Giving a New Meaning to Space

The Phenomenal and Relativistic Position from Kant to Einstein
Part of the Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics book series (SAPERE, volume 39)


The purpose of present essay is to identify some points of contact between several Kantian assumptions about space and some elements from the formulation of Einstein’s Relativity . In a early text written in 1768, Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space, Kant opened up a new concept of space that can not be identified either with that of Leibniz nor with space-order thought by surveyors but not with the absolute space of Newtonian origin: it will be called relative and phenomenal . Related and non-relational because in these pages, while finding its sense relatively to other, it is clear that it does not result from abstraction of the geometric position but from the immediate relationship that a certain object has with the sides of our body. Anticipating the future critical wording, we could say that it has its way relatively to sensibility. From this point of view, then, the work in question indicates a specific modality of the relative which, a century later, is theorized in Albert Einstein’s reorganization of frame of reference. A modality which brought about a radical, historic revaluation, especially when, with Special Relativity, it is maintained that velocity is not a absolute quantity, but is always related to and corresponds to a given—not to be dislocated at will—frame of reference. Moreover, Einstein’s assumption that the sum total of events which are simultaneous with a selected event is true in relation to a particular inertial system, but no longer independently of the choice of the inertial system, adds an additional element in assonance with his theory which makes more significant a comparison and analogy with Kant’s way of seeing things. That is to say, for both Kant and Einstein empirical space, as also time, do not depend on a metaphysical-substantialist superstructure but are the result of a profound rethinking of the same idea. Both of them base their ideas on the univocal nature of coordination that they find to be based on the unity of space and time understood as structuring functions, or rather structuring a new understanding of reality.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesUniversity of Naples Federico IINaplesItaly

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