Kant's characteristic philosophical strategy - ingenious, original, and by his own assessment, revolutionary - consisted in transferring to the mind, as among its organising principles, a great many of the features heretofore ascribed to the objective order of the world. Causality, for example, rather than some bonding agency, linking event with event under the laws of nature, was instead a defining structure of the way we organise experience: it would not be experience were it not causally ordered. And space, rather than some vast container in which the furniture of the universe is stowed, is instead a form of perception - an innate a priori scheme through which bodies present themselves to the senses as coordinated. The laws of this mode of organisation arc given by geometry, which Kant had no grounds for believing other than Euclidian; and indeed, well after the advent of non-Euclidian geometries, it was still widely maintained that Euclid's defines the structure of spatial experience for minds such as ours. Kant was interested in human nature only in the most universal terms, and it was his assumption that our spatial intuitions must be largely invariant inasmuch as we are all built the same. The organising principles of the form-giving mind must be the same from period to period of history, and culturally all of a piece.
LRB 9 April 1992 | PDF Download