The Rational Human Condition 3, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics, Section 2.5–Kantian Non-Conceptualism and the Dynamicist Model 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 

NEXT INSTALLMENT                                                                                                  

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 2.5  Kantian Non-Conceptualism and the Dynamicist Model of Life

What is the cognitive-semantic nature of the non-empirical representation of life? I think that Michael Thompson is mistaken in holding that the content of the non-empirical representation of life is conceptual. On the contrary, I hold that its content is essentially non-conceptual in the dual sense that it is both what I call concept-independent (i.e., it is not sufficiently determined by conceptual capacities or concepts) and also concept-autonomous (i.e., it does not require conceptual capacities or concepts as a necessary condition). I also hold that the structure of the non-empirical representation of life directly corresponds to what Kant would have called a “form of intuition” (CPR A19-49/B33-73).[i] As a consequence, I also think that Kant’s theory of teleological judgments, when taken together with a contemporary Kantian theory of mental content that I have dubbed Kantian Non-Conceptualism, [ii] provide a significantly better account of the nature of the distinctive semantic content and structure of the representation of life than Thompson’s Fregean account does. Elsewhere, I have spelled out and defended the Kantian Non-Conceptualist thesis in full detail.[iii] So for the present purposes I will just briefly state it, and then continue to develop the main argument of this chapter.

The thesis of Non-Conceptualism about mental content says that not all mental contents in the intentional or representational acts or states of minded animals are necessarily or  constitutively determined by their conceptual capacities, and that at least some mental contents are necessarily or constitutively determined by their non-conceptual capacities.[iv] Non-Conceptualism is sometimes, but not always, combined with the further thesis that non-conceptual capacities and contents can be shared by rational human animals, non-rational human minded animals (and in particular, infants), and non-human minded animals alike. But in any case, Non-Conceptualism is directly opposed to the thesis of Conceptualism about mental content, which says that all mental contents are necessarily or constitutively determined by minded animals’ conceptual capacities.[v] Conceptualism is also sometimes, but not always, combined with the further thesis that the psychological acts or states of infants and non-human minded animals lack mental content.

Now in a nutshell, Non-Conceptualism says that our cognitive access to the targets of our intentionality is neither always nor necessarily mediated by concepts, nor sufficiently determined or constituted by concepts, which is the concept-independence of non-conceptual content, and therefore that our cognitive access to the targets of our intentionality is sometimes wholly unmediated by concepts, or altogether concept-free, which is the concept-autonomy of non-conceptual content; and Conceptualism says that our cognitive access to the targets of our intentionality is always and necessarily mediated by concepts, and indeed also sufficiently determined or constituted by concepts. Here, then, are the fundamental philosophical questions that are being asked in the debate about non-conceptual content: Can we and do we sometimes cognitively encounter other things and ourselves directly and non-discursively, hence non-intellectually or sensibly (Non-Conceptualism), or must we always cognitively encounter them only within the framework of discursive rationality, hence intellectually or discursively (Conceptualism)? Are we, as rational animals, essentially different from other kinds of animals (Conceptualism), or do we share at least some minimally basic mental capacities with all minded animals (Non-Conceptualism)? And finally: Is a thoroughly intellectualist and “discursivity first” view of the rational human mind (Conceptualism) correct, or by sharp contrast is a non-intellectualist and “sensibility first” view of the rational human mind (Non-Conceptualism) correct?  I think that the “sensibility first” view is the correct one.

It is also important to note that whereas Conceptualism is of necessity a form of content-monism, which says there is one and only kind of intentional or representational content (sometimes, however, combined with capacity-dualism, which says that there are two essentially different basic kinds of cognitive capacities), by contrast Non-Conceptualism can be, and usually is, a form of content-dualism, which says that there are two essentially different kinds of intentional or representational content, and if so, then it is always a form of capacity-dualism too. Correspondingly, the version of Non-Conceptualism that I defend, Kantian Non-Conceptualism, is both content-dualist and capacity-dualist.

As a sub-species of Non-Conceptualism, Kantian Non-Conceptualism is the following three-part doctrine:

(i) mental acts or states in minded animals have representational content whose semantic structure and psychological function are essentially distinct from the structure and function of conceptual content,

(ii) the specific psychological function of essentially non-conceptual content is to guide conscious intentional desire-driven body movements for the purposes of cognition and practical agency, and

(iii) the semantic structures of essentially non-conceptual content are equivalent to Kant’s spatiotemporal forms of intuition, including their representational roles as “formal intuitions” (CPR B136), and also as non-empirical schemata or “mental models” generated by the “figurative synthesis of the imagination” (CPR B151-156 A137-147/B176-187).

