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«Michael Friedman Laws of Nature and Causal Necessity Abstract: This paper consider the necessity of causal laws of nature in relation to Kant’s ...»

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DOI 10.1515/kant-2014-0025 of Nature and Causal 2014; 105(4): 531–553

Laws KANT-STUDIEN Necessity

Michael Friedman

Laws of Nature and Causal Necessity

Abstract: This paper consider the necessity of causal laws of nature in relation

to Kant’s works explicitly addressed to natural science (such as the Prolegomena

and the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science), and also to the second

edition of the Transcendental Deduction and the Critique of the Power of Judgement.

Keywords: causal necessity, laws of nature, Prolegomena, B Deduction, reflective judgement Michael Friedman: Stanford University, Stanford, CA; mlfriedman@stanford.edu In this essay I consider Kant’s conception of the causal necessity expressed by particular empirical laws of nature from three different yet related points of view.

In the first section I consider Kant’s clearest and most explicit treatments of such necessity in the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783) and Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786). In the second I consider Kant’s much more


treatment in the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (1787). Both of these sections focus on the role of the faculty of understanding. In the third section, however, I turn to the essential and indispensable role of the faculty of reflective judgement discussed in the Critique of the Power of Judgement (1790).

1 The Prolegomena and Metaphysical Foundations Kant presents his official “answer to Hume” in § 29 of the Prolegomena. He begins with cases of Humean constant conjunction, which he illustrates by the proposition that if a body is illuminated long enough by the sun then it becomes warm.

Such a proposition, however, is a merely subjective judgement of perception, and, if it is to become an objective judgement of experience, it must be regarded as universally valid and necessary. The resulting “proposition of experience” is that the sun is through its light the cause of the warmth: “The foregoing empirical rule is now regarded as a law, and indeed as valid not merely of appearances, but of them on behalf of a possible experience, which requires universally and thus Brought to you by | Stanford University Libraries Authenticated Download Date | 8/8/15 8:33 PM 532 Michael Friedman necessarily valid rules”.1 Kant’s point, then, is that when we apply the concept of cause to a Humean constant conjunction, we transform a merely subjective connection of perceptions into a truly universal and necessarily valid causal law of nature.

Kant’s discussion of this example begins considerably earlier in the Prolegomena (§ 20), in the course of his initial introduction of the distinction between

judgements of perception and judgements of experience:

To have a more easily understood example, consider the following: If the sun shines on the stone it becomes warm. This judgement is a mere judgement of perception and contains no necessity, however often I and others also have perceived this; the perceptions are only usually found so combined. But if I say: the sun warms the stone, then beyond the perception is added the understanding’s concept of cause, which connects necessarily the concept of sunshine with that of heat, and the synthetic judgement becomes necessarily universally valid, hence objective, and changes from a perception into experience.2 This distinction between two kinds of judgements, one subjective and the other objective, has appeared to many commentators to be problematic and, accordingly, to be dropped in the second edition of the Critique in favor of the view that all judgements, as such, must be objective. Nevertheless, the formulation of the general principle of the (three) Analogies of Experience employed in the second edition (together with the following additional paragraph labeled “Proof”) emphasizes a parallel (but less controversial) distinction between perception and experience: “Experience is possible only through the representation of a necessary connection of perceptions.”3 But what is most problematic in Kant’s answer to Hume is the suggestion that all experience, even that which is in itself entirely a posteriori and contingent, must nevertheless involve some kind of necessary connection. What does it 1 “Die obige empirische Regel wird nunmehr als Gesetz angesehen und zwar nicht als geltend blos von Erscheinungen, sondern von ihnen zum Behuf einer möglichen Erfahrung, welche durchgängig und also nothwendig gültige Regeln bedarf.” Prol, AA 04: 312.

