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Scientific Method 101 (in layman's language)


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#1 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 19 January 2008 - 12:52 PM

Scientific Method 101 (in layman's language)

Here is a really cool article from How Stuff Works:

How the Scientific Method Works
by William Harris

After all the hairsplitting discussions on scientific method that I have been involved in, this primer was like a blast of fresh air. No important part of the scientific method is discarded or judged more important than the other, neither induction nor falsifiability. Everything has its own purpose and cannot be replaced by the other parts. Harris even deals with causality as one of the underpinnings of the scientific method:

If you've ever been curious about something, if you've ever wanted to know what caused something to happen, then you've probably already asked a question that could launch a scientific investigation.

Here are Harris's credentials:

William Harris is a freelance writer stationed near Washington, D.C. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Virginia Tech and a master's degree in science education from Florida State University.

If you are not a science person and your eyes sometimes glaze over in some of the long heated discussions on OL about Popper, what science is, causality, "is from ought," determinism, etc., you might want to take about 15 minutes and go through this little article. Believe me, much will be a lot clearer.

Advanced people often find it difficult to imagine what a beginner's state of mind is, so they can sound intimidating or pompous or impatient. But in most cases, I believe they are just in their own little world.

Thus, an article like this is a lifeline if you are not a science person, want to understand the essence of a sophisticated post, but don't want to digest 25 pounds of books laden with scientific jargon and graphs to do so. Actually, the best part about this article is that it is not boring.

And for the science people, a review of basics is never a bad idea.

Michael

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#2 Michael E. Marotta

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 08:59 AM

Thanks, Michael. Befor the invention (or discover?) of Objectivism by Ayn Rand, this was called "rational-empricism." Rational-empiricism is to "democracy" (so-called; a republic, really) as idealism is to fascism and as dialectic materialism is to communism. In the real world of workable ideas, the scientific method is just common sense, formalized and self-identified.

And yet it can be so rare.

My degree in criminology will be a bachelor of science. Yet, what we learn in sociology and cirminoloogy is mired in dichotomized philosophy, the worst of which is post-modernism. Even the classes that are nominally hopeful (research methods) teach that ultimate causes are unknowable, truth does not exist, and findings are speculative; reason and logic are arbitrary conventions.

It is painful sometimes.

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#3 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 01:43 PM

That is a neat elementary introduction to scientific methods. Section 4 on the History of the Scientific Method is very weak. I would recommend the following two books for more on the history of scientific methods as well as more on what those methods are:

The Inference that Makes Science (1992) by Ernan McMullin
http://www.questia.c...an-mcmullin.jsp
This can be purchased at
http://www.atlasbook...rderpage2.htm#I
or at Amazon (ignore the smear-review there).

William Whewell
Theory of Scientific Method
(1837–58) edited by Robert E. Butts
http://www.amazon.co...557#reader-link

Edit
This one is good too:
The Rationality of Science (1981) by W. H. Newton-Smith
http://www.amazon.co...557#reader-link

Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 20 January 2008 - 02:14 PM.


#4 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 02:51 PM

Stephen,

Let me playfully poke you in the ribs a bit.

I agree that those must be good books, but you just proved my point about the advanced people being in their own little worlds and sem-oblivious to the needs of beginners. Do you really think those books are good introductions for lay-people?

Let me put it another way.

The Inference that Makes Science is 112 pages and needs to be purchased.
Theory of Scientific Method is 378 pages and can be read for free on Google books, but it is in the English of 2 centuries ago and full of big words besides.
The Rationality of Science is 308 pages and needs to be purchased.

That makes a total of 798 pages, most of which must be purchased, for an introduction to an area the person is probably not too interested in. Or he can read that article I linked to in about 15 minutes for free. (Despite limitations, it is pretty good. Even you called it neat.)

Which do you think holds more value for him? Which do you think he will do if he does either? Would you go through 798 pages of technical material on scuba diving or television repair just to get a basic idea of what they are about?

:)

However, as suggestions, if a person wishes to continue studies, I have no doubt these books are excellent. Thanks for providing them. I can't say beginners and those in other fields will use them, but those who want to go further in scientific studies probably will use them to good profit.

Michael

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#5 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 21 January 2008 - 08:37 PM

Thus, an article like this is a lifeline if you are not a science person, want to understand the essence of a sophisticated post, but don't want to digest 25 pounds of books laden with scientific jargon and graphs to do so. Actually, the best part about this article is that it is not boring.

And for the science people, a review of basics is never a bad idea.

Michael


Part 4 of Harris' article is on the history of the scientific method. He mentions, Copernicus, Galileo and Newton but fails to mention Kepler. Kepler's three kinematic laws of motions for planets were the launch pad for Newton's Law of Gravitation.

