site hit counter

 James Kreines








[Kindle Version]
Department of Philosophy,
Claremont McKenna College

850 Columbia Ave
Claremont, CA 91711
Office: Roberts North 211
(909) 607-6845




The Logic of Life:
Hegel’s Philosophical Defense of Natural Teleology

Cambridge Companion to Hegel, 2nd Edition, edited by F. Beiser. 2008.

See also a related new draft paper: "From Free Will to Hegel and Kant on Teleology and Life"

For more on Kant, see also The Inexplicability of Kant's Naturzweck: Kant on Teleology, Explanation and Biology. Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 87:3 (2005): 270-311. Free final draft.

James Kreines

Please cite the published version. What follows is a final draft:

Hegel accords great philosophical importance to Kant’s discussions of teleology and biology in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, and yet also disagrees with Kant’s central conclusions there. More specifically, Kant argues for a generally skeptical view of teleological explanation of living beings; Hegel responds that Kant should instead defend such explanation—and that the defense of teleology should lead Kant to different conclusions throughout his theoretical philosophy.

To be sure, Kant’s view is not entirely skeptical. Kant argues that we necessarily conceive of living beings in irreducibly teleological terms. But we cannot (Kant argues) know that living beings themselves truly satisfy the implications of teleological judgment. For we cannot know whether teleology truly explains anything natural. And this conclusion requires Kant to limit his positive claims about teleology: it is subjectively necessary that we conceive of living beings in teleological terms; and this conception is legitimate only when employed as a heuristic aid rather than an explanation.1

Hegel’s response in his Science of Logic and Encyclopedia is by no means entirely critical.2 Hegel frequently praises a distinction central to Kant’s analysis of teleology—the distinction between “external” and “inner purposiveness” (innere Zweckmäßigkeit). On the one hand, we can conceive of the concept of a complex system, like a pocket watch with many parts, which satisfies the implications of teleological judgment in virtue of the work of a separate or external intelligent designer. Here the parts of the system are means to the external ends or purposes (Zwecke) of a designer (e.g. reliable indication of the time). On the other hand, we can conceive of another way in which a system might satisfy the implications of teleological judgment—not in virtue of external design but in virtue of its own inner nature. Here the parts would be means to system’s own inner ends or purposes. Kant argues that the latter concept of “inner purposiveness” is logically consistent and meaningful. And that it is understandable and heuristically useful for us to conceive of real living beings in this way. Hegel finds Kant’s analysis here to be of great philosophical importance—for philosophy generally and not just for philosophical issues concerning life. In Hegel’s terms, “with this concept of inner purposiveness, Kant has resuscitated the idea in general and especially the idea of life.”3 And Hegel sees Kant as opening up a far superior alternative to the idea of conceiving living beings in terms of the external purposiveness of artifacts produced by an intelligent designer. Hegel will frequently dismiss and even ridicule the latter idea; he sees it as a distraction from the important philosophical issues, and an invitation to popular superstitions or to triviality, as in the suggestion that God “has provided cork-trees for bottle stoppers.”4

But Hegel draws on Kant’s analysis to argue against Kant’s own skeptical insistence that we can have no knowledge of natural teleology: Hegel argues that living beings do manifest true “internal purposiveness,” that their structure and development is explicable in teleological terms, and that we can have objective knowledge of this natural teleology—and of its broader metaphysical implications. So Kant should not, Hegel says, have been satisfied in investigating whether the application of teleology to nature provides only “mere maxims of a subjective cognition.” Speaking of “the end relation,” Hegel says, “on the contrary, it is the absolute truth that judges objectively and determines external objectivity absolutely” (WL 6:444/739).

It is worth noting, before beginning, that debate continues today concerning the legitimacy of teleology in biology; subsequent developments in the biological sciences have not ended such debate. Of course, it has sometimes been popular to hold that teleological language in modern biology can be only a façon de parler, perhaps best replaced by a substitute like “teleonomy.” But in the most recent work in philosophy of biology it is popular, perhaps more so, to defend teleological explanation.5 To be sure, critics see such defenses as misunderstanding natural selection, or as defending forms of explanation that are not truly teleological. But this is to say that debate continues. Some readers may well side with the skeptics, believing that any defense of teleology in biology would have to be scientifically obsolete. But we must not simply assume this and then view Hegel through the lens of such an assumption. For then we will assume further that Hegel defends teleology specifically on grounds of obsolete scientific theories—for example, perhaps on grounds of an outdated theory about the origin of the species at odds with the theory of natural selection. One can of course find places in Hegel’s text where his claims conflict with scientific theories we now know to be true. But we must not make assumptions about what role, if any, these specific claims play in Hegel’s philosophical argument against Kant in defense of natural teleology. We should rather seek to avoid viewing Kant and Hegel through the lens of assumptions drawn from one side or another in contemporary debates; we should aim to understand their arguments in their own terms. We can then try to understand whether and how those arguments might really bear on the underlying philosophical issues of continuing importance and interest. That, in any case, is what I seek to do here.

Similarly, I aim to avoid the sort of interpretive charity that would begin with a currently popular philosophical view and then seek to find that view in historical texts. This approach would tend to obscure differences between what is popular now and the views of historical figures, as well as differences between different historical figures. And it would foreclose the possibility that studying history might reveal surprising philosophical advantages of views which are not popular today. I think that Kant and Hegel both provide compelling philosophical arguments for positions on natural teleology that are different from currently popular views, and different from one another. I do not make any attempt here at a final resolution of the issues at stake between Kant and Hegel, but aim rather to uncover and explain the strengths of the arguments on both sides. I begin with a brief look at Kant’s case for his more skeptical conclusions, and then consider at greater length Hegel’s response. I close with a brief discussion of the importance of this topic within Hegel’s broader metaphysics.

1. Kant’s Analysis

To begin, we must distinguish two of the endeavors Kant pursues in the Critique of the Power of Judgment (hereafter KU) discussions of teleology. Kant seeks to analyze the concept of a complex system which would satisfy the implications of teleological judgment by nature or in virtue of “inner purposiveness” (as opposed to this being in virtue of the work of an external designer); in Kant’s terms, he seeks to analyze the concept of a Naturzweck (a natural end or purpose). Another goal of Kant’s is to determine what sorts of reasons we might have, if any, to conceive of actual living beings as such complex systems, or as Naturzwecke in this sense.6

Kant's analysis consists of two requirements governing the relations, in a complex system, between the parts and the whole. The first requirement specifies the conditions under which a complex system will satisfy the implications of teleological judgment, or will be a Zweck (end or purpose). And Kant argues that this will be so only where the parts are means to an overall end realized in the whole. To begin with, this requires that the parts and their organization are such that all this jointly benefits some end realized in the whole. But it is crucial that mere benefit is not sufficient for teleology. For something might, as Kant himself stresses, have beneficial consequences for something else merely by coincidence.7 So Kant’s first requirement demands that the presence of jointly beneficial parts is not merely coincidental; such parts must be present because of their relation to the whole—which is to say, because of the ways in which they are beneficial in relation to an overall end or purpose realized in the whole. In Kant’s terms, “for a thing as Naturzweck it is requisite, first, that its parts (as far as their existence and their form are concerned) are possible only through their relation to the whole” (KU 5:373).

When it comes to actual living beings, the question raised by the first requirement is not ‘are the parts and their organization a benefit relative to the end of the survival of the whole?’ It is empirically obvious that they are. But the important question concerns explanation, namely: are such beneficial parts present in a living being specifically for the sake of this benefit, or because of an end or Zweck?

When it comes to artifacts, we have an obvious reason to answer the parallel question in the affirmative. For example, are the parts of a watch present specifically because of purposes, or because of the way each contributes to the further end of the whole reliably indicating the time? Yes; a designer has selected each part for that very reason. In virtue of the designer’s work, such cases satisfy the explanatory implications of teleological judgment.

Kant argues that there is, at least in principle, room for another kind of “in virtue of” here, another way in which the explanatory implications could be satisfied. There is room for a meaningful concept of a system that is teleological (is a “Zweck” or end or purpose) by nature, or in virtue of “inner purposiveness”. This is the concept of a Naturzweck. To complete his analysis of this concept, Kant needs a second requirement which will distinguish such “inner purposiveness” from the “external purposiveness” of artifacts. The intuition behind Kant’s strategy is clear enough: the parts of artifacts are means to an end only insofar as someone as externally imposed some overall structure or organization; a Naturzweck, by contrast, would have to “self-organizing” (KU 5:374). Kant seeks to formulate this as a requirement, like the first, governing part-whole relations. Framed in this way, it would have to require that the structure or organization of the whole is determined not by something external to the system but by the internal parts of the system. But for a part to contribute to the determination of the structure would be to contribute toward determining what other kinds of parts are present and their arrangement. So each part would have to be involved in forming all the other parts. Or, for a Naturzweck, it is required “second, that its parts be combined into a whole by being reciprocally the cause and effect of their form” (KU 5:373).

2. Against Knowledge of Natural Teleology

With respect to this concept of a Naturzweck, Kant seeks to argue for a complex and balanced conclusion: on the one hand, the concept is logically consistent and meaningful, and conceiving living beings in these terms is heuristically useful and even indispensable for us; on the other hand, we can never know that anything real actually satisfies that concept.

For our purposes, the denial of knowledge is most important. Kant will argue for this denial by applying what we now often call the ‘backwards causation problem’ to his own requirement that the existence and form of the parts of a teleological system must depend on their relation to the whole.8 A part of a system can have beneficial consequences for the whole only once it is already present along with the other parts. So these beneficial consequences cannot have any influence over the process, entirely prior in time, by which the part originally came to be present—this would be akin to something reaching back in time and causing its own cause. In Kant’s terms, “it is entirely contrary to the nature of physical-mechanical causes that the whole should be the cause of the possibility of the causality of the parts” (KU 20:236). The only exception would be if the system originates in a prior concept of the whole—a concept dictating the ways in which each part is to contribute along with the others. So Kant’s first condition—the parts depend on their relations to the whole—can only actually be met by a system in a temporal world where there is “a concept or an idea that must determine a priori everything that is to be contained in it” (KU 5:373).