More precisely however, according to Kantian Non-Conceptualism, X is an essentially non-conceptual content of perception if and only if X is a mental content such that:

(i) X is not a conceptual content, as defined by a defensible, non-question-begging theory of concepts and conceptual content,

(ii) X is included in a mental state, act, or process that directly refers to some or another causally efficacious actual individual macroscopic material being B in the local or distal natural environment of the minded animal subject of X—and it is also really possible that the minded animal subject of X = B—and thereby both uniquely (if not always perfectly accurately) locates B in 3D Euclidean orientable space and also uniquely (if not always perfectly accurately) tracks B’s thermodynamically asymmetric and temporally irreversible causal activities in time, in order to individuate, normatively guide, and informationally mediate the subject’s conscious intentional desire-driven body movements for the purposes of cognitive and practical intentional agency, and

(iii) X is an inherently context-sensitive, egocentric or first-person-perspectival, spatiotemporally structured content that is not ineffable, but instead shareable or communicable only to the extent that another minded animal ego or first-person is in a cognitive position to be actually directly perceptually confronted by the same causally efficacious actual individual macroscopic material being B in a spacetime possessing the same basic 3D Euclidean orientable, thermodynamically asymmetric, and temporally irreversible structure.        

In view of condition (ii), essentially non-conceptual content is inherently normatively governed by an ideal standard of accurate direct reference for the purposes of location and tracking, and can still be directly referential even when it is only more-or-less accurate. More accuracy means better location and tracking by the conscious subject, and less accuracy means worse location and tracking by the conscious subject. So in view of condition (ii), it follows that essentially non-conceptual content fully includes what Hubert Dreyfus calls “the nonconceptual world of absorbed coping,” including Heideggerian “concern” and “readiness-to-hand” (i.e., normatively engaged, skillful use of tools), Wittgensteinian “blind” involvement in shared practices as “forms of life,” and Husserlian “lifeworld” phenomena more generally, although this must also be understood, as per the classical existential phenomenologists (especially Sartre and Merleau-Ponty), as normatively rich, pre-reflectively conscious content that is inherently poised for guiding the performance of basic intentional actions[vi] by minded animals, and thus it is inherently agential content.[vii]

Here is a simple argument for the existence of essentially non-conceptual perceptual content, that I will call, with backwards reference, obviously, to The Handwaving Room Argument, The Handwaving Argument. This simple argument anticipates a more complicated, explicit, and rigorously-formulated  argument for the same conclusion, using the notion of directly perceivable qualitative three-dimensional material duplicates that are also mirror-reflected spatial counterparts—aka “incongruent counterparts,” or “enantiomorphs,” e.g., (slightly idealized versions of) your right and left hands—which I spell out and defend elsewhere.[viii]

The Handwaving Argument

(1) Suppose that I am standing right in front of you and saying “All bachelors are males, and all males are animals, so it is analytic that all bachelors are animals, right?” By hypothesis, you are concentrating your thoughts exclusively on what I am saying, and clearly understand it.

(2) Suppose also that as I am saying “All bachelors are males,” my arms are held out straight towards you and I am also moving my right hand, rotated at the wrist, in a clockwise circular motion seen clearly from your point of view, which is also a counterclockwise circular motion seen clearly from my point of view. By hypothesis, you are looking at this hand-movement, but not also thinking about it, although of course in some other context you might be looking at it and also thinking about it. But, by hypothesis, not in this context. You are seeing it but not thinking about it, just as when you are driving a car and your mind is fully focused on some train of thought having nothing to do with driving, you can see all sorts of things passing by you, and you can even skillfully drive, without thinking at all about the things that you are seeing or doing.

(3) Suppose also that as I am saying, “…and all males are animals,” I begin moving my left hand, again rotated at the wrist, in a counterclockwise circular motion seen clearly from your point of view, which is also a clockwise circular motion seen clearly from my point of view. By hypothesis again, you are also looking at this hand-movement, but not also thinking about it, although of course in some other context you might be looking at it and also thinking about it. But, again by hypothesis, not in this context.

(4) Suppose also that as I am saying, “… so it is analytic that all bachelors are animals, right?” I am moving both hands simultaneously in front of you in the ways specified in (2) and (3).

(5) Your conceptual capacities are being used by you to concentrate on what I am saying about bachelors, males, and animals, and to understand it clearly, which by hypothesis you do.

(6) Insofar as you are using those conceptual capacities exclusively to concentrate on and to understand clearly what I am saying, you are not using your conceptual capacities to see clearly what I am doing with my hands.

