Late Kant: Towards Another Law of the Earth

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Late Kant. By Peter Fenves. Edition 1st Edition. First Published Imprint Routledge. Pages pages. Subjects Humanities. Interpreters have failed to identify such an argument in Part One. With deceptive simplicity, the section titles of Part One, viewed as components in an architechtonic system of religion, constitute steps in just such a proof. Volume 46 , Issue 2. The full text of this article hosted at iucr. If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account.

If the address matches an existing account you will receive an email with instructions to retrieve your username. Search for more papers by this author. Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation. Share Give access Share full text access. Share full text access. They can only do their best and better their odds for deliverance by remorseful introspection.

Pietism honed remorse into a fine art. God's grace will wipe the slate clean, but grace is neither predictable nor verifiable. The only measure, if there is any, is the intensity of shame—the stronger the cultivated feelings of guilt, the better the chances for salvation. The education at the Collegium institutionalized this guilt and sought to properly instruct its charges with a contrite spirit and sense of conservative propriety. One should feel an enthusiastic guilt and sense of turpitude in an effort to become a better citizen, both spiritually and practically.

With the exception of a certain Heydenreich, a friendly Latinist who introduced Kant to Lucretius's De rerum natura Borowski 38—9 , high school stunted Kant's growth.

Kant’s Philosophical Development

He excelled at Latin, an emphasis at the school, and Greek, but struggled with theology and arithmetic. He appears to have enjoyed classic authors under the guidance of Heydenreich and many thought he would take up classics at university. The lack of scientific training would hamper his later explorations of nature. He tried to make up for it at the university in , but his mathematics instructor, Privatdozent Christian Ammon — was ignorant of the calculus Kuehn b: 13—16 —an essential tool for understanding the cutting-edge physical research of the day.

Kant's quantitative skills were to remain substandard; when he calculated, the results usually came out all wrong Adickes a: 73—83; b: —9. This lack in mathematical training played into his belated comprehension of Newton's work, yet did not harm Kant's appreciation for him. Such a substandard education in arithmetic, philosophy and the sciences were the norm at the Collegium Fridericianum , and Kant would have to continually work to make up for this early deficit.

Hence Kant's later contributions to natural science would have to remain of a conceptual sort. High school may have also affected the development of Kant's ethics. In the absence of data, this effect is conjectural. Still, common sense suggests that his later interest in dignity and the value of autonomy might have been influenced by the treatment he suffered and witnessed in school. Moreover, these experiences may also explain Kant's exclusion of emotion from ethics; a curious exclusion, given his emphasis of the importance of the good will Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals ; —5.

Anna Kant died in , when Immanuel was thirteen. This may be due, in part, to the daily exposure to the guilt associated with the doctrines of morality to which Immanuel was exposed at the Collegium. And without a mother as an affectionate and sane counterweight, the oppressiveness and negative associations of guilt and morality must have taken its toll. He suffered the pious whim of teachers, eager to instill feelings of guilt for the sake of salvation.

His later contempt for emotion is arguably unjustified, but his upbringing suggests an explanation. Financial considerations at home left much to be desired. His widowed father filed his taxes as a pauper. But, a maternal uncle, shoemaker Richter, supported Immanuel's studies. In addition, Immanuel supplemented his uncle's beneficence by working as a tutor to fellow students. Often he did so for free, but, on occasion, Kant would accept luxuries to supplement his modest means. He was a sober and quiet student, not engaging in the frivolous activities common to university students.


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He enjoyed playing billiards, and did so with such skill that he and his companions often won small sums of money to help defray the cost of living. As a member of the university, Kant had risen to a new rank within society. In so doing, he enjoyed privileges of this class and exemptions from duties e. For a person of slight build and fragile constitution, Kant's upward social status concomitant exemptions very likely saved his life. Pastor Schulz had hoped the university student Kant would pursue a church career, but instead he took courses in logic, ethics, metaphysics, natural law, and mathematics.

