Essay on Kant, the Body, and Knowledge

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I discuss the philosophical significance of Kant's great cosmological work of 1755, the Universal Natural History. I discuss how Kant's interest in Newtonian universal forces led him to affirm a peculiar version of the physical influx theory. I argue that Kant's speculations about life on other planets are highly significant because they point to a key feature of Kant's theory of physical influx, namely that "the nimble motions of the body" stand as necessary conditions of the possibility of knowledge. This work directs us to an important topic that has received little scholarly interest: the relation between the body and knowledge in Kant's philosophical writings. For nearly all of his career, Kant believed that the body stands as a…show more content…
First, the radically different natures of souls and bodies make them incapable of acting on one another. Second, any action by the soul on the body would violate laws of conservation of motion. Third, physical influx involves the metaphysically ridiculous claim that accidents migrate from substance to substance. More generally physical influx theories were also thought to lead to a determinism that was morally pernicious, namely because it undermines freedom, responsibility, and Scripture. So much for historical background. Kant's theory of physical influx begins with his interest in Newtonian universal forces. This interest is in his Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1755), a work whose subtitle is Essay on the Constitution and Mechanical Origin of the Entire Universe, Treated in Accordance with Newtonian Principles. The plan of this work is to show how "general laws of motion" and "the accepted law of attraction" can be used to explain the development of the universe out of an original chaos (1:246, Jaki p. 92.) (2) In this way, he seeks "to discover the systematic factor which ties together the great members of the created realm in the whole extent of infinity" (1:221, Jaki p. 81). Kant's focus on the systematicity of nature makes his concerns even more far-reaching than extending Newtonian mechanics to explain the evolution of the
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