The Rational Human Condition 3, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics, Section 2.3–Kant’s Anti-Mechanism, Kantian Anti-Mechanism, Vitalism, and Emergentism.

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker/Prison Arts Coalition

THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION is a five-part, four-book series, including:

PART 1: Preface and General Introduction

PART 2: Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge

PART 3: Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics

PART 4: Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy

PART 5: Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise

Its author is ROBERT HANNA:




Section 1.0 What It Is

Section 1.1 Bounded in a Nutshell

Section 1.2 Rational Anthropology vs. Analytic Metaphysics, the Standard Picture, and Scientific Naturalism

Section 1.3 Philosophy and Its History: No Deep Difference

Section 1.4 Works of Philosophy vs. Philosophical Theories: Presentational Hylomorphism and Polymorphism

Section 1.5 Analytic Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, and Rational Anthropology

Section 1.6 What is a Rational Human Animal?

Section 1.7 An Important Worry and a Preliminary Reply

Section 1.8 The Biggest Windmills


The Complete, Downloadable Text of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 1




The Complete, Downloadable Text of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 2





A Note on References

1. Introduction: Freedom, Life, and Persons’ Lives

1.0 Natural Libertarianism and Minded Animalism

1.1 Incompatibilistic Compatibilism

1.2 Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity

1.3 The Central Claim of this Book, and Previews

2. Beyond Mechanism: The Dynamics of Life

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Immanent Structuralism

2.2 Natural Mechanism, Computability, and Anti-Mechanism

2.3 Kant’s Anti-Mechanism, Kantian Anti-Mechanism, Vitalism, and Emergentism

2.4 On the Representation of Life

2.5 Kantian Non-Conceptualism and the Dynamicist Model of Life

2.6 Inverted Life, Suspended Life, and Non-Local Life: How LifeDoes Not Strongly Supervene on the Physical, and Why

2.7 Conclusion

3. From Biology to Agency

3.0 Introduction

3.1 Two-Dimensional Rational Normativity

3.2 Kant’s Biological Theory of Freedom

3.3 Practical-Freedom-in-Life: Kantian Non-Intellectualism

3.4 The Rationality of the Heart: Principled Authenticity

3.5 Conclusion

4. Neither/Nor: The Negative Case for Natural Libertarianism

4.0 Introduction

4.1 The Intuitive Definition of Free Will

4.2 The Four Metaphysical Horsemen of the Apocalypse

4.3 The Three Standard Options, Natural Mechanism, and The Fourfold Knot of Free Agency

4.4 Three Arguments for Classical Incompatibilism, and In-the-Zone Compatibilism

4.5 Three Arguments for Local Incompatibilism with Respect to Natural Mechanism

4.6 Sympathy for the Devil: Compatibilism Reconsidered

4.7 Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death?

4.8 Too Hard to Live With: Strawson’s Basic Argument, Hard Determinism, and Hard Incompatibilism

4.9 Conclusion

5. Either/Or: Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity

5.0 Introduction

5.1 The Internal Structure of Deep Freedom

5.2 From Frankfurt Back to Kierkegaard: How to Have a Live Option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, Without Alternative Possibilities

5.3 Psychological Freedom, Deep Freedom, and Principled Authenticity

5.4 Conclusion

6. Minded Animalism I: What Real Persons Really Are

6.0 Introduction

6.1 From Deep Freedom to Real Persons

6.2 Real Persons

6.3 Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Real Personhood

6.4 Conclusion

7. Minded Animalism II: From Parfit to Real Personal Identity

7.0 Introduction

7.1 Parfit’s Theory: Six Basic Claims

7.2 Against and Beyond Parfit 1: Two Reasons, and The Minded Animalist Criterion of Personal Identity

7.3 Against and Beyond Parfit 2: Four More Reasons

7.4 Conclusion


Next Installment


In the fullness of time, the complete, downloadable text of each part of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION will also be made available on Medium.



For convenience, throughout the five-part four book series, The Rational Human Condition — comprising 1. the Preface and General Introduction, 2. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, 3. Deep Freedom and Real Persons, 4. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence, and 5. Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism — I refer to Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). I generally follow the standard English translations, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations:

BL “The Blomberg Logic.” In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Trans. J.M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 5–246.

C Immanuel Kant: Correspondence, 1759–99. Trans. A. Zweig. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.

CPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

CPR Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

CPrR Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 139–271.

DiS “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 365–372.

DSS “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Pp. 301–359.

EAT “The End of All Things.” Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 221–231.

GMM Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 43–108.

ID “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Pp. 373–416.

IUH “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim.” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Anthropology, History, and Eduction. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. Pp. 107–120.

JL “The Jäsche Logic.” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 519–640.

LE Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Ethics. Trans. P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

MM Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 365–603.

OP Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans. E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.

OT “What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 7–18.

Prol Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

PP “Toward Perpetual Peace.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 317–351.

Rel Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 57–215.

RTL “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 611–615.

VL “The Vienna Logic,” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 251–377.

WE “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 17–22.


In the fullness of time, The Rational Human Condition will also appear as a series of five e-books published by Rounded Globe, each of which, in turn, will be available in hard copy, on demand, from Out of House Publishing.




