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Stud Hist Philos Sci. 2016 Aug;58:67-76. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsa.2016.03.005. Epub 2016 Jun 25.

Natural history and the formation of the human being: Kant on active forces.

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Department of Philosophy, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, Main Quad, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Electronic address:


In his 1785-review of the Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, Kant objects to Herder's conception of nature as being imbued with active forces. This attack is usually evaluated against the background of Kant's critical project and his epistemological concern to caution against the "metaphysical excess" of attributing immanent properties to matter. In this paper I explore a slightly different reading by investigating Kant's pre-critical account of creation and generation. The aim of this is to show that Kant's struggle with the forces of matter has a long history and revolves around one central problem: that of how to distinguish between the non-purposive forces of nature and the intentional powers of the mind. Given this history, the epistemic stricture that Kant's critical project imposes on him no longer appears to be the primary reason for his attack on Herder. It merely aggravates a problem that Kant has been battling with since his earliest writings.


Active forces; Anthropology; Cosmology; Kant; Matter theory; Mechanistic explanations

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