Kant’s First Antinomy and Modern Cosmology

Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy (2018)
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Abstract

Kant’s first antinomy in the Critique of Pure Reason deals with the question of the size of the world. The temporal portion of the problem, on which I will focus in this paper, concerns the question of whether the world has a beginning in time or whether it exists eternally. Kant is sometimes understood as arguing that since neither one of the conflicting options can be confirmed, one needs to reject the common mistake of both opponents, namely, that we know the world as a thing in itself, and embrace instead Kant’s transcendental idealism. In view of modern cosmology, Kant’s resolution of the first antinomy may appear outdated. Modern cosmological theories, after all, do suggest that the world evolved from a singular point by a big bang or through a cycle of successive expanding and contracting phases. I wish to argue in this paper that Kant’s analysis of the first antinomy does not involve questions of confirmability and that its lessons apply to modern cosmology as well. Kant’s analysis challenges the view that the world as a whole is a proper object for human investigation, but it does not reject the legitimacy of the cosmological project of explaining the current state of the universe and its evolution in terms of earlier events in the history of the world. It merely shows that modern theories are misguided only insofar as they attempt to affirm that the singular point is the absolute beginning of the world or that the cycle of expansion and contraction is ultimately infinite. Thus, Kant does not deny science as a legitimate avenue of research. He rather keeps cosmology from sliding into the dogmatic paths of traditional cosmological speculations, which purported to account for the absolute origin of the world by means of theological and metaphysical considerations.

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Idan Shimony
Tel Aviv University

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