Kant on evolution: A re-evaluation

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Abstract

Kant’s remark about the impossibility of there ever being a Newton of a blade of grass has often been interpreted as a misguided pre-emptive strike against Darwin and evolutionary theories in general. This chapter aims to re-evaluate this claim in the context of Kant’s account of organic generation and argue that, contrary to what is usually thought, it does leave room for the possibility of evolution. To do so, I examine Kant’s theory of generation and draw its implications for biological heredity, species diversity, and the role played by environmental factors in organic development. On this basis, I suggest that, first, evolution is a possible albeit far-fetched hypothesis for Kant, and second, Darwin’s theory of natural selection would have turned a far-fetched possibility into a plausible candidate. As I go on to argue, however, despite its explanatory success, the Darwinian account would not have disposed of the need for teleology. This is why Darwin could never have been a Newton of a blade of grass.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKant on Animals
Editors John J. Callanan, Lucy Allais
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780198859918
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2020

Keywords

  • Kant
  • animals
  • evolution
  • epigenesis
  • natural selection

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