COURTNEY FUGATE | The Teleology of Reason. A Study of the Structure of Kant’s Critical Philosophy | De Gruyter 2014


By Huaping Lu-Adler

Reading The Teleology of Reason is both edifying and inspiring. From the single perspective of teleology, Courtney Fugate has woven together the central topics of Kant’s mature philosophical system—possibility of experience, freedom, highest good, unity of reason etc.—with an admirable combination of clarity, historical sensitivity, analytical incisiveness and original insights.

Fugate’s following statement explains why he has to cover so many aspects of Kant’s philosophy in the book and why teleology is uniquely positioned to bring unity into it:

Kant’s critical turn did not come about through a single sudden insight, but rather emerged over time as the only possible synthesis of a number of related philosophical considerations, all of which were tied directly or indirectly to fundamental teleological issues. (p. 147)

For a precise understanding of the notion(s) of teleology at play in Kant’s Critical philosophy, Fugate devotes the first two chapters to analysing different sorts of teleological explanation and the background of Kant’s turn from dogmatic to transcendental teleology, namely “a teleology grounded in the essences of all objects of reason” (p. 7). The subsequent chapters unfold in accordance with three manifestations of this transcendental teleology: (a) the teleology of theoretical reason (Chapters 3–5, ‘The Teleology of Human Knowledge’), (b) the teleology of practical reason (Chapter 6, ‘The Teleology of Freedom’), and (c) the teleology of reason as a whole (Chapters 7–8, on the teleological unity of theoretical and practical reason).

No single commentary can do justice to the depth and richness of the book. Nor shall I attempt to do so. Instead, I use this opportunity to raise two substantive issues for further discussion. The first issue involves the notion of pre-established harmony, which connects with Fugate’s account of the teleological element in Kant’s theory of experience. The second issue concerns the relation between teleology and normativity. I devote more space to the first issue, as it directly pertains to a significant part of Fugate’s book, namely Chapters 3–4.

1. Pre-Established Harmony and quid juris?

One question lingered in my mind when I was reading The Teleology of Reason. It was vague at first: at what point must Kant invoke a teleological standpoint? In what follows, I try to frame the question in connection with Kant’s view(s) about the role of pre-established harmony in explaining the possibility of experience. To show what is at stake, I begin with an analysis of the relevant texts (Section 1.1). I then explain how Fugate’s account of the teleological ground of Kant’s theory of experience seems at odds with Kant’s own stated view in some of those texts (Section 1.2).


In a letter to Marcus Herz of May 26, 1789, Kant makes the following comment on Leibniz’s notion of the pre-established harmony between sensibility and understanding:

I am quite convinced that Leibniz, in his pre-established harmony […] had in mind […] [the harmony] of two faculties belonging to the same entity [zweyer Vermögen […] desselben Wesens], in which sensibility and understanding harmonize to form empirical cognitions [Erfahrungserkenntnisse]. If we wanted to make judgments about their origin—an investigation that of course lies wholly beyond the limits of human reason—we could name no further ground than our divine creator [weiter keinen Grund, als den Gottlichen Urheber]. (Br, AA 11:52; trans. amended)

Can we take these remarks to express a tacit endorsement of the theory of pre-established harmony?[1] One may hesitate to draw this conclusion. After all, in the long footnote attached to the preface of the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786), Kant has already discredited any appeal to “a pre-established harmony to explain the strange agreement of appearances with the laws of the understanding”, contending that this appeal would be unhelpful and “much worse than the evil it is supposed to cure” (MAN, AA 4:476n.).

On the other hand, it is hard not to take seriously the above remark about pre-established harmony. Later in the controversy with Eberhard (On a Discovery, 1790), Kant will again refer to the Leibnizian pre-established harmony—this time as a way to think about the “ground” of the agreement between sensibility and understanding:

Leibniz termed the ground [Grund] of this agreement […] a pre-established harmony, by which he […] was merely indicating that we would have to conceive thereby a certain purposiveness in the arrangement of the supreme cause [eine gewisse Zweckmäßigkeit in der Anordnung der obersten Ursache […] zu denken hätten], of ourselves as well as of all things outside us; and this indeed as something already lodged in creation (predetermined), albeit a predetermination […] only of the mental powers [Gemüthskräfte] in us, sensibility and understanding, each in its own way for the other, just as the ‘Critique’ teaches that for the a priori cognition of things they must stand in a reciprocal relationship to one another in the mind. […] In this way, then, the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ might well be the true apology for Leibniz[.] (ÜE, AA 8:250; trans. amended)