Interpreters sometimes miss the strength and importance of this argument in Kant. In particular, some today are attracted to this line of thought: worries about backwards causation concern how an end or telos could be or be reduced to an efficient cause; but we should instead say that teleology is simply a different form of explanation, which can be legitimate without needing reduction or any other special relationship with efficient causality; we then face no such problems about teleology. Some who are convinced by this thought seek to interpret Hegel as offering such a response to Kant.9 Others who are similarly convinced actually interpret Kant himself, despite his own denials that we can explain living beings in teleological terms, as aiming to defend teleological explanation by drawing on this line of thought.10

As far as I can see, however, this line of thought fails to address the specific philosophical considerations introduced by Kant’s own discussion here. Perhaps there can be different compatible but non-reducible forms of explanation. For example, perhaps different forms of explanation might be equally legitimate in context of different interests of ours. On the face of it, however, what counts as explanatory is at least partly constrained by what is really going on in the world. If X plays no role in determining, conditioning, or influencing Y in any way at all (whether as an efficient cause or in any other way), then no appeal to X can legitimately explain Y—not in context of any interests of ours. For example, if the movements of the stars which make up the constellation Sagittarius have no real influence on my current mood, then it is simply a mistake for anyone to explain the later by appeal to the former, no matter how appealing someone might find such an account.11 Furthermore, it is hard to comprehend how any kind of determining or influencing (whether causal or otherwise) could operate backwards in time. So Kant certainly has reason to worry about how an end or a Zweck realized in a whole system could possibly play any real role (causal or otherwise) in determining or influencing the entirely prior process by which the parts and their structure first came to be present in that system. And if the form and arrangement of the parts are not due to or determined by their relation to the whole, then any benefit of parts to whole would be coincidental, and teleological explanation will not literally apply (will not meet Kant’s first requirement).

Other interpreters worry that Kant here endorses a scientifically outdated connection between the organization of living beings and intelligent design (e.g. McFarland 1970, 106). One problem with this worry is that it rests on the mistaken assumption that Kant’s term Naturzweck refers to actual living beings. The point of Kant’s argument here does not directly concern actual living beings; it is rather a conceptual point about the very idea of a teleological system (a Zweck). And Kant’s point is meant to ground his skepticism, or the further conclusion that we cannot know living beings to be teleological systems (or Zwecke). For in the case of living beings, and nature generally, we can have no knowledge of any originating concepts.12

But it is crucial that Kant’s conceptual connection between the concept of a teleological system (or a Zweck) and an originating idea stops short of the claim that judging something to be a teleological system just is judging it to be the product of a separate or external designer. Kant carefully aims to preserve as logically consistent and meaningful the concept of a system that satisfies teleological judgment in another manner, or a manner that contrasts with the intelligent design of an artifact.

More specifically, Kant argues as follows: A teleological system requires an originating concept of the whole. If the purposiveness is to be inner, then the structure of the whole must be due to the parts. Putting these points together, the parts themselves would have to determine the structure in a manner guided by a concept. But the parts of the real complex systems of which we have empirical knowledge, such as living beings, are ultimately matter. And matter cannot represent concepts or intend to act in accordance: “no intention in the strict sense of the term can be attributed to any lifeless matter” (KU 5:383).13 So Kant’s two requirements have incompatible implications about the origin of a system when applied to a specifically material system: to say that the structure of an exclusively material system is due specifically and entirely to its own parts is to deny that it is an end or purpose (a Zweck), or that its structure is explicable in teleological terms. As Kant puts it:

if we consider a material whole, as far as its form is concerned, as a product of the parts and of their forces and their capacity to combine by themselves … we represent a mechanical kind of generation. But from this there arises no concept of a whole as a Zweck (KU 5:408).

This is why Kant says that “one kind of explanation excludes the other” (KU 5:412).

But none of this shows that a real Naturzweck is logically impossible. For it is not a logical truth that everything must be such that we can comprehend it or know it. More specifically, problems about backwards causation would not apply to anything non-spatio-temporal. So we cannot rule out on logical grounds the possibility that there is a non-spatio-temporal “supersensible real ground of nature” or a “thing in itself (which is not an appearance) as substratum” which could—unlike matter in space and time—somehow self-organize itself from within, in accordance with a concept, without anything like external design. If so, then both of these claims might be true of real living beings: (i) as material systems in space and time, they are “in accordance with mechanical laws”; and yet (ii) as somehow determined or conditioned by a “supersensible real ground” they are “in accordance with teleological laws” (KU 5:409). We can have neither comprehension here, nor any knowledge of any of this; we can only conceive, by contrast with our own intellect, of a higher form of intellect—an “intellectual intuition” or an “intuitive understanding”—which might have knowledge or comprehension here.14

Still, the concept of something that is a teleological system by nature, or the concept of inner purposiveness, is logically consistent. And there might be more to living beings than we can know or comprehend, so that the possibility that living beings might be Naturzwecke “can be conceived without contradiction but cannot be comprehended” (KU 5:371). The concept of a Naturzweck is “problematic”: when employing it “one does not know whether one is judging about something or nothing” (KU 5:397).

By thus defending the logical consistency and meaningfulness of the concept of a Naturzweck, Kant opens up the space for positive claims about other uses—aside from the assertion of knowledge or explanation—for that concept. First, Kant claims that living beings suggest self-organization in various ways: their parts mutually compensate for one another, they incorporate matter in order to grow, and they generate new living beings by reproduction (KU 5:371f.). For this and other reasons, Kant will hold that our experience “exhibits” but nonetheless cannot “prove” the existence of real Naturzwecke (KU 20: 234). Second, Kant will argue that thinking of living beings in such teleological terms provides us with an indispensable heuristic aid in scientific inquiry; Kant even argues that we must for similar reasons judge nature itself as if it were a Naturzweck.15

Judged from our perspective, then, Kant’s overall position is unusual. Some today think that a teleological system can only be a designed system, and so they seek to eliminate all teleology from biology, replacing it with “teleonomy” or a non-teleological notion of “function.”16 Kant, by contrast, seeks to preserve a concept of a system that is teleological but not in virtue of design, and to preserve a role for that teleological concept in biology. Others today defend teleological explanation in biology. Kant, by contrast, argues that we cannot have knowledge that teleology truly explains the structure and development of living beings, nor any knowledge or comprehension of true Naturzwecke.17

3. Hegel’s Aims

It is worth briefly clarifying Hegel’s aims by contrasting some other ways of trying to challenge Kant’s skeptical conclusion. To begin with, some are attracted to the strategy sketched above of defending teleology by arguing that it is a distinct and different form of explanation—different from mechanism, or from efficient causality, but equally legitimate. As noted above, however, this strategy does not actually address to the specific considerations which motivate Kant’s skepticism about teleology. And Hegel himself is not attracted to the strategy; he says that teleology and mechanism cannot be shown to be mutually “indifferent” simply by noting that they differ: “if mechanism and purposiveness stand opposed to one another, they cannot for that very reason be taken as indifferent concepts, each of which is correct on its own account, possessing as much validity as they other.” Nor does an “equally validity” of both follow simply “because we have them both” (WL 6:437/735). So we might well have the concept of natural teleology, or have an interest in so explaining living beings, or have the practice of so explaining. But at issue is not what we have, but what is valid or legitimate. Furthermore, Hegel recognizes that, judged from Kant’s point of view, the possibility of real inner purposiveness is “an incomprehensible mystery” (WL 6:473/763). Hegel wants to show that natural teleology is not problematic, and not incomprehensible. But to do so he requires an argument that will directly address Kant’s.

One might obviously refute Kant’s case directly by arguing that matter is actually capable of representing concepts and acting in accordance. But we will see that this is not Hegel’s strategy. Hegel elsewhere takes issue with some of Kant’s claims about matter, but he does not defend this kind of pansychist account of matter.18

So Hegel’s basic goal is to dispel the mystery surrounding the idea of a real Naturzweck, without arguing that matter can act intentionally. Hegel will try to meet this goal by showing, first, that we can comprehend how a living being might satisfy the explanatory implications of teleology without thinking of it as the product of an agent representing a concept. And, second, that attention to reproduction within a biological species can allow us to comprehend how purposiveness could be truly inner without this having anything to do with the underlying constituent matter at all.

4. The Analysis of Life

Hegel argues in the Science of Logic by means of an analysis of a concept of life. It can be difficult to understand what the point of the analysis is. It is not an attempt to give an a priori logical deduction of the features real living beings must have.19 Nor is it a direct replacement for or competitor to Kant’s analysis of the concept of a Naturzweck. Nor is Hegel seeking merely to reflect on our conceptual scheme in order to analyze our ordinary concept of life or living being. The analysis must be understood as a theoretical tool, or in terms of what Hegel seeks to do with it—in terms of how he will use it to argue that we can comprehend the possibility of a system with true inner purposiveness. But the best way to follow Hegel is initially to set aside questions about how the larger argument functions, and attend first just to the content of the analysis, or the content of Hegel’s concept of life.

Hegel’s analysis, and the crux of his philosophical response to Kant on teleology and biology, is found in a chapter called “Life” in both versions of the Logic. The analysis also provides the structure for Hegel’s discussions of plant and animal biology in the Philosophy of Nature and elsewhere. In all of Hegel’s treatments, the analysis has three requirements.

The first requirement mirrors Kant’s analysis in terms of reciprocal relations between part and whole: “all the members are reciprocally momentary means as well as momentary ends.”20 Hegel puts the point more directly elsewhere: “the organs are the means of life, and these very means, the organs themselves, are also the element in which life realizes and maintains itself… this is self-preservation” (VPR 17:508/336).21

But Hegel’s concept of life also demands that a complex system itself requires some kind of assimilation from the outside environment in order to grow and preserve itself. In Hegel’s terms, “in and through this process against an inorganic nature, it maintains itself, develops itself and objectifies itself” (EL §219). Alternatively, it must be engaged in a “struggle with the outer world” (PN §365Zu).