Martin Knutzen — , Kant's advisor, introduced him to the Principia and the Optics , and probably led him to think about natural philosophy. Additionally, Kant attended classes with Johann Gottfried Teske — , whose courses on electricity and experimental physics would inspire Kant's doctoral dissertation De Igne or Meditations on Fire Four years into his university education, the Kant family suffered another set-back. In , Kant's father, Johann, suffered a stroke. Immanuel, twenty years old and now the head of the family, attended to his father's health and stopped attending classes the following year.

He started writing on natural philosophy around this time, trying to determine the properties of force, a theme much in currency at the time. In , he buried his father, wrote the bulk of his first work, submitted it to the censor, and secured a publisher.


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  4. A year later, in , he completed the Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces , settled the family's affairs, found homes for his younger brother and three sisters, and moved in with another student. The Living Forces is his first known text, first publication, and first book. But when Kant completed it, he withdrew from the university. In , he left town, without a degree, to work as a tutor for a noble family in the countryside. It is tempting to explain Kant's academic failure with financial reasons—his parents were deceased and the children had no savings.

    Ostensibly Kant was responsible for not merely himself, but for his siblings as well.

    Finances were tight, at the very best. However, the Kant family did have a benefactor, their uncle Richter, who paid his course fees when Kant was enrolled and financed his publication after Kant had left Borowski 46; Lasswitz Richter would keep supporting him and paid the printer for his second book , too. Poverty was thus not likely the reason for his withdrawing. Nor was it the lack of a thesis. The Living Forces is a technical tract, pages in the edition, more than enough for a Magister -degree. Yet Kant wrote the book in German, not in the Latin required for academic theses, although high school had provided him with excellent philological skills.

    Apparently he had not intended to submit the Living Forces as his Master's thesis. The contents supply the key. He declares that he shall criticize Leibniz and Wolff ii, He rejects the doctrine of pre-established harmony according to which substances do not interact, rejecting Leibniz's claim Monadology sec. For Kant, they do. Following Knutzen who had earned his doctorate with a similar critique in he says that substances change each other's states by their mutual actions 4, Kant argues 3, that force and motion have little to do with one another.

    Force is not so much about motion and more about being. That Kant criticized Leibniz and Wolff should have improved his chances at graduation. Knutzen questioned their views, too. And critically evaluating Leibniz and Wolff was the righteous thing to do, even in the moderate Pietist atmosphere of Kant's university.

    The theologian Lange in Halle had orchestrated Wolff's expulsion from Prussia and triggered a furious row over Wolff's Leibnizian leanings — Other Pietists followed suit and rejected Wolff because his support of Leibnizian harmony. This, combined with his view of the world as a network of uniform substances, smelled of heresy. Wolff was considered a dangerous radical. But Kant's reasons for criticizing Wolff were different—Wolff was not radical enough.

    Kant lays out his view in the first ten sections. Everything begins with force. It is even prior to extension, as Leibniz had already said 1; Here Leibniz is right, Kant thinks, and praises him for having shed light on the Aristotelian concept of the entelechy, and Leibniz's recovery of the basis for substantial forms. Yet Leibniz does not go far enough.

    Nature's units are active forces 1—3; — Their action is constructive; they make and sustain the fabric of nature. The world is a tapestry of energy concentrations. Forces rule everything, not only bodily motions 2; This includes mind-body interaction—materially produced ideas and mentally intended actions 6; Dynamic action is absolutely fundamental. Force has effects by acting externally ausser sich wirken ; 4; A force acts by radiating its action; it spreads its effects out ihre Wirkungen von sich ausbreiten ; 10; With action comes location Ort , with location space Raum , and with space the universe Welt —and none of this would be without force.

    Localized forces weave the world 8 such that their interaction forms networks 7 , braiding relation, order, and space 9, Force is the primum , knitting space and everything within. As one source acts on what is outside of it, multiple sources act on one another. They do so when their fields meet. For example, throw two pebbles into a pond and watch the interfering ripples: first, point sources encounter each other's activities at the boundary of their expanding radiations; next, these pulses, when striking each other, are modified when struck.