Kant makes a similar point about the ground of the agreement between sensibility and understanding in the Critique of the Power of Judgement (1790), though without putting it explicitly in terms of pre-established harmony:

the compatibility of that form of sensible intuition (which is called space) with the faculty of concepts (the understanding) […] enlarges the mind, allowing it, as it were, to suspect something lying beyond those sensible representations, in which, although unknown to us, the ultimate ground of that accord [der letzte Grund jener Einstimmung] could be found. (KU, AA 5:365)

What occurred between 1786 and 1789? Did Kant change his mind about pre-established harmony, or did he just come up with a new interpretation of it—so that he could reject it in one sense but embrace it in another? The latter scenario seems more plausible, absent any obvious reason not to take literally Kant’s suggestion that Leibniz’s view about the harmony between sensibility and understanding, if properly construed, essentially agrees with the one in the Critique. We cannot settle on this reading, though, without a proper analysis of the relevant texts.

I begin with the footnote in the Metaphysical Foundations, in which Kant addresses Johann Schultz’s complaint that the transcendental deduction of categories, fundamental to the entire project of the Critique, could have been clearer. Kant’s response includes a distinction between two tasks involving categories: to show that they are none other than a priori conditions of all possible experience, and to explain how they make experience possible. He argues that a deduction of categories is sufficient so long as it has fulfilled the first task. As for “the problem how experience is now possible by means of these categories, and through these categories alone”, Kant recognises that it “has great importance” and is certain that it can be solved with “just as much ease”. He claims that the Critique already contains the basis for explaining (Erklärungsgrund) the solution to this problem and that he only needs to make the explanation clearer—so that one would not find it necessary to “tak[e] refuge in a preestablished harmony to explain the strange agreement [der befremdlichen Einstimmung] of appearances with the laws of the understanding” (MAN, AA 4:474–6n.; trans. amended).

To ‘explain’ the agreement between x and y is either to specify the mechanism of this agreement or to account for the possibility of the agreement by uncovering its cause, ground or origin. The how-question, as Kant approaches it in the footnote of the Metaphysical Foundations, seems ambiguous in a similar way. It can be interpreted as a question about the manner (Art) in which the concepts/laws of understanding and appearances agree and combine to make experience possible. (See the last sentence of the footnote in German.) Or it can be construed as a question to the following effect: if appearances and the concepts/laws of understanding are from “entirely different sources [Quellen]” (MAN, AA 4:476n.), what could possibly ensure their agreement in the first place? That is, what would account for the possibility of their “strange agreement”? The hypothesis of pre-established harmony that Kant rejects in the footnote seems to pertain directly more to the second than to the first version of the how-question. It is a hypothesis about what grounds or makes possible the agreement between appearances and the concepts/laws of understanding.

In the footnote of the Metaphysical Foundations, Kant presents his main objection to such a hypothesis in terms of the concern about the objective necessity of categories:

For the objective necessity that characterizes the pure concepts of the understanding (and the principles of their application to appearances), in the concept of cause in connection with the effect, for example, is still not forthcoming. Rather, it all remains only subjectively necessary, but objectively merely contingent, placing together, precisely as Hume has it when he calls this mere illusion from custom. (MAN, AA 4:476n.)

This line of objection was not new to Kant in 1786. When he first clearly spelled out—in the 1772 letter to Herz—the question of how the pure concepts or principles of understanding should “necessarily agree” with experience although they are completely independent of the latter, he already rejected the so-called “Pre-Established Intellectual Harmony Theory”. He characterised this theory, attributed to Crusius, as a belief in “certain implanted rules for the purpose of forming judgements and ready-made concepts that God implanted in the human soul just as they had to be in order to harmonize with things”. Kant dismissed this appeal to deus ex machina as “the greatest absurdity one could hit upon in the determination of the origin and validity of our cognitions” (Br, AA 10:131).

