The End of Mechanism, #5–Scientific Pietism and Scientific Naturalism.

Mr Nemo
10 min readJan 23, 2020


By Robert Hanna


Table of Contents

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


This installment contains section V.

But can you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete essay HERE.


V. Scientific Pietism and Scientific Naturalism

17. Here again are three texts I displayed in section IV.13 above, each characteristic of natural piety —

It is quite certain that we can never adequately come to know the organized beings and their internal possibility in accordance with merely mechanical principles of nature, let alone explain them; and this is so certain that we can boldly say that it would be absurd for humans to make an attempt or to hope that there could ever arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws that no intention has ordered; rather we must absolutely deny this insight to human beings. (CPJ 5: 400)

After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter…. I see by your eagerness, and the wonder and hope which your eyes express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted; that cannot be; listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am so reserved upon that subject. I will not lead you on, unguarded and ardent as I then was, to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.[i]

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.[ii]

18. Now Pietism was a European reformist religious movement of the 17th and 18th centuries, whose central emphasis was on religious feeling or sensibility, direct religious experience of the holy, and experiential faith, as the cognitive and practical grounds of religion and theology.

Kant was raised in the Pietist tradition, but strongly rejected its mystical fideism, its dogmatic noumenal theology, and its sociocultural/political coercive moralism.[iii]

Nevertheless, Kant retained a small-p but still fundamentally pietistic idea in his Critical philosophy, namely his thesis that all theoretical cognition, scientific knowledge, practical cognition and practical motivation, including specifically moral cognition and moral motivation, aesthetic cognition, artistic cognition, religious cognition, and sociocultural/political cognition are all primitively grounded on the faculty or innate mental power of sensibility (Sinnlichkeit), in a broad sense that includes our capacities for sense perception, imagination, feeling, desire, emotion, and volition.

This small-p pietistic way of thinking about Kant’s theory of cognition, epistemology, and metaphysics in particular is what I have called Strong Kantian Non-Conceptualism,[iv] and correspondingly, this small-p pietistic way of thinking about Kant’s ethics and practical philosophy in particular is what I call Kantian Non-Intellectualism.[v]

Moreover, in order to give this new, unified approach to the interpretation of Kant’s theoretical and practical philosophy a single, easy-to-remember label, I call it the Sensibility First approach.[vi]

As applied to the philosophy of nature and natural science, Kant’s small-p pietism entails the anti-mechanistic/organicist, anti-physicalist (including both reductive and non-reductive physicalism), and natural-dynamicist (as opposed to ontological-vitalist or property-vitalist/supervenient-emergentist) epistemological, metaphysical, aesthetic/artistic, practical/moral, religious, and sociocultural/political attitude of Kantian natural piety towards nature itself, and also towards the natural sciences, that I spelled out and defended in section IV.

Roughly speaking, and put in terms of the history of 17th, 18th, and early 19th century ideas, Kantian natural piety, as I am conceiving it, is what you get when

(i) you start out with Spinoza’s pantheistic monistic metaphysics of deus sive natura in the Ethics, that is, the one universal dual-aspect substance that is the weak disjunction of god-or-nature, and classical Pietism, then

(ii) rigorously apply the Critical philosophy and transcendental idealism to Spinozist pantheism and Pietism alike, then

(iii) fuse that Critically-filtered result with Critically-filtered versions of the nature-romanticism and natural-religion-without-god-or-the-church of Rousseau, Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, and then finally

(iv) round it all off with Critically-filtered versions of Rousseau’s, William Godwin’s, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical liberationist political philosophies.[vii]

Otherwise and more briefly put, Kantian natural piety is Kant’s transcendental-philosophical-political Sentimental Journey,[viii] standing in essential complementarity with his Copernican Revolution.

19. What I want to do in the next few sections is to apply the doctrine of Kantian natural piety directly to the natural sciences, and especially physics, by showing how they have a cognitive, epistemic, metaphysical, practical/moral, aesthetic/artistic, religious, and sociocultural/political grounding in Kantian sensibility, both pure and empirical.

