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


By Courtney Fugate

Let me begin by thanking Huaping Lu-Adler for her enlightening remarks on my book and the editors of Critique for creating and sustaining such a fruitful forum for discussion. In her perceptive analysis, Lu-Adler presses me to clarify two issues: the precise status of the teleological structure I attribute to Kant’s view of reason and the relationship between these elements and the notion of normativity. Before addressing these two issues, I would like to describe briefly the book’s general design and a few of its more notable claims. I feel it will be acceptable do this, since Lu-Adler’s remarks touch upon issues that, though important, are somewhat secondary to my overall project, and in any case, what I have to say in the following précis will also shed light on what I say later.


The aim of the book is fairly straightforward: to discover whether there is anything truly fundamental underlying the profusion of teleological language laced throughout Kant’s mature writings. Can it all be coincidence and rhetoric?—His repeated comparison of reason (and many of its parts) to a living organism, his description of it as burdened by an inescapable drive towards completeness, his claims that the system of the Critique is a self-articulating and self-generating unity (see e.g. Kant’s letter to Garve, August 7, 1783, Br, AA 10:340–1), and his definition of philosophy in its truest form as a teleologia rationis humanae (A839/B867), to mention just a few instances. What about Kant’s general conception of systematic, or what he calls “architectonic”, unity, the very unity that is supposed to constitute any manifold of cognitions into a genuine science? This too is unequivocally, though not unproblematically, teleological (A832–3/B860–1), and alone should lead us to expect every proper part of Kant’s philosophy, each of which he almost unfailingly christens a “science”, to be structured in a teleological way. If one adds to all of this the many sketches like Reflexion 4849, or passages such as A815–16/B843–4 from the First Critique and AA 8:182–3 from On the Use of Teleological Principles, it becomes evident that Kant not only saw teleology in the basic unity of the parts of his system, but had even—well before the First Critique was written—envisioned it as securing the overall unity of his entire philosophical enterprise.[1] I doubt that Kant was ever fully satisfied with his published attempts to articulate this teleology. But, at the same time, it seems undeniable that he saw all of philosophy as hanging together as a system of ends subordinated to one ultimate end, generated by pure reason itself, and that underlying this idea was a fairly sophisticated conception of teleological structure.

Such facts as these are made all the more perplexing and worthy of investigation given that many popular readings of Kant see him as the culmination of the modern attack on teleology initiated by Bacon and Descartes (e.g. those of MacIntyre and McDowell). If the reading I have offered is correct, then while Kant is indeed the culmination of the attack on dogmatic teleology, he also bears responsibility for creating a new, “critical” conception of teleology, one in which it describes the inner essential structure of reason and so also of philosophy—a conception without which German Idealism and much that followed it would have been impossible. And while this new conception certainly rests on a rejection of traditional teleology, it also claims to show how this older conception is, in one form or another, a natural and unavoidable standpoint that must be adopted by reason in its reflection on all of its objects.

Of course, I am not the first to draw attention to this dimension of Kant’s writings or to find facts like those mentioned above compelling enough to undertake the search for a larger story. Hegel was perhaps the first to note that Kant revised and revitalised teleological concepts as had no one else since Aristotle, while Heidegger (1985:38) later saw Kant as defining the whole “inner character of the structure of reason” and “the essence of philosophy” as a teleology of human reason. In 1955, Dieter Henrich wrote in a similar vein of Kant’s conception of the unity of the subject,

One could term the thought developed by Kant on this matter that of an “intrasubjective teleology”. It is a teleology in that the joining of the cognitive powers can only be explained from some purposive arrangement; and yet the teleology is intrasubjective in that the purposiveness in question does not refer to given objects. […] The unity of subjectivity, in Kant’s final construction of it, is conceived as teleological. (1994:31–3)[2]

Similar ideas are pursued in a number of more recent studies, but most notably in Dörflinger (2000), Longuenesse (1998) and Velkley (1989), and in two excellent monographs that (unfortunately) appeared after my own manuscript was complete: Mensch (2013) and Ferrarin (2015).

What distinguishes my book from any of the above is not the interest it takes in Kant’s teleology of reason, but the specific origin to which I trace this teleology, the depth of the analysis I try to provide, and the scope of the texts I consider. Much of the early part of the book is devoted to uncovering the pre-Critical origins of Kant’s unique understanding of teleological structure and explaining how through it the various teleological concepts he later employs mesh into a single theory (i.e. ends, purposiveness, organic unity, systematic unity, etc.).

Notably, I do not locate this origin in his reflection on the biological sciences, but rather in the point of contact between his early physical cosmology and his attempt to articulate a metaphysical theory of essences (which is central to both his proof of God’s existence and his search for a foundation for physics). Kant’s earliest reflections on the foundations of teleology departed from the views of his immediate German predecessors who held the essences of things as well as all their analytical consequences to be absolutely necessary. This had the immediate consequence, so forcefully drawn in Wolff’s Vernünfftige Gedancken von den Absichten der natürlichen Dinge (‘German Teleology’, for short), of eliminating the possibility that essences could require any further ground to explain their intrinsic order or truth. Purposiveness or design, now seen to be impossible on the level of essences, was thereby relegated to the specific and contingent way in which beings possessing a certain set of essences are actualised as a group. Moreover, since many like Wolff also held the scope of our a priori insight to be coextensive with our knowledge of essences and our application thereto of the principle of contradiction, teleology was perforce reduced to a matter of the empirical description of ends supposedly manifest in the natural world.

Against this, the pre-Critical Kant asserted the ultimate contingency of essences themselves, attempting thereby to make it sensible to hold order or intelligibility tout court to be evidence of an intelligent divine ground. Through this he also directly and purposefully undermined the bedrock upon which the Wolffian tradition had built its metaphysics, namely the principle of contradiction. For the more autonomy we grant to the divine being over the content of the realm of thought, the less we can be justified in drawing conclusions a priori about the material principles of what is real. Because Kant thought it necessary to regard the very eternal essences as contingent with respect to their divine ground, he was forced to rely on the analysis of experience for the discovery of all principles of real possibility. But when subsequently faced with questions of methodology, and in particular of the status of any principles through which we would be able to reach certainty regarding these a posteriori principles of real possibility, Kant ran into problems that he believed could not be solved within the confines of ‘dogmatic’ metaphysics. In the introductory chapters of the book, I argue that it was the slow realisation of the depth of this problem and the questions it raised about the very possibility of scientific thought in general, that led to the eventual collapse of Kant’s pre-Critical project.

However, in my view what collapsed for Kant was the explanans, not the explanandum. If he was to save the integrity and certainty of scientific thought (in the broad sense of Wissenschaft), which is something I think he never really doubted could be done, then he would have to provide an alternative account for how the world is (or can justifiably be thought as) so remarkably ‘harmonious’ with our theoretical and moral capacities. To assist him, he now had a remarkably subtle account of systematic unity, which, though thoroughly teleological, was not of the narrow and dubiously anthropomorphic kind of teleology found in, say, Wolff’s German Teleology or the vast number of works it helped spawn. In Kant’s new understanding of teleology, the order and perfection of particular ends were but individual expressions of an infinitely richer affinity intrinsic to the essences of all objects, an affinity that makes possible and necessary their complete systematic cohesion into a single whole in which each stands in a reciprocal harmony of means and ends with all the others. In addition to this, Kant also had some very good ideas about how this structure can be seen to originate in an absolutely necessary, original and autonomous first principle. What he lacked, but soon began to develop, was an account where the role of a unitary first principle would be played by the unity of apperception in its transcendental relation to the form of possible experience.

