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Directly confronting what he called the development-by-accumulation model of scientific progress,

Kuhn presented an alternative conception according to which the development of science is


frequently punctuated by essentially discontinuous revolutionary transitions where the dominant
paradigm governing a particular stage of what Kuhn calls normal science experiences a revolutionary
transformation resulting in a succeeding paradigm fundamentally incommensurable with the earlier
one. Moreover, since the two succeeding paradigms are incommensurable (i.e., non-
intertranslatable) with one another, the choice between them appears not to be straightforwardly
rational. (1)

One conclusion Kuhn drew from this picture is that there is no real sense in which the evolution of
science can be seen as a process of convergence to an ultimate single truth about reality, where
succeeding theories or paradigms appear as ever better approximations to such a final truth. And
this conclusion, in turn, can easily be radicalized, resulting in a relativist and historicist conception
according to which there is no sense of scientific progress at all: Succeeding theories or paradigms
are simply different historically conditioned moments in a completely directionless temporal
process, and the only notion of truth then available is an essentially relativized and historicized
one. Kuhn himself strenuously resisted these particular implications of his views, hoping to replace
the development-by-accumulation model and the ideal of intertheoretic convergence with an
evolutionary model of scientific progress whereby succeeding theories become continually better
adapted problem-solving tools without converging to a final endpoint. Nevertheless, this
suggestion of Kuhns has not won many adherents, and the problem dominating much of the post-
Kuhnian work in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science has been precisely the relativist
and historicist predicament just sketched. (2)

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism
founded by Hermann Cohen, and later developed by Paul Natorp and Ernst Cassirer, articulated a
historicized version of Kantianism aimed at adapting the critical philosophy to the deep
revolutionary changes affecting mathematics and the mathematical sciences throughout this period.
In particular, the development of non-Euclidean geometries appeared decisively to undermine
Kants original conception of the synthetic a priori character of our cognition of space, and 19th-
century developments in mathematical physics suggested that Newtonian physics, in particular, may
not be the final word. In response to these developments, the Marburg School replaced Kants
original static or timeless version of the synthetic a priori with what they conceived as an
essentially developmental or genetic conception of scientific knowledge. Since Kuhn, very late in
his career, characterized himself as a Kantian with moveable categories one might naturally
wonder about the relationship between Kuhns own view and that of the Marburg School. The
answer, as we shall see, is both interesting and complicated. (3)

In Cassirers version of the genetic conception of knowledge, most fully articulated in


Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff, appearing in 1910, we begin with the progression of
theories produced by modern mathematical natural science in its actual historical development.
This progression takes its starting point, to be sure, with Euclidean geometry and Newtonian
physics, but we now know, as Kant himself did not, that this is only a starting point, not a rigidly
fixed and forever unrevisable a priori structure. Subsequent to the Euclidean-Newtonian
paradigm, in particular, there has been a developmental sequence of abstract mathematical
structures, which is itself ordered by the abstract mathematical relation of approximate backward-
directed inclusion as, for example, the new non-Euclidean geometries contain the older
geometry of Euclid as a continuously approximated limiting case. We can thereby conceive all the
theories in our sequence as continuously converging, as it were, on a final or limit theory, such
that all previous theories in the sequence are approximate special cases of this final theory. This
final theory is only a regulative ideal in the Kantian sense it is only progressively approximated
but never in fact actually realized. Nevertheless, the idea of such a continuous progression toward
an ideal limit constitutes the characteristic general serial form of our mathematical-physical
theorizing, and, at the same time, it bestows on this theorizing its characteristic form of
objectivity. For, despite all historical variation and contingency, there is nonetheless, a
continuously converging progression of abstract mathematical structures framing, and making
possible, all of our empirical knowledge. However, in full agreement with Kants original critical
theory of knowledge, convergence, on this new view, does not take place toward a mind- or
theory-independent reality of ultimate substantial things or things-in-themselves. Rather,
the convergence in question occurs entirely within the series of historically developed
mathematical structures. Reality, on this view, is simply the purely ideal limit or endpoint
toward which the sequence of such structures is mathematically convering or, to put it another
way, it is simplyt he series itself, taken as a whole. (3)

Kuhn, toward the end of his career, not only characterized his distinctive philosophical conception
as a dynamical and historicized version of Kantianism, but also explicitly acknowledged the
background to his own historiography in Neo-Kantian philosophy. (5)

