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Kant and the Sciences

Kant and the Sciences

Edited by Eric Watkins




Oxford New York Athens Auckland Bangkok Bogota Buenos Aires Calcutta Cape Town Chennai Dar es Salaam Delhi Florence Hong Kong Istanbul Karachi Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Mumbai Nairobi Paris Sao Paulo Shanghai Singapore Taipei Tokyo Toronto Warsaw and associated companies in Berlin Ibadan

Copyright © 2001 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc. 198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016 Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Kant and the sciences/ edited by Eric Watkins. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-19-513305-6 1. Sciences-Philosophy. 2. Kant, Immanuel, 1724-1804-Contributions in science. I. Watkins, Eric, 1964Ql 75.Kl 79 2000 501-dc21 99-087207

l 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

at San Anto(iio

For Lorenz Kruger, who would, I hope, have approved

Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2022 with funding from Kahle/Austin Foundation



I would like to thank a number of people for their various contributions to this volume: to all of the contributors, but especially Michael Friedman and Karl Amer­ iks, for supporting the project so generously throughout its various stages; to Roger Ariew, Richard Burian, Joseph C. Pitt, and Robert Bates as well as the Department of Philosophy, Science and Technology Studies, and the College of Arts and Sci­ ences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, for helping to host the conference "Kant and the Sciences," at which earlier versions of many of the chap­ ters were delivered; to the Franklin J. Matchette Foundation, for a generous grant for the conference; to the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin ( especially Wolfgang Lefevre and Falk Wunderlich) for its support of my interests in the scientific context of Kant's philosophy; to Terry Zapata, Clint Jones, Seth Fairbanks, and Joe Hunter, for their help in preparing the manuscript and in organizing many of the details associated with the conference; to Catharine Carlin, Julia Balestracci, and Peter Ohlin, all of Oxford University Press, for their invalu­ able and friendly assistance throughout the editorial process. All of the chapters, except one, were written especially for this volume. "Kant's Justification of the Laws of Mechanics" by Eric Watkins appeared in Studies in the History of Philosophy of Science 29 (1998): 539-560 ( copyright by Elsevier Science Ltd.). Reprinted by permission of Elsevier Science Ltd.


XI Contributors Note on Texts and Translations 3 Introduction



1. Kant's Teachers in the Exact Sciences 11 Manfred Kuehn 2. Kant on Science and Common Knowledge 31 Karl Ameriks 3. Matter and Motion in the Metaphysical Foundations and the First Critique: The Empirical Concept of Matter and the Categories 53 Michael Friedman 4. Kant on Rational Cosmology 70 Eric Watkins PART II. PHYSICS

5. Kant's Dynamics 93 Daniel Warren 6. Kant's Mechanical Determination of Matter in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science 117 Martin Carrier 7. Kant's Justification of the Laws of Mechanics 136 Eric Watkins PART III. PSYCHOLOGY AND THE HUMAN SCIENCES

8. Kant on Empirical Psychology: How Not to Investigate the Human Mind 163 Thomas Sturm

x Contents 9. Kant on the Scientific Status of Psychology, Anthropology, 185 and History Rudolf A. Makkreel PART IV. CHEMISTRY AND BIOLOGY

10. Kant's Theory of Matter and His Views on Chemistry Martin Carrier 11. Kant on Understanding Organisms as Natural Purposes Hannah Ginsborg 12. Organisms and the Unity of Science 259 Paul Guyer Subject and Person Index Index of Passages Quoted

283 288

205 231


Karl Ameriks is Hank McMahon Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Martin Carrier is Professor of Philosophy at the Universitat Bielefeld. Michael Friedman is Ruth W. Harris Professor of Arts and Humanities at Indiana University. Hannah Ginsborg is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cali­ fornia at Berkeley. Paul Guyer is Florence Murray Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. Manfred Kuehn is Professor of Philosophy at the Philipps-Universitat at Marburg. Rudolf A. Makkr. eel is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. Thomas Sturm is completing his Ph. D. dissertation in philosophy at the Philipps­ Universitat Marburg. Daniel Warren is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. Eric Watkins is Associate Professor of Philosophy and a teaching faculty member of the Program of Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), currently visiting Associate Professor of Phi­ losophy at Yale University.

