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  POLISH JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY Vol. IV, No. 1 (Spring 2010), 45-64.   The Kantian Grounding of Einstein’s Worldview: (I) The Early Influence of Kant’s System of Perspectives   Stephen Palmquist  Department of Religion and Philosophy  Hong Kong Baptist University Abstract. Recent perspectival interpretations of Kant suggest a way of relating his epistemology to empirical science that makes it plausible to regard Einstein’s theory of relativity as having a Kantian grounding. This first of two articles exploring this topic focuses on how the foregoing hypothesis accounts for various resonances between Kant’s philosophy and Einstein’s science. The great attention young Einstein paid to Kant in his early intellectual development demonstrates the  plausibility of this hypothesis, while certain features of Einstein’s cultural-political context account for his reluctance to acknowledge Kant’s influence, even though contemporary philosophers who regarded themselves as Kantians urged him to do so. The sequel argues that this Kantian grounding probably had a formative influence not only on Einstein’s discovery of the theory of relativity and his view of the nature of science, but also on his quasi-mystical, religious disposition. 1. Kant’s System of Perspectives as the Grounding for Modern Scientific Revolutions   In the course of defending Albert Einstein’s revolutionary approach to  physics, and perhaps also as an implicit affirmation of Einstein’s religious worldview, Sir Arthur Eddington boldly asserted: “There are absolute things in the world but you must look deeply for them” (Eddington, 1928/1935, p. 34). What are these “absolute things,” in terms of Einstein’s theory of relativity? Are they explicable or necessarily mysterious? Moreover, what led young Einstein to his revolutionary convictions regarding these deep absolutes that govern the natural world? The suggestion that Einstein’s worldview was essentially Kantian might seem unwarranted for two reasons. First, Kant is often regarded more as an enemy of the metaphysical belief in “deep absolutes” and of quasi-religious appeals to mystery (whether physical or theological) than as a philosopher who might engender such convictions. Second, Einstein himself tended to downplay Kant’s relevance to his own thinking; if some of the deepest convictions informing his worldview appear to be grounded in Kant’s philosophy, we must explain why Einstein did not  46 Stephen Palmquist adequately acknowledge this resonance. Despite these initial misgivings, I shall argue in this first of two essays on this topic that Einstein’s early reading of Kant’s philosophy, though often overlooked or trivialized, provides a likely explanation for Einstein’s adoption of the worldview (as epitomized by Eddington’s statement) that enabled him to discover the theory of relativity. Kant’s philosophy, with its “Critical” method, 1  establishes a worldview whereby religion and science can coexist. What I have elsewhere called his “Critical mysticism” 2  is only quasi-mystical, inasmuch as the qualification “Critical” requires anything we say about the mystery of the unknown (the “thing in itself”) to be constrained and circumscribed by what is known. If we take into account the delicate  balance between the knowable and the unknowable in Kant’s philosophy, we may find that the modern revolutions in science that challenge the classical theories (such as Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics) are each rooted in  Kant’s philosophy. With this possibility in mind, I shall examine various resonances between Kant and Einstein, the first and foremost being that both acknowledge a basic mystery underlying nature, yet clearly distinguish between the scientific disposition that employs language to construct empirical knowledge of nature (this being the focus of the present article) and the religious disposition that contemplates and appreciates this mystery as it is in itself (an issue addressed in Part II. Although they employ different terms, both Kant and Einstein acknowledge that the constructs of language cannot adequately express the deep absolutes that ultimately ground both scientific knowledge and religious experience. Kant introduces his revolutionary “Copernican” Perspective in the second edition Preface to the first Critique , where he argues that “we can know a  priori  of things only what we ourselves put into them” (Kant, 1929a, xviii). 3  (When using “Perspective” to refer to the way of thinking that governs Kant’s entire philosophical System, I capitalize the “P.” This distinguishes it from the four perspectives [small “p”]–the transcendental, logical, empirical, 1  For an account of Kant’s Critical method of reasoning, see my (1993, Chap. II). 2  See “Kant’s Perspectival Foundation for Critical Mysticism,” Part Four of my (2000).   3  References cite the second (1787) edition, except that those prefaced with “A” are unique to the first (1781) edition. For an explanation of the “perspectival equivalents” in Kant’s text (i.e., the terms that have essentially the same meaning as the word “perspective,” which in Kant’s day was not yet used in its modern sense), see (1993, pp. 39-55).  The Kantian Grounding of Einstein’s Worldview (Part I) 47 and hypothetical–that operate within  his three Critical systems. 4 ) To illustrate this, he refers to the “intellectual [  Denkart  ] revolution” in mathematics, to the “revolution in its point of view [  Denkart  ]” in physics, and to the “new method of thought [  Denkungsart  ]” in his own philosophical system. 