One of the more important lessons here is that Kant’s eventual notion of organic unity first sprang from his more general understanding of the intentional production of an object or end, since it was built in large part in order to improve upon the regular old teleological concepts we find in figures like Leibniz and Wolff. In effect, the concept of organic unity for Kant resulted from the attempt to conceive for the first time of a truly autonomous teleological unity; instead of thinking of the form of a whole as imposed upon an object by an external cause, it was now thought of as resulting from the mutual and internal harmony of the causalities of the parts themselves. This deep connection between autonomy and the conception of organic unity, and indeed between these and reason’s inherent drive to completeness, as Kant later came to see it, is particularly manifest in well-known passages from his Critical writings like the following:

The sphere of pure reason is so isolated and so thoroughly interconnected within itself that no part of it can be touched without touching all the rest and nothing can be accomplished without the prior determination of the place of each part and its influence on the others. As there is nothing outside of pure reason which could correct our judgment within it, the validity and use of every part depends on its relation within reason itself to the other parts, and, as in the structure of an organized body, the purpose [Zweck] of every member can only be deduced from the complete concept of the whole. Hence it can be said of such a critique that it is never reliable unless it is whole and completed down to the smallest elements of pure reason, and that in the sphere of this faculty one must determine and settle either everything or nothing. (Prol, AA 4:263; trans. Lucas)

If in the pre-Critical period Kant sought to ground the absolute organic unity of nature on the notion that essences are originally constituted with a view to the complete perfection of the whole, in the Critical period he attempts to justify the same view of nature through the notion that it is required by the unity of reason itself. Kant’s conception of the teleological self-articulation of pure reason forms, I argue, the core of his attempt “to establish a fundamental science without foundationalism and without positing a standpoint outside of the system” (p. 20). Importantly, what this also means is that the inner self-constitution of pure reason (also in its pure practical employment) provides the archetypal form of the kind of organic unity Kant will later attribute to natural ends only analogically and in a reflective mode in the Third Critique.

Of course, all of this is only the overture to a very long and complex drama. One of the essential characteristics of organic unity is its nested, system-within-system structure, where each part possesses autonomy within its own domain (for otherwise it would not constitute a true system), and is unified with the whole not through mere subordination, but through reciprocal assistance. In accordance with this, Kant is always careful to isolate the proper parts of the system of pure reason (sensibility and understanding, understanding and reason, theoretical reason and practical reason, etc.) before showing how they cooperate within the whole, thereby fulfilling their mutual needs.

For this reason, I devoted the main chapters of the book to teasing out the teleological structure of each of the parts of Kant’s mature philosophical system, before attempting to provide an overall picture in a final chapter on the unity of reason and Kant’s idea of philosophy. After some ground clearing on the notion of teleology, Chapters 4 and 5 treat the Transcendental Aesthetic, Analytic and Dialectic, the latter giving special attention to the system of ideas and the regulative principles. Chapter 6 discusses Kant’s account of freedom and argues that his formal conception of the moral law, far from being anti-teleological in its rejection of actual pre-given ends, is an attempt to express the essence of a pure will that can be the original ground of an absolute harmony of all possible ends. Chapter 7 then argues for a new interpretation of the moral postulates (though built in part on that of Allen Wood), one according to which the free act of postulation is itself seen to be the highest moment of autonomy and the means by which theoretical and practical reason come to form a unity. An appendix to this chapter also addresses the chief conditions for realising a moral world and sketches an interpretation of Kant’s views on the concept of life and its role in the Critique of the Power of Judgement.

Because Lu-Adler’s remarks almost exclusively concern Chapter 4, it will be helpful to go into a little more detail regarding this part of the book. My point of departure here is Dörflinger’s assertion that “a theory of the understanding as teleological must surely lead to the core of Kant’s philosophy, in particular, to the centre of his [Transcendental] Deduction” (1995:26) and Henrich’s notion of a unifying intrasubjective teleology. What I take the latter, in particular, as gesturing towards, is that the essence of Kant’s method lies not in proving (dogmatically) the underlying unity and hence harmony of our cognitive faculties, but in focusing all our attention on justifying this unity by uncovering its role in making possible an ultimate unifying telos entirely internal to reason itself. In my view, what is perhaps most characteristic of Kant’s way of answering the quid juris, is that he does not attempt to justify this telos from an external standpoint, but rather treats it as given and seeks instead to justify all other functions through their relation to it. For Kant, as I understand him, consciousness as such is teleologically structured; it cannot exist as the kind of self-sufficient unity it is without at the same time projecting before itself an ultimate unifying goal of its activities. For it is only in this way that the unity of consciousness can be (as it must be) a unity for consciousness. Accordingly, Kant interprets the necessary unity constituting objectivity as such as being just the necessary unity of consciousness represented in the telos of all its activities.

More specifically, I argue in Chapter 4 that for Kant the justification of the faculty of understanding (in the broad sense) must be treated in three separate but intimately related ‘sciences’ (according to the “nested structure” of scientific/organic unity), namely the Transcendental Aesthetic, that part of the Transcendental Analytic that treats only the pure understanding in the narrow sense, and that part of the Transcendental Analytic which treats sensibility and understanding as working in harmony. I first follow Kant in his isolation and analysis of the capacity of sensibility, drawing particular attention to the unique structure of space and time as formal intuitions, which he elsewhere christens their “objective formal perfection”. Although space and time are not teleological in an everyday sense, I demonstrate that Kant understands their essential structures by means of the same conception of absolute organic unity he developed in the pre-Critical period. The notion that every part of space presupposes all other parts and indeed the whole of all possible space as already given, that all possible figures stand in an inexhaustible “harmony” (Kant’s own language) with all others—these, among others, are features that at one time Kant thought could only be explained by reference to a divine ground (see e.g. BDG, AA 2:93ff.).

Yet in the Critical period, remarkably, Kant does not deny these teleological features as one would perhaps expect, but instead cites them as the surest signs that space and time are transcendentally ideal. If they were real things, he argues, then it would be impossible to conceive of how they are given to us as exhibiting such infinite unity and harmony and also a priori. Still, we must represent them in this way, critically “presuppose” them as given and pregnant with such unity, in order to represent any fully determinate spaces or times at all. This, however, is a Critical presupposition; it is justified only to the extent that without these forms there could be no objects of sensibility at all and hence no objects for reason either.

