THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #8– From Kant’s Anti-Mechanism to Kantian Anti-Mechanism.

By Robert Hanna

“FUTUREWORLD,” by A. Lee/Unsplash


It is being made available here in serial format, but you can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text of THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE HERE.

This eighth installment contains section 1.3.


If there is any science humankind really needs, it is the one I teach, of how to occupy properly that place in [the world] that is assigned to humankind, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be human. (Rem 20: 45)

Natural science will one day incorporate the science of humankind, just as the science of humankind will incorporate natural science; there will be a single science. (Marx, 1964: p. 70, translation modified slightly)




0. Introduction: Science, The Four Horsemen of The New Apocalypse, and The Uniscience

0.0 How Uncritical and Unreformed Science Is Literally Killing The Modern World

0.1 My Aim In This Book

0.2 The Uniscience and Pascal’s Dictum

Chapter 1. Natural Piety: A Kantian Critique of Science

1.0 Kantian Heavy-Duty Enlightenment and The Uniscience

1.1 Kant’s Neo-Aristotelian Natural Power Grid

1.2 Kant, Natural Piety, and The Limits of Science

1.3 From Kant’s Anti-Mechanism to Kantian Anti-Mechanism

Chapter 2. This is The Way The Worlds Ends: A Philosophy of Civilization Since 1900, The Rise of Mechanism, and The Emergence of Neo-Organicism

Chapter 3. Thought-Shapers

Chapter 4. How To Complete Physics

Chapter 5. Digital Technology Only Within The Limits of Human Dignity

00. Conclusion: The Point Is To Shape The World


Appendix 1: A Note on The Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem, “Skolem’s Paradox,” and Neo-Organicism

Appendix 2: A Neo-Organicist Approach to The Nature of Motion

Appendix 3: Sensible Set Theory

Appendix 4: Neo-Organicism and The Rubber Sheet Cosmos



1.3 From Kant’s Anti-Mechanism to Kantian Anti-Mechanism

it would be absurd to regard the initial generation of a plant or an animal as a mechanical effect incidentally arising from the universal laws of nature. (OPA 2: 114)

Correspondingly, in the Prolegomena he asserted the identity (or at least the strong continuity) of mind and life: “life is the subjective condition of all our possible experience” (Prol 4: 335). In the Introduction to Metaphysical Foundations, he denied that there could ever be a naturally mechanistic science of psychology (MFNS 4:471). And in the second half of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, he not only asserted that “the mind is for itself entirely life (the principle of life itself)” (CPJ 5: 278) and that

it would be absurd for humans ever to … hope that there might yet arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws (CPJ 5: 400),

but he also worked out a number of fundamental concepts and methodological themes in the philosophy of biology, including the notion of a living organism, or self-organizing system, the various distinct kinds of teleology, and the special role of teleological concepts and teleological thinking in the natural sciences. And finally, in the unfinished “Transition” project in the Opus postumum, Kant also hypothesized the dual emergence of natural mechanisms and organismic life (including mind) alike from a single ontologically neutral but also non-static material substrate, the dynamic aether (OP 21: 206–233, and 241).

So Kant’s supposedly all-out commitment to Newtonian mechanism is, at the very least, somewhat conflicted. Indeed, it’s plausibly arguable that Kant is at bottom an anti-mechanist or organicist. This, in turn, is the upshot of Jennifer Mensch’s very illuminating philosophical-historical study, Kant’s Organicism (Mensch, 2013), which

starts by tracing the history of the life sciences as Kant would have come to know them, focusing especially on those philosophers and life scientists whose works directly engaged Kant during his intellectually formative years. Once Kant’s connection to the life sciences has been established, the remainder of the book moves to an examination of the exact nature of the influence of these sciences on the emerging critical system. When viewed from the perspective the life sciences in this manner, Kant’s theoretical philosophy becomes reframed as a philosophical project whose development was deeply influenced by the rise of organicism. (Mensch, 2013: pp. ix-x; see also Shell, 1996: ch. 9)

