The End of Mechanism, #2–Natural Piety and the Limits of Science.

By Robert Hanna

“The Sea of Ice,” aka “The Death of Hope,” by Caspar David Friedrich (1824)
“Evergreens by the Waterfall,” by Caspar David Friedrich (1828)

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I. Introduction

II. Natural Piety and the Limits of Science

III. From Kant’s Anti-Mechanism to Kantian Anti-Mechanism

IV. Organicism Unbound: In Defense of Natural Piety

V. Scientific Pietism and Scientific Naturalism

VI. How to Ground Natural Science on Sensibility

VII. Sensible Science 1: Natural Science Without Natural Mechanism

VIII. Sensible Science 2: Natural Science Without Physicalism

IX. Sensible Science 3: Natural Science Without Scientism

X. Frankenscience, the Future of Humanity, and the Future of Science

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II. Natural Piety and the Limits of Science

The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn’t absurd, for example, to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are.[i]

Time comes into it.

Say it. Say it.

The universe is made of stories,

not of atoms.[ii]

[R]ational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order.[iii]

3. It is of course fully recognized by Kantians and widely known even outside Kantian philosophy, that Kant is a serious metaphilosophical critic of classical Rationalist metaphysics, especially in the Critique of Pure Reason.

Nevertheless it is far less well-known and sometimes even completely overlooked, even by Kantians and Kant-scholars alike, not to mention non-Kantians, that Kant is also an equally serious metaphilosophical and also first-order-philosophical critic of both scientific naturalism — that is, the doctrine that everything in the world, including ourselves, is ultimately physical, and that “science is the measure of all things” — and also natural mechanism — that is, the doctrine that all natural processes are ultimately composed of purely physical, inert physical items operating according to strict natural laws and primitive-recursive algorithms — especially in the Critique of the Power of Judgment.

4. I think that the main reason for this is that Kant-scholars in particular and Kantians more generally have tended and still tend to focus quite narrowly on the Critical and pre-Critical periods, to the serious neglect of what I call the proto-Critical period from 1768 to 1772 and also what I and some others have called the post-Critical period after 1787.

In a recent essay, “Directions in Space, Non-Conceptual Form, and the Foundations of Transcendental Idealism,”[iv] I offered reasons for taking the proto-Critical period very seriously; and I have also developed and defended Kant’s critique of scientific naturalism in detail in Kant, Science, and Human Nature.[v]

As I mentioned in section I.2 above, this essay is a radical sequel to that book; and what I call Kantian anti-mechanism or Kantian organicism is the metaphysical, epistemological, moral, and political key to that radicalism.

Indeed, as I will also argue in section III, I think that Kant’s anti-mechanism is the most seriously overlooked and underexploited part of what I call Kant’s real metaphysics,[vi] in contemporary philosophy.

This overlooking and underexploiting is ironic, because Kant’s anti-mechanism had a heavy influence on post-Kantian German idealism up to and including Hegel.[vii]

And although Kant’s anti-mechanism has had a non-trivial impact in philosophical aesthetics and the philosophy of biology, an impact that in turn has been well-covered and well-studied in recent Kant-scholarship in those areas, this has not been, ironically enough, worked out in its specifically metaphysical implications, but instead only in either its history-of-ideas influence or its epistemological implications.[viii]

But most ironically of all, although Kant’s anti-mechanism has had an exceptionally deep and wide impact outside professional academic philosophy, in literature and other fine arts, and in the environmental movement, it’s had virtually no impact whatsoever in contemporary professional philosophy.

Some reasons for this non-impact will emerge later.

But in any case, what I want to focus on particularly in what follows are

(i) Kant’s critique of natural mechanism in his post-Critical period, specifically developed as a thesis in real metaphysics, that as I’ve already mentioned, I call “Kantian anti-mechanism,”

(ii) developing Kantian anti-mechanism into a larger-scope, contemporary, radical Kantian philosophy of nature, including a radical philosophy of natural science, that I call natural piety in general,[ix] and more specifically scientific pietism, and finally,

(iii) expanding Kantian anti-mechanism, natural piety, and scientific pietism into the metaphysical, epistemological, moral, and political doctrine of organicism.

