The Rational Human Condition 3, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics, Section 2.4–On the Representation of Life.

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker/Prison Arts Coalition

THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION is a five-part, four-book series, including:

PART 1: Preface and General Introduction

PART 2: Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge

PART 3:  Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics

PART 4: Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy

PART 5:  Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise

Its author is ROBERT HANNA:




Section 1.0  What It Is

Section 1.1  Bounded in a Nutshell

Section 1.2  Rational Anthropology vs. Analytic Metaphysics, the Standard Picture, and Scientific Naturalism

Section 1.3  Philosophy and Its History: No Deep Difference

Section 1.4  Works of Philosophy vs. Philosophical Theories: Presentational Hylomorphism and Polymorphism

Section 1.5  Analytic Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, and Rational Anthropology

Section 1.6  What is a Rational Human Animal?

Section 1.7  An Important Worry and a Preliminary Reply

Section 1.8  The Biggest Windmills

The Complete, Downloadable Text of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 1



The Complete, Downloadable Text of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 2




A Note on References

1.  Introduction: Freedom, Life, and Persons’ Lives  

1.0 Natural Libertarianism and Minded Animalism

1.1 Incompatibilistic Compatibilism

1.2 Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity

1.3 The Central Claim of this Book, and Previews                                         

2.  Beyond Mechanism: The Dynamics of Life

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Immanent Structuralism

2.2 Natural Mechanism, Computability, and Anti-Mechanism

2.3 Kant’s Anti-Mechanism, Kantian Anti-Mechanism, Vitalism, and Emergentism

2.4 On the Representation of Life

2.5 Kantian Non-Conceptualism and the Dynamicist Model of Life

2.6 Inverted Life, Suspended Life, and Non-Local Life: How LifeDoes Not Strongly Supervene on the Physical, and Why

2.7 Conclusion                                                                                                                  

3.  From Biology to Agency          

3.0 Introduction

3.1 Two-Dimensional Rational Normativity

3.2 Kant’s Biological Theory of Freedom

3.3 Practical-Freedom-in-Life: Kantian Non-Intellectualism

3.4 The Rationality of the Heart: Principled Authenticity

3.5 Conclusion                                                                                                       

4.  Neither/Nor: The Negative Case for Natural Libertarianism

4.0 Introduction                                                                                                                 

4.1 The Intuitive Definition of Free Will

4.2 The Four Metaphysical Horsemen of the Apocalypse

4.3 The Three Standard Options, Natural Mechanism, and The Fourfold Knot of Free Agency

4.4 Three Arguments for Classical Incompatibilism, and In-the-Zone Compatibilism

4.5 Three Arguments for Local Incompatibilism with Respect to Natural Mechanism

4.6 Sympathy for the Devil: Compatibilism Reconsidered

4.7 Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death?

4.8 Too Hard to Live With: Strawson’s Basic Argument, Hard Determinism, and Hard Incompatibilism

4.9 Conclusion                                                                                                        

5.  Either/Or: Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity          

5.0 Introduction

5.1 The Internal Structure of Deep Freedom

5.2 From Frankfurt Back to Kierkegaard: How to Have a Live Option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, Without Alternative Possibilities

5.3 Psychological Freedom, Deep Freedom, and Principled Authenticity

5.4 Conclusion                                                                                                       

6.  Minded Animalism I: What Real Persons Really Are

6.0 Introduction

6.1 From Deep Freedom to Real Persons

6.2 Real Persons

6.3 Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Real Personhood

6.4 Conclusion                                                                                                       

7.  Minded Animalism II: From Parfit to Real Personal Identity          

7.0 Introduction

7.1 Parfit’s Theory: Six Basic Claims

7.2 Against and Beyond Parfit 1: Two Reasons, and The Minded Animalist Criterion of Personal Identity

7.3 Against and Beyond Parfit 2: Four More Reasons

7.4 Conclusion                                                                                                                   

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In the fullness of time, the complete, downloadable text of each part of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION will also be made available on APP.


