The End of Mechanism: Kant, Science, and Humanity, #1–Introduction.

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)


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



Natural science will one day incorporate the science of human beings, just as the science of human beings will incorporate natural science; there will be a single science.[i]

I. Introduction

1. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the official enemies of the classical Enlightenment were

(i) any kind of Scholastic, theistic metaphysics, including classical Rationalist metaphysics in the Leibniz-Wolff tradition,

(ii) the oppressions of tyrannical, war-mongering, despot-governed/monarchical States, and

(iii) the hegemonic ideology[ii] of State-enabled and State-supported religions of any kind.

Voltaire’s Candide, e.g., famously, satirically, and metaphilosophically[iii] unloads on all of these targets.

But during the 19th and 20th centuries, these erstwhile official enemies of the classical Enlightenment gradually faded away and morphed into a mainstream cultural, social, and political world characterized by

(i*) anti-metaphysical, atheistic, scientific materialism and mechanism,

(ii*) the oppressions of militaristic imperialist States — whether nationalistic, fascist, communist, or otherwise totalitarian, and

(iii*) the hegemonic ideology of State-enabled and State-supported capitalism and technocracy,

while at the same time, a fideist, anti-scientific, theistic or least mysticism-friendly, tribalist, irrationalist counter-Enlightenment[iv]gradually emerged, that was explicitly in contradictory opposition to the classical Enlightenment.

Correspondingly, however, the highly paradoxical character of this “dialectic of Enlightenment” has been pointed up by the most insightful philosophical critics of the classical Enlightenment and enlightenment thinking, from Jacobi, to the German and British Romantics, to Nietzsche, to Heidegger, to the neo-Marxist Frankfurt school theorists (especially Horkheimer, Adorno, Fromm, and Marcuse), to Camus (in The Rebel), and well beyond.

These critics have correctly observed that insofar as the classical Enlightenment and enlightenment thinking are grounded on a conception of reason that’s

(i) essentially skeptical, scientistic, and technological, as well as

(ii) purely instrumental and egoistic, and also

(iii) thoroughly liberal or neoliberal,

then in fact classical Enlightenment and enlightenment thinking lead directly or at least ultimately to

(iv) moral relativism or outright anti-moral debunking-strategies, and

(v) the deterministic or otherwise mechanistic denial of free will and of all non-instrumental values (whether religious, otherwise spiritual, or moral),

and even worse than that, to a world in which the leading proponents of classical Enlightenment, in a highly self-interested, opportunistic way, actually

(vi) obediently accommodate or even directly collaborate with various kinds of oppressive, militaristic imperialist States and their State-enabled capitalism and technocracy.

So what starts out as the pantheism of Spinoza or the deism of the French philosophes and legitimizes tolerance, ends up as the nihilism of Marquis de Sade or Max Stirner and legitimizes torture or terrorism.[v]

Or in other words, the essentially skeptical, scientistic, instrumentalist, egoistic, liberal/neoliberal, opportunist, accommodationist, or even collaborationist classical Enlightenment — which I’ve called Enlightenment Lite[vi] — is every bit as as intellectually, morally, and politically rebarbative as the counter-Enlightenment.

An astoundingly perfect contemporary example of Enlightenment Lite is Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.[vii]

That all being so, from a contemporary Kantian point of view it follows immediately that neither the ideologues of Enlightenment Lite nor the ideologues of the counter-Enlightenment have actually faced up to and grappled with Kant’s sharply third-alternative conception of Enlightenment and enlightenment thinking, which I’ve called Radical Enlightenment or Heavy-Duty Enlightenment.[viii]

More precisely, according to Kant’s conception of Radical or Heavy-Duty Enlightenment,

(i) reason as a whole is not monolithic, but instead basically articulated into

(ia) theoretical (i.e., logical, mathematical, or natural-scientific) reason, and

(ib) practical (i.e., pragmatic, moral, or political) reason, and

(ii) in both cases, reason is essentially limited by, and indeed also partially constituted, by human sensibility and its animal embodiment, which yields not only

(iii) a radical agnosticism about any and all “things-in-themselves” or noumenal substances, especially including God, which says that, as a result of reason’s essential limitation and partial constitution by sensibility and animal embodiment, we know a priori that we can neither know the nature of such entities nor prove their existence or non-existence, but yields also, in turn, a general conception of human reason as

(iv) fundamentally and primarily practical in a non-instrumental, non-egoistic, and non-hedonistic way, and inherently guided by categorical imperatives — i.e., universal unconditionally obligatory moral principles — in a lifelong project of rational human agency that inherently includes