Chapter 2 Beyond Mechanism: The Dynamics of Life

Section 2.3 Kant’s Anti-Mechanism, Kantian Anti-Mechanism, Vitalism, and Emergentism

It is well-known that in the Critique of Pure Reason, the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, and especially the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, Kant is a self-described Newtonian mechanist about the manifest natural spacetime world, in which, as human animals, we must live, move, and have our being. But as early as 1763, in his pre-Critical or Leibnizian/Wolffian period, in “The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God,” Kant explicitly rejected the preformationist conception of biological generation and embryogenesis, according to which creatures pre-exist in their basic forms or structures, and require only the mechanical addition of bulk in order to develop. Instead, he defended the epigenetic view, whereby the basic forms or structures of creatures themselves are emergently generated by the spontaneous but also rule-governed operations of a goal-oriented or teleological vital source of some kind. He even went so far as to assert that:

it would be absurd to regard the initial generation of a plant or an animal as a mechanical effect incidentally arising from the universal laws of nature. (OPA 2:114)

In the Prolegomena he asserted the identity (or at least the strong continuity) of mind and life: “life is the subjective condition of all our possible experience” (Prol 4: 335). In the Introduction to Metaphysical Foundations, he denied that there could ever be a naturally mechanistic science of psychology (MFNS 4:471). In the second half of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, he not only asserted that “the mind is for itself entirely life (the principle of life itself)” (CPJ 5: 278) and also that “it would be absurd for humans ever to … hope that there might yet arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws (CPJ 5: 400),” but also worked out a number of fundamental concepts and methodological themes in the philosophy of biology, including the notion of a living organism, or self-organizing system, the various distinct kinds of teleology, and the special role of teleological concepts and teleological thinking in the natural sciences. And finally, in the unfinished “Transition” project in the Opus postumum, Kant also hypothesized the dual emergence of natural mechanisms and organismic life (including mind) alike from a single ontologically neutral but also non-static material substrate, the dynamic aether (OP 21: 206–233, and 241).

So Kant’s commitment to Newtonian mechanism is, at the very least, somewhat conflicted. Indeed, it is fully arguable that Kant is ultimately an anti-mechanist. This, in turn, is the upshot of Jennifer Mensch’s fascinating philosophical-historical study, Kant’s Organicism:

[Kant’s Organicism] starts by tracing the history of the life sciences as Kant would have come to know them, focusing especially on those philosophers and life scientists whose works directly engaged Kant during his intellectually formative years. Once Kant’s connection to the life sciences has been established, the remainder of the book moves to an examination of the exact nature of the influence of these sciences on the emerging critical system. When viewed from the perspective the life sciences in this manner, Kant’s theoretical philosophy becomes reframed as a philosophical project whose development was deeply influenced by the rise of organicism.[i]

In Mensch’s terminology, the thesis of organicism, in turn, “can be defined by its view of nature as something that cannot be reduced to a set of mechanical operations.”[ii] So what she calls “organicism” is essentially equivalent to what I have been calling “anti-mechanism.”

Amongst other things, Kant’s Organicism carefully describes the intellectual state-of-play in natural history in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The first players are the mechanist corpuscularian Boyle, and Locke:

Locke was both a nominalist regarding species determination and a realist in believing that there were inner features contributing to species as well. In a similar fashion, Locke was both comfortable with a mechanical portrait of animal functioning and cognizant of the need for “inner principles” and “transformative forces” when it came to understanding the processes of organic life. And all this contributed to Locke’s views of both nature and the proper task of classification. Reviewing Locke’s early considerations of organic processes aginst the backdrop of corpuscular ontology reveals his sensitivity to the problems facing Boyle in the case of organic life. While Locke remained committed to the essential features of corpuscular science, he was nonetheless hesitant in the face of a straighforward endorsement of mechanical accounts of generation.[iii]

A similar hesitation as between mechanism and anti-mechanism can be found in the work of the second major player, Leibniz, who, heavily influenced by the Dutch microscopist Leeuwenhoek, took the view that “individuals were composed of living monads arranged hierarchically under a dominant entelechy or soul.”[iv] In the Monadology, anticipating both the Turing Test and also Searle’s Chinese Room argument, Leibniz famously argued, by means of a thought-experiment whereby the goal-directed conscious processes of mind cannot be reduced to the external behaviors of an enormously complicated mill, that mentality cannot be reduced to physical mechanical operations. But at the same time, Leibniz also thought of the living monads as spiritual automata pre-programmed by a 3-O (i.e., omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent) God, the supreme monad, and endorsed preformationism.

One philosophical moral of this part of the story, I think, is that the very idea of natural mechanism is typically a conceptual hybrid that combines these three sub-ideas:

(i) necessitation under general causal natural laws, especially the Conservation Laws, which guarantee causal-nomological closure with respect to quantities of matter and/or energy,

(ii) Turing-computability, and

(iii) universal natural determinism.

But as I pointed out in section 2.2:

(iv) there is good reason to enrich the typical concept of natural mechanism so as also to include the real possibility of natural indeterminism under its rubric, and

(iv) although necessitation under general causal natural laws, especially the Conservation Laws, together with all the settled quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially including The Big Bang, is sufficient for Turing-computability and determinism, it is not, strictly speaking, necessary.

For according to the Leibnizian account, non-physical automata are at least conceptually and weakly metaphysically possible.