5  Such passages reveal Kant’s awareness of the deep methodological connection between scientific and philosophical revolutions. Although in the ordinary world of everyday experience our knowledge must conform to the objects that present themselves to us, we can properly answer philosophical (especially epistemological  ) questions about that world only by making the opposite (Copernican or “Transcendental”) assumption: to understand the  philosophical foundations of knowledge, we must assume that the objects of knowledge conform to (i.e., are themselves shaped by) the mental powers of the knowing subject. Kant defends this hypothesis with numerous arguments. As with all perspectival revolutions, the best proof is how effectively it helps us solve philosophical, scientific, and religious problems; the more insights a  paradigm shift provides for philosophy, science, and religion, the more we can trust its adequacy and regard it as a reliable starting-point for empirical understanding in general (i.e., the more effectively it functions as a “worldview”). My hypothesis is that the scientific revolutions since Kant’s day, far from disproving   the legitimacy of Kant’s epistemology and philosophy of science (as commentators so often assume), can be interpreted as applications  of his  philosophical worldview to geometry, arithmetic, logic, physics, quantum mechanics, cosmology, biology, psychology, medicine, etc. 6  The most obvious objection to this hypothesis is that Kant presupposes the legitimacy of an entirely classical worldview, supported by Euclidean geometry, Aristotelian logic, and Newtonian physics. Commentators typically assume Kant had a naive trust in the absolute validity of these (then virtually unchallenged) scientific theories–a trust that has been proved wrong many times over (so the objector assumes) by the radical revolutions in these and 4  I explain these and other interpretive conventions more fully in (1993, pp. 55-65).   5  Kant, 1929, xi, xiii, xviii. For a detailed discussion of Kant’s Copernican hypothesis, including a selection of typical descriptions by various scholars, see (1993, pp. 67-69).   6  For examples of how the perspectival interpretation of Kant enables us to appreciate the deep consistency between Kantian philosophy and the post-Kantian scientific revolutions, see my articles, (1990) and (2002). My fuller demonstration of Kant’s influence on the other sciences named here comes in  Kant’s Critical Science  (in process).    48 Stephen Palmquist other sciences since Kant’s day. Miller is typical of those who think Kant’s  portrayal of space and time as pure intuitions simply “elevated Newton’s notions of absolute space and time” to a new level of certainty; he does not realize that in so doing, Kant also effected a radical revolution in how we conceive of space and time themselves (Miller, 1982; see also Fölsing, 1997; Overbye, 2000). This standard interpretation can hardly be the whole story, because Kant himself challenges each classical scientific theory in several respects, even though he accepts that each had produced undeniably significant empirical results. His goal is not to justify each theory because it and no alternative  must be deemed forever correct, but to explain how   such impressive results could be attained by any  scientific theory. If Kant’s philosophical account of the nature of scientific knowledge correctly grounded the sciences of his day, then it will be just as correct for the sciences of our day–the latter being subject to revision just as the classical theories were. Moreover, Kant’s reference to several past scientific revolutions in the first Critique’s second Preface suggests that he expected the new grounding provided by his Copernican revolution in philosophy to have a reforming effect on the exact sciences. For our present concerns the most important example is that, although Kant accepts the basic tenets of Newton’s laws of physics as empirically established principles, he rejects as untenable the philosophical worldview  Newton assumes as its background: that space has an absolute, self-sufficient reality that we can distinguish both from ourselves and from the reality of an equally absolute time. In direct opposition to this philosophical  position, called “transcendental realism,” Kant defends a two-sided theory called both “transcendental idealism” and “empirical realism.” According to Kant, both space and time must be viewed, from the transcendental  perspective, as “forms of intuition” that our mind imposes onto the world. All objects of human knowledge must present themselves in spatio-temporal form, he argues, because viewed from the transcendental perspective, we impose this form onto empirical objects. 7  The transcendental conditions are 7  In his attempt to portray Einstein’s worldview as superior to Kant’s, Morrison interprets the idealist strain in Kant’s theory of nature as if it amounts to a Berkeleyan idealism (Morrison, 1987, p. 53), whereby we end up “not hav[ing] an objective system of nature with invariant laws because the forms and categories do not exist independent of the human mind.” But few (if any) serious Kant-scholars nowadays think Kant’s transcendental philosophy requires such a radically non-realist interpretation. The transcendental conditions, according to Kant, are what make the empirical world real and assure us of its independent
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