For convenience, throughout the five-part four book series, The Rational Human Condition—comprising 1. the Preface and General Introduction, 2. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, 3. Deep Freedom and Real Persons, 4. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence, and 5. Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism—I refer to Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). I generally follow the standard English translations, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations:

BL       “The Blomberg Logic.” In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Trans. J.M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 5-246.

C         Immanuel Kant: Correspondence, 1759-99. Trans. A. Zweig. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.

CPJ      Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

CPR    Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

CPrR   Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 139-271.

DiS      “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992.  Pp. 365-372.

DSS     “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Pp. 301-359.

EAT    “The End of All Things.” Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 221-231.

GMM  Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 43-108.

ID        “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Pp. 373-416.

IUH     “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim.” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Anthropology, History, and Eduction. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. Pp. 107-120.

JL         “The Jäsche Logic.” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 519-640.

LE       Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Ethics. Trans. P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

MM     Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 365-603.

OP       Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans.  E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.

OT       “What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 7-18.

Prol     Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

PP       “Toward Perpetual Peace.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 317-351.

Rel       Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 57-215.

RTL     “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 611-615.

VL       “The Vienna Logic,” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 251-377.

WE      “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 17-22.



Chapter 2  Beyond Mechanism: The Dynamics of Life

Section 2.4  On the Representation of Life

As I said at the end of the last section, I think that Michael Thompson is correct that there is a defensible argument for his two-part representational anti-mechanistic thesis, which says:

(i) that our everyday, pre-theoretical representation of life requires a distinctive logical form of biological or natural-historical judgments and statements, and

(ii) that this distinctive logical form entails the existence of a non-empirical concept of life with non-physicalist, irreducible semantic content and structure, which necessarily shapes our ordinary perceptual and practical activities.

But I also want to hold extended and generalized versions of Thompson’s theses, which say:

(i*) that our everyday, pre-theoretical representations of life in sense perception and other essentially non-conceptual representations, in conceptual thought, and in biological or natural-historical judgments and statements, are neither necessarily determined by, nor identical with, nor otherwise reducible to naturally mechanistic theories of biology and life, and

(ii*) that these representations of life entail the existence of some a priori representations with non-physicalist, irreducible semantic content and structure, that necessarily shape our basic cognitive and practical encounters with the natural world.

As I also said, theses (i* ) and (ii* ) jointly comprise “representational anti-mechanism.” Moreover, I think that representational anti-mechanism is well-supported by later Wittgenstein’s remarks on “forms of life,” and on seeing the difference between living things and dead things, in Philosophical Investigations; by recent empirical work in cognitive psychology by Deborah Kelemen on the phenomenon of “promiscuous teleology”[i]; by recent philosophical work by Tamar Szabó Gendler on the distinction between “alief” and “belief”[ii]; and by Kant’s accounts of “the feeling of life,” of the identity of mind and life, and of teleological judgment in the Critique of the Power of Judgment.

Here is what later Wittgenstein says:

Look at a stone and imagine it having sensations. —One says to oneself: How could one get so much as the idea of ascribing a sensation to a thing? One might as well ascribe it to a number! —And now look at the wriggling fly and at once these difficulties vanish and pain seems to get a foothold there, where before everything was, so to speak, too smooth for it.  And so, too, a corpse seems to us quite inaccessible to pain. —Our attitude to the living is not the same as to the dead. All our reactions are different. —If anyone says: “That cannot simply consist in the fact that the living behave in such-and-such a way and the dead do not,” then I want to intimate to him that this is a case of the transition “from quantity to quality.”[iii]

If one sees the behaviour of a living thing, one sees its soul.[iv]

“To me it is an animal pierced by an arrow.” That is what I treat it as; this is my attitude to the figure. This is one meaning in calling it a case of ‘seeing’.”[v]

