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I Am a Self-Moving Machine:
the key to Kants Transition project


Kant labored on the manuscript of his final work, the unpublished Transition from the

Metaphysical Foundation of Natural Science to Physics, for at least the entire last decade of his

life.1 It isnt until the late summer of 1799, however, that he seems to have hit upon a key

conceptual innovation for his Transition projectone that plays a sustained and central

role in his arguments in fascicles X and XI of the manuscript, written between August

1799 and April 1800. Roughly around this time, Kant began to accord new importance

to the seemingly anodyne fact that the subject (the I of transcendental philosophy) is a

physically embodied, world-immersed being. Why did he become so interested in this

idea? Well, for one, it implies that the subject of knowledge shares a common medium

with the objects it seeks to know, that it is a physical body filling space in a

determinate waywhich, in turn (as Kant argued in the Metaphysical Foundations of

Natural Science) means that it exerts moving forces. This quick characterization is

suggestive of interesting paths of elaboration of Kants transcendental account of the

epistemic relation between subject and object. Subject and object are related to one

another insofar as they both exert moving force in the same spatiotemporal frame, and,

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations to Kants posthumous work are taken from Eckart Frsters
edition of the text, Opus postumum (Op), ed. Eckart Frster, trans. Eckart Frster and Michael Rosen
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). References to this work, as well as others in the Kantian
corpus are given by volume and page number according to the standard Academy edition, Kants gesammelte
Schriften (Berlin and Leipzig, 1900-). References to the Critique of Pure Reason (CPR) are given according to
the standard A/B format. When necessary, I have consulted the facsimile copies of Kants original Op
manuscript, available online at Regarding
the dating of Kants manuscript and, in particular, the criteria for inclusion into the Op among Kants
unpublished writings from the 1790s, see Frsters introduction to the Op, pp. xxvi-xxix, where he argues
that material from as early as 1788-9 could be counted as belonging to Kants final project.

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hence, insofar as they mutually interact through this exercise, by affecting and being

affected by the other. Perhaps empirical knowledge could be explained, or further

characterized, through this insight that the subject is itself also an object that shares a

common, dynamic, medium with other objects.

In any case, it is clear that in fascicle X Kant is thinking about the material

embodiment of the subject in close connection with the concept of moving force. 2 He

expresses this connection in passages such as the following:

The moving forces of matter are what the moving subject itself does with its body to [other]
bodies. The reactions corresponding to these forces are contained in the simple acts by
which we perceive the bodies themselves. (22:326-27)

The direction of Kants thinking seems to lead to a new characterization of perception.

The embodied subject moves, that is, exerts moving forces on other bodies. These bodies

are thereby moved, and their movements are reactions corresponding to the moving

forces of the subject. Finally, the subjects acts of perception contain these reactions.

Two main points can be drawn from this passage. The first is causal. Perception seems to

be the result of an interaction (an interplay of action and reaction) between the subjects

body and other bodies. Being their result, acts of perception in some sense contain

those bodies reactions and are thus perception of those bodies. 3 Note that this

characterization is by itself insufficient, for it does not address the issue of the proper

References in the Op to the embodiment of the subject predate fascicle X. Already in fascicle II (from
1798) we find formulations such as man is conscious of himself as a self-moving machine (21:213). Cf.
Eckart Frster, Kants Selbstsetzungslehre in ed. Eckart Frster, Kants Transcendental Deductions (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1989) pp. 230-31. It is interesting however that in this context what is
significant for Kant is that the subject is conscious of itself as embodied and spontaneous, which, he suggests,
justifies the a priori inclusion of specifically organic forces into a general classification of moving forces of
nature. In contrast, in fascicle X (as we will see) the subjects embodiment as such is pertinent to the more
fundamental problem of justifying the very concept of moving force as a valid criterion for a classification
of nature.
For textual evidence of perception as a result of other bodies action on the subject, see, e.g., 22:298: [The
moving] forces [of material bodies] also affect the subject[who is] also a corporeal being. The inner
alterations thereby produced in him, with consciousness, are perceptions (emphasis added).

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interpretation of perceptions, and so completely underdetermines the sense in which the

reactions of the perceived bodies are contained in the acts of perception. Hence the

importance of the second point: that which the subjects perceptions contain is itself a

reaction to the subjects exercise of moving force. That is, what the subject perceives of

an external body corresponds to what it does to that body in the first placeto the

ways in which it moves them by exercising force. The effects of external objects on the

subject are informative of these objects insofar as they can be interpreted as the reactions

of bodies to the subjects own acts. Therefore, an a priori awareness of the embodied

nature of the subject, which implies its capacity to exert moving force, constitutes an a

priori guideline for empirical investigation of natureit provides, on the basis of the

sorts of movements of which the subject (a body) is capable, a concept of the sorts of

things external objects are (bodies) and of what they are themselves capable.

So much for an introductory gloss of the passage above. What I want to explain

in this paper is why the introduction of moving force into the account of the epistemic

relation between subject and world is important for Kants thinking in the Op. Such an

explanation requires that passages such as the one quoted above be put into proper

context. The text of fascicles X and XI is governed by two questions: How is physics

possible?, and How is the transition to physics possible?4 My claim in this paper is that Kants

account of the moving forces of the embodied subject (as characterized above) is the

answer to both of these questions. Ultimately, I interpret Kant as saying: 1-physics is

possible because a transition to physics as an a priori science is possible, and 2-a

transition to physics is possible because the subject is a priori (aware of itself as) capable

In fact, Frster uses both these questions as the title of the section comprising fascicles X and XI in his
edition of the Op. See Op, p. 100 ff.

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of exercising moving force. In order to defend these claims, and to clarify the

significance of Kants thinking of the subject through the concept of moving force, I

structure my paper in the following way. I begin by explaining what Kant means by

physics and why its possibility as a science is in question. After this, I consider Kants

project of a transition to physics, which I take to be his attempt to theoretically ground

the possibility of physics. In this section, I give particular attention to the concept of

moving force as the key concept of the transition. Finally, I argue that the concept of

moving force only has objective reality for Kant because the subject is a priori aware of

itself as capable of exercising moving force.


Throughout fascicles X and XI Kant defines physics over and over again (almost ad

nauseam), often repeating previous iterations of a definition almost verbatim, sometimes

clarifying and elaborating them. In general, there is a strict agreement and coherence

among the reiterated definitions, and they closely correspond to the discussions of

physics in Kants earlier work. Kants definition of physics in fascicle X thus naturally

unfolds by reading it together with his earlier treatments of the subject. Let us take as a

starting point a few examples from the early sheets of fascicle X. Kant defines physics as

a system of empirical concepts and laws (22:292), a systematic investigation of nature

(22:298) and as knowledge of sense-objects in experience (22:318). As a systematic

body of knowledge of a certain sort of objects, physics must contain the concepts that

define what objects are within its purview and the laws describing the behavior and

interrelation of such objects. Now, as knowledge of sense-objects, physics is concerned

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only with those objects that can be given in experience, which entails that the concepts

and laws composing are empiricalthat nature is to be investigated in order to be known.