Third, Hegel’s concept of life also requires that individuals must be mortal, and must aim for the reproduction (e.g. sexual reproduction) by which a species endures.22 So anything satisfying Hegel’s concept must also pursue self-preservation in an additional sense: it must aim to reproduce itself—it “produces itself as another individual of the same species” (PP 4:32/142). And survival of the species requires that self-preservation in this latter sense dominates: “the end of the animal in itself as an individual is its own self-preservation; but its true end in itself is the species.”23 In Hegel’s terms, the third requirement demands the “process of the Gattung” (genus, kind or species) or the Gattungsprozess.24 (Hegel’s term Gattung—usually translated as “genus”—can seem to suggest the idea that there is a perfect hierarchical classification system of genus and species, defined by necessary and sufficient membership conditions which sort all life into discreet categories. But Hegel’s analysis does not require that claim, and he elsewhere denies it.25 The requirements of the analysis fix the meaning of Gattung here: it refers to a general kind within which individuals reproduce, generating more individuals of the same kind.26)

Hegel’s three requirements are interrelated in several ways. For example, the first governs internal structure. But combining this with the second and third requirements will generate additional demands on structure: if the parts are to be mutually beneficial, then they will have to be organized in a manner that realizes the capacities, or makes possible the activities, required for assimilation and reproduction.27 It makes sense, then, for Hegel to say elsewhere that life requires a “system of activities which is actualized into a system of organs through which those activities proceed” so that “in this way the living thing is articulated purposefully; all its members serve only as means to the one end of self-preservation” (VPA 13:193/1:145).

Finally, note that the structure of Hegel’s analysis of the concept of life differs greatly from Kant’s analysis of the concept of a Naturzweck. Kant’s analysis itself consists entirely of two requirements governing specifically part-whole relations within a complex system. Of course, Kant knows that living beings assimilate and reproduce. But he argues for a way of understanding the general philosophical problem concerning natural teleology which is independent of these specific ways in which our experience of real living beings happen to suggest the self-organization of a Naturzweck.28 Hegel’s analysis of life is more complex: It constrains not only part-whole relations within a complex system, but also demands a specific relationship between the whole and the outside environment and between the whole and other wholes of the same general kind or species. In itself, the simplicity of Kant’s analysis would be a philosophical advantage—unless Hegel can show that these additional features are relevant to, and in fact resolve, Kant’s general philosophical problem concerning natural teleology.

5. Comprehending the Origin of a Naturzweck

This being Hegel, it is too much to hope for an immediately and easily transparent statement of how the argument of the “Life” chapter in the Logic is supposed to work. But I think we can see the answer clearly enough by considering how Hegel’s analysis specifically relates to Kant’s argument, and then working our way toward progressively better understandings of Hegel’s initially opaque terminology. To begin with, Kant’s problem concerns the origin or genesis of a Naturzweck—we cannot comprehend how any origin could satisfy both of Kant’s requirements. And Hegel’s analysis of life does conspicuously address the topic of origins: the analysis requires reproduction, or “the generation of individuality” (WL 6:486/774). The first question is, then, why should it be possible for a complex system to satisfy the implications of teleological judgment in virtue of this kind of origin, without requiring an originating representation of the whole?

To begin with, Hegel’s analysis adds a distinction between something particular and something general or universal—between individuals and their general species or kind. Distinct individuals—parent(s) and offspring—are (though in many ways different) identical in one respect: they are the same in species or kind (Gattung). So there is a sense in which, in reproducing, an individual produces not something else but rather “produces itself as another individual of the same species” (PP 4:32/142). Further, the general structure of the offspring will generally be identical and determined by the parent(s); for example, “through the male and female natures, there emerges a determination of the entire structure” (PN §365Zu, 9:459/377). And now we can see how the general structure of a new organism precedes its development—not in the form or an intelligent designer’s representation of a concept of the whole, but in the structure shared by the parent(s) and previous generations of the same species.

How does this help with teleology? Consider the question in terms of parts and whole, following Kant’s analysis. Take as an example a tiger—I will call him Hobbes—and his claws. On Kant’s account, the problem is this: how can the beneficial consequences of Hobbes’ claws, once present in Hobbes, have any influence over the process, entirely prior in time, by which these very claws first developed in Hobbes? That is indeed problematic. But Hegel’s analysis reconceives the problem. If different individuals are the same in structure, then they will have the same general kinds of parts or features—or “members,” in the Hegelian terms we will come to below. The general kinds of parts of living beings—e.g. claws, heart, lungs—have beneficial consequences for wholes of the species generally. For example, “the teeth, claws, and the like … it is through these that the animal establishes and preserves itself as an independent existence” (PN §368An). Kant’s problem will now look very different; the question is now: how can the beneficial consequences of a general kind of part possibly have influence over how a new instance of that same general kind of part came to exist within this new individual? This is no longer so problematic. Hobbes’ claws will be a benefit to him. And, crucially, this is no coincidence: this general feature or “member” contributes to assimilation and so to the survival of tigers generally; and this general benefit has already helped to make possible the survival and reproduction of previous tigers, and so also the production of Hobbes and his claws. More broadly, a new individual and its new parts are possible only insofar as parts of that general kind are beneficial in relation to wholes of the same general kind. So the new individual meets Kant’s demand that, in a teleological system the “parts (as far as their existence and their form are concerned) are possible only through their relation to the whole” (KU 5:373). And we can comprehend in this way how a complex system might be, throughout all its parts, “means and the instrument of the end” (WL 6:476/766) Or, more specifically, the whole might be such that “all its members serve only as means to the one end of self-preservation” (VPA 13:193/1:145).

Some may feel that such an account would eliminate rather than defend teleology. But what is eliminated here is rather the impossibility of comprehending the origin of a teleological system without thinking of intelligent design. And that is part of Hegel’s goal—to eliminate the application of external teleology to nature.29 Kant himself sets the standard of what counts as teleology: in a teleological system the parts must be present on account of their relation to the whole. Kant can argue on this basis, without merely stipulating any kind of connection between teleology and design, that we cannot comprehend how a real Naturzweck could originate. But this arrangement leaves room for Hegel to argue in response that we can comprehend how a natural system could meet Kant’s standard of what counts as teleology.30

Further, note that Hegel’s argument is no defense of teleological explanation of the historical development of a species. Hegel does not here require that there must have been a time when (e.g.) tigers did not have claws, so he cannot be defending the claim that the species came over time to have that trait for the sake of some end. The Logic analysis makes no special requirements about how or even whether a species originates or develops in time at all. It does not rule in or out any stance on this topic. By not mentioning any of this, it treats the topic not relevant to the resolution of the general philosophical problem—left by Kant—concerning how teleology might explain the structure and development of a complex system, such as an individual organism.

One might certainly worry that the account sketched so far cannot render comprehensible genuine self-organization or true inner purposiveness. For Hegel’s account does nothing to explain how we could get from mere matter alone to an organized living being, capable of assimilation and reproduction. But it is crucial that this is not itself the precise problem at issue between Kant and Hegel. Kant does not hold that we cannot have knowledge of anything which we cannot explain in terms of matter and the laws of matter. We know that there are assimilating and reproducing living beings, for example, though Kant denies that we know how to explain this in terms of matter and its laws.31 Kant skepticism concerns specifically the concept of a Naturzweck: For the inner purposiveness of a Naturzweck, the structure of the whole would have to be due to the parts. This is why Kant sees questions about matter as relevant—to know that the structure of a material system is due to its parts we would have to know how its structure can and does emerge entirely from the law-governed behavior of the underlying matter. But to know this would be to know that this system does not have the kind of origin required for a teleological system at all.

One way to challenge Kant’s conclusion here would be to offer an explanation of how matter alone might generate a genuinely teleological system. If that were Hegel’s goal, then he will seem to require something like a scientific theory of epigenesis, or vital forces, or something of the sort.32 But the “Life” chapter of the Logic proposes nothing of the sort. Instead, Hegel argues that whether or not the structure of the whole depends on the parts, in the sense required for inner purposiveness, need not have anything at all to do directly with the capacities specific to the lowest-level underlying constituent stuff or matter. The key here is again the connection between the particular and the general or universal, so that parent(s) and offspring are the same in species and in structure. The basic idea is just that a new individual is self-organizing insofar as its structure is due to its own nature, in the sense of its species (Gattung). To see the point, consider again the general kinds of parts or “members” present in parent(s) and offspring. It is the contribution of such parts in previous generations which makes possible the generation of a new individual with the same structure. So the structure of the new organism is not determined by something else or something other—the structure of the whole is due to the parts, in the sense of the general kinds of parts present within it.33 In Hegel’s terms (to which I will return below) living beings satisfy the requirements of inner purposiveness not in virtue of the relation between the whole and the mutually external material “parts” in space, but in virtue of the relation between the whole and the general kinds of parts or “members” (WL 6:476/766). In this way, the Logic argument makes the specific nature of the lowest-level underlying material is irrelevant to the general question of whether or not something manifests true inner purposiveness.

Strictly speaking, it remains for Hegel to argue in the Philosophy of Nature that our empirical knowledge of plant and animal biology fits the analysis of life. But the most important points here will be uncontroversial—after all, there are living beings, and they do assimilate and reproduce. The philosophical heavy lifting and the controversial claims come in the Logic argument for the conclusion that the concept of something that is a teleological system by nature or by virtue of inner purposiveness is not problematic: we can comprehend how something could be a true Naturzweck, and we could know something to be a Naturzweck by knowing it to satisfy Hegel’s analysis of life.

6. Immediacy, the Concept, and Aristotle’s Influence

I turn now to consider some of the distinctive ways in which Hegel presents his case and his conclusions. To begin with, we must attend to the way in which Hegel presents the three parts of the “Life” chapter of the Logic not as an articulation of three merely stipulated requirements of a concept of life, but as three steps of a unified course of argument. To do so, we must follow his use of the term “immediate” there. Initially, Hegel’s analysis governs only part-whole relations or “the process of the living being inside itself” (EL §217). Here Hegel is arguing that an analysis governing only part-whole relations within a system, such as Kant’s, would indeed make the genesis or origin of inner purposiveness into a mystery. In Hegel’s terms, there can be here no mediation through which we could comprehend this possibility; the first step concerns only a “first, immediate individuality” (WL 6:437/764). Or, at this point, an assertion that there is something that is a teleological system by nature could only be an immediate “presupposition” which is impossible to make good. But this begins to change once we move toward Hegel’s analysis of what he calls “the universal concept of life.” So once Hegel concludes his second step, and begins to introduce the third, he looks back on the first step and says that “the living individual, at first disengaged from the universal concept of life, is a presupposition that is not as yet authenticated by the living individual itself.” But now, given Hegel’s account, “its genesis, which was an act of presupposing, now becomes its production” (WL 6:484/772-3). The conclusion of the argument is this: only by focusing on assimilation and reproduction can we comprehend the possibility of the origin of something that would be a teleological system by nature. In Hegel’s terms, the significance of the third requirement and the completed analysis is that “the living individual, which was at first presupposed as immediate, is now seen to be mediated and generated” (EL §221).