    External modifications of a radiation affect its internal makeup. Since force is an active pulse, and since activity, for Kant, describes force better than anything else, a collision with another field has constitutive effects on the original activity. Consider weather—when air masses collide, they affect each other's dew point, temperature, or pressure. Hence Kant concludes that the action of force-points amounts to mutual changes of their internal states 4; Dynamic expansion and interaction through location makes space, and reciprocal action creates structure.

    Force-points stretch, grip, and take hold, and the mutually modifying engagements constitute their connections 7; This has consequences. This interactive bond is constitutive of reality. These bold ideas doomed the text. A Christian advisor, even an open-minded one, could never approve it.

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    The dynamic ontology in chapter 1 contradicts the genesis account found in the Bible. According to the Bible, God is the creator of everything. But Kant suggests that force creates everything—force, not God, is the creator of nature. Worse, force can be modeled mathematically, as he argues in chapter 2, and it can be jointly determined by two quantities, as he argues in chapter 3. Now Kant speaks of God as possible maker of multiple universes 8; , as engineer of dimensions 11; , and as sealing off this world from improbable others ibid.

    But in the same breath 7—10 , he makes force responsible for these tasks. And he already showed his hand in his praise for the entelechy. Entelechies are programs of the self-organization and sustenance of things—in Aristotle's words, a dynamis put en ergon or put in action; i.

    Beginner's Guide to Kant's Moral Philosophy

    Kant's waffling over God and force permits only two readings. Neither of them would be palatable to any Christian worth his salt: either God is creative force, or God created creative force. By Kant's account, the former would mean that God is describable as a physical quantity. The latter would imply that force, not God, created the universe. Whoever suggests either is not a believer and does not deserve to graduate under a Pietist advisor, not even a liberal one. So Kant was passed over.

    Knutzen never recommended him, and in Knutzen's letters to Leonard Euler —83 , he is not on the list of excellent students Waschkies The professor had more regular favorites, such as Johann Weitenkampf b. Kant took resort to irony 4; Many years later , after Knutzen's death, when Kant finally enjoyed some public recognition, he would secure his long-desired professorship by striking a deal with the administration to snatch Knutzen's chair from Buck, pushing the pet student to another post without even asking. He needed hope because he had made up his mind. He knew what he was doing, and he was defiant.

    Kant's own intent was to understand the powers of nature and he set out to solve the puzzle of force. The Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces was a contribution to the so-called vis-viva -controversy; its goal was to settle the issue once and for all. The issue was as simple as it is profound: what is force, and how can it be measured? The controversy had begun in the previous century and was rife through the entirety of the modern period. Following the implications of his mechanical description of physical substances, Descartes argued that force is reducible to the mathematical quantity of motion observable in matter.

    Descartes contended that this quantity is conserved in the universe. Nature is matter in motion, and motion is the explanatory principle. Cartesian essence can be isolated to physical and mental substances and force is neither of these. Force is not a dynamic essence, nor an essence at all. It is merely a quantity of motion calculable in another substance. By his rendering, Descartes reduced physics to kinematics. Leibniz rejected the Cartesian formulation. Force is real, he argued, and it is more than a quantity mv of Decartes — it is the basic quality of nature and its activity can be observed in nature.

    Leibniz expanded physics to a dynamics. Leibniz was correct about rising and falling bodies, but the Cartesians Descartes had died in pointed to other experiments in support of the mv -formula. Unfortunately for the early debate, the issue could not be decided—because both sides had been right; there is both momentum and kinetic energy. So the arguments continued for decades. After Leibniz's death , the controversy continued through his followers, who quarreled with the current crop of French Cartesians.

    Newtonians were split over vis viva ; Newton and his British fans rejected it, while continental Newtonians accepted it. After Newton's death , in the s, the issue was settled—in Newton's favor. D'Alembert proved that there is a place for both quantities in physics Before that, Euler had already found out that Descartes's momentum is Newton's force acting over time, and Leibniz's kinetic energy is Newton's force acting through space. It did take, however, a while before this information spread and became generally accepted. The debate died down around the time Kant published the Living Forces Kant's debut was one of the many attempts at settling the dispute, but for all practical purposes, it was a failure.

