Kant's hands and Earman's pions: Chirality arguments for substantival space

This paper outlines a new interpretation of an argument of Kant's for the existence of absolute space. The Kant argument, found in a 1768 essay on topology, argues for the existence of Newtonian-Euclidean absolute space on the basis of the existence of incongruous counterparts (such as a left and a right hand, or any asymmetrical object and its mirror-image). The clear, intrinsic difference between a left hand and a right hand, Kant claimed, cannot be understood on a relational view of space - for in terms of the spatial relations of their parts, there is no difference to be found. Kant's argument has been interpreted by, among others, Graham Nerlich (in 1973, Hands, Knees and Absolute Space, The Journal of Philosophy). I briefly discuss Nerlich, and then offer a different reconstruction of the argument, one that appears to be closer to Kant's text. The reconstruction, however, essentially involves ascription of primitive identity to parts of space. Comparing the Kantian absolutist account of incongruous counterparts using primitive identity to the correct relationist account, I conclude that the absolutist account pays a heavy metaphysical price, without buying any genuine explanatory advantage over the relationist. I go on to examine recent suggestions that parity-non-conservation phenomena in quantum physics allow a stronger version of Kant's challenge to relationism. On closer examination, it turns out that here too the absolutist or substantivalist must be appealing to space parts with primitive identity in order to claim an advantage over relationists; and here too, I argue the substantivalist story really has no advantage over the correct relationist account.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1080/026985900437755
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,667
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Craig Callender (2000). Is Time 'Handed' in a Quantum World? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 100 (1):247-269.
Carolyn Brighouse (1999). Incongruent Counterparts and Modal Relationism. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 13 (1):53 – 68.

View all 14 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Jan-Willem Romeyn (2005). Enantiomorphy and Time. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 19 (2):167-190.
Simon Saunders (2007). Mirroring as an a Priori Symmetry. Philosophy of Science 74 (4):452-480.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

139 ( #16,989 of 1,726,249 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

8 ( #84,767 of 1,726,249 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.