And we cannot understand Hegel’s presentation of his conclusions about teleology and biology without attending to his use of the term “the concept” (der Begriff). Hegel argues that there can be a teleological system without need of an originating representation the whole. So Hegel naturally seems to be challenging Kant’s claim that there can be a teleological system only where there is an originating concept of the whole. But part of the reason that Hegel accords such broad philosophical significance to the topic of teleology and biology is that he sees his argument differently here. Hegel takes himself to be accepting Kant’s demand for an originating concept, while showing that this demand can be met by something unlike a “concept” in any ordinary sense of that term. It can be met by what Hegel calls “the concept” (der Begriff). More specifically, in biological cases “the concept” is the kind or species (Gattung). It makes sense to use the term “concept” here insofar as the Gattung is something general or universal—insofar as there are multiple instances of one and the same kind. But “the concept” in this sense is in no way dependent on its being represented by an agent. Nor is it dependent on its somehow containing representations of necessary and sufficient conditions of its application. Individuals of a given kind distinguish themselves from everything else in their struggle to survive: “the animal establishes and preserves itself as an independent existence, that is, distinguishes itself from others” (PN §368An). And such individuals bind themselves together as instances of one and the same general kind by relations of reproduction, so that the “product” of this process is “the realized species (Gattung), which has posited itself identical with the concept (der Begriff)” (WL 6:486/774). Clearly the Gattung here is not a “concept” in any ordinary sense, or any sense in which one might say that it is “only a concept” represented by a subject; it is rather what Hegel sometimes calls an “objective concept.”34

One general issue at stake here is this: are the different biological species only groupings marked out by the concepts we happen to have; or are the species themselves mind-independent, real and explanatorily important features of the world? Hegel embraces the latter option. Similar issues are still debated in today’s complex disputes about the nature of a biological species, so here too we must not merely assume that Hegel’s answer simply must be scientifically obsolete. Note in particular, as is acknowledged in contemporary discussions, that to affirm the reality of biological species is not to deny that these can change over time. Nor is it to rule out the possibility that a real biological species can have vague boundaries. As Hegel himself says, life does not allow “an independent, rational system of organization” (PN §370), and “naturally there are also animals which are intermediate forms” (PN §368Zu).35

Furthermore, Hegel’s defense of natural teleology does not rest on the mere assumption of a sweeping metaphysical claim—such as the claim that there is a perfectly knowable “absolute” of some kind, or that reality must somehow be completely transparent to or identical with thinking, etc.36 On the contrary, further consideration of Kant’s analysis of inner purposiveness is so important because it is supposed to provide philosophical support for Hegel’s metaphysics. To begin with, attention to self-preservation and reproduction is supposed to demonstrate something about “the concept,” or show us a philosophically interesting way in which something general or universal—a species or kind (Gattung)—can have an effective impact within the world without being dependent on being represented.

And it is easy to see that Hegel’s general claim about “the concept” is indeed essential to his defense of natural teleology. The basic ideas are these: the structure of a new individual is prior in time, not in a representation but in the general species or “the concept”; and the new organism is not the product of something entirely other or external because it is determined by this general nature, species, or “concept” shared with previous generations. Hegel puts the point directly: “since the concept (der Begriff) is immanent in it, the purposiveness of the living being is to be grasped as inner” (WL 6:476/766). Similarly, a philosophical view like Kant’s must see the possibility of real inner purposiveness as an “incomprehensible mystery” specifically “because it does not grasp the concept, and the concept as the substance of life.”37

Hegel’s presentation is also influenced by his view that his basic ideas here are already present in Aristotle.38 First of all, on Hegel’s account, Aristotle himself recognizes and resolves the backwards causation problem. It is at least easy to see how one could read Aristotle in this way. Aristotle says that final, formal and efficient causes can be “one and the same” in natural cases. An obvious question here is: how could the efficient cause which begins a process of development be the same as the form of the developed organism which is the end of that process? Aristotle answers that the prior cause is the same in species or form as a newly developing organism: “that from which the change originates is the same in form as these. Thus a man gives birth to a man.”39 Note Hegel’s gloss on such texts, from his lectures on Aristotle:

That which is produced is as such in the ground, that is, it is an end (Zweck), kind (Gattung) in itself, it is by the same token prior, before it becomes actual, as potentiality. Man generates men; what the product is, is also the producer. (VGP 19:176)

Hegel also sees Aristotle as connecting natural teleology closely with the end of self-preservation. Hegel uses as an example the development of a seed “directed solely to self-preservation.” This, Hegel says, is Aristotle’s “concept of the end as immanent” (PN §245Zu, 9:14/6). Again, it is not hard to see what Hegel is thinking of in Aristotle. Aristotle identifies (in some sense needing interpretation) “soul” with the characteristic activities for which something is organized. For example, “if the eye were an animal, sight would be its soul.”40 Although the similarities and differences in Hegel’s use of the term “soul” (Seele) are complex, Hegel does praise Aristotle for treating “the soul” not “as a thing” but rather in terms of “activity.” 41 Most important for us is this claim from Aristotle: the “nutritive soul” is that “in virtue of which all are said to have life.” For the activities of the nutritive soul correspond to Hegel’s second and third requirements—they are assimilation and also self-preservation in the sense of reproduction: “the acts in which it manifests itself are reproduction and the use of food.”42 Furthermore, Aristotle appeals to the natural end of self-preservation, common to all life, in explaining specific biological capacities, such as the capacity for sensation in a self-moving animal: “Every body capable of forward movement would, if unendowed with sensation, perish and fail to reach its end, which is the aim of nature; for how could it obtain nutriment?”43

Hegel’s basic approach to natural teleology simply combines this last idea with the idea that parent and offspring are the same in Aristotelian “form” or Hegelian “concept.” Consider Aristotle’s example: Why does an individual self-moving animal have the power of sensation? Because this capacity is required by the natural or immanent end or telos of self-preservation. For if this general kind of animal did not have the power of sensation, then it could not assimilate and survive. In that case, previous generations would not have reproduced. So only sensation and its contribution to self-preservation allows there come to be a new individual of the same kind with the same power of sensation.44

7. Teleology and Mechanism

Hegel also seeks to follow Aristotle in another respect. Hegel sees Aristotle as defending natural teleology while also holding that matter is governed by necessity, or that “necessity” is also present or active “in natural things.” Hegel praises Aristotle’s philosophy of nature for defending “two determinations: the conception of end and the conception of necessity” (VGP 19:173/2:156).

To be sure, Hegel does not hold that living beings can also be explained in non-teleological terms. The basic reason is that a living being has by its own nature an intrinsic end or purpose. And it has parts or “members” which are themselves means to the intrinsic end. Neither matter nor chemical substances fit the analysis of life, and neither have intrinsic ends in this sense. So the nature of living beings and their “members” is neither mechanical nor chemical. To be a living being or the “member” of a living being, then, is not to have a certain material or chemical composition; it rather involves having an intrinsic end. In Hegel’s terms, the living being as such does not have, strictly speaking, mutually external “parts” in space; it has “members” present because they are means to an end: “the objectivity of the living being is the organism; it is the means and instrument of the end … in respect of its externality the organism is a manifold, not of parts but of members.45 And such “members” “are what they are only by and in relation to their unity”—only insofar as they are means to the end of the whole.46

This is not to deny the applicability of lower-level forms of mechanical and chemical explanation within the spatio-temporal bounds of a living being. Such explanation of the matter and chemical substances found here. But so long as we have no teleological ends or purposes in view, what we explain by this means would not itself be living being as such—nor would it be the “member” of a living being as such. So Hegel says of the living being that “the mechanical or chemical relationship does not attach to it.” He adds, however, that “as externality it is indeed capable of such relationships, but to that extent it is not a living being.” Hegel then puts the point in terms of two distinct ways we can “take” or “grasp” an object under investigation: “When the living thing is taken (genommen) as a whole consisting of parts, or as anything operated on by mechanical or chemical causes … it is taken (genommen) as a dead thing.” But we can also “grasp” (fassen) it as “living being” in terms of a “purposiveness” that is genuinely “inner” (WL 2:419/766).

Hegel’s favorite example is the process by which assimilated external elements make their way into the blood—afterwards, these elements have taken on the intrinsic end of the whole, or become something which is whatever it is only in relation to the whole. This transition cannot be understood in terms of necessitating causes (WL 6:228/562). But Hegel does not deny the possibility of analyzing what is going on within the blood stream in terms of underlying chemical elements, nor the possibility of explaining how these elements behave in non-teleological terms; what he denies is that this can ever explain blood as such: “blood which has been analyzed into these constituents is no longer living blood” (PN §365Zu; see also EL §219Zu). To be blood is not to have a certain chemical constitution, but to serve in distinctive ways as a means to the end of self-preservation in particular kinds of organism. More broadly, we can explain the behavior of the substances and reactions found along the way of the broader process of assimilation in “inorganic” terms, in which case their interconnection or organization will be “superfluous.” But this does not conflict with the claim that all of these elements are present, in this particular arrangement, all for the sake of an end: “but still the course of organic being in itself occurs for its own sake, in order to be movement and thus actuality” (PN §365Zu 9:485).

Some may worry that the applicability of lower-level explanations to matter should exclude the possibility of teleological explanation. This topic is important, but I will not pursue it further here. For unlike Kant’s worries arising from the backwards causation problem, such exclusion problems do not specifically threaten biological teleology or the problem of teleology without design. They threaten design as well. For if exclusion is a problem, then it will also threaten to exclude the possibility of explaining our actions in teleological terms, or in terms of our representations of goals or ends—because our bodies are composed of matter, and the movements of this all matter would be explicable in non-teleological terms.47

Finally, Hegel’s stance on the compatibility of teleology and mechanism has important consequences concerning how we understand his claims about “the concept” (der Begriff). For example, Hegel claims that the goal-directed development of a seed into a plant reveals clearly the reality and explanatory import of “the concept”: The seed is “visible evidence to ordinary perception of what the concept is.” And the seed is “the entire living being in the inner form of the concept” (WL 6:486/774). But we must not take this to mean that “the concept” is supposed to be a vital force, utterly alien to and pulling against gravity and other forces, so that matter present within a living being would no longer obey the law of gravity and other lower-level laws. Nor is anything else, like “the soul,” supposed to play the rule of such a vital force. Teleology explains, but not because lower-level forces or laws governing the matter and chemical elements here are somehow overcome. The point is rather, first, that whatever is going on with the lower-level stuff, all of it is present here and in this arrangement specifically on account of the way in which it contributes to the end of the development of a mature organism capable of self-preservation and reproduction. And, second, the end of the process of development explains that very process specifically insofar as there is an explanatory role here for something general—for the species or kind (Gattung) or “the concept” (der Begriff) in this sense: each stage of development occurs here as it does specifically because of the general species, and more specifically because of the way in which this general kind of stage has consequences which benefit the end of the development of organisms of the same general kind or species.