Kant notes there is a tension, however, between the empirical and systematic

characteristics of physics:

Physics is a system; but we cannot know a system as such except insofar as we ourselves
compose the manifold of an aggregate according to a priori principles(22:299)

Physics considers objects insofar as they belong to sensible experience, such that

whatever concepts and laws it contains must be empirical, that is, must given by an

investigation of nature. Nevertheless, Kant tells us, we can only know systems we make

according to a priori principles. How can we then know a system of empirical laws,

holding of given objects? This problem is not new to the Op. Already in the Architectonic

chapter of the CPR, Kant treats physics (physica rationalis) as a branch of general

metaphysics, that is, as one subdivision of the system of all a priori knowledge,

specifically the one dealing with objects given in spatial (outer) intuition (A846/B874).5

Furthermore, in the Preface to the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, he argues

that physics is only a science properly so-called to the extent that it has a pure part

governed by priori principles.6 The latter requires that physics be given metaphysical

foundations, namely, that it be integrated into a system of metaphysical knowledge (such

as the Architectonic envisaged), which derives the apodictic certainty of its subdivisions

from the certainty of its general, transcendental, principles. In other words, knowledge

Translations from the CPR, unless noted, are taken from Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp
Smith (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
What can be called proper science is only that whose certainty is apodictic (4:469). A rational
doctrine of naturedeserves the name of a natural science, only in case the fundamental natural laws
therein are cognized a priori (ibid). All proper natural sciencerequires a pure part, on which apodictic
certaintycan be based (4:470) [P]roper natural science presupposes metaphysics of nature (4:470).
All translations from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (MFNS) are from Metaphysical
Foundations of Natural Science, ed. and trans. Michael Friedman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

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of sense-objects can only be scientific if the concepts and laws it employs are somehow

grounded in a priori metaphysical principles. In order, then, to understand the question

that Kant is considering in fascicle X of the Op manuscript, it is necessary to explain how

Kant situates physics within a more general metaphysical system and how it is to be

metaphysically grounded. Let us thus flesh this out by looking briefly into the

Architectonic of the CPR and at the MFNS.

The special metaphysics of corporeal nature

In the Architectonic Kant canonically lays out all branches of a priori knowledge as

differing specifications of a highest genus, called metaphysics (A845-47/B873-75).

Knowledge is metaphysical insofar as it is a priori and has systematic unity.

Furthermore, if it is concerned with everything in so far as it is, then it is speculative

and thus entitled metaphysics of nature. The metaphysics of nature further subdivides

into two branches, transcendental philosophy (or ontology), which contains the

principles and concepts of objects in general but takes no account of objects that may

be given, and the physiology of pure reason, which considers nature as the sum of given

objects (ibid).

Following the MFNS Preface, this distinction can be further characterized as that

between general and special metaphysics of nature. Kant notes that metaphysics can

either treat the laws that make possible the concept of nature in general...without any

relation to any determinate object of experience, or it can, as a special metaphysical

natural science concern itself with a particular nature of this or that kind of thing

(4:469-70, emphasis added). Transcendental philosophy, then, considers everything in

so far as it is with regard to what makes it something that is at all (i.e., an object in

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general, Gegenstand berhaupt), while the physiology of pure reason considers it as the

specific sort of thing it is.

Rational physiology accordingly subdivides into as many special metaphysical

sciences as there are special kinds of things given to us. As the entire CPR is devoted to

showing, however, owing to the constitution of our cognitive faculties, things can only be

given to us through sensible intuition in space and time. This rules out rational theology

and rational cosmology from the purview of speculative metaphysics, since their objects

(God and the cosmic whole) transcend the possibility of sensible experience. Only an

immanent rational physiology is possible, namely, one which deals with such

knowledge of nature as can be given in experience (in concreto) (A845/B873). A special

metaphysics can thus only view nature as the sum of all objects of the senses

(A846/B874). Finally, we can distinguish rational physics from the metaphysics of

thinking nature, that is, psychology; the former treats the objects given to outer sense,

the latter those given to inner sense. For Kant, however, psychology could never be

realized as a special metaphysical natural science because it could not receive proper a

priori treatment.7 Therefore, to consider everything in so far as it is in its specificity can,

for us, only mean to consider it as a body. Rational physics, i.e., the a priori, systematic

knowledge of nature as the sum of all corporeal objects, is in Kants view the only special

metaphysical natural science.

Kant thinks psychology Kant can only be an empirical science (A848-9/B877-8). The reasons for this are
given in the CPR Paralogisms and relate, fundamentally, to the impossibility that the soul be an object of
experience (see A381). In the MFNS Kant argues that a priori treatment of inner sense is impossible: (1)
mathematics cannot be applied to the phenomena of inner sense (at least not beyond triviality) and, (2) the
manifold of inner sense can only be divided in thought and thus cannot be held separate and
recombined at will (4:471). In addition, I suggest that Kants Refutation of Idealism in the CPR (B274-79)
provides an alternative account for the impossibility for rational psychology. There, Kant argues that inner
sense can only be determined by reference to a permanent object outside the subject, which would entail
that there cannot be a self-standing investigation of inner states, since the latters identity criteria can only
be found in the external objects to which they refer.

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So special metaphysics is only realizable as physics, as a priori knowledge of

objects of outer sense as such; but, once again, how is this possible? As we saw above,

the transcendental, or ontological, part of metaphysics merely concerns the very

possibility that an object be given in experience. Based on reflective insight into the

peculiarities of the human cognitive standpoint, it establishes a system of principles and

laws valid for any thing insofar as is to count as an object of experience. These laws are

canonical and have apodictic certainty for all objects of experience; as such, they

constitute metaphysical, a priori knowledge. However, these laws apply to objects

merely in general, and provide no basis for the knowledge of objects with any degree of

specificity. That is, the laws of specifically corporeal nature (the focus of physics) cannot

be derived from general laws of nature. As Kant asks, how can I expect to have

knowledge a priori (and therefore metaphysics) of objects in so far as they are given to

our senses, that is, given in an a posteriori manner? (A847/875).

The answer is this: we take nothing more from experience than is required to give us an object
of outer or of inner sense. The object of outer sense we obtain through the mere concept of
matter (impenetrable, lifeless extension), the object of inner sense through the concept of a
thinking being (in the empirical inner representation, I think). (A848/B876).8

Kant here argues that, in order to specify itself into a special science of the corporeal

nature, metaphysics can entitle itself to a minimal empirical datumthe experience of

matter, i.e., of an impenetrable, inert object extended in space. This concept of matter is

empirical, for it could not be derived from the principles of transcendental philosophy,

nor from the formal metaphysical definition object of outer sense. Nevertheless, once

given, this concept of matter provides specific content (an instance in concreto) to the

See note 7 for the reasons why the second line of thought is not pursued.

