Marius Stan, assistant Professor, Boston College, Boston, MA
Unlike most in his age, Kant was a constant and forceful defender of action at a distance. In virtue of this advocacy, he counts as a spokesman for Newtonian science. Less known are his views on contact interactions. As it rurns out, Kant developed these views so as to fulfill a foundational agenda inherited form Leibniz not Newton. This agenda required natural philosophers to show that action by contact is (1) intelligible, and (2) grounded in an a priori dynamics. To solve this dual problem, Kant draws on his metaphysics of motion and matter.
In Part 1, the early Kant’s mechanics of contact action are presented. At its heart is a concept of relative motion. Stan explains the peculiar sense of Kantian relativity, and how Kant developed so as to solve a problem bequeathed by Leibniz. Then Stan documents how this a priori mechanics survives in Kant’s Critical period.
Leibniz had complained that contact action — paradigmatically, collision — appears unintelligible, because it seems to involve a transfer of properties. In Part 2, Stan explains how the young Kant draws on his matter theory to avoid the unintelligibility charge. However, Kant’s solution involves short-range action at a distance forces — unacceptable to Leibniz but at home in Newton’s system. In the 1780s, Kant switches to a doctrine of matter as a physical continuum. This brings him closer to Leibniz, but it threatens to break apart his concepts of force and matter.