Copernicus never gives a physical reason for the motions he postulates and the quasi-heliocentric hypothesis along with circular orbits is actually less accurate than the Ptolemaic system. Copernicus does account in a rough way for the phases of Venus and the retrograde motion of Mars but his system still requires epicycles for correcting the apparent motions of the planets. Kepler was the first to get it right and he did so by getting rid of circular orbits. Newton might have gotten his Law of Gravitation without Kepler, but it would have been much harder for him.

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#6 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 22 January 2008 - 08:59 AM

Jody,

The Principia is splendid. If there were a Son of God, it would be Isaac Newton. Principia is thoroughly accessible if one has had highschool geometry and if one has the following guide to Newton's masterpiece:

The Key to Newton's Dynamics
J. Bruce Brackenridge
1995, University of California Press

Stephen


For really "getting the Law of Gravitation," historically and in your own mind, get Principia (Book 1) and The Key. See how, from geometry and Newton's laws of mechanics, one derives the central-force law that would be the case for an oval orbit, the central-force law that would be the case for a circular spiral orbit, and the central-force law that would be and is the case for an elliptical orbit. This is the really "getting it" that Robert Hooke did not and that school boys reading popular science magazines in Konigsberg a century-and-a-half later did not.

#7 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 22 January 2008 - 09:15 AM

[...] and that school boys reading popular science magazines in Konigsberg a century-and-a-half later did not.



Laughed out LOUD.

Ellen

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#8 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 22 January 2008 - 11:31 AM

No subtraction before coffee. That should have been a half-century, not a century-and-a-half.

#9 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 01:41 AM

No subtraction before coffee. That should have been a half-century, not a century-and-a-half.


Right. But that isn't why I laughed. I found the quip hilariously funny. And would you believe...I was in need of coffee, too? I thought the subtraction looked odd, but the part I wondered about was whether it was a half-century gap; I wasn't awake enough to catch that you'd said "a century-and-a-half."

Ellen

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#10 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 07:17 AM

Yes, Ellen, I took you as catching the intended joke.

There are further errors in my foggy remark that need to be corrected. I add correction and clarification, and supplementary information, in this note.

I referred to Newton’s derivation of the central-force law for various orbits. A case I did not mention is Proposition VII, Problem II, of Book I. “If a body revolves in the circumference of a circle; it is proposed to find the law of centripetal force directed to any given point.” The given (imagined) point from which the attractive force draws a body into a circular orbit is allowed to lie anywhere within or on the circle. Newton demonstrated that the force for such a case would vary inversely with the square of the separation between that given source-point of the force and the body in its circular travel, and it would vary inversely with the cube of the length of the circle’s chord containing that source-point and the location of the body in its circular travel. (When the location of the source is at the center of the circle, that chord length is a constant, the diameter of its circle.)

I referred to derivation of the central-force law that would be the case for a body in an oval orbit. That was vague and useless. What I was vaguely recalling was Proposition X, Problem V, of Book I. “If a body revolves in an ellipse; it is proposed to find the law of centripetal force tending to the centre of the ellipse.” Answer: direct dependency on the separation between the center of the ellipse and the orbiting body.

I referred to derivation of the central-force law that would be the case for a body in a circular spiral orbit. This is Newton’s Proposition IX, Problem IV, of Book I. “. . . It is proposed to find the law of the centripetal force tending to the centre of that spiral.” Answer: inverse dependency on the cube of the separation between the force center and the body in spiral orbit about it.

Lastly, I referred to derivation of the central-force law that would be and is the case for an elliptical orbit. Naturally, what I intended specifically was Proposition XI, Problem VI, of Book I. “If a body revolves in an ellipse; it is required to find the law of the centripetal force tending to the focus of the ellipse.” Answer (hopefully familiar): inverse dependency on the square of the separation between the force center and the orbiting body.

One reader has asked whether my phrase “school boys reading popular science magazines in Konigsberg” refers to Immanuel Kant. That is correct. I will clarify and supplement that wisecrack very soon.

#11 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 02 February 2008 - 03:39 PM

Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy appeared in 1687 (Principia for short). It comprises three books. Book I analyzes motions of bodies in the absence of resisting media. Book II treats motions of bodies in resisting media. Book III assimilates observational data on comets, planets, the moon, and tides. The second edition issued in 1713, the third in 1726, the year before Newton’s death. Kant was born in 1724. At his death in 1804, Kant's personal library included a copy of the second edition of Principia.

From 1732 to 1740, Kant attended Konigsberg’s Collegium Fredericum, which prepared its students for the clergy or high civil office. It was a Pietistic institution. Pietism was a genre of Lutheranism. Kant excelled in Latin. Like any student being prepared to perhaps become a Lutheran minister, he was taught Hebrew and Greek. (Those were still required for Lutheran seminarians in America when I was a young man.) He learned to read French, but English was not offered. Latin and French would later give him access to Newton and his expositors. He was introduced to the basic principles of arithmetic, geometry, and trigonometry at the Collegium.