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concept of an object of nature in general and, for this reason, it allows that the

transcendental laws of nature in general be specified into laws of corporeal nature.9

The empirical concept of matter

Now, such laws are yielded by an analysis of the concept of matter according to the pure

concepts of transcendental philosophy (the categories); and this analysis is the task of

the MFNS, which, exploiting the content (impenetrability, extension, etc.) of the concept

of matter, ground the possibility of physics as a priori knowledge of corporeal objects.

Kant characterizes the MFNS as a complete analysis of the concept of a matter in

general, which, he writes,

is a task for pure philosophy which, for this purpose, makes use of no particular
experiences, but only that which it finds in the isolated (although intrinsically empirical)
concept itself, in relation to the pure intuitions in space and time, and in accordance with laws
that already essentially attach to the concept of nature in general, and is therefore a genuine
metaphysics of corporeal nature. (4:472)

Kant takes it that the mere concept of matteryielded by no particular experiences,

but only, as it were, by the fact of outer experience as suchis enough to constitute

metaphysics of corporeal nature. In other words, the empirical characterization of bodies

as material is supposed to by itself (by means of analysis) yield a system of concepts and

laws valid for all bodies.

Now, what, precisely, is it that outer experience as such (as opposed to any

particular experience) provides? Kant suggests the following: something that is to be

This function of rational physics is of crucial significance, as it turns out, for general metaphysics and
thus for transcendental philosophy: It isindeed very remarkablethat general metaphysics, in all
instances where it requires examples (intuitions) in order to provide meaning for its pure concepts of the
understanding, must always take them from the general doctrine of body, and thus from the form and the
principles of outer intuition; and, if these are not exhibited completely, it gropes uncertainly and unsteadily
among meaningless concepts. (4:478, emphasis added). See also B291, where Kant claims that outer
intuition is necessary to verify the objective reality of the pure concepts. This dependence of general
metaphysics on special metaphysics of corporeal nature potentially creates wide-ranging interpretive and
systematic issues I do not consider here. For a bold interpretation, see Frster, Is there a gap in Kants
critical system? Journal of the History of Philosophy 25 (4): 533-555 (1987) and The Gap in Kants Critical
Philosophy, in Kants Final Synthesis (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 48-74.

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an object of the outer senses must somehow affect them; to affect the senses an object

must move; therefore, its basic determination is motion (4:476). Indeed, matter is the

the movable in space (4:480), but in order to affect anything outside of itself it must

also fill space, that is resist any movable that strives through its motion to penetrate

into a certain [i.e., its own] space (4:496). Sensory experience immediately yields

space-filling as the fundamental quality of any object of outer sense. This basically

reiterates Kants definition of matter in the CPR as impenetrable. The crucial addition

here, however, is that impenetrability is not taken as a fundamental, irreducibly simple,

property of matter, but something that has to be explained.10 Kant thus posits that matter

fills space dynamically, i.e., insofar as it exerts moving forcesspecifically, attractive

and repulsive forces. (4:497-8). Both of these forces are necessary to construct a

material thing filling space in a determinate way. Through repulsive force, matter is

essentially expansive.11 All its parts (i.e., all points of a space that is filled by matter) resist

mutual penetration by repelling each other from their respective spaces (4:499).

However, if this were the only force, space would remain empty, for, through unlimited

repulsion, all parts of matter would simply flee from one another, and matter would

disperse itself into infinity (4:509). A second, attractive force, compressing the parts of

matter together by acting in the opposite direction to the repulsive force, is necessary

to limit the first, and thus to make possible a specified quantity of matterin a specified

space (ibid).12 The mutual inter- and counter-action of the two forces exerted at every

Absolute impenetrability is in fact nothing more nor less than an occult quality. For one asks what the
cause is for the inability of matters to penetrate one another in their motion, and one receives the answer:
because they are impenetrable. (4:502)
[E]xpansive force, exerted from every point, and in every direction, actually constitutes this concept [of
matter in general filling a space]. (4:501, emphasis added)
[A]ll matter requires for its existence forces that are opposed to the expansive forces, that is,
compressing forces. But these, in turn, cannot be sought in the contrary striving of another matter, for this

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material point is necessary to produce a determinate concept of an object in space


In addition, however, Kant also takes these two forces to be sufficient for

constituting a determinate object of outer sensesuch that they, along with the law of

their interaction, should provide sufficient ground for a complete metaphysics of

corporeal nature as such. This would mean, on the one hand, that the general laws

governing the behavior of material objects in space could be derived from the dynamic

forces essentially characterizing matter as such. The third chapter of the MFNS,

accordingly derives three laws of mechanics, which describe the motion and interaction

of material objects in space insofar as they dynamically fill space.

More crucially, on the other hand, the dynamic forces (as suggested above) would

account for how determinate objects in space are possiblesolely on the basis of their

material constitution, and so on the basis of the dynamic properties of matter as such.14 The

special metaphysics of corporeal nature are only worthy of the name if their principles

are sufficient for the a priori cognition of their proper object, namely, bodies. The

possibility of physics thus requires an account of how determinate bodies (with defined

spatial limits, specific densities and states of solidity, fluidity, etc.) emerge from matter.

As I will argue, such an account leads Kant beyond the MFNS and into the Transition


latter itself requires a compressive force in order to be matter. Hence there must somewhere be assumed
an original force of matter acting in the opposite direction to the repulsive, and thus to produce approach,
that is, an attractive force (4:508-9)
It is now manifest that, whether one takes neither [of the two forces] as basis, or assumes merely one of
them, space would always remain empty, and no matter would be found therein (4:511)
From this original attractive force, as a penetrating force exerted by all matter and hence in proportion
to its quantity, and extending its action to all matter at all possible distances, it should now be possible, in
combination with the force counteracting it, namely, repulsive force, to derive the limitation of the latter, and
thus the possibility of a space filled to a determinate degree (4:517, emphasis added).

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The aforementioned problem is twofold; there is the question concerning how the specific

and differentiated constitution of material objects can be derived from forces that apply

universally and without difference to all matter; and there is the further issue of how

matter (an indeterminate, infinitely divisible, continuum exerting dynamic forces equally

at every point) can form itself into a body (matter between determinate boundaries,

4:525) at allthat is, not how matter can form itself into specifically this or that material

thing, but how it can form itself into any specific material thing.