(7) Yet you also see clearly what I am doing with my hands. Your conscious attention in this context is divided into linguistic understanding and lucid vision, but by hypothesis in this context your conceptual capacities for linguistic understanding are neither distracted nor divided.

(8) Therefore you are using your non-conceptual capacities to see clearly what I am doing with my hands.

(9) The kind of mental content that individuates, guides, and mediates the use of non-conceptual capacities is essentially non-conceptual content.

(10) Therefore essentially non-conceptual content really exists.

The Handwaving Argument is directly inspired by Kant’s famous “argument from incongruent counterparts” for the truth of the thesis of the “transcendental ideality” of space and time, according to which space and time are nothing but subjective forms of human sensibility.[ix] So it has Kantian historical roots. Nevertheless, although I do think that The Handwaving Argument is sound, it is not intended to be rationally decisive, because it leaves a lot of important information merely implicit—instead, it is intended to be only rationally evocative in the sense that it clearly and quickly indicates where I am heading, and primes us for what I want to argue about the representation of life.

Now there are contemporary scientific models of life,[x] fully informed by non-equilibrium thermodynamics, aka complex systems dynamics,[xi] that conform much more closely to our everyday, pre-theoretical representation of life, captured by neo-Aristotelian and contemporary Kantian ideas about the representation of life, than they conform to the essentially mechanistic scientific model of life that is provided by physicalism, whether reductive or non-reductive. This is what I call the dynamicist model of life.

What do I mean by this, more specifically? As I noted in section 1.1 above, dynamic systems are unified collections of material elements in rule-governed or patterned motion. In connection with dynamic systems, complexity is the fact that the causally efficacious exchange of matter and/or energy between a dynamic system and its local natural environment does not remain constant, or fluctuates. Given complexity, then dynamic systems with identical, or virtually identical, initial conditions, may diverge radically over time. Thermodynamic systems necessarily involve energy (and degrees of energetic activity, heat), along with matter. Thermodynamic systems for which the formal structures of matter and/or energy remain the same, or essentially the same, over time, are equilibrium, or near-equilibrium, time-reversible systems. Entropy is a function of the state of a thermodynamic system that expresses the increasing amount of so-called “disorder” or “heat death” in a system, but less conceptually misleadingly, can be thought of as the increasing amount of structural simplicity or uniformity in a system, which rises monotonically to a maximum at equilibrium conditions. Here energy is entirely potential, without actualization or entropic motion. So equilibrium or near-equilibrium, time-reversible thermodynamic systems do not (significantly) increase entropy. By contrast, thermodynamic systems for which the structures of matter and/or energy change over time, and are temporally irreversible in that they (significantly) increase entropy but do not reach a maximum of entropy, are far-from-equilibrium systems. Self-organizing complex thermodynamic systems, in turn, are far-from-equilibrium, temporally irreversible thermodynamic systems that also have dissipative structure and natural purposiveness or natural teleology. A dissipative structure is how the increasing amount of entropy in a complex thermodynamic system is absorbed and dispersed (hence “dissipated”) by the systematic re-introduction of matter and/or energy into the system, via a non-static causal balance between the inner states of the system and its surrounding natural environment. And natural purposiveness or natural teleology is how a far-from-equilibrium, temporally irreversible, complex thermodynamic system with dissipative structure self-generates forms or patterns of order that determine its own causal powers, and in turn place constraints on the later collective behaviors, effects, and outputs of the whole system, in order to maintain itself. The paradigmatic or prime example of a self-organizing complex thermodynamic system is a living organism—although, as I have mentioned above, not every self-organizing system is itself an organism.

In view of all that, here is Bruce Weber’s very informative and non-technical summary description of the dynamicist model of life:

Animate beings share a range of properties and phenomena that are not seen together in inanimate matter, although examples of matter exhibiting one or the other of these can be found. Living entities metabolize, grow, die, reproduce, respond, move, have complex organized functional structures, heritable variability, and have lineages which can evolve over generational time, producing new and emergent functional structures that provide increased adaptive fitness in changing environments. Reproduction involves not only the replication of the nucleic acids that carry the genetic information but the epigenetic building of the organism through a sequence of developmental steps. Such reproduction through development occurs within a larger life-cycle of the organism, which includes its senescence and death. Something that is alive has organized, complex structures that carry out these functions as well as sensing and responding to interior states and to the external environment and engaging in movement within that environment. It must be remembered that evolutionary phenomena are an inextricable aspect of living systems; any attempt to define life in the absence of this diachronic perspective will be futile…. [L]iving systems may be defined as open systems maintained in steady-states, far-from-equilibrium, due to matter-energy flows in which informed (genetically) autocatalytic cycles extract energy, build complex internal structures, allowing growth even as they create greater entropy in their environments, and capable, over multigenerational time. of evolution.