8. A Kantian Rejoinder and a Contemporary Comparison

How might Kant or a Kantian rebut Hegel’s argument? Kant refers at one point to “the whole difficulty surrounding the question about the initial generation of a thing that contains purposes in itself” (KU 5:420). This certainly suggests a line of attack. Hegel argues that the structure and development of a living being can be explained in teleological terms in virtue of its place in the larger process of reproduction within a species. A Kantian might well respond as follows: This approach just shifts the philosophical difficulties away from the origin of the individual living being to rest on the question of the initial generation of the species. If there is an origin in a concept, then whatever follows is only external design. If not, then the results will not include any truly teleological systems.48

Granted, if the demand here is for an explanation of how one might get from mere matter alone to complex living beings and the different species we know today, then Hegel is indeed in no position to explain. True, one can find relevant comments about this topic in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature. Some of them are false—for example, Hegel denies the possibility of the different species emerging from a common ancestor. And Hegel continues from here to a claim that is simply inconclusive: “even if the earth was once in a state where it had no living things but only the chemical process, and so on, yet the moment the lightning of life strikes into matter, at once there is present a determinate, complete creature” (PN §339Zu 9:349/284). Neither the hypothetical “if” nor the comparison to a lightening strike suggests any positive explanation of anything, let alone a teleological explanation or an origin in a concept. Perhaps Hegel should best say that this is one of those cases in which, as he does say elsewhere, “there is plenty that cannot be comprehended yet” (PN §268Zu).

But none of this impacts Hegel’s rejoinder to Kant in “Life” from the Logic. Hegel does not there undertake to explain how to get from matter to living beings. He provides an explanation, in response to Kant’s specific problem, of how a complex system (e.g. an organism) produced by reproduction might satisfy the requirements of inner purposiveness. As noted above, satisfaction of these requirements (on Hegel’s account) simply has nothing to do with the lowest-level underlying matter. In Hegel’s terms, living beings satisfy the analysis of inner purposiveness not in virtue of the relation between the whole and the mutually external material “parts” in space, but in virtue of the relation between the whole and the “members” (WL 6:476/766). If this argument works, then it is only important that there are living beings which struggle to survive and reproduce—and who could doubt that there are?

A contemporary Kantian might want to force the issue by insisting on a thought experiment: Imagine that some heap of matter were by incredible coincidence (perhaps literally involving the lightning strike Hegel mentions) to rearrange itself into a simple one-celled organism. This would not be a teleological system, no matter how effectively its parts might benefit the whole; ex hypothesi, the parts are present not because of an end or purpose but merely by coincidence. So if this organism reproduces and assimilates, then it would satisfy Hegel’s analysis without being a truly teleological system. Such a thought experiment is entirely alien to Hegel’s procedure. But if a contemporary Kantian were to insist on the experiment, then a contemporary Hegelian could respond: An individual of a future generation is a teleological system. For it exists on account of the general species or “concept” it shares with previous generations. Or, it exists only insofar as its parts are “members”—insofar as these kinds of parts are a benefit in relation to this kind of whole, and have contributed to prior survival and reproduction. So it will be a teleological system by Kant’s own standard: “its parts (as far as their existence and their form are concerned) are possible only through their relation to the whole” (KU 5:373).49

What is Hegel’s view of species change? Though not my topic here, my own interpretation is this: Hegel denies that there is any teleological explanation of the changes in the biological species; he emphasizes a contrast with own forms of social life, which differ in that they develop in response to past difficulties in a progressive manner which is supposed to allow teleological explanation.50 Of course, when it comes to explaining how biological species do change, contemporary biology is vastly superior to everything Hegel says or knows about. But, again, this is a separate topic.

Finally, it is interesting to compare the most popular contemporary defenses of teleological explanation in biology. These differ immensely from Hegel’s, for they defend natural teleology by drawing on the theory of natural selection. The basic idea is this: the token of a trait has a teleological function where that trait was selected in competition with others in the evolutionary history of the species. But contemporary critics of natural teleology attack here, arguing that natural selection, properly understood, can do nothing to support teleological functions.51 It seems to me worth considering whether there is room for a defense of teleology which would be independent of any stand on debates about the interpretation of natural selection. In particular, we might consider looking to Hegel for inspiration, and defending teleological explanation without by appeal only to the struggle for survival and the reproduction of structure. Such an account would allow the attribution of teleological functions even where a trait did not specifically evolve in competition with alternatives. And such a defense could not possibly conflict with natural selection, and would require no support from any particular interpretation of natural selection at all.52

9. Broader Philosophical Significance

The interpretation of the general themes of Hegel’s philosophy as a whole is, of course, an enormous undertaking in its own right. But it is worth briefly noting some of the broader implications of Hegel’s defense of natural teleology.

To begin with, Hegel’s defense of natural teleology is connected to a much broader contrast between Kant and Hegel. When it comes to explanatory knowledge of nature generally—and not just in the case of teleology—Kant has a much more restrictive account of our epistemic limits. Kant does argue in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science that we can have a special kind of insight into the universal laws governing matter specifically. But here Kant limits this insight to the case of the laws of matter, and is skeptical about the possibility of similar explanatory knowledge of natural laws and kinds in other cases, as in chemistry.53 Elsewhere Kant argues that, in our pursuit of explanatory knowledge of natural laws and kinds, we can only make progress toward a goal that cannot in principle be achieved by a finite intellect such as our own.54 By contrast, Hegel sees Kant as overly beholden to empiricist ideas about in-principle limitations on what sorts of objects of knowledge are accessible to us (e.g. EL §50). And Hegel argues that there are more “universal determinations, kinds (Gattungen), and laws” that those of which Kant allows knowledge, and that we can have explanatory knowledge well beyond the case of the laws of matter.55 My own view is that, here too, we should recognize Kant and Hegel as defending very different positions, and we should seek to understand the philosophical costs and benefits of both. But this is another undertaking.56

Furthermore, one reason Hegel takes teleology and biology specifically to be of such broad importance is that he aims to argue that biological phenomena are more completely intelligible or explicable than matter and other lower-level natural phenomena.57 This is, in part, what Hegel means by saying that “the highest level to which nature attains is life” (PN §248An). And we can at least anticipate the general outlines of Hegel’s argument here. Lower-level phenomena can be explained in terms of universal laws (e.g. gravity) and general natural kinds (e.g. chemical kinds).58 But here there can be no further explanation of the connection between the particular and the universal. The point is not that there is a more complete explanation of, e.g. gravity, to which we lack epistemic access; rather, mechanistic phenomena themselves are only incompletely intelligible or explicable. In biological cases, by contrast, there is explanation to be had concerning the relations between the particular or concrete and the universal or general. For example, reproduction by individuals explains the how the general kind (Gattung) is realized and effective in the world; and the kind reciprocally explains how new individuals have the capacities required to survive and reproduce. Here Hegel will argue that the concrete and the universal are two sides of one system, which he calls “concrete universality.” This is why Hegel takes biology to be relevant in a book about logic. For example, a judgment “S is P” will be of very different significance depending on whether we have an ordinary case (e.g. ‘the sun is hot’) or whether we are dealing with a case of “concrete universality” (e.g. ‘Hobbes is a tiger’). In the latter kind of case,

Subject and predicate correspond to each other and have the same content, and this content is itself the posited concrete universality; it contains, namely, the two moments, the objective universal or the kind (Gattung), and the individualized universal. Here, therefore, we have the universal which is itself and continues itself through its opposite and is a universal only as unity with this opposite.59

Obviously, all this raises more questions than it resolves about Hegel’s broader metaphysics. One easily accessible approach to these questions would be to read Hegel as defending a view—sometimes attributed to Hegel, and to some of his contemporaries as well—that I will call “organic monism.” The basic idea is this: first, following Spinoza, everything real is “in” one single “substance”; second, substance manifests the inner purposiveness of a Naturzweck, in that its structure and development are explicable in terms of an intrinsic end.60

But we are in a position to appreciate a difficulty faced by this approach to Hegel’s metaphysics: the analysis in the “Life” chapter of the Logic cannot possibly apply to the whole of everything. For substance, in this sense, could not depend on or have need of assimilation from an outside environment—it will have no outside, and nothing with which it could be said to struggle. Nor could substance be mortal and reproduce new individuals of the same kind or species—for all individuals would have to be “in” the same single substance itself.

