Description and Reality

In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant wrote: 'There can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience But though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience. ... We are in possession of certain modes of a priori knowledge, and even the common understanding is not without them.'341 Kant, in the first edition of Critique of Pure Reason (1781), had developed a system which was to put the sciences and the reasoning on a transcendental basis. Whereas empiricists assume that all knowledge starts and ends with experienced facts, here the emphasis is laid on the ordering of experiences, which rests on the existence of ordering principles and functions which do not stem from experience. In fact, Ernst Cassirer, the most scientific Kantian scholar of the 20th century, called his most important book Substance and Function,342 In it he stated: 'This reproduction of the manifold and ceaselessly changing material of perception to ultimate constant relations must be granted without limitations by even the most radical "empiricism." For the assumption of this fundamental relation is all that remains for empricism of the concept of the "object" and thus the concept of nature.'343 And, a little later, he remarked: 'To describe a group of phenomena, then, means not merely to record receptively the sensory impressions received from them, but to transform them intellectually. From among the theoretically known and developed forms of mathematical connection (for instance, from among the forms of pure geometry), a selection and combination must be made such that the elements given here and now appear as constructively deduced elements in the system which arises. The logical moment given here cannot be denied even in the theories of empiricism, or under whatever names it may be concealed. 'The adjustment of ideas to reality" presupposes the very concept of this reality, and thus a system of intellectual postulates.'344

However, one has to emphasize an important fact about the critical philosophy of Kant and his successors, which Alfred C. Elsbach pointed out in Kant und Einstein: 'Here, in the critical philosophy one assumes the validity of science and deduces from it the critical theory of knowledge.'345 Elsbach examined the results of the critical philosophy and came to the conclusion that the contradiction between experience and certain statements of the Kantian scheme is only an apparent one. He referred, of course, to Kant's a priori concepts of space and time, as expressed in his Critique of Pure Reason: 'Space is a necessary a priori representation, which underlies all outer intuitions.'346 In his thesis, Kant had already stated: 'The concept of space is not abstracted from outer sensations.'347 And 'Time is the formal a priori condition of all appearances whatsoever. (The idea of time does not originate in the senses, but is presupposed by them.)'348'349

In the theory of relativity, these statements which come from Newton's theory do not hold, because both the absolute space and the absolute time are concepts which lose their validity for motions with velocities close to that of light. Thus Einstein believed that Kant's scheme was too narrow to account for the new development. But Elsbach remarked after a careful study of Kant's critical philosophy: 'We can exclude the situation that physics is at variance with Kant's philosophy because the coincidence of both is a necessary consequence of the structure of the critical philosophy.'350 Einstein summarized his position in his lecture on 'Geometry and Experience' at the Prussian Academy of Sciences on 27 January 1921: 'Geometry thus completed is evidently a natural science; we may in fact regard it as the most ancient branch of physics. Its affirmation rests essentially on induction from experience. ... I attach special importance to the view of geometry which I have just set forth, because without it I should be unable to formulate the theory of relativity.' And, a little later, he said: 'For if contradictions between theory and experience manifest themselves, we should rather decide to change the physical laws than to change axiomatic Euclidean geometry. If we reject the relation between the practical-rigid body and geometry, we shall indeed not free ourselves from the convention that Euclidean geometry is to be retained as the simplest.'351

Thus there is no contradiction between the Einstein of relativity theory and Kant's scheme, even expressed in the statements made by Kant in his Metaphysical Foundations of Science: 'Rational science deserves, therefore, the name science only then, if the natural laws on which it is founded, are recognized a priori and are not mere laws of empirics.'352

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