Skip to main content

The Kant-Laplace hypothesis I

Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven (German edition).jpg

The Kant-Laplace hypothesis, IIRC, is the view that our solar system was at one point a vast disc-shaped cloud of dust, and that it gradually condensed into the several orbiting planets and the central star with which we are familiar.

The theory appears in "The Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens," pictured here, a pamphlet published in 1755. Here's the full text in English: http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/kant/kant2e.htm

Kant is of course better known for his Critical Philosophy, the great critiques that redefined epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics. He didn't even begin producing those great works until more than 20 years after he wrote the above pamphlet.

Kant, in a well known moment of self praise, said that he was producing philosophy's analog to the Copernican revolution. The praise has been much ridiculed, and I admit to my mind it seems perverse, since Kant's philosophy might at least as plausibly be seen as anti-Copernican, as a way of putting humans back at the center of the universe, from which point Copernicus had dislodged us.

Still, I find a good deal of wonderment in the fact that this Copernicus analogy comes from an intellectual descendant of Copernicus, a speculative astronomer of considerable significance in that field.

"Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear!"

And Kant knew his astronomy.

I expect to say something more about this hypothesis and its philosophical significance tomorrow.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.



We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Great Chain of Being

One of the points that Lovejoy makes in the book of that title I mentioned last week is the importance, in the Neo-Platonist conceptions and in the later development of the "chain of being" metaphor, of what he calls the principle of plenitude. This is the underlying notion that everything that can exist must exist, that creation would not be possible at all were it to leave gaps.

The value of this idea for a certain type of theodicy is clear enough.

This caused theological difficulties when these ideas were absorbed into Christianity.  I'll quote a bit of what Lovejoy has to say about those difficulties:

"For that conception, when taken over into Christianity, had to be accommodated to very different principles, drawn from other sources, which forbade its literal interpretation; to carry it through to what seemed to be its necessary implications was to be sure of falling into one theological pitfall or another."

The big pitfalls were: determinism on the on…

Philippa Gregory

My recent reading includes large helpings of Philippa Gregory's latest, THREE SISTERS, THREE QUEENS (2016), another of her fictionalized takes on love and betrayal among the royals of Renaissance Europe.

In this book, the focus is on the early Tudor dynasty, and especially on Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, founder thereof, and the older sister of the future Henry VIII. Margaret became Queen of Scotland with an arranged marriage to James IV. She reigned and ruled under the title of Dowager Queen after James' death at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

So who, you ask, were the other two sisters of the novel's title? One is Margaret's blood sister, Mary Tudor, who was known as one of the great beauties of the age. Mary was the inspiration for the name her brother Henry gave to his older daughter. More important for Gregory's story, she wed the King of France (Louis XII) in 1514, and Anne Boleyn served as her maid of honor at that ceremony.

The third &…