Therefore, we need to distinguish carefully between:

(1) causal-nomological mechanisms (e.g., Coke machines), which are, necessarily, physical, and

(2) formal mechanisms (e.g., Turing-computable processes), which, although they are often physically realizable, are not always physically realizable (e.g., in cases in which the real-world Turing machine would have to be bigger than our physical universe), and which, above all, are not necessarily physical: in principle, disembodied Cartesian souls could run Turing-computable sequences.

Kant is at least implicitly aware of this important distinction between causal-nomological mechanisms and formal mechanisms, because in the Critique of Practical Reason he explicitly rejects the reduction of all spontaneous activity, including organismic life, but also especially including free will, to the operations of Leibnizian spiritual automata, deriding the latter as “the freedom of a turnspit” (CPrR 5: 97).

Mensch also traces the origins of organicism to Georges Buffon’s highly influential epigenesist treatise, Natural History, the first three volumes of which appeared in 1749:

With Buffon natural history … became an attempt to grasp a living nature, to grasp species across time and, as a consequence, to base the classification of species upon genealogy. This marked a dramatic transformation in the history of a discipline that until then had been first and foremost a science oriented by its search for the means of discovering nature’s divisions and, for that reason, not at all by the patterns of its underlying unity.[v]

Strictly speaking, Buffon’s version of epigenesis is still compatible with mechanism (whether causal-nomological or formal). Correspondingly, the full theory of epigenesis would have to await the further postulation, in the 1780s, of organic or emergent vital forces, “like Caspar Wolff’s vis essentialis and Johan Blumenbach’s Bildungstrieb[vi] — which of course anticipate later more famous 19th and 20th century vitalist metaphysical notions like Schopenhauer’s Wille zum Leben and Bergson’s élan vital. Nevertheless, the ground was prepared for Kant’s organicism.

Mensch also provides a good account of Kant’s pre-Critical work on cosmological and biological questions of origin, and shows how this work not only smoothly fused with, but also primed, his Critical concern with the origins, scope, and limits of cognition and knowledge. As Mensch puts it:

[There was] an intimate connection, in Kant’s view, between attempts to discover a “principle of life” within natural organisms and the search for something beyond the limits of the everyday world.[vii]

In other words, Kant found a paradigm case of the burning need for his Critical distinctions between phenomena and noumena on the one hand, and between the transcendental and the empirical on the other hand, in the debate about the origins of life:

It was the unity of purposes within organic life, the fact that organisms could be both self-sustaining and vigilant regarding the need for repair, that made natural products amazing, not the mechanical operations themselves. For Kant it was thus the principle of life, the capacity for a being’s generation and self-organization that needed explaining, and recourse to neither supernatural nor purely mechanical grounds of explanation could satisfy that need.[viii]

Basically, what is humanly cognizable and knowable about life (I will call these “the organicist or anti-mechanical phenomena”) are the non-mechanical, spontaneous activities of the perceivable organism: but these are not the inherently mysterious activities of some vital substance with an intrinsic non-relational essence, subsisting outside of manifest space and time, hiding behind the appearances (I will call this “the organicist or anti-mechanical noumenon”).

Kant’s organicism, as Mensch’s book very effectively shows, captures Kant’s Leibniz-inspired deep insight that, even when we methodologically bracket out all epistemic or metaphysical consideration of noumena, natural-mechanical principles and facts cannot explain the basic organicist or anti-mechanical phenomena, including:

(i) natural teleology or organismic life, including plants and animals,

(ii) any organism with proprioceptive, enantiomorphic awareness of the difference between its right side and its left side (or top and bottom, or front and back, etc.), or an awareness of the difference between its own past, present, and future: the feeling of egocentrically-centered embodied orientation in a global space-structure with intrinsic directions (“here”), and an egocentically-centered asymmetric duration in a global time-structure(“now”), i.e., the feeling of organismic, conscious life, whose phenomenal characters are all modes of pleasure or pain,

(iii) human mentality, including consciousness, intentionality, imagination, conceptualizing, judging, and inferential reasoning,

(iv) human spontaneity, agency, and source-incompatibilist free will, and

(v) human non-instrumental normativity.

But at the same time, Kant himself could never fully advance beyond the thesis that organicist/anti-mechanist concepts have only a regulative (i.e., methodological) use, not a constitutive (i.e., objectively real) use.

Why not? I think that he was needlessly bedazzled by the very ideas of Newtonian mechanics and Newtonian deterministic natural mechanism, as jointly constituting a hyper-successful research program in 17th and 18th century natural science. Over-impressed by this (admittedly still very impressive) Newtonian program, Kant could not see that the existence of a manifest natural world that fundamentally contains significantly many causal-nomological-mechanical and formal-mechanical deterministic processes is perfectly consistent with the equally manifest organicist fact that the natural world also fundamentally contains significantly many non-mechanical, non-deterministic processes in it, including teleological and mental processes, as well as inherent non-instrumentally normative rules guiding these processes. Indeed, we already know from Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem that formal-mechanical processes of Turing-computable proof presuppose non-mechanical semantic processes of non-Turing-computable truth-determination. So universal formal mechanism is provably false. Why then should we accept universal causal-nomological mechanism, especially when one of its necessary conditions is the supposed universality of formal mechanism?