Nevertheless, there were (at least) two different strands in this early 20th-century historiographical
tradition: a more Kantian strand associated with Brunschvicg and Maier and what we might call a
more Cartesian strand associated with Meyerson and his student Metzger. Moreover, Meyerson is
the most important philosophical influence on Koyres historiography Kuhn also cites Meyerson as
an influence, along with Brunscvicg, Metzger, Maier, and, indeed, Cassirer himself and the
philosophical perspective shared by both Meyerson and Koyre is diametrically opposed, in most
essential respects, to that originally articulated by Cassirer. (6)

In the work of Cassirer and Meyerson, in particular, we find two sharply diverging visions of the
philosophical history of modern science. For Cassirer, this history is seen as a process of evolving
rational purification of our view of nature, as we progress from naively realistic substantialistic
conceptions, focusing on underlying substances, causes, and mechanisms subsisting behind the
observable phenomena, to increasingly abstract purely functional conceptions where we finally
abandon the search for underlying ontology in favor of ever more precise mathematical
representations of phenomena in terms of exactly formulated universal laws. For Meyerson, by
contrast, this same history is seen as a necessarily dialectical progression (in something like the
Hegelian sense), wherein reason perpetually seeks to enforce precisely the substantialistic
impulsbe, and nature continually offers her resistance in the ultimate irrationality of temporal
succession. Thus, the triumph of the scientific revolution, for Meyerson, is represented by the rise
of mechanistic atomism, wherein elementary corpuscles preserve their sizes, shapes, and masses
while merely changing their mutual positions in uniform and homogeneous space via motion, and
this same demand for transtemporal substantial identity is also represented, in more recent times,
both by Lavoisiers use of the principle of the conservation of matter in his new chemistry and by
the discovery of the conservation of energy. Yet, in the even more recent discovery of what we
now know as the second law of thermodynamics (Carnots principle) which governs the temporally
irreversible process of degradation or dissipation of energy, we encounter natures
complementary and unavoidable resistance to our a priori logical demands. (7)

It is by no means surprising, therefore, that Meyerson, in the course of considering and rejecting
what he calls anti-substantialistic conceptiosn of science, explicitly takes issues with Cassirers
central claim, in Das Erkenntnisproblem that [m]athematical physics turns aside from the essence
of things and their inner substantiality in order to turn towards their numerical order and
connection, their functional and mathematical structure. And it is also no wonder that Cassirer, in
the course of a discussion of identity and difference, constancy and change, explicitly takes issue
with Meyersons views: The identity towards which thought progressively strives is not the identity
of ultimate substantial things but the identity of functional orders and coordinations. (7)

If I am not mistaken, this deep philosophical opposition between Meyerson and Cassirer receives a
very clear echo in Kuhns theory of scientific revolutions, particularly with regard to the question of
continuity and convergence over time. Here Kuhn shows himself, in this respect, to be a faithful
follower of the Meyeronian viewpoint, for he consistently gives the question an ontological
(substantialistic) rather than a mathematical (functional) interpretation. Thus, for example,
when Kuhn famously considers the relationship between relativistic and Newtonian mechanics, he
rejects the notion of a fundamental continuity between the two theories on the grounds that the
physical referents of their terms are essentially different, and he nowhere considers the
contrasting idea, characteristic of Cassirers work, that continuity of purely mathematical structures
is sufficient. Moreover, Kuhn consistently gives an ontological rather than a mathematical
interpretation to the question of theoretical convergence over time: The question is always whetehr
our theories can be said to converge to an independently existing truth about reality, to a theory-
independent external world. (8)

Kuhn simply assumes, in harmony with the Meyersonian viewpoint, that there is rational continuity
over time only if there is also substantial identity. Since, as Kuhn argues, the physical refernets of
Newtonian and relativistic mechanics, for example, cannot be taken to be the same, we are squarely
faced with the problem of interpadagimatic incommsnensurability. Yet Cassirer, as we have seen, is
just as opposed to all forms of nave realism (as well as nave empiricism) as is Kuhn. He instead
proposes a generalized Kantian conception, emblematic of aht he himself calls modern
philosophical idealism, according to which scientific rationality and objectivity are secured in virtue
of the way in which our empirical knowledge of nature is framed, and thereby made possible, by a
continuously evolving sequence of abstract mathematical structures. (8)

It is precisely at this point, however, that I find myself in deep disagreement with Cassirer and with
the Marburg School more generally. For I believe that the Marburg tendency to minimize or
downplay the role of the Kantian faculty of pure intuition or pure sensibility on behalf of the faculty
of pure understanding represents a profound interpretive mistake. Kant himself, on the contrary,
takes the faculty of pure sensibility to have an independent a priori structure of its own and this is
the reason, for Kant, that all our sensible or perceptual experience must necessarily be in accorcance
with these forms. From this point of view, therefore, it is by no means true that the general theory
of relativity can be incorporated within the Kantian or critical conception without difficulty. (9(

