Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 6, 2020

Kant on the Ends of the Sciences

  • Thomas Sturm EMAIL logo
From the journal Kant-Studien


Kant speaks repeatedly about the relations between ends or aims and scientific research, but the topic has mostly been ignored. What is the role of ends, especially (though not exclusively) practical ones, in his views on science? I will show that while Kant leaves ample space for recognizing a function of ends both in the definition and the pursuit of inquiry, and in the further practical application of scientific cognition, he does not claim that science is simply an instrument for achieving practical ends. I explain his complex conception, pointing out that Kant argues (1) that the sciences require ends for their very definition, (2) that ends come in fundamentally different kinds, (3) that the relation between science and ends requires the rational determination and hierarchization of all our ends, with “wisdom” as the highest, and (4) that this determination and hierarchization – which ought to be done by metaphysics – has itself to be carried out in a “scientific way”. I show further that (5) Kant gives sui generis weight to the epistemic aims and standards of science and to the autonomy of science from our practical lives. This places his position between separatism and anti-separatism with regard to the relation between science and our ends or values.


For comments and criticisms, I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers. This research was supported by the Spanish Ministry for Economics, Industry, and Competition (MINECO) through the research project Naturalism and the sciences of rationality: An integrated philosophy and history (FFI2016-79923-P) and by the Russian Academic Excellence Project at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University.


Bacin, S. (2019). “The error in the Groundwork: Kant’s revision of the imperatives of prudence as technical ability.” Studi Kantiana, 17, 29–48.Search in Google Scholar

Baum, M. (2001). „Systemform und Selbsterkenntnis der Vernunft bei Kant.“ In: Architektonik und System in der Philosophie Kants. Ed. H. F. Fulda, J. Stolzenberg. Hamburg, 25–40. Hamburg.10.1515/9783110605327-017Search in Google Scholar

Betz, G. (2013). “In defense of the value-free ideal.” European Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2, 207–220.10.1007/s13194-012-0062-xSearch in Google Scholar

Bruun, H.H. 2010. “The incompatibility of values and the importance of consequences: Max Weber and the Kantian legacy.” Philosophical Forum 41, 51–67.10.1111/j.1467-9191.2009.00348.xSearch in Google Scholar

Butts, R. E. (1961). “Hypotheses and explanation in Kant’s philosophy of science.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 43, 153–170.10.1515/agph.1961.43.2.153Search in Google Scholar

Butts, R. E. (1961). “Kant on hypotheses in the ‘Doctrine of Method’ and the Logik.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 44, 185–203.10.1515/agph.1962.44.2.185Search in Google Scholar

Douglas, H. E. (2009). Science, policy, and the value-free ideal. Pittsburgh.10.2307/j.ctt6wrc78Search in Google Scholar

Douglas, H. E. (2016). “Values in science.” In: The Oxford Handbook of philosophy of science. Ed. P. Humphreys. Oxford, 609–630.Search in Google Scholar

Falkenburg, B. (2005). “Die Funktion der Naturwissenschaften für die Zwecke der Vernunft.“ In: Kant im Streit der Fakultäten. Ed. V. Gerhardt. Berlin/New York, 117–133.10.1515/9783110193848.117Search in Google Scholar

Ferrarin, A. (2015). The powers of reason. Chicago.10.7208/chicago/9780226243290.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Gava, G. (2014). “Kant’s definition of science in the Architectonic of Pure Reason and the essential ends of reason.” Kant-Studien 105, 272–293.10.1515/kant-2014-0016Search in Google Scholar

Hinske, N. (1991). “Die Wissenschaften und ihre Zwecke. Kants Neuformulierung der Systemidee.” In: Akten des 7. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses, Mainz 1990 (vol. I). Ed. G. Funke. Bonn, 157–177.Search in Google Scholar

Kant, I. (1781/²1787). Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Ed. J. Timmermann (1998). Hamburg.10.28937/978-3-7873-2112-4Search in Google Scholar

Kant, I. (1992 ff.) Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Ed. P. Guyer, A. Wood. Cambridge.Search in Google Scholar

Kant, I. (1998). Logik-Vorlesung: Unveröffentlichte Nachschriften. 2 vols. Prepared by T. Pinder. Hamburg.10.28937/978-3-7873-2542-9Search in Google Scholar

Kitcher, P. (2001). Science, truth and democracy. New York.10.1093/0195145836.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Kitcher, P. (2011). Science in a democratic society. New York.Search in Google Scholar

Kraus, K. (2018). “The soul as the guiding idea of inner experience: Kant on scientific psychology, systematicity, and the idea of the soul.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 71, 77–88.10.1016/j.shpsa.2017.11.010Search in Google Scholar

Laudan, L. (1984). Science and values: The aims of science and their role in scientific debate. Berkeley.10.1525/9780520908116Search in Google Scholar

Manchester, P. (2003). “Kant’s conception of architectonic in its historical context.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 41, 187–207.10.1353/hph.2003.0016Search in Google Scholar

Marshall, C. (in press). “Kant’s derivation of the moral ‘ought’ from a metaphysical ‘is.’” In: The sensible and intelligible worlds. Ed. N. Stang, K. Schafer. Oxford.10.1093/oso/9780199688265.003.0016Search in Google Scholar

McRae, R. (1957). “Kant’s conception of the unity of the sciences.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 18, 1–17.10.2307/2105188Search in Google Scholar

Putnam, H. (1981). Reason, truth, and history. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511625398Search in Google Scholar

Putnam, H. (2002). The collapse of the fact/value dichotomy and other essays. Cambridge, MA.10.2307/j.ctv1pdrpz4Search in Google Scholar

Reiss, J. / Sprenger, J. (2014). “Scientific objectivity.” In: The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (2016 ed.). Ed. E. N. Zalta in Google Scholar

Ryan, S. (2103). “Wisdom.” In: The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (2016 ed.). Ed. E. N. Zalta. in Google Scholar

Sturm, T. (2009). Kant und die Wissenschaften vom Menschen. Paderborn.10.30965/9783969756089Search in Google Scholar

Sturm, T. (2018). “Lambert and Kant on truth.” In: Kant and His German Contemporaries. Ed. C. Dyck, F. Wunderlich. Cambridge. 113–133.10.1017/9781316493229.007Search in Google Scholar

Timmermann, J. (2007). Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511770760Search in Google Scholar

Williams, B. (1985). Ethics and the limits of philosophy. Cambridge, MA.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2020-03-06
Published in Print: 2020-03-05

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 8.6.2023 from
Scroll to top button