Turning to Kant’s treatment of the pure understanding in the Metaphysical Deduction, I argue that here we find what is perhaps Kant’s most explicit employment of his key teleological conception of systematic unity. After showing the congruence of between Kant’s description of the special features of the faculty of pure understanding and the conception of teleology previously outlined, I note how the Metaphysical Deduction finds its principle in the definition of the specific telos of this faculty. As in other similar cases (e.g. in deriving the transcendental ideas), Kant begins by defining the pure understanding in terms of its basic function, namely a priori judging or the drawing together of concepts under the concept of an object in general (B93). He then accordingly searches for the principle of the understanding’s systematic unity in the final goal of this function. Since the final and finished goal of all judging is found in the production of judgements, and judgements are such by virtue of their logical form, he argues that the principle of unity must lie in the sufficiency of the various logical forms for describing all possible pure judgements. It follows from this that the ‘proof’ of the Metaphysical Deduction cannot consist in the logical derivation of the categories from a prior common principle; it must consist rather in the demonstration of their teleological sufficiency for performing a single common function, namely complete determination of an object through an a priori faculty for judging (A80–1/B106). Therefore, if it were to turn out on further reflection that Kant’s logic is actually insufficient for this purpose, it would be in keeping with his project to extend the table of logical functions and so also that of the categories.

The systematic derivation of the categories now follows the same pattern. If the goal of an a priori faculty for judging lies in the production of judgements about objects, then for this to be possible there must be concepts by which the unity expressed in the form of the judgement is thought as expressing the unity or pure synthesis of the object itself. Since the concepts of the understanding, i.e. the categories, are essentially nothing other than the means through which judgements, with their logical forms, first come to determine an object, and “the understanding is completely exhausted and its faculty entirely measured by these functions” (A79/B105), the system of the categories is thereby established.

Finally, the ultimate task of Chapter 4 is discharged in showing how the Transcendental Deduction (I focus on the B-edition version) brings together these two otherwise independent systems of sensibility and understanding under what is really the defining telos and final principle of justification for the functions of all our theoretical powers, namely the “one experience, in which all perceptions are represented as in thoroughgoing and lawlike connection” (A110). That this is the final principle of justification for the whole system is shown by the fact that Kant asserts that even space and time themselves (and so also mathematics) derive their objective validity, not simply from their function within sensibility, but from their eventual function in relation to the possibility of experience (A156/B195). Kant thus focuses his Deduction on the ultimate product in which all of our cognitive faculties must combine and harmonise, namely judgements of experience, and undertakes the justification of the rules governing such harmony by considering to what extent they are indispensable means to this product, i.e. necessary for the very possibility of experience: for “without this original relation to possible experience, in which all objects of cognition are found, their relation to any object could not be comprehended at all” (A94/B126–7).

But, simple as this might seem, Kant’s guiding teleological idea will not allow him to execute the Deduction in one stage. The pure understanding is but a single member of the system, and so to prove that without its categories no thought of an object, and hence no experience, would be possible, is not completely sufficient for their deduction. Kant believes he must also show that the systems of sensibility and understanding, though otherwise entirely independent, are suited to being combined in the way required for experience. For this reason, I cannot agree with Lu-Adler when she claims that the quid juris “is sufficiently answered”, when “‘the Critique has definitely shown that without it [the harmony] no experience is possible’ (ÜE, AA 8:249)’”. For this, Kant still needs the second part of the Deduction, where it is shown that sensibility requires the understanding to synthesise and reflect its specific sensible unity, that the understanding requires from sensibility a manifold suitable to being reflected as a unity, and thus that both in their own ways independently harmonise to make the unity of experience possible.

Naturally, many of the details of Chapter 4 must left out of a précis such as this. The chief thing I wanted to illustrate was how my analysis is built on the pattern of Kant’s own argumentation and does not invoke the kind of metaphysical underpinnings that one would normally expect from the scare-word “teleology”. I also wanted to point out that I do not think the Deduction rests on a simple pre-established harmony of sensibility and understanding. It contains rather a complex of several related arguments intended to respect the autonomy and originality of the faculties involved, while still showing their necessary combination in relation to a single all-encompassing telos.


In her remarks, Lu-Adler says that my “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”. In particular, she wonders “at what point Kant [must] invoke a teleological standpoint” and expresses puzzlement at what she perceives to be my answer, namely “that Kant takes the Critique to ‘rest on’ the presupposition of pre-established harmony between sensibility and understanding”. Yet, as her analysis unfolds, it seems clear to me that Lu-Adler does not so much object to this answer, as to one particular interpretation of what this “resting on” and “presupposing” might mean. In effect, she seems to saddle me with the view that Kant thinks we must “presuppose” in an uncritical way the kind of teleology found in the writings of many of his predecessors and in his own pre-Critical writings—the dogmatic kind of teleology, as Lu-Adler amply notes, that I take great pains to distinguish from Kant’s mature view.

To establish what she takes to be Kant’s actual position, Lu-Adler first undertakes a fine-grained analysis of a few passages in which he speaks of a pre-established harmony between sensibility and understanding. It seems to be her view that these passages provide us with a fair indication of what Kant has to say about teleology in general, at least as this is relevant to the Transcendental Deduction. I never made this claim in the book, nor did I put much stock in these particular passages (my own analysis in Chapter 4 draws directly on the text of the B-edition of the Transcendental Deduction), but I am more than willing to engage the issue from this narrower point of view. So let us take another look at the passages in question. The first and perhaps weightiest is from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786), where in a footnote Kant responds to some criticisms from Johann Schultz. I feel I must quote it in somewhat greater length than Lu-Adler, so that the reader can see clearly the overall shape of Kant’s remarks and so judge for themselves which reading is more accurate. I have inserted letters and underlining to facilitate a finer anatomisation of the passage. Here is what Kant says:

I direct my reply to these objections only to their principal point, namely, the claim that without an entirely clear and sufficient deduction of the categories the system of the Critique of Pure Reason totters on its foundation. I assert, on the contrary, that [a] the system of the Critique must carry apodictic certainty for whoever subscribes […] to my propositions concerning the sensible character of all our intuition, and the adequacy of the table of categories […] [b] because it is erected upon the proposition that the entire speculative use of our reason never reaches further than to objects of possible experience. For if we can prove [c] that the categories which reason must use in all its cognition can have no other use at all, except solely in relation to objects of possible experience […], then, although the answer to [d] the question how the categories make such experience possible is important enough for completing the deduction where possible, with respect to the principal end of the system, namely, the determination of the limits of pure reason, it is no way compulsory, but merely meritorious. For [e] the deduction is already carried far enough for this purpose if it shows that categories of thought are nothing but mere forms of judgments insofar as they are applied to intuitions […]. It then follows: that all use of pure reason can never extend to anything other than objects of experience, and, since nothing empirical can be the condition of a priori principles, the latter can be nothing more than principles of the possibility of experience in general. [f] This alone is the true and sufficient basis for the determination of the limits of pure reason, but not the solution to the problem how experience is now possible by means of the categories, and only through these categories alone. [g] The latter problem […] [can be solved with] just as much ease, since it can almost be accomplished through a single inference from the precisely determined definition of a judgment in general […]. Therefore, I shall take up the next opportunity to make up for this deficiency [i.e. the obscurity] that attaches to my earlier discussions in this part of the deduction (and which I do not deny) […] [h] so that the perceptive reviewer may not be left with the necessity, certainly unwelcome even to himself, to take refuge in a preestablished harmony to explain the surprising agreement of appearances with the laws of the understanding, despite their having entirely different sources from the former. [i] This remedy would be much worse than the evil it is supposed to cure, and, on the contrary, cannot help at all. For the objective necessity that characterizes the pure concepts of the understanding […] in the concept of cause in connection with the effect, for example, is still not forthcoming. (MAN, AA 4:475–6)

Now, here is Lu-Adler’s reading of the footnote:

Kant’s response [to Schultz] 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.