Further, and this is still not as well known as it should be, the logical empiricists basically agreed with
Kuhn about the profoundly revolutionary character from a philosophical point of view of the
general theory of relativity. The most important of their works, from our present point of view, was
Hans Reichenbachs Relativitatstheori und Erkenntnis Apriori, which appeared one year before
Cassirers book. According to Reicehnbach (and the logical empiricists more generally), Einsteins
new theory is so radically incommensurable with Newtonian theory that the Kantian critical
philosophy itself needs also to be radically revised: A new revolutionary form of scientific philosophy
(logical empiricism) is now required in the wake of Einsteins revolutionary theory. (10)

Whereas Newtonian theory represents the action of gravity as an external impressed force causing
gravitationally affected bodies to deviate from straight inertial trajectories (moving with uniform or
constant speed), Einsteins theory depicts gravitation as a curving or bending of the underlying fabric
of space-time itself. In this new framework, in particular, there are no inertial trajectories in the
sense of the geometry of Euclid and the mechanics of Newton, and gravity is not an impressed
force causing deviations from such trajectories. Gravitationally affected bodies instead follow the
straightest possible paths or geodesics that exist in the highly non-Euclidean geometry of Einsteinian
space-time, and the trajectories of so-called freely falling bodies simply replace the straight inertial
trajectories of Newtonian theory. (10)

But why does it follow that Einsteins theory and Newtons theory are incommensurable? After all,
once Einsteins theory is in place, we can then derive Newtonian theory from it as an approximate
special case and we can thereby explain from the point of view of Einsteins theory why Newtons
theory works as well as it does. (10)

I cannot develop this in detail here, but my second main point is that, in addition to the necessary
mathematical developments (the evolution of non-Euclidean geometries, as unified and completed
in Riemanns work) and the necessary physical developments (the discovery of the constancy and
invariance of the velocity of light, the numerical equality of inertial and gravitational mass underlying
the principle of equivalence), we still need a set of parallel developments in contamperaneous
scientific philosophy to tie toghether the relevant innovations in mathematics and physics and
thereby effect the necessary expansion in our physical or empirical possibilities. (12)

In the case of Einsteins theory, in particular, this process began with Kants original attempt to
provide philosophical foundations for Newtonian theory. In the following 19th century these Kantian
foundations for specifically Newtonian theory were then self-consciously successively reconfigured,
as scientific philosophers like Ernst Mach (and others) reconsidered the problem of absolute space
and motion, and other scientific philosophers especially Hermann von Helmholtz and Henri
Poincare reconsidered the empirical and conceptual foundations of geometry in light of the new
mathematical discoveries in non-Euclidean geometry. Einsteins initial work on the principle of
equivalence which culminated, as we said, in 1912 then unexpectedly joined these two earlier
traditions of scientific thought together and thereby led to the very surprising and entirely new
empirical possibility that gravity may, after all, be represented by a non-Euclidean geometry.

The only way forward, in my view, is to relativize the Kantian a priori to a given scientific theory in a
given historical context, and, as a consequence, to historicize the notion of transcendental
philosophy itself. Thus, for example, whereas Euclidean geometry and the Newtonian laws of motion
were indeed necessary presuppositions for the empirical meaning and application of the Newtonian
theory of universal gravitation, the radically new mathematical and physical framework consisting of
the Riemannian theory of manifolds and the principle of equivalence defines an analogous system of
necessary presuppositions in general relativity. Moreover, what makes the latter framework
constituitively a priori in this new context is precisely the circumstance that Einstein was only able to
arrive at it in the first place by self-consciously situating himself within the earlier tradition of
scientific philosophy represented (especially) by Helmholtz and Poincare. (13)

This effort, I have argued, can indeed be brought to a successful conclusion, and when we do so,
we also see, further, how the Kuhnian problem of understanding the rationality of revolutionary
transitions involving essentially discontinuous or incommensurable scientific paradigms or
conceptual frameworks can itself be successfully resolved. We see, in particular, how Kuhns own
favorite example of such a revolutionary transition, the Einsteinian revolution, is characterized not
only by what we might call retrospective convergent rationality (convergence of abstract
mathematical structures, as viewed from the perspective of the later paradigm) but, more
importantly, by prospective convergent rationality as well from the point of view of the actual
historical conceptual evolution, which, in fact, made Einsteins new theory physically or
empirically possible in the first place. (14)