In other words, what I am proposing is that, from a Kantian point of view, with the organicist or anti-mechanical phenomena as a starting-point, we can metaphysically postulate that the natural world is fundamentally dual aspect, and that it is at once mechanical-deterministic in one of its fundamental dual aspects, and also non-mechanical-non-deterministic (and also non-indeterministic, although Kant himself does not make this point, living and working, as he did, a century or so before “the emergence of probability”[ix]) in the other of its fundamental dual aspects, including the irreducible existence of both causally-nomologically non-mechanical processes and also formally non-mechanical processes. So, quite apart from Kant’s own needless (although in charitable retrospect, perfectly understandable) deference to the Newtonian research program, we can now, in a fully Kantian spirit, put forward the radical thought that there is a fully constitutive use of organicist or anti-mechanical concepts, insofar as they are required by a transcendental inference to the best explanation of all the organicist or anti-mechanical phenomena.

And contemporary Kantians are not the only ones making such a proposal. For example, Thomas Nagel formulated essentially the same point in Mind and Cosmos (for which, not unsurprisingly, he received a torrent of angry criticism from scientific naturalists, not least because of his frank admission that in that book he was, in effect, proposing a version of “objective idealism”[x]), by asserting that in order to make progress on the leading problems in contemporary philosophy of mind — including how to explain the mind-body relation, mental causation, freedom, and the nature of rationality — we must metaphysically postulate a “cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them.”[xi]

In any case, here is the basic line of reasoning behind this radical contemporary Kantian thought. Kant’s fundamental philosophical problem, the one that he struggled with throughout his long philosophical career, is this:

How can the existence of non-mechanical, non-deterministic facts that are necessary for the purposes of morality, be made consistent and coherent with the thesis that necessarily, all the natural objects studied by physics (i.e., the “objects of experience”) are mechanical and deterministic?

Since all organisms, including conscious rational human organisms, or human persons, are non-mechanical and non-deterministic, then Kant’s fundamental problem can be focused like a laser beam on this specific formulation of his fundamental problem:

How can the existence of living conscious rational human animals, i.e., human persons, capable of genuine incompatibilistic free will, necessary for the purposes of morality, be made consistent and coherent with with the thesis that necessarily, all the natural objects studied by physics (the “objects of experience”) are mechanical and deterministic?

Now as every reader of the first Critique knows, for Kant, there are two basic kinds of objects:

(i) phenomena, namely spatiotemporal objects directly accessible to and knowable by human sensory intuition and sense perception, that are constituted by relational properties, especially including relations to actual or possible human sensible minds, and

(ii) noumena, namely non-spatiotemporal, humanly sensorily inaccessible, unperceivable, and unknowable objects, which may or may not exist, but even if they do exist, are constituted by intrinsic non-relational properties, and are at best barely consistently thinkable by means of concepts, and neither cognizable nor knowable.

But what many readers of the first Critique have not noticed is that equally important for Kant is the distinction, exclusively within the domain of phenomena, between:

(ia) undetermined objects of empirical intuition, aka appearances (CPR A20/B34) and

(ib) fully determined objects of empirical intuition, falling under empirical concepts, empirical judgments, and above all, falling under pure a priori concepts of the understanding, or Categories, aka objects of experience (CPR B161).

For Kant, as a Newtonian mechanist and also a LaPlacean determinist about physical nature insofar as it is correctly described by physics, mechanism necessitates natural determinism, and conversely, natural determinism entails mechanism. So all the actual and possible objects of experience are mechanical and deterministic. But here’s the rub: all and only the actual and possible objects of experience are mechanical and deterministic, but not all the actual or possible appearances. Since the total set of pure a priori concepts of the understanding, or Categories, specifies a world of objects inherently governed by Newtonian mechanistic principles and laws, then, although all the fully determined objects, i.e., the objects of experience, are inherently governed by Newtonian mechanistic principles and laws, and therefore are deterministic and not free, it does not follow that all or indeed any of the undetermined objects, i.e., the appearances, are either mechanical (whether causally-nomologically-mechanical or formal-mechanical) or deterministic. In other words, since for Kant the sensible intuitability of an object, independently of concepts, is the criterion of the object’s real possibility, then it is either actual or at least really possible that at least some appearances are non-mechanical and non-deterministic, and that they are cognitively accessible by means of essentially non-conceptual sensible intuitions.[xii]

Let us call such essentially non-conceptually sensibly intuitable appearances, insofar as they actually exist, or were they to exist, rogue objects, since they fall outside the Categories and the system of transcendental principles, or at least fall outside Kant’s “constitutive” causal-dynamical principles (i.e., the Analogies of Experience, and the Postulates of Empirical Thought) and therefore outside the deterministic causal laws of nature,[xiii] even if they do continue to fall under the “regulative” mathematical principles (i.e., the Axioms of Intuition, and the Anticipations of Perception). The actual existence or real possibility of rogue objects would mean that the phenomenal natural world, i.e., the manifest world, i.e., the world of Sellars’s Manifest Image, actually or really possibly includes some appearances that are also not objects of experience, namely the rogue objects, and that we can access these rogue-object phenomena only through essentially non-conceptual intuition. These non-mechanical, non-deterministic rogue-object phenomena, in turn, would include all the organicist or anti-mechanical phenomena, as specified above, and this would in turn directly imply that the phenomenal natural or manifest world includes some objects that are also not objects of mechanistic physics, mechanistic chemistry, and mechanistic biology, and therefore also that mechanistic natural science is not, to borrow Sellars’s phrase, “the measure of all things.”[xiv] So scientific or physicalist naturalism (whether reductive or non-reductive) would be false, and mechanistic natural science would apply to all and only the natural objects and facts to which it applies, but not to all actual or possible natural objects and facts. In short, mechanistic natural science would have philosophical limits within nature itself.