I cannot agree with this characterisation. For a start, as lines [b] and [c] indicate, the demonstration of “that” concerns not that the categories “are none other than a priori conditions of all possible experience”, as Lu-Adler writes, but that their use is entirely limited to possible experience. These are two very different tasks: The former concerns the justification of the categories (and thus the quid juris); the latter, merely the limits of their possible employment. The way Lu-Adler characterises the “that” instead corresponds to how Kant characterizes the “how” in [f]: “how experience is now possible […] only through these categories alone.” As we shall see further below, this distinction is key to reading the passage correctly.

Second, Kant does not say here that, as Lu-Adler writes, “a deduction of categories is sufficient so long as it has fulfilled the first task [i.e. established the “that”]”. Rather, in lines [e], he says it is then “carried far enough for this purpose” (second italics added). For what purpose? It seems to me that Kant is referring back to the end of lines [d], i.e. to the “principal end of the system, namely, the determination of the limits of pure reason”. This seems clearly to be the “purpose” in question. So Kant is not saying the deduction is sufficient as such, if the “that” is established (which I take to be Lu-Adler’s reading), but that it is sufficient for determining the limits of pure reason if it has established that the categories have no employment beyond possible experience. To summarise our disagreement to this point then: Lu-Adler reads the “that” as relating to the quid juris, whereas I read it as relating to another question, the limit of the use of the categories. She also takes Kant as saying the deduction is sufficient (and hence the quid juris has been answered, I assume) once this is established. On my reading this does not follow, since the “that” has nothing to do with the quid juris.

Moving on from this, according to Lu-Adler, in [i] Kant rejects Leibnizian pre-established harmony as an explanation of the harmony of sensibility and understanding, but also (presumably in [h]) “suggests that this question admits and needs a positive answer (to definitively rule out the hypothesis of pre-established harmony)”. She then argues that Kant revised and clarified his view in later texts so that he no longer thinks he needs to rule out pre-established harmony at all. In particular, she cites a 1789 letter to Marcus Herz, where she takes Kant to be saying that we need not positively rule out pre-established harmony because it is irrelevant to the quid juris, and in any case we can have no knowledge of any such ground of harmony (which Lu-Adler terms the “inscrutability thesis”).

It seems to me to be an unreasonable stretch to read Kant as saying he needs to “definitely rule out the hypothesis of Leibnizian pre-established harmony”. In the passage, pre-established harmony is being proposed as a metaphysical explanation, and regarding such things the first edition of the Critique is more than sufficiently clear that both acceptance and rejection are to be avoided. In principle, Kant should have no desire to engage with metaphysicians in struggles, where “the shadows that they cleave apart grow back together in an instant, like the heroes of Valhalla, to amuse themselves anew in bloodless battles” (A756/B784). But if he is not “rejecting” pre-established harmony, then what does Kant mean in [h] when he says he wants to help the reviewer avoid “taking refuge” in that theory?

The answer lies in [i]: He wants to enable the reviewer to see that such a theory “cannot help at all”, since it cannot account for the objective necessity of the categories. Pre-established harmony must be avoided, in other words, not because it is the wrong explanation, but because it is the wrong kind of explanation. This I take to be Kant’s usual argument against all metaphysical and psychological attempts to explain the possibility of experience, namely, that they mistake the quid facti for the quid juris and adduce supposed facts in place of justifications. This is the chief reason why it is the “greatest absurdity”, as Kant characterised it in his early letter to Herz. Of course, it doesn’t help that metaphysical explanations are meaningless if taken flatly as they are intended, but I take it that Kant wants even one who does not necessarily accept this verdict to still understand that no metaphysical explanation can do the job of the Deduction. The only thing that can account for the objective necessity of the categories, rather, is a full answer to the quid juris.

For related reasons, I also cannot agree with Lu-Adler that Kant here expresses a desire to provide a “positive answer” to the question of the ground of the harmony of sensibility and understanding, the very desire he deems misguided in the 1789 letter to Herz. The only possible basis I can see for thinking this is Kant’s suggestion in [f] that he will soon explain “how experience is now possible by means of the categories, and only through these categories alone”. But by this he clearly does not mean he will explain the ground of the harmony between sensibility and understanding, and so provide a positive alternative to pre-established harmony. The sense of the whole passage, as indicted particularly in [a] and [b], is that the full answer to the quid juris—i.e. the completed deduction in which the “how” is fully worked out—is unnecessary for determining the “limits of pure reason”. Kant is aiming to convince the reviewer that the limitations placed on pure reason in the Critique stand secure, even if the transcendental deduction is too obscure to follow, indeed even if it is an outright failure. That what Kant means by an explanation of the “how” is nothing but answering the quid juris in full, seems perfectly evident to me. Kant himself tells us in the Critique: “I therefore call the explanation how [wie] concepts can relate to objects a priori their transcendental deduction” (A85/B117; trans. amended). Second, in [g] he says of the “how” that “it can almost be accomplished through a single inference from the precisely determined definition of a judgment in general”. This is exactly the plan Kant executes in the B-edition of the Transcendental Deduction he was then working on, and is not something we have cause to think he renounced in 1789.

To sum up, I think Kant’s position in 1786 is basically the same as the one he expresses in the 1789 letter to Herz: As a metaphysical theory, Leibnizian pre-established harmony is irrefutable (albeit because it is meaningless), and so of no relevance to the problem posed and answered in the Critique. Aside from being meaningless, a metaphysical pre-established harmony cannot account for the objective necessity of the categories.

Finally, since Lu-Adler’s analysis of these passages seems to suggest that the specific failing of Leibnizian pre-established harmony mentioned in [i] did not receive (sufficient) attention in my book, I should note that it was absolutely essential to my analysis in many places. Indeed, it is and was my express view that Kant’s Critical understanding of teleology was precisely designed to explain and articulate this consciousness of necessity while avoiding all the traps of traditional teleological accounts. I talk about this, for instance, on pages 144, 150, 162, 187, 197, and 380ff., but will quote only one passage, which relates directly to the problem of the harmony between sensibility and understanding:

That is to say, if it were revealed that the unity of the mind was the effect of a previously hidden root, then this fundamental power could admittedly be directed to a goal, and thus require a teleological explanation, but this teleological unity would be inevitable, and would not rest in an essential way on the reflective self-consciousness of the human being. It would flow with necessity from a root that precedes the individual faculties, and indeed precedes the very activity of self-consciousness which judges by means of these faculties. The latter would then be teleological, not in the sense that it has an end exclusively because it recognizes an end for itself and strives towards it, but rather in the sense that its actions are necessary as a means to the achievement of an end already constituted prior to and outside of the operations of this same self-consciousness. […] But not even this would be true, at least strictly speaking. For if self-consciousness or reflection were still involved at all, it would not be able to recognize this “necessity” as a necessity (objective), but rather as something subjective in the sense of arbitrary or contingent, because it would be aware of no cognitively transparent (i.e. justifiable to itself) connection between such a condition and the essence of its objects (cf. KrV B168). (pp. 381–2)

I have taken the time to explain the difference between Lu-Adler’s reading of the footnote in the Metaphysical Foundations and my own for a couple of reasons. First, it has hopefully made it evident why I do not think Kant ever relied on Leibnizian pre-established harmony in his Critical writings. Indeed, it is my view that he held all such explanations to be nugatory from quite early on (maybe as early as 1769) for reasons connected with an absolutely central concern of his mature philosophy, namely, the need to account for the consciousness of necessity that constitutes having a field of objects in view. Second, since this claim is inconsistent with Lu-Adler’s view that Kant still thought pre-established harmony, or some alternative to it, relevant to the quid juris in 1786, I had to explain why I don’t think the texts she has cited support this view. Third, and finally, I did so because I think it is important to understand Kant’s position with respect to pre-established harmony before approaching, as I shall now, those elements of his own work that might in some way be related to it.


