Kant on Negative Quantities, Real Opposition and Inertia

Jennifer McRobert
Western University (PhD)
Kant's obscure essay entitled An Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Quantities into Philosophy has received virtually no attention in the Kant literature. The essay has been in English translation for over twenty years, though not widely available. In his original 1983 translation, Gordon Treash argues that the Negative Quantities essay should be understood as part of an ongoing response to the philosophy of Christian Wolff. Like Hoffmann and Crusius before him, the Kant of 1763 is at odds with the Leibnizian-Wolffian tradition of deductive metaphysics. He joins his predecessors in rejecting the assumption that the law of contradiction alone can provide proof of the principle of sufficient reason: In his rejection of the possibility of deducing all philosophic truth from the law of contradiction, however, and in the clear recognition that this impossibility has immediate consequences for defense of the law of sufficient reason, Kant's work most definitely and positively constitutes a line of succession from Hoffmann and Crusius (Treash, 1983, p. 25). The recognition that Kant's Negative Quantities essay is part of a response to the tradition of deductive metaphysics is, without a doubt, an important contribution to the Kant literature. However, there is still more to be said about this neglected essay. The full significance of the paper becomes known through its ties to a second, empiricist line of succession. Clues to this second line of succession can be found in Kant's prefatory remarks concerning Euler's 1748 Reflections on Space and Time and Crusius' 1749 Guidance in the Orderly and Careful Consideration of Natural Events. As I will show, these prefatory remarks suggest a reading of Kant's Negative Quantities paper that reaches beyond German deductive metaphysics to engage a debate regarding the application of mathematics in philosophy initiated by George Berkeley.
Keywords Kant  Negative Quantities  Real Opposition  Inertia
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