Note on Texts and Translations

All quotations from Kant's works (whether they be publications, letters, notes, marginalia, or lecture transcripts) will refer to the volume and page numbers of the Akademie edition, that is, Kants gesammelte Schr��en ed. Deutsche [formerly Koniglich Preussische] Akademie der Wissenschaften, 29 vols. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1900--), except for quotations from the Critique of Pure Reason, which will simply be referred to by A or B and the page number from the first or second edition of this work. (Alexander Baumgarten's Metaphysica and Wenceslav Karsten's Anlei­ tung zur gemeinnutzlichen Kenntnifi der Natur, both of which are also reprinted in the Akadcmie edition, will likewise be referred to by their respective volume and page numbers.) Each contributor indicates in an appropriate note which transla­ tions of Kant's works are used. Bibliographic information for all other works is supplied in the notes.


Kant and the Sciences


K-\;\'T 1 S

fame in traditional philosophical endeavors (whether it be in epistemology, ethics, or aesthetics) is well documented (by countless articles and monographs on Kant's three great Critiques: Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgment). What has received less positive atten­ tion is Kant's significance as a natural philosopher, that is, as one who attempts to incorporate a variety of scientific disciplines and practices into a single philo­ sophical system without violating the integrity of either the various methods and standards of the particular scientific disciplines or the ideals of the discipline whose task it is to unify them, namely philosophy. Insofar as Kant's philosophy of science has received attention, it has been, with some notable exceptions, mostly negative. 1 The standard criticism of Kant's natural philosophy is that he overemphasizes his own transcendental philosophy by trying to "force" a wide range of diverse scientific practices into a single philosophical mold (whether they fit the mold or not). The criticism holds for physics, it is alleged, because Kant attempts to provide an a priori foundation for a discipline that owes its success to the brilliant, but presumably contingent discoveries of one individual in particular-Isaac Newton. In other words, it is supposed that Kant believes-or his transcendental method implies-that he could have proved the fundamental principles of Newtonian physics, even if Newton had never lived, since his own proofs are completely a priori, that is independent of experience. Yet it is implausible to maintain that Kant could have proved the fundamental principles of Newtonian science without (or prior to) Newton's discoveries. More­ over, it is often thought that Kant simply dismisses disciplines other than physics as nonscientific because they do not satisfy the conditions that physics does. Therefore, since Kant cannot provide a plausible account of either physics or any other scientific discipline, his natural philosophy, it is concluded, is of no special interest. 3

4 Introduction Despite the diversity of individual theses argued for in this volume, its main purpose is to reexamine more closely Kant's considered attitude toward particular sciences in order to reevaluate Kant's natural philosophy as a whole. For upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Kant is not only aware of many details of the sciences of his day, but also quite sensitive to the different standards implicit in various scientific practices and their fundamental philosophical presuppositions. Moreover, throughout the course of his career-and despite statements he makes in one particular context, the preface to the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science-Kant does undertake a sustained attempt at developing a coherent and unified natural philosophy that nevertheless still respects these diverse standards. For example, Kant appreciates and even articulates the special achievements of Newtonian science, but he does not let the special status of physics blind him to the fact that other sciences, such as chemistry, anthropology, and biology, can be scientific in different senses. At the same time, Kant clearly strives to find a single philosophical standpoint, framework, or vocabulary from within which he can unite these various disciplines. Consequently, upon closer scrutiny of Kant's treat­ ment of various sciences one can see that the way in which he engages in philo­ sophical reflection about particular sciences and the unity that binds them together despite their diversity ought not to be immediately dismissed. This volume attempts to contribute to this reexamination and reevaluation of Kant's account of the sciences in several ways. In chapter 1, Manfred Kuehn sets the proper stage for the remaining essays by delineating the local context of Kant's scientific education. In particular, Kuehn describes each relevant member of the philosophy faculty at the university in Konigsberg and what scientific activities each one was engaged in when Kant was a student there, giving us an informed sense of what Kant's scientific training was like. On the basis of this picture, Kuehn then argues that Kant's relationship with one of his teachers, Martin Knutzen (who is often thought to have been Kant's favorite teacher), may have been much more negative or critical than is typically supposed, an evaluation which has important implications especially for our reading of Kant's early works in natural philosophy. Chapters 2 through 4 articulate at a very general level different possible roles that Kant's transcendental philosophy could play with respect to science. In chapter 2, Karl Ameriks first sets Kant in the broader context of modern philosophy as a whole by suggesting (in contrast to earlier commentators) that Kant not be un­ derstood primarily as attempting to (1) defeat skepticism, (2) promote "scientism," or (3) develop a radically new ontology. Ameriks suggests that Kant's philosophy aims rather at taking the claims of common sense at face value and then attempting to mediate between such claims and the claims of science. As Ameriks puts it: Kant sees "philosophy as a systematic articulation of the sphere of conceptual frame­ works that mediate between the extremely informal and the highly formal levels of judgment within our complex objective picture of the world."



