Here it is permissible for the archaeologist of nature to derive from the surviving traces of its oldest revolutions, according to all its mechanism known or supposed by him, that great family of creatures (for so we must represent them if the said thoroughgoing relationship is to have any ground). He can suppose the bosom of mother earth, as she passed out of her chaotic state (like a great animal), to have given birth in the beginning to creatures of less purposive form, that these again gave birth to others which formed themselves with greater adaptation to their place of birth and their relations to each other; until this womb becoming torpid and ossified, limited its births to definite species not further modifiable, and the manifoldness remained as it was at the end of the operation of that fruitful formative power.— Only he must still in the end ascribe to this universal mother an organisation purposive in respect of all these creatures; otherwise it would not be possible to think the possibility of the purposive form of the products of the animal and vegetable kingdoms.* He has then only pushed further back the ground of explanation and cannot pretend to have made the development of those two kingdoms independent of the condition of final causes.With this little footnote, Kant sets up the ruin of the whole "Critique of the Teleological Judgment." His point, as I understand it, is that the world presents us with a permanent explanatory deficit: the infinite variety and organization of things cannot be accounted for except as the manifestation of an underlying purpose that inheres in the world but cannot, properly speaking, be derived from it. The contemplation of this purpose, particularly in its relationship to man (as its apex and destination) leads us upwards to the contemplation of moral purpose, and thence to the boring, preachy rhapsodizing about duties that Kant seems to enjoy so much. (A side note: if Kant really does love writing about moral duties, doesn't that mean that his morality is not itself moral, since it is not disinterested?)
[footnote:] We may call a hypothesis of this kind a daring venture of reason, and there may be few even of the most acute naturalists through whose head it has not sometimes passed. For it is not absurd, like that generatio aequivoca by which is understood the production of an organised being through the mechanics of crude unorganised matter. It would always remain generatio univoca in the most universal sense of the word, for it only considers one organic being as derived from another organic being, although from one which is specifically different; e.g. certain water-animals transform themselves gradually into marsh-animals and from these, after some generations, into land-animals. A priori, in the judgement of Reason alone, there is no contradiction here. Only experience gives no example of it; according to experience all generation that we know is generatio homonyma. This is not merely univoca in contrast to the generation out of unorganised material, but in the organisation the product is of like kind to that which produced it; and generatio heteronyma, so far as our empirical knowledge of nature extends, is nowhere found.
- Kant, Critique of Judgment, §80
And then Darwin comes along with his "daring venture of reason" and spoils the whole game. We have no need to postulate a purpose in nature anymore; organization and speciation are simply mechanical outcomes of plain old natural causation. Our (adulterous and sinful?) generatio is both aequivoca and univoca, both homonyma and heteronyma. Kant may still raise the feeble objection that moral purposiveness can be derived through a detour, the contemplation of freedom. But Darwin makes even this highly suspect, and at any rate this argument removes the compelling explanatory necessity for purposiveness--you may be a Kantian if that's your thing, but you are no longer forced into it by the logic of your experiences.
Hence the horror vacui evolution inspires in moralists of all kinds. In nearly every creationist attack on Darwinism, the smell of fear is palpable: what if there really is no purpose? What if we are just accidents of creation, stranded on a chance rock and doomed to a futile and meaningless extinction? The typical evolutionist response, that we create our own meaning (and similar Maslovian clichés), is not really to the purpose, as it were; the goal is to be driven to morality, not to invent it freely--for otherwise the specter of nihilism still lingers. Whitehead made the point a century ago that, far from being synonymous, science and reason are adversaries. Here, science destroys the hierarchical rationalistic ordering that supports Kant's morality, replacing it with something considerably more uncertain.
But the aesthetic judgment comes to the rescue of the teleological. If we can no longer understand nature by analogy with the beautiful, as purposeful and ordered, we can now understand it by analogy with the sublime. The very abyss that confronts us when we look at natural history--the writhing mass of species evolving and becoming extinct, chaos tempered only with a fleeting and provisional fitness--becomes the source of a kind of new dispensation. The sublime, for Kant, is not significant simply because it is an experience of something utterly beyond our ken; rather, it draws its power from our awareness of the dignity, power, and responsibility of the individual in the face of infinity (a sort of reverse Heideggerianism). We experience the sublime because we are not afraid of it, and so we come to ourselves by taking hold of our ability to stand firm in the face of evolution.
This is, of course, only one possible approach, and it does not fully resolve the problem of how Kant's specific morality may be accommodated to evolution--since, after all, the new dispensation seems much more strongly to suggest an evo-psych line of thinking. In many ways, what is typically called Nietzschean morality can be interpreted as just such an offspring of Kant and positivism (see, for instance, The Gay Science, §109). The trajectory between the two, in fact, is nothing less than the historical arc of the nineteenth-century mind.