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He knew what he was doing, and he was defiant. Kant's own intent was to understand the powers of nature and he set out to solve the puzzle of force. The Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces was a contribution to the so-called vis-viva -controversy; its goal was to settle the issue once and for all. The issue was as simple as it is profound: what is force, and how can it be measured?

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The controversy had begun in the previous century and was rife through the entirety of the modern period. Following the implications of his mechanical description of physical substances, Descartes argued that force is reducible to the mathematical quantity of motion observable in matter. Descartes contended that this quantity is conserved in the universe.

Nature is matter in motion, and motion is the explanatory principle. Cartesian essence can be isolated to physical and mental substances and force is neither of these. Force is not a dynamic essence, nor an essence at all. It is merely a quantity of motion calculable in another substance.

By his rendering, Descartes reduced physics to kinematics. Leibniz rejected the Cartesian formulation. Force is real, he argued, and it is more than a quantity mv of Decartes — it is the basic quality of nature and its activity can be observed in nature. Leibniz expanded physics to a dynamics. Leibniz was correct about rising and falling bodies, but the Cartesians Descartes had died in pointed to other experiments in support of the mv -formula. Unfortunately for the early debate, the issue could not be decided—because both sides had been right; there is both momentum and kinetic energy.

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So the arguments continued for decades. After Leibniz's death , the controversy continued through his followers, who quarreled with the current crop of French Cartesians. Newtonians were split over vis viva ; Newton and his British fans rejected it, while continental Newtonians accepted it. After Newton's death , in the s, the issue was settled—in Newton's favor. D'Alembert proved that there is a place for both quantities in physics Before that, Euler had already found out that Descartes's momentum is Newton's force acting over time, and Leibniz's kinetic energy is Newton's force acting through space.

It did take, however, a while before this information spread and became generally accepted. The debate died down around the time Kant published the Living Forces Kant's debut was one of the many attempts at settling the dispute, but for all practical purposes, it was a failure. The Living Forces appeared too late to make any difference, and Kant was unaware of d'Alembert's and Euler's research. But what doomed the book in the public eye was that Kant seemed to have bet on the wrong team of horses. He argued for a synthesis of Cartesian kinematics and Leibnizian dynamics, and did so at the expense of Newtonian mechanics.

At the time he grasped Newton's ideas only partially. He did not yet understand that motion, like rest, is a state something Galileo had discovered and that force is needed only for changing, not for keeping a state which is Newton's first law of motion. He not only implicitly rejected Newton through such mistakes, but also explicitly questions his authority preface, He tried to determine force without even mentioning the second law of motion that defines it as the product of mass and acceleration.

For Kant, Newtonian mechanics was irrelevant. While there are hundreds of references to Descartes and Leibniz in the book, the references to Newton can be counted on the fingers of one hand. In fact, however, Kant was not as mistaken as it seemed at the time. More importantly, he proposed a deep connection. While showing in chapter 2 that Descartes's quantity is empirically well supported, he argued in chapter 3 that Leibniz's quantity must be factored in to arrive at a full qualitative understanding of force.

That is, Kant not only regarded momentum and energy as relevant quantities, as d'Alembert had done, but he grasped that their union points to the universal nature of force. This was sharper than even Euler's insight. Euler had discovered that these quantities are derivable from Newtonian force and that there is accordingly a quantitative connection among them.

But Kant invested this connection with qualitative meaning, arguing that the structure of nature must be understood in dynamic terms, and that Newton really misses the point. Throughout the book, he wrestles with the harmony of opposites, Cartesian kinematics and Leibnizian dynamics, trying to marry momentum and energy—while having the audacity to criticize Newton.

This is the thrust of the work. Taken as a prediction, it is superb. With his first publication, Kant intuited not only that matter is ultimately energetic, but also that its dynamic measure is momentum-energy. Kant understood what force involves. He argues that force is the essence of action 4. Out-broadening of force ausbreiten ; Force makes the continuum, being governed, in turn, by the created structure This shift in understanding the nature of force correspondingly alters the nature one must think of material objects and dynamic interaction. The origin and source is force, and not substance, as the Cartesians had insisted.

Force is responsible for substance, quantification and laws of nature—not the other way around.


