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.
Biener, Z. and Schliesser, E., 2014. Introduction. In: Z. Biener and E. Schliesser, eds. 2014. Newton and Empiricism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-11.
Bradley, J., 1727. A Letter from the Reverend Mr. James Bradley Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, and F. R. S. to Dr. Edmond Halley Astronom. Reg. &c. Giving an Account of a New Discovered Motion of the Fix’d Stars. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 35, pp. 637-661.
Carrier, M., 1992. Kant’s Relational Theory of Absolute Space. Kant-Studien, 83(4), pp. 399-416.
Clarke, S., 1717. A Collection of Papers, Which passed between the late Learned Mr. Leibnitz, and Dr. Clarke, In the Years 1715 and 1716. London.
Euler, L., 1802. Letters of Euler to a German Princess, on Different Subjects in Physics and Philosophy. New York: Murray and Highley.
Euler, L., 2015. Reflections on Space and Time. In: Euler Archiv [E 149]. Translated by M. Saclolo & P. Wake. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 August 2019).
Fischer, H. -P., 1985. Kant an Euler. Kant-Studien, 76, pp. 214-220.
Friedman, M., 1994. Kant and the Exact Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Görg, E. 2015. Zum Gravitationsgesetz bei Newton, Kant und Fries. Kant-Studien, 106(2), pp. 259-275.
Hyder, D. 2019. Kant on Time I: The Kinematics of the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Kant-Studien, 110(3), pp. 477-497.
Jammer, M., 1993. Concepts of Space. New York: Dover Publications.
Janiak, A., 2015. Newton. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell.
Kant, I., 1992a. A New Elucidation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Cognition. In: I. Kant, 1992. Theoretical Philosophy 1755-1770. Translated & edited by D. Walford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-45.
Kant, I., 1992b. Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space. In: I. Kant, 1992. Theoretical Philosophy 1755-1770. Translated & edited by D. Walford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 361-372.
Kant, I., 1992c. On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and the Intelligible World. In: I. Kant, 1992. Theoretical Philosophy 1755-1770. Translated & edited by D. Walford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 373-416.
Kant, I., 1999. Correspondence. Translated & edited by A. Zweig. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kant, I., 2012a. Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces. In: I. Kant, 2012. Natural Science. Translated by J. B. Edwards and M. Schönfeld, edited by E. Watkins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-155.
Kant, I., 2012b. Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens or Essay on the Constitution and the Mechanical Origin of the Whole Universe According to Newtonian Principles. In: I. Kant, 2012. Natural Science. Translated by J. B. Edwards and M. Schönfeld, edited by E. Watkins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 182-308.
Kant, I., 2012c. New Doctrine of Motion and Rest and the Conclusions Associated with It in the Fundamental Principles of Natural Science While at the Same Time his Lectures for this Half-Year are Announced. In: I. Kant, 2012. Natural Science. Translated by J. B. Edwards and M. Schönfeld, edited by E. Watkins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 396-408.
Keill, J., 1725. Introductiones ad veram Physicam et veram Astronomiam. Leiden: Joh. et Herm. Verbeek.
Keill, J., 1745. Introduction to Natural Philosophy. Or Philosophicl Lectures Read in the University of Oxford Anno Dom. 1700. Translated from the last Edition of the Latin. London: M. Senex, W. Innys, T. Longman and T. Shewell.
Koyré, A., 1965: Newtonian Studies. London: De Gruyter.
Masterman, M., 1970: The Nature of a Paradigm. In: I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave, eds. 1970. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Newton, I., 1961. The Correspondence of Isaac Newton. Volume III. Edited by H. Turnbull, J. Scott, A. Hall [a.o.]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Newton, I., 1999. The Principia. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Translated by I. B. Cohen and A. Whitman. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Newton, I., 2004. De Gravitatione. In: I. Newton, 2004. Philosophical Writings. Edited by A. Janiak. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 12-39.
Speiser, A., 1986. Einleitung. In: L. Euler, 1986. Briefe an eine deutsche Prinzessin, edited by R. Sexl and K. von Meyenn. Braunschweig: Vieweg & Sohn, pp. XXI-XLV.