Kant's Prolegomena and Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science/The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science/Fourth Division




Matter is the movable, in so far as it can be an object of experience as such.


Motion, like all that can be presented through sense, is only given as phenomenon. In order that its presentation may become experience, it requires in addition, that something should be conceived through the understanding, namely, as to the way in which the presentation inheres in the subject, not the definition of an object through the same. Thus the movable, as such, is an object of experience, when a certain object (here a material thing) is conceived as defined in respect of the predicate of motion. But motion is change of relation in space. Hence, firstly there are always two correlates here, to one no less than to the other of which, change is. attributed in the phenomenon, and either the one or the other can be termed moved inasmuch as it is indifferent to both, or secondly, of which one must, in experience be conceived as moved to the exclusion of the other, or thirdly of which both must necessarily be conceived through Reason as moved at the same time. In the phenomenon, which contains nothing but the relation in motion (as to its change), there are none of these determinations, but when the movable, as such, i.e. as to its motion, is to be conceived as determined, namely, for the sake of a possible experience, it is necessary to indicate the conditions, by which the object (matter) would have to be determined in this or that manner, by the predicate of motion. Here, the question is not of the transformation of illusion into truth, but of phenomenon into experience. For with illusion the understanding is always engaged with its own judgment determining an object—although it is in danger of mistaking the subjective for objective—but in the phenomenon no judgment of the understanding is to be met with; and this is necessary to be remembered, not only here, but in the whole of philosophy, because, otherwise, when we are concerned with phenomena, and this expression is taken as identical in signification with that of illusion, misunderstanding will always arise.

Proposition 1.

The rectilinear motion of a matter is, in respect of an empirical space, as distinguished from the opposite motion of the space, a merely possible predicate. The same [thing] conceived in no relation to a matter outside it, that is, as absolute motion, is impossible.


Whether [in the case of] a body moved in relative space, this latter be described as resting, or conversely, as moved with equal velocity in an opposite direction, and the former as resting, there is no statement as to what belongs to the object, but only to its relation to the subject, in other words, to the phenomenon and not to experience. For if the spectator place himself in the samo space as resting, he terms the body moved; but if he place himself (at least in thought) in another space enclosing this, in respect of which the body is, in the same way, resting, then the relative space is termed "moved." In experience, therefore (a cognition, determining validly the object for all phenomena), there is no difference whatever between the motion of the body in relative space, or the rest of the body in absolute, and the equal and opposite motion of the relative, space. Now the presentation of an object by one of its two predicates—which, in respect of the object, are equivalent, and only as regards the subject and its mode of presentation distinguished from one another—is not its determination according to a disjunctive, but merely an alternative judgment according to choice (of which the first of two objectively opposed predicates, one with the exclusion of its contrary, but the other of objectively equivalent indeed, but subjectively opposed judgments without excluding the contrary of the object, in other words, by mere choice)—one is assumed for the determination of the same [viz., the object].[1] This means: by the conception of motion as object of experience, it is in itself undetermined, and therefore equivalent, whether a body is conceived as moved in relative space or the space in respect of the body. Now that which, in respect of two mutually opposed predicates, is in itself undetermined, is so far merely possible. Hence the rectilinear motion of a matter in empirical space, as distinguished from the equal opposite motion of the space, is in experience a merely possible predicate, which was the first [point].

Further, since a relation, in other words a change of the same, namely, motion, can only be an object of experience in so far as both correlates are objects of experience—but pure space, also called, in contradistinction to the relative (empirical), absolute space, is no object of experience and nothing at all—therefore rectilinear motion, without reference to anything empirical—that is, absolute motion—is simply impossible;—which was the second [point.]


This proposition determines the modality of the motion in respect of Phoronomy.

Proposition 2.

The circular motion of a matter as distinguished from the opposite motion of the space, is a real predicate of the same; while, on the other hand, if the opposite motion of a relative space be taken, instead of the motion of the body, there is no real motion of the latter, but [should it be regarded as such] a mere illusion.