As Lu-Adler notes, Kant nevertheless often goes out of his way to say some distressingly positive things about dogmatic teleological theories.[3] As I said before, I never took these passages to be anything more than tantalising indications of the context within which Kant situated certain problems, as well as suggestions that he saw his transcendental investigations as fulfilling the same need, though in a critical manner, as had originally motivated Leibniz to develop his theory of pre-established harmony. But little more can be wrung from them, largely because they nearly always occur in polemical contexts, where it is impossible to tell if Kant is being entirely frank. For instance, in On a Discovery, he is clearly trying to stick it to Eberhard, the faithful Leibnizian, by arguing that the Critical philosophy was really what Leibniz had intended.

Nevertheless, such passages do raise and help to answer at least two good questions: (1) In what sense does Kant see the question of the agreement of sensibility and understanding as relating to purposiveness? (2) In what sense does Kant’s Critical explanation of this purposiveness differ from the those of his predecessors? The answer to (1) is fairly clear. In the Anthropology, which is one of the more interesting text where Kant talks about the harmony of the faculties, he calls it a kind of “affinity” and describes it as follows:

Intellectual combination is analogous to an interaction of two specifically different substances intimately acting upon each other and striving for unity, where this union brings about a third entity that has properties which can only be produced by the union of two heterogeneous elements. Despite their dissimilarity, understanding and sensibility by themselves form a closed union for bringing about our cognition, as if one had its origin in the other, or both originated from a common origin; but this cannot be, or at least we cannot conceive how dissimilar things could sprout forth from one and the same root. (Anthr, AA 7:177)

In its structural details, this description agrees with what he says in the Metaphysical Foundations and the 1789 letter to Herz (Br, AA 11:51). What Kant always stresses in these texts is the seeming conflict between the independence of sensibility and understanding, and the “surprising agreement of appearances with the laws of the understanding” (MAN, AA 4:476n.). As Kant says repeatedly, it is as if they were formed for each other on purpose. But, as he says in 1796 when addressing this same point, “purposiveness is thinkable only through relation of the object to an understanding, as its cause” (VT, AA 8:391). So to think such purposiveness, Kant believes we must relate the harmony of sensibility and understanding to the idea of an underlying intellectual ground. This intellectual ground could either be God, in which case we get a metaphysical pre-established harmony, or it could be that the understanding is really the root of sensibility, in which case we get Maimon’s position. The former is not denied, but deemed a dead end, which is presumably why Kant says:

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. (Br, AA 11:52; adopting Lu-Adler’s emendation)

However, Kant rejects the latter outright in the 1789 letter to Herz, believing the independence of sensibility and understanding to be demonstrated in the Critique. If all of this is correct, then in these texts Kant has something in mind that is far simpler and more specific than the teleological structure of our cognitive faculties as I articulate this in Chapter 4. What he has in mind is merely the specific harmony of the structure of our forms of sensibility, namely space and time, with the categories of the understanding insofar as both are required for possible experience. As I understand the matter, Kant takes himself to have proven in §§15–20 of the B-edition of the Transcendental Deduction that such a harmony is necessary from the side of the understanding in its relation to intuition in general. The question beginning §21 is then whether the structure of space and time, as these are analysed independently in the Transcendental Aesthetic, agrees with this need of the understanding. And Kant’s answer in §26, and in the famous footnote to this section, is that this is indeed what has been established previously in the exposition of space and time as formal intuitions.

As I read these passages, then, Kant is observing that as a matter of established fact, these two sources of cognition function in perfect harmony. What is needed by the understanding for its reflection of intuitions under concepts, is found entirely provided in space and time as formal intuitions; and what is required in order for these same intuitions to be reflected under concepts, and thus thought, is provided by the categories. Since these are two entirely independent sources of cognition, and yet what is necessary from one side is perfectly provided on the other, Kant believes the purposiveness of this situation is unmistakable. But he neither needs nor offers an explanation for it; the Critique only shows that such a harmony is necessary for sensibility and understanding to fulfil their own functions, that there is such a harmony, and that without it no experience would be possible.

Yet the Critique also shows that any attempt to explain the source of such harmony leads into senseless metaphysical speculation. So why then does Kant have anything at all favourable to say about metaphysical pre-established harmony? There are several reasons.

First, hopeless as it may be, metaphysical pre-established harmony does respond to an important feature of our cognitive faculties recognised by the Critique, namely their original independence.

Secondly, it also responds to another important feature of our cognitive situation that is central to the Critique, namely, that its telos consists in the complete systematic unity of the products of sensibility and understanding, i.e. of the sensible manifold under concepts in judgements.

Thirdly, in our empirical experience itself space and time must be regarded as real (empirically real), and so from this point of view their harmony with the understanding must be represented as genuinely contingent and fortuitous. This gives rise to an unavoidable “admiration” (KU, AA 5:365), which is mistaken only in that it does not yet recognise that this harmony within experience is not actually contingent, but rather necessary. Still, as Kant himself argues, such admiration is nevertheless justified; for although the Critique of Pure Reason is able to show that such harmony is necessary for experience to be possible (and hence is necessary within experience), it could provide no ground for the original harmony of the faculties. But the question of a ground is not a problem relevant to the task of the Transcendental Deduction.

Fourthly and finally, if considered as a regular kind of teleological question, then Kant thinks we can represent this harmony as objective only by also representing it as having arisen from an external divine ground. But as in other such cases, this is not to be taken as a presupposition of the existence of such a being absolutely or in itself, but only in the idea or as “a schema for which no object is given, not even hypothetically, but which serves only to represent objects to us, in accordance with their systematic unity, by means of the relation to this idea, hence to represent these objects indirectly” (A670/B698). It is in this way that Kant’s Critical explanation differs from that of his predecessors (the answer to question [2] above).


