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New Buddha

Newton & Leibniz : Hume & Kant

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From The Worlds of Hume and Kant: [ brackets are my added words ] {.... indicates breaks in text}

Just how the capacities of Understanding, Reason and Judgment are involved in the activities of knowing, willing and feeling and in what ways they are related to the realms of Nature and Freedom is exactly what Kant's philosophy is all about. {....}

If the world we know is partly a function of our minds [innate structures], then the structures of our experience [in the mind] must reflect the nature of the contributions we make of it.

Kant held with the rationalistic tradition that knowledge, to be knowledge, must be certain and beyond doubt. Further, he believed that we possess such certain knowledge in the form of Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics, sciences that tell us something about the world. {....}

It was generally supposed that scientists were able to arrive at such principles because they experimented and observed in order to discover relationships between things. It was, of course, the analysis of David Hume that flatly denied that any amount of observations could ever establish for us matter of fact knowledge of any such relationships at all. While Hume tended to relegate all knowledge of matters of fact to the limbo of custom and habit, Kant read Hume's skepticism as the result of our misunderstanding the nature of experience as the source of knowledge. If Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics constitutes real knowledge, and if conceiving of experience through perceptual observation alone makes this knowledge impossible [per Hume] to explain, then so much the worse for that conception of experience. If the certainty of our knowledge of the experienced world cannot be found in perception [observations via telescopes, measurements, etc.], then the only other source available is the [innate structures] mind for which it is an experience.


Now, in the early 1700's there were a series of correspondences between Newton and Leibniz (via an intermediary, Samuel Clarke) regarding the fact that orbits are not precise, per the inverse square law, as demonstrated in Newton's Principia – and that over time, the instability of the observed orbits would continue to grow until the entire system would fall apart. Newton took the position that God would have to step-in every now and then [providence] and correct the orbits to keep them stable.

From Science and Religion in Seventeenth Century England :

In a famous jibe the German philosopher Leibniz charged that Newton pictured God as a bumbling watchmaker, so unskillful that His piece had to be cleaned and repaired from time to time.

A major point of discussion not just between Newton and Leibniz but among most scientists in the 17th and 18th Century was the role, if any, of God's active, ongoing participation (providence) in maintaining the “Laws of Nature”. The specific differences between Newton and Leibniz regarding causation, mass, vacuum, space and time, force, energy, gravity, etc. are historically interesting (and Leibniz did have an influence on Einstein's Relativity) but they aren't really necessary to understanding what Kant was trying to do by establishing his Categories of Understanding as an a priori, mental structure into which observations were “fitted”.  Think of a "round" percept fitting into a "square" hole of a concept.

More to follow:

Boydstun likes this

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Posted (edited)


Kant and Principia

Space, Rotation, Relativity - Kant


PS - In that second link, my essay was written in 1997. I'd like to mention two scholarly grand works appearing since then and pertinent to the topics in that essay: The volume Natural Science (2012) in the Cambridge edition of the works of Immanuel Kant. And by Michael Friedman, Kant's Construction of Nature (2013).

Edited by Boydstun

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Posted (edited)

Since Ilya is here, I thought I would bump this and also thank Boydstun.  He has a wonderful paper on Kant, with the link above.  He greatly anticipated the direction I was taking this post.

Edited by New Buddha

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