From 1740 to 1744 steadily, from 1744 to 1748 intermittently, Kant attended the University of Konigsberg. There he was exposed to experiments in electricity and fire through Prof. Johann Teske. Kant was introduced to Newton’s physics through Prof. Martin Knutzen. It is reported that from his personal library Knutzen lent Newton to Kant. It is thought that Knutzen had some general understanding of Principia, but did not understand Newton’s physics in mathematical detail.

Kant’s first published treatise was in 1747. That was “Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces, and Criticism of the Proofs Propounded by Herr von Leibniz and Other Mechanists in Their Treatment of This Controversial Subject, Together with Some Remarks Bearing upon Force in Bodies in General.” The thesis of Section 9 is: “If the substances had no force whereby they can act outside themselves, there would be no extension, and consequently no space.” This is so because “without a force of this kind there is no connection, without this connection no order, and without this order no space.” (Leibnizian heritage is evident.) The young Kant then ponders the question of why space has three dimensions. In Section 10 he proposes “that the threefold dimension of space is due to the law according to which the forces in substances act upon one another.” Substances “have essential forces of such a kind that in union with one another they extend the sphere of their actions according to the inverse square of their distances.” Furthermore, “owing to this law the whole which thence arises has the property of threefold dimension.” (These translations are by John Handyside 1929.)

Recall the ultimate problem of the preceding post. That is the fine problem that had emerged for the planetary orbits: Given that a planet revolves around the sun in an elliptical path, with the sun at one of the two foci of the ellipse, what is the mathematical form of the attractive force responsible for such an orbit? Newton found the demonstration of the answer.

Kant is asking a question parallel in form: Given that space is three-dimensional, what can be said of the mathematical form of the force responsible for this fact? I think Kant inclines to connect the three-dimensionality of space to inverse-square separation dependencies of force strength because of a “schoolboy” argument to this dependency for gravity that had been circulating since the seventeenth century (and continues to this very day). An analogy is drawn between the intensity of gravity away from its source and the intensity of light away from its source. Light spreads out in a sphere in three-dimensional space. The surface area of that sphere is proportional to the radius of the sphere squared. Therefore the intensity of light diminishes by the inverse of the radius squared. Likewise for gravity.

If that were a correct reasoning to inverse-square separation dependence of gravitational attraction, it would apply no matter what the shape of the orbits resulting from an attractive force. But Newton had demonstrated in Book I that that is false. Various shapes of orbit imply various, different formulas of separation dependencies in the attractive force.

Kant continues his Pre-Critical constitution of space by inverse-square force in 1755 in “A New Elucidation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Cognition” (1:415) and in 1756 in “The Employment in Natural Philosophy of Metaphysics Combined with Geometry, of Which Sample 1 Contains the Physical Monadology” (1:476, 483–85). In his 1786 Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, a work integral with his Critical project, Kant infers the inverse-square separation dependence of gravity from analogy with the spherical diffusion of light (4:519–21).


Further Resources

“Part 3 – Kant” (1997) of my “Space, Rotation, Relativity” in Objectivity 2(5):1–31.
Pertinent among the references cited there are Friedman 1992 and Polonoff 1973.

The Kantian Philosophy of Space (1966) by Christopher Browne Garnett.

Kant and the Sciences (OUP 2001) edited by Eric Watkins.

Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism (CUP 2005) by Kenneth Westphal.

Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 03 February 2008 - 07:51 AM.


#12 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 18 December 2010 - 08:35 AM

.

There are good references on the place(s) of metaphysics for Newton in this review of Andrew Janiak’s Newton as Philosopher.

#13 Michael E. Marotta

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Posted 18 December 2010 - 11:31 AM

Norman W. Edmund, founder of Edmund Scientific Supply, has this website dedicated to The Scientific Method:
http://www.scientificmethod.com/

He teaches a 14-step method:
1. Curious Observation
2. Is There a Problem?
3. Goals & Planning
4. Search, Explore, & Gather the Evidence
5. Generate Creative & Logical Alternative Solutions
6. Evaluate the Evidence
7. Make the Educated Guess (Hypothesis)
8. Challenge the Hypothesis
9. Reach a Conclusion
10. Suspend Judgment
11.Take Action

Supporting Ingredients
12. Creative, Non-Logical, Logical & Technical Methods
13. Procedural Principals & Theories
14. Attributes & Thinking Skills

Mike M.
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#14 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 18 December 2010 - 12:10 PM

Thanks, Michael. Befor the invention (or discover?) of Objectivism by Ayn Rand, this was called "rational-empricism." Rational-empiricism is to "democracy" (so-called; a republic, really) as idealism is to fascism and as dialectic materialism is to communism. In the real world of workable ideas, the scientific method is just common sense, formalized and self-identified.