Two unresolved questions of the MFNS

The first question Kant explicitly places beyond the scope of the MFNS.15 Knowledge of

the properties of specific material things would require knowledge of the specific degrees

of the interacting dynamic forces in the given caseand this is underdetermined by the

concept of matter in general, which merely implies that matter must fill space to some

(unspecified) degree. Because of this, there is a fundamental difference to be drawn

between the dynamical forces of matter in general, which have metaphysical, a priori

status, and the empirical forces, which result from the interaction of the dynamical forces

See the General Remark to the Dynamics (4:523 ff.). In particular, consider how Kant contrasts
metaphysical-dynamical from mathematical-mechanical explanations of matter (4:524-25). The
mathematical form of explanation does not have to constitute matter out of fundamental forces; it can
merely assume, as the basic component of any spatially extended object, a thoroughly homogenous
material, which fills a given space absolutely. Hence a material thing (from a mathematical-mechanical
perspective) is a composite of absolutely empty and absolutely full spaces. Accordingly, a great specific
variety of matters can be easily constituted by geometrically varying of the shape of the parts and the
empty interstices interspersed between them. Nevertheless, this form of explanation cannot explain the
possibility of matter because it merely assumes the empty concept of absolute impenetrability. The
metaphysical-dynamical mode, on the other hand, in attempting to explain the possibility of matter, must
suppose it to be the product of two fundamental forces acting to a determinate degreesuch that all matter
resists penetration to a degree (see Prop. 2, 4:499) and attracts other matter to degree (in proportion to its
quantitysee 4:516, 517). Because these degrees cannot be known a priori, the manifold of such forces
sufficient for explaining the specific variety of matter cannot be known a priori either. Therefore, specific
varieties of matter cannot be explained by the MFNS on the basis of the two fundamental forces.

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(with a given degree16) in the given case. Accordingly, the possibility of specific varieties

of matter rests on empirically discoverable forces. Importantly, as we will see, among

these forces Kant names cohesioni.e., the mutual attraction of matter limited solely

to the condition of contact (4:518). For Kant, this force is fundamentally different from

original attraction (immediate action at a distance, 4:512-13, emphasis added), and thus

does not belong to the possibility of matter in general, and cannotbe cognized a priori

as bound up with this [possibility]. The same holds for all specific forces and properties

of matterthey can only be known empirically and they are not necessary to understand

how matter in general is possible

The inability of the MFNS to address the possibility of specific objects of outer

sense and of the empirical laws governing them constitutes what Kant in the Transition

came to call a gulf between metaphysics and physics, which, if it is not bridged,

prevents the latter science from attaining apodictic certainty in its knowledge of sense-

objects (21:475). Kants Transition is originally intended to bridge this gulf between

metaphysics and physics.

The second question is more difficult. If metaphysical-dynamical explanation

cannot itself construct a determinate material thing, then in what does the sufficiency of

the two dynamical forces for explaining the possibility of a space filled to a determinate

Kant does not quite put it this way. But I take my reading to be compatible with (and indeed to clarify)
his account. In my view, Kant is not explicit enough about why, as he states in the General Remark, the
metaphysical-dynamical mode of explanation lacks all means for constructing this concept of matter
(4:525)or, as he earlier puts it, metaphysics only provides the principles, or elements, for mathematical
construction of its concept in a priori intuition (4:472, 4:517-18). As mentioned in the previous note,
mathematics presupposes a homogenous concept of matter, by which it arbitrarily assigns the same degrees
of force to all points where matter is present. The determinacy of the mathematically constructed concept
of matter is thus possible precisely because of this arbitrary (and metaphysically problematic) assignation.
Metaphysics cannot construct a determinate material thing because it cannot presuppose any determinate
degree of exertion of dynamic forces to any material point; it merely gives the certainty that each point
must exert forces to some degree. Construction of a concept in pure intuition must be determinate and thus
requires particular quantities and measures that can be mathematically posited, but not deduced from the
concept as metaphysics must take it, that is, generally.

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degree actually consist? Let us return to Kants basic claim: attraction makes matter

possible by limiting original repulsion (which by itself would disperse into infinity and

no specified quantity of matter would be found in any specified space) into a filling of

space to a determinate degree. Now, attraction is penetrative force acting at a distance

and beyond the surface of material things, which means that it counteracts the

repulsion of a material thing at all its points. The limitation of the repulsive force exerted

by a material whole (without which limitation it would disperse infinitely) is thus a

product of the exertion of attraction by all of its parts, that is, as Kant puts it, attraction

is always proportional to the quantity of matter (4:516). Given these elements, all that

would be further needed for the possibility of a determinate material thing would be a

law of the ratio of both original attraction and repulsion at various distances of matter

and its parts from one another, which, as he continues, is a purely mathematical task

which no longer belongs to metaphysics (4:517). Hence, the construction of determinate

material things requires assigning a particular quantity to matter particular interstitial

distances between its parts (in addition to a mathematical ratio for these values), and so

lies beyond metaphysics. The latter, however, provides sufficient elements for this

construction and a sufficient metaphysical principle for explaining the possibility of

material determinacy as such. It is in this sense that the dynamical theory of matter

provides metaphysical foundations to physics as a special science of corporeal things: it

cannot, independently of further empirical investigation, set out to define the specific

nature of material objects but it provides the most general principles by which such a

specification would be subsequently possible. The Transition, then, will be tasked with

this specification.

Nevertheless, there is a problem with this dynamical theory. Attraction is

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necessary to limit the dispersion of matter to infinity and thus to differentiate it from the

space that surrounds it; only because of it does a material whole have determinate

boundaries which distinguish it from what is external to it. In fact, the possibility of

distinguishing internal from external in a material sense presupposes a criterion for

drawing boundaries between material wholesit presupposes an attractive force holding

determinate quantities of matter together, and separate from others. Now, a material

whole can only coalesce and remain separate from other matter to the extent that the

attractive force between its parts is stronger than the attraction of its parts to external

matter. As we saw above, however, attraction is a universal force, exerted equally at

every point; so, if a material whole is to hold together by virtue of attraction, it must be

presupposed that its parts are closer to one another than to what lies beyond the limits of

this wholei.e., it must be presupposed that there is a greater concentration, or density,

of matter within a given space than outside of it. But density (that matter is not infinitely

dispersed) is precisely what attraction was supposed to explain in the first place and so

Kant seems to have run into a petitio principii, a circle where explanans and explanandum

mutually presuppose each other.

Kant became aware of this circularity in his theory of matter no later than 1792, as

his former student J.S. Beck pointed out to him in a letter dated September 8 (11:361-

365). In his response, Kant acknowledged that his dynamical account of matter

contained a circle that I cannot get out of (11:376f.).17 Thus, in addition to extending

the reach of metaphysics beyond the dynamic theory of matter in general into the

investigation of specific material things and empirical laws, the Transition also has the

Quoted from Frster, Kants Final Synthesis, ch. 2, p. 34. Frster provides invaluable clarifications
regarding the chronology of Kants thought. As is clear, my account is at every step indebted to his work.

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task of remedying a fundamental failure of the MFNS. It has to show, not merely, as it

was first intended to, how specifically different particular material things are to be

investigated but how a material object as such, a body, is possible merely on account of

its material constitution.

This is precisely the question that concerns Kant in the first sheet of fascicle X of

the Op, and which explicitly governs his idea of a transition:

In this transition from the metaphysical foundations of natural science to physics there is
[also] that from matter to the formation of bodies. A physical body is a self-limiting whole, by
the united attraction of the parts of a quantity of matter. A mere aggregate of matter (in
which one abstracts from these unifying forces) isa mathematical bodyit does not limit
itself by its own forces. (22:282-283)

The petitio principii we considered above shows that the MFNS cannot explain, through

the universal forces of attraction and repulsion, how a body can coalesce into itself as a

self-cohesive whole with determinate limits distinguishing it from other material things.

