M Friedman

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M Friedman

© All Rights Reserved

- Zizek Philsophy Spinoza, Kant, Hegel and... Badiou
- Sense and Sensibility
- José Manuel Barreto, Human Rights From a Third World Perspective. Critique, History and International Law, 2013.
- Design History Society
- Kant and the (Disappointing) ICC
- Hiroshims's Genbaku Dome_Charles Matthew
- Defiance or emancipation?: A review of Howard Caygill's 'On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance'
- Kant
- Summary of Kenneth D. Mackenzie and Robert House
- Leader Sense
- Foucault’s Critical Project: Between the Transcendental and the Historical, Bèatrice Han.pdf
- Critichley - Back to the Great Outdoors
- Debate Philosophers Guide
- Critical Thomism and Kant's Categorical Imperative
- The Fifth Condition
- Schopenhauer as Educator
- 1972 - Hegel and Hoelderlin - Henrich
- Deontological Ethics
- 9) Immanuel Kant
- Perception and the Categories a Conceptualist

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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)

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)

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