The impact of Schrödinger’s [What is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell] on a generation of physicists and chemists who were lured to biology and who founded molecular biology is well chronicled…. Knowledge about the protein and nucleic acid basis of living systems continues to be obtained at an accelerating rate, with the sequencing of the human genome as a major landmark along this path of discovery. The “self-replicating” DNA has become a major metaphor for understanding all of life. The world is divided into replicators, which are seen to be fundamental and to control development and be the fundamental level of action for natural selection, and interactors, the molecules and structures coded by the replicators…. Indeed, Dawkins relegates organisms to the status of epiphenomenal gene-vehicles, or survival machines. A reaction has set in to what is perceived as an over-emphasis on nucleic acid replication…. In particular developmental systems theorists have argued for a causal pluralism in developmental and evolutionary biology…. However, the rapid progress in gene sequencing is producing fundamental insights into the relationship of genes and morphology and has added important dimensions to our understanding of evolutionary phenomena….

What is less known is the over half-a-century of work inspired, in part, by the other pillar of Schrödinger’s argument, namely how organisms gain order from disorder through the thermodynamics of open systems far from equilibrium…. Prominent among early students of such nonequilibrium thermodynamics was Ilya Prigogine…. Prigogine influenced J. D. Bernal in his 1947 lectures on the physical basis of life to start to understand both how organisms produced their internal order while affected their environment by not only their activities but through created disorder in it…. Harold Morowitz explicitly addressed the issue of energy flow and the production of biological organization, subsequently generalized in various ways…. Internal order can be produced by gradients of energy (matter/energy) flows through living systems. Structures so produced help not only draw more energy through the system, lengthen its retention time in the system, but also dissipate degraded energy, or entropy, to the environment, thus paying Schrödinger’s “entropy debt.” Living systems then are seen an instance of a more general phenomena of dissipative structures. [According to Jantsch] “[w]ith the help of this energy and matter exchange with the environment, the system maintains its inner non-equilibrium, and the non-equilibrium in turn maintains the exchange process…. A dissipative structure continuously renews itself and maintains a particular dynamic regime, a globally stable space-time structure”…. However, thermodynamics can deal only with the possibility that something can occur spontaneously; whether self-organizing phenomena occur depend upon the actual specific conditions (initial and boundary) as well as the relationships among components…

Seeing the cell as a thermodynamic ‘dissipative structure’ was not to be considered as reducing the cell to physics, as Bernal pointed out, rather a richer physics of what Warren Weaver called “organized complexity” (in contrast to simple order or “disorganized complexity”) was being deployed…. The development of this “new” physics of open systems and the dissipative structures that arise in them was the fulfillment of the development that Schrödinger foresaw…. Dissipative structures in physical and chemical systems are phenomena that are explained by nonequilibrium thermodynamics…. The emergent, self-organizing spatio-temporal patterns observed in the Belousov-Zhabotinski reaction are also seen in biological systems (such as in slime mold aggregation or electrical patterns in heart activity)… Indeed, related self-organizational phenomena pervade biology…. Such phenomena are seen not only in cells and organisms, but in ecosystems, which reinforces the notion that a broader systems perspective is needed as part of the new physics…. Important to such phenomena are the dynamics of non-linear interactions (where responses of a system can be much larger than the stimulus) and autocatalytic cycles (reaction sequences that are closed on themselves and in which a larger quantity of one or more starting materials is made through the processes). Given that the catalysts in biological systems are coded in the genes of the DNA, one place to start defining life is to view living systems as informed, autocatalytic cyclic entities that develop and evolve under the dual dictates of the second law of thermodynamics and of natural selection…. Such an approach non-reductively connects the phenomena of living systems with basic laws of physics and chemistry…. Others intuit that an even richer physics is needed to adequately capture the self-organizing phenomena observed in biology and speculate that a “fourth law” of thermodynamics about such phenomena may ultimately be needed…. In any event, increasingly the tools developed for the “sciences of complexity” and being deployed to develop better models of living systems…. Robert Rosen has reminded us that complexity is not life itself but what he terms “the habitat of life” and that we need to make our focus on the relational. “Organization inherently involves functions and their interrelations”…. Whether the existing sciences of complexity are sufficient or a newer conceptual framework is needed remains to be seen…. Living beings exhibit complex, functional organization and an ability to become more adapted to their environments over generational time, which phenomena represent the challenge to physically-based explanations based upon mechanistic (reductionistic) assumptions. By appealing to complex systems dynamics there is the possibility of physically-based theories that can robustly address phenomena of emergence without having recourse to the type of “vitalism” that was countenanced by some in the earlier part of the twentieth century.[xii]

In other and fewer words, according to the dynamicist model of life, a living organism is essentially a far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic system, with special teleological dynamics (i.e., reproduction, growth, motility, death, and evolution or natural selection), essential indexicality (i.e.,  inherent context-dependency, together with egocentric centering in a frame of reference), and causal spontaneity (i.e., efficacious metabolism, involving DNA, by means of epigenesis).