(v) an existential, life-changing “revolution of the heart” or “revolution of the will,” that fully orients our theoretical and practical reason alike to wholehearted, autonomous, active engagment with our individual and collective “human, all-too-human” real-world moral and political problems, in a way that is

(vi) fully dignitarian, anti-Statist, and highly critical of capitalism, indeed, anarcho-socialist, and that as a consequence, this ramified, rich, and robust Kantian conception of reason is

(vii) pro-scientific, but only within the limits of human sensibility and pure practical reason, so that given those limits, we must deny unconstrained mechanistic scientific knowing (Wissen) in order to acknowledge and affirm our moral faith (Glaube) in the dignity of individual human lives (the existential point of view) and in the global ethical community of humanity (the cosmopolitan point of view) alike.

Elsewhere, and especially in my recent five-book series, THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION,[ix] I’ve unpacked and defended (i) through (vi) in detail and at length: so in this essay I want to concentrate instead on (vii).

2. But more generally, this essay is a radical sequel to my book Kant, Science, and Human Nature, published in 2006.[x]

How radical can a sequel be?

Its aim is nothing more and nothing less than to begin to realize, from a specifically contemporary Kantian point of view, the “single science” that Marx predicted in 1844.

Let’s call this Kantian “single science” organicism: Kantian organicism is at once fully anti-mechanistic, yet also rigorously mathematical, liberally naturalistic, and naturally pietistic.

The illiberal naturalist’s mechanistic conception of the world is sublimely symbolized by Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Sea of Ice,” whose equally apt alternative title is “The Death of Hope,” which presents a manifestly real icon of the natural world as a perfectly mathematically-ordered, equilibrium-state danse macabre of heat-death.

It’s also an equally sublime icon of Rudolf Carnap’s “icy slopes of logic” and the Vienna Circle’s “scientific conception of the world.”[xi]

But the Kantian organicist conception of the world is beautifully symbolized by Friedrich’s “Evergreens by the Waterfall,” which presents, by diametric opposition to “The Sea of Ice,” a manifestly real icon of a unified dynamic totality of natural processes, especially including the processes characteristic of organismic life.

So by means of Kantian organicism, the supposedly never-to-be-bridged, dichotomous difference between “natural science” (Naturwissenschaft) and “human science” (Geisteswissenschaft) will simply disappear, but without either relativizing the mathematical, objective core of natural science or mechanizing the teleological, normative core of human science.

In the next nine sections, we’ll see how that line of Kantian radical or heavy-duty enlightenment thinking unfolds.


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] K. Marx, Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociology & Social Philosophy, trans. T.B. Bottomore (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), p. 70 (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts [1844], MEGA I/3, p. 123; translation modified slightly).

[ii] I’m using “a hegemonic ideology” in a broadly Marxist or at least neo-Marxist way, to mean any system of more-or-less mind-controlling, often unreflectively-held, and generally pernicious beliefs, images, and affects — aka, “a narrative” — that’s imposed, or at least importantly enabled, by a dominant social group that possesses the power of coercion and also controls its means.

[iii] See, e.g., Z (aka R. Hanna), “Il Faut Cultiver Notre Jardin,” Against Professional Philosophy (20 February 2017), available online at URL = <>.

[iv] See, e.g., I. Berlin, “The Counter-Enlightenment,” in I. Berlin, Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (New York: Viking Press, 1980), pp. 1–24.

[v] See, e.g., A. Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, trans. A. Bower (New York: Vintage, 1956), part II.

[vi] See R. Hanna, “Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature,” Con-Textos Kantianos 5 (2017), available online at URL = <>.

[vii] S. Pinker, Enlightenment Now (New York: Allen Lane, 2018).

[viii] See Hanna, “Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature.”

[ix] See R. Hanna, Preface and General Introduction, Supplementary Essays, and General Bibliography (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 1) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), also available online in preview, HERE.; R. Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), also available online in preview, HERE; R. Hanna, Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 3) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), also available online in preview, HERE; R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), also available online in preview, HERE; and 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), also available online in preview, HERE.

[x] See R. Hanna, Kant, Science, and Human Nature (Oxford: Clarendon/OUP, 2006), also available online in preview, HERE.

[xi] See G. Reich, How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science: To the Icy Slopes of Logic (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005); and The Vienna Circle, “The Scientific Conception of the World,” available online at URL = <>.


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