This passage confirms that this problem is the starting point of the task of a transition (at

least as Kant had come to envisage it at this time, in 1799), which has to show how

matter can form itself into a self-limiting whole, by its own forces. Notice the series of

parallel oppositions established here between metaphysical foundations and physics,

between matter and bodies, between mere aggregation and unification, and between

mathematical bodies and self-limiting bodies. The implication is clear enough; the forces

of the MFNS belonging to matter as such cannot account for the unity or self-limitation

of any material compoundat most, such forces can account for a body only as mere

aggregate of parts, a mathematical quantity, like a cubic foot of water. That the

quantity in question should describe a limited and determinate whole can be posited,

presupposed, but there is nothing in the concept of matter that gives necessity to the

belonging-together and cohesion of the parts of a body (a cubic foot of water is a cubic

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foot of water whether or not it is distributed in one or two recipients, etc.). A

mathematical body, or an aggregate, as Kant here calls it, is not a real unity but an

arbitrarily-defined onea collection of independent parts, each external to, and exerting

force independently of, the other.18

In my view, this is a clear indication that Kants idea of a Transition at the

beginning of fascicle X of the Op is oriented by the unresolved problem of the MFNS,

namely, that of metaphysically constructing a determinate object of outer sense, a

body; and, therefore, that the object of our studyKants newfound interest in the

subjects a priori capacity of exerting moving forcesis to be understood in this light. In

the introduction to this paper I said the possibility of physics depends on a transition; in

this section, I have fleshed out this dependence. The possibility of empirical knowledge

of specific types of sense-objects (physics) depends on an account of the fundamental

principles making sense-objects as such (bodies) possible. The Transition is to provide

these principles. Now, how is transition possible?


Let us return to the above-quoted passage from fascicle X. Kant suggests unity is the

On this point see Rachel Zuckerts excellent discussion of the MFNSs theory of matter: Kant on Beauty
and Biology: An Interpretation of the Critique of Judgment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp.
104-111. It is interesting to note how the questions discussed here regarding the transformations of the
theory of matter in the Op relate to Zuckerts treatment of the third Critiques Antinomy of Teleological
Judgment (cf. op. cit. ch. 3, pp. 89-129, 98-107 in particular). Briefly, Zuckert helpfully points out that the
maxim of mechanical explanation is based on the concept of matter of the MFNS. Accordingly, the
necessity of the principle of purposiveness for judgments regarding organisms in part lies, according to
her, on the impossibility of explaining the substantial sense in which organisms are determinate wholes
on the basis of their bare materiality. Therefore, she continues, because organisms parts are essentially
and interdependently related to each other as parts of a real whole, another principle, in addition to
material mechanism, is necessary to account for this fact, namely purposiveness. As my discussion shows,
however, the impossibility of deriving real wholes from the forces of matter as such is not a problem
exclusive to teleological judgment regarding organisms, but one concerning the possibility of bodies more
generally. Zuckert, of course, does not claim that this is the only reason behind the necessity of the
principle of purposiveness and, so, her account is quite compatible with the suggestion I am making here:
that the mechanical inexplicability of organisms begins at the more basic level of the mechanical
inexplicability of bodiesi.e., real, non-arbitrarily defined, material wholes.

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distinguishing property of a body as opposed to matter: a body is a self-limiting whole,

made possible by the united attraction of [its] parts. In contrast, in the concept of mere

matter, one abstracts from these unifying forces and thinks of a material thing as a

mere quantity of matter, a mathematical aggregate of parts with no intrinsic unity. This

means that, in addition to the repulsive and attractive forces of the MFNS, an additional

force or principle is necessary to explain how a body is a material unityhow its parts

essentially belong together as parts of a material whole. Since the Transition is a

transition from matter to the formation of bodies, then it must provide the principle

whereby material unities are possible.

An ambiguous analogy: unity of a body and organic unity

It is noteworthy that in the early sheets of fascicle X Kant seems to lack a clear sense of

where such a principle should be sought. Immediately after the paragraph stating the

close connection between the idea of a transition and the formation of bodies, where one

would expect him to provide the principle for such formation, Kant instead turns to the

question of the division of bodies into specific typesa question, that is, which

presupposes (as we saw in the previous section) the possibility of bodies as such:

The first division of physical bodies is, thus [also], that into organic and inorganic. A
physically organic body (in contrast to a mechanically organic body) is one, each of whose
parts is by nature there in it for the sake of the other; in which, conversely, the concept of the
whole also determines the form of the partsexternally as well as internally (in figure and
texture). Such a formation indicates a natural cause, acting according to purposes. (22:283)

The thus in the opening sentence seems puzzling, for it suggests that the distinction

about to be made follows from the preceding argument. Yet, we have moved from the

consideration of the difference between matter and bodies to the difference, within

bodies, between organic and inorganictwo unrelated differences, one would think. But

notice how the second distinction characterizes organic bodies: their parts are mutually

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interdependent (there in it for the sake of the other) and they are determined by the

whole of which they are parts. Arent these aspects analogous to the characteristics,

precisely, of bodies as such? Bodies are different from mere matter in that they are self-

limiting wholes whose parts are internally related to one another. In both cases, then,

wholes are more than mere aggregates of parts and parts are more than just accidentally

related. Organic and inorganic bodies are both cases of real material unity, as I have

been calling it. The main difference between organic bodies and bodies tout court is not

just that the mutual interdependence of parts and their determination by the whole is

more strongly stated for organisms, but that, in their case, an explanatory principle for

this robust unity is provided (a natural cause, acting according to purposes). This

causality is clearly inadequate for the formation of bodies, as it presupposes a formative

understanding, a faculty of synthetic unity, i.e., a non-material cause (22:283).

Nevertheless, Kant provides no corresponding principle for inorganic unity; and this,

though it does not suggest that he thought the formation of bodies should be explained

by causality according to purposes, does suggest that no other explanation seems at this

point available to him for how real material unity is possible.