When Lu-Adler begins to characterise the claims of Chapter 4 in her Section 2.2, I must admit to becoming somewhat disconcerted. She starts by quoting from an introductory passage where I compare Kant’s pre-Critical and Critical teleologies, but mixes up the lines in a way that suggests something I never dreamt of claiming in relation to the harmony of sensibility and understanding as it concerns the Transcendental Deduction. According to her, I “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)”. Now, I would agree to this if it were a question of the harmony of the faculties as treated in the regulative principles; for Kant says unequivocally there that we must make the “transcendental presupposition” (A678/B706) of a divine ground, i.e. we must represent the unity of all things as if it arose from a “self-sufficient reason, which is the cause of the world-whole through ideas of the greatest harmony and unity” (A678/B706).) What I said in the place cited by Lu-Adler, however, was:

How, in other words, can we understand that the unity required by reason and presupposed by it in all of its objects is precisely the same kind of teleological unity that in the pre-critical period was seen as arising from God as from a self-sufficient and all perfect ground? (p. 175)

By “same kind of unity” here I meant the same kind of structure, namely absolute organic unity. And I continued a bit below with: “[…] Kant himself saw just such an absolute teleology as this to be a necessary presupposition of reason for the sake of experience […]”, which accords with the position on harmony taken in the context of the regulative principles. Nowhere here nor elsewhere do I suggest that the Critical Kant grounds the absolute teleological unity that he sees as making experience possible in the Transcendental Deduction on “God as from a self-sufficient and all perfect ground”. That’s exactly the pre-Critical position, and the position we must adopt in an ‘as if’ mode if we want to represent this harmony objectively for the further articulation of experience. But Lu-Adler clearly implies that I think it lies at the heart of Kant’s answer to the quid juris, although, notably, I say nothing about it in my subsequent analysis in Chapter 4.

To confirm what she takes to be my position, Lu-Adler then provides a quotation from p. 175 (again not my analysis of the Analytic), in which I refer to a passage from On a Discovery. I say in it that “Kant admits the KrV rests on the presupposition of a Leibnizian pre-established harmony” and that this “in its ultimate expression requires the idea of a divine coordinator of nature with moral purposiveness”. Kant himself says regarding the harmony of the faculties—which he interprets in this context as the real intention behind Leibniz’s pre-established harmony:

The Critique has definitely shown that without it no experience is possible, and that the objects (since they partly, as to their intuition, accord with the formal conditions of our sensibility, and partly, as to the connection of the manifold, accord with the principles of its ordering in one consciousness, as a condition of the possibility of cognition thereof) would never be taken up into the unity of consciousness and enter into experience, and would therefore be nothing for us. (ÜE, AA 8:250)

I take it that another way to say this is that the Critique rests on the presupposition of such a harmony; of course, not as Leibniz probably meant it, but as Kant thinks he meant it. Kant also says here that such a need for harmony (also as Leibniz, in his view, intended it) extends to the relation of nature to morality, or better, to the harmony “of two totally different faculties, under wholly dissimilar principles in us […]; though as the Critique teaches, it can by no means be conceived form the constitution of the world, but rather as an agreement that for us at least is contingent, and comprehensible only through an intelligent world-cause” (ÜE, AA 8:250). This is what I meant by saying that “in its ultimate expression” the harmony Kant associates with Leibnizian pre-established harmony requires the idea of a divine ground (though, of course, not a divine ground itself). So I don’t see how my gloss of the passages misses the mark unless taken out of context.

Lu-Adler says she is puzzled by all of this. However, it’s not clear to me what the source of her puzzlement is precisely. In particular, I cannot tell if it concerns one or all of the following: (A) my claim that the Critique ‘presupposes’ a harmony of the faculties, (B) my use of the phrase ‘pre-established harmony’, or (C) my equation of harmony and purposiveness. I shall take these in turn.

If it concerns (A), then the way Lu-Adler has characterised my claims in Chapter 4 leads me to believe that she has me defending a dogmatic ‘presupposition’, and not the kind of ‘transcendental presupposition’ characteristic of Kant’s Critical standpoint. To clarify this issue, it will be helpful to distinguish three ways he might ‘presuppose’ a pre-established harmony:

  1. Kant might argue that a pre-established harmony between mind and world (or between sensibility and understanding) is necessary, or must be presupposed, in order to explain our de facto possession of a robustly structured experience.
  2. Kant might argue that we cannot have a robustly structured experience in the first place without at the same time, i.e. in the same conscious action, presupposing just such a harmony. For instance, we may not be able to have any particular conscious perception at all without at the same time representing it as already fitting somewhere into a given spatio-temporal whole of causally interacting substances.
  3. Kant might argue that we cannot represent the thoroughgoing and objective harmony of sensibility and understanding for the sake of seeking it out in experience without presupposing the idea of a divine ground responsible for the harmony the faculties.

These are clearly very different claims. The first tells a metaphysical story to explain a fact about the way things seemingly really are; the second, by contrast, explains that representing things in a certain way is part and parcel of what we call consciousness of empirical objects; the third makes a transcendental presupposition for the further articulation of experience. Again, the first makes its claims unconditionally, while the latter two do so only for the sake of possible experience. Now, I believe (1) is a form of the traditional position that Kant avoids in the Critical period, but that (2) corresponds to the first stage of the Transcendental Deduction of the categories (the second stage proves that we are justified in making this claim with respect to our specific forms of intuition). Finally, (3) corresponds to the regulative use of (1).

If it concerns (B), then perhaps we understand the phrase ‘Leibnizian pre-established harmony’ differently. Indeed, Lu-Adler seems to draw a distinction between the harmony of the faculties and their pre-established harmony, regarding the latter as pointing to something more than harmony, namely to some separate underlying ground or guarantee. If this is what it must mean, then I can see why Lu-Adler might find puzzling my saying that Kant claims we must presuppose such pre-established harmony in the Transcendental Deduction. For this could only mean one of two things: I think Kant is committed to a dogmatic teleology (by adducing an external metaphysical ground) or I think somehow the regulative idea of the harmony of the faculties is a presupposition of the Transcendental Deduction. However, both of these claims would directly contradict the core of my later analysis in Chapter 4, which aims to show how the teleological structure of cognition is the structure of our cognitive autonomy and rests largely on our independence from external grounds, and that of Chapter 5, which shows the regulative principles to be a need of reason that already assumes the applicability of the categories.

All I can say in response, then, is that I don’t find this an important distinction to make and that I never had it in mind in writing the book. If we are talking about Leibnizian pre-established harmony, I think the idea is that, say, the actual operations of two substances are in harmony, because their essences are originally in harmony. This is how pre-established harmony is the universal ground of all the further, particular harmonious operations of these substances. In this sense, I think it suitable to describe Kant’s view as a kind of pre-established harmony (though Critical), because it indicates that the harmony between sensibility and understanding is not accidental, but rather original in a transcendental sense; it is not merely that particular concepts happen to agree with other particular intuitions in our experience, but that the very possibility of such experience presupposes, as preceding it, the universal assumption of such agreement. For this reason, I think it is perfectly legitimate to say, as I do, that Kant thinks the Critique to rest on the presupposition of a Leibnizian pre-established harmony of the faculties for the sake of experience, while also maintaining, as I also do, that Kant never takes pre-established harmony as a given premise in his argumentation.

Perhaps Lu-Adler will respond to this that Kant implies such a distinction in On a Discovery when he says that “Leibniz termed the ground of this agreement […] a pre-established harmony” (ÜE, AA 8:250; underlining added). But even here Kant goes on to say that by this Leibniz did not really mean to explain this harmony, i.e. to indicate its ground, but only to indicate its originality as a ground of harmony in general. So it seems to me that Kant too does not believe Leibnizian pre-established harmony to be a theory of the ground of harmony, but of the original grounding of particular harmonies in a universal one “as something already lodged in creation”.

That Lu-Adler’s puzzlement may in fact concern (C) is indicated by a question she poses in passing, namely:

[W]ould 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.)

