology of Blumenbach, Kant discriminated between a Bildungskraft
the vis plastica of the ancients, which works merely via mechanismand a Bil-
dungstrieb which Blumenbach conceived as a nisus formativus that worked organi-
Girtanner was clear that Blumenbachs Bildungstrieb was a Lebenskraft,
namely that force by virtue of which the chemical and physical laws are subordi-
nated under the laws of organization.
Because life forms showed characteristics
reproduction, growth through nourishment and assimilation, regeneration of lost
organs and self-healing generallywhich could not be assimilated to the mechanistic
model of natural science, they represented anomalies requiring recourse to teleologi-
cal judgment, the analogy of purposiveness. This was Kants central concern in
the Critique of teleological judgment and, as the epigraph to this essay demon-
strates, Kant felt that Blumenbach had most perspicuously articulated the proper
2. The unresolved issue of epigenesis in Kant
In terms of the broader methodological issues in Kants philosophy of science,
what is the status of the so-called laws of nature which Girtanner ascribed to him?
Did Kants philosophy of science permit laws in this domain? More, are these teleo-
logical or mechanical in character, and can there even be teleological laws of
Furthermore, what sorts of entities were germs and natural potentialities
for Kant? Clark Zumbach observes, for example: Keime, as part of the generative
force [Zeugungskraft], are postulated . . . as the inner mechanisms for development
in future circumstances . . . [T]hey control the permanence of phenotypic traits and
are kept back or unfolded depending on the situation at hand.
Through them
Kant sought to characterize the mysterious inner possibility of organic form in its
Girtanner (1796), p. 15.
Ibid., pp. 1415.
Ibid., pp. 1718.
Ibid., pp. 1617 n.
Ibid., p. 17.
Butts (1990), p. 12, for one, denies it.
Zumbach (1984), p. 102.
81 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
objective reality or real possibility. What kind of theoretical terms did they consti-
tute, and what sorts of observational evidence could instantiate them? The cognitive
status of these concepts is all the more pressing since the new natural history
postulated an original or ancestral form which, at least in the case of humans and
in all likelihood for any other life forms, no longer persisted in the present.
some necessary principle of the derivation of current species from these ancestors,
the whole approach would be less than an art, it would be arrant speculation.
In Kantian terms, what made these real possibilities and not just wild hypotheses
irreconcilable with proper Newtonian science? Zumbach suggests that Kant is
making the broader claim that more than the physicochemical conception is required
to explain and understand the epigenetic capacities of living things.
the difference between the biological point of view and the mechanistic lies in the
fact that there is a concept of causality found in the former which is not present in
the latter.
More extensively:
Kant holds both that (i) the conceptual materials available to the mechanical point
of view are insufcient for the construction of our concept of a living system,
thus leaving living phenomena inexplicable in terms of the mechanism of nature,
and (ii) the basis of this deciency lies in the fact that the mechanical conception
of nature lacks this idea of a free cause. That Kant holds both (i) and (ii) is one
of the most closely guarded secrets of the Critical Philosophy. Kant maintains
that all living processes involve the causality of reason, that is, nal causes. And
nal causes are free causes. Thus to assert that something is a natural purpose
entails the view that its internal processes contain events which do not occur with
the necessity that is the mark of inorganic occurrences.
Yet this leads, in Zumbachs view, all too far towards vitalism. And, he asserts,
to fall back on a vital entity to explain the generative, and the rest of . . . the epigen-
etic capacities of living things, is to fall back on that which science cannot pursue.
Two observations seem appropriate. First, this repudiation is very much in the
spirit of the prescriptive character of Kantian philosophy of science. Kant could only
view the assertion of an empirically actual formative force as hylozoism, and there
was nothing toward which he felt a stronger metaphysical animus, even though his
own struggle with organic form accentuated that possibility. Kant wrote:
Indeed, if we depart from this principle, we cannot know with certainty whether several parts of
the form which is now apparent in a species have not a contingent and unpurposive origin; and the
principle of teleology: to judge nothing in an organized being as unpurposive which maintains it in its
propagation, would be very unreliable in its application and would be reliable solely for the original stock
(of which we have no further knowledge) (Kant, 1790, AA 5, 420).
Here I am invoking Kants language from the Preface to 1786, AA 4, 467469, a matter to which
I will return.
Zumbach (1984), p. 83.
Ibid., p. 94.
Ibid., p. 99.
Ibid., p. 85.
82 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
We perhaps approach nearer to this inscrutable property if we describe it as an
analogue of life, but then we must either endow matter, as mere matter, with a
property that contradicts its very being (hylozoism) or associate it with a foreign
principle standing in communion with it (a soul) . . .
Neither seemed acceptable. Thus, Kant did denounce vitalism, especially as he
construed it in Herder, but he alsoand ironically enough with the same breath
repudiated materialism.
Yet, second, against the grain of both Zumbach and Kant,
everything hinges on what exactly vitalism signies. Zumbach presumes that vitalism
must mean animism. But this is profoundly to misunderstand the scientic thought
of the eighteenth century, whose essential endeavor was to discard animism and nd
a new approach to vitalisma vital materialism.
That was the essence of epigen-
esis. In contemporary terms, what they were striving after was a theory of emergence
as immanent in nature.
I submit that Kants language of Keime and naturliche Anlagen and his acceptance
of the idea of a Lebenskraft as exemplied by Blumenbachs Bildungstrieb commit-
ted him to a conception of life science entailing the objective reality of forces which
could not be reduced to those he admitted in the Newtonian order of physics. And,
in fact, there is considerable evidence that, against the grain of his high Newtonian
rigor, Kant tacitly admitted the objective actuality of forces throughout physical
That was certainly where he ended up in the Opus postumum, though most
Kantians seem inclined to see that work as detached from the critical philosophy
and hence not necessarily to be taken seriously.
To give more weight to my claim, I propose to examine more closely Kants
conception of epigenesis. What did Kant understand by an epigenetic theory of gener-
ation? That Kant found it appropriate to draw an analogy of his own transcendental
method in philosophy to epigenesis in embryology suggests that something very
central was involved for him in this issue in the life sciences.
Indeed, spontaneity
and systematicity, two crucial ideas in Kants theory of reason, nd their empirical
analogs in the idea of epigenesis in nature. But we must be sensitive to the uses of
analogy which Kant was prepared to acknowledge, as Hans Ingensiep has argued.
Ingensiep suggests that Kant did not intend by analogy to extend his formal argu-
ment for transcendental philosophy, nor was analogy serving here as a heuristic to
enable further discoveries (as in the Kuhnian sense of paradigm); rather, it was only
for intuitive illustration [anschaulichen Verdeutlichung].
At most, Kant gestured
Kant (1790), AA 5, 374375.
Kant (1785a), AA 8, 48.
Lenoir (1980), (1981a); Reill (1989), (1992), (1998).
Okruhlik (1983).
See Tuschling (1991).
Kant (1781/1787), B167. See Wubnig (1968); Genova (1974); Zoller (1988); Ingensiep (1994);
Sloan (2002).
Ingensiep (1994).
Ibid., p. 385.
83 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
to structural similarities, and accordingly in no way can it be construed as a claim
for any compelling ontological connection between the respective philosophical and
biological positions.
There remains, even for Ingensiep, however, a clear struc-
tural correlation:
As, according to the epigenesis theory, unformed inorganic matter gets transfor-
med under the direction of a purposive endowment into something entirely new
via the Bildungstrieb and an organism is produced, so via the categories and the
raw material of sensibility empirical knowledge is produced. The organizing
productivity, however, lies entirely on the side of categorizing understanding. As,
via the requisites of the epigenesis theory, from something unformed and unpur-
posive gradually something specially formed, purposive (according to the most
inward interfusion of generative uids) gets produced, so, similarly, one can con-
ceive the unifying ordering of the manifold by the categories.
But this does not yet clarify the tension between the concepts of epigenesis and
preformation as they featured in Kants thinking.
The debate between preformation and epigenesis in the late eighteenth century is
well-known to have occasioned both metaphysical and methodological controversies
over the relation of mechanism to vitalism.
From the beginning, Kant was acutely
sensitive to this whole constellation of concerns in both its methodological and its
metaphysical aspects. Already in his One possible basis for a demonstration of the
existence of God (1763), Kant showed his awareness of the new twist toward epigen-
esis introduced by Maupertuis and Buffon, along with the strong rebuttal to it
developed by the leading German life scientist of the day, Albrecht von Haller.