Now one can certainly maintain that Hegel is nonetheless an organic monist whose arguments go awry in the “Life” chapter of the Logic. McTaggart, for example, takes this path: “the universe ought to be conceived as one Organism,” but in the “Life” chapter “Hegel takes a different view”; he is “led into this error by the analogy offered by biology, which deals with a multitude of living beings” (1910, 275-6). But I have argued that it is specifically by appeal to features of biological life—features that cannot apply to the whole of everything—that Hegel is able to resolve Kant’s difficulty concerning natural teleology. Nothing Hegel says in “Life” provides any reason to doubt that Kant’s argument applies perfectly well to the idea that the universe is a Naturzweck. For how could the parts of the whole of everything have first come to be present specifically because of the roles they were to play later benefiting some end realized in the whole? How could the later benefit exert influence over the original formation of the universe? Hegel’s appeal to a species cannot help here: there can be nothing outside of substance, so there can be no prior reproducing and struggling individuals which are the same in species, nor anything for them to struggle against. As far as I can see, then, Hegel’s argument in “Life” actually calls attention to reasons for thinking that we cannot comprehend how the universe could be a Naturzweck, let alone know it to be such.61

While there can be no question of adequately explaining and defending here an alternative approach to the entirety of Hegel’s metaphysics, the broad issues at stake might at least be clarified sketching the approach I think is supported by Hegel’s argument in “Life.”62 On my interpretation, the metaphysics Hegel defends differs from the organic monism sketched above. On this view, the whole of reality is structured into different “levels” or Stufen.63 Mechanistic phenomena form a lowest level, and biological phenomena form a higher level. Matter can only be explained in mechanistic terms, not in teleological terms. But some (not all) matter is found within living beings, which can themselves be explained in teleological terms. And this higher level, as noted above, is supposed to offer a greater or more complete form of intelligibility. Furthermore, some (not all) living beings are thinking and self-conscious beings. And Hegel argues that, ultimately, perfect or complete intelligibility is found only on this highest level, or with the general kind or Gattung whose instances are thinking and self-conscious beings. In Hegel’s terms, this highest-level kind is called Geist (mind or spirit). And the standard of complete intelligibility is called “the idea.” Although everything is intelligible to some degree, most phenomena are only incompletely so. The standard of “the idea” is met in an initial and imperfect sense by biological life: “the idea is firstly life.” But ultimately Hegel aims to show that it is met perfectly or absolutely only by Geist, that “Geist cognizes the idea as its absolute truth” (WL 6:468/760).64

There are respects in which this Hegelian metaphysics includes claims that could well be called forms of metaphysical monism or holism. First of all, Hegel defends such claims in each of his discussions of the different levels of reality. For example, in his treatment of the lowest level of nature, he argues that matter is best understood as a single whole, all rotating around an absolute center of gravity (WL 6:423ff/721ff). But this whole is not a Naturzweck, organized into determinate parts defined by the different functions of each within the whole; it is rather a “totality indifferent to determinateness” (WL 6:429/727). Second, Hegel treats wholes composed of levels as organized or structured wholes. It makes sense for Hegel to compare the levels of nature as a whole, for example, to an organism in this specific respect (e.g. PN §246 and §251). But Hegel is capable of comparing things to organisms while remaining clear that they are neither literally alive nor Naturzwecke (e.g. on the earth see PN §338-9). And the structure of levels of reality as a whole is in a philosophically important respect unlike the organization of a Naturzweck. Matter, for example, belongs to a distinct lower level specifically insofar as it cannot be explained in such teleological terms, and lacks the more complete intelligibility of living beings and their parts or members.65 So the whole of everything has a differentiated structure not because it really is a teleological system, but precisely because it is not: there are many different kinds or levels of phenomena which differ in real and important ways from truly teleological phenomena.

My topic here has not been Hegel’s broader metaphysics, however, but his response to Kant concerning the status of teleological explanation of the structure and development of living beings. I have tried to show that Kant provides a forceful argument in support of his skeptical conclusion—his denial of the possibility of our having knowledge that teleology truly explains the structure and development of a living being. And I have tried to show that Hegel recognizes this argument and meets it with an argument of his own in defense of teleological explanation in biology. It would of course be very difficult to attempt any sort of final or definitive weighing of the philosophical advantages and disadvantages of each view of teleology and biology—let alone the costs and benefits of the broader approaches to theoretical philosophy with which each view is closely connected. But we can at least see that, when it comes to the topic of teleology and biology, both Kant and Hegel do provide philosophical arguments that bear on the underlying issues of continuing interest and importance.66

Primary Texts / Abbreviations

HEGEL: All references to the writings contained in the Werke in zwanzig Bände are by volume: page in that edition. Edited by E. Moldenhauer und K. Michel, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1970-1. I cite the Encyclopedia by § number, with ‘An’ indicating Anmerkung and ‘Zu’ indicating the Zusatz. I use the following abbreviations, translations (altering where necessary), and other editions:

EL: Encyclopaedia Logic, trans. TF Geraets, HS Harris, and WA Suchting, Hackett Publishing Co, 1991.

PhG: Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

PN: Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature. Translated by W. Wallace and A. V. Miller. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

PP: The Philosophical Propaedeutic. M. George & A. Vincent, eds., A. V. Miller, tr. Oxford, Blackwell. 1986.

VGP: Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Translated by E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 3 vols, 1995.

VL: Vorlesungen über die Logik. Berlin 1831. Transcribed by Karl Hegel. U. Rameil & H.-Chr. Lucas, eds. Hamburg, Meiner. 2001.

VN: Vorlesung über Naturphilosophie 1821/22.Nachschr. von Boris yon Uexküll. Hrsg. yon Giles Marasse und Thomas Posch. Wien : Lang, 2002

VPA: Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Knox, T.M., trans. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

VPN: Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Natur: Berlin 1819/20. nachgeschr. Von Johann Rudolf Ringier. Hrsg. von Martin Bondeli und Hoo Nam Seelmann. 2002 Hamburg: Meiner.

VPR: Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion translated by Rev. E. B. Speirs, B. D. and J. Burdon Sanderson. New York: Humanities Press, Inc. 3 vols, 1895.

WL: Hegel’s Science of Logic. Translated by A.V. Miller. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969.

KANT: All references to Kant’s writings are given by volume and page number of the Akademie edition of Kant’s Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1902-).

KU: Critique of the Power of Judgment. (KU) Translated by Guyer and Mathews. Cambridge, 2000. German text from volume 5 of Gesammelte Schriften for the published version of the book, and from volume 20 for the “first introduction.”

Other Works Cited

Aristotle. 1987. A New Aristotle Reader. Ed. by Akrill, J. L. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Beiser, F.C. 2005. Hegel. New York: Routledge.

Buller, D. J. 1998. “Etiological Theories of Function: A Geographical Survey.” Biology and Philosophy 13: 505–527.

Charles, D. 1988. “Aristotle on Hypothetical Necessity and Irreducibility.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 69: 1-53.

Cummins, R. 1975. “Functional Analysis.” Journal of Philosophy 72: 741-765.

Cummins, R. 2002. “Neo-teleology” In: Functions: New Essays in The Philosophy of Psychology and Biology. Cummins, Ariew and Perlman (eds). Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 157-173.

DeVries, W. 1988. Hegel’s Theory of Mental Activity. Cornell: Cornell University Press.

DeVries, W. 1991. “The Dialectic of Teleology.” Philosophical Topics 19: 51-70.

Düsing, K. 1976. “Das Problem der Subjektivität in Hegels Logik.” Hegel-Studien. Beiheft 15. Bonn: Felix Meiner.

Düsing, K. 1986. “Die Idee des Lebens in Hegels Logik.” In: Hegels Philosophie der Natur. Hrsg. von R.-P. Horstmann und M.J. Petry. Stuttgart: 276-289. 

Düsing, K. 1990. “Naturteleologie und Metaphysik bei Kant und Hegel.” In: Hegel und die Kritik der Urteilskraft, Hrsg. von H.-F. Fulda und R.-P. Horstmann. Stuttgart 1990. 139-157.

Forster, M. 1998. Hegel’s idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Friedman, M. 2001. “Matter and Motion in the Metaphysical Foundations and the First Critique: The Empirical Concept of Matter and the Categories”. In Kant and the Sciences. Ed. E. Watkins. New York: Oxford University Press, 53-69.

Garrett, D. 1999. “Teleology In Spinoza and Early Modern Rationalism”. In J. Gennaro & C. Huenemann, eds. New Essays on the Rationalists. Oxford.

Guyer, P. 1993. “Thought and Being” in The Cambridge Companion to Hegel, ed. Frederick Beiser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Guyer, P. 2001. “Organisms and the Unity of Science”. In Eric Watkins, ed. Kant and the Sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 259-81.

Heil, J. and Mele, A., eds. 1993. Mental causation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Horstmann, R. P. 1984. Ontologie Und Relationen. Konigstein/Ts.: Athenaum : Hain.

Horstmann, R. P. 1991. Die Grenzen der Vernunft. Eine Untersuchung zu Zielen und Motiven des Deutschen Idealismus, Frankfurt am Main: Anton Hain.

Ilting, K. H. 1987. “Hegels Philosophie des Organischen.” In: Hegel und die Naturwissenschaften. Ed. M. J. Petry. Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog.

Kreines, J. 2004. “Hegel's Critique of Pure Mechanism and the Philosophical Appeal of the Logic Project” European Journal of Philosophy. 12:1.

Kreines, J. 2005. “The Inexplicability of Kant’s Naturzweck: Kant on Teleology, Explanation and Biology.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie. 87:3.

Kreines, J. 2007. “Between the Bounds of Experience and Divine Intuition: Kant’s Epistemic Limits and Hegel’s Ambitions.” Inquiry 50:3.

Lennox, J. 1992. “Teleology.” In Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, eds. Evelyn Fox Keller and Elisabeth Lloyd, Cambridge MA , pp. 324-333.

MacFarland, J. D. 1970. Kant’s Concept of Teleology. Edinburgh: University Press.

McLaughlin, P. 1990. Kant’s Critique of Teleology in Biological Explanation. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press.

McTaggart, J. 1910. A Commentary on Hegel's Logic. Cambridge, University Press,

Millikan, R. G. 1984. Language, Thought and other Biological Categories. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Millikan, R. G. 1993. White Queen Psychology and Other Essays for Alice. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Millikan, R. G. 1999. “Historical Kinds and the Special Sciences.” Philosophical Studies 95: 45—65.

Neander, K. 1991. “The Teleological Notion of ‘Function’.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69(4): 454-468.

Richardson, J. Unpublished. “Aristotle’s Teleologies.”

Sober, E. 1980 "Evolution, population thinking, and essentialism." Philosophy of Science 47 pp. 350–383.

Sober, E. 1995. “Natural Selection and Distributive Explanation: A Reply to Neander.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 46, 384-397

Thompson, M. 1995. “The Representation of Life.” In Virtues and Reasons: Philippa Foot and Moral Theory, eds. R. Hursthouse, G. Lawrence, W. Quinn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Warnke, C. 1992. “‘Naturmechanismus’ und ‘Naturzweck’: Bemerkungen zu Kants organismus-Begriff”. Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie. 40: 42-52.

Wolff, M. 1992. Das Körper-Seele-Problem: Kommentar zu Hegel, Enzyklopedie (1830), §389. Frankfurt: Klosertmann.