    The Living Forces appeared too late to make any difference, and Kant was unaware of d'Alembert's and Euler's research. But what doomed the book in the public eye was that Kant seemed to have bet on the wrong team of horses. He argued for a synthesis of Cartesian kinematics and Leibnizian dynamics, and did so at the expense of Newtonian mechanics. At the time he grasped Newton's ideas only partially. He did not yet understand that motion, like rest, is a state something Galileo had discovered and that force is needed only for changing, not for keeping a state which is Newton's first law of motion.

    He not only implicitly rejected Newton through such mistakes, but also explicitly questions his authority preface, He tried to determine force without even mentioning the second law of motion that defines it as the product of mass and acceleration. For Kant, Newtonian mechanics was irrelevant. While there are hundreds of references to Descartes and Leibniz in the book, the references to Newton can be counted on the fingers of one hand. In fact, however, Kant was not as mistaken as it seemed at the time. More importantly, he proposed a deep connection.

    While showing in chapter 2 that Descartes's quantity is empirically well supported, he argued in chapter 3 that Leibniz's quantity must be factored in to arrive at a full qualitative understanding of force. That is, Kant not only regarded momentum and energy as relevant quantities, as d'Alembert had done, but he grasped that their union points to the universal nature of force.

    This was sharper than even Euler's insight. Euler had discovered that these quantities are derivable from Newtonian force and that there is accordingly a quantitative connection among them. But Kant invested this connection with qualitative meaning, arguing that the structure of nature must be understood in dynamic terms, and that Newton really misses the point. Throughout the book, he wrestles with the harmony of opposites, Cartesian kinematics and Leibnizian dynamics, trying to marry momentum and energy—while having the audacity to criticize Newton.

    This is the thrust of the work. Taken as a prediction, it is superb. With his first publication, Kant intuited not only that matter is ultimately energetic, but also that its dynamic measure is momentum-energy. Kant understood what force involves. He argues that force is the essence of action 4.

    Out-broadening of force ausbreiten ; Force makes the continuum, being governed, in turn, by the created structure This shift in understanding the nature of force correspondingly alters the nature one must think of material objects and dynamic interaction. The origin and source is force, and not substance, as the Cartesians had insisted. Force is responsible for substance, quantification and laws of nature—not the other way around.

    Dynamic interaction turns force into a field and the void into a plenum. Kant anticipated that momentum-energy is the substantial correlate of spacetime. Bypassing Newton, he caught up with Einstein. For Kant, force grips the void, holding it as a dimensional presence that localizes the original pulse. Force extends space, ordering it, and space places force, governing it. Space dynamically expands; force structurally acts. Each needs the other. Without force, space would lack structure Abmessungen or Dimensionen , 9—10 and could not place a world 7—9, Without space, force could not be a field Force is spaced and space is forced.

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    This is their bond —4. Indeed: mass stretches spacetime, and spacetime grips mass. In fact, Kant caught up with modern physics in several regards. Another of his insights is so basic that it is easy to miss. He defended force as the interactive matrix of nature and insisted on the importance of dynamics. The dynamic ontology of the Living Forces was ridiculed in its day, for Newton's mechanics had digested Kepler's celestial dynamics and marginalized Leibniz's physical dynamics. Yet Kant's stance would mark out the future course of science. We do not regard nature as a collection of particles and forces in empty space anymore, but instead as a system of energy-pulses interacting in fields.

    Dynamics has turned out to be fundamental. When examining the force-space bond in detail 10 , Kant discovered the law of free point source radiation The pressure of any point-source radiation in a free field drops at a rate that is inversely proportional to the square of the propagated distance. Kant's generalization unites Kepler's law of photo measurement , Newton's law of universal gravitation , and Coulomb's later law of electrostatic force as instantiations of the spread of energy.

