Edinburgh Kant Reading Group – second session 30th of January

As part of our Semester 2 Research Seminars, this week we’ll start the discussion with §62 of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment (first paragraph of the Analytique of Teleological Judgment) and go to the next paragraphs when there’s time left.

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4 Responses to Edinburgh Kant Reading Group – second session 30th of January

  1. mmassimi says:

    Today’s discussion kicked off with a helpful diagram, kindly drawn for us by the environmental artist Tim Collins, following last week’s discussion about the distinction between objective formal purposiveness and subjective formal purposiveness. We then ‘sailed through’ (so to speak) Section 62 of the Critique of Judgment, all dedicated to the objective formal purposiveness, which Kant sees exemplified in geometrical figures such as a circle or a triangle. My attention got caught by the passage where Kant praises the “eagerness with which the ancient geometers investigated the properties of such lines without being distracted by the question of limited minds: for what is this knowledge useful?, e.g., that of the parabola, without knowing the law of terrestrial gravitation, which would have given them its application to the trajectory of heavy bodies (whose gravitational direction in their motion can be seen as parallel); or of the ellipse, without suspecting that there is also gravity in heavenly bodies, and without knowing its law at different distances from points of attraction, which makes them describe these lines in free movement” (5: 363). Are the aforementioned questions concerning the applicability of geometry to physics (and to the laws of physics!) a “question of limited minds”? Out of the rhetoric of the passage, in what does the *formal* purposiveness of an ellipse (i.e. purposiveness that is not grounded in a purpose, say, to describe elliptical motion of heavenly bodies) consist in?

    • hennyblomme says:

      I think that Kant’s praise goes to those ancient geometers because, when they “did geometry”, they didn’t let themself be distracted by the question: “What is the use of all this?” It’s specifically this question that Kant considers to be a question of limited minds. It’s thus not the question about the applicability of geometry that is silly – there’s nothing wrong, never, with the question: can we apply or implement this? -, it’s the thought that, if something isn’t immediately applicable (or if we don’t see any practical utility), we shouldn’t be doing it. Remember that those “limited minds” do not only question the usefulness of geometry. Philosophers (and artists) shouldn’t feel the need to justify their work by pointing to some evidently appearing “usefulness” neither – what they are doing might eventually be decisive in that it contributes to a change in our way of thinking, but that’s not a result that can easily be proven by “everyday-statistics”. That’s also why the new “impact agenda” for academic research is a typical product of limited minds – it’s just saying to researchers: show that you are useful, here and now! But to the extent that a researcher is doing her best to show that she is useful, here and now (something that will almost ever degenerate to the point of finding herself extremely occupied with self-publicity and project-marketing), she isn’t capable anymore of proper research and will choose the safe but unexciting path that we call “career”. Moreover, research utility then has to be quantified and so its definition becomes as narrow as it gets (e.g. doing good research = publish in “high ranking reviews”). Kant didn’t publish anything in the ten years preceding his first Critique, so I guess that universities restricted by impact agendas will not any longer be places where it is possible to work on research projects that may have real impact (cf. Julian Barbour).

    • hennyblomme says:

      To understand in which sense a geometric figure can be regarded as purposive, it is useful to recall Kant’s very minimal definition of “purpose” and “purposiveness” in §10 of the CJ. There, a purpose is determined as (I’m paraphrasing) an “an object caused by its concept”, and purposiveness “the causality of a concept with regard to its object”. Most commentators seem to forget this definition of “purposiveness in general” (see the title of §10), because they cannot do away with the common sense conception of purpose, that involves a telos. But Kant’s definition is to be regarded as technical in the sense that it abstracts from all telos-implications. For Kant, geometrical figures are constructed in a priori intuition and their concept is the rule of their construction. In this sense, the concept is the cause of the (geometrical) object…

  2. I have a question about the introduction of teleology as a regulative principle. it comes up for me when rereading section 61 and the first part of 62, although the question could come up anytime during my reading of sections 61-68. Given that nature as blind mechanism is a bedrock notion for Kant (despite the overwhelming temptation to see organisms in terms of purposiveness) , what could motivate him to propose the notion of teleology to help us in our studies of natural science? It seems as though it could only act as a kind of goad, enraging us enough against the very idea of, for example, final causes, that we strive even harder to come up with efficient causes that free us from any illusion of dependence on a notion of causes acting backwards. One can imagine scientists being driven to the discovery of DNA in this way.
    I would be grateful for any comments that would help me with this.

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