Kant’s Ambivalent Response to the Newtonian Challenge


Researcher: Karin de Boer

The works Kant published in the 1740s and 1750s testify to his thorough knowledge of Newton. Yet this is not to say that the “central theme” of Kant’s pre-critical works at large was his “struggle for a coherent philosophy of nature”, as Schönfeld (2000: 3), following Friedman (1992), has argued.

Taking issue with these reductive readings, this subproject focuses on the methodological problems that Kant took to ensue from the challenge to Wolffian metaphysics represented by the Newtonian conception of science (cf. Prunea-Bretonnet 2015).

Complementing my recent monograph (De Boer 2020), my aim is to show that Kant from 1755 onward sought to salvage elements of Wolffian metaphysics that he considered to be threathened by a thoroughgoing Newtonianism, but did so by appealing to elements of Newton’s own method at least partly for strategic reasons. By reassessing the nature of Kant’s Newtonian, non-Newtonian, and quasi-Newtonian methodological commitments in texts such as New Elucidation (1755), the Inquiry (1763), and the Inaugural Dissertation (1770), this subproject seeks to counteract the prevailing ‘Newtonian’ and ‘empiricist’ image of the early Kant.




kants response to newton