chapter  2
22 Pages

The Development of Kant’s Ether Theory

The above quote summarizes much of Kant’s mature view on the ether. As mentioned in the last chapter (§1.1), Kant’s conception of Substance in the Analogies from CPR is the conception of a unifi ed material whole that is both sempiternal and omnipresent. It is clear that Kant believes that the ether possesses these properties as well. In a fragment from Convoluts 10-11 of OP discovered after the publication of Kants gesammelte Schriften and written immediately after the Übergang section, Kant describes the ether in terms of its ‘omnipresence [ allgegenwart ] and continual persistence [ continuirliche Beharrlichkeit ].’ 2 While Kant’s post-Critical conception of the ether certainly encompasses both of these properties, it goes far beyond them as well. At the same time, his Critical conception of the ether could not be further removed from his post-Critical conception of it. As mentioned in the Introduction, when Kant affi rms the actuality of the ether, he is neither simply affi rming those conceptions of the ether popular in his day (light-ether/heat-ether), nor is he affi rming the reality of the static medium that Michelson and Morley failed to detect in the 19 th century. Some commentators place too much emphasis on the name of this material to the

exclusion of its function. As the above quote makes clear, the name that one calls this material whole is not important, but what is important is the material whole’s function, which depends on it possessing certain properties. Its dynamic activity is the ultimate source of perceptual affection and the material ground for physical bodies that subjects experience in space and time. 3 Mechanical forces (locomotion in space) depend upon these dynamic forces (internally moving). 4 Since it is omnipresent and sempiternal, it precludes the experience of empty space and time. 5 Kant believes the ether is a collectively moving unifi ed material whole, continuously expanded, and a constantly agitating plenum of dynamic (attractive and repulsive) forces. As one can see in the above quote, matter is itself realized through these forces. One could metaphysically summarize many of these properties by saying that the ether is a compositionally plastic, intrinsically structural substrate of dynamic forces. In more Kantian terms, the ether is the systematic unity of the moving forces of matter.