Memorial Days

The world description of the bold Kant

(Published in GralsWelt 35/2005)

March 14, 1755.

Kant as a natural scientist
In the past year 2004, the 200th year of death of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), his importance and his achievements as a philosopher and epistemologist were widely recognized, as he is counted among the most important thinkers. In these laudations, Kant received less attention as a scientist and astronomer. However, scientific questions predominated in his works until the 1860s. However, Kant himself did not carry out any experiments or included them in his considerations. In this he differs from the other two greats, who were both natural scientists and philosophers: René Descartes (1595-1650) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716).

General natural history 

One of the boldest works in the history of science was published 250 years ago. The young Kant was the first modern astronomer to attempt a description of the origins of our world, the solar system, based on Newton's laws.
There were comparable attempts in antiquity, but at that time the basis of the established knowledge was far too narrow for a useful scientific explanation of the world. In modern times, Descartes and Leibniz, for example, no longer saw the world as a static system, and Descartes ventured into a vortex hypothesis that was supposed to explain the origin of the planets.
But Kant brought more: a "systematic constitution of the world structure", which wanted to explain the formation of our solar system with its planets and comets, the structure of the Saturn ring etc. consequently and logically from the laws of nature. The “hand of God” or the “first mover” - in whom Isaac Newton (1643-1727) still believed - now seemed dispensable, to the horror of the churches.

The Kant-Laplace cosmology
According to Kant's "vortex hypothesis", our solar system began with a huge, interstellar, molecular cloud, which, due to its own gravity, agglomerated to form cosmic bodies. However, many phenomena of our planetary system could not be explained satisfactorily in this way; eg the fact that all planets move - with small deviations - in the same orbital plane.
This is where “Laplace's theory” comes in, with explanations that seem more convincing at first glance. While Kant assumed a stationary nebula, which then gradually condensed into the astronomical bodies of our planetary system, Laplace assumed a rotating nebula that was pulled apart by centrifugal force. This made it clear why all planets move in almost the same orbital plane.
Since both theories assume that our solar system was formed from a huge primordial nebula, they were later discussed in textbooks under the name "Kant-Laplace's hypothesis".
From today's perspective, both hypotheses - individually or in addition - cannot satisfactorily describe the origin of our solar system, and it took until the 20th century for more modern assumptions and more complicated calculation methods to better explain the formation of our planetary system from a huge cloud of nebula.

The new worldorder
This new approach of the sciences, as exemplified in the astronomical works of Kant or Laplace's celestial mechanics, assumes that the creation of the world is based solely on the laws of nature, i.e. the natural laws that are accessible to us and understandable by us, can explain. Direct intervention by the Creator - which theologians had long taken for granted - now no longer seemed necessary. Everything should develop “naturally” in a way that people can understand. With "supernatural influences" - with the "finger of God" up to the work of witches, wizards, ghosts - was no longer to be expected.
This is expressed in a well-known anecdote: When Laplace presented his "Celestial Mechanics" - for a long time a leading standard work for astronomers - Napoleon, the latter (himself a good mathematician) is said to have wondered why God was not mentioned in this work. Laplace is said to have answered proudly: "Sire, I did not need this hypothesis".
Laplace was able to calculate the orbits of the planets with sufficient accuracy (for his time), he came to the conviction that our solar system with its closed planetary orbits is permanently stable, and therefore the previously assumed "divine interventions" to maintain and stabilize the world seem unnecessary .

Agreement on the assumption of Kant that it "without this mechanism of nature " there is no natural science to this day; even if the laws of nature have long since encompassed much more than Newton's mechanics known to Kant.

If it were possible to derive unrecognizable, measurable, then us humans applicable, calculable and even predictable conclusions from the natural phenomena, i.e. "laws" that visibly prove themselves, any natural research would also be doomed to failure, our world would appear to us - just like people once did Middle Ages - as an incomprehensible chaos.

(1) Kant, Immanuel: "General natural history and theory of heaven", Kindler, Munich 1971.
(2) Littrow, Jos. Joh. V./Stumpff, Karl: "The miracles of heaven", Ferd. Dümmler, Bonn, 1969.
(3) Miller, AG: "Sun, Moon and Stars", Zsolnay, Vienna, 1957.