The contemporary Kantian dimension of this doctrine, in particular, raises a further important issue about how the biological and psychological properties of real human persons are cognized or known in the exact sciences, as Kant would have understood those sciences. For the purposes of correctly understanding Kant’s conception, we must be able to see how it is no trivial fact that, in the 1750s, he wrote treatises on the rotation of the Earth, the age of the Earth, universal natural history, fire, earthquakes, and the theory of winds. Moreover, his geography lectures were continuous with his anthropology lectures.[xiii] Thus Kant was in fact a proto-theorist of non-equilibrium thermodynamic systems, in a comprehensive sense, lacking only the essentially richer mathematics of complex systems dynamics and the other post-Kantian formal tools of modern logic, biology, chemistry, and physics, not to mention those of cognitive neuroscience and the social sciences.

Now Kant also had notoriously high standards for something’s qualifying as a science. Not only must a science involve a systematic organization of objective facts or objective phenomena of some sort, it must also be strongly nomological, in the sense that it expresses necessary a priori laws (MFNS 4: 468). Sciences in this high-powered Kantian sense, in turn, can include either “constitutive” (i.e., existentially committed without conditions, empirically meaningful or “objectively valid,” and assertoric) principles or else “regulative” (i.e., at best hypothetically existentially committed, logical-fictional or merely “thinkable,” and non-assertoric) principles. An exact science can be a naturally mechanistic physical science—that is, an exact science whose subject-matter satisfies the conditions of Natural Mechanism—only if its phenomena and its laws are fully mathematically describable (MFNS 4: 470) in terms of recursive functions, which in turn are all Turing computable, according to The Church-Turing Thesis. But as I have argued elsewhere, Kant’s notion of mathematics is significantly narrower than our contemporary notion.[xiv] So we must assume that full mathematical describability in terms of recursive functions for Kant is equivalent only to analyzability in terms of what is technically known as “primitive recursive arithmetic,” because it is the quantifier-free theory of the natural numbers and the primitive recursive functions over the natural numbers—the successor function, addition, multiplication, exponentiation, etc.[xv] Therefore for Kant, at least implicitly, a given theory will be a naturally mechanistic physical science only if its underlying mathematics is no more complex than primitive recursive arithmetic. Because primitive recursive arithmetic encodes all and only the primitive recursive functions, then obviously every function within its scope is also inherently Turing-computable.[xvi]

As we have seen, Kant regards biology as a merely regulative, non-mechanistic “life science” that supplements the classical Newtonian deterministic, mechanistic mathematical physics with the teleological concept of a natural purpose or living organism (CPJ 5: 369-415). But at the same time Kant regards this biological supplementation of physics as explanatorily necessary. And that is because biology for Kant provides representations of natural phenomena that are themselves explanatorily irreducible to deterministic mechanistic concepts. This thought is beautifully captured in a text I have quoted several times already:

It is quite certain that we can never adequately come to know the organized beings and their internal possibility in accordance with merely mechanical principles of nature, let alone explain them; and this is indeed so certain that we can boldly say that it would be absurd for humans ever to make such an attempt or to hope that there might yet arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws. (CPJ 5: 400, underlining added)

In short, Kant has in effect anticipated the dynamicist model of life, with its leading conception of far-from-equilibrium, asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamics, and in so doing, he has in effect conceptually revolutionized the familiar classical notions of mechanistic causation and the linear equilibrium dynamics of inertial physical systems. Echoing the title of Mensch’s book, we can think of the dynamicist model of life as implying an Organicist Revolution that is fully comparable to Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” in metaphysics. Kant’s Copernican Revolution says that in order to explain rational human cognition and authentic a priori knowledge, we must hold that necessarily, the world structurally conforms to our minds, rather than the converse. The Organicist Revolution, in turn, says that the real possibility of human consciousness, cognition, caring, rationality, and free agency, and therefore also the  “Copernican” necessary structural conformity of world-to-mind, provided that we actually do exist,[xvii] is built essentially into the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of organismic life, and necessarily underdetermined by naturally mechanical processes and facts. Hence the Organicist Revolution that is implied by the dynamicist model of life not only includes Kant’s Copernican Revolution, but also goes one full revolutionary cycle beyond it.