The circular motion is (like every non-rectilinear [motion]) a continuous change of the rectilinear, and as this is itself a continuous change of relation in respect of external space, the circular motion is a change of the change of these external relations in space, and consequently a continuous arising of new motions; since, now, according to the law of inertia, a motion, in so far as it arises, must have an external cause, while the body, in every point of this circle, is endeavouring, according to the same law, to proceed in the straight line touching the circle, which motion works against the above external cause, every body in circular motion demonstrates by its motion a moving force. Now the motion of the space as distinguished from that of the body is merely phoronomic, and has no moving force. As a consequence, the judgment, that here, either the body or the space is moved in an opposite direction, is a disjunctive judgment, by which, if the one member, the motion of the body, be posited, the other, namely, that of the space, is excluded. Hence the circular motion of the body, as distinguished from the motion of the space, is a real motion, and consequently the latter, even though as phenomenon it coincide with the former, nevertheless, in the complex of all phenomena, that is, of possible experience, contradicts it, and hence is nothing but mere illusion.


This proposition determines the modality of motion in respect of Dynamics; for a motion, which cannot take place without the influence of a continuously active external moving force, proves indirectly or directly original moving forces of matter, either of attraction or repulsion. For the rest, Newton's scholium to the definitions with which he introduces his Princ. Philos. Nat. Math., towards the end, may be referred to, on the present subject, from which it will appear, that the circular motion of two bodies round a common centre (hence, also the motion of the earth on its axis), even in empty space, and thus without any comparison being possible through experience, with external space, may nevertheless be cognised by means of experience, in short, that a motion which is a change of external relation in space can be given empirically, although this space itself is not empirically given, and is no object of experience—a paradox deserving to be solved.

Proposition 3.

In every motion of a body, whereby it is moving in respect of another, an opposite and equal motion of the latter is necessary.


According to the third law of mechanics (Proposition 4) the communication of the motion of a body is only possible through the community of its original moving forces, and these only through reciprocal and equal motion. The motion of both is then real. But as the reality of this motion does not rest (as in the second proposition) on the influence of external forces, but follows immediately and inevitably from the conception of the relation of the moved in space, to every other [thing] thereby movable, the motion of the latter is necessary.


This proposition determines the modality of motion in respect of mechanics; that, for the rest, these three propositions determine the motion of matter in respect of its possibility, reality, and necessity, in short, in respect of all the three categories of Modality, is sufficiently obvious of itself.

General Observation on Phenomenology.

There are thus three conceptions noticeable here, whose employment in universal natural science is unavoidable, and whose exact definition is for this reason necessary, although not so easy and comprehensible: firstly, the conception of motion in relative (movable) space; secondly, the conception of motion in absolute (immovable) space; thirdly, the conception of relative motion generally, as distinguished from absolute [motion.] The conception of absolute space is laid at the foundation of all [these]. But how do we come by this singular conception, and on what rests the necessity of its employment?