Indeed, there is strong reason to believe that Kant followed Hallers view very closely
in his own thinking, adopting eagerly the latters modied preformation theory both
because it seemed more methodologically viable and alsoperhaps even more
because it reasserted with full rigor the metaphysical objection against hylozoism.
The specic form of preformation that Kant endorsed was the sophisticated version
developed by Bonnet and Haller in the early 1760s in response to the challenge rst
of Maupertuis and Buffon and then, more fundamentally, of Caspar Friedrich
As Gunter Zoller characterizes this form, preformationism is primarily a
theory concerning the generation of distinct parts (organs) in the growing embryo.
It maintains that growth is quantitative growth of preexisting parts . . . no qualitative
embryological growth or formation of new parts. In that light the term Anlagen had
Ibid., p. 387.
Roe (1979); Gaissinovich (1968); Bodemer (1964); Breidenbach (1995); Rheinberger (1981), (1986);
Mocek (1995); Muller-Sievers (1993), (1997); Dawson (1991); Duchesneau (1985); Haigh (1976); Zam-
mito (2001).
Kant (1763), AA 2, 114115.
Sloans work (2001, and 2002) has made this perfectly clear.
Roe (1979).
84 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
a quite specic application, just as Kant articulated it in his rst essay on race,
namely to conditions of a certain development . . . in so far as the latter only
concerns the size and the relation of parts . . . [as] opposed to germs (Keime),
which are conditions for the development of new parts.
That is, the role of Anlagen
could be construed in a quasi-mechanistic fashion; the essential metaphysical prin-
ciple guaranteeing species difference (and persistence) was assigned to Keime. When
Kant turned to questions of life science in his rst essay on race, 1775/77, he clearly
employed a Hallerian approach to preformation, but he also believed that he could
advance the argument, both in the formulation of the mechanism of adaptation and
variationthe great weakness of earlier preformation theoriesand also in his gen-
eral methodological idea of natural history, which Haller and the incipient Got-
tingen school acknowledged in principle but could not bring themselves to accept
in its Buffonian formulation.
Thus, by the time he published the rst Critique in 1781, Kant considered himself
sufciently adept in the theory of generation to offer a telling analogy to his theory
of knowledge.
I understand under the Analytic of concepts . . . the still little investigated dissec-
tion of the capacity of the understanding itself, in order thereby that we search
into the possibility of a priori concepts, seeking them out in the understanding
alone, as their source of birth . . . We will therefore follow the pure concepts up
to their rst germs and capacities [Keimen und Anlagen] in the human under-
standing, in which they lie predisposed, until they nally, on the occasion of
experience, develop and through exactly the same understanding are displayed in
their purity, freed from their attending empirical conditions.
This analogy of 1781, as Phillip Sloan has established, is crucial to any assessment
of the more famous analogy of 1787 to epigenesis.
First, the 1781 language is
unequivocally a preformationist analogy. The concepts lie predisposed in the under-
standing; they are not produced, they are occasioned. As Sloan argues, in terms of
the philosophical debate about Kants relation to innate ideas, this is clearly as nativ-
ist a Kant as one can nd.
Moreover, Kant meant to suggest an element in the
analogy which would be central to his thinking throughout, namely that just as Keime
and Anlagen were inaccessible to ultimate derivation, so too the concepts of the
understanding were simply givens behind which we could not seek. The clearest
formulation is in the revised version (1787) of the rst Critique:
This peculiarity of our understanding, that it can produce a priori unity of apper-
ception solely by means of the categories, and only such and so many, is as little
Zoller (1988), p. 79.
Sloan (1979), pp. 1223; Lenoir (1981a), pp. 120123.
Kant (1781/1787), A66, my italics.
Sloan (2002).
Ibid. On Kants nativism see Zoller (1989).
85 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
capable of further explanation as why we have just these and no other functions
of judgment, or why space and time are the only forms of our possible intuition.
But it was fully entailed in the earlier version, with its speculative gesture to a
common but unknown root of sensibility and understanding.
The critical point is
that Kant wished to see an analogy between preformation and transcendental philo-
sophy, and not between the latter and epigenesis. Indeed, there was no afrmation
of epigenesis in any of Kants writings before 1787.
In his dispute with Herder and Forster from 1784 through 1788, i.e. up through
the time of his revision of the rst Critique, Kant remained committed to prefor-
mation. Indeed, the insistence upon Keime as xtures limiting adaptive change in
organisms was the decisive point in Kants critique of Herders representation of
generation theory. The author bases his argument not on germs but on an organic
force . . . The animal soul is the sum of all the forces at work in an organism, and
instinct is not a particular natural force but the direction given by nature to all of
these forces by virtue of their overall combination.
Kant interjected with contempt:
But what are we to think of the whole hypothesis of invisible forces which give
rise to organisation, and hence of the authors attempt to explain what is not under-
stood in terms of what is understood even less?
He became more specic in the
second installment of his review:
As the reviewer understands it, the sense in which the author uses this expression
[i.e., genetische Kraft] is as follows. He wishes to reject the system of evolution
on the one hand, but also the purely mechanical inuence of external causes on
the other, as worthless explanations. He assumes that the cause of such differences
is the vital principle [Lebensprinzip] which modies itself from within in accord-
ance with variations in external circumstances, and in a manner appropriate to
these. The reviewer is fully in agreement with him here, but with this reservation:
if the cause which organises from within were limited by its nature to only a
certain number and degree of differences in the development of the creature which
it organises (so that, once these differences were exhausted, it would no longer
be free to work from another archetype [Typus] under altered circumstances), one
could well describe this natural development of formative nature in terms of germs
[Keime] or original dispositions [Anlagen], without thereby regarding the differ-
ences in question as originally implanted and only occasionally activated mech-
anisms or buds [Knospen] (as in the system of evolution); on the contrary, such
differences should be regarded simply as limitations imposed on a self-determining
Kant (1781/1787), B145146.
See Kant (1783), AA 4, 319.
Zoller (1988), pp. 8084, discusses uses of epigenesis in Kants lectures and Reexionen but there
is no reason to suspect any of these date signicantly before 1786.
Kant (1785a), AA 8, 48.
Ibid., 5354.
86 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
power, limitations which are inexplicable as the power itself is incapable of being
explained or rendered comprehensible.
Clearly, Kant was invoking Keime in the sense of Hallers sophisticated prefor-
mationism against what he saw as an insupportable hylozoism in Herder. Yet this
hylozoism is simply epigenesis as Herder wished it understood! Gunter Zoller is one
of the few commentators to have grasped correctly what Herder was arguing in the
crucial passage on epigenesis in his Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der
Menschheit which Kant was here critiquing.
But Zoller himself is not careful
enough about the concept. De facto, Herders concept of formation corresponds
to Wolffs and Blumenbachs concepts of epigenesis, Zoller writes, yet of course
Blumenbach argued extensively for the difference of his concept from that of Wolff.
There is remarkably little consensus about exactly what epigenesis signied in
eighteenth-century discourse generally, not just in Kant.
Modern usage set out from
William Harveys 1651 text, On generation, in which he characterized as epigenesis
the characteristic of an organism that all its parts are not fashioned simultaneously,
but emerge in their due succession and order . . . For the formative faculty . . .
acquires and prepares its own material for itself.
First, Harveys concept stressed
sequential emergence, and second, it stressed self-organization. Spontaneity and sys-
tematicity were thus central features. What is ambiguous in this formulation is the
nature of the formative faculty. Is it a causal force or a teleological principle? What
ontological status does it have? When does it emerge? What preconditions in the
material or in the wider environment are sufcient or necessary? Can such an
approach be assimilated to materialist and to mechanist models of science or is it
irreducibly vitalist, indeed animist? Crucially, Harvey and his early eighteenth-cen-
tury successors, Maupertuis and Buffon, believed that epigenesis could be assimilated
to a materialist approach to science and that it utilized mechanisms, even if it could
not be reduced to mechanism. Buffons moule interieure was a reformulation of
Harveys formative faculty, a principle of design which was an emergent and which
then set in motion determinate mechanisms of organic development.
invoked an analogy between his microforce and Newtons characterization of grav-
That became a consistent practice among all subsequent theorists of epigenesis.
Ironically enough, Hallers pathbreaking work on irritability and sensibility rep-
resented further elaborations of the very methodology which he found unacceptable
when called upon in support of epigenesis.
In 1764 Caspar Friedrich Wolff, in
Ibid., 6263.