I might say: a picture does not always live for me while I am seeing it. “Her picture smiles down on me from the wall.” It need not always do so, whenever my glance lights on it.[vi]

What has to be accepted, the given, is—so one could say—forms of life.[vii]

Here is what Kelemen says:

In summary, British and American children have a promiscuous tendency to teleologically explain the properties of both living and non-living things in terms of a purpose. One proposal is that this bias occurs because, during development, across cultures, children primarily develop an artifact model when reasoning about the natural world…. There are several implications if this turns out to hold truth: from a theoretical standpoint, it suggests that while teleological thought may play a crucial role in children’s early reasoning about living things, its presence is not necessarily indicative of a truly “biological” [i.e., physically mechanistic] mode of construal…. From an educational standpoint, it helps to explain why people consistently misinterpret natural selection as a quasi-intentional, designing force rather than as a blind physical mechanism.[viii]

Here is what Szabó Gendler says:

[Consider the following example, borrowed from an essay by Kendall Walton:] Charles is watching a horror movie about a terrible green slime. He cringes in his seat as the slime oozes slowly but relentlessly over the earth destroying everything in its path. Soon a greasy head emerges from the undulating mass, and two beady eyes roll around, finally fixing on the camera. The slime picking up speed, oozes on a new course straight towards the viewers. Charles emits a shriek and clutches desperately at his chair.

How should we describe Charles’s cognitive state? Surely he does not believe that he is in physical peril; as Kendall Walton writes, “Charles knows perfectly well that the slime is not real and that he is in no danger”…. But alongside that belief there is something else going on. Although Charles believes that he is sitting safely in a chair in a theater in front of a movie screen, he also alieves something very different. The alief has roughly the following content: “Dangerous two-eyed [living] creature heading towards me! H-e-l-p…! Activate fight or flight adrenaline now!”

I argue for the importance of recognizing the existence of alief…. As a class, aliefs are states that we share with non-human animals; they are developmentally and conceptually antecedent to other cognitive attitudes that the creature may go on to develop. And they are typically affect-laden and action-generating.

I offer the following tentative characterization of a paradigmatic alief:

A paradigmatic alief is a mental state with associatively linked content that is representational, affective, and behavioral, and that is activated—consciously or nonconsciously—by features of the subject’s internal or ambient environment. Aliefs may be either occurrent or dispositional.[ix]

But most importantly of all, however, here is what Kant says:

To grasp a regular, purposive structure with one’s faculty of cognition (whether the manner of representation be distinct or confused) is something entirely different from being conscious of this representation with the sensation of satisfaction. Here the representation is related entirely to the subject, indeed to its feeling of life (Lebensgefühl), under the name of pleasure or displeasure, which grounds an entirely special faculty for discriminating and judging that contributes nothing to cognition, but only holds up the given representation in the subject to the entire faculty of representation, of which the mind becomes conscious in the feeling of its state. (CPJ 5: 204)

It cannot be denied that all representations in us, whether they are objectively merely sensible or else entirely intellectual, can nevertheless subjectively be associated with gratification or pain, however unnoticeable either might be (because they all affect the feeling of life, and none of them, insofar as it is a modification of the subject, can be indifferent). (CPJ 5: 277)

Life without the feeling of the corporeal organ is merely consciousness of one’s existence, but not a feeling of well- or ill-being, i.e., the promotion or inhibition of the powers of life; because the mind for itself is entirely life (the principle of life itself), and hindrances and promotions must be sought outside it, though in the human being himself, hence in combination with his body. (CPJ 5: 278)

