Kant on Experiment

In James Maclaurin (ed.), Rationis Defensor. Springer. pp. 75-96 (2012)
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Abstract

This paper discusses Immanuel Kant’s views on the role of experiments in natural science, focusing on their relationship with hypotheses, laws of nature, and the heuristic principles of scientific enquiry. Kant’s views are contrasted with the philosophy of experiment that was first sketched by Francis Bacon and later developed by Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. Kant holds that experiments are always designed and carried out in the light of hypotheses. Hypotheses are derived from experience on the basis of a set of heuristic principles. The function of experiments is testing hypotheses in order to either reject them as false, or else to transform them into empirical laws of nature. To this end, we must integrate the hypotheses that are confirmed by experiments with the a priori principles which are the foundations of natural science. Compared with Bacon, Boyle, and Hooke, Kant has elaborate views on the one hand, on how our theoretical and pre-theoretical assumptions bear on experimental practice, and on the other hand, on how the results of experimental activity can be integrated with theories to advance our knowledge of nature. However, Kant overstates the dependence of experiments on theories.

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