Herder (1887), and Zoller (1988), p. 81. See Zammito (2001a).
Zoller (1988), p. 81. Blumenbachs criticism of Wolff is recognized by all the major commentators
on his work. See, e.g., McLaughlin (1982); Jahn (1995).
Roe (1979), p. 3 n.; Muller-Sievers (1993), (1997); Zammito (2001a).
Harvey (1943), p. 366.
Sloan (1979), p. 118.
Lenoir (1981a), p. 123.
Ibid., p. 135.
87 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
what is taken to be the most important reformulation of epigenesis in the mid-eight-
eenth century, elaborated on all these elements. His vis essentialis was conceived as
a Newtonian force which induced through certain chemical processes the production
of organic matter out of inorganic matter in accordance with regular and empirically
demonstrable patterns.
Herder was drawing directly upon Wolffs work in articulat-
ing his idea of epigenesis in 1784, though he may have been aware as well of Blu-
menbachs work on the Bildungstrieb. It is important to note that in the 17801781
versions dealing with that concept, Blumenbach avoided the term epigenesis, and
that he consistently sought to discriminate his idea from that of Wolff.
A. C. Genova identies three crucial elements in the concept of epigenesis in its
full-edged form in the eighteenth century: autonomy, community and reexivity.
In my terms, I would stress the radicality of emergence by replacing autonomy with
spontaneity. By community Genova signies the mutuality of cause and effect and
of parts and whole which is central to the notion of organic form, especially as
Kant articulated it. Reexivity, nally, has to do with the self-regulating, self-forming
dimension as a persistent feature of life-forms, over and above the question of their
emergence de novo. Each of these elements poses decisive challenges, methodolog-
ically and metaphysically, to a physical science on the sort of Newtonian foundations
Kant preferred. At the metaphysical end of this spectrum lie the problems of radical
novelty in a model that stresses systematic causal determination and, as well, of the
determinacy of specic life forms: why there is so much regularity in a context of
apparently radical freedom.
At the methodological end of the spectrum lie the ques-
tions of empirical verication and of the degree and nature of mechanical execution
of the self-organizing principle in the life forms. Blumenbach found Wolff problem-
atic as muchor morefor the metaphysical quandaries as for the methodological
ones. There is a high level of ambivalence and ambiguity in his critique of Wolff
and in his assimilation of Kantian principles over the 1780s and early 1790s, such
that his own position has occasioned widely divergent reconstructions.
There is
good reason to question whether his ultimate version of epigenesis diverged that
substantially from Wolffs, despite all his efforts to uphold a difference.
That professed difference, nonetheless, proved central to Kants adoption of epi-
Wolff (1966); Roe (1979); Gaissinovich (1968); Aulie (1961); Duchesneau (1979); McLaughlin
(1982); Mocek (1995); Jahn (1995).
Sloan (2002) notes Blumenbachs aversion to the term epigenesis in his early texts on the Bil-
dungstrieb (Blumenbach, 1781, 1792).
Genova (1974), p. 269.
In his inuential challenge to C. F. Wolff, Haller hit upon this: why does this vis essentialis, which
is one only, form always and in the same places the parts of an animal which are so different, and always
upon the same model, if inorganic matter is susceptible of changes and is capable of taking all sorts of
forms? (cited in Aulie (1961), p. 140).
Thus different interpreters see Blumenbach moving towards vitalism or away from it, as achieving
the clear distinctions between constitutive and regulative that Kant required and as dissolving these, e.g.,
McLaughlin vs Lenoir on the rst, Lenoir vs Larson on the second (Larson, 1979, 1994).
Most commentators are hard-pressed to uphold, though they clearly try to articulate what Blumenbach
thought distinguished himself from Wolff. For a good discussion, see McLaughlin (1982), pp. 365367.
88 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
genesis. But that is to leap ahead. First, we have to ask how it was that Kant could
even come to his new and now more famous analogy of transcendental philosophy
to epigenesis at B167 of the rst Critique. What drew Kant to epigenesis at all? The
rst answer is that Kant appropriated the term from Herder.
He found it in a form
that was too radical for his taste, yet he believed that he could seize it from Herder
and make it stand precisely for his own position. All that required was a two-step
process. First, Kant had to insist that even epigenesis implied preformation: at the
origin there had to be some inexplicable (transcendent) endowment, and with it, in
his view, some determinate restriction in species variation. Thereafter, the organized
principles within the natural world could proceed on adaptive lines. This made epi-
genesis over into Kants variant of preformation. Even so, this seemed to postulate
the objective actuality of these forces for natural science. Hence Kant faced the
ultimate need for a second step: to transpose the whole matter from the constitutive
to the regulative order. In his Metaphysics lectures, Kant made the point succinctly:
The system of epigenesis does not explain the origin of the human body, but says
far more that we dont know a thing about it.
This would be the position that
Kant would assume in the third Critique. But that came only in 1790. Let us consider
the famous passage at B167 in the 1787 version of the rst Critique.
The argument of 27 of the transcendental deduction in B (which includes the
passage at B167) is an elaboration of the argument of 36 of the Prolegomena
In both arguments there was a purported disjunctive judgment: either
experience generates the categories or the categories generate experience. In both,
Kant stipulated that we already know that the categories must be a priori. Therefore,
we must conclude that only the second option is really available. In the Prolegomena
Kant called the rst simply self-contradictory. In the B deduction, however, he
introduced the analogy to generatio aequivocaspontaneous generationwhich was
already an exploded idea in the natural science of the day.
Zoller suggests that
the introduction of the analogy to biological theories was Kants response to criticism
Zoller (1988), p. 81.
Kant, Vorlesungen, AA 29, 761.
[A] necessary agreement of the principles of possible experience with the laws of the possibility of
nature can only proceed from one of two reasons: either these laws are drawn from nature by means of
experience, or conversely nature is derived from the possibility of experience in general and is quite the
same as the mere universal conformity to law of the latter. The former is self-contradictory, for the
universal laws of nature can and must be cognized a priori (that is, independent of all experience) and
must be the foundation of all empirical use of the understanding; the latter alternative therefore alone
remains (Kant, 1783, AA 4, 319). There are only two ways in which we can account for a necessary
agreement of experience with the concepts of its objects: either experience makes these concepts possible
or these concepts make experience possible. The former supposition does not hold in respect of the
categories (nor of pure sensible intuition); for since they are a priori concepts, and therefore independent
of experience, the ascription to them of an empirical origin would be a sort of generatio aequivoca. There
remains, therefore, only the second supposition a system, as it were, of the epigenesis of pure reason
namely, that the categories contain, on the side of the understanding, the grounds of the possibility of
experience in general (Kant, 1781/1787, B166167).
Indeed, it might be argued that, had not epigenesis become popularly linked with espousal of spon-
taneous generation, it would have claimed majority support several decades earlier (Bodemer, 1964, 28).
89 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
of the rst version of his deduction and an effort to make it more intuitively access-
ible by an empirical corollary.
I wish to propose an alternativeor at least a supplementarygloss. The clue to
the recourse to a biological analogy may well lie in the dramatic elaboration of what
was simply an appendage to the original Prolegomena formulation. There, Kant had
added a footnote to the passage in 36: Crusius alone thought of a compromise:
that a spirit who can neither err nor deceive implanted these laws in us originally.
In the B deduction, this afterthought was elaborated at length and in the main text
(but without mentioning Crusius):
A middle course may be proposed between the two above mentioned, namely, that
the categories are neither self-thought rst principles a priori of our knowledge nor
derived from experience, but subjective dispositions [Anlagen] of thought,
implanted in us from the rst moment of our existence, and so ordered by our
Creator that their employment is in complete harmony with the laws of nature in
accordance with which experience proceedsa kind of preformation-system of
pure reason.
What I want to highlight rst is Kants use of the term preformation with a clearly
negative connotation.
The fundamental analogy structure at B167 invokes the disjunction: either spon-
taneous generation or epigenesis; preformation is introduced in connection with the
misguided endeavor to insert a third, intermediate position. If the whole analogy was
to make Kants way of thinking more accessible to readers who were bafed or put
off by his original formulation, this strategy seems strange. All the more so since
Kant did not explain any of his biological phrases; he simply presented them as if
his readers would understand them unequivocally. That, however, is implausible both
for his contemporaries and for us. Granting that we all might share a general sense
of the impropriety of spontaneous generation, the terms epigenesis and prefor-
mation were hardly transparent in the epoch and they have continued to mystify
commentators through this day.
