Review of Metaphysics 41 (1):23 - 52 (1987)

KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON has been studied and analyzed over and over again in relation to its profound affinity with Newtonian science. But for the very reason that the putative validity of the transcendental arguments seems to depend upon this particular form of science as its ultimate model, the claim has been made repeatedly that Kant's philosophical stance can have no literal relevance to the actual problems thought germane to twentieth century physical science. Thus, the advent of the theory of general relativity during the period from 1905 to 1916 has been seen almost unanimously as a sufficiently cogent refutation of some of the essential claims made by Kant regarding the nature of space and time. In the early days of the new theory, philosophers like Schlick, Reichenbach or Meyerson did their utmost to stress the unbridgeable nature of the gap separating the transcendental ideality of space and time from the metrical field used in general relativity. Indeed, the concept of metrical field may be seen as expressing an objective quality of reality because it could not exist at all if there were no phenomena related to matter. More recently, it has been argued that the fatal unrevisability of the Kantian categories necessarily means that the Kantian conception is annihilated and swallowed up by the relativistic one. The traditional distinction drawn by Kant between the form and the content of knowledge is itself reversed, in the sense that "for Kant, the formal components of knowledge are the most stable and objective elements," whereas according to the theory of relativity, "they are the most arbitrary and subjective elements" since the formal universality of the laws of nature depends upon arbitrary transformations of coordinates. This reversal, in turn, indicates that the form-content distinction has in effect been displaced by the very different distinction between the theoretical and the observational. At best, a high degree of correspondence has been accentuated, between the regulative validity of the Kantian a priori and the epistemological foundation underlying the principle of general relativity, inasmuch as the latter's vindication is seen to depend on arguments which are far from merely empirical.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph1987411113
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