Kantian Journal

2020 Vol. 39. №4

Kant’s Asynchronicity Concerning Newtonian Space and Gravity in his Pre-Critical Writings


Kant’s ‘Newtonianism’ has been rightly highlighted by figures like Friedman. The follow-up debates led to a more adequate view on Kant’s natural philosophy and in particular his relation towards Newton. But the discussion that evolved did not point to the asynchronicity that takes place in Kant’s struggle with the central Newtonian concepts. Newtonian space and gravity, in revised form, are of central concern to Kant’s critical philosophy. But Kant adapted and re-evaluated these two concepts in an asynchronous way. While Kant tries to integrate a notion of gravity into his theory of matter in his very first published writing, he has at this stage no adequate notion of space. At this time, as in regard to space, he can neither be called a Newtonian nor a proper Leibnizian and misconceives the necessity of an independent space for the foundations of physics. This perspective changes under the influence of Euler at the end of the fifties of the eighteenth century and finally leads to his writing of 1768 and the adoption of transcendental idealism in 1770. In the following, I depict this asynchronicity by taking central pre-critical writings into account while discussing Kant’s concept of space and gravity. This sharpens the picture of Kant’s work and the different stages his philosophy of nature went through. Further, it helps to understand the influence of Euler on Kant’s development in natural philosophy and his critical philosophy in general, as Kant under the influence of Euler formed deeper-going reflections on Newton’s theory of space and these mark turning points of his development.

Download the article