According to Mensch, the thesis of organicism “can be defined by its view of nature as something that cannot be reduced to a set of mechanical operations” (Mensch, 2013: p. 1). This is crisp and cogent as an initial formulation; but I’ll also spell out the notion of organicism more precisely below, against the backdrop of Kant’s Neo-Aristotelian Natural Power Grid conception, as I spelled it out in section 1.1 above

Among other things, Kant’s Organicism nicely describes the intellectual state-of-play in natural history in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The first players are the mechanist corpuscularian Boyle and especially Locke:

Locke was both a nominalist regarding species determination and a realist in believing that there were inner features contributing to species as well. In a similar fashion, Locke was both comfortable with a mechanical portrait of animal functioning and cognizant of the need for “inner principles” and “transformative forces” when it came to understanding the processes of organic life. And all this contributed to Locke’s views of both nature and the proper task of classification. Reviewing Locke’s early considerations of organic processes against the backdrop of corpuscular ontology reveals his sensitivity to the problems facing Boyle in the case of organic life. While Locke remained committed to the essential features of corpuscular science, he was nonetheless hesitant in the face of a straightforward endorsement of mechanical accounts of generation. (Mensch, 2013: pp, 27–28)

A similar hesitation as between mechanism and anti-mechanism can be found in the work of the second major player, Leibniz, who, heavily influenced by the Dutch microscopist Leeuwenhoek, took the view that “individuals were composed of living monads arranged hierarchically under a dominant entelechy or soul” (Mensch, 2013: p. 29)

In the Monadology, anticipating both the Turing test for artificial intelligence (Turing, 1950) and also John Searle’s “Chinese Room” argument against machine functionalism and the strong thesis of artificial intelligence (Searle, 1980a, 1984), Leibniz famously argued, by means of a thought-experiment whereby the goal-directed conscious processes of mind cannot be reduced to the external behaviors of an enormously complicated mill, that mentality cannot be reduced to physical mechanical operations. But at the same time, Leibniz also thought of the living monads as spiritual automata pre-programmed by a 3-O (that is, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent) God — the supreme monad — and endorsed preformationism.

One philosophical moral of this part of the story, I think, is that the very idea of natural mechanism is a hybrid that combines (i) physical causal necessitation under natural laws, (ii) Turing-computability (Turing, 1936/1937, Boolos and Jeffrey, 1989: ch. 3) and (iii) universal natural determinism (or, as we’ll see later, either universal natural indeterminism or a universal disjunctive combination of natural determinism or natural indeterminism, aka universal natural mechanism). But although physical causal necessitation under deterministic (or indeterministic, i.e., probabilistic, statistical, or stochastic) natural laws is sufficient for Turing-computability and natural determinism (and/or natural indeterminism), it’s not necessary. According to the Leibnizian account, at least conceivably, there can be non-physical automata. Therefore, we need to distinguish carefully between (i) causal mechanisms (for example, Coke machines) which are necessarily physical, and (ii) formal mechanisms (for example, Turing-computable processes) which, although they are physically realizable, are not necessarily physical: in principle, disembodied Cartesian souls could run Turing-computable algorithms. Kant is at least implicitly aware of this important distinction between causal mechanisms and formal mechanisms, because in the Critique of Practical Reason he explicitly rejects the reduction of all spontaneous activity, including life, but also especially including free will, to the operations of Leibnizian spiritual automata, deriding these operations as “the freedom of a turnspit” (CPrR 5: 97).