In chapter 3, Michael Friedman likewise focuses on the task of philosophy as conceived by Kant by considering the relationship between the general metaphysics of the Critique of Pure Reason and the special metaphysics of the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Kant claims that what distinguishes the latter from the former is that the latter presupposes an empirical concept, namely the concept of matter, whereas the former does not. Friedman argues that the concept of matter is empirical not in any ordinary sense, but rather in the sense that it requires actual perceptible objects to be given. As it turns out, on Friedman's account, only the system of contingently given, empirical objects of our solar system as described by Newtonian physics satisfies this requirement. This interpretation suggests (in con­ trast to Ameriks's interpretation) that "experience," whose possibility Kant is ex­ ploring in the first Critique, is exclusively "scientific experience" and that the task of theoretical philosophy thus lies primarily in understanding the conceptual pre­ suppositions of scientific experience. In chapter 4, Eric Watkins discusses Kant's acceptance of four principles of rational cosmology, namely the principles of no fate, no chance, no leap, and no gap. Watkins argues that these principles are neither purely analytic nor identical to the epistemological principles of the first Critique. Rather, they represent gen­ uine, distinctively ontological principles that underlie the principles of empirical cosmology, which would be discovered empirically. This interpretation would sug­ gest that for Kant philosophy is not governed exclusively (or primarily) by demands stemming from Newtonian science (as Friedman argues) or by attempts at medi­ ating between it and common sense (as Ameriks suggests), but by ontological demands as well. With these various interpretations of the general task of philosophy with regard to science in mind, one can turn to the remaining essays, which focus on Kant's attitude toward particular sciences. Chapters 5 through 7 focus on physics, which Kant, like many of his contemporaries, considered paradigmatic for other sciences in light of its exceptional rigor, clarity, and support. In chapter 5, Daniel Warren considers Kant's rejection of what Kant calls "mathematical-mechanical" expla­ nations in physics in favor of "metaphysical-dynamical'' explanations. In partic­ ular, Warren considers Kant's reason for rejecting solidity as a primary feature of bodies. Warren argues that Kant's rejection of solidity is based on his Critical doctrine that we can know only relational properties, whereas solidity is alleged to be an intrinsic or nonrelational property of bodies. Thus, Kant's views on physics (more specifically, on the type of explanation that should be preferred in physics) are driven at least in part by metaphysical considerations from the first Critique. In chapter 6, Martin Carrier focuses on the question of how the masses of bodies are to be determined. Kant suggests that this determination is to be accomplished primarily by considering processes of collision and pressure, that is, specifically mechanical procedures, and by rejecting "dynamical" methods. However, Kant



