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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stanford philosopher strengthens Kant's connection to natural science and Newton

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David Palumbo-Liu, Professor of Comparative Literature, Stanford University writes "Research by philosophy Professor Michael Friedman reveals how a lesser-known Kantian text serves as an important bridge between Kant's concepts of metaphysics and natural science, as well as between defining periods in Kant's development."

German philosopher Immanuel Kant's "Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science" is the subject of Stanford Professor Michael Friedman's newest book.

In the 18th century, German philosopher Immanuel Kant penned works that defined the boundaries and frontiers of human reason. 

Photo: Michael Friedman
Through a meticulously close reading of Kant's work, Stanford philosopher Michael Friedman's latest research demonstrates that many scholars have previously underplayed or misunderstood the impact of Isaac Newton's scientific writings on the eminent philosopher's thought.

Friedman's discoveries explain how Kant's work was, in fact, "profoundly influenced by Newtonian mathematical physics." The study also gives fresh importance to the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786), a Kantian text that often takes a back seat to the philosopher's better-known works

In his latest book, Kant's Construction of Nature, published by Cambridge University Press, Friedman reveals a fuller range of philosophical and scientific implications from Kant's "extremely compressed" text.

A scholar of both the philosophy of science and the history of philosophy, Friedman makes an extensive case for the relevance of Kant's deep connection to the natural and exact sciences, especially Newtonian science. "Nowhere in Kant's oeuvre is the link more pivotal," says Friedman, "than in the Foundations."

Unlike previous studies of the bridge between the Foundations and Newton, Friedman says his text is structured as "a reading of Kant's text … distinct from both a fully contextualized intellectual history and from a more traditional line-by-line commentary."

Friedman argues that "a better understanding of the way in which Kant, in this work, fashioned a fruitful synthesis of Newtonian physics and Leibnizean metaphysics can also further a better understanding of the deep conceptual transformation that began with Kant and concluded with the revolutionary new (Einsteinian) space-time theories."

Newton, Friedman asserts, provided "the best example of rational and objective knowledge of the natural world" of Kant's time. In Friedman's view, Kant's writings draw support, if not always obviously, from Newton's theories of gravity, motion, and more.
Read more... 

Additional resources 

Kant's Construction of Nature:
A Reading of the Metaphysical
Foundations of Natural Science
Michael Friedman's book develops a new and complete reading of this work and reconstructs Kant's main argument clearly and in great detail, explaining its relationship to both Newton's Principia and eighteenth-century scientific thinkers...

Source: Stanford University