Contrary to scientific or physicalist naturalism, then, the thesis of liberal naturalism would be true. Again, the liberal naturalist thesis says

(i) that the manifest world fundamentally contains the real existence and/or real possibility of organismic life, the feeling of life, mind, source-incompatibilist free will, persons, and non-instrumental normativity as basic organicist, anti-mechanist facts of nature, along with the basic formal-mechanical and causally-nomologically-mechanical physical facts,

(ii) that the basic kind of item is thermodynamic systems, or thermodynamic processes, both mechanical/deterministic and non-mechanical/non-deterministic, such that

(iii) the mechanical/deterministic kind presupposes either the actual existence or the real possibility of the non-mechanical, non-deterministic kind.

Bluntly put: source-incompatibilist free will is a fact of organismic life, and partially constitutive of physical nature. Or in Nagel’s words again, “rational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order,” and there is a “cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them.” This, in turn, would solve Kant’s fundamental problem, not by appealing to anything supernatural, but instead by liberalizing our concept of physical nature.

Anti-mechanism in its classical early 20th century guise, as “British emergentism,” has its original intellectual roots in Aristotle’s De Anima and Physics, and in the 17th and 18th century epigenesist-organicist tradition so well described by Mensch, when these accounts are combined with late 18th and early 19th century Romantic conceptions of nature, expressed for example in the seventh of Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker, Wordsworth’s and Percy Shelley’s poetry, and their notion of “natural piety,” by Mary Shelley’s stunning critique of mechanistic-reductive scientific sins against natural piety, in Frankenstein, and by Caspar David Friedrich’s and J.M. Turner’s nature paintings. All or most of these, in turn, have their proximal intellectual sources in Kant’s assertions of the cognitive-semantic limits of science and scientific knowledge in the Critique of Pure Reason, of anti-mechanism in his moral and political philosophy, and also of a direct epistemic, metaphysical, and moral link, via immediate consciousness, between the “starry heavens above me” and the “moral law within me” at the end of the Critique of Practical Reason, taken together with his closely-related notions of the beautiful in nature, the sublime, genius, life, and purposiveness-without-a-purpose in the Critique of the Power of Judgment. Correspondingly, here are some of the most important texts in this “natural piety” tradition, running from Rousseau and Kant through Wordsworth, and the Shelleys to the British emergentist, Samuel Alexander:

A deep and sweet revery seizes your senses, and you lose yourself with a delicious drunkenness in the immensity of this beatiful system with which you identify yourself. Then all particular objects fall away; you see nothing and feel nothing except in the whole… I never meditate or dream more delightfully than when I forget my self. I feel indescribable ecstasy, delirium in melting, as it were, into the system of beings, in identifying myself with the whole of nature.

Brilliant flowers, enamelled meadows, fresh shades, streams, woods, verdure, come, purify my imagination … My soul, dead to all strong emotions, can be affected now only by sensory objects, and it is only through them that pleasure and pain can reach me.[xv]

[I] had to deny scientific knowledge (Wissen) in order to make room for faith (Glauben). (CPR Bxxx)

When nature has unwrapped, from under this hard shell, the seed for which she cares most tenderly, namely the propensity and calling to think freely, the latter gradually works back upon the mentality of the people (which thereby gradually becomes capable of freedom in acting) and eventually even upon the principles of government, which finds it profitable to itself to treat the human being, who is now more than a machine, in keeping with his dignity. (WE 8: 41–42, underlining added)

All necessity of events in time in accordance with the laws of natural law of causality can be called the mechanism of nature…. Here one looks only to the necessity of the connection of events in a time series as it develops in accordance with natural law, whether the subject in which this development takes place is called automaton materiale, when the machinery is driven by matter, or with Leibniz spirituale, when it is driven by representations; and if the freedom of our will were none other than the latter…, then it would at bottom be nothing other than the freedom of a turnspit, which, when once it is wound up, also accomplishes its movements of itself. (CPrR 5: 97, underlining added)

[T]wo things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not need to search for them and merely conjecture them as though they were veiled in obscurity or on the transcsndent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. (CPrR 5: 161–162, underlining added)

An organized being is … not a mere machine, for that has only a motive power, while the organized being possesses in itself a formative power, and indeed one that it communicates to matter, which does not have it (it organizes the latter): thus it has self-propagating formative power, which cannot be explained through the capacity for movement alone (that is, mechanism). (CPJ 5: 374)

It is quite certain that we can never adequately come to know the organized beings and their internal possibility in accordance with merely mechanical principles of nature, let alone explain them; and this is so certain that we can boldly say that it would be absurd for humans to make an attempt or to hope that there could ever arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws that no intention has ordered; rather we must absolutely deny this insight to human beings. (CPJ 5: 400, underlining added)

