Experience and Completeness in Physical Knowledge: Variations on a Kantian Theme

When philosophers of science relate Kant‘s theory of nature to modern physics, they neglect the critical parts of the Critique of Pure Reason. My paper focuses on the way in which Kant wanted to demonstrate the limitations of physical knowledge by means of the cosmological antinomy. According to Kant, cosmology gives rise to four variations of one-and-the-same antinomy of pure reason. He wanted to show that any attempt to complete our spatio-temporal or dynamical knowledge of the world is based on a self-contradictory world view. Obviously he criticized the cosmological debates of his day whose topics are obsolete in our days. However, his doctrine of the antinomy of pure reason has a rationale which concerns the foundations of physics in Kant’s day as well as in ours. After giving a sketch of the subjects and of the structure of Kant’s antinomy, I present four variations on the theme "experience and completeness in physical theory" from a modern point of view. The fourth variation will indeed yield a conflict between the claims of completeness and the finite conditions of possible experience within physics which captures the rationale of Kant’s antinomy. Finally, I try to point out briefly how this rationale relates to Kant’s distinction of phenomena and noumena, and how this distinction can be re-interpreted in the context of modern physics. Indeed Niels Bohr made a similar distinction when he developed the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics
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