This confused me when I first read it. First, Lu-Adler again seems to suggest, though without saying so, that my understanding of teleology in the Transcendental Deduction is tied to the issue of Leibnizian pre-established harmony. I hope it is clear by now that this is not the case.

Secondly, I take it to be Kant’s view that harmony is just the purposive agreement of a manifold, but Lu-Adler’s line of questioning evidently presupposes that harmony and purposiveness are distinct. She seems to think that when Kant states that the Critique presupposes a necessary ‘harmony’ (Harmonie) between the faculties, he means by this a bare agreement, not something that can be properly described as purposive. If I have understood her rightly, then based on such a distinction she (somehow) takes my passing claim about Leibnizian pre-established harmony to suggest that a higher degree of agreement, namely purposiveness, is required to guarantee the bare agreement necessary for the possibility of experience. And I agree, that would be a strange claim to make.

Now, it is certainly true that in some cases ‘agreement’ (Übereinstimmung or, rarely, Zustimmung) does not indicate purposiveness: For example, when we say that the predicate ‘unmarried’ agrees with the subject ‘bachelor’. However, if we are speaking of the otherwise contingent agreement of a manifold with the unity of a concept which cannot be conceived without thinking of the concept as the ground of this very agreement, then, I would argue, this is exactly what Kant means by the form of purposiveness (KU, AA 5:219–20). I presume Kant thinks the agreement between sensibility and understanding to be purposive precisely because it is otherwise contingent (due to their independent origins) and consists in a manifold agreeing with the category, but is also such that we must represent the manifold as first possible in accordance with the category.

As for ‘harmony’, I can’t see that Kant actually ever uses this as an obvious equivalent to ‘agreement’ as Lu-Adler suggests, except perhaps in the passage from On a Discovery where he speaks of pre-established harmony, and where he clearly talks of “sensibility and understanding, each in its own way for the other, just as the Critique teaches”. In fact, I am hard pressed to find a single occurrence of ‘harmony’ in Kant’s writings that is not obviously meant to suggest purposiveness, which I think is what one would expect. But it doesn’t seem to me that we need to go even this far afield, since in several places Kant explicitly characterises the harmony between the faculties as a kind of “purposiveness not grounded in a purpose” (KU, AA 5:364), which corresponds to my understanding of Kant’s new conception of teleological[4] unity as a kind of infinite fitness to ends that is not limited by any specific end.

So I think it undeniable that Kant believes the agreement in question to be a purposive one. But Lu-Adler’s hesitancy still points to an important line of questioning: Why does Kant believe this? Is he justified in doing so? In what sense does the possibility of experience require purposiveness? That is, if purposiveness indicates more than bare agreement, which it seems to, then why is it necessary for experience? Why would bare agreement not be sufficient? I think there are at least two deep motives for Kant to take the stronger position that he does.

The first is that what is really at stake here is not just the agreement of sensibility and understanding as faculties, but rather the necessity of representing this harmony as objective in respect to all possible experience. For instance, when we represent two objects as causally connected, what we are really doing is representing our otherwise contingent perceptions as necessarily standing in a specific order precisely because they have been caused by two objects connected in themselves in the very same way. This consciousness of empirical objects has precisely the form of purposiveness: in it a manifold is represented as agreeing with a concept (here the category of cause and effect) because the concept, though now thought as representing the connection in the objects themselves, is regarded as the original cause of the agreement (again cf. KU, AA 5:219–20). Now, it is just the general form of this object-consciousness that the Critique justifies us in assuming. And it does so by showing two things, namely, that this object-consciousness ultimately originates in our own (at least implicit) recognition of the necessary unity of consciousness itself with respect to objects of experience, and that when limited to the latter, this object-consciousness is nothing but the understanding (in the broad sense) functioning as a harmonious and autonomous system of cognitive faculties.

The second, deep motive concerns the very structure of experience. It seems evident that the original and necessary transcendental unity of experience (and so of sensibility and understanding) is such that all particular unities discovered in experience must be thought of as its specifications. So in justifying the applicability of the categories, Kant is also justifying at least the general image of all cognitions as always already suitable to their incorporation within the ultimate telos of our cognitive faculties. It is in this way that the Critique justifies us in approaching the empirical world with the ‘teleological’ conviction that it will be found suitable to our cognitive consumption as if it were generated by us in advance for just this purpose. Another, simpler way to see that this must be true, is to recognise that for Kant the very concept of experience is that of a genuine system of all possible empirical cognitions, and that his concept of genuine systematicity is just that of organic or teleological unity (see A832/B860ff.).

Finally, towards the end of her first set of remarks, Lu-Adler asks:

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.

It’s hard for me to answer this question directly, because it seems again to rest on a misunderstanding of my views. As I have hopefully already made clear, I never claim that Kant needs Leibnizian pre-established harmony, even “with a Kantian-transcendental spin”, as a premise for the Transcendental Deduction. He certainly thinks a harmony of sensibility and understanding is a necessary presupposition for the sake of experience; this, however, is a conclusion he reaches, not a premise he relies on; just as, for instance, he reaches the conclusion we must presuppose, but not assume as a premise, the existence of God in order to think the harmony of happiness and virtue. But this much Lu-Adler also seems to recognise. As Chapter 4 makes clear, by a “transcendental guarantee” I meant precisely the proof that such a harmony is necessary for the sake of experience and the demonstration that it exists in the transcendental structures of sensibility and understanding. This too rests on a kind of teleology, namely the demonstrated, organic unity of our autonomous cognitive faculties in relation to the possibility of experience. So far from thinking teleology is needed to “complete the transcendental deduction”, I take the deduction itself to establish a teleological structure for the sake of experience. Again, the lesson is that what Kant is rejecting of the traditional picture is the explanans, not the explanandum. Finally, I don’t see what this guarantee has to do with the Maimonian challenge, since that concerns the search for some kind of psychological or metaphysical ground that falls outside of the quid juris altogether.


I now come to Lu-Adler’s second, briefer set of remarks, which concerns the relationship between teleology and normativity. She has asked me to say more about why I take the two to be essentially related. I shall do this in a moment. But first I want say that I did indeed try to avoid the language of normativity in my book. This was mainly because I thought there would be less risk of being misunderstood if I did not try to clothe my interpretation in a terminology that, I suspect, is built on presuppositions Kant simply doesn’t share. I must also confess that in my experience ‘normativity’ suffers from the same problem as a term like ‘naturalism’, namely, it is used more often as a mantra than as a clear concept.

Still, I did sometimes employ the term to try to capture the idea that what is at stake in describing the teleological structure of the subject is an account of the origin of our consciousness of the necessity of certain rules, namely those that constitute our theoretical and practical consciousness of objects. I take it that one essential component of normativity is that the rule in question describe a (at least potentially) conscious goal or model of completeness for the activities it is to govern (the goal is, namely, to follow the rule). And since the task of the book was, in effect, to explain Kant’s account of the origin of the teleological structure of consciousness, it seemed that what I was doing could justifiably be said to bear on the issue of normativity.

