A24 Kant

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) presumed that Newtonian theory was the absolute truth, but he also accepted Hume's strictures on the limits of the alleged inductive process. He acknowledged the evident paradox: how could this juxtaposition allow observation statements to stand as exact knowledge? His proposed solution was instrumental in shaping his philosophy of knowledge. He divided the world into phenomena (what our perceptions supply to our minds) and noumena (the objective universe, 'things-in-themselves'). Of the latter we are and must remain absolutely incognisant. Our perceptions filter our sense impressions and our minds impose order on phenomena; but we can neither confirm nor refute the existence and nature of noumena, or of God or spirit (Kemp Smith 1962). That was Kant's attempt to 'delineate the reach of knowledge in order to make room for faith'.

According to Kant, our knowledge is in part a priori and therefore not inferred inductively from experience. He wrote7:

When Galileo let his balls run down an inclined plane to test a gravity he had chosen himself; when Torricelli caused air to support a weight he had chosen beforehand... a Light dawned on natural philosophers. They learnt that our reason can only understand what it creates according to its own design, and that we must coax from Nature the answers to our questions rather than cling to her apron strings. [.] Observations made without prior plan and hypothesis cannot be connected to [...] what our reason is looking for.

Nowadays, 'observation statements are theory-laden' is a familiar aphorism and it is orthodox to accept that observations and experiments are pre-loaded with theory. However, Kant's 'residual observer' was 'apart from' the universe; a detached mind not subject to the laws of mechanics. This facilitated the intuition that the observer is 'absolutely at rest', which further entrenched the Newtonian/Kantian notions of absolute space and time - the metaphysical underpinning of classical mechanics

7 From the Critique of Pure Reason, translated by Kemp Smith.

that Mach challenged in the closing years of the 19 th century and Einstein replaced in 1905. Kant's work had ontological as well as epistemological implications.

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