Mensch also traces the origins of organicism to Georges Buffon’s highly influential epigenesist treatise, Natural History, the first three volumes of which appeared in 1749:

With Buffon natural history … became an attempt to grasp a living nature, to grasp species across time and, as a consequence, to base the classification of species upon genealogy. This marked a dramatic transformation in the history of a discipline that until then had been first and foremost a science oriented by its search for the means of discovering nature’s divisions and, for that reason, not at all by the patterns of its underlying unity. (Mensch, 2013: p. 29)

Strictly speaking, Buffon’s version of epigenesis is still compatible with mechanism, whether causal or formal. Correspondingly, the full theory of epigenesis would have to await the further postulation, in the 1780s, of organic vital forces or emergent vital forces, “like Caspar Wolff’s vis essentialis and Johan Blumenbach’s Bildungstrieb” (Mensch, 2013: p. 36) — which anticipate later and more famous 19th and 20th century vitalist notions like Schopenhauer’s Wille zum Leben and Bergson’s élan vital. Nevertheless, the ground was prepared for Kant’s organicism.

Mensch also provides an account of Kant’s pre-Critical work on cosmological and biological questions of origin, and shows how this work not only smoothly fused with, but also primed, his Critical concern with the origins, scope, and limits of cognition and knowledge. As Mensch puts it, there was

an intimate connection, in Kant’s view, between attempts to discover a “principle of life” within natural organisms and the search for something beyond the limits of the everyday world. (Mensch, 2013: p. 61)

In other words, Kant found a paradigm case of the burning need for his Critical distinctions between phenomena and noumena on the one hand, and between the empirical and the transcendental on the other hand, in the debate about the origins of life:

It was the unity of purposes within organic life, the fact that organisms could be both self-sustaining and vigilant regarding the need for repair, that made natural products amazing, not the mechanical operations themselves. For Kant it was thus the principle of life, the capacity for a being’s generation and self-organization that needed explaining, and recourse to neither supernatural nor purely mechanical grounds of explanation could satisfy that need. (Mensch, 2013: p. 64)

Basically, then, what’s humanly cognizable and knowable about life (or what I’ll call the organicist phenomena) are the non-mechanical, spontaneous activities of the perceivable organism, not the hidden workings of some vital substance with an intrinsic non-relational essence, hiding behind the appearances (or what I’ll the organicist noumenon). So Kant’s organicism, as Mensch’s book cogently argues, captures his brilliant insight that mechanical principles and facts cannot explain the organicist phenomena, namely: (i) natural teleology or organismic life, including plants and animals, (ii) any organism with proprioceptive enantiomorphic awareness of the difference between its right side and its left side (or top and bottom, or front and back, etc.), or an awareness of the difference between its own past, present, and future: the feeling of egocentrically-centered embodied orientation in a global space-structure with intrinsic directions (aka “here”-centered), and egocentically-centered asymmetric duration in a global time-structure (aka “now”-centered), that is, the feeling of organismic, conscious life, whose phenomenal characters are all modes of pleasure or pain, (iii) human mentality, including consciousness, intentionality, imagination, conceptualizing, judging, and inferential reasoning (Hanna, 2019b), (iv) human spontaneity, agency, and source-incompatibilist free will, and (v) human non-instrumental normativity. But at the same time, Kant himself could never fully advance beyond the thesis that organicist concepts have only a regulative use, not a constitutive use. Why not?

It seems clear that Kant was needlessly bedazzled by the very ideas of Newtonian physics and Newtonian mechanism, as jointly constituting a hyper-successful research program in 17th and 18th century natural science. Over-impressed by this (admittedly still very impressive) Newtonian program, Kant couldn’t see that the existence of a natural world that also contains significantly many causal-mechanical and formal-mechanical deterministic processes is perfectly consistent with the manifestly real organicist fact that the natural world fundamentally contains significantly many non-mechanical, non-deterministic processes in it, including minimally teleological, organismic, and mental processes, as well as inherent non-instrumentally normative rules guiding these processes. Indeed, we already know from Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem that formal-mechanical processes of Turing-computable proof presuppose non-mechanical semantic processes of non-Turing-computable truth-determination in order to prove the consistency of all logico-mathematical systems that cannot demonstrate their own consistency — namely, any Principia Mathematica-style logical system rich enough to contain the basic Peano axioms for arithmetic. As a consequence, universal formal mechanism is provably false. Why then should we accept universal causal mechanism, especially when one of its necessary conditions is the supposed universality of formal mechanism?

