Rehabilitating the regulative use of reason: Kant on empirical and chemical laws

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In his Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Kant asserts that laws of nature "carry with them an expression of necessity" (A159/B198). There is, however, widespread interpretive disagreement regarding the nature and source of the necessity of empirical laws of natural sciences in Kant's system. It is especially unclear how chemistry-a science without a clear, straightforward connection to the a priori principles of the understanding-could contain such genuine, empirical laws. Existing accounts of the necessity of causal laws unfortunately fail to illuminate the possibility of non-physical laws. In this paper, I develop an alternative, 'ideational' account of natural laws, according to which ideas of reason necessitate the laws of some non-physical sciences. Chemical laws, for instance, are grounded on ideas of the elements, and the chemist aims to reduce her phenomena to these elements via experimentation. Although such ideas are beyond the possibility of experience, their postulation is necessary for the achievement of reason's theoretical ends: the unification and explanation of the cognitions of science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Causal laws
  • Causality
  • Chemistry
  • Elements
  • Immanuel kant
  • Necessity

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