It is?

Then how did Planck come to the hypothesis that energy comes in lumps, rather than being continuous?

How did Einstein come to the hypothesis that the speed of light is not dependent on the motion of either the observer or the source? This lead to the result: time is motion dependent and length is motion dependent.

A good deal of physics is anti-common sense and anti-intuitive.

Ba'al Chatzaf



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#15 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 07:21 PM

#3 follow-on:

I just learned that Ernan McMullin died in February.* I will continue to learn from his work. I once got to attend a philosophy of science lecture in which he sat next to me. He was such a warm person, not at all an academic snob. Our distinguished speaker, at some jovial extemporaneous moment, referred to something French as Frog. Instantly, under his breath, I heard McMullin groan “My G . . .” After my own heart.

. . .
One little book I think highly of concerning scientific inference:
The Inference that Makes Science
Ernan McMullin


. . .
Rand’s theoretical philosophy and my own understanding of the methods of science are consonant with the following superbly informed view of Ernan McMullin 1992. (See also.)

Let us restrict the term abduction to the process whereby initially plausible and testable causal hypotheses are formulated. This is inference only in the loosest sense, but the extensive discussions of the logic of discovery in the 1970’s showed how far, indeed, it differs from mere guessing. The testing of such hypotheses is of the most varied sort. It does, of course, involve deduction in a central way, as consequences are drawn and tried out. Some of these may be singular, others may be lawlike and hence involve induction. But we shall not restrict induction to the testing of causal hypotheses, as Peirce came to do. (89–90)

[Our concern] is with the process of theoretical explanation generally, the process by which our world has been so vastly expanded. This is the kind of inference that makes science into the powerful instrument of discovery it has become. . . . As a process of inference, it is not rule-governed as deduction is, nor regulated by technique as induction is. Its criteria, like coherence, empirical adequacy, fertility, are of a more oblique sort. They leave room for disagreement, sometimes long-lasting disagreement. Yet they also allow controversies to be adjudicated and eventually resolved.

It is a complex, continuing, sort of inference, involving deduction, induction, and abduction. Abduction is generally prompted by an earlier induction (here we disagree with Peirce). The regularity revealed by the induction may or may not be surprising. Deductions are made in order that consequences may be tested, novel results obtained, consistency affirmed. The process as a whole is the inference by means of which we transcend the limits of the observed, even the instrumentally observed.

Let us agree to call the entire process retroduction. We are “led backwards” from effect to cause, and arrive at an affirmation, not simply a conjecture. Retroduction in this sense is more than abduction. It is not simply the initial plausible guess. It is a continuing process that begins with the first regularity to be explained or anomaly to be explained away. It includes the initial abduction and the implicit estimate of plausibility this requires. It includes the drawing of consequences, and the evaluation of the match between those and the observed data, old or acquired in light of the hypothesis. Tentative in the first abduction, gradually strengthening if consequences are verified, if anomalies are successfully overcome, if hitherto disparate domains are unified, retroduction is the inference that in the strongest sense “makes science.” (92–93)


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
PS

From his newly published* paper “Aristotle on Norms of Inquiry,” this note from James Lennox:

Ernan McMullin took up a 2-year residence as a visiting fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Science in 1978–79, shortly after I was appointed assistant professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh. We eventually became friends. I've never forgotten his kindness and encouragement toward me in those years, and his work served us all as a model for our field.


Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 21 April 2011 - 04:35 AM.


#16 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 21 April 2011 - 01:32 AM

#3 follow-on:

I just learned that Ernan McMullin died in February.* I will continue to learn from his work. I once got to attend a philosophy of science lecture in which he sat next to me. He was such a warm person, not at all an academic snob. Our distinguished speaker, at some jovial extemporaneous moment, referred to something French as Frog. Instantly, under his breath, I heard McMullin groan "My G . . ." After my own heart.

. . .
One little book I think highly of concerning scientific inference:
The Inference that Makes Science
Ernan McMullin


. . .
Rand's theoretical philosophy and my own understanding of the methods of science are consonant with the following superbly informed view of Ernan McMullin 1992. (See also.)

Let us restrict the term abduction to the process whereby initially plausible and testable causal hypotheses are formulated. This is inference only in the loosest sense, but the extensive discussions of the logic of discovery in the 1970's showed how far, indeed, it differs from mere guessing. The testing of such hypotheses is of the most varied sort. It does, of course, involve deduction in a central way, as consequences are drawn and tried out. Some of these may be singular, others may be lawlike and hence involve induction. But we shall not restrict induction to the testing of causal hypotheses, as Peirce came to do