For a body to be judged as a natural purpose in itself and in accordance with its internal possibility, it is required that its parts reciprocally produce each other, as far as both their form and their combination is concerned, and thus produce a whole out of their own causality, the concept of which, conversely is in turn the cause (in a being that would possess the causality according to concepts appropriate for such a product) of it in accordance with a principle; consequently the connection of efficient causes could at the same time be judged as an effect though final causes. In such a product of nature each part is conceived as if it exists only through all the others, thus as if existing for the sake of the others and on account of the whole, i.e., as an instrument (organ), which is, however, not sufficient (for it could also be an instrument of art, and thus represented as possible at all only as a purpose); rather it must be thought of as an organ that produces the other parts (consequently each produces the others reciprocally), which cannot be the case in any instrument of art, but only of nature, which provides all the matter for instruments (even those of art): only then and on that account can such a product, as an organized and self-organizing being, be called a natural purpose (Naturzweck) (CPJ 5: 373-374)

[A] mere machine … has only a motive power, while the organized being possesses in itself a formative power. (CPJ 5: 374)

Strictly speaking, the organization of nature is … not analogous with any causality that we know. (CPJ 5: 375)

It might always be possible that in, e.g., an animal body, many parts could be conceived as consequences of merely mechanical laws…. Yet the cause that provides the appropriate material, modifies it, forms it, and deposits it in the appropriate place must always be judged teleologically, so that everything in it must be considered as organized, and everything is also, in relation to the thing itself, an organ also. (CPJ 5: 377)

Now here are the five basic take-away points from these texts:

(1) The representation of life is the representation of natural things as living organisms—i.e., as far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic systems that inherently engage in naturally purposive or naturally teleological activities, plus some further special characteristic features of organisms to be described shortly.

(2) The capacity to represent things as alive appears to be innate, in that it manifests itself in children and also more mature human cognizers under “poverty of the stimulus” conditions.

(3) The representation of life can be overextended to things other than actual living organisms; but in any and every case it changes our practical attitudes towards the things that are perceived as alive or taken to be alive.

(4) The representation of life is generated by a cognitive capacity that is “informationally encapsulated” or cognitive-semantically insensitive to contrary beliefs, and at the same time its representational outputs are presupposed by both ordinary and scientific beliefs, judgments, and thoughts about life.

(5) As a consequence of points (1) to (4), the representation of life is non-empirical or a priori in the strong metaphysical sense that its content and structure are both necessarily and constitutively underdetermined by any and all sensory-experiential facts and/or contingent natural things or facts.[x]

And here are two further comments on Kant’s theory in particular, before moving on.

First, for Kant, the representation of biological life not only has semantic content but also its own phenomenal specific character, which he calls “the feeling of life.” This is the same as the pre-reflectively conscious pleasure or pain we experience in the actual operations of our cognitive faculties, insofar as they track naturally purposive or naturally teleological, organismic structure in objects and in ourselves. Kant’s idea is that the semantic content of the representation of biological life and the phenomenal character of the feeling of life are necessarily mutually bound up with one another, which, if it is true, directly implies what is known in contemporary philosophy of mind as the “Phenomenology of  Intentionality” and “Intentionality of Phenomenology” theses, or “Anti-Separatism.”[xi] According to this Kantian picture, then, consciousness and intentionality are mutually inseparable via the neurobiological life of embodied animal minds.

Second, Kant explicitly identifies biological life with mind. This, I think, is best understood not as either literal identity, i.e., some version of panpsychism with respect to biological life, according to which, necessarily everything alive is minded and conversely, or as “downwards identity,” i.e., the reduction of mind to life. On the contrary, it is best understood as what Peter Godfrey-Smith calls “the strong continuity view”:

Life and mind have a common abstract pattern or set of basic organizational properties. The …properties characteristic of mind are an enriched version of the … properties that are fundamental to life in general. Mind is literally life-like.[xii]

This is also what Evan Thompson calls the “mind-in-life” thesis:

Where there is life there is mind, and mind in its most complex forms belongs to life. Life and mind share a core set of formal or organizational properties, and the formal and organizational properties distinctive of mind are an enriched version of those fundamental to life. More precisely, the self-organizing features of mind are an enriched version of the self-organizing features of life.[xiii]

In other words, mind is explanatorily and ontologically continuous with life, in the sense that whatever is metaphysically required for mind is also present in biological life, but not necessarily as organized in the right way and with the appropriate kind of thermodynamic immanent structure.[xiv] Therefore, not necessarily every living thing is conscious, but necessarily every mind is also biologically alive.