It can be no object of experience; for space without matter is no object of perception, and yet is a necessary conception of the Reason, and therefore nothing but a a mere idea. For in order that motion may be given even as phenomenon, an empirical presentation of space in respect of which the movable has to change its relation is required. But space, which is to be perceived, must be material, and therefore in accordance with the conception of a matter generally, itself movable. Now, in order to conceive it as moved, one has only to conceive it as contained in a space of greater compass, and to assume the latter as resting. But this admits of being treated similarly as regards a still more extended space, and so on to infinity, without ever attaining through experience to an immovable (immaterial) space, in respect of which any matter could have absolute motion or rest attributed to it; but the conception of these relational determinations will have to be constantly changed, according as the movable is considered as in relation to one or the other of these spaces. Now, as the condition of regarding anything as resting or moved is always again and again conditioned to infinity in relative space, it thence appears: firstly, that all motion or rest is merely relative, and that neither can be absolute, i.e., that matter can merely be conceived in relation to matter as moved or resting, but not in respect of mere space without matter; in other words, that absolute motion, such, namely, as is conceived without any reference of one matter to another, is simply impossible: secondly, [it will appear] that for this very reason no conception of motion or rest, in relative space, valid for every phenomenon, is possible, but that a space must be conceived, in which the latter itself can be thought of as moved, hut whose determination does not depend on any other empirical space, and hence is not again conditioned, that is, an absolute space to which all relative motions may "be referred, ami in which everything empirical is movable; [and this] in order that all mi it inns (if the material in the same can be valid as merely relative to one another, as alternatively-reciprocal,[2] but none as absolute motion or rest (since, inasmuch as one is called moved, the other, with reference to which our former is moved, may be similarly conceived as absolutely resting). Absolute space is then necessary, not as a conception of a real object, but as a mere idea which is to serve as a rule, for considering all motion therein as merely relative, and all motion and rest must be reduced to absolute space if the phenomenon of the same is to be transformed into a definite conception of experience (which combines all phenomena).

In this way the rectilinear motion of a body in relative space, is reduced to absolute space, which does not fall within the range of the senses if I conceive the body, as at rest in itself, and this presentation as that which gives precisely the same phenomenon, whereby all possible phenomena of rectilinear motions, which a body may happen at the same time, to possess, are reduced to the conception of experience, which unites them together (namely, to that of merely relative motion and rest).

Circular motion, inasmuch as, according to the second proposition, even without reference to the external empirically given space, it can be given as real motion in experience, seems to be really absolute motion. For the relative in respect of external space (for instance, the motion of the earth on its axis, relative to the heavenly bodies), is a phenomenon, in place of which, the opposite motion of this space (the heavens), in the same time, can be posited as fully equivalent to the former, but which, according to this proposition, can never in experience be put in the place of the former; and therefore the above circular motion cannot be regarded as externally relative, which sounds as though this kind of motion were assumed as absolute.

But it is to be observed that the question is here of the true (real) motion, which does not appear as such—which therefore, were we content to judge according to empirical relations of the space, might be regarded as rest—in other words, the question is of the true motion as distinguished from the illusive, but not of it as absolute motion in contradistinction to the relative; and hence circular motion, although it exhibits in the phenomenon, no change of place, that is, no phorononiic [change] of the relation of the moved to empirical space, exhibits, nevertheless, a continuous dynamic change of the relation of matter in its space, demonstrable by experience; for instance, it shows a constant diminution of the attraction by an effort to retreat, as the effect of circular motion, and thereby decisively indicates its distinction from illusion. For instance, one can conceive the earth as turned about its axis in infinite empty space, and demonstrate this motion by experience, although neither the relation of the parts of the earth among one another, or to the space outside it, is changed phoronomically, i.e., in the phenomenon. For, as regards the first, nothing changes its place upon or in the earth as empirical space; and with reference to the second, which is quite empty, no externally changed relation, and therefore no phenomenon of a motion can take place. But if I suppose a deep cavern tending towards the centre of the earth, and dropping a stone into it, find that although at every distance from the centre, the gravity is always directed thereto, the falling stone nevertheless, continuously reverts from its upright position, from west to east, I conclude that the earth is from evening to morning turned about its axis. Or, if I withdraw the stone from the surface of the earth, and it does not remain over the same point of the surface, but moves itself from east to west, I shall still infer the foregoing motion of the earth on its axis, and both perceptions are a sufficient proof of the reality of this motion, for which the change of relation to external space (the starry heaven) is inadequate as it is mere phenomenon, which may proceed from two actually opposed causes, and which is not a cognition deducible from the ground of explanation of all phenomena of this change, that is, experience. But that this motion, although no change of relation to empirical space, is nevertheless no absolute motion, but continuous change of the relation of matters to one another, and while conceived in absolute space, is really only relative and for this very reason, alone true motion; this rests on the conception of the reciprocally continuous retreat of each part of the earth (outside the axis) from every other [part], situated opposite to it in the diameter, at equal distance from the centre. For this motion is real in absolute space, in that thereby the retreat from the distance in question, when gravity in itself would attract to the body, and indeed without any dynamical repulsive cause (as may be seen from the instances chosen in Newton's Princ. Phil. Nat., p. 10, Edit. 1711),[3] is continuously replaced by real motion inclosed within the moved matter (namely, the centre of the same), but not having reference to the external space.