In other words, what I’m proposing is that, presupposing the nomological framework of Kant’s Neo-Aristotelian Natural Power Grid, and using the organicist phenomena as a starting-point, then we can metaphysically postulate that the world is monistic because it’s essentially filled with only one type of thing, namely dynamic processes (“one world”), but also dual aspect, and that it’s at once mechanical-deterministic (or mechanical-indeterministic, or a combination of mechanical-deterministic and mechanical-indeterministic) in one of its dual aspects, and also, more fundamentally, processual, purposive, and self-organizing, hence non-mechanical-non-deterministic (and also non-mechanical-indeterministic), or in a word, organicist, in its other dual aspect, including the irreducible existence of both causally non-mechanical processes and also formally non-mechanical processes. Therefore, quite apart from Kant’s own needless deference to the Newtonian research program, we can, in a broadly Kantian spirit, put forward the radical thought that there is a fully constitutive use of organicist concepts, insofar as they are required by a transcendental abduction, aka inference-to-the-best-explanation, of all the organicist phenomena.Or, as Thomas Nagel formulates essentially the same point in his 2012 Mind and Cosmos (for which, predictably, he received a torrent of angry criticism from scientific naturalists, hardcore scientistic atheists, and other defenders of the mechanistic worldview[i]), we should metaphysically postulate a “cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them” (Nagel, 2012: p. 123). In any case, here’s the basic line of reasoning behind that broadly and radically Kantian thought.

Kant’s fundamental philosophical problem, the one that he struggled with throughout his long philosophical career, is captured by this question:

How can the existence of non-mechanical, non-deterministic facts that are necessary for the purposes of morality, be made consistent and coherent with the thesis that necessarily, all the natural objects studied by physics (namely, the “objects of experience”) are mechanical and deterministic?

Since all organisms, including conscious rational human organisms, i.e., human persons, are non-mechanical and non-deterministic, then Kant’s fundamental problem becomes focused like a hawk’s eyes on this specific formulation of his fundamental problem:

How can the existence of living conscious rational human animals, namely, human persons, capable of genuine incompatibilistic free will, necessary for the purposes of morality, be made consistent and coherent with with the thesis that necessarily, all the natural objects studied by physics (namely, the “objects of experience”) are mechanical and deterministic?

Now as every reader of the first Critique knows, for Kant, there are two basic kinds of objects in his ontological framework: (i) phenomena, namely spatiotemporal objects directly accessible to and knowable by human sensory intuition and sense perception, that are constituted by relational properties, especially including relations to actual or possible human sensible minds, and (ii) noumena, or things-in-themselves, namely non-spatiotemporal, humanly sensorily inaccessible, unperceivable, and unknowable objects, which may or may not exist, but even if they do exist, are constituted by intrinsic non-relational properties, and are at best barely consistently thinkable by means of concepts. Of course, as every reader of the first Critique also knows, the question of the actual, real existence or non-existence of noumena is deeply controversial. But what many readers of the first Critique have not noticed is that equally important for Kant is the distinction, exclusively within the domain of phenomena, between: (ia) undetermined objects of empirical intuition, aka appearances, and (ib) fully determined objects of empirical intuition, empirical concepts, empirical judgments, and pure a priori concepts of the understanding, aka objects of experience.

For Kant, as a Newtonian mechanist and also a LaPlacean determinist about physical nature insofar as it’s correctly described by physics, mechanism necessitates natural determinism, and conversely, natural determinism entails mechanism. So all the actual and possible objects of experience are mechanical and deterministic. But here’s the rub: all and only the actual and possible objects of experience are mechanical and deterministic, but not all the actual or possible appearances. Since the total set of pure a priori concepts of the understanding specifies a world of objects inherently governed by Newtonian mechanistic principles and laws, then, although all the fully determined objects, namely, the objects of experience, are inherently governed by Newtonian mechanistic principles and laws, and therefore are deterministic and not free, it does not follow that all the undetermined objects, namely, the appearances, are either mechanical (whether formal-mechanical or causal-mechanical) or deterministic.