Kant will make a similar point in the B-Deduction, again in connection with the issue of the “necessary agreement” between experience and categories (B166). He now refers to his target as a preformationist-innatist account of categories, which treats them as “subjective predispositions for thinking, implanted in us along with our existence by our author in such a way that their use would agree exactly with the laws of nature along which experience runs” (B167).[2] His objection to this theory resembles his argument against the hypothesis of pre-established harmony in the Metaphysical Foundations:

[I]n such a case the categories would lack the necessity that is essential to their concept. For, e.g., the concept of cause, which asserts the necessity of a consequent under a presupposed condition, would be false if it rested only on a subjective necessity, arbitrarily implanted in us, of combining certain empirical representations according to such a rule of relation. I would not be able to say that the effect is combined with the cause in the object (i.e., necessarily), but only that I am so constituted that I cannot think of this representation otherwise than as so connected; which is precisely what the skeptic wishes most, for then all of our insight through the supposed objective validity of our judgments is nothing but sheer illusion […]. (B168)

Notably, both here and in the 1772 letter to Herz, Kant presents his target in metaphysical terms, as an attempt to trace the ultimate source of the agreement between appearances and the pure concepts/laws/principles of understanding to the divine creator, who is responsible for the original constitution of our mind. In that connection, the theory of pre-established harmony that he finds objectionable is essentially about the relation between different substances, body and soul. The claim that categories are originally implanted in us can be seen as the centrepiece of this theory. That is why Kant has objected to both along the same lines.

In the Metaphysical Foundations, immediately after arguing that the objective necessity of categories or of their agreement with appearances cannot be explained by pre-established harmony, Kant presents his own positive account:

No system in the world can derive this necessity from anywhere else than the principles lying a priori at the basis of the possibility of thinking itself, through which alone the cognition of objects whose appearance is given to us, that is, experience, becomes possible. (MAN, AA 4:476n.)

This corresponds to Kant’s claim in the B-Deduction that categories, if we are to understand their necessary agreement with experience, must be “self-thought a priori first principles of our cognition”, which “contain the grounds of the possibility of all experience in general from the side of the understanding” (B167).

If Kant has therefore rejected the hypothesis of pre-established harmony both directly in the Metaphysical Foundations and indirectly in the Critique of Pure Reason through the argument against the preformationist-innatist account of categories, why should he reintroduce the notion of pre-established harmony—and do so in a favourable tone—after 1787? Presumably, in the later works this notion is no longer taken in the metaphysical sense, but instead indicates some sort of transcendental-idealist standpoint. The question is: what does this new transcendental-idealist version of pre-established harmony amount to, and why should Kant invoke it at all?

To address this question, it will be instructive to begin by noting the context of Kant’s 1789 letter to Herz. The letter is in effect a response to Salomon Maimon’s challenge that Kant has yet to give a complete answer to the question quid juris?. Kant summarises the challenge as follows:

Now Herr Maimon asks: How do I explain the possibility [erkläredie Möglichkeit] of agreement between a priori intuitions and my a priori concepts, if each has its specifically different origin, since this agreement is given as a fact but the legitimacy [Rechtmäßigkeit] or the necessity of the agreement of two such heterogeneous manners of representation is incomprehensible. And vice versa, how can I prescribe, for example, the law of causality to nature, that is, to objects themselves, by means of my category (whose possibility in itself is only problematic). Finally, how can I even prove the necessity of these functions of the understanding whose existence is again merely a fact, since that necessity has to be presupposed if we are to subject things, however conceived, to those functions. (Br, AA 11:50)[3]

Kant’s answer to these questions is twofold. On the one hand, stressing the distinction between objects as things in themselves and objects as appearances, Kant reiterates his earlier point that the a priori concepts and so forth are necessary insofar as we are to experience objects. In other words, “if intuitions (of objects of appearances) did not agree with these [intellectual] conditions, those objects would be nothing for us, that is, not objects of cognition at all” (Br, AA 11:51). On the other hand, Kant now thinks that we cannot know what makes such agreement possible in the first place (“inscrutability thesis”):

But we are absolutely unable to explain further how it is that a sensible intuition (such as space and time), the form of our sensibility, or such functions of the understanding as those out of which logic develops are possible; nor can we explain why it is that one form agrees with another in forming a possible cognition [wie es zugehe, daß eine Form mit der Andern zu einem möglichen zusammenstimme, das ist uns schlechterdings unmöglich weiter zu erklären]. (Br, AA 11:51)[4]

At the same time, Kant also finds it “entirely unnecessary to answer” the question of what grounds the possibility of the agreement between our intuitions and the a priori concepts/laws/principles of understanding. For all he needs is to demonstrate—which he thinks he has done adequately in the Critique—that “all sense data for a possible cognition would never, without those [intellectual] conditions, represent objects” (Br, AA 11:51–2).

