Continuity of change in Kant’s dynamics

Synthese 196 (4):1595-1622 (2019)
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Since his Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft was first published in 1786, controversy has surrounded Immanuel Kant’s conception of matter. In particular, the justification for both his dynamical theory of matter and the related dismissal of mechanical philosophy are obscure. In this paper, I address these longstanding issues and establish that Kant’s dynamism rests upon Leibnizian, metaphysical commitments held by Kant from his early pre-Critical texts on natural philosophy to his major critical works. I demonstrate that, throughout his corpus and inspired by Leibniz, Kant endorses the a priori law of continuity of alteration as a truth of metaphysics, according to which all alterations in experience must occur gradually through all intervening degrees. The principle thus legislates against mechanical philosophy’s absolutely impenetrable atoms, as they would would involve instantaneous changes of velocity in impact. This reveals the metaphysical incoherencies in mechanical philosophy and leaves Kant’s own dynamical theory of matter, grounded on material forces, as the only viable approach to physical explanation. Subsequently, I demonstrate that Kant nevertheless made conceptual space in his system for the theoretical consideration of mechanical explanations, which makes manifest one of the positive roles that the faculty of reason can play with respect to natural science.

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Michael Bennett McNulty
University of Minnesota

Citations of this work

Kant on the Continuity of Alterations.Tim Jankowiak - 2020 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 50 (1):49-66.
Kant on the Mathematical Deficiency of Psychology.Michael Bennett McNulty - 2022 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 12 (2):485-509.

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References found in this work

Critique of Pure Reason.I. Kant - 1787/1998 - Philosophy 59 (230):555-557.
Kant and the exact sciences.Michael Friedman - 1992 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Kant and the Claims of Knowledge.Paul Guyer - 1987 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Philosophical papers and letters.Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz & Leroy E. Loemker - 1956 - Chicago,: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Leroy E. Loemker.
Kant's Analytic.Jonathan Bennett - 1966 - Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

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