Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 97–125 | Cite as

Life after Kant: Natural purposes and the autopoietic foundations of biological individuality

  • Andreas Weber
  • Francisco J. Varela
  • Andreas Weber
    • 1
  • Francisco J. Varela
  1. 1.Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Kulturwissenschaftliches SeminarBerlinGermany


This paper proposes a basic revision of the understanding of teleology in biological sciences. Since Kant, it has become customary to view purposiveness in organisms as a bias added by the observer; the recent notion of teleonomy expresses well this “as-if” character of natural purposes. In recent developments in science, however, notions such as self-organization (or complex systems) and the autopoiesis viewpoint, have displaced emergence and circular self-production as central features of life. Contrary to an often superficial reading, Kant gives a multi-faceted account of the living, and anticipates this modern reading of the organism, even introducing the term “self-organization” for the first time. Our re-reading of Kant in this light is strengthened by a group of philosophers of biology, with Hans Jonas as the central figure, who put back on center stage an organism-centered view of the living, an autonomous center of concern capable of providing an interior perspective. Thus, what is present in nuce in Kant, finds a convergent development from this current of philosophy of biology and the scientific ideas around autopoeisis, two independent but parallel developments culminating in the 1970s. Instead of viewing meaning or value as artifacts or illusions, both agree on a new understanding of a form of immanent teleology as truly biological features, inevitably intertwined with the self-establishment of an identity which is the living process.


Artificial Intelligence Complex System Biological Feature Biological Science Central Feature 
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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

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