My heart leaps up when I behold
 A rainbow in the sky:
 So was it when my life began;
 So is it now I am a man;
 So be it when I shall grow old,
 Or let me die!
 The Child is father of the Man;
 And I could wish my days to be
 Bound each to each by natural piety.[xvi]

Earth, ocean, air, belov’d brotherhood!
 If our great Mother has imbued my soul
 With aught of natural piety to feel
 Your love, and recompense the boon with mine.[xvii]

One of the phaenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? ….To examine the causes of life we must first have recourse to death. I became acquainted with the science of anatomy: but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body…. Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay, and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel houses….I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness, a sudden light broke in upon me…. After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of genertion and life; nay, more, I became capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter…. I see by your eagerness, and the wonder amd hope which your eyes express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted; that cannot be; listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am so reserved upon that subject. I will not lead you on, unguarded and ardent as I then was, to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.[xviii]

I do not mean by natural piety exactly what Wordsworth meant by it–the reverent joy in nature, by which he wished that his days might be bound to each other–though there is enough connection with his interpretation to justify me in using his phrase. The natural piety I am going to speak of is that of the scientific investigator, by which he accepts with loyalty the mysteries which he cannot explain in nature and has no right to try to explain. I may describe it as the habit of knowing when to stop in asking questions of nature.

[T]hat organization which is alive is not merely physico-chemical, though completely resoluble into such terms, but has the new quality of life. No appeal is needed, so far as I can see, to a vital force or even an élan vital. It is enough to note the emergence of the quality, and try to describe what is involved in its conditions…. The living body is also physical and chemical. It surrenders no claim to be considered a part of the physical world. But the new quality of life is neither chemical nor mechanical, but something new.

We may and must observe with care our of what previous conditions these new creations arise. We cannot tell why they should assume these qualities. We can but accept them as we find them, and this acceptance is natural piety.[xix]

Now for my purposes in this chapter, Alexander’s careful distinction between “vitalism,” on the one hand, and “emergentism” in his sense, on the other, is crucially important. Here is a reformulation of this distinction that closely parallels the internal structure of classical Cartesian dualism in the philosophy of mind:[xx]

(i) substance vitalism, which says that life is an essentially different kind of dynamic stuff from naturally mechanistic matter and/or energy (e.g., ectoplasm, Schopenhauer’s Wille zum Leben, Bergson’s élan vital, etc.), and

(ii) property vitalism, or functional vitalism, i.e., emergentism, which says that life is necessarily determined by essentially different kinds of dynamic functional properties from those that characterize natural mechanisms, even if life is not an essentially distinct kind of dynamic stuff from naturally mechanistic matter and/or energy.

Most of the early 20th century British emergentists were property vitalists or functional vitalists, but not substance vitalists. An essential metaphysical feature of this property vitalist, functional vitalist, or emergentist view, however, as Brian McLaughlin,[xxi] David Chalmers,[xxii] Jaegwon Kim,[xxiii] and many others have noted, is the thesis that the irreducible functional properties and/or facts of life are naturally or nomologically strongly supervenient on fundamental physical properties and/or facts, with the unhappy metaphysical result that these “higher-level” biological properties are causally inert or epiphenomenal, causally excluded by the supervenience base of causally efficacious fundamental physical properties and/or facts.

It is this unhappy metaphysical feature of property vitalism or emergentism that I want specifically to reject. And this specific rejection, in turn, sets the metaphysical view I want to defend, which I call dynamicism, sharply apart from natural mechanism, substance vitalism, and property vitalism or emergentism alike — although I do also want to preserve several basic epistemic, aesthetic, and moral features of the Romantic/British Emergentist/“natural piety” tradition in my overall views on the philosophy of nature and natural science.[xxiv]

In any case, the basic metaphysical claim I am making in this chapter is that the new quality — better, “specific character” — of organismic life does indeed emerge in far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic processes over time, or diachronically, hence it is rightly called dynamic emergence.[xxv] Nevertheless, it does not strongly supervene on fundamental physical properties and/or facts, at all, but more specifically it does not strongly supervene at-a-time, or synchronically. Hence dynamic emergence is logically and metaphysically independent of any form of supervenient emergence. Stripped out the jargon of contemporary metaphysics, my basic point is just this: organismic life arises in nature as a temporally novel, immanent structural feature of natural processes possessing a certain suitable level of thermodynamic complexity. As immanent-structural, such features do not metaphysically pop out of these natural processes, at all, but more specifically they do not metaphysically pop out at-a-time, or synchronically, since the thermodynamics of the processes themselves, in asymmetric time, is inherently and internally guided and self-determined by these very same structural features. On the contrary, one less complex dynamic structure (i.e., far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, and complex, but still non-self-organizing and non-living thermodynamics, e.g., the Belousov-Zhabotinsky chemical reaction, without a catalyst or light-excitation[xxvi]) ontologically opens up and unfolds into another, essentially richer dynamic structure (i.e., organismic life), just as the less complex systems of the rational and natural numbers constructively opens up and unfolds into the essentially richer system of the real numbers by means of, e.g., the power-set operation or the Dedekind-cut operation.