It is against this backdrop that Kant refers to the Leibnizian pre-established harmony. The harmony at issue, on his reading, is not that of “two different entities, namely senses and intellect [Verschiedenen Wesen, nämlich Sinnen und Verstandeswesen], but that of two faculties belonging to the same entity, in which sensibility [Sinnlichkeit] and understanding [Verstand] harmonize to form empirical cognition”.[5] By this notion, Kant asserts, Leibniz has neither explained nor intends to explain the agreement between sensibility and understanding. For it is impossible for us to name any “further ground than our divine creator” for the origin (Ursprung) of these faculties or their agreement. Nevertheless, “once they are given”, we can fully explain their authority (Befugnis) in making a priori judgements—that is, fully answer the quid juris (Br, AA 11:52).

We can detect similar points in some of Kant’s later works. In On the Discovery, for instance, he says:

[1] As for this harmony between understanding and sensibility, insofar as it makes possible cognitions of universal laws of nature a priori, the ‘Critique’ has definitively shown that without it no experience is possible, and that the objects […] would never be taken up by us into the unity of consciousness and enter into experience, and would therefore be nothing for us. [2] But we could still provide no reason [Grund] why we have precisely such a mode of sensibility and an understanding of such a nature, that by their combination experience becomes possible; nor yet, why, as otherwise fully heterogeneous sources of cognition, they always conform so well to the possibility of empirical cognition in general[.] (ÜE, AA 8:249–50)

Sentence [1] corresponds to Kant’s claim in the 1789 letter to Herz that the Critique has established the necessary agreement between understanding and sensibility—and thereby sufficiently answered the quid juris—insofar as it has shown that through this agreement alone can objects become objects of our experience. Sentence [2] echoes the inscrutability thesis: we cannot further explain why our cognitive faculties have the forms they do or why they, as heterogeneous as they are, agree or harmonise with each other to form experience. Such harmony, Kant adds a few sentences later, “for us at least is contingent, and comprehensible only through an intelligent world-cause”—that is, in terms of the Leibnizian pre-established harmony, construed as a presupposition of “certain purposiveness in the arrangement of the supreme cause” (ÜE, AA 8:250). This presupposition, of course, does not give us any knowledge of what grounds or makes possible the agreement between sensibility and understanding. That is fine, however. As Kant puts it in the Third Critique, if we cannot know “the ultimate ground [Grund]” of the said agreement, “it is not necessary for us to know this [ground] if it is merely a matter of the formal purposiveness of our a priori representations” (KU, AA 5:365).[6]

To take stock, we can draw three basic points from the above analysis.

  1. From the Metaphysical Foundations to the 1789 letter to Herz, On the Discovery and the Third Critique, Kant seems to have revised his view about whether we can answer the question about the ground of the harmony between sensibility and understanding. If the footnote in the Metaphysical Foundations suggests that this question admits and needs a positive answer (to definitively rule out the hypothesis of pre-established harmony), Kant has retracted that suggestion by 1789—through the inscrutability thesis and the additional claim that we need not fathom the ground of the harmony between sensibility and understanding at all.
  2. In the process, Kant has also further clarified what counts as a sufficient answer to the quid juris. If the question of how pure concepts can agree with objects, as Kant presents it in the Metaphysical Foundations, can be interpreted as both (a) a question about the manner of the alleged agreement and (b) a question about the ground of its possibility, by 1789 Kant has become clearer in limiting the quid juris question to (a) and isolating it from (b).[7]
  3. Apropos Kant’s appeal to the Leibnizian pre-established harmony between sensibility and understanding in the 1789 letter to Herz and then again in On a Discovery, we can now see how it is compatible with his rejection of the hypothesis of pre-established harmony in the Metaphysical Foundations. He treats the latter as a thesis about the pre-established harmony between two distinct Wesen (senses and intellect), intended to explain the possibility of the agreement between appearances and concepts or laws of the understanding by identifying the metaphysical ground—namely the original arrangement by our divine creator—on which it is secured. By contrast, Kant reads the Leibnizian theory as fundamentally about the agreement between two Vermögen (sensibility and understanding), which is not meant to “explain” such agreement, but merely to “indicate” our need to “conceive […] a certain purposiveness in the arrangement of the supreme cause” and to conceive it as predetermined or “lodged in creation” (ÜE, AA 8:250). It is still unclear, as far as the above analysis goes, why we would have to presuppose this predetermined purposiveness at all.

