An exposition on kant’s copernican revolution
Immanuel Kant of Konigsberg set out in his metaphysical enterprise to deliver metaphysic so far riddled by extreme dogmatism (Wolffian dogmatism and Lebnizan idealism) and radical empirism (Humean sensism and Lockean experientism). He sourgth to evolve a critical philosophy that would show the bounds of reason or metaphysics and at the same time indicate the role of reason in empirical inquiry. To buttress this point; “Moreover, our interpretation of the world of experiences is permanently fixed by the categories that the mind imposes upon object of experience’ (Stumpf 351).
He did this through what he called Copernican revolution in the process of knowledge to show that it is no longer things that conform to our knowing minds, but that our minds, content imposes knowledge (categories) on things.
Tenets of His Copernican Revolution:
This new hypothesis deals with the relation between the mind and its objects. Hitherto, it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to the objects. Kant says that the older pre-critical metaphysics is like the pre-Copernican astronomy. It regards our minds as mere mirrors, which passively reflect things-in-themselves just as the old astronomers thought that the earth at rest and that the apparent movements of planets where identical with there own proper motions. His own view is that the objects of our knowledge are not things-in-themselves, but are manufactured products in making which our minds play a part. He therefore, made a turn of supposing that objects must conform to our mind. For Kant, then, the mind plays an active role in the formation of knowledge as against what is hitherto known that the mind plays a passive role. The pre-Kantians made man a mere observer of nature, whilst Kant made man a constructor, though, not a creator of nature.
In this, he asserts that it is not the objects that impose themselves on the mind; but the mind imposes its own structure on the objects and makes them conform to it. Thus, our knowledge is limited because according to him, we do not perceive objects the way they are in themselves (noumena) but the way they appear to us (phenomena).
Kant therefore calls for a synthesis of the subject and the object since the former supplies the form and the later supplies the matter. This exposes the two element of knowledge in Kant namely; sensation and thought. He called this his Copernican Revolution bearing in mind Copernicus’ revolution in science. Copernicus changed “geocentricism” into “heliocenticism” in the field of science. He changed the popular notion that the earth is at the center of the universe while the sun and the planets revolves round it to the notion that the sun is rather at the center of the universe while the earth and the planets revolves round it.
In Kant’s transcendental philosophy, which replaces both radical empiricism and dogmatic metaphysics, Kant was able to achieve a synthesis of human cognition as both experience and reason based. He developed the necessity and universality of certain forms of knowledge: intuitive rational knowledge. In line with this, it could be said that his Copernican revolution was to show how what he called synthetic a priori knowledge is possible. According to him, we make this synthetic a priori judgment in mathematics, physics ethics and metaphysics. He writes; “In all theoretical sciences of reason, synthetic a priori judgments are contained as principle” (Kant 52).
Conclusively, with his Copernican revolution, Kant provided a new function and a new life for philosophy. This is suggested by the title of Kant’s major work, The Critique of Pure Reason. For then, the task of philosophy became the critical appraisal of the capacities of human reason. The pursuit of this led to the achievement of what he called Copernican revolution in philosophy.
1) Stumpf, S. Philosophy: History and Problems. U. S. A: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1994.
2) Kant, I. Critique of Pure Reason’ trans., by N. K. smith. London: Macmillan Press ltd., 1976.