Wood, A. 1999. Kant’s Ethical Thought. Cambridge.

Wright, L. 1976. Teleological Explanations: An Etiological Analysis of Goals and Functions. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Zuckert, R. 2000. “Purposiveness, Time, and Unity: a Reading of the Critique of Judgment.” Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago.

Zumbach, C. 1984. The Transcendent Science. Kant’s Conception of Biological Methodology. The Hague: Nijhoff.

1 E.g. Kant aims to justify “a heuristic principle for researching the particular laws of nature, even granted that we would want to make no use of it for explaining nature itself” (KU 5:410). Kant consistently denies that he is justifying teleological explanation; see also KU 5:360 and 5:417.

2 My main focus is the argument of the “Life” chapter in both main versions of Hegel’s Logic—both the book version of the Wissenschaft der Logik (WL) and the first part of Hegel’s Encyclopedia (EL). I will also draw from other texts, mostly limiting myself to those written after the (1807) Phenomenology of Spirit.

3 EL §204An; see also EL §55An and WL 4:440-1/737.

4 PN §245Zu, 9:14/6. The cork example is a joke borrowed from Goethe and Schiller’s Xenia. Hegel returns to the example frequently: EL §205Zu; VPR 17:520; VGP 20:23. On “superstition” and external purposiveness see VGP 20:88/3:186.

5 The defenses in Wright (1976) and Millikan (1984) have led to many defenses of teleology within the philosophy of biology. See for example Neander, who comments: “today it is generally accepted” that “the biological notion of a ‘proper function’ is both teleological and scientifically respectable” (1991, 454). And see Lennox’s (1992) short summary of the debate from Plato and Aristotle, through Darwin, and from behaviorism to current defenses of teleology. For criticism of the new defenses of teleology see Cummins (1975 and 2002) and Sober (1995).

6 McLaughlin carefully distinguishes Kant’s two endeavors here (1990, especially 46-7). See also Wood (1999, 219). I reject the common assumption that that “Naturzweck” is Kant’s “expression for biological organisms” (Zumbach 1984, 19; see the similar approach in MacFarland 1970, 102 and deVries 1991, 53). We must distinguish the concept of a Naturzweck from the empirical concepts such of living being and organism in order to make sense of Kant’s denial of the possibility of knowledge that living beings are Naturzwecke.

7 To take Kant’s example, a receding sea might benefit a forest growing on the shore; this need not mean that the sea recedes for the sake of the forest, or because of any benefit or any end or purpose at all. Note Kant's own emphasis of the “because” (darum and weil) in discussing this issue. In Kant’s terms, such “relative purposiveness” “justifies no absolute teleological judgments” (KU 5:369).

8 See also Kant’s consideration of the house example: in the order of “real causes,” an end or purpose (Zweck) cannot precede and thereby influence its own causes, so it can do so only as “ideal,” or as first represented (KU 5:372). MacFarland stresses the backwards causation problem (1970, 106), but the argument is stronger than he recognizes there. See also Zuckert (2000, ch. 2) and Guyer (2001, 265).

9 See for example deVries (1991): The problem with Kant’s “model”—on which teleology requires an originating concept—is that it “reduces final causation to the form of efficient causation” (56). By contrast, “the ancients saw no problem about the status of teleological judgments or explanations. Final causes were one of the four Aristotelian ‘becauses,’ so questions about teleology were always in order in the Aristotelian system” (52)—and Hegel follows the ancients here (54).

10 See for example Zumbach (1984): Kant denies that we can “explain” natural phenomena in teleological terms because he uses the term “explanation” to refer to a particular kind of causal explanation, and he denies that teleology can be reduced to this form of causal explanation; but we should recognize another sense of the term “explanation” in which Kant is actually defending a distinct and irreducible form of teleological explanation of organisms (pp. 95-7 and 123).

11 Compare Hegel’s limited praise of Bacon’s skepticism about external teleology: Bacon helps to counteract the sort of “superstition” which “makes two sensuous things which have no relation operate on one another” (VGP 20:88/3:186). So where X does not operate on Y, it would be merely superstitious to explain Y by appeal to X. Garrett makes a similar general point in considering early modern discussions of teleology more generally: teleology, cannot apply independently of real origin or etiology, even where it might seem appealing to us. More specifically, “a teleological explanation is one that explains a state of affairs by indicating a likely or presumptive consequence (causal, logical, or conventional) of it that is implicated in the state’s origin or etiology… No proposed teleological explanation, no matter how appealing or compelling, can be correct unless it cites an actual example of teleology” (1999, 310).

12 We cannot have knowledge of “an (intelligent) world cause that acts according to purposes” (KU 5:389; also 5:400; 5:410). Compare especially Descartes’ response to Gassendi’s first objection to the fourth meditation.

13 This claim about matter has a surprisingly strong status in Kant, because the concept of matter (which excludes action on grounds of a concept) is supposed to be somehow empirical and yet also a priori. See especially Friedman (2001). See also KU 5:394, Lectures on Metaphysics 29:275, and Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science 4:544.

14 More specifically, our merely “discursive” understanding is dependent on sensibility, and the forms of all our sensible intuition are space and time. The further knowledge would require an “understanding which is not discursive but intuitive because it goes from the synthetically universal (of the intuition of a whole as such) to the particular, i.e. from the whole to the parts” (KU 5:406) Note that, strictly speaking, what is logically possible is that there might be a system which satisfies the implications of teleological judgment in virtue of its own inner nature. But if we take “nature” to mean empirical reality in space and time, or material reality, then Kant has not preserved even the logical possibility of an entirely “natural” end or purpose.

15 With regard to living beings, see Kant’s famous denial of the possibility of a Newton for a blade of grass. Note that Kant carefully makes this claim relative to what it is possible for “humans” to “grasp,” while leaving open the possibility that living beings really originate in “mere mechanism” (KU 5:400). With regard to nature as a whole, see the arguments of the published and unpublished introductions.

16 See for example Cummins’ defense of a non-teleological notion of function. He argues that any notion of function which purports to explain the presence of the parts of a complex system will apply only to designed artifacts: “it seems to me that the question, ‘why is x there?’ can be answered by specifying x’s function only if x is or is part of an artifact” (1975, 746). Note in particular that for the reason sketched here, Kant’s endeavor is not—Contra Warnke (1992) and Düsing (1990, 142)—similar to contemporary accounts of “teleonomy”.

17 I defend this reading of Kant in greater detail in Kreines 2005.

18 For Hegel’s complaints about Kant on matter and mechanics, see WL 5:200ff./178ff. and PN §262An. Here I agree with Beiser, who also denies that Hegel’s defense of teleology is pansychist (2005, 101-2).

19 E.g. “it is quite improper” to try to “deduce” the “contingent products of nature” (PN §250).

20  EL §216. See Kant’s similar formulation at KU 5:375, to which Hegel refers at EL §57. In Hegel see also WL 2:420/766-7; PN §352, §356.

21 Similarly, “the one exists only through the other and for the other, and all the members and component parts of men are simply means for the self-preservation of the individual which is here the end” (VPR 17:503/330).

22 On mortality specifically, see EL §221, WL 6:486/774, PN §375f., VL 213, and VPN 184.

23 VGP 20:87/3:185. Also on the way in which the end of preservation of the species trumps preservation of the individual, see EL §221 and WL 6:484/773-4.

24 E.g. WL 6:486/774; EL §221; PN §367ff; VL 213.

25 Biology does not allow “an independent, rational system of organization” (PN §370) Life “in its differentiating process does not actually posses any rational ordering and arrangement of parts, and is not an immanently grounded system of shapes” (PhG 224-5/178-9). Also VN 199. And “naturally there are also animals which are intermediate forms” (PN §368Zu).

26 “Species” is the best translation, for example, where Hegel refers to the propagation of the “species” or “die Fortpflanzung der Gattung” (PN §365Zu p. 404/492). I will continue to also use “kind” and Gattung because it is important that Hegel uses the same term for natural kinds, as in chemical kinds: e.g. “the universal essence, the real kind (Gattung) of the particular object” (WL 6:430/728).

27 On these capacities, see EL §218Zu; PN §344Zu, §354-8).

28 “All determinations of the concept of natural purpose that Kant introduces have to do with the relation of part and whole” (McLaughlin 1990, 50). Note that Kant’s discussion of assimilation and reproduction at KU 5:370ff. is not part of his analysis of the concept of a Naturzweck; it is an explanation of how our experience of living beings suggests the possibility that they are Naturzwecke, even though the possibility of Zwecke without design “can be conceived without contradiction but cannot be comprehended” (KU 5:371).

29 Note Hegel’s praise of the most famous critics of the external teleology associated with design: with the Stoics, “all external, teleological superstition is taken under their protection and justified,” and Epicurianism (though wrong about natural teleology) at least “proceeds towards the liberation of men from this superstition” (VGP 19:267/2:248). Hegel also compares the way in which Bacon’s criticisms of natural teleology at least help to counter modern superstitions (VGP 20:87/3:185).

30 So I would not describe the exchange, with Beiser, by saying that Kant is skeptical about purposiveness “in a very strong sense, one that implies the existence of intentionality or spiritual powers in nature,” while Hegel is “affirming it in a weaker sense, one that has no such implications” (2005, 103). I would rather say that there is a substantive philosophical disagreement over whether we can comprehend how a single concept of a teleological system (the dependence of parts on their relation to the whole) might be satisfied without such implications.

31 See for example the famous blade of grass claim is at KU 5:400.

32 See Düsing’s compelling treatment: Hegel seeks to respond to “the traditional problem” concerning an antimechanistic account of life (1986, 283), formulated by Kant as a trilemma concerning how to explain possibility explaining the possibility of living matter. The account I see in Hegel would founder on the second horn of this trilemma: it fails to actually explain the possibility of living matter. Insofar as Düsing sees Hegel as addressing this problem, he finds in Hegel the claim that an immaterial soul causes the matter to come alive, though in a manner unlike external design—an account raising problems about how the soul interferes in the material order (283), and also rests on unproven metaphysical assumptions (284).

33 Or consider Kant’s official formulation—the demand that the “parts be combined into a whole by being reciprocally the cause and effect of their form” (KU 5:373). Take the tiger for example: one feature (like the claws) contributes toward making possible the generation of a new tiger with many different features (like lungs, legs, etc.); all those other features also contribute toward making possible the generation of a new tiger with claws. So the claws as a general feature of tigers contributes to causing all the parts of our new tiger; and the other general features of tigers also contribute to causing the claws in our new tiger.