An inadequate grasp of these terms has marred all treatment of Kants passage at
B167 until Phillip Sloan, even Zollers.
The latter does, however, advance our
understanding of the particular usage of preformation at B167, by drawing attention
to the footnote in the Prolegomena and suggesting that it is not at all obvious that
Kant meant to invoke Leibniz or his doctrine of pre-established harmony at
While I think his conclusion is false, what set Zoller on his course is con-
vincing. That is, Kant was quite clearly criticizing Crusius in the two passages. What
Zoller wishes to argue is that Crusius had articulated a position quite distinct from
Zoller (1988), p. 75.
Kant (1783), AA 4, 319n.
Kant (1781/1787), B167168.
Wubnig (1968/1969); Genova (1974); Zoller (1988); Ingensiep (1994); Sloan (2002).
Zoller (1988), pp. 7879.
90 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
that of Leibniz, and hence it is misguided to think Kant was addressing himself to
Leibniz as well. While there are indeed differences between what Crusius argued
and Leibnizs doctrine of pre-established harmony, there are still very important
parallels. For readers of the day, the Leibnizian connection would have been inescap-
able, Crusius (and Zoller) notwithstanding. More, as I will argue when we turn to
it, Kants formulation of preformation in the third Critique demonstrated a far more
explicitly Leibnizian orientation, which suggests we should stresseven in the earl-
ier textthe parallels for Kant between Leibniz and Crusius, and not the differences.
First of all, Leibniz personally subscribed to the old preformationism of encapsul-
ation and saw it, moreover, as a striking conrmation of his general theory of pre-
established harmony.
Second, Kants characterization of the Crusius view stressed
that the functioning of the categories implanted by God ran in perfect parallel to the
course of phenomena in the world of experience without any real interaction, thus
the intellectual order and the phenomenal order were in perfect harmony. This is
Leibnizian to its core. What Kant harped on was the subjective twist that Crusius
gave to all this. The only warrant Crusius offered for the whole scheme was the
faith that God should have been so benign as to arrange all this for us. But, Kant
asserted, we could easily be mistaken, and furthermore, it was a dangerous precedent
to start down this path, because we could use analogues of this faith to obviate
any and all problems that might arise concerning cognitive validity. Kants whole
point against the intermediate position of Crusius was that we need a stronger bond
between the categories and experience if we are to take seriously the necessity that
is the essence of transcendental grounding. That bond could only be achieved if it
were self-formed, not endowed, even by God. That is why he italicized the strange
term self-thought [selbstgedacht]. That is why Kant suddenly invoked the idea of
epigenesis. But that still does not resolve the problem.
In his Metaphysics lectures Kant left us some crucial evidence regarding how he
conceived the juxtaposition of preformation and epigenesis.
In chemistry one distinguishes between matter tanquam eductum (e.g., oxidized
potassium [Potassche Aschensalz] is an educt)what was there before has only
taken on a new form, [and] tanquam productum, of which there was nothing there
before . . . The systems of human generation are 1) involutionis (encapsulation
[Einschachtelung] 2) epigenesis, [the claim] that humans are produced entirely
anew. In the rst case man is an educt, in the second a product; if we have grounds
for accepting the system of epigenesis, then we should assume man is a product,
propagatio per traducem would then transpire in the case of souls. Is it possible
that the soul could produce other substances? This is contrary to rst principles,
for substances persistand they would in that case have to be compositeand
the soul is a simple substance. The claim for a propagatio per traducem is absurd
[ungereimt] and has not the least concept of possibility . . .
Roger (1968).
Kant, Vorlesungen, AA 28, 684.
91 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
The same ground is covered in slightly different language in another set of notes
from the metaphysics lectures:
A substance [Materie] is 1) an educt, that is what was once in another substance
but is now presented separately [; or] 2) A product, what before was not yet
present, but now is generated [erzeugt] for the rst time . . . Whoever assumes
the soul is an educt . . . assumes the system of the preexistence of souls. Whoever
assumes the soul is the product of the parents believes in the system of propagation
. . . The systems of human generation are twofold: 1) involution (encapsulation
[Einschachtelung]): all children lay within their original parents, 2) epigenesis,
according to which humans, as far as bodies are concerned, are brought forth
entirely new. According to the rst, man is a mere educt (educt was already
present before birth, only in combination with other material, so that it appears
by disaggregation). If we have cause to assume the system of epigenesis, then
we also have cause to assume the soul as a product, because otherwise the soul
must have existed somewhere, and then become conjoined with the newly created
body. Thus here one would have to assume in connection with the soul a propaga-
tio per traducem. But a substance cannot generate another substance, and the same
is true for the soul. A soul cannot put forth other souls from itself, for then it
would be a composite . . . To assume the propagation of human souls per traducem
is absurd, because we do not know how to judge it at all. If the soul were a
product, then the souls of the parents would have a creative force [schopfende
Kraft]. All generation of a substance is productio ex nihilo, creation; because
before the substance there was nothing. A creature, however, does not itself have
a creative, but only a developmental [bildende] force, i.e., [the ability] to divide
or to compound things that are already given. There is no alternative, accordingly,
but to assume the soul is preformed [praformiert], however it may be with the
creation of the body.
The student notes are not entirely coherent, but we can make certain clear inferences
from these two passages. First, Kant found the contrast of educt and product crucial
for his conceptualization.
The difference between them is that in an educt all the
relevant material preexists, and only its aggregation is shufed, whereas in a product,
altogether new things emerge, presumably by immanent processes (per traducem).
Kant saw this as a mode of thought already established in chemistry and he clearly
saw the theories of generation in the life sciences as variants of the same method
of conceptualization. Thus there were, for him, only two theoretical possibilities for
the generation of bodies (or souls), namely preformation (the educt-theory) and epi-
genesis (the product-theory). Kant presented epigenesis in both sets of notes as a
hypothetical, not an assertoric judgment: if we have grounds for assuming the epi-
genesis theory, then . . . Clearly, Kant was not committing himself to the hypothesis;
Kant, Vorlesungen, AA 29, 760761.
It reappears in a crucial context: Kant (1790), AA 5, 423.
92 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
he was not saying since we have grounds . . . Indeed, if we are attentive to both
passages what emerges is that Kant in fact rejected this hypothesis, and therefore
rejected epigenesis, as he made clear especially at the close of the second passage:
there is no alternative but to assume the soul is preformed. Zoller makes the point
that Kant distinguished in his Reexionen between an epigenesis psychologica and
an epigenesis intellectualis, and it is really the latter, the origin of the categories,
that is at issue at B167.
That is altogether correct, yet what concerns me here is
not the question of the origin of the soul (a transcendent metaphysical concern,
according to orthodox interpretation of the critical philosophy) but rather the way
in which Kant conceived of preformation and epigenesis. My point is that in all this
material there is still nothing like an unequivocal afrmation of epigenesis, and we
are still not entitled to claim that we understand what Kant had in mind by the phrase
a system, as it were, of the epigenesis of pure reason.
What could Kant possibly have been thinking at B167? Why, for the rst time,
would he have put preformation in a negative context and epigenesis in a remarkably
and unprecedentedly positive one? In terms of the educt/product distinction, we have
a clearer sense of what Kant thought the essential point of epigenesis was. But we
also see it as problematically creative or spontaneous, from Kants vantage, as ascrib-
ing too much power to mere created substances. That is, the metaphysical issue with
epigenesis was still hylozoism. Was there something that Kant now saw in the idea
of epigenesis that could help him elucidate the peculiar and essential spontaneity of
the understanding in his transcendental deduction? What did the phrase self-thought
rst principles a priori signify? If epigenesis needs to be understood on the model
of a product, what were the necessary preconditions for immanent emergence? Kant
wanted to stress the difference between a Leibnizian sense of the innate capacities
of mind and a Cartesian sense of innate ideas.
The categories themselves should
not be seen as preformed, but only as produced spontaneously by an innate capacity
or powera faculty of mind, whose own origin was utterly inscrutable. Like New-
ton, Kant would, for convenience, employ the term force [Kraft] in this metaphys-
ical context, but he was happier with the idea of a principle, precisely because of
its ontological inscrutability.