This ambiguity between the issue of the unity of bodies and the issue of

specifically organic unity is continued later in the first sheet of fascicle X. Kant states

that all objects must conform to a topic of principles in order to be objects of

experience (22:291). This looks like a standard transcendental argument like those of the

Transcendental Analytic of the CPR.19 The context and the scope of the statement,

It seems plausible to suppose that what Kant here calls the topic of principles includes, 1-the
transcendental principles of the Transcendental Analytic of the CPR (dictating the necessary formal unity
of all objective representations) as the highest level of a three-tiered hierarchy of principles, which would
be followed by the principles proper to the Transition, 2-the principles for real material unity, and 3-the
principles for the division of bodies into species. In this sense, all objects must have unity at three levels: 1-

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Objects must all, suggest that topic of principles refers to that which the

Transition must provide: the principles for the systematic division of objects into

different species. The highest principle of this topic must be that whereby objects can be

experienced at all, that is, whereby they are bodies and so possess the necessary non-

arbitrary material unity. That is, if bodies were not unified as more than mere

aggregates, they would not be objects of experience at all. Therefore, whatever principle

makes matter be formed into unified bodies, such principle must hold of all objects,

insofar as they are objects of experience. But now Kants attention seems to shift to a

more limited scope of objects, for he continues,

Thus [so] we find in our own body and in nature characteristics by reason of which we must
regard them as organizedthat is, as formed for purposessince we would not otherwise
understand them as such. These concepts always precede the confirmation of their object by
experience; they are a priori principles by which experiences are made. (22:291, emphasis

Again, we find a confusing sign of logical consequence, thus. On the one side of the

sign stands, all objects of experience fit the topic of principles (i.e. at least have the unity

of a body), while on the other side, the characteristics of our own body lead us to regard

them as organized. Either a change in the generality of the scope is taking place from the

one side of the conjunction to the next, such that Kant is first discussing objects of

experience in general (bodies) and then organic bodies specifically, or Kant is suggesting

that the unity of bodies in general can only be understood in accordance with principles

(which we find in our own body) of organization and purposiveness. The second reading

seems unacceptable for reasons we have already mentioned; the first alternative is more

plausible but, again, it indicates a missing piece in Kants thought, for it makes evident

formal unity (of an object of experience in general), 2-material unity (of a body in general), 3-specific unity
(of natural kinds of bodies).

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that Kant is skipping over the question, By what principle do we ascribe real material

unity to objects of experience? to address, instead, the apparently secondary question,

By what principle do we ascribe organic unity to a specific kind of object of experience?

So, while the second alternative cannot be accepted without qualification, it does show

what sort of argument Kant is seeking to explain real material unity.

The same argumentative ambiguity is repeated at the end of the first sheet of

fascicle X. Kant again focuses on the main issue presented at the beginning of the

sheetthe difference between the MFNSs concept of matter and that of the Transition.

The former treats matter as mobile, the latter as movens (22:294).20 As we saw above,

the mathematical concept of matter abstracts from the unifying forces by which a body

limits itself as a real material whole. A body thus has the appropriate unity insofar as it

actively strives towards unity through the exertion of unifying forces. The Transition

must provide an elementary system of moving forces, among which there must be some

active principle that explains how bodies are real unities. We thus expect Kant to

immediately proceed to explain this active principle of unity belonging to the possibility

of a body as such. The way Kant begins the immediately following paragraph announces

the satisfaction of this expectation but he soon veers off course in a now familiar way:

Unity of the active principle must belong to the possibility of a natural organic body, since the
latters principle must be regarded not merely subjectively, but as objective in itselfnamely a
purpose as its inner ground of determination. (22:295, emphasis added)

The reason for this shift, again, seems to be that the explanation of organic unity has

The characterization of the MFNS concept of matter as merely mobile and not movens is confusing,
given that the essential determination of matter in that work is its active exertion of dynamic forces at every
point. In my reading, we can interpret this characterization in two ways: either the active moving force
required here is such as could be exercised only by a unified body and not a mere material aggregate
(which is all the MFNS can provide), or Kant is abdicating the validity of the Dynamics chapter in the
MFNS (and the latters capacity to ground the moving essence of matter), thus only preserving the
Phoronomy (which deals with matter only as the movable in space) from that work.

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recourse to a principlepurposivenessthat Kant does not seem to consider suitable for

the explanation of the unity of bodies in general. As in the last quote, Kant is here

alluding to the third Critique: we cannot understand the structured and functional unity

of the parts of organismstheir thoroughly organized natureexcept under the

presupposition of an organizing principle underlying their possibility. So we regard the

possibility of organisms by analogy to our own capacity to produce artifacts according to

determinate purposes, as if they were the products of some transcendent creator.21 We do

not thereby demonstrate that organisms are truly the products of a divine understanding,

but we are entitled to judge them as purposive because in no other way is the possibility

of their organized form even conceivable for us. The validity of purposiveness is only

subjective (it is only based on our inability to conceive of the possibility of organic unity

through merely mechanical processes) but precisely for this reason we are constrained to

take it as objective, as if the possibility of organisms really required it.

Kant calls this confusion of subjective and objective necessity, as he did in the

CPR, an amphiboly of the concepts of reflection, and defines it thus: to take that which

is only subjectively conditioned as objectively valid and demonstrable as such. (ibid).

Such a definition naturally follows from his statement that the concept of purpose, the

active principle of organic unity, must be regarded not merely subjectively, but as

objective in itself. Kant immediately proceeds, however, to give the following as an

example of an amphiboly: to assume mechanical principles as sufficient for moving

forces (in the lever) without the required dynamical principles. In the case of organic

unity, an amphiboly consists in the productive introduction of a subjective principle into

So, the organizing principle of an organic body must be outside space in general. (22:295)

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natural science. The concept of a natural purpose enables us to recognize the peculiar

unity characteristic of organisms and thus to recognize organisms as the peculiar sort of

objects they are. Kants explicit example of an amphiboly not only shifts the discussion

back to the wider question of moving forces of matter, but consists in the inverse,

namely, in the counterproductive exclusion from natural science of the dynamic principles

by which matter is active (movens), and which are necessary to understand the moving

forces exerted by a body (like a lever). Yet we have seen that no principle has yet been

given for the active unity and unified exertion of force necessary for the formation of a

body. Every time Kant has stated the necessity of such a principle, he has apparently

strayed to the issue of organic unity, where purposiveness is an acceptable explanatory

principle. The ambiguous analogy between the principles of organic and material unity is

here pushed to the extreme, as Kant seems to irresistibly advance to the paradoxical

conclusion that subjective principles (purposive causality) must be treated as objectively

valid for understanding the possibility of bodies in general. Such a conclusion seems

unpalatable, however, as it leads to the dogmatic claim that the possibility of bodies

presupposes an active substance external to space and time, a world-spirit (ibid). This

tension must be resolved. The success of the Transition depends on its capacity to

integrate the insights gained from the investigation of organisms into the principle for the

formation of bodies without straying into dogmatic metaphysics. How is this possible?

The method of the Transition: anticipatory projection

We can begin to answer this question by taking a moment to consider Kants claim,

stated right after his previous discussion of organic unity, that experience is made,

while restricting its scope to the unity of organisms. Because we are conscious of

ourselves as organized beings, whose parts stand in purposive relations of mutual

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dependence, and who are furthermore capable of acting in accord with purposes, we are

equipped with a concept that allows us to anticipate the form of a certain type of object

that may be encountered in experiencenamely, something like us in the relevant sense.