This is what I call Kantian scientific pietism, and it is to be directly and radically opposed to scientific naturalism, by which I mean the philosophical doctrine consisting of

(i) universal deterministic or indeterministic natural mechanism,[ix]

(ii) ontological and explanatory materialism or physicalism (whether reductive or non-reductive), and above all

(iii) scientism, including

(iiia) epistemic empiricism (whether classical empiricism, as per Locke, Hume, and Mill, or radical Quinean empiricism),

(iiib) the Lockean epistemological “underlaborer” conception of the relation between natural science and philosophy, such that philosophy is the underlaborer of the sciences,[x] which is also re-affirmed in Sellars’s mid-20th century slogan that “science is the measure of all things,”[xi] and

(iiic) the Baconian and Cartesian technocratic ideology according to which, as natural scientists, we are “the lords and masters of nature.”[xii]

As the direct and radical philosophical opponent of scientific naturalism, Kantian scientific pietism entails the denial and rejection of natural mechanism, physicalism, and scientism alike.

20. In a word, or in at least a few words, Kantian scientific pietism entails a thoroughly sensible approach to natural science, in both basic senses of the term “sensible,” that is,

(i) essentially having to do with the complex faculty for sensibility, and

(ii) expressing a fundamentally healthy and sane common sense,

hence it is

(iii) consistently pro-natural-science, but without natural mechanism, materialism/physicalism, or scientism.

In view of the deep, seemingly irreversible, and indeed hegemonic ideological connection between modern and contemporary natural science, the military-industrial complex, mastery-of-nature technology, big capitalism in the post-Cold War age of neoliberalism, especially in majoritarian representative democracies like the USA, and the apocalyptic threat of permanent eco-disaster (whether by nuclear holocaust, biochemical holocaust, slow-moving global-warming-driven disasters, or whatever), it is not going too far to claim that rational hope for the future of humanity itself is closely bound up with the philosophical fate of Kantian scientific pietism and natural piety.[xiii]


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] M. Shelley, Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus, 1818 edn., available online at URL = <>, vol. 1, ch. 3.

[ii] W. Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up,” available online at URL = <>.

[iii] See, e.g., (DSS 2: 315–373), (CPR A567–704/B595–732), and (Rel 6: 151–202).

[iv] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Kant and Nonconceptual Content,” European Journal of Philosophy 13 (2005): 247–290; R. Hanna, “Kantian Non-Conceptualism,” Philosophical Studies, 137 (2008): 41–64; R. Hanna, “Beyond the Myth of the Myth: A Kantian Theory of Non-Conceptual Content,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 19 (2011): 323–398; R. Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 5) (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), ch. 2, also available online in preview, HERE; R. Hanna, “Kant’s Non-Conceptualism, Rogue Objects, and the Gap in the B Deduction,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 19 (2011): 399–415; R. Hanna, “Kant’s Theory of Judgment,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), E.N. Zalta (ed.), available online at URL = <>, supplement 1; R. Hanna, “Kant, Hegel, and the Fate of Non-Conceptual Content,” Hegel Society of Great Britain Bulletin 34 (2013): 1–32; and R. Hanna, “Kantian Madness: Blind Intuitions, Essentially Rogue Objects, Nomological Deviance, and Categorial Anarchy” Contemporary Studies in Kantian Philosophy 1 (2016): 44–64, available online at URL = <!Kantian-Madness-Blind-Intuitions-Essentially-Rogue-Objects-Nomological-Deviance-and-Categorial-Anarchy/cmbz/576018190cf2c6c572641509>.

[v] See R. Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), section 3.3., also available online in preview, HERE.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] See Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism, part 2. As to the Shelleys, Godwin, and Wollstonecraft: the connections-of-influence here are closely personal, as well as intellectual. Mary Shelley was married to Percy Shelley, also the daughter of Godwin and Wollstonecraft, and conceived the basic idea of Frankenstein on a visit to Byron’s villa on Lake Leman, near Geneva, in 1816.

[viii] Cf. Laurence Sterne’s eponymous novel, published in 1768, the same year as Kant’s breakthrough proto-Critical essay, “Directions in Space.” The “Directions in Space” essay, in turn, is essentially linked, by way of its basic philosophical content, to Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation and the Transcendental Aesthetic. See 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.

[ix] See Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons, esp. chs. 2, 4, and 5.

[x] See J. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1975), “Epistle to the Reader.”

[xi] See W. Sellars, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” in Sellars, Science, Perception, and Reality, pp. 127–196, at p. 173.

[xii] See, e.g., F. Bacon, Novum Organum, available online at URL = <>; and R. Descartes, “Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking the Truth in the Sciences,” in R. Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. J. Cottingham et al. (3 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985), vol. 1, part 6, p. 142/AT VI, 62.

[xiii] See, e.g., B. Olivier, “Nature, Capitalism, and the Future of Humankind,” South African Journal of Philosophy 24 (2005): 121–135, available online at URL= <>.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 23 January 2020

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!



Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.