With these points in hand, I now turn to the relevant parts of Fugate’s book.


Fugate discusses the harmony between sensibility and understanding in Chapter 4. With respect to the harmony as pre-established, he mentions the above-cited passage from On a Discovery, but not those from the Metaphysical Foundations or Kant’s 1789 letter to Herz.[8] The reference to the passage from On a Discovery (ÜE, AA 8:249–50) occurs immediately after the remark that an “absolute teleology”, which involves God as a “self-sufficient and all perfect ground”, is “a necessary presupposition of reason for the sake of experience” (p. 175). Here is Fugate’s take on the passage:

In ÜE […] Kant admits that the KrV itself rests on the presupposition of a Leibnizian pre-established harmony, however not outside us and between the body and the soul, but rather within us in the relations between both sensibility and understanding, and theoretical and practical reason.[9] Such a harmony […] in its ultimate expression requires the idea of a divine coordinator of nature with moral purposiveness […]. (p. 175)

I am puzzled by the suggestion that Kant takes the Critique to “rest on” the presupposition of pre-established harmony between sensibility and understanding. In the relevant passage from On a Discovery, Kant goes only so far as to say that his account of the possibility of experience rests on the “harmony between understanding and sensibility, insofar as it makes possible cognitions of universal laws of nature a priori” (ÜE, AA 8:249). He discusses the Leibnizian pre-established harmony in connection with the further question about the ground of the said harmony or what ensures its possibility. As I pointed out above in Section 1.1, it seems important—in response to the Maimonian challenge—for Kant to separate (i) the need to establish the necessity of the harmony between sensibility and understanding from (ii) the need to comprehend the ground of the possibility of such harmony. Apropos (i), he says: “[T]he Critique has definitely shown that without it [the harmony] no experience is possible” (ÜE, AA 8:249)—and has therefore sufficiently answered the quid juris. Hence, as far as Kant’s aim in the Transcendental Aesthetic and Analytic is concerned, the Critique does not seem to rest on any presupposition of pre-established harmony. It remains a possibility, of course, that the Critique as a whole may somehow hinge on the Leibnizian presupposition of pre-established harmony.

But Fugate seems intent on showing that Kant’s account of experience in the Transcendental Aesthetic and Analytic, in particular, rests on the presupposition in question. Even the title of Chapter 4 is suggestive of that goal: ‘Teleology in the Transcendental Aesthetic and Analytic’. Before starting the chapter, Fugate has also summarised the “strategy” of Kant’s account of experience as “explain[ing] the possibility of experience from the standpoint of a transcendental teleology, i.e., a teleological view of cognition justified exclusively on the basis of its status as a condition of the possibility of experience” (p. 111). Fugate contrasts this transcendental teleology with the dogmatic teleology that underlies the theories of knowledge held by Wolff and Crusius among others. Fugate writes:

Rather than being based upon a metaphysical teleology according to which objects and the mind are in some manner structured so as to make the actual development of knowledge possible, Kant argues that reason both must presuppose and has the right to presuppose such fitness for the sake of its own employment. (p. 147)

This “turn from a metaphysical or psychological guarantee for our cognitive faculties to a transcendental guarantee”, Fugate suggests, captures the central theme of Chapter 4 (p. 147).

Does Kant really have to invoke the “transcendental guarantee”—or, as a specification of this guarantee, the Leibnizian pre-established harmony with a Kantian-transcendental spin—to account for the possibility of experience? This question, as I see it, comes down to whether Kant needs transcendental teleology to complete the transcendental deduction. My textual analysis in Section 1.1 suggests that he comes to firmly deny this need (in response to the Maimonian challenge), though without thereby invalidating all conceptions of the ground of the harmony between sensibility and understanding.