Such concepts always precede, as Kant writes, the confirmation of their objects by

experience. So, though we cant know a priori that such objects (e.g., organisms) exist,

we project their concept (e.g., organic unity) onto experience, without which it would

be impossible to understand them as such (e.g., as organisms) even if such objects did

turn up. The concept of organic unity thus opens the subject to the experience of a

certain kind of object; and whether or not such objects exist, what it would be to have an

experience of such a kind of object is made by the subject a priori. In other words, on

the basis of its own constitution, the subject makes the experience of organic unity.

If we now drop the restriction in the scope of this argument, we may take the

projection of the concept of organic unity onto experience as just one example

illustrating how objects fit into the topic of principles in general. The topic of principles

would contain the principles by which we anticipate the unity of all objects of

experiencefirst as unified bodies in general and then as bodies of specific kinds. The

premise underlying this consideration is that we can only experience what we are

prepared to experience; therefore, we make experience (we open ourselves to a

horizon of beings, as a Heideggerian might say) by projecting into it the principles that

define, for us, what it is for something to be an object at all and what it is for something

to be this or that sort of thing. Nevertheless, such a suggestion remains promissory, for it

remains ambiguous how the subjective basis (the organized constitution of the subject)

for the projection of organic unity onto certain objects of experience can be also serve for

the projection of other concepts, especially that of material unity.

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In any case, the anticipatory and projective nature of the method of the

Transition allows us to understand why Kant calls its concepts subjective a priori

principles of form (22:292). The subject generates them for the sake of and never

from experience, as Kant is so fond of putting it in the Op. As a whole, the concepts of

the Transition are thus not the completed or objective determinations of objects of

experience, since these determinations belong to physics as a system of empirical

concepts and laws. Rather, the Transition provides only the outline of physics by

anticipating, through subjective principles, what concepts may ultimately belong to it as

a completed empirical science. This special science of nature is thus always in the

process of progressing observing and aggregating but is never completed (ibid).

The philosophical originality of the method of the Transition begins to reveal

itself when we remember just what sort of anticipatory, experience-making outline the

Transition is supposed to bean outline of the elementary system of the moving forces

of matter (ibid). The discussion of organic unity above suggested an insight into the

subjective basis for possibility of the Transition as a special science: our organized

constitution and our capacity for purposive action provide us with a principle for

grasping the form of a certain kind of thing. This solution is too limited, however, for the

anticipation of a much wider range of objects. Indeed, the Transition is possible on the

basis of subjective principles; but purposiveness is just too high-order of a concept to

investigate the much more basic unity of a body as such, so we need a simpler subjective

basis for the formal anticipation of material things. The characterization of the concepts

of the Transition as a system of moving forces indicates just what this basis is: the subjects

bare capacity to exercise moving force. Physics is a science of the complex of moving

forces of matter by which matter forms into bodies and by which each specific kind of

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body distinguishes itself. The Transition discovers a subjective basis for the discovery of

these forces in the fact that such forces also affect the subjectmanand his organs,

since man is also a corporeal being (22:298). This allows us to understand what we were

seeking at the beginning of our discussion, why Kant attributes such significance to

subjects embodiment early in fascicle X of the Op. That is, the different ways in which

the subject (itself a body) is capable of exerting force are to be guidelines for

investigating the empirical forces that are the subject matter of physics.

The empirical concepts of physics presuppose perception of objects; accordingly,

the Transitions a priori principles cannot provide the content of physics. Nevertheless,

Kant gives an indication of how the Transition makes the formation of empirical

concepts possible. These are formed through a method of observation and

experiment, where the object22 moves the physicist and the physicist moves the

object and sets it in another state for perception (22:299, emphasis added). The exercise of

force by the subject moves the object and thereby produces new perceptual states. The

moving forces of the subject thus not only anticipate the forces of the object but they are

the concrete means through which the object becomes sensibly available to the subject.

Kants expression, considered above, that the Transition contains the principles by which

experience is made, now takes on a radically literal sense: by exerting moving forces,

the subject wrests perceptions out of objects, carves out sensible manifestations from

reality. Furthermore, these sensible manifestations are not merely passively received,

blind impressions whose proper empirical interpretation is unavailable. Precisely

because such perceptions have been generated by the self-aware exercise of specific

In what must be a typographical error, Frster and Rosens translation renders Kants Object as
project instead of object. I amend this.

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moving forces, they are already framed as it were, already understood in relation to the

subjects awareness of its own bodily capacities. This point returns us to the quote at the

beginning of this paper. Because perceptions result from the subjects exertion of force

on the object, they are themselves the reaction of this object (on the subject) to this

exertion. The subjects awareness of its moving forces thus allows it to interpret

perceptions as manifestation of the actual moving forces of the object. The Transition

makes physics (the system of the empirical laws of corporeal nature) possibleallows us

to conceive of our perceptions as revelatory of an objective order consisting of bodies

exerting force in spaceby projecting onto experience an elementary system of moving

forces based on our physical embodiment. 23 In other words, Kant arrives at the thesis

that the subject constitutes an objective empirical order through the concept of force. We

can thus answer our original question concerning the significance of the subjects

awareness of itself as a body that exerts forces: it is the basic principle by which the

Transition grounds the possibility of a special metaphysics of corporeal nature, that is of

physics. This thesis deserves to be unfolded, so that its entire philosophical force may be

appreciated. I conclude my paper with its elaboration.

The unity of the subject and the objective order

As I noted earlier, the question that orients Kants natural philosophy is (cf. A847/875)

how metaphysics of nature, i.e. the a priori knowledge of objects that can only be given a

I take the characterization of the moving forces as a projection by the subject from Flix Duque,
Teleologie und Leiblichkeit beim spten Kant, in Kant-Studien, vol. 75, Jan 1 1984, pp. 381-897. See, e.g.,
pp. 394-5, Wenn wir die Aktion als Wirkung von bewegenden Krften auf meinen Krper verstehen und
die Reaktion als die Antwort des Krpers darauf (eine ontische Interaktion zwischen zwei Dingen), dann
mssen wir notwendigerweise eine vorgngige Projektion des krperlichen Schemas voraussetzen [...], eine
Projektion auf jedwelche mgliche Erfahrung (eine ontologische Interaktion zwischen dem Subjekt als
Fundament und dem Objekt als dem Begrndetem). Duque, in fact, goes so far as to say that the subject
invents (erdichtet) the possible movements of objects. This may be going too far, but his point is
nevertheless well taken: the subject itself generates the fundamental concepts by which it interprets even
the most basic empirical order of experience.

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posteriori, is possible. What this question asks is how it is possible to correctly interpret

the empirical data afforded to us by the world, since such interpretation, on Kants

transcendental philosophical account, always requires a priori concepts and principles.