One crucial further implication of the dynamicist model of life flows from the fact that the mathematics of non-equilibrium thermodynamics is essentially richer than primitive recursive arithmetic and Peano Arithmetic alike, in that it includes a full range of non-linear functions. Now Gödel’s incompleteness theorems say:

(i) that there are logically unprovable true sentences in any elementary or classical second-order logical system that also includes enough axioms of Peano arithmetic, and

(ii) that all such logical systems are consistent (i.e., non-contradictory) if and only if they are incomplete (i.e., not all the truths of the system are theorems of the system) and have their ground of truth outside the system itself.[xviii]

So Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, taken together with The Church-Turing Thesis, jointly show that formal logical proof is not sufficient for mathematical truth, and also that mathematical truth itself is not a Turing-computable function that could be realized on a digital computing machine. Therefore mathematical truth itself, and especially including mathematical truths of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, are inherently uncomputable, non-naturally-mechanistic facts of physical nature.

The thesis of ontological emergence says that new, global or system-wide causally efficacious properties can arise in certain thermodynamic systems over time, and that these properties inherently change the overall thermodynamic constitution of the entire system.[xix] This ontological emergence thesis is significantly metaphysically stronger than either the thesis of epistemic emergence (which merely says that thermodynamic systems can exemplify global relational properties that cannot be known or predicted by knowing the intrinsic non-relational properties of their parts together with their extrinsic law-governed modes of relational combination) or the minimal thesis of historical emergence (which merely says that thermodynamic systems can exemplify global relational properties at later times, that they did not exemplify at earlier times). Given the notion of a far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic system, then the dynamicist model of life predicts that there are natural systems of interacting material proper parts or elements whose actual behaviors over time can be neither digitally computed nor nomologically predicted due to random exchanges of causal information, energy, and matter with the surrounding environment, and that exemplify ontologically emergent, causally efficacious properties that are not strongly supervenient on the intrinsic non-relational properties of the elements of the system together with their extrinsic relational properties. These properties, as I have said, are rich, causally efficacious immanent structures that dynamically emerge “between” the simpler pre-existing thermodynamic structures of equilibrium, temporally reversible, or otherwise mechanical systems, which ontologically “open up and unfold into” the far-from-equilibrium, temporally irreversible, complex dynamic system that thereby becomes causally dominant, just as the rich, continuous, nondenumerably infinite mathematical structures of the real number system constructively emerge—say, by means of the power set operation, or the Dedekind-cut operation—“between” the simpler, non-continuous, denumerably infinite mathematical structures of the pre-existing rational or natural number systems which mathematically “open up and unfold into” the more complex number system that thereby becomes quantitatively dominant.

This, again, is dynamic emergence. For example, according to the accounts provided by contemporary cosmological physics, it is plausibly arguable that The Big Bang (exemplifying thermodynamic expansion) and black holes (exemplifying thermodynamic collapse) are far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic systems with ontologically emergent properties.[xx]

For my current purposes, what is most crucial is neither the non-trivial fact that The Big Bang and black holes are thermodynamic systems of this special kind, nor the equally non-trivial fact that the thesis of ontological emergence predicted by non-equilibrium thermodynamics is significantly more metaphysically robust than either a mere epistemic emergence thesis or a mere historical emergence thesis. Instead, what is most crucial is that, according to the dynamicist model of life, the conscious, caring, intentional, and rational biological and neurobiological processes of rational human animals, i.e., real human persons, also constitute far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic systems and also exemplify ontological emergence. If so, then the real human personal activity of self-organization is inherently non-naturally-mechanistic in the strong sense that it inherently exceeds the reach of mere causal quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy conservation, together with Turing-computability, and also implements the abstract structures of naturally purposive or naturally teleological systems and intentional systems, while still being fully compatible with, although necessarily underdetermined by, all the general deterministic or indeterministic causal laws of nature, especially including the Conservation Laws, together with all the settled quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially including The Big Bang.

The conscious, intentional, caring, and rational biological and neurobiological processes of real human persons are, as it were, and as I mentioned in the section 1.1, Little Bangs: small-scale causal singularities. Like all living organisms, they are really causally efficacious, because of their full compatibility with all the general causal laws of nature, especially including the Conservation Laws, together with all the settled quantity of matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially including The Big Bang, yet their specific activities and operations are also necessarily underdetermined by this minimal cosmic matter-and/or-energy grid. So real human persons are, to that extent, nomologically unique. This means that via their conscious, intentional, caring, and rational living organismic, causally spontaneous choices and acts, they bring into existence “one-off,” or one-time-only, causal-dynamical laws of rational human activity, that robustly enrich and supplement physical nature’s repertoire of general causal laws.