Spontaneity of the categories was not sufcient for Kants transcendental
deduction, he also needed their constitutive sovereignty over experience. The
ordering force of the innate (epigenetic) powers of mind had to be efcacious in
empirical experience; it had to be able to produce new knowledge (synthetic a priori
judgments). That is, it had to be a real cause (of knowledge), though a cause in a
sense different from what would be asserted within specic empirical judgments
regarding sensible intuition. Kants epigenesis analogy, in short, built intellectual
causation (determination; constitution) into the fundamental structure of the transcen-
dental deduction of the possibility of experience.
We have reason to suspect that Kanthowever clear he may have been about
Zoller (1988), pp. 8283.
Genova (1974), p. 269; Zoller (1989), p. 227.
93 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
what he wanted to accomplish in the transcendental deductionmay not have
grasped clearly what he was playing with in the analogy to epigenesis. Stealing it
from Herder may have gratied him; it may even have led him to an increased clarity
about the sort of spontaneity he needed for the origination and systematicity of his
categories. But he really did not know the best literature in the life sciences on this
question, and he was especially ignorant of the revolution in thinking about this
phenomenon inaugurated by Blumenbach in 1781. When Kant did learn of it, he
had to rethink matters.
When did this happen, how, and with what consequences? We need to consider
Kants response to Forster in this light. Kants reference to Blumenbach in the foot-
note to On the Use of Teleological Principles invoked the Handbuch der Naturges-
chichte, rst edition, 1779, which Kant owned.
As we know, Blumenbach revol-
utionized his thought shortly after publishing that work, developing his theory of the
Bildungstrieb in 1780/81. In that new work, Blumenbach strongly repudiated any
sense of germs [Keime].
Thus, Kants invocation of Blumenbach in 1788 must
have proved an ambivalent experience for the latter, since Kant was invoking a
position he had already repudiated. On the other hand, in Kants footnote to Blumen-
bach in the 1788 essay we nd added the observation: this insightful man also
ascribes the Bildungstrieb, through which he has shed so much light on the doctrine
of generation, not to inorganic matter but solely to the members of organic being.
Thus, Kant had some acquaintance with Blumenbachs term already in the fall of
1787 when he composed the essay. Kant did not own the rst version of Blumen-
bachs book, but ownership is a poor index of Kants voracious reading. It is not at
all impossible that Kant should have read it or about it. Blumenbach was clearly a
celebrity in the medical science of Germany in his day, so that his work would very
likely have appeared in bookshops in Konigsberg for the attention of the medical
faculty of that university. There would also have been reviews of the work, which
Kant may have encountered. In addition there were two Latin versions of Blumen-
bachs work, one published in 1785 and a second in 1787.
Kant did use the Ger-
man term, and therefore the likelihood is that he was aware of the German version
of Blumenbachs theory.
The important point, however, is that, whatever Kant may have know of Blumen-
bachs Bildungstrieb, he did not alter his own theory in any signicant measure in
his essay of 1788. Most tellingly, he persisted in his use of Keime. What is new
or more developedin the essay is the idea of purposiveness in connection with the
original endowments, and the criterion of purposiveness as a key to species variation
and adaptation. When we ask after the specic point for which Kant actually invoked
Blumenbach, it was to dismiss what in the Critique of judgment he would call a
daring adventure of reason, namely the transformation of the great chain of being
Sloan (2002) recognizes the decisive signicance of this.
Blumenbach (1781); Sloan (2002).
Kant (1788), AA 8, 180n.
Blumenbach (1785, 1787).
94 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
from a taxonomy to a phylogeny which had been raised by Forster.
This widely
cherished notion preeminently advanced by Bonnet, Kant was happy to report, came
under appropriate critical scrutiny in Blumenbachs Handbuch der Naturgesichte.
Indeed, Blumenbach shared Kants skepticism about the genetic continuity of life
forms. What bound them most together was their commitment to the xity of species.
But how could the transmutationist implications of epigenesis be contained within
the limits of the xity of species? This was the essential question that Kant had
posed in his second essay on race in 1785, and the stakes of the question were not
small. Without some regulation in the history of generation, the prospect of the
scientic reconstruction of the connection between current and originating species
[Naturgeschichte, in Kants new sense, or the archaeology of nature as he would
call it in the third Critique] would be altogether hopeless.
But it was not simply a methodological issue, however dire. There was also an
essential metaphysical component. When we read Kants highly charged language
in the 1785 essay on race we cannot but discern that again it is the idea of hylo-
zoismof any radical spontaneity in matter itselfthat Kant could not abide.
organic form had to be fundamentally distinguished from mere matter. Organization
demanded separate creation. Eternal inscrutability was preferable to any speculative
science. In the third Critique Kant would twice insist that no human could ever
achieve a mechanist (he meant, as well, a materialist) account of so much as a blade
of grass.
Kant remained adamant that the ultimate origin of organization or of
formative force required a metaphysical, not a physical, account: How this stock
[of Keime] arose, is an assignment which lies entirely beyond the borders of humanly
possible natural philosophy, within which I believe I must contain myself, Kant
wrote in 1788.
He invoked Blumenbach for support in these metaphysical reser-
In 1789 Blumenbach sent Kant a copy of the second edition of his essay on the
Bildungstrieb, one which not only expounded its epigenetic aspects but also set it
in methodological terms that showed clearly the inuence of Kants own arguments
about distinguishing mechanical from teleological explanation. Blumenbach afrmed
this second book version with the advice to disregard his earlier, immature formu-
Kant (1790), AA 5, 419n. Forster (1786) had introduced something like this.
Kant (1788), AA 8, 180n.
[I]f some magical power of imagination . . . were capable of modifying . . . the reproductive faculty
itself, of transforming Natures original model or of making additions to it, . . . we should no longer know
from what original Nature had begun, nor how far the alteration of that original may proceed, nor . . .
into what grotesqueries of form species might eventually be transmogried . . . I for my part adopt it as
a fundamental principle to recognize no power . . . to meddle with the reproductive work of Nature . . .
[to] effect changes in the ancient original of a species in any such way as to implant those changes in
the reproductive process and make them hereditary (Kant, 1785b, AA 8, 97).
Kant (1790), AA 5, 400, 409.
Kant (1788), AA 8, 179.
Ibid., 180 n.
95 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
What differences did he introduce? Perhaps most prominent was an
explicit Newtonian analogy.
Second, as noted, Blumenbach showed awareness of
the teleology/mechanism problem which Kant highlighted in the 1788 essay. That
is, in the 1789 version, Blumenbach was self-consciously assimilating his methodol-
ogical presuppositions to Kants. Above all, Blumenbach repudiated hylozoism: No
one could be more totally convinced by something than I am of the mighty abyss
which nature has xed [befestigt] between the living and the lifeless creation,
between the organized and the unorganized creatures.
This was what Kant found
most gratifying in the new book, as he reported in his letter of acknowledgment
to Blumenbach.
By the time Kant came to write the crucial passage in the Critique of judgment,
then, we can presume that he was aware of Blumenbachs sophisticated theory of
epigenesis. One indication, as Phillip Sloan has noted, was that Kant suppressed any
mention of Keime in that work, though it still thronged with the term Anlage.
what progress had Kant made on the conundrum of preformation versus epigenesis?
It is important to distinguish two quite distinct sets of discriminations in the Critique
of judgment that both point back to B167, but with different implications. The rst
discriminations come in a footnote to 80; the second come in the main text of 81.
The footnote to 80 evokes the familiar term generatio aequivoca in order, as before,
to disparage it. The contrast, however, is not to epigenesis or to preformation, but
rather to generatio univoca, which Kant further subdivides into generatio homonyma
and generatio heteronyma. While spontaneous generation was once again dismissed
as contradictory, Kant asserted that transmutation of species [generatio heteronyma]
was not contradictory, only unfound in experience. Thus, the issue at stake in this
discrimination is the principle of the persistence of species. In 81, however, we
come upon a different schematization. Here, Kant postulated that we must think of
organisms on the analogy of an intelligent creation, and that when we do so we face
alternatives that can best be grasped in terms drawn from metaphysics (i.e., the
obverse of the analogy at B167). The categories Kant offered were: occasionalism
and prestabilism. He dismissed occasionalism as curtly as he had dismissed spon-
taneous generation (though, of course, for different reasons), and in turning to pre-
stabilism he distinguished two subsets: individual preformation, which he identied
with the theory of evolution (i.e., encapsulation) and termed an educt, and generic
Blumenbach (1791), p. 13. But: In fact, the only clear substantive difference in the key formulations
of the theory of the Bildungstrieb between the more mature and the immature phase is the replacement
of an innate drive by a general drive (McLaughlin, 1982, p. 371).
