Kant and the Unity of Nature

Andrew Israelsen, Purdue University


This dissertation is an investigation into Kant’s theoretical philosophy, in particular his conception of nature, and our knowledge of it. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant famously claims to deduce certain pure a priori concepts that hold of all objects of a possible experience. He further claims that these concepts are always operative in human cognition, and shape the world of experience with necessity and universality. Despite this wide-reaching claim, Kant recognizes in one of his late works, The Critique of the Power of Judgment, that nature in its material diversity might resist our attempts to cognize and describe it, as it might be populated by an infinitely diverse range of objects. In order to address this threat, of infinite empirical diversity, which he claims would entail the impossibility of any systematic empirical cognition, he posits a new principle, the principle of reflecting judgment, which he holds to be a necessary supposition of judging subjects in their cognitive interactions with the world. In this dissertation I defend Kant’s new principle of reflecting judgment as a necessary element of his critical philosophy, which properly ‘finishes’ that project. I examine the claims to knowledge formulated in the first Critique and Kant’s later worries about their adequacy, concluding that his worries are well-placed, and that his adoption of a new principle, of reflection, is the only way to make sense of material diversity, and to safeguard the possibility of unified empirical cognition. I interpret both the first and third Critiques according to this fundamental question, utilizing the pioneering work of Béatrice Longuenesse in order to attempt to synthesize the philosophical positions of both texts into a single, cohesive whole.




Yeomans, Purdue University.

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