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Dynamic interaction turns force into a field and the void into a plenum. Kant anticipated that momentum-energy is the substantial correlate of spacetime. Bypassing Newton, he caught up with Einstein. For Kant, force grips the void, holding it as a dimensional presence that localizes the original pulse. Force extends space, ordering it, and space places force, governing it. Space dynamically expands; force structurally acts.

Each needs the other. Without force, space would lack structure Abmessungen or Dimensionen , 9—10 and could not place a world 7—9, Without space, force could not be a field Force is spaced and space is forced. This is their bond —4.

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Indeed: mass stretches spacetime, and spacetime grips mass. In fact, Kant caught up with modern physics in several regards. Another of his insights is so basic that it is easy to miss. He defended force as the interactive matrix of nature and insisted on the importance of dynamics.

1 Reassessing Kant ’ s Geography

The dynamic ontology of the Living Forces was ridiculed in its day, for Newton's mechanics had digested Kepler's celestial dynamics and marginalized Leibniz's physical dynamics. Yet Kant's stance would mark out the future course of science. We do not regard nature as a collection of particles and forces in empty space anymore, but instead as a system of energy-pulses interacting in fields. Dynamics has turned out to be fundamental.

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When examining the force-space bond in detail 10 , Kant discovered the law of free point source radiation The pressure of any point-source radiation in a free field drops at a rate that is inversely proportional to the square of the propagated distance. Kant's generalization unites Kepler's law of photo measurement , Newton's law of universal gravitation , and Coulomb's later law of electrostatic force as instantiations of the spread of energy.

Its most famous application, in its first, Keplerian, instantiation, was Hubble's measure of the luminosity of distant variable stars —which led to the discoveries of cosmic expansion and the Big Bang.


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In the concluding reflection of the pivotal tenth section of the Living Forces , Kant recognized the contingency of the pressure-propagation ratio In light of quantum geometry and its modern guises—superstring and M-theories—this last remark might well have been Kant's most far-sighted prediction. Despite suffering from insufficient scientific training, the rejection by his advisor, the academic failure, and the catastrophe in his family, Kant's philosophical debut in reveals the mark of genius.

For the next seven years, Kant's life would be quiet. He was now teaching children in the Baltic countryside. Finally he worked as a tutor for Count Keyserlingk until This in Kant's life is marked by social engagements, dinners and convivial living. During this time Kant's finances improved, which left him more time to attend to his tutoring and his own research. When Kant left town, the main influence on his thought had been Georg Bernhard Bilfinger [ 16 ] — , Wolff's former assistant at Halle.

Bilfinger's heuristic method had inspired the project of Living Forces. This rule for finding truth is to identify an intermediate position when experts advance contrary views, provided ulterior motives are absent Bilfinger's rule had guided Kant to reconcile Leibniz and Descartes over force. This method was to characterize nearly all of his critical writings as well.

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In the countryside, Kant realized that his debut had met with no success, despite its inspiration. His middle way of synthesizing Leibniz and Descartes was ignored. Having criticized Newton, Kant now reconsidered his stance on Newtonian physics. When Kant published his second work, the Spin-Cycle essay , his misgivings had turned into admiration. As its title states, it is an. In the essay, he also announces his next book with the working title,. Cosmogony, or attempt to deduce the origin of the cosmos, the constitution of celestial bodies, and the causes of their motions, from the general laws of motion of matter according to Newton's theory.

Kant's Newtonian conversion would be completed while working on the Spin-Cycle essay. The early drafts still involve discussions of Huygens's dynamics —7. But published argument is sharpened to a Newtonian point—no other natural philosopher is even mentioned. Newton had become Kant's authority and his sole scientific point of reference. Little is known of Kant's actual conversion. Only start and finish— Living Forces and Spin-Cycle —are present. But it does not take much imagination to fill in the blanks. In , Kant promoted his book and waited for a reaction.

Immanuel Kant

When keeping track of the relevant journals, it could not have escaped him that Newton was the winner, nor that Leibnizian dynamics was on the wane and that support for Cartesian kinematics had all but collapsed. Force was Newtonian force. Newtonian physics had become the new paradigm of natural philosophy.

By his own account, Kant was not enthusiastic about his employment, but he did not hate it either. Some of his charges affectionately stayed in touch and later sought him out in the city. So his tutoring responsibilities were not too great a burden.