Maybe Kant’s separation of (i) and (ii), which I mentioned above, indicates a distinction between two orders of grounding. The first order concerns the ground of the possibility of experience. This is where Kant argues for the objective necessity of the harmony between sensibility and understanding (and thereby answers the quid juris). We have a priori knowledge of such harmony, as what explains the possibility of experience. On the other hand, the second-order grounding has to do with the possibility of that harmony itself: what guarantees it, given that sensibility and understanding are heterogeneous faculties? This is where the Leibnizian notion of pre-established harmony comes into picture. As Kant made it clear in On a Discovery, though, we have no knowledge of the supposed predetermination of the supreme world-cause, nor can we claim that such presupposition really explains the possibility of the harmony between sensibility and understanding. Thus, the second-order grounding and the first-order grounding are not transitive. For different notions of ground are involved in the two cases: one is genuinely explanatory (ground of possibility), while the other is not.

If this rendering of Kant’s view is plausible, I wonder: at which level of inquiry should a transcendental-teleological perspective be invoked? In particular, would Kant have to deem the harmony between sensibility and understanding purposive—and thereby to construe these cognitive faculties teleologically—in order to establish the objective necessity of the harmony in the first place? (I take it that the mere notion of harmony, which Kant often equates with “agreement”, does not yet imply purposiveness.) Fugate’s answer to this question seems to be a positive one:

The actual use of intuition, understanding and reason in regard to experience can be purposive in the first place […] because these faculties find themselves operating within a field of experience that is already transcendentally prepared for their purposive application. The transcendental principles, therefore, which account for and constitute this preparation, are teleological in a fundamentally deeper sense; […] They constitute, in other words, the transcendental intentionality that makes possible all objectivity whatsoever, or, what is the same, that makes possible the internal and justified normative structure of these faculties and capacities. (p. 160)

I am inclined to agree with Fugate that at some point Kant would indeed find it necessary to suppose that our cognitive faculties are “transcendentally prepared” for their respective roles in experience. But I wonder, again, at exactly what point Kant might have to introduce this presupposition—in a way that would not fly in the face of his inscrutability thesis about the ground of the harmony among our faculties, i.e., about what makes such harmony possible.

2. Teleology and Normativity

Many aspects of Kant’s philosophical system are deemed normative, categories and moral laws being paradigmatic examples. A central task on Kant’s part is to identify the source of the authority of such norms or, in other words, what justifies their normative role. I have a hunch—albeit no more than a hunch at this point—that Fugate’s exposition of transcendental teleology has uncovered crucial elements of Kant’s unique position on this issue. At various places in the book, Fugate hints at a deep connection between teleology and normativity. One of these hints appears in the passage I quoted above from p. 160, where a certain “transcendental intentionality” is said to be what makes possible the “justified normative structure” of our cognitive faculties. In other words, transcendental teleology “turns out to be nothing other than the inner ground of cognitive normativity” (p. 200). The ultimate teleological grounding of cognitive normativity presumably lies somehow in the faculty of reason, and so Fugate talks about “the normative teleological structure of reason in its regulation of the empirical employment of the understanding” (p. 205). To be more specific, here is one way Fugate characterises how Kant pinpoints the “source” of the normativity of a rule in transcendental-teleological terms:

From a transcendental point of view, we can outline and catalogue all the principles of any possible act of reason through an analysis of the essential and pure idea of such an act. The results of this analysis reveal a manifold the elements of which […] form a whole teleologically in relation to the idea of a specific kind of act or product of reason. (p. 385)

Meanwhile, very little is said about normativity per se in the book. (There is no entry on or related to normativity in the index.) Maybe Fugate does not think it important, as far as his project in the book goes, to clarify the notion. Presumably, though, unless we are clear about the exact sense in which a rule is supposed to be “normative”—e.g., is it enough to treat this notion as interchangeable with “necessary” (p. 385)?—and about what counts as an adequate justification of its normative status, we will not be able to tell whether a teleological perspective should be invoked at all or, if it must indeed be invoked, at what point it becomes pertinent to do so and what kind of teleology is needed.

