Much early modern metaphysics grew with an eye to the new science of its time, but few figures took it as seriously as Emilie du Châtelet. Happily, her oeuvre is now attracting close, renewed attention, and so the time is ripe for looking into her metaphysical foundation for empirical theory. Accordingly, I move here to do just that. I establish two conclusions. First, du Châtelet's basic metaphysics is a robust realism. Idealist strands, while they exist, are confined to non-basic regimes. (...) Second, her substance realism seems internally coherent, so her foundational project appears successful.I have two aims in this paper. Historically, I show that du Châtelet's main source of inspiration was Christian... (shrink)
My thesis in this paper is: the modern concept of laws of motion—qua dynamical laws—emerges in 18th-century mechanics. The driving factor for it was the need to extend mechanics beyond the centroid theories of the late-1600s. The enabling result behind it was the rise of differential equations. -/- In consequence, by the mid-1700s we see a deep shift in the form and status of laws of motion. The shift is among the critical inflection points where early modern mechanics turns into (...) classical mechanics as we know it. Previously, laws of motion had been channels for truth and reference into mechanics. By 1750, the laws lose these features. Instead, now they just assert equalities between functions; and serve just to entail (differential) equations of motion for particular mechanical setups. This creates two philosophical problems. First, it’s unclear what counts as evidence for the laws of motion in the Enlightenment. Second, it’s a mystery whether these laws retain any notion of causality. That subverts the early-modern dictum that physics is a science of causes. (shrink)
This paper examines the origin, range and meaning of the Principle of Action and Reaction in Kant’s mechanics. On the received view, it is a version of Newton’s Third Law. I argue that Kant meant his principle as foundation for a Leibnizian mechanics. To find a ‘Newtonian’ law of action and reaction, we must look to Kant’s ‘dynamics,’ or theory of matter. I begin, in part I, by noting marked differences between Newton’s and Kant’s laws of action and reaction. I (...) argue that these are explainable by Kant’s allegiance to a Leibnizian mechanics. I show (in part II) that Leibniz too had a model of action and reaction, at odds with Newton’s. Then I reconstruct how Jakob Hermann and Christian Wolff received Leibniz’s model. I present (in Part III) Kant’s early law of action and reaction for mechanics. I show that he devised it so as to solve extant problems in the Hermann-Wolff account. I reconstruct Kant’s views on ‘mechanical’ action and reaction in the 1780s, and highlight strong continuities with his earlier, pre-Critical stance. I use these continuities, and Kant’s earlier engagement with post-Leibnizians, to explain the un-Newtonian features of his law of action and reaction. (shrink)
I argue that the key dynamical concepts and laws of Newton's Principia never gained a solid foothold in Germany before Kant in the 1750s. I explain this absence as due to Leibniz. Thus I make a case for a robust Leibnizian legacy for Enlightenment science, and I solve what Jonathan Israel called “a meaningful historical problem on its own,” viz. the slow and hesitant reception of Newton in pre-Kantian Germany.
This paper examines the young Kant’s claim that all motion is relative, and argues that it is the core of a metaphysical dynamics of impact inspired by Leibniz and Wolff. I start with some background to Kant’s early dynamics, and show that he rejects Newton’s absolute space as a foundation for it. Then I reconstruct the exact meaning of Kant’s relativity, and the model of impact he wants it to support. I detail (in Section II and III) his polemic engagement (...) with Wolffian predecessors, and how he grounds collisions in a priori dynamics. I conclude that, for the young Kant, the philosophical problematic of Newton’s science takes a back seat to an agenda set by the Leibniz-Wolff tradition of rationalist dynamics. This results matters, because Kant’s views on motion survive well into the 1780s. In addition, his doctrine attests to the richness of early modern views of the relativity of motion. (shrink)
Newton rested his theory of mechanics on distinct metaphysical and epistemological foundations. After Leibniz's death in 1716, the Principia ran into sharp philosophical opposition from Christian Wolff and his disciples, who sought to subvert Newton's foundations or replace them with Leibnizian ideas. In what follows, I chronicle some of the Wolffians' reactions to Newton's notion of absolute space, his dynamical laws of motion, and his general theory of gravitation. I also touch on arguments advanced by Newton's Continental followers, such as (...) Leonhard Euler, who made novel attempts to defend his mechanical foundations against the pro-Leibnizian attack. This examination grants us deeper insight into the fate of Newton's mechanics on the Continent during the early eighteenth century and, more specifically, sheds needed light on the conflicts and tensions that characterized the reception of Newton's philosophy of mechanics among the Leibnizians. (shrink)
I uncover here a conflict in Kant’s natural philosophy. His matter theory and laws of mechanics are in tension. Kant’s laws are fit for particles but are too narrow to handle continuous bodies, which his doctrine of matter demands. To fix this defect, Kant ultimately must ground the Torque Law; that is, the impressed torque equals the change in angular momentum. But that grounding requires a premise—the symmetry of the stress tensor—that Kant denies himself. I argue that his problem would (...) not arise if he had kept his early theory of matter as made of mass points, or “physical monads.”. (shrink)
Early modern foundations for mechanics came in two kinds, nomic and material. I examine here the dynamical laws and pictures of matter given respectively by Newton, Leibniz, and Kant. I argue that they fall short of their foundational task, viz. to represent enough kinematic behavior; or at least to explain it. In effect, for the true foundations of classical mechanics we must look beyond Newton, Leibniz, and Kant.