then suggests that one can measure the masses of bodies by means of original attraction (in the form of balances) and, even more strikingly, he describes mea­ surement by means of attraction as being mechanical, even if it is so "only indi­ rectly." Carrier argues that Kant can make good sense of this suggestion by invok­ ing the law of the equality of action and reaction (despite the fact that invoking this law is architectonically awkward insofar as this law appears after Kant's ex­ planation of how mass is to be measured). This shows, contrary to what is often assumed, that Kant is quite adept at developing sophisticated philosophical inter­ pretations of specific empirical scientific practices. In chapter 7, Eric Watkins compares Kant's laws of mechanics with Newton's laws of motion, noting significant differences between the two. Watkins argues that these differences stem from the fact that Newton's Principia was received in an intellectual climate in eighteenth-century Germany dominated by rationalistic (Leibnizian-Wolffian) concerns. Considering this context helps one to understand Kant's position and arguments on a number of crucial issues in physics where Kant differs from Newton, such as the infinite divisibility of matter and action at a distance. Kant's differences from Newton are to be understood not necessarily as unintentional deviations caused by his transcendental or a priori methodology, but rather as intentional modifications undertaken as a result of a different set of concerns and aims. Chapters 8 and 9 turn to consider f Practical Reason also uses the term " mechanical" in a narrower sense to mean ( roughly) "nonpsychological," and it e xp licitly differentiates this sense from the broader sense borne by the term " mechanism" elsewhere in the work ( 5:96-7 ) . The narrower use is akin, although not identical , to the third Critique 's use of "mechanical" in contrast to "teleological." 8. See FI I , 20: 1 73 , where Kant describes the rules governing the various practical arts, in contrast to the law of a free will, as rules "for the production of an effect which is possible according to natural concepts of causes and effects." A related point is made in the Critique of Practical Reason, 5:96-97, where Kant makes clear that causality can be nonmechanical in the sense of nonpsychological, but still belong to the mechanism of nature in a broader sense. For more discussion see Christel Fricke, "Exp laining the Inexp licable,'' Nous 24 ( M arch 1 990 ) : 5 1 . 9 . Here it might be objected that Kant holds organisms to be mechanically inexplicable in this stronger sense also. For he claims in the Only Possible Proof that we could never un­ derstand from the " inner mechanical constitution" of a tree how it could produce another tree ( 2: 1 1 4 ). However, I do not take this kind of inexplicability to follow from the mechanical inexplicability of organisms in the sense with which we are concerned. 1 0. See also Critique of Judgmen t, 5 :4 1 9n. and "On the Use of Teleological Principles in Philosophy," 8: 1 79. It should be noted that the interpretation of mechanical inexplicability presented here differs from that of many commentators in that it does not take the me­ chanical inexplicability of organisms to stem from the "epigenetic" or self-forming character by which organisms are distinguished from machines. See McLaughlin, Kant's Critique of Teleology, 1 52-53, Allison, "Kant's Antinomy, " 26-27, 35, Clark Zumbach, The Transcendent Science ( The Hague: Nijhoff, 1 984 ) , 79-92; Paul Guyer, "Organisms and the Unity of Sci­ ence" ( chapter 12 in this volume) . More specifically, it is at odds with the interpretation of mechanical explanation offered by McLaughlin and Allison, on which mechanical expla­ nation consists in the reduction of a whole to the powers of its parts ( as in the explanation of the workings of a machine in terms of its components) . A full treatment of Kant's views on mechanical explanation would require discussion of this latter interpretation, but un­ fortunately I do not have the space for that here. 1 1 . I take the conception of mechanical explanation here to be sufficiently strong as to exclude explanations of the origin of higher order forms of life by appeal to natural selection, even those which take as their starting point simple self-replicating structures such as crystals ( see for example A. G. Cairns-Smith, Genetic Takeover and the Mineral Origins of Life [ Cam­ bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1 982 ] ) . Explanations of this kind are excluded because they do not show that the powers of the available materials are sufficient to determine that organisms of the requisite level of complexity necessarily had to come into existence. Instead they treat the origin of any given species of organism-and indeed of higher level organisms tou t court-as a contingent historical event. The contingency here has been emphasized by Stephen jay Gould ( see for example chap. 5 of Wonderful Life [ New York: W. W. Norton, 1 989 ] ) . Even Richard Dawkins, who emphasizes by contrast the nonrandomness of natural selection, allows that chance is an ingredient-albeit a minor one-in the Darwinian ac­ count ( The Blind Watchmaker [New York: W. W. Norton, 1 987] ) . A n account of the origin o f organisms in terms o f natural selection would still qualify for Kant as "mechanical" in the broader sense of not appealing to ( conscious) purpose or


Chemistry and Biology

design . No n eth el e ss, o n th e li ne of though t I am asc ribi n g t o him in this ch ap ter, accep tance of such an account would n ot free us from h avi ng t o i nvoke th e co ncept of purpose i n ord e r to u n de rstand t he stru cture an d b e h avior of org an isms. For even though we c ould d i sp en se with th e n o tio n of co n sc ious purpos e i n acc ou nti ng for th e h i stori cal fa ct of organ isms' c oming to b e , we would st ill need i t-as I argu e i n th e t ext below-t o reg a rd biological re gul arities as l awlike i n th e way th at anatomic al and physiologi cal i nve stigatio n re quire s. , 1 2. When I sp eak of "biological regul ar iti es , and of th e "biological gen eral i zati o n s,, whi ch capture the m, I h ave i n mi n d prima rily th e ki n ds of re gul arities which are th e focus of an atomy, physiology, natur al h i st ory, an d more recen tly of c ell an d mol ecul ar b iology: roughly, those wh ich we must grasp in order to u n derstan d th e b eh avior of i n dividual org an isms an d th eir organ ic p arts. Prese nt -day biologists a re i nte re s ted i n re gularities of oth er ki n ds too, e.g., regul a rities i n process es of sp ec i atio n or i n th e p attern s of gen e flow i n populations. But thes e fall out s i de th e s c op e of the a rgum en t I am as c ribi n g t o K ant . 1 3. S ee I nt rodu ctio n , IV-V, an d FI II, IV-V. 1 4. S ee §80, 5:4 1 9. 1 5. S ee