According to this neo-Aristotelian, contemporary Kantian, dynamicist picture of physical nature, most explicitly—but unfortunately, also only fragmentarily—adumbrated by Kant himself in the Opus postumum, the complete set of deterministic-mechanical general causal laws provides a minimal or skeletal causal-dynamic architecture for nature, which is then gradually elaborated, and creatively filled out, by the one-off laws of far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic systems. So according to the dynamicist model, not only does every thermodynamic process increase entropy, but also some thermodynamic processes also dissipate entropy, and thereby generate “negentropy,” by increasing the structural ordering of nature, thereby actualizing its energetic potentialities in essentially novel ways, via natural purposiveness and natural teleology, especially by means of the causally spontaneous “productive capacity” of living organisms (CPJ 5: 421-425). In the case of organisms, this is the same as epigenesis. Through dissipative processes, especially those of organismic life via epigenesis, no new quantitites of matter and/or energy ever come into existence (i.e., matter and/or energy conservation always obtains) : only new immanent structurings and structures of matter and/or energy. A paradigmatic case of this is the intentional body-movements of minded animals, especially including rational human animals.[xxi]

As I pointed out in section 2.0, explanatory irreducibility is the irreducibility of certain mental representations to other mental representations, and by contrast, ontological irreducibility is the irreducibility of certain worldly properties to other worldly properties. Provided that there is a necessary one-to-one connection between distinct mental representations and distinct worldly properties, then  explanatory irreducibility entails ontological irreducibility. Now Kantian Non-Conceptualism guarantees the necessary one-to-one connection between the representation of life and the causally efficacious, immanent structural functional properties and/or facts that constitute living organisms. In this way, via Kantian Non-Conceptualism, representational anti-mechanism yields dynamicism. Therefore, according to the neo-Aristotelian and contemporary Kantian dynamicist model of life, not only can there never be a Newton of a blade or grass, but also there can never be either a Church or a Turing of a blade of grass, or of the actual biological life of the rational human animal body, in both an explanatory sense and also an ontological sense, although Kant himself was more critically cautious about the latter.

Nevertheless, even for Kant’s officially cautious view about the merely “regulative” and not “constitutive” semantic status[xxii] of teleological judgments and the concept of natural purposiveness alike, it remains true for Kant that necessarily, were it to be the case that natural purposes existed in the manifestly real natural world, then Natural Mechanism would be false, and also true that the specific modal character of the antecedent of that necessary subjunctive conditional is real (synthetic) possibility, not merely logical or conceptual (analytic) possibility. Moreover, even if Kant holds that teleological judgments are not constitutive, but instead only regulative, he can still consistently hold that we also have constitutive teleological intuitions of inner and outer sense, expressing pleasure and pain, aka “the feeling of life,” that provide direct, veridical cognitive access to our own biological life, via the essentially non-conceptual content of essentially embodied experience. Hence on perfectly legitimate Kantian cognitive-semantic grounds, we can prove that at least some essentially non-mechanical, biological facts actually exist, in us, as human animals. So even Kant’s officially cautious view is on the verge of committing itself to the ontological implications of my Kantian Non-Conceptualist version of representational anti-mechanism—the robustly anti-physicalist, anti-mechanist metaphysics of dynamicism.

We may now recall Chalmers’s remark, quoted above as one of the epigraphs of this chapter, in strong support of physicalism about life, i.e., in strong support of Natural Mechanism:

Presented with a full physical account showing how physical processes perform the relevant functions, a reasonable vitalist would concede that life has been explained. There is not even conceptual room for the performance of these functions without life.

What I want to say in direct, three-part reply to Chalmers is this:

(i) that a so-called “reasonable vitalist” is in fact a Kantian Non-Conceptualist representational anti-mechanist, and neither a substance vitalist nor a property or functional vitalist,

(ii) that the relevant organismic functions are truly described by the dynamicist model of life, and neither by naturally mechanistic analysis, nor by “pop-out emergentist” functional analysis, and

(iii) that even if “there is not even conceptual room for the performance of these functions without life,” there is nevertheless more than enough essentially non-conceptual room for explanatorily and ontologically irreducible organismic life to perform its special far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic functions.

This sets the stage for the three anti-physicalist, anti-mechanist arguments I will spell out in the next and penultimate section of this chapter.


[i] See also Hanna, Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy, esp. chs. 4-5; and Hanna, Kant, Science, and Human Nature,  ch. 6.