5. Why do I say that the doctrine of natural piety is “radical”?

By radical, I mean “edgy, critically robust, theoretically or morally controversial, philosophically unorthodox, and politically highly progressive, even liberationist.”

In view of that, the doctrine of natural piety is radical because

(i) it is explicitly and robustly metaphysical — committed to what I call liberal naturalism — not merely epistemological,

(ii) it is explicitly and robustly value-driven, committed to what I call the primacy of the normative, with serious aesthetic, ethical, natural-religious, and sociocultural-political implications, and

(iii) it is explicitly and robustly pro-science without being in any way scientistic, where “scientism” is

(iiia) scientific naturalism, i.e., ontological and explanatory materialism or physicalism, plus

(iiib) the dogmatic epistemic thesis that all methods of inquiry and knowledge are ultimately reducible to natural-scientific methods, plus

(iiic) the Baconian/Cartesian ideological-technocratic thesis that natural science is essentially a “lordship and mastery” over nature, including inert physical nature, non-human living or animal nature, and human nature alike.

The radical sociocultural-political character of the doctrine of natural piety is also perfectly captured by Wittgenstein’s apocalyptic thoughts about the nature and limits of science, already quoted in the first epigraph of this section:

[T]he age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; … the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; [and] there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and … mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap.

As we will see, natural piety is the normative gateway to a radical philosophy of science that provides what I think is the one and only rational ground of hope humanity has for escaping this “trap.”

NOTES

For convenience, I cite Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Because the Akademie edition contains only the B edition of the first Critique, I have also consulted the following German composite edition: Kritik der reinen Vernunft, ed. W. Weischedel, Immanuel Kant Werkausgabe III (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1968). I generally follow the standard English translations of Kant’s works, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations of works directly relevant to this essay:

CPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

CPR Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

CPrR Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996, pp. 139–272.

GMM Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, pp. 43–108.

DS “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space,” in Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy, 1755–1770. Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 361–372.

DSS “Dreams of a Spirit Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics,” in Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy, 1755–1770. Pp. 301–359.

ID “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 373–416.

MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

OP Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans. E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.

OPA “The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God.”Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy 1755–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 107–201.

Prol Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

Rel Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 57–215.

WiE “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, pp. 17–22.

[i] L. Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, trans. P. Winch(Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980),p. 56e.

[ii] M. Rukeyser, “The Speed of Darkness,” verse IX; available online at URL = <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/245984>.

[iii] T. Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012), p. 17.

[iv] R. Hanna, “Directions in Space, Non-Conceptual Form, and the Foundations of Transcendental Idealism,” in D. Schulting (ed.), Kantian Nonconceptualism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp. 99–115.

[v] R. Hanna, Kant, Science, and Human Nature (Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press, 2006), esp. chs. 3–4.

[vi] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Kant, the Copernican Devolution, and Real Metaphysics,” in M. Altman (ed.), Kant Handbook (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 761–789.

[vii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Forward to Idealism: On Eckart Förster’s The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy,” Kantian Review 18 (2013): 301–315.

[viii] See, e.g., J. Zammito, The Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992); S.M. Shell, The Embodiment of Reason: Kant on Spirit, Generation, and Community (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996), chs. 8 and 9; A. Cohen, Kant on the Human Sciences: Biology, Anthropology, and History (London: Palgrave, 2009); and R. Zuckert, Kant on Beauty and Biology: An Interpretation of the Critique of Judgment (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

[ix] There is also a corresponding attitude of formal piety in the formal sciences of logic and mathematics, flowing from the Church-Turing thesis and Gödel’s incompleteness theorems — see sections III.7-III.10 below.

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 359

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