34 On “only a concept” see e.g. WL 6:258/587. On “objective concept” see e.g. WL 6:271/597.

35 On the contemporary debate, see especially Sober (1980). He takes issue with Mayr’s claim that “only the individuals of which the populations are composed have reality” (1980, 351-2). Sober also points out the limitations of appeals to temporal changes in the species, diversity of individuals, and vague boundaries. None of these suffice to refute “essentialism”—though Sober thinks that there is something else wrong with essentialism, he does not side with Mayr in recognizing only the reality of individuals. The further issues concerning “essentialism” are complicated, in part because there is no agreement about what additional commitments this view involves. For example, as Sober points out, if essentialism denies the possibility of change and denies vague boundaries of species, then even Aristotle is probably not an essentialist. Another complexity is the currently popular view that a species is an individual. But this does not necessarily rule out the claim that the species is a kind, as in Millikan’s treatment of biological species as “real kinds” as opposed to “nominal kinds” (1999). Finally, contemporary defenses of teleology generally require treating the general traits (which must be the traits of a general species) as real and explanatorily important features of the world; for example, Millikan’s definition of function refers to “traits having been causally efficacious” (1993, 41).

36 At least when it comes to the topic of inner purposiveness, Hegel’s criticism of Kant does not fail to be “immanent” by requiring the assumption of some such assumption. Contrast Düsing (1976, 119) and Guyer (1993).

37 Or, more specifically still, because such views treat concepts as representations—as “the formal concept” (WL 6:472-3/763), or what Hegel elsewhere calls “the subjective or formal concept” (EL §162).

38 Kant’s advance in conceptualizing inner purposiveness is really supposed to be a “resuscitation” of Aristotle’s insights (EL §204An), better developed by Aristotle insofar as they are free of Kant’s limitation of teleology to a merely subjective status (VGP 19:177/160).

39 Physics 2.7, 198a. Contrast deVries’ account of Aristotle’s influence, on which Aristotle distinguishes teleology from efficient causation as different forms of explanation, and so need not worry about the problem of backwards causation raised by Kant: “the ancients saw no problem about the status of teleological judgments or explanations. Final causes were one of the four Aristotelian ‘becauses,’ so questions about teleology were always in order in the Aristotelian system” (1991, 52); Kant’s worry, by contrast, stems from a model that “reduces final causation to the form of efficient causation” (56).

40 De Anima 2.1 412b.

41 VGP 19:199/2:181. For more on Hegel on “the soul” and Aristotle’s influence here, see especially deVries (1988) and Wolff (1992).

42 De Anima 415a.

43De Anima 434a-b. I am borrowing this passage, and this way of making the case for the importance of self-preservation in Aristotle, from Richardson (unpublished, 71).

44 I make no claim about here whether this last combination of ideas is present in Aristotle, though recent interpreters sometimes find a similar combination there. See Lennox (1992, 327) and Furley (1996, 73), and also Richardson’s comments on the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of reading (unpublished, 104f.).

45 WL 6:476/766. See also VL pp. 210-1.

46 EL §216Z; see also WL 2:419-20/766; PN §350Zu.

47 That is, the presence of a prior representation of an end prevents the backwards causation problem from applying to consideration of purposive action. But this will not make any difference with respect to the exclusion problem: if lower-level explanations can explain the movements of our bodies in terms which make no appeal to the representation of an end as such (even if the representation happens to be token-identical some causally relevant physical state), and if exclusion is a problem, then this will threaten to exclude teleological explanation of our behavior by appeal to our representation of an end as such. The possible vulnerability of functionalism and anomalous monism to such problems has been a huge topic of recent discussion (e.g. in Heil and Mele 1993). One reason for the recent popularity of defenses of biological teleology is that some aim to build on that basis a better account of teleological explanation of our behavior in terms of our representations—see especially Milliken (1984). The connection is also important for Kant’s purposes, insofar as he compares the problem of Naturzwecke to the problem of free action: in both cases the idea of the supersensible allows a “possibility which cannot of course be understood, although the objection that there is an alleged contradiction in it can be adequately refuted” (KU 5:195).

48 Compare Kant’s own argument against the proposal that nature might “initially bear creatures of less purposive form, which in turn bear others that are formed more suitably,” eventually producing the living beings we know from our experience. The possibility of a real Naturzweck is not explained thereby; rather, we have “merely put off the explanation.” In other words, if we are to take the creatures generated by such a process to be genuine ends or Zwecke, then we would have to find at the beginning of the process “an organization purposively aimed at all these creatures, for otherwise the possibility the purposive form of the products of the animal and vegetable kingdoms cannot be conceived at all” (KU 5:419-20).

49 Perhaps a contemporary Kantian would propose as well that we might create by design a reproducing creature. A contemporary Hegelian could give the same response: The first creature will be a means only to our external end. But—as above—the parts of future generations will also be present on account of the intrinsic end of self-preservation. Note here that Kant’s concept of a Naturzweck aims to articulate the conditions under which something would satisfy the implications of teleological judgment in virtue of inner purposiveness. That need not itself rule out the possibility that this same something might also be designed. Kant himself might actually have something like this in mind. After all, he argues that we have reason to believe (though lack knowledge) that there is an “author of the world” who creates nature for the sake of a “highest good” (KU 5:450). So when we are conceiving of a living being as a Naturzweck with an inner end or purpose, it seems were are also to consider it also as designed by God the for the sake of another purpose. Of course, Kant denies the possibility of knowledge of any of this.

50 Hegel contrasts a biological species or kinds with the kind of which all thinking beings are instances, which he calls Geist: “The world of Geist and the world of nature continue to have this distinction, that the latter moves only in a recurring cycle, while the former certainly also makes progress” (EL §234Zu). Alternatively, “the fate (Schicksal) of the living being is in general the Gattung, which manifests itself through the perishableness of the living individuals.” And this means that there is no reason (teleological or otherwise) which necessitates a broader course of development: “what befalls them is a contingency” (WL 6:421/720). See also VPN 184-5. Furthermore, a species can go extinct, without a purpose or an end explaining why (VGP 19:175/2:158 and PN §339Zu p. 280). This is one example of Hegel’s general point that “even the species (Gattungen) are completely subject to the changes of the external, universal life of Nature” (PN §368An).

51 For defenses see Millikan (1984) and (1993) and Neander (1991). For criticisms see Sober (1995) and Cummins (2002).

52 See Buller’s case that contemporary philosophy of biology has largely failed to clearly distinguish this kind of approach from those which require a selection-history. He defends an approach of the former kind: “A current ‘token’ of a trait T in an organism O has the function of producing an effect of type E just in case past tokens of T contributed to the fitness of O’s ancestors by producing E, and thereby causally contributed to the reproduction of Ts in O’s lineage” (1998, 507). Richardson (unpublished) carefully distinguishes this kind of view, and considers the possible evidence for interpreting Aristotle as holding it, but he finds philosophical disadvantages insofar as the view cannot provide “explanation of why just these species exist” (107); but why shouldn’t an account of teleology be so much the stronger if it needn’t depend on any claim to explain that?

53 See Ak 4:468-71.

54 See the unpublished and published introductions to the KU, and the “Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic” in the first Critique.

55 E.g. “The empirical sciences do not stop at the perception of single instances of appearance; but through thinking they have prepared the material for philosophy by finding universal determinations, kinds, and laws” (EL §12An).

56 I focus on Hegel’s case against Kant on this score in Kreines 2007.

57 Also on Hegel’s case for the superior intelligibility of teleology, see Forster (1998, 64f.) and Kreines (2004).

58 See e.g. Hegel on chemical kinds: “the universal essence, the real kind (Gattung) of the particular object” (WL 6:430/728).

59 WL 6:349/662. Hegel is speaking of concrete universality in general here, not of biology in particular. But biological examples certainly help to illuminate the point. See also Hegel’s connection between the concrete universal and Kant’s analysis of inner purposiveness (WL 6:443/739). On this issue and the connection to issues concerning logic, see especially Thompson (1995).

60 For accounts for monism and teleology in Hegel (and some of his contemporaries, see for example Horstmann (1991, 177-82) and Beiser (2005, chs. 3-4).

61 True, the possibility conceived by Kant remains: perhaps the real nature of the whole is non-spatio-temporal, and perhaps if we could take up the perspective of a higher form of intellect—of “intellectual intuition” or an “intuitive understanding—we might comprehend how this could allow the universe to somehow organize itself from within. Although there are some complex issues here concerning Hegel’s early work and his development, in the Logic and the Encyclopedia Hegel lays a tremendous amount of stress on his criticisms of appeals by his contemporaries to “intellectual intuition” and other forms of supposedly “immediate knowledge” (WL 5:65/67; EL 61-§78). My view is that these criticisms provide Hegel’s reasons for rejecting the forms of monism popular among his contemporaries, and for rejecting the organic monism sketched above. But this case would require much more defense.

62 Yet another alternative interpretation of the broader importance of Hegel’s response to Kant concerning natural teleology would be the one attributed to Hegel by Horstmann (1984, 70ff.).

63 On Hegel on “levels” or Stufen specifically of nature, see the opening sections of the Philosophy of Nature and deVries 1988, Ch. 3.

64 Hegel argues, as he puts it, that the “truly absolute concept” is the “idea of infinite mind” (WL 6:279/605). On the current reading, this will mean that there is something completely or ideally intelligible, something which meets Spinoza’s definition of substance: it “is in itself, and is conceived through itself” (Ethics 1D3). But Hegel argues “God or substance” in this sense cannot be everything or a whole of everything; it can only be Geist. As Hegel famously says, “substance is essentially subject” (PhG 3:28/14).

65 Ilting stresses a similar claim in discussing the broader importance of Hegel’s account of life: “Hegel beabsichtigt nicht etwa, in allen Gestaltungen der Nature und des Geistes nur immer wieder dieselbe logische Struktur aufzuweisen” (1987, 367).

66 For helpful comments on this material, and other assistance, I would like to thank: Michael Della Rocca, Michael Forster, Dean Moyar, David McNeill, Robert Pippin, Candace Vogler, and Rachel Zuckert. As usual, any errors are my own.