Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 8, No 1 (2012)

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Kant and Hegel's Responses to Hume's Skepticism Concerning Causality: An Evolutionary Epistemological Perspective

Adam Christian Scarfe


According to Hume, determinations of necessary causal connection are without empirical warrant, but, as he maintains, the concept of causality qua necessary connection is indispensable to human beings, having survival value for them, a claim which points to the biological significance of this concept. In contrast to Hume, Kant argues that the causal principle qua necessary connection belongs to the a priori conceptual framework by which rational beings constitute their experience and render the world intelligible. In “Kant’s Doctrine of the A Priori in Light of Contemporary Biology” (1941 / 1962) evolutionary epistemologist Konrad Lorenz sought to adapt Kant’s philosophy to contemporary biology by arguing that the a priori concepts of the understanding can be interpreted as comprising a biologically inherited framework, yet one that is provisional and in flux. Such an evolutionary interpretation of both Hume and Kant’s perspectives of the lacuna concerning causality brings the ideas of these thinkers closer together. Kant himself used suggestive analogies between the major epistemological positions concerning the origin of the a priori concepts of the understanding and the major biological theories of his time concerning the generation and development of organisms. Nevertheless, Kant would probably be reluctant to embrace such an evolutionarily-oriented conception of the categories, given his descriptions of them as self-thought, a priori first principles having a purely intellectual origin, belonging as a very condition for the possibility of the experience of rational beings in general, and as neither the product of a process of development, nor subject to one. This paper shows how Hegel’s emphasis on the dialectical progression of the logical Concept (Begriff) can help to ground Lorenz’s evolutionary neo-Kantianism. Toward the end of the paper, I discuss the evolutionary relevance of skepticism and critical thinking in this process via the notion of “Intellectual Selection.”

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