Now, Lu-Adler has posed two questions in particular. First, though only in passing, she asks if ‘normative’ can be taken as meaning the same as ‘necessary’. That is an interesting question, because the Kantian answer, I suspect, is quite different from the usual view. After all, it is essential to Kant’s entire conception of reason that there is no such thing as brute or blind necessity. A supposed brute necessity, he argues, would be experienced in consciousness as something merely contingent. Even the necessity of nature is built on a necessity of object-consciousness into which consciousness itself must have an insight. Genuine necessity, by contrast, must have its origin in reason and its self-given laws. This is why the necessity of reason’s rules is not unlimited, but holds rather only in respect of specific activities of reason insofar as these are to agree with reason as a whole. So, yes, I think in speaking about Kant, it can be said that the necessary is always normative, not because ‘normative’ requires less, but because ‘necessary’ implies more.

Finally, Lu-Adler asks my opinion of the account of normativity expressed in a couple of quotations from Korsgaard and Reath. She notes that I express similar views in the book, but suspects (correctly) that I do not find the account expressed in the quotations entirely sufficient to capture Kant’s own account of normativity and would insist on the necessity of what I have called his “transcendental teleology”. Before detailing my reasons for maintaining this view, I should note that I do not intend the following to be a general comment on either Korsgaard or Reath, but only as a response to the question specifically asked by Lu-Adler: Namely, are the accounts contained in these quotations fully sufficient to explain Kant’s notion of normativity?

My response is that such accounts suffer from a threefold insufficiency. First, they already sneak basic teleological concepts into their accounts of normativity without proper justification. What is being governed by a principle constitutive of something to which one is committed (Korsgaard) other than taking the necessary means to one’s already adopted end? And what is following a rule constitutive of an activity I am engaged in (Reath) other than the same thing? Secondly, neither really explain the necessity essential to a genuine norm, so much as they presuppose it. The necessity of the rule in both cases clearly derives, if at all, from the person’s prior commitment (to an end) or her engagement in a certain kind of activity. Thirdly and finally, both rely on the phrase ‘constitutive of’ without explaining (again, at least in the quoted texts) what it precisely means or from whence it derives. If it is just another covert way to say ‘necessary for’, then the necessity essential to normativity is again being snuck in through the back door.

In my view, which I think is also Kant’s, what is needed is not a derivation of normativity from teleological concepts that are simply presupposed as given, but rather an explanation of the source of the normative horizon, so to speak, within which actions (which are impossible without ends) and commitments first become possible as such for the subject. The difference is like that between one who would explain directionality by reference to a compass, and one who would try to explain how directionality is possible at all (and so also compasses) and why it is structured in the specific way that it is. In the theoretical domain, it is Kant’s aim always to show how particular knowledge claims only first become possible when consciously generated against the horizon of the ultimate aim of all cognition, namely, the “one experience, in which all perceptions are represented as in thoroughgoing and lawlike connection” (A110). To ‘generate against this horizon’, of course, basically means nothing other than according to all the principles of pure understanding.

Now, since a transcendental teleology, by its very definition, is a structure justified exclusively in answering the quid juris, its purpose is to explain the structure and origin of the rules through the observance of which knowledge claims first become possible (and so ‘constitute’ them in this sense). As far as I can tell, and as I argue more fully in the book, this might well be the crux of Kant’s theory of normativity.

Received: 16 October 2016.


[1] One reviewer (Altman 2015) has charged me with claiming that all of Kant’s philosophy rests on the teleological unity secured by the practical postulates, and, on this basis, has remarked that if I were right, then Kant’s philosophy would be a lot less interesting (since the postulates are generally held to be dubious). But this is an utter misinterpretation of what I said on p. 293: “This means that on Kant’s own view, his philosophical enterprise as a whole genuinely rests on the strength of his arguments for the moral postulates” (emphasis in the original). First, contrary to what the reviewer says, I do not make this claim myself, but rather assert that it is “Kant’s own view”. Now, even if the view described by the reviewer were Kant’s view, I don’t see how this would make the many other aspects of his philosophy any less interesting. Secondly, though this lone sentence may seem to suggest the reviewer’s interpretation when taken out of context, when seen in context it is perfectly obvious that I did not mean to say that Kant thinks all his philosophical arguments somehow rest ultimately on those for the postulates (a very strange claim indeed), but that the wholeness or overarching unity of his philosophical project does. This, I think, is true because it is through the postulates (including that of freedom, the “keystone”; KpV, AA 5:4) that theoretical and practical philosophy come together to form a whole.

[2] Henrich is speaking here particularly of the theoretical subject, but he believes that the idea also extends to the unity of subjectivity in general, and so also to the question of the unity of the theoretical with the practical subject.

[3] As Lu-Adler notes, Kant tends to attribute pre-stablished harmony to Crusius rather than to Leibniz, particularly when speaking of the agreement of appearances with the categories. Why might this be? I would suggest that the reason is that Leibniz did not have any need for pre-established harmony to explain the agreement of things with ontological concepts; for him, there is nothing about the latter that has anything to do with the peculiar nature of our finite minds; they simply express the structure of being as such. What Leibniz needed pre-established harmony for, rather, was to explain how we can experience these things and come to know them. Crusius, on the other hand, saw no intrinsic reason why the ontological categories we employ must be suitable to representing objects truly, as they really are, and for this reason, he believed we must (for what are ultimately moral reasons) simply trust that reason has been formed purposively, i.e. for the sake of making knowledge possible. Indeed, if the things we sense and the concepts we employ have entirely independent sources, how are we to explain the fact that whatever we experience is perfectly suitable to our conceptualisation? Perhaps more importantly still, how can we be justified a priori in presupposing such suitability as is required for science?

[4] I should here note that my use of the term ‘teleological’ is much broader than Kant’s usual use of the term. In the Third Critique, for instance, he limits it to natural ends (KU, AA 5:364). But nothing of consequence seems to hinge on this fact.


Altman, M. (2015), Review of Courtney Fugate The Teleology of ReasonJournal of the History of Philosophy 53(4): 787–9.

Dörflinger, B. (1995), ‘The Underlying Teleology of the First Critique‘, in Hoke Robinson (ed.), Proceedings of the Eighth International Kant Congress: Memphis, 1995 (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press), pp. 813–26.

––– (2000), Das Leben theoretischer Vernunft (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter).

Ferrarin, A. (2015), The Powers of Pure Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Heidegger, M. (1985), Schelling’s Treatise, trans. J. Stambaugh (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press).

Henrich, D. (1994), The Unity of Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Longuenesse, B. (1998), Kant and the Capacity to Judge (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Mensch, J. (2013), Kant’s Organicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Velkley, R. (1989), Freedom and the End of Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

© Courtney D. Fugate, 2016.

Courtney Fugate is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Civilization Studies Program at the American University of Beirut (Lebanon). His research focuses on Kant’s moral and pre-Critical philosophy and on pre-Kantian German philosophy. He has published in, among others, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, History of Philosophy Quarterly, Philosophica and European Journal of Philosophy. Forthcoming books include the edited volumes Metaphysics in Kant and Baumgarten (Oxford UP) and Kant’s Lectures on Metaphysics. A Critical Guide (Cambridge UP) as well as Kant’s ‘Critique of Practical Reason’: A Reader’s Guide (Bloomsbury). With John Hymers, he has translated and edited Alexander Baumgarten’s Metaphysics: A Critical Translation (Bloomsbury, 2013) and Johann August Eberhard’s Preparation for Natural Theology with Kant’s Notes and the Danzig Rational Theology Transcript (Bloomsbury, 2016).