I do not intend to impose on Fugate the burden to tackle whatever complexity may be involved in analysing the very notion of normativity. Instead, here I only wish to point out one specific issue involving normativity, as a way to invite further clarifications from Fugate apropos the connection between teleology and normativity.

The issue involves the constitutive nature of norms. Kant scholars often take there to be a grounding relation between the constitutive and normative characters of rules. Korsgaard’s following statement gives one expression to this relation:

[T]he only way to establish the authority of any purported normative principle is to establish that it is constitutive of something to which the person whom it governs is committed. (Korsgaard 2009:32)

Reath invokes a similar connection to make sense of Kant’s claim in the Critique of Practical Reason that practical laws command—i.e., determine the power of choice—in virtue of their law-giving form rather than through their matter (KpV, AA 5:27). The key, Reath argues, is to understand the formality of practical laws in terms of constitutivity:

[F]ormal principles, understood as constitutive principles, apply with necessity to anyone engaged in the activity, and their constitutive role explains their necessity [that is, their normative status with respect to the said activity]. (Reath 2010:43)

Given the above-cited passage from p. 385, Fugate seems also to think that normative principles of an act are constitutive of that act, which is why they can be derived “through an analysis of the essential and pure idea of such an act”. He would likely disagree with Reath’s suggestion that this constitutive role is enough to explain the normativity or necessary applicability of the principles in question, however, and insist that Kant’s transcendental teleology be an essential ingredient of an adequate explanation. If this is in fact Fugate’s view, I would like to hear more about why the transcendental-teleological perspective must be so invoked. What would I be missing if I were to combine Korsgaard’s and Reath’s insights and think that the constitutivity of a rule is both necessary and sufficient ground of its normativity with respect to a relevant act?

Invited: 25 August 2014; received: 18 May 2015.


[1] I thank Yoon Choi for the suggestion that Kant seems to be implicitly endorsing the theory of pre-established harmony in this passage.

[2] See Prol, AA 4:319n., in which Kant attributes this account to Crusius. In Reflexion 4446, Kant remarks that Crusius’s theory of preformation is rooted in a “method of pre-established cognition” (Refl, AA 17:554).

[3] See Maimon’s letter to Kant of April 7, 1789 (Br, AA 11:15–17).

[4] This inscrutability claim goes beyond what we find at the end of §21 of the B-Deduction (B145–6), where Kant says that no “further ground” can be given for why we have precisely such and such functions of judgement or forms of intuition, without suggesting that the agreement between sensibility and understanding is also inscrutable to us.

[5] See ÜE, AA 8:250.

[6] On Kant’s definition of “formal” purposiveness, see KU, AA 5:363–4.

[7] In both editions of the Critique, Kant characterises the Transcendental Deduction as “the explanation of the way in which [die Erklärung der Art, wie] concepts can relate to objects a priori”, but seems to treat it as equivalent to an account of “how these concepts can be related to objects” (A85/B117). As I pointed out in note 4, Kant did not explicitly extend the inscrutability thesis to the ground of the agreement between sensibility and understanding until the 1789 letter to Herz—and so presumably did not completely isolate the quid juris question from the question about such a ground until then.

[8] On p. 114, Fugate does refer to the footnote in the Metaphysical Foundations, but only to Kant’s claim that the problem of how experience is possible by means of categories can be nearly solved through “a single inference” from the definition of judgement as “an action through which given representations first become cognitions of an object” (MAN, AA 4:475–6n.).

[9] In the same passage, Kant also mentions the Leibnizian harmony between “the Kingdoms of Nature and of Grace (the Kingdom of Ends in relation to the final end, i.e., mankind under moral laws), where a harmony has to be thought between the consequences of our concepts of nature and those of our concept of freedom” (ÜE, AA 8: 250).


C. Korsgaard, Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

A. Reath, ‘Formal Principles and the Form of a Law’, in A. Reath & J. Timmermann (eds), Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason: A Critical Guide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 31–54.

© Huaping Lu-Adler, 2016.

Huaping Lu-Adler obtained her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Davis in 2012 and is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. Her specialism is Kant and early modern philosophy, focusing on both metaphysical issues and logic and its history. Among other publications and book contributions, she has published in Kantian Review, History of Philosophy QuarterlyEuropean Journal of Philosophy and Journal of the History of Philosophy