As to the case of the third proposition, it does not require, in order to show the truth of the reciprocally opposed and equal motion of two bodies even without reference to the empirical space, [to exhibit] the active dynamical influence (of gravity or of a distended string) given through experience, which is necessary in the second case, but the mere dynamical possibility of such an influence as property of matter (repulsion or attraction) since the motion of the one carries with it, at the same time, the opposite and equal motion of the other, and indeed from mere conceptions of a relative motion, if it be considered in absolute space, i.e. according to truth; and it is, therefore, like all that is adequately demonstrable from mere conceptions a law of absolutely necessary counter-motion.

There is no absolute motion, even where a body is conceived as moved in respect of another in empty space; the motion of both being here, not relative to the space surrounding them, but only to that between them, which alone determines their external relation to each other, considered as abstract space, and is thus in its turn, only relative. Hence, absolute motion would be only that accruing to a body without relation to any other matter. But such would be the rectilinear motion of the universe, i.e. the system of all matter. For so long as any other matter existed outside of a matter, even though separated by empty space, the motion would still be relative. For this reason every proof of a law of motion, having as its result, that its contrary would necessarily imply a rectilinear motion of the whole universe as its consequence, is an apodictic demonstration of its truth; simply because absolute motion would thence ensue, which is quite impossible. Of this kind is the law of antagonism in all community of matter through motion. For every deviation from the same would move the common centre of gravity of all matters, in short, the whole universe, from its place, while on the contrary this would not happen if one regarded the latter as turned on its axis, a motion always possible to be conceived, although so far as one can see, there would be no use in assuming it.

The different conceptions of empty space also have their reference to the different conceptions of motion and moving forces. Empty space in a phoronomic sense, also termed absolute space, ought not properly to be called empty space; for it is only the idea of a space, in which I abstract from all particular matter, making it an object of experience, in order to conceive therein, the material, or every empirical space, as movable, and the motion not merely as on one side absolute, but as mutually relative predicate. Hence it is nothing belonging to the existence of things, but merely to the determination of the conception, and in so far no empty space exists. Empty space, in a dynamic sense, is that which is not filled, i.e., in which nothing else movable resists the penetration of the movable, consequently in which no repulsive force acts, and it may be either the empty space within the world (vacuum mundanum), or, if the latter be conceived as bounded, empty space outside the world (vacuum extramundanum); the first moreover, either as distributed (vacuum disseminatum), which constitutes only one portion of the volume of the matter, or as continuous empty space (vacuum coacervatum, which separates bodies, for instance, the heavenly bodies, from one another), a distinction which, inasmuch as it rests on the difference of places, assigned to empty space in the universe, is not essential, but is used in various ways; firstly, in order to deduce the specific difference of density, and secondly, in order [to deduce] the possibility of a movement in the universe, free from all external resistance. That empty space in the first sense is not necessary to be assumed, has already been shown in the general remark on dynamics; but that it is impossible can by no means be demonstrated from its conception alone, according to the principle of contradiction. Yet, even if no merely logical ground for its rejection be present, a universal physical ground for banishing it from natural science exists, namely, that of the possibility of the composition of a matter generally, if the latter [question] were only better understood. For if attraction, which is assumed for the explanation of the cohesion of matter, be only apparent, not real, attraction—but as it were the effect of a compression, by external matter (the ether) existing throughout the universe, which is itself brought to this pressure, by a universal and original attraction, namely, gravitation, an opinion supported by many reasons—empty space within matters would then, although not logically, be nevertheless dynamically, and hence physically, impossible, since every matter would expand of itself, in the empty spaces assumed within the same (as nothing would then resist its expansive force), and they would thus be always filled. An empty space outside the world, would, if by this expression be understood all the principal attractive matters (the large heavenly bodies), be impossible, for the same reason, for in proportion as the distance from these increased, the attractive force on the ether (which encloses all the above bodies, and impelled by them maintains in their density by compression), would diminish in inverse proportion, and the latter itself, would diminish in density to infinity, though it would nowhere leave the space entirely empty. Meanwhile, it need surprise no one that in this rejection of empty space, we are proceeding quite hypothetically; for its assumption fares no better. Those who venture to decide this moot question dogmatically, whether they do so affirmatively or negatively, support themselves in the end on mere metaphysical assumptions, as may be seen from the dynamic; but it was at least necessary to show here, chat this could not decide in the problem in question. Thirdly, as concerns empty space in a mechanical sense, this is continuous emptiness within the universe, in order to procure free motion for the heavenly bodies. It is easily seen, that the possibility or impossibility of this rests, not on metaphysical grounds, but on the hardly disclosed secrets of nature, as to the way in which matter sets limits to its own expansive force. Notwithstanding this, if that be admitted which has been said in the general observation on dynamics, as to the possibly greater expansion to infinity of specifically different matters, with the same quantity of matter (as regards its weight) an empty space might indeed be then unnecessary to assume, even for the sake of the free and lasting motion of the heavenly bodies, as the resistance, even in entirely filled spaces, might then be assumed to be as small as one liked.

