Kant on anatomy and the status of the life sciences

Michael J. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper contributes to recent interest in Kant's engagement with the life sciences by focusing on one corner of those sciences that has received comparatively little attention: physical and comparative anatomy. By attending to remarks spread across Kant's writings, we gain some insight into Kant's understanding of the disciplinary limitations but also the methodological sophistication of the study of anatomy and physiology. Insofar as Kant highlights anatomy as a paradigmatic science guided by the principle of teleology in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, a more careful study of Kant's discussions of anatomy promises to illuminate some of the obscurities of that text and of his understanding of the life sciences more generally. In the end, it is argued, Kant's ambivalence with regard to anatomy gives way to a pessimistic conclusion about the possibility that anatomy, natural history, and, by extension, the life sciences more generally might one day become true natural sciences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-84
Number of pages8
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • Kant
  • Anatomy
  • Teleology
  • Natural history


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