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Kant and the Exact Sciences.

The author of this impressively learned and innovative addition to Kantian scholarship is concerned primarily with Kant's lifelong attempt to furnish philosophical grounds for the exact sciences of his time. The reference to "exact sciences of his time" is of central importance. A part of Friedman's thesis is that Kant scholars, in their eagerness apparently to defend the contemporary relevance of Kant, tend to be embarrassed, in view of twentieth-century developments in science, by the quaintness of Kant's total immersion in eighteenth-century Euclidean (physical) geometry and Newtonian mechanics. This tendency, Friedman claims, is highly unfortunate: it obscures the magnificent service performed by Kant in showing the extent to which philosophical foundations can be furnished for whatever science is contemporary. Kant, Friedman adds, probably makes a contribution in this regard that has been unmatched to the present.

The book is divided into the usual pre-Critical, Critical, and post-Critical periods of Kant's work. The pre-Critical grappling with the Leibniz-Wolff versus Newton compromise is relegated to the Introduction. But a substantial Introduction it is. One is left wondering, in view of Friedman's scholarly treatment, whether the task undertaken by Kant, compared to the efforts of modern day philosophers of science, was as simple as some of the commentators would have us believe. Admitting the explosion in scientific knowledge since Kant, one might still regret, Friedman appears to be saying, that the Russells, Carnaps, Reichenbachs, and so on have not come closer to capturing a philosophical foundation for science that might compare to Kant's.

The Critical period receives very little more attention in this book than does the post-Critical period, essentially an examination of the Opus Postumum. This no doubt it due to the intensive research that has already gone into the Critiques, the Metaphysical Foundations, and so on. But the post-Critical works show the utter tenacity with which Kant pursued his goal of philosophically grounding the exact sciences--even chemistry, a suspect science he had previously maligned. And maybe tenaciousness, along with a little help from the central nervous system, is what truly marks a great philosopher.
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Author:Schuh, Edward
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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