The term Bildungstrieb just like all other life forces such as sensibility and irritability explains
nothing itself, rather it is intended to designate a particular force whose constant effect is to be recognized
from the phenomena of experience, but whose cause, just like the causes of all other universally recognized
forces, remains for us an occult quality. That does not hinder us in any way whatsoever, however, from
attempting to investigate the effects of this force through empirical observations and to bring them under
general laws (Blumenbach, 1797, p. 19).
Blumenbach (1789), p. 71.
Kant to Blumenbach, August 5, 1790, Kant, Briefwechsel, AA 11, 176177.
Sloan (2001) and (2002).
96 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
preformation, which Kant suggested was the proper sense of epigenesis. That is,
while a product, epigenesis still performed in accordance with the internally pur-
posive predispositions that were imparted to its stock.
Kant expressed a clear
preference for epigenesis over individual preformation. What attracted him to epigen-
esis, Kant averred succinctly, was that it entailed the least possible application of
the supernatural in scientic theory.
Hence even as he was prepared to advocate
epigenesis, Kant set strict limits upon it: ultimately this was still just generic prefor-
mation, i.e., it, too, required the intervention of a transcendent causality.
This is the decisive passage and it requires careful exegesis. First, it is apparent
that Kant recongured his whole conceptualization under the aegis of preformation.
Second, there is no strict parallelism between the distinctions of 80 and of 81:
the distinction between generatio homonyma and generatio heteronyma does not
map neatly onto that between individual and generic preformation. That suggests
that a different point is being made in the latter distinction, and indeed this point
has to do with the character of the causality that must be employed in conceptualizing
organic forms altogether, namely the inadequacy not merely of mechanism but above
all of materialism.
Yet there is at least a measure of spillage between the two
patterns of discrimination, for Kant found the idea of the transmutation of species
generatio heteronymato induce the very sorts of loose thinking in science that
might read epigenesis as hylozoism, as a vital materialism. It was this above all that
he wished to circumvent, both with his ontological argument that even epigenesis
depended upon an original creation which instilled organization into inert matter,
and with his methodological argument that an empirical science of life forms could
only work with maxims of reective judgment imputing purposiveness, and thus that
the very idea of a natural purpose was merely a heuristic ction suited to our limited
reason. It was just these elements in Blumenbachs new work on the Bildungstrieb
which Kant found so gratifying. The leading life scientist of the day seemed to be
afrming just the same metaphysical and methodological discriminations he him-
self demanded.
But what is also clear, as Sloan has argued, is that Kant had still not come to
terms with the implications for his analogy between epigenesis and transcendental
If epigenesis signied what Blumenbach was urging, then the security
of Keime, with their determinate restrictions on species change in biology, would
have to be forsaken. And, by analogy, the implications for Kants transcendental
grounding of the categories would be similarly grave. Kant certainly essayed to trans-
fer all the metaphysical weight to his notion of Anlagen, but it is not clear that
this is consistent with Blumenbachs theory or with the full-edged epigenesis that
it implied.
Epigenesis incites a fundamental erosion of Kants boundary between the consti-
Kant (1790), AA 5, 423.
Ibid., 424.
Ibid., 423.
Genova (1974), p. 465; Zoller (1988), p. 90.
Sloan (2001) and (2002).
97 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
tutive and the regulative, between the transcendental and the empirical: a naturalism
beyond anything Kant could countenance, though his own thought carried him there.
With epigenesis, the order of nature is greater than the order of Kants version of
Newtonian physics, and the paradigm for science necessarily exceeds the Newtoni-
an constraints Kant wished to impose upon it.
His demand that the life sciences
submit to the methodological principles of his Newtonianism (as in his critique of
Herder and his dispute with Forster, and above all in his Preface to the Metaphysical
foundations of natural science) was misguided.
To be consistent, what Kant had
to do was to disqualify his conception of Newtonian science in order to make room
for the ontological possibility of life forces.
Of course Kants escape was to sug-
gest an epistemological evasion of this unpalatable ontological prospect. He argued
for the irreducibility of biology to physics (Zumbach) but not because ontological
reductionism was unacceptable. Indeed, it was possiblethough not comprehensible
by nite human reasonthat there could be a physico-chemical basis for organic
Indeed, Kant went further and supported the methodological program to
seek reduction to mechanical explanation.
However, he argued that just here the
methodological program would come up against an insuperable epistemological
stumbling blockgrounded in the limitations of human reasoning, not in the order
of nature itself.
Zumbach phrases it suitably: Kants claim that there are free
causes in living processes is elliptical. He is actually claiming that living processes
must be viewed in terms of the idea of a free cause.
That is an epistemological
strategy, a heuristic, not a fact. In Kantian terms, there is a subjective necessitya
need of reasonfor this move, but no objective necessity, no natural law evident
in the matter at hand (the order of nature).
This is the famous argument of Kants
Dialectic of Teleological Judgment, and his resolution is that in order to make organic
forms intelligible at all we must have recourse to the analogy of purpose or design.
Kant transposes his metaphysical problem into a methodological one, his ontological
And thus his effort to police the practices of the experimental physics of his day was unavailing.
See Zammito (1998).
Kant (1786), AA 4, 467469 and passim.
Whilst the extensionalist mathematical Newtonian approach offers the potential for (mathematical)
a priori processing of physical nature, the price which this pays is that since forces do not have in this
scheme any basic or essential place, they have (because of the conceptual doubt attaching to them) to
be introduced ad hoc (from without), by way of hypothesis only. The objection to this, of course, . . .[is]
that such a basic and powerful notion as force (let alone the force of attraction) ought not to be surrounded
with the suspicion whichparticularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuriessurrounded any-
thing hypothetical in science (Buchdahl, 1986, 1501).
Kant (1790), AA 5, 388.
Ibid., 417418.
Ibid., 382.
Zumbach (1984), p. 99.
[T]his claim has a decidedly negative import; it is essentially just an afrmation that the mechanical
conception of nature and its conception of causality fails to provide a complete characterization of living
systems . . . Thus, the claim that there are free causes in living systems has no ontological force. It is
rather a transcendental claim, i.e., one concerning the possibility of our judgments (ibid., 107).
Kant (1790), AA 5, 405410.
98 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
need into an epistemological constraint: nature [i.e, the order of nature as a system]
can only be understood as meaningful if we take it at large to be designed.
is, we need to be able to comprehend all of nature, not as a living being, but as a
rational analog of a living being.
3. Looseness of t in Kants philosophy of science
As Robert Butts has noted, It is only in the Critique of judgment that [Kant]
comes to deal with science, not as a nished system, but as a research program.
That is, Kant came to take seriously the problem of empirical entailment, in which
rather than merely prescribing to nature, human inquiry had to presume and then
seek out an order that was somehow already available for discovery and compre-
Kant never doubted that concrete empirical laws would need to be found,
not simply made. More, he took seriously the nitude of human intellect and sus-
pected that the establishment not only of particular empirical laws but especially
also their integration into a higher order system would be a task that might well
exceed forever a human grasp. At the same time, however, Kant did insist that genu-
ine natural science would have to claim some kind of universality and necessity,
those traits he associated with the a priori. We must recollect that one of the ways
in which Kant characterized his critical project in philosophy was precisely to dem-
onstrate how synthetic a priori judgments of natural science were possible.
how, empirical laws needed to be groundedor, in Buchdahls more tolerant formu-
lation, nestedin the transcendental a priori principles through which alone
experience was possible for humans while, at the same time, these empirical laws
could not simply be deduced from a priori principles of reason.
The mixed status of empirical laws and the question of the possibility of their
systematicity became, accordingly, central issues for Kants philosophy of science.
It was by distinguishing between transcendental lawlikeness, established by Kant
in the transcendental analytic of the rst Critique, and empirical lawlikeness, which
Kant explored under the rubric of the hypothetical use of reason in the transcen-
dental dialectic of that work and then under the rubric of reective judgment in
Butts (1990), p. 5.
Ibid., p. 7; McLaughlin (1990).
Butts (1990), p. 1.
Kant (1790), AA 5, 183; Buchdahl (1965), (1967), (1969).
Kant (1783), AA 4, 294326.
