Since his Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft was first published in 1786, controversy has surrounded Immanuel Kant’s conception of matter. In particular, the justification for both his dynamical theory of matter and the related dismissal of mechanical philosophy are obscure. In this paper, I address these longstanding issues and establish that Kant’s dynamism rests upon Leibnizian, metaphysical commitments held by Kant from his early pre-Critical texts on natural philosophy to his major critical works. I demonstrate that, throughout his corpus and inspired by Leibniz, Kant endorses the a priori law of continuity of alteration as a truth of metaphysics, according to which all alterations in experience must occur gradually through all intervening degrees. The principle thus legislates against mechanical philosophy’s absolutely impenetrable atoms, as they would would involve instantaneous changes of velocity in impact. This reveals the metaphysical incoherencies in mechanical philosophy and leaves Kant’s own dynamical theory of matter, grounded on material forces, as the only viable approach to physical explanation. Subsequently, I demonstrate that Kant nevertheless made conceptual space in his system for the theoretical consideration of mechanical explanations, which makes manifest one of the positive roles that the faculty of reason can play with respect to natural science.
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- Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
- Immanuel Kant
- Mechanical philosophy