Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic

Kants line of thought is as follows think of gravity

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Unformatted text preview: alone in suggesting a middle way. It could be (he said) that a spirit which can’t err or deceive originally implanted these laws of nature in us. But there is so much human error - including plenty of it in Crusius’ own system! - that it seems very dangerous to rely on this line of thought. Even if some things have been instilled in us by the Spirit of Truth, we have no reliable way of distinguishing these from ones put there by the Father of Lies. 44 constitution or inner nature·.) For example, take any two straight lines that intersect one another and intersect some circle (any circle you like): The rectangle constructed with the two segments of one of the lines is equal to the rectangle constructed with the two segments of the other. Now I ask: Does this law lie in the circle or in the understanding? That is: Is the basis for this law something contained in the figure itself, independently of the understanding, or is the situation rather that the understanding, having constructed the figure according to its concepts (a set of points equidistant from a given point) introduces into it this law about the chords cutting one another in geometrical proportion? When we follow the proofs of this law, we soon see that it can only be derived from the equality of the circle’s radii, which is the basis for the understanding’s construction of this figure. But we can replace the concept on which the circle is based by a more general one that fits every sort of conic section (the circle being just one kind); that will further the project of unifying various properties of geometrical figures under common laws; and if we take that step we shall find that all the chords that intersect within the ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola, always intersect in such a way that the rectangles of their segments always Ÿbear a constant ratio to one another (the circle is the special case where they Ÿare equal). If we proceed still further, to the fundamental laws of physical astronomy, we find that the whole of the material world is governed by a physical law of mutual attraction for which the rule is: The force of attraction decreases inversely as the square of the distance from each attracting point, that is, as the spherical surfaces increase over which the force spreads. [Kant’s line of thought is as follows. Think of gravity as radiating out from a point, exerting the same total force evenly across the surface of each imaginary sphere with that point as centre. The Ÿsurface-areas of the spheres differ with the squares of their radii, i.e. their distance from the central point; that’s simple geometry. Then Ÿthe amount of gravitational force received by an object of a given size will vary with the proportion of its sphere-surface that it occupies, which means that it will vary inversely with the square of its distance from the gravitational source.] The simplicity of the sources of this law, which rest merely on the relation of spherical surfaces of different radii, is matched by what follows from it, namely such a splendid variety and harmony of consequences that not only are all possible orbits of the celestial bodies conic sections, but these orbits are inter-related in such a way that no law of attraction other than the inverse-square one can be imagined as appropriate for a cosmic system. So here is a nature that rests on laws that the understanding knows a priori, and chiefly from the universal principles of the geometry of space. Now I ask: ŸDo the laws of nature lie in space, and does the understanding learn them merely by trying to discover the great wealth of meaning that lies in space; or Ÿdo they inhere in the understanding and in how it configures space . . . .? Because it is so uniform and so indeterminate in its particular properties, one wouldn’t look to space for a store of laws of nature. ·In contrast with that, there is no threat of uniformity in the understanding!· What imposes circles, cones and spheres on space is the understanding, in its role as provider of the basis for of the constructions of those figures. So the mere universal form of intuition - we call it ‘space’ - is the underlay of all intuitions of particular objects. There’s no denying that Ÿspace makes the Ÿintuitions 45 possible in all their variety; but the unity of the Ÿobjects - ·or rather the unity among the intuitions that enables them to qualify as intuitions of objects· - comes ·not from space but· entirely from the understanding, in accordance with conditions that lie in its own nature. And so the understanding is the origin of the universal order of nature, in that it brings all appearances under its own laws, and thereby constructs the formal aspects of experience a priori, so that nothing can be known by experience except what conforms to the understanding’s laws. The nature of Ÿthings in themselves is independent of the conditions of our sensibility and our understanding; but our concern is not with that but rather with Ÿnature considered as an object of possible experience; and here the understanding, by making experience possible, brings it about that the world of the senses either is nature (·in my sense, as...
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This note was uploaded on 03/12/2013 for the course PHIL 105 taught by Professor Mendetta during the Spring '13 term at SUNY Stony Brook.

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