[T]he pure faculty of understanding, through mere categories, does not sufce to prescribe any a
priori laws to appearances other than those on which a nature in general, as lawfulness of experience in
space and time, depends. Particular laws, since they concern empirically determined appearances, can not
be completely derived from those, although they all stand under them (Kant, 1781/1787, B165). To be
sure empirical laws, as such, can by no means derive their origin from pure understanding . . . But all
empirical laws are only particular determinations of the pure laws of the understanding, under which and
according to whose norm they are all rst possible (Kant, 1781/1787, A1278).
Guyer (1990a), (1990b); Morrison (1989).
99 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
its teleological use in the third Critique, that Gerd Buchdahl sought to make sense
of this whole problematic in terms of looseness of t.
Michael Friedman, while acknowledging the power and persuasiveness of Buch-
dahls interpretation, nevertheless raises some very important reservations. He sets
out from what Buchdahl seemed to have established, namely that the law-govern-
edness of nature under universal transcendental laws of the understanding does not
at all guarantee that nature is also governed by particular empirical laws.
then he invokes the peculiar mixed status of empirical laws, which in virtue of
their empirical character have to be contingent, but in virtue of their status as laws
have somehow to claim necessity.
For Friedman this means that Kant had to
uphold the claim that particular empirical laws are somehow made possible byare
grounded in or determined bythe transcendental principles.
The crucial point is
that even empirical laws too must have a more than merely inductive status.
problem is, Friedman acknowledges, that we are left quite in the dark concerning
the precise nature of this grounding.
While Buchdahl appeared to resort entirely to the regulative role of reason and
to the transcendental principle of teleological judgment, and thus to the demand for
systematicity in Kants conceptualization of reason as the faculty of ideas, Friedman
believes this unduly restricts the role of the understanding and of the transcendental
principles of objective experience that Kant had worked out in the transcendental
analytic of the rst Critique and which Kant always believed represented the most
important insight he had obtained into theoretical reason. Friedman urges that to go
all the way with Buchdahl is to eviscerate the faculty of understanding in Kants
theory of knowledge. Indeed, not only is the understanding entirely powerless with
respect to particular empirical concepts and particular empirical laws, but the search
for such concepts and laws lies rather within the purely regulative province of reec-
tive judgment.
This could not be quite right, Friedman argues, and he therefore
urges the restoration of scope to the properly constitutive domain of knowledge, over
against the merely regulative, or, in other terminology, to determinant, over against
reective, judgment.
Friedman recognizes an important duality in Kants notion
of constitutivity.
Buchdahl (1965), (1967), (1969), etc.
Friedman (1992a), p. 167.
Thus, Kant was careful always to write that we view empirical laws as necessary and universal; this
in contrast to simply knowing it. See Kant (1783), AA 4, 312.
Friedman (1992a), pp. 171172.
Ibid., p. 172.
Ibid., p. 174.
Friedman (1991), p. 76.
Nevertheless, he does so in a manner which I would contend is far closer to Buchdahl than Friedman
and his critics seem to admit. Buchdahl, that is, seems to invoke some sense of application of the same
categories in empirical laws which are involved in the transcendental constitution of the object in general.
It is not clear that Buchdahl wants or needs to ascribe all the nesting of levels of validity to systematicity.
100 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
Kants solution . . . is thus to distinguish two senses of constitutivity. The math-
ematical concepts and principles (of quantity and quality) are constitutive with
respect to intuition. The dynamical concepts and principles are constitutive with
respect to experience but only regulative with respect to intuition. The ideas of
reason, on the other hand, are not even constitutive with respect to experience:
they are purely regulative.
Holding out for the constitutive role of the principles of the understanding in the
formation of empirical laws, Friedman concentrates on the role Kant assigned to
Newtonian physics.
Friedman holds that Kant not only assigned to Newtons law
of universal gravitation a special status as an a priori universal and necessary law,
but that in his account of how that law got constituted for human reason Kant laid
out as clearly as he ever managed exactly how such promotion to a priori status
could be possible for an empirical judgment.
To be sure, there was an ineluctably empirical momentin this instance, the
empirical concept of matterbut what Friedman shows is that Kant believed that
in the dynamic of reasoning from the merely empirical generalizations of Keplers
laws through the three laws of mechanics to Newtons law of universal gravitation
he could demonstrate the advance from the modality of possibility through that of
actuality to the essential domain of necessity.
Therewith, Friedman argues, Kant
had established
the constitutive principles of determinative judgement are also of fundamental
importance in articulating the content of at least some empirical concepts. Indeed,
in the case of the empirical concept of matter, it is the constitutive procedure of
determinative judgement alone that renders it a priori suitable for application to
outer experience.
Thus, Friedman concludes, the constitutive principles of the understanding extend
to the very highest genus and very highest law of empirical natural science: the
empirical concept of matter and the law of universal gravitation.
These represent
a special metaphysic in Kants critical sense, namely a construction grounded in
transcendental principles but applied to a general empirical concept.
Friedman (1991), p. 79.
E.g. Buchdahl (1965), p. 207, (1971), pp. 3444 and (1986) recognized that the Newtonian laws
were the crucial case for Kant. See also Buchdahl (1970) and Friedman (1990).
[T]he Newtonian derivation of the law of universal gravitation precisely illustrates the procedure of
transforming mere empirical rules into necessary laws . . . (Friedman, 1991, p. 85).
Friedman (1992a), pp. 177180. On the relation of transcendental to metaphysical expositions, much
is revealed in the passage from A66 already cited: pure concepts on the occasion of experience, develop
and through exactly the same understanding are displayed in their purity, freed from their attending
empirical conditions (my italics).
Friedman (1991), p. 82.
Ibid., p. 90.
Buchdahl (1986).
101 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
Two concerns arise. First, there is no guarantee that the development of empirical
science from below will converge neatly with that top down structure established
by Kants metaphysics of Newtonian science.
For, as Friedman observes,
all the rest of empirical natural science remains solely within the regulative pur-
view of reason and reective judgement, the aim of which is to ascend from lower
level empirical concepts and laws towards ever more general empirical concepts
and laws so as eventually (in prospect) to attain a complete classicatory and
hierarchical system . . . under the highest level empirical concept and law already
constituted as such in the Metaphysical foundations of natural science.
This is the notorious problem of a gap in the critical system that from at least the
time of the Critique of judgment haunted the Kantian enterprise.
More drastically still, there was something in the very top down constitution of
the Newtonian metaphysical principles that threatened in principle the necessary
convergence of constitutive and regulative procedures . . . absolutely essential to
Kants entire project.
This second point arises because Kant purchased the deter-
minacy of his metaphysical principles at a signicant cost. The binding constraint
of the concept of matter he adopted in the Metaphysical foundations of natural
science was that the laws he generated could apply only to outer sense. This has
the effect of restricting our attention to nonliving material substances.
This was
a dramatic restriction in scope relative to the transcendental principles, which held
for all aspects of possible experience, including inner sense. As Friedman notes,
Thus, the metaphysical principles of pure natural science apply only to the activi-
ties and powers of nonliving, nonthinking beings: beings represented solely
through predicates of outer sense. The transcendental principles of the understand-
ing, by contrast, apply to all beings without distinctionwhere, for example, inner
principles of causality (appropriate to living beings) are just as permissible as
external causes.
Friedman elaborates: only thinking beingsor, more generally, living beingspos-
sess inner principles of causality.
But by dening matter as essentially lifeless in
order to construe Newtons inertia, Kant excluded all such aspects in principle from
conformity to the metaphysical foundations of natural science, and hence precluded
So what assurance do we have that the regulative operation of reason and reective judgement will,
proceeding from the bottom up, actually converge in the direction of this already constituted higher level?
(Friedman, 1991, p. 94).
Ibid., pp. 9091.
Forster (1987).
Friedman (1991), p. 95.
Friedman (1992a), p. 185.
Ibid., p. 182.
102 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
by denition any empirical (bottom up) integration of empirical concepts and laws
in these domains which could converge with the top down foundation of his
It is here that Henry Allison makes a telling criticism of Friedmans reconstruction.
Allison takes up Friedmans claim that transcendental principles have a greater
scope than the metaphysical principles, since the former apply to all entities in the
phenomenal world, including living and thinking things, while the latter apply only
to the activities and powers of nonliving, nonthinking beings, but he alleges that
Friedman effectively denies [the] signicance of this difference.
Friedman pro-
ceeds as if the determinations expressed in the metaphysical principles must hold
ubiquitously for the scientic lawlikeness of an empirical order of nature.
Allison correctly observes, precludes the extension of science to the domain of inner
sense. Indeed, there is considerable textual evidence that this was Kants own view,
not simply Friedmans inference.