“Opening up and unfolding into” is of course a metaphor. It is intended to convey the basic idea that the emergence-in-and-over-time of organismic life is essentially inside the asymmetric spatiotemporal processes constituting its thermodynamics, just as the real numbers are essentially between the rational and natural numbers. Dynamic emergence, generally, is the spatiotemporally asymmetric self-revelation, unfolding, and actualization of a previously merely potential richer thermodynamic structure, with correspondingly new causal powers. Hence organismic life is neither reducible to fundamental physical properties and/or facts (= natural mechanism), nor is it some sort of substance ontologically over and above fundamental physical properties and/or facts (= substance vitalism), nor does it pop-out emerge from fundamental properties and/or facts (= property or functional vitalism). Organismic life reveals itself, unfolds, and efficaciously actualizes a previously merely potential richer thermodynamic structure consisting — as we shall see in the next section — of:

(i) special teleological dynamics (reproduction, growth, motility, death, and evolution or natural selection),

(ii) essential indexicality (inherent context-dependency, centered on a frame-of-reference) and

(iii) causal spontaneity (efficacious metabolism, involving DNA, and epigenesis).

It should also be added here, by way of making it obvious where I am heading with all of this, that the very same basic points about dynamic emergence are true of consciousness, caring, intentionality, essentially embodied rationality, deeply free will, practical agency, and real personhood themselves, all of which are metaphysically continuous with organismic life. None of them are naturally-mechanizable; none of them are in any way dualistic properties and/or facts; and none of them are in any way strongly supervenient on, or “pop-out emergent” from, fundamental physical properties and/or facts. Instead, they are all thoroughly immanent-structural, thermodynamic properties and/or facts that dynamically emerge, when simpler thermodynamic immanent structures successively ontologically “open up and unfold into” essentially richer thermodynamic immanent structures.

Perhaps surprisingly, at least initially, I will work my way up to the full presentation of the non-physicalist, non-dualist, non-supervenient, anti-mechanist metaphysics of dynamicism via the cognitive semantics of the representation of life. My full rationale for starting with a cognitive-semantic argument, as opposed to jumping right into the thick of things with a directly metaphysical argument, will become evident as we go along. But the wordbite version of the rationale is that the standard contemporary ways of doing metaphysics, by means of either conceptual analysis or modal logic, aka “Analytic metaphysics,” are deeply insensitive to the synthetic a priori character of real metaphysics, which on the contrary is not cognitive-semantically grounded on concepts or propositions, but instead cognitive-semantically grounded on essentially non-conceptual representations.[xxvii]

In sharp contrast to vitalism, whether substance vitalism or property/functional vitalism, Michael Thompson has argued for the following two-part thesis:

(i) that our everyday, pre-theoretical representation of life (aka “folk biology”) requires a distinctive Fregean logical form of what he calls “natural-historical judgments,” and

(ii) that this distinctive logical form entails the existence of a non-empirical concept of life with irreducible semantic content and structure, that necessarily shapes our ordinary perceptual and practical activities.

This two-part thesis, which I will call representational anti-mechanism, has significant anticipations and parallels in Kant’s accounts of “the feeling of life,” of the identity of mind and life, and of teleological judgment in the Critique of the Power of Judgment; in the later Wittgenstein’s notions of “forms of life” and “seeing-as” in Philosophical Investigations; and in Hans Jonas’s existential philosophy of biology in The Phenomenon of Life. More precisely, however — and now generalizing over the several similar accounts provided by Kant, the later Wittgenstein, Jonas, and most recently Thompson — representational anti-mechanism, as I will understand it, says:

(i*) our everyday, pre-theoretical representations of life in sense perception and other essentially non-conceptual representations, in conceptual thought, and in biological or natural-historical judgments and statements, are neither necessarily determined by, nor identical with, nor otherwise reducible to naturally mechanistic theories of biology and life, and

(ii*) these representations of life entail the existence of some a priori representations with non-physicalist, irreducible semantic content and structure, that necessarily shape our basic cognitive and practical encounters with the natural world.

Now representational anti-mechanism is fully consistent with the denials of substance vitalism and property/functional vitalism alike; moreover, if representational anti-mechanism is true, then not only, first, there is no explanatory reduction of the phenomenon of life to naturally mechanistic processes or facts, including those falling under reductive physicalist Darwinian theories, but also, second, the phenomenon of life is not strongly supervenient on any naturally mechanistic processes or facts whatsoever, including those falling under non-reductive physicalist Darwinian theories.

The first point closely parallels Nagel’s famous “explanatory gap” argument for the irreducibility of mentalistic concepts to physicalistic concepts in “What is It Like to Be a Bat?”[xxviii] Indeed, Nagel himself explored this close parallel in Mind and Cosmos. That first point also closely parallels Chalmers’s well-known formulations of the inverted qualia, zombie, and panprotopsychist arguments for both the explanatory non-reduction and also the ontological non-reduction of consciousness to the fundamental physical world in The Conscious Mind — although, to be sure, this is ironic, given Chalmers’s given official commitment to reductive physicalism about the phenomenon of life. More on that illuminating irony later, in section 2.6.

