Second Cambridge-Edinburgh-St Andrews Kant Reading Group, 7th May 2013

As part of our Semester Three seminars, this week we read Gerd Buchdahl on “The conception of lawlikeness in Kant’s philosophy of science”.

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2 Responses to Second Cambridge-Edinburgh-St Andrews Kant Reading Group, 7th May 2013

  1. mmassimi says:

    Yesterday, we took the train and went up the Fife coast to St Andrews to meet the rest of the Scottish Kantian contingent. It was a glorious sunny day and we had a terrific time discussing Buchdahl on the grass of the Edgecliffe’s garden (pictures and diary in Facebook!). Most of our discussion took the lead from the recent blog posts about the necessity of laws (following last week’s reading of Guyer). Buchdahl too refers to the “unity of the manifold” as a principle of reason or reflective judgment providing somehow necessity to what would otherwise be contingent empirical laws (see Buchdahl, Section III).

    I leave the topic of the necessity of empirical laws to any further comment that people may want to add under “First meeting” because here I would like to turn the discussion to a slightly different issue.

    Buchdahl’s line is the famous ‘looseness of fit’ between Kant’s Transcendental Analytic and the metaphysical foundations of natural science. We spent sometime to try to get clear about the gap that Buchdahl sees between the two, especially when it comes to the Second Analogy of Experience, and the possible relationship between what he calls transcendental lawlikeness, metaphysical lawlikeness and empirical lawlikeness.

    The paper was very dense and I won’t attempt to summarise it here (I am keen to hear any comment others may have about this tripartite distinction or the looseness of fit).

    Instead I limit myself to raise one question. Buchdahl claims that “The lawlikeness of the empirical laws of Newtonian science (e.g., Kepler’s laws, Galilei’s laws) …is injected …’from below'” (Section IV), it cannot be derived from the Transcendental Analytic, but instead from the “special metaphysics of nature”, in particular from the empirical concept of matter, as per MAN. Kant’s metaphysical foundations do not require—Buchdahl seems to suggest—any transcendental principle of substance or causality, but instead they require a bottom-up approach, for example re-thinking matter in dynamical terms as endowed with attractive and repulsive forces, pace Newton himself who had to “add attractive force secondarily, as something foreign, to a concept of matter that had previously been declared essentially to lack the power of attraction” (Buchdahl, Synthese, p. 38)

    Here is my question: I do not quite see this example as an illustration of the looseness of fit. If anything, it seems to me that Kant had to introduce two qualities (attraction and repulsion) as a priori determination of the empirical concept of matter, following the transcendental category of quality. Where is the “lawlikeness from below” that Buchdahl refers to? what is the distinctively empirical nature as opposed to transcendental nature of the lawlikeness that we see exemplified in Kant’s Dynamics?

  2. It seems to me that Buchdahl’s distinction between lawlikeness being injected “from above” and “from below” refers not to the distinction between top-down approaches (deriving necessity from a priori laws) and bottom up approaches (deriving necessity from empirical regularities) but rather to that between the necessity established by the systematizing (or ‘architectonic’) function of reason, on the one hand, and the transcendental function of the understanding on the other. Buchdahl seems to suggest that the “lawlikeness of the empirical laws of Newtonian science (e.g., Kepler’s laws, Galilei’s laws)” has been shown to depend on the former (in the previous sections of his paper); while that of “certain privileged principles”, that is, the metaphysical principles of MAN, is established by the latter (Buchdahl, Synthese, p. 34f.).

    If I understand correctly, these metaphysical principles, too, are on Buchdahl’s account an illustration of the looseness of fit (this time between the metaphysical and transcendental principles) because the a priori notion of quality is only interpreted as, or applied to yield, the metaphysical notion of the power to fill space, or moving force, given the empirical concept of matter. I think Buchdahl wants to argue that, with the guidance of the categories, we may but do not have to introduce the notions of attraction and repulsion, and that this is so because interpreting the a priori categories to yield the notion of moving forces already relies on (some?) empirical results of Newtonian science – even though the resulting laws are not simply “crudely empirical” or “derived from observation” (compare p. 43 where Buchdahl makes the same claim with regard to the Mechanics section of MAN). So I think Buchdahl’s focus is on denying that the metaphysical principles can be deduced from the transcendental ones, and not on claiming that they are distinctively empirical.

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