But there is a more drastic implication which
Allison does not raise: not just a science of inner sense, such as psychology, but any
science involving internal purposiveness becomes irreconcilable with Newtonian
science. Indeed, this is the point toward which my whole exposition has been aiming,
for it brings into glaring salience the problem of reconciling biology at all with
Kants prescriptions for science. Organisms rupture the top down/bottom up inte-
gration of Kants scientic system.
I think it is essential to dwell for a moment on Kants suggestion that there is a
radical incongruity between his notion of organic form as intrinsic purposiveness
and the conventions of natural science: its form is not possible according to mere
natural laws, i.e., those laws which can be cognized by us through the understanding
alone when applied to objects of sense.
First, in Buchdahls terms, is Kant here
addressing transcendental lawlikeness or only empirical lawlikeness?
that it is understanding alone . . . applied to objects of sense, one might infer the
most extreme construction that organisms are incoherent according to the transcen-
dental possibility of objective experience.
But let us settle for the weaker claim:
organisms are not amenable to empirical laws after the fashion of mechanism: It is
The inertia of matter is and signies nothing but its lifelessness, as matter in itself. Life means the
capacity of a substance to determine itself to act from an internal principle, of a nite substance to
determine itself to change, and of a material substance to determine itself to motion or rest as change of
its state. Now, we know of no other internal principle of a substance to change its state but desire and
no other internal activity whatever but thought . . . (Kant, 1786, AA 4, 544).
I think it is fair to say that for Friedman the transcendental principles stand in roughly the same
relationship to the metaphysical principles as the categories stand to their schemata. Just as the schemata,
as transcendental determinations of time, both realize the categories and restrict the range of their appli-
cation to what is given in sensible intuition, so the metaphysical principles, by linking their transcendental
correlates to the empirical concept of matter, both ensure their applicability to corporeal nature, qua
merely corporeal, and limit this applicability to the same sphere (Allison, 1994, p. 295).
See Kant (1786), AA 4, 471.
Kant (1790), AA 5, 370.
Buchdahl (1971).
Lenoir (1981a), p. 149, recognizes this radical possibility.
103 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
indeed quite certain that we cannot even become sufciently knowledgeable of, much
less provide an explanation of organized beings and their internal possibility accord-
ing to mere mechanical principles of nature.
What does internal possibility sig-
nify here? How does it relate to the real possibility which Buchdahl and others
insist it is Kants main object as philosopher of science to establish?
And what are
we to make of the distinction Kant introduces between knowledge and explanation in
this passage? Is knowledge an intelligibility which we can distinguish from determi-
nate constitution (explanation)i.e., is this a formulation of the
regulative/constitutive distinction?
Robert Butts provides us with some fruitful ideas here. He sets out from the notion
that for any actually practiced science there are always recalcitrant particulars, that
is, items in experience that cannot be fully understood, and for which no specic
theoretical concepts are ready at hand.
To make sense of them, Butts suggests,
we need to resort to judgment. That is, we work from below to reintegrate these
anomalies into our reigning paradigm (to use Kuhnian terms and invoke Kuhnian
My point is, some anomalies prove so recalcitrant that it is not
they but the paradigm that will require adjustment or even abandonment.
Butts notes that there is a peculiar uniformity among many of the recalcitrant
particulars in Kants scheme of things, namely their association with design or pur-
pose. To become in the least intelligible, Butts continues, these anomalies all presup-
pose an understanding of purposiveness modeled on human purposive action.
Quite simply, we conceive of organic forms as purposive without purpose; we impute
design but deny a designer (to ascribe literal design would indeed fall back into at
animism). Here Butts recognizes something that has not occasioned enough attention:
Kants characterization of these anomalies reects reliance on perfect knowledge
of our own purposive behavior.
That is, basic to Kants treatment of teleology
is the unquestioned assumption that we have an already perfect understanding of
human purposive action because we ourselves act purposively.
To claim that the
projection of design or purposiveness enables us to make organic forms intelligible
is to claim that purpose can be transparently comprehensible for the human intellect.
But are we warranted in this comfortable self-interpretation? What Butts implies,
and what I wish to stress, is that this presumption may be unjustied.
Indeed, purpose-thinkingthe very form of viewing human practice as causal by
Kant (1790), AA 5, 400.
Buchdahl (1974), (1981), (1986).
Zumbach suggests that and more: there is an a priori principle absent from the mechanical view of
nature which the biological point of view instantiates (Zumbach, 1984, p. 80). But this is to suggest that
this transcendental principle bears upon theoretical reason, not practical reason, and has to do with cog-
nition, not just (rational) belief. Here we need to resort to Buchdahl and the discrimination of subjective
from objective necessity.
Butts (1990), p. 2.
Kuhn (1970).
Butts (1990), p. 3.
Ibid., p. 5.
Ibid., p. 15 n.
104 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
designis as much a function of the limitations of human discursive reasoning as
causal thinking of the specic sort Kant described in the dialectic of teleological
How it is possible for us to have purpose is no more theoretically
transparent than it is for organisms to appear purposive for us. We, after all, are yet
some organic forms among others. That suggests that objectively we are fully as
mysterious as any other organisms. The whole structure of purposiveness rests upon
the presumption of the ontological coherencethe real possibilityof intrinsic pur-
posivenessor, in other language, an end in itselfacting efcaciously in the
phenomenal world. While it is possible to think this, and to think ourselves under
that concept, it is by no means clear that it can play any theoretical role whatsoever.
The very possibility of reasoning by analogy with this presumed character of
human action, upon which teleological judgment is founded, presupposes the real
possibility or objective reality of humans as such ends in themselves: a theoretical
matter. What I wish to suggest is that Kants argument for the very intelligibility of
organic forms presses to the verge of an ontological claim what he asserts can only
be a practical one. Kant is comfortable with this precisely because (though he does
not claim to know it determinately) he presumes that we are in fact endowed with
a soul. To use Kant as cruelly with his own words as he wished to use Herder in
penning them: is this not to seek to understand what we do not know by invoking
what we know even less?
Either Kant must entertain the objective reality of
some end in iself, some actual purposeas an ontological matteror his whole
system of analogy in teleological judgmentthe invocation of the causality of ideas
as a modelsimply lacks any warrant.
But that does not put the point perspicuously enough. For us, it is not merely the
theoretical possibility of making sense of the order of nature as a rational system
accessible to our intelligence, a merely epistemological concern, but the ontological
possibility of beings like usintrinsic purposesin an order of nature that is ulti-
mately at stake. What we have tumbled upon is a nest of Kants most adamant
metaphysical commitmentsto the possibility of moral freedom and therewith to
the compatibility of moral freedom with causal order in physical natureand his
compulsion to limit understanding to make room for faith. The problem of organic
formbecause we are caught up in it at our most fundamental ontological, not
simply epistemological essencebrings all this into urgent articulation. In the words
of the Introduction to Kants Critique of judgment which I take as the clearest
expression of his ultimate philosophical concerns:
[T]his maxim of the reecting power of judgment is essential for those products of nature which
must be judged only as intentionally formed thus and not otherwise, in order to obtain even an experiential
cognition of their internal constitution; because even the thought of them as organized things is impossible
without associating the thought of a generation with an intention (Kant, 1790, AA 5, 398). [W]e under-
stand completely only that which we ourselves can make and bring about in accordance with concepts.
Organization, however, as the internal end of nature, innitely surpasses all capacity for a similar presen-
tation by art . . . (ibid., 383). Strictly speaking, the organization of nature is therefore not analogous
with any causality that we know (ibid., 375).
Kant (1785), AA 8, 5354.
105 J.H. Zammito / Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 34 (2003) 73109
[A]n immense gulf is xed between the domain of the concept of nature, the
sensible, and the domain of the concept of freedom, the supersensible, so that no
transition from the sensible to the supersensible (and hence by means of the theor-
etical use of reason) is possible, just as if they were two different worlds, the rst
of which cannot have any inuence on the second; and yet the second is to have
an inuence on the rst, i.e., the concept of freedom is to actualize in the world
of sense the purpose enjoined by its laws. Hence it must be possible to think of
nature as being such that the lawfulness in its form will harmonize with at least
the possibility of [achieving] purposes that we are to achieve in nature according
to the laws of freedom.
In short, Kants theory of organic form can only be contained within the critical
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empirical lawlikeness that Buchdahl has striven to establish, and yet its purport is
even more profound, for it betokens Kants ultimate metaphysical need to make
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