If this neo-Aristotelian and contemporary Kantian mind-in-life thesis is correct, then the way is open for thinking about conscious, intentional, caring, desiring animal minds as nothing more and nothing less than special forms of life, that grow naturally in organisms like us, and correspondingly the way is also open for thinking about phenomenology, the science of consciousness and intentionality, as nothing more and nothing less than a special branch of philosophical macrobiology—in effect, then, all phenomenology is biophenomenology.

What, more precisely, is the nature of the cognitive-semantic content of the non-empirical representation of life, i.e., the non-empirical representation of living organisms? Using the Transcendental Aesthetic and the Critique of the Power of Judgment as philosophical sources, together with non-equilibrium/complex systems dynamics and contemporary biology (which I will discuss in the next section), as I mentioned earlier, I want to say that it includes three basic elements, over and above self-organization:

(i) special teleological dynamics in organisms: their reproduction, growth, motility, death, and evolution or natural selection,

(ii) essential indexicality in organisms: their inherent context-dependency, together with egocentric centering in a frame of reference (but not necessarily occurrently conscious centering—see, e.g., Einstein’s observer-relative frames of reference for tracking motion), together with orientable space and irreversible time (aka “time’s arrow”), and

(iii) causal spontaneity in organisms: their efficacious metabolism (as a matter of nomological or physical necessity, involving DNA) by means of “epigenesis.”

I also need to add a relevant follow-up comment about this third basic element. The thesis of epigenesis in biology says that biological material is initially unformed and that form gradually emerges through the non-predetermined or relatively spontaneous operations of an innate endogenous organizational or processing device in interaction with its environment.[xv] Kant explicitly defends the theory that biological life is epigenetic, and also extends this theory analogically to his theory of cognitive innateness (see CPR B167 and CPJ 5: 424).[xvi]


[i] D. Keleman, “British and American Children’s Preferences for Teleo-Functional Explanations of the Natural World,” Cognition 88 (2003): 201-221.

[ii] T. Szabó Gendler, “Alief and Belief,” Journal of Philosophy 105 (2008): 634-663; and T. Szabó Gendler, “Alief and Belief in Action (and Reaction),” Mind and Language 23 (2008): 552-585.

[iii] Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §284, p. 98e.

[iv] Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §357, p. 113e.

[v] Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 205e.

[vi] Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 205e.

[vii] Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 226e.

[viii] Kelemen, “British and American Children’s Preferences for Teleo-Functional Explanations of the Natural World,” p. 216.

[ix] Szabó Gendler, “Alief and Belief,” pp. 637, 641, and 642.

[x] For an elaboration and defense of this conception of the a priori, see Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, ch. 7.

[xi] See, e.g., T. Horgan and J. Tienson, “The Intentionality of Phenomenology and the Phenomenology of Intentionality,” in D. Chalmers (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 520-533.

[xii] P. Godfrey-Smith, Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), p. 320.

[xiii] Thompson, Mind in Life, p. ix.

[xiv] As I indicated in sections 1.0 and 1.1, I’m also fully committed to the “life-in-energy” thesis, alongside the “mind-in-life” and “freedom-in-life” theses, according to this simple diagram of the basic metaphysical continuities:

free agency –> conscious, intentional mind –> organismic life –> asymmetric matter/energy flows

But in this context, to keep things relatively simple, I’m not highlighting the life-in-energy thesis.

[xv] See J. Maienschein, “Epigenesis and Preformationism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

[xvi] See, e.g., Hanna, “Kant’s Anti-Mechanism and Kantian Anti-Mechanism.”

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