But the even deeper and even more important point for my purposes is the second one: the correct cognitive semantics of the representation of life rules out any sort of physicalism, but also without entailing any sort of dualism. Again: there is a defensible “third way,” via the correct cognitive semantics of the representation of life, between the Scylla of physicalism and the Charybdis of dualism. So that is my next topic.


[i] J. Mensch, Kant’s Organicism: Epigenesis and the Development of the Critical Philosophy (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2013), pp. ix-x.

[ii] Mensch, Kant’s Organicism, p. 1.

[iii] Mensch, Kant’s Organicism, p. 27–28.

[iv] Mensch, Kant’s Organicism, p. 29.

[v] Mensch, Kant’s Organicism, p. 50.

[vi] Mensch, Kant’s Organicism, p. 36.

[vii] Mensch, Kant’s Organicism, p. 61.

[viii] Mensch, Kant’s Organicism, p. 64.

[ix] See I. Hacking, The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas about Probability and Statistical Inference (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1975).

[x] T. Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012), p. 17. The standard criticisms of Nagel (when they aren’t simply ad hominem, or idealist-bashing) are (i) that he is ignorant of recent and contemporary work in evolutionary biology, and (ii) that, correspondingly, he overlooks the distinction between reductive and non-reductive biological (or more generally, scientific) naturalism. I think that these worries are philosophical red herrings, sophisms really, unintentionally or intentionally employed in order to avoid facing up to the deep organicist/anti-mechanist/liberal naturalist point that Nagel is trying to make. See also R. Hanna, “Nagel & Me: Beyond the Scientific Conception of the World,” unpublished MS, available online at URL = <>.

[xi] Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, p. 123.

[xii] See R. Hanna, “Kant and Nonconceptual Content,” European Journal of Philosophy 13 (2005): 247–290; R. Hanna, “Kantian Non-Conceptualism,” Philosophical Studies 137 (2008): 41–64; R. Hanna, “Beyond the Myth of the Myth: A Kantian Theory of Non-Conceptual Content,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19 (2011): 321–396; R. Hanna, “Kant’s Theory of Judgment,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), E. N. Zalta (ed.), available online at URL = <>, supplement 1; and R. Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), ch. 2.

[xiii] See R. Hanna, “Kant’s Non-Conceptualism, Rogue Objects, and the Gap in the B Deduction,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19 (2011): 397–413; R. Hanna, “Kant, Hegel, and the Fate of Non-Conceptual Content,” Hegel Society of Great Britain Bulletin 34 (2013): 1–32; and R. Hanna, “Kantian Madness: Blind Intuitions, Essentially Rogue Objects, and Categorial Anarchy,” Contemporary Studies in Kantian Philosophy 1 (2016): 44–64.

[xiv] W. Sellars, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” in Sellars, Science, Perception, and Reality, pp. 127–196, at p. 173.

[xv] See, e.g., J-J Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, trans. R. Goulbourne (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011). The cited translations are by P. Harrison, available online at URL = <>, seventh revery. Many thanks to Ericson Falabretti for reminding me about Rousseau’s important influence on Kant’s philosophy of nature, both human and non-human.

[xvi] W. Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up,” available online at URL = <>.

[xvii] P. Shelley, Alastor, available online at URL =<>.

[xviii] M. Shelley, Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus, 1818 edn., available online at URL = <>, vol. 1, ch. 3, underlining added.

[xix] S. Alexander, “Natural Piety,” in S. Alexander, Philosophical and Literary Pieces (London: Macmillan, 1939), pp. 299–315, at pp. 299, 310–311, and 306, underlining added.

[xx] It is plausible to think that the analogies between the philosophy of biology and the philosophy of mind run very deep, principally because of the “mind-in-life” thesis which says that (i) conscious mind necessarily requires and includes biological life, and (ii) conscious mind and life are metaphysically continuous in the sense that the properties which are constitutive of biological life are also sufficient for consciousness, although in a more complex organizational structure, so that not every living thing is itself conscious. Whether the mind-in-life thesis is true or false, its meaningfulness suffices to show that the mind-body relation and the mind-life relation are parallel structures, since no one denies that biological life is embodied. See, e.g., Thompson, Mind in Life; and Hanna and Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action, esp. chs. 6–8.

[xxi] B. McLaughlin, “The Rise and Fall of British Emergentism,” in A. Beckermann et al., (eds), Emergence or Reduction? Essays on the Prospects of Nonreductive Physicalism (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1992).

[xxii] See, e.g., Chalmers, The Conscious Mind.

[xxiii] See e.g., Kim, Supervenience and Mind.

[xxiv] See Hanna, Kant, Nature, and Humanity.

[xxv] See also Hanna and Maiese, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, section 8.2.

[xxvi] As I mentioned in section 2.2, note [viii], the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction can be excited into self-organizing activity via the influence of light, using tris(bipyridine)ruthenium(II) chloride as a catalyst. But even this still falls short of organismic life.

[xxvii] For a theory of essentially non-conceptual content, and its epistemic, cognitive-semantic, and meta-philosophical implications, see Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, esp. chs. 2, 4, and 8. See also Hanna, “Kant, the Copernican Devolution, and Real Metaphysics.”

[xxviii] T. Nagel, “What is like to be a bat?,” in T. Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979), pp. 165–180. See also J. Levine, “Materialism and Qualia: The Explanatory Gap,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 64 (1983): 354–361.


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