[ii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Kant and Nonconceptual Content,” European Journal of Philosophy 13 (2005): 247-290; R. Hanna, “Kantian Non-Conceptualism,” Philosophical Studies 137 (2008): 41-64; R. Hanna, “The Myth of the Given and the Grip of the Given,”DIAMETROS 27 (March 2011), at URL = <>; R. Hanna, “Beyond the Myth of the Myth: A Kantian Theory of Non-Conceptual Content,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19 (2011): 321–396; and R. Hanna and M. Chadha, “Non-Conceptualism and the Problem of Perceptual Self-Knowledge,” European Journal of Philosophy 19, 2 (June 2011): 184-223.

[iii] Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, ch. 2.

[iv] See, e.g., J. Bermúdez and A. Cahen, “Nonconceptual Mental Content,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), E.N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>; G. Evans, Varieties of Reference (Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press, 1982), esp. chs. 4-6; and Y. Gunther (ed.), Essays on Nonconceptual Content (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003).

[v] See, e.g., J. McDowell, Mind and World (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1994); McDowell, Having the World in View;  S. Sedivy, “Must Conceptually Informed Perceptual Experience Involve Non-conceptual Content?,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 26 (1996): 413-431; and B. Brewer, Perception and Reason (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999).

[vi] Maiese and I have worked out the relevant corresponding analysis of basic intentional actions, and also the relevant corresponding metaphysics of mental causation, in Embodied Minds in Action, chs. 3-5 and 6-8.

[vii] See, e.g., H. Dreyfus, “The Myth of the Pervasiveness of the Mental,” in J. Schear (ed.), Mind, Reason, and Being in the World  (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 15-40, at p. 17; and S. Crowell, Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

[viii] See Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, ch. 2.

[ix] Actually, Kant’s argument is unsound: there can be incongruent counterparts even if space and time are not transcendentally ideal, but instead manifestly real. See Hanna, “Kantian Non-Conceptualism.” Nevertheless Kant’s argument is still philosophically inspiring, because the existence of incongruent counterparts does indeed soundly entail that our discriminating representation of them is concept-independent: concepts do not suffice to discriminate the counterparts.

[x] See, e.g., Godfrey-Smith, Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature; E. Schrödinger, What is Life?: The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992); Varela, Principles of Biological Autonomy; B. Weber, “Emergence of Life and Biological Selection from the Perspective of Complex Systems Dynamics,” in  G. van de Vijver et al. (eds.), Evolutionary Systems: Biological and Epistemological Perspectives on Selection and Self-Organization (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1998); and B. Weber and D. Depew, “Natural Selection and Self-Organization: Dynamical Models as Clues to a New Evolutionary Synthesis,” Biology and Philosophy 11 (1996): 33-65.

[xi] See, e.g., S.A. Kauffman, The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution (New York: Oxford Univ. Press., 1993); S.A. Kauffman,  At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995); G. Nicolis and I. Prigogine, Self-Organization in Nonequilibrium Systems (New York: Wiley, 1977); and I. Prigogine, Being and Becoming: Time and Complexity in the Physical Sciences (New York: W.H. Freeman, 1980).

[xii] B. Weber, “Life,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  (Spring 2015 Edition), E.N. Zalta (ed.), available online at URL = <>. See also Weber and Varela, “Life After Kant: Natural Purposes and the Autopoietic Foundations of Biological Individuality.”

[xiii] See, e.g., H. Caygill, A Kant Dictionary (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), p. 214.

[xiv] See R. Hanna, “Mathematics for Humans: Kant’s Philosophy of Arithmetic Revisited,” European Journal of Philosophy 10 (2002): 328-353.

[xv] See T. Skolem, “The foundations of elementary arithmetic established by means of the recursive mode of thought, without the use of apparent variables ranging over infinite domains,” in J. v. Heijenhoort (ed.), From Frege to Gödel (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press), pp. 302-333.

[xvi] See, e.g., Hunter, Metalogic, pp. 232-233.

[xvii] This thesis is what I call “weak or counterfactual transcendental idealism.” See Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, esp. section 7.3.

[xviii] See, e.g., K. Gödel, “On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems,” in J. Van Heijenoort (ed.), From Frege to Gödel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967), pp. 596-617; and Boolos and Jeffrey, Computability and Logic, chs. 15-16.

[xix] See, e.g., M. Silberstein, and J. McGeever,  “The Search For Ontological Emergence,” Philosophical Quarterly 49  (1999): 182-200.

[xx] See Prigogine, The End of Certainty, ch. 8.

[xxi] See Hanna and Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action, esp. chs. 3-5, and 8.

[xxii] On Kant’s distinction between “regulative” and “constitutive” judgments, see Hanna, “Kant’s Theory of Judgment,” section 2 supplement.


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