2 “Um ein leichter einzusehendes Beispiel zu haben, nehme man folgendes: wenn die Sonne den Stein bescheint, so wird er warm. Dieses Urtheil ist ein bloßes Wahrnehmungsurtheil und

enthält keine Nothwendigkeit, ich mag dieses noch so oft und andere auch noch so oft wahrgenommen haben; die Wahrnehmungen finden sich nur gewöhnlich so verbunden. Sage ich aber:

die Sonne erwärmt den Stein, so kommt über die Wahrnehmung noch der Verstandesbegriff der Ursache hinzu, der mit dem Begriff des Sonnenscheins den der Wärme nothwendig verknüpft, und das synthetische Urtheil wird nothwendig allgemeingültig, folglich objectiv, und aus einer Wahrnehmung in Erfahrung verwandelt.” Prol, AA 04: 301n.

3 “Erfahrung ist nur durch die Vorstellung einer nothwendigen Verknüpfung der Wahrnehmungen möglich.” KrV, B 218.

–  –  –

mean, in particular, for a merely contingent sequence of perceptions (heat customarily following illumination by the sun) somehow to become necessary?

The key to answering this question, I believe, is that the necessity in question is characterized in Kant’s official discussion of the category of necessity in both editions of the Critique (1781/1787). Here the three Postulates of Empirical Thought

govern the categories of possibility, actuality, and necessity:

1. Whatever agrees with the formal conditions of experience (in accordance with intuition and concepts), is possible.

2. That which is connected with the material conditions of experience (of sensation), is actual.

3. That whose connection with the actual is determined in accordance with general conditions of experience is (exists) necessarily.4 The “formal [or “general”] conditions of experience” include the forms of intuition (space and time), together with the categories and principles of the understanding. And the “material” conditions of experience include that which is given to us, through sensation, in perception. Kant is thus describing a three-stage procedure in which we begin with the formal a priori conditions of the possibility of experience in general, perceive various actual events and processes by means of sensation, and then assemble these events and processes together in a unified experience via necessary connections using the general conditions of the possibility of experience with which we began.

In his detailed discussion of the third Postulate Kant makes it clear that he is referring, more specifically, to causal necessity and to particular (empirical) causal laws of nature. The third Postulate “pertains to material necessity in existence, and not the merely formal and logical necessity in the connection of concepts”.5 And this kind of necessity can “never be cognized from concepts but rather always only from the connection with that which is perceived, in accordance with general laws of experience”.6 Finally, since 4 “1. Was mit den formalen Bedingungen der Erfahrung (der Anschauung und den Begriffen nach) übereinkommt, ist möglich.

2. Was mit den materialen Bedingungen der Erfahrung (der Empfindung) zusammenhängt, ist wirklich.

3. Dessen Zusammenhang mit dem Wirklichen nach allgemeinen Bedingungen der Erfahrung bestimmt ist, ist (existirt) nothwendig.” KrV, A 218 /B 265f.

5 “[…] so geht es auf die materiale Nothwendigkeit im Dasein und nicht die bloß formale und logische in Verknüpfung der Begriffe”. KrV, A 226/B 279.

6 “[…] so kann die Nothwendigkeit der Existenz niemals aus Begriffen, sondern jederzeit nur aus der Verknüpfung mit demjenigen, was wahrgenommen wird, nach allgemeinen Gesetzen der Erfahrung erkannt werden.” KrV, A 227/ B 279.

–  –  –

there is no existence that could be cognized as necessary under the condition of other given appearances except the existence of effects from given causes in accordance with laws of causality, it is not the existence of things (substances) but of their state of which alone we can cognize their necessity, and moreover only from other states, which are given in perception, in accordance with empirical laws of causality.7 Kant is suggesting, therefore, that the necessity in question is precisely that of the causal connections among diverse events whose (objective) necessity Hume had denied.