    Its most famous application, in its first, Keplerian, instantiation, was Hubble's measure of the luminosity of distant variable stars —which led to the discoveries of cosmic expansion and the Big Bang. In the concluding reflection of the pivotal tenth section of the Living Forces , Kant recognized the contingency of the pressure-propagation ratio In light of quantum geometry and its modern guises—superstring and M-theories—this last remark might well have been Kant's most far-sighted prediction. Despite suffering from insufficient scientific training, the rejection by his advisor, the academic failure, and the catastrophe in his family, Kant's philosophical debut in reveals the mark of genius.

    For the next seven years, Kant's life would be quiet. He was now teaching children in the Baltic countryside. Finally he worked as a tutor for Count Keyserlingk until This in Kant's life is marked by social engagements, dinners and convivial living. During this time Kant's finances improved, which left him more time to attend to his tutoring and his own research.

    When Kant left town, the main influence on his thought had been Georg Bernhard Bilfinger [ 16 ] — , Wolff's former assistant at Halle. Bilfinger's heuristic method had inspired the project of Living Forces. This rule for finding truth is to identify an intermediate position when experts advance contrary views, provided ulterior motives are absent Bilfinger's rule had guided Kant to reconcile Leibniz and Descartes over force.

    This method was to characterize nearly all of his critical writings as well. In the countryside, Kant realized that his debut had met with no success, despite its inspiration.

    Immanuel Kant

    His middle way of synthesizing Leibniz and Descartes was ignored. Having criticized Newton, Kant now reconsidered his stance on Newtonian physics. When Kant published his second work, the Spin-Cycle essay , his misgivings had turned into admiration. As its title states, it is an. In the essay, he also announces his next book with the working title,. Cosmogony, or attempt to deduce the origin of the cosmos, the constitution of celestial bodies, and the causes of their motions, from the general laws of motion of matter according to Newton's theory.

    Kant's Newtonian conversion would be completed while working on the Spin-Cycle essay. The early drafts still involve discussions of Huygens's dynamics —7. But published argument is sharpened to a Newtonian point—no other natural philosopher is even mentioned. Newton had become Kant's authority and his sole scientific point of reference.

    Little is known of Kant's actual conversion. Only start and finish— Living Forces and Spin-Cycle —are present. But it does not take much imagination to fill in the blanks.

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    In , Kant promoted his book and waited for a reaction. When keeping track of the relevant journals, it could not have escaped him that Newton was the winner, nor that Leibnizian dynamics was on the wane and that support for Cartesian kinematics had all but collapsed. Force was Newtonian force. Newtonian physics had become the new paradigm of natural philosophy. By his own account, Kant was not enthusiastic about his employment, but he did not hate it either. Some of his charges affectionately stayed in touch and later sought him out in the city.

    So his tutoring responsibilities were not too great a burden. Afterwards, he would churn out publications at breath-taking speed—two tracts, one book, a Master's thesis, and a dissertation; each of them on a different topic, and all of them in little more than one year from June to September The timing suggests that he had written some of it already in the countryside.

    This means he had leisure. He taught, but also pursued his own interests. Remarkable about his Newtonian conversion is not the change of heart, but the change in competence. His first publication, despite its brilliance, reveals his confusions over basic mechanics and a remedial grasp of the mathematics needed to understand Newton. His next group of works displays a firm grasp of celestial mechanics and a growing appreciation of the Principia.

    Digesting its contents, particularly in the given form in fluxion instead of normal calculus could have taken months, if not years. The context in which Kant found himself may have lent itself to a more holistic engagement with Newton. Rural life is life in daylight. Kant had to adapt to his employers and attended to his charges during the day. Because his leisure would have been after dinner sundown or before breakfast sunrise , he probably read the Principia at night.

    Nights before the industrial revolution were different than they are now. Nights were dark, and when there was neither clouds nor a full moon, stars would blaze with intensity unfamiliar to us today. The starry skies must have been awe-inspiring. We can conjecture that Kant, studying the Principia , would occasionally step outside and look up. He was reading about celestial mechanics—and then he would see it. Kant's subsequent publications reveal his exuberance about the stars and the laws they display; just as they reveal his grasp of the planetary dance and his recognition of Newton's achievement.

    Kant's employment in the countryside can certainly be understood as a boon to his study of Newton.

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