I explain and assess here Huygens’ concept of relative motion. I show that it allows him to ground most of the Law of Inertia, and also to explain rotation. Thereby his concept obviates the need for Newton’s absolute space. Thus his account is a powerful foundation for mechanics, though not without some tension.
I examine here if Kant can explain our knowledge of duration by showing that time has metric structure. To do so, I spell out two possible solutions: time’s metric could be intrinsic or extrinsic. I argue that Kant’s resources are too weak to secure an intrinsic, transcendentally-based temporal metrics; but he can supply an extrinsic metric, based in a metaphysical fact about matter. I conclude that Transcendental Idealism is incomplete: it cannot account for the durative aspects of experience—or it can (...) do so only with help from a non-trivial metaphysics of material substance. (shrink)
I examine here if Kant’s metaphysics of matter can support any late-modern versions of classical mechanics. I argue that in principle it can, by two different routes. I assess the interpretive costs of each approach, and recommend the most promising strategy: a mass-point approach.
Modern philosophy of physics debates whether motion is absolute or relative. The debate began in the 1600s, so it deserves a close look here. Primarily, it was a controversy in metaphysics, but it had epistemic aspects too. I begin with the former, and then touch upon the latter at the end.
Newton had a fivefold argument that true motion must be motion in absolute space, not relative to matter. Like Newton, Kant holds that bodies have true motions. Unlike him, though, Kant takes all motion to be relative to matter, not to space itself. Thus, he must respond to Newton’s argument above. I reconstruct here Kant’s answer in detail. I prove that Kant addresses just one part of Newton’s case, namely, his “argument from the effects” of rotation. And, to show that (...) rotation is relative to matter, Kant changes the meaning of ‘relative motion.’ However, that change puts Kant’s doctrine in deep tension with Newton’s science. Based on my construal, I correct earlier readings of Kant by John Earman and Martin Carrier. And, I argue that we need to revise Michael Friedman’s influential view of Kant. Kant’s struggle, I conclude, illustrate the difficulties that early modern relationists faced as they turned down Newtonian absolute space ; and it typifies their selective engagement with Newton’s case for it. (shrink)
This chapter looks at Euler’s relation to Newton, and at his role in the rise of ‘Newtonian’ mechanics. It aims to give a sense of Newton’s complicated legacy for Enlightenment science, and to raise awareness that some key ‘Newtonian’ results really come from Euler.
On an influential view, Newton's mechanics is built into Kant's very theory of exact knowledge. However, Newtonian dynamics had serious explanatory limits already known by 1750. Thus, we might worry that Kant's Analytic is too narrow to ground enough exact knowledge. In this paper, I draw on Enlightenment dynamics to show that Kant's notion of determinate objecthood is sufficiently broad, non-trivial, and still relevant to the present.
Much scholarship has claimed the physics of Emilie du Châtelet’s treatise, Institutions de physique, is Newtonian. I argue against that idea. To do so, I distinguish three strands of meaning for the category ‘Newtonian science,’ and I examine her book against them. I conclude that her physics is not Newtonian in any useful or informative sense. To capture what is specific about it, we need better interpretive categories.
I emphasize two merits of Eric Watkins’ account in "Kant on Laws": the strong evidential support it has, and the central place it gives to Kant’s laws of mechanics. Then, I raise two questions for further research. 1. What kind of evidential reasoning confirms a Kantian law? 2. Do natures explain Kantian laws? If so, how?
Leibniz is committed to a form of cosmic eternity, on account of his natural theology and foundations for dynamics. However, his views on perpetuum mobiles entail that a particularly attractive type of cosmic eternity is out of reach for Leibniz.
In his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, Kant presents the “pure part” of natural science – that is, the a priori principles holding of matter. This special metaphysics of matter is, Kant claims, grounded on the general metaphysics of nature described in the System of Principles of his first Critique. This chapter develops a comprehensive account of Kant’s framework for natural science that touches on interpretive issues that arise in the transition from general to special metaphysics and that outlines his (...) dynamics and its limitations. (shrink)
This book argues that the Enlightenment was a golden age for the philosophy of body, and for efforts to integrate coherently a philosophical concept of body with a mathematized theory of mechanics. Thereby, it articulates a new framing for the history of 18th-century philosophy and science. It explains why, more than a century after Newton, physics broke away from philosophy to become an autonomous domain. And, it casts fresh light on the structure and foundations of classical mechanics. Among the figures (...) studied are Malebranche, Leibniz, Du Châtelet, Boscovich, and Kant, alongside d’Alembert, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace and Cauchy. (shrink)
This is a book with a purpose: it aims to chronicle the life of a concept from its birth in ancient Greece to its growth into centrality for early modern metaphysics, and its end with Kant, after whom classical space got displaced to a marginal position. The volume is commendable for its good balance of broad scope, depth of insight, and careful exposition. Its chapters impressively combine analytic sharpness with sensitivity to historical context and philological nuance. Moreover, the gender balance (...) among contributors is admirably even.Barbara Sattler lucidly teaches us how the Greeks juggled a number of related ideas yet... (shrink)