Kant's Views on Non-Euclidean Geometry

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Kant's arguments for the synthetic a priori status of geometry are generally taken to have been refuted by the development of non-Euclidean geometries. Recently, however, some philosophers have argued that, on the contrary, the development of non-Euclidean geometry has confirmed Kant's views, for since a demonstration of the consistency of non-Euclidean geometry depends on a demonstration of its equi-consistency with Euclidean geometry, one need only show that the axioms of Euclidean geometry have 'intuitive content' in order to show that both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry are bodies of synthetic a priori truths. Michael Friedman has argued that this defence presumes a polyadic conception of logic that was foreign to Kant. According to Friedman, Kant held that geometrical reasoning itself relies essentially on intuition, and that this precludes the very possibility of non-Euclidean geometry. While Friedman's characterization of Kant's views on geometrical reasoning is correct, I argue that Friedman's conclusion that non-Euclidean geometries are logically impossible for Kant is not. I argue that Kant is best understood as a proto-constructivist and that modern constructive axiomatizations (unlike Hilbert-style axiomatizations) of both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry capture Kant's views on the essentially constructive nature of geometrical reasoning well.
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First archival date: 2021-05-04
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