In other words, since for Kant the sensible intuitability of an object, independently of concepts, is the criterion of the object’s real possibility, then it’s either actual or at least really possible that at least some appearances are non-mechanical and non-deterministic, and that they’re cognitively accessible by means of essentially non-conceptual sensible intuitions (Hanna, 2005, 2008b, 2011a, 2015: ch. 2). Let’s call such essentially non-conceptually sensibly intuitable appearances, insofar as they actually exist, or were they to exist, rogue objects, since they fall outside the Categories and the system of transcendental principles, or at least fall outside Kant’s “constitutive” causal-dynamical principles (namely, the Analogies of Experience, and the Postulates of Empirical Thought) and therefore outside the deterministic causal laws of nature (Hanna, 2011b, 2013c, 2016c, 2017d: supplement 1), even if they do continue to fall under the “regulative” mathematical principles (namely, the Axioms of Intuition, and the Anticipations of Perception). The actual existence or real possibility of rogue objects would mean that the phenomenal natural world, that is, the manifestly real world, the world of Wilfrid Sellars’s “manifest image” (Sellars, 1963b), actually or really possibly includes some appearances that are also not objects of experience, namely the rogue objects, and that we can access these rogue-object phenomena only through essentially non-conceptual intuition. These non-mechanical, non-deterministic rogue-object phenomena, in turn, would include all and only the organicist phenomena, as specified above, and this would in turn directly imply that the phenomenal natural or manifestly real world includes some objects that are also not objects of mechanistic physics, mechanistic chemistry, and mechanistic biology, and therefore also that mechanistic natural science is not, to borrow Sellars’s famous phrase, “the measure of all things” (Sellars, 1963c: p. 173). Thus scientific or ontological and explanatory materialist/physicalist naturalism (whether reductive or non-reductive) would be false, and mechanistic natural science would apply to all and only the natural objects and facts to which it applies, but not to all actual or possible natural objects and facts. In short, mechanistic natural science would have inherent metaphysical and ontological limits, insofar as it’s really applicable to physical nature. In chapter 4 below, in a contemporary context, I call this the physico-mechanical incompleteness of our Standard Models of cosmology and particle physics.

Contrary to scientific or physicalist naturalism, then, and again presupposing the nomological framework of Kant’s Neo-Aristotelian Natural Power Grid, the thesis of liberal or organicist-idealist naturalism would be true. More precisely, the liberal naturalist, or organicist-idealist naturalist, thesis says that the manifest world fundamentally contains the real existence or real possibility of organismic life, the feeling of life, mind, source-incompatibilist free will, persons, and non-instrumental normativity as basic organicist facts of nature, along with the basic formal-mechanical and causal-mechanical physical facts; and also that the basic kind of item is dynamic processes, both mechanical/deterministic and non-mechanical/non-deterministic, such that the mechanical/deterministic kind presupposes either the actual existence or the real possibility of the non-mechanical, non-deterministic kind (Hanna and Maiese, 2009; Hanna, 2018a). Bluntly put: source-incompatibilist free will is a fact of organismic life, and partially constitutive of physical nature. Or in Nagel’s words again, “rational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order,” and there is a “cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them” (Nagel, 2012: pp. 117, 123). This, in turn, would solve Kant’s fundamental problem, not by appealing to anything supernatural, but instead by liberalizing our concept of physical nature beyond the mechanistic worldview. And again in turn, this revolutionary philosophical move — liberalizing our concept of physical nature beyond the mechanistic worldview — is the essential broadly and radically Kantian entry gate to the new philosophy of nature, science, and human thinking that I want to defend in this book, driven by the basic elements of The Uniscience: neo-organicism, The Theory of Thought-Shapers, aka TTS, and the characteristic uniscientific method and mode-of-cognition, creative piety.



Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 31 January 2022

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Mr Nemo

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