Absolute Space and the Riddle of Rotation: Kant’s Response to Newton

Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 7:257-308 (2016)
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Abstract

Newton had a fivefold argument that true motion must be motion in absolute space, not relative to matter. Like Newton, Kant holds that bodies have true motions. Unlike him, though, Kant takes all motion to be relative to matter, not to space itself. Thus, he must respond to Newton’s argument above. I reconstruct here Kant’s answer in detail. I prove that Kant addresses just one part of Newton’s case, namely, his “argument from the effects” of rotation. And, to show that rotation is relative to matter, Kant changes the meaning of ‘relative motion.’ However, that change puts Kant’s doctrine in deep tension with Newton’s science. Based on my construal, I correct earlier readings of Kant by John Earman and Martin Carrier. And, I argue that we need to revise Michael Friedman’s influential view of Kant. Kant’s struggle, I conclude, illustrate the difficulties that early modern relationists faced as they turned down Newtonian absolute space ; and it typifies their selective engagement with Newton’s case for it.

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Marius Stan
Boston College

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