And so ends the metaphysical doctrine of body with emptiness and therefore incomprehensibility, and the reason has the same fortune in all other attempts, where it strives to reach principles of the ultimate grounds of things, inasmuch as its nature is such, that it can never comprehend anything except in so far as it is determined under given conditions; consequently, since it can neither rest at the conditioned nor can make the unconditioned comprehensible, when thirst for knowledge stimulates it, to grasp the absolute totality of all conditions, nothing remains for it but to turn back from objects, upon itself, in order that instead of the ultimate boundaries of things, it may investigate and determine the ultimate boundaries of the capacity pertaining to itself.

Footnotes edit

  1. Of this distinction of disjunctive and alternative opposition, more in the general observation to this division.
  2. In logic the either or always denotes a disjunctive judgment; for if one be true, the other must be false. For instance, a body is either moved or not-moved, that is, at rest. For it is simply the relation of the cognition to the object which is there spoken of. In phenomenal doctrine, where the relation to the subject is referred to, in order therefrom to determine the relation to the object, it is otherwise. For there the proposition: the body is either moved and the space at rest, or conversely, is not a disjunctive proposition in an objective, but only a subjective connection, and both these judgments therein contained are alternatively valid. In the same phenomenology, where the motion is considered not merely phoronomically, but rather dynamically, on the contrary, the disjunctive proposition is to be taken in an objective signification, that is, in place of the turning of a body I cannot assume its rest and the opposite motion of the space. But even where the motion is regarded mechanically (as when a body rushes against another apparently resting) even then, the, as regards form, disjunctive judgment in respect of the object is to be employed distributively, so that the motion must not be attributed either to the one or to the other, but to each an equal share. This distinction of alternative, disjunctive and distributive determinations of a conception as regards mutually opposed predicates has its importance, but cannot lie further discussed here.
  3. He there says: Motus quidem veros corporum singulorum cognoscere et ab apparentibus actu discriminare difficillimum est; propterea quod partis spatii illius immobilis, in quo corpora vere moventur, rion incurrunt in sensus. Causa tamen non est prorsa disparata. Thereupon he allows two spheres attached by a thread, to turn about their common centre of gravity in empty space, and shows how the reality of their motion, together with its direction, can nevertheless be found in experience. I have also sought to demonstrate this under somewhat altered circumstances from the earth as moved on its axis.