Kant and the Conventionality of Simultaneity

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 18 (5):845-856 (2010)
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Kant’s three Analogies of Experience, in his Critique of Pure Reason, represent a highly condensed attempt to establish the metaphysical foundations of Newtonian physics. His strategy is to show that the organization of experience in terms of a world of enduring substances undergoing mutual causal interaction is a necessary condition of the temporal ordering even of one’s own subjective states, and thus of coherent experience itself. In his Third Analogy—an examination of the necessary conditions of judgments of simultaneous existence—he argues that certain conceptual presuppositions consistent with Newtonian physics are necessary to time-awareness. His argument, however, appears to be undermined by conventionalism in natural science generally, and by the conventionality of simultaneity in particular. In this paper I discuss Kant’s claims in light of contemporary relativity theory. I suggest that, while his project is obsolete in major respects, there may still be useful insights into time-awareness to be drawn from his work.

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Adrian Bardon
Wake Forest University


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