That is to say, physics is empirical knowledge of the physical world and, as such, it must

be based on perceptions that reveal how the world is. Perceptions are, most basically,

appearances, the sensible impressions that the world has on our selves; but as mere

impressions they reveal nothing to us about the world. We need concepts to understand

these appearances as appearances of a world, for them to be revelatory perceptions of an

objective order. The question the Transition thus tries to answer is: by what concepts is

it possible to erect physical knowledge of the world from the perceptual states of the

subject. Without rehearsing the whole argument, we can state that the Transitions

solution is the concepts of moving forces. Since physics is knowledge of corporeal nature,

that is, knowledge of bodies, and the essential characteristic of a body has been

determined as the exertion of moving force, perceptions reveal the objective order

insofar as they are interpreted as effects of the moving forces of bodies. Hence the

Transition must provide an a priori system of moving forces in general. Kant expresses

just this necessity in the following way:

There must be an a priori principle, in order to apprehend perceptions as effects of the

moving forces of matter on the subject for the sake of experience, and to coordinate them into
a physics []. Hence there must be a system of the moving forces which are thought a priori,
that is, according to the modifications of motion in general. (22:377)

Kant continues this thought in congruence with our reading thus far by stating that this

a priori knowledge of possible motions provides a schema for the combination of forces

by which we interpret perceptions and combine them into a coherent experience of the

physical world.

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The fundamental premise of this argument is the hermeneutic step whereby

appearances are interpreted as effects of moving forces, and as we saw, this step is

warranted by the subjects self-consciousness as a body that exerts force and interacts

with the world through the medium of force. What is, however, the nature of this self-

consciousness and how is it possible? It cannot be based on a factual observation, on our

basically empirical recognition that we are actually embodied. Such a basis would beg

the whole question that we are trying to address, namely, how knowledge of bodies is at

all possible. Why, after all, should our epistemic access to ourselves as corporeal objects

be any less problematic than our access to any corporeal object?

The answer to this question is not easy to glean from Kants text, but a possible

solution offers itself if we look back at a striking passage from fascicle II. Kant there

writes, man is conscious of himself as a self-moving machine, without being able to further

understand such a possibility (21:213, emphasis added). The qualification seems to

indicate that no good answer is forthcoming, that the subjects embodiment is a brute

fact that cannot be explained or grounded in more fundamental principles. Nevertheless,

the concept of machine allows us to move forward. Kant defines a machine as a solid

body whose composition is only possible by the concept of a purpose, formed on analogy

of a certain intentional motion (21:211). As our discussion of organic unity showed, the

concept of purposiveness, by which we are able to grasp the peculiar form of organisms,

rests on an analogy with our capacity for acting in accordance with purposes. But now

we also see that this capacity also lies at the core of our self-awareness as organized

beings. It is because we are able to move that we know we are moving; it is something we

know by doing, and not something we know subsequently, as awareness of an

independent fact. Kant had earlier insisted that the Transitions concept of matter (a

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body) requires a principle by which it is essentially active; and we now see that the

subject knows itself as a body only because of a fundamental active spontaneitya

spontaneity unlike that of the understanding, but more akin to that of the productive

imagination or of reason.24 So, indeed, there is no fundamental theoretical principle

underlying our consciousness of ourselves as embodied, but a practico-technical one.

Our capacity to move and interact with bodies in space by exerting force on them

is thus the fundamental principle on the basis of which all the rest follows: we know

moving force is an appropriate concept for the Transition to physics because we

successfully, prior to any reflection, interact with the world through the exercise of force.

Borrowing, again, from Duques terminology,25 we may say that this practical self-

relation, this consciousness of our effective unity as a moving, force-exerting agent, is an

ontological self-relation on the basis of which we construe ourselves ontically as an

object, as a unified body interacting with other bodies. As Kant puts it,

the subject makes itself, according to a principle, into an object as it appears to itself[that
is,] as it affects itself and appears to itself, and extracts nothing more from intuition (the
empirical) than it has inserted into it. (22:358, emphasis added)

The subject affects itself by its capacity to move and exert force. On the basis of this self-

affection (and only on this basis, independently of any empirical self-awareness) the

subject is able to interpret itself as a unified body. Once this hermeneutic step is

achieved, once the subject appears to itself as a body, it becomes possible to interpret

Cf. Kants characterization of reason in part III of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.
Reason, writes Kant, shows in what we call ideas a spontaneity so pure that it thereby goes
far beyond anything that sensibility can ever afford it (4:452). Independently of our passive
relation to ourselvesthat is, to how we sensibly appear to ourselvesthe spontaneity of reason
gives us immediate knowledge of ourselves with regards to what there may be of pure activity in
[us](what reaches consciousness immediately and not through the senses) (4:451, emphasis
added). Groundwork of The metaphysics of morals in Practical Philosophy, Mary J. Gregor, trans. and ed., (New
York: Cambridge University Press 1996).
See note 24.

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appearances as perceptions of objects and objects as other bodies interacting with the

subject through the medium of force. As expressed above, the subject constitutes the

objective order through the same concepts it constitutes itself as an embodied being. It

thus emerges that highest explanandum of the Transition, the real material unity of

bodies, is based on the self-constitution of the subject as a body. The ascription of this

unity to objects is an amphiboly (in the productive sense)the treatment of a subjective

principle as objectively valid. Kant confirms this last point: Consciousness of ones own

organs in the use of ones moving forces is tantamount to the appearance of a body in

general and, therefore, this consciousness in a sense is the subjective transition to

physicsinsofar as [perception] contains a priori unity of the object (22:358-59). In

taking myself to be a body I also take my sensible impressions as perceptions of bodies

with a unity analogous to that of my body.

We thus finally return to the idea that the subject constitutes the objective order;

that experience is made through the concepts of the transition. Indeed, Kant writes

that the first principle of the representation of the moving forces of matter [is] to regard

them [] as phenomena (22:300)even further, he states that the objects of physics

are not just appearances (what is plainly given to the receptive subject as impressions on

its senses) but appearances of appearances (22:319-20) that depend on the subjects

self-construal as a body. Paradoxically, it might seem, this indirect appearance (as he

also calls it) is to be regarded by physics as the thing itself [die Sache selbst]. The object

we only extract from intuition, that is, the object we perceive in any successful act of

perception is our own cognitive product (22:340-41). Such a thesis may give one the

idea that Kant has, in his final work, fallen into a solipsistic subjectivism according to

which our theoretical concepts are an arbitrary frictionless spinning in the void. I hope

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my account has shown how this is not so, how the concept of moving forcewhich

provides the syntax, as it were, of the Transitions constitution of the empirical-objective

orderis no arbitrary concept, even if it cannot receive a more fundamental theoretical

grounding. The concept of moving force has effective reality or Wirklichkeit (as a

younger idealist may have said) in the subjects (non-theoretical but) intentional, active

and fundamentally embodied activities and capacities. Such concept is thus a reliable

touchstone in terms of which the unity of the physical world and of the things composing

it is to be investigated and sought, produced bit by bit and effort by effort. For, as

Batrice Longuenesse reminds us about Kants theoretical philosophy, we have only as

much unitary world as we are able to produce.26

Batrice Longuenesse, Kant and the Capacity to Judge: Sensibility and Discursivity in the Transcendental Analytic
of the "Critique of Pure Reason" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 204.