Mechanical explanation of nature and its limits in Kant’s Critique of judgment

Angela Breitenbach

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    32 Citations (Scopus)


    In this paper I discuss two questions. What does Kant understand by mechanical explanation in the Critique of judgment? And why does he think that mechanical explanation is the only type of the explanation of nature available to us? According to the interpretation proposed, mechanical explanations in the Critique of judgment refer to a particular species of empirical causal laws. Mechanical laws aim to explain nature by reference to the causal interaction between the forces of the parts of matter and the way in which they form into complex material wholes. Just like any other empirical causal law, however, mechanical laws can never be known with full certainty. The conception according to which we can explain all of nature by means of mechanical laws, it turns out, is based on what Kant calls ‘regulative’ or ‘reflective’ considerations about nature. Nothing in Kant’s Critique of judgment suggests that these considerations can ever be justified by reference to how the natural world really is. I suggest that what, upon first consideration, appears to be a thoroughly mechanistic conception of nature in Kant is much more limited than one might have expected.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)694-711
    Number of pages18
    JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006

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