Read against the background of the explicit discussion of Hume’s skeptical doubts in the Prolegomena, Kant is also suggesting that the empirical regularities in question are themselves transformed from mere “empirical rules” into genuine “necessary and universally valid” laws by the same procedure. Thus, in the example from § 29 of the Prolegomena Kant begins from a mere empirical rule (that heat always follows illumination by the sun) and proceeds to a necessary and universally valid law by adding the a priori concept of cause to this (so far) merely inductive rule. The three-stage procedure described by the Postulates of Empirical Thought – in which we begin with the formal a priori conditions of the possibility of experience in general, perceive various actual events and processes by means of sensation, and then assemble these events and processes together in a unified experience via necessary connections using the general conditions of the possibility of experience with which we began – also results in a necessary and universally valid empirical causal laws of nature (the sun is through its light the cause of heat) governing the events and processes in question.

To be sure, Kant does not make clear exactly how the law that the sun is through its light the cause of heat becomes necessary and universally valid.

He does not make clear exactly how this law acquires a more than merely inductive universality. A clearer case, however, is provided by the Newtonian law of universal gravitation – which Kant explicitly considers later in the Prolegomena (§ 37) as 7 “Da ist nun kein Dasein, was unter der Bedingung anderer gegebener Erscheinungen als nothwendig erkannt werden könnte, als das Dasein der Wirkungen aus gegebenen Ursachen nach Gesetzen der Causalität. Also ist es nicht das Dasein der Dinge (Substanzen), sondern ihres Zustandes, wovon wir allein die Nothwendigkeit erkennen können und zwar aus anderen Zuständen, die in der Wahrnehmung gegeben sind, nach empirischen Gesetzen der Causalität.” KrV, A 227/ B 279f.

–  –  –

an example, which is supposed to show that laws which we discover in objects of sensory intuition, especially if these laws have been cognized as necessary, are already held by us to be such as have been put there by the understanding, although they are otherwise in all respects like the laws of nature that we attribute to experience.8 The example is presented in the immediately following section (§ 38) as “a physical law of reciprocal attraction, extending to all material nature, the rule of which is that these attractions decrease inversely with the square of the distance from each point of attraction”.9 In order to see exactly how this example illustrates the way in which an empirical causal law can in fact become necessary and universally valid, we need also to consider Kant’s discussion in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786) – where the fourth chapter or Phenomenology corresponds to the Postulates of Empirical Thought. The role of this chapter, more specifically, is to explain how attributions of motion and rest to matter can be successively determined under the modal categories of possibility, actuality, and necessity – thereby resulting in a distinction between “true” and merely “apparent” motion.

Kant, on my reading, here develops a reconstruction of Newton’s “deduction from the phenomena” of the law of universal gravitation in Book 3 of the Principia.10 We begin, following Newton, from the observable “Phenomena” described by Kepler’s rules: the merely relative motions of the satellites in the solar system with respect to their primary bodies (the moon relative to the earth, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn relative to the planets in question, and the planets relative to the sun). We have not yet introduced a distinction between true and apparent motion, however, and so these Phenomena are so far mere “appearances” [Erein Beispiel […], welches zeigen soll: daß Gesetze, die wir an Gegenständen der sinnlichen Anschauung entdecken, vornehmlich wenn sie als nothwendig | erkannt worden, von uns selbst

schon für solche gehalten werden, die der Verstand hinein gelegt, ob sie gleich den Naturgesetzen, die wir der Erfahrung zuschreiben, sonst in allen Stücken ähnlich sind.” Prol, AA 04:


9 “[…] physisches Gesetz der wechselseitigen Attraction, deren Regel ist, daß sie umgekehrt mit dem Quadrat der Entfernungen von jedem anziehenden Punkt eben so abnimmt […]”. Prol, AA 04: 321.

10 This reading is developed most fully in my Kant’s Construction of Nature: A Reading of the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Cambridge 2013. For a more easily surveyable discussion (which I am generally following here) see my “The Prolegomena and Natural Science”.

In: Kant: Prolegomena. Ein gemeinschaftlicher Kommentar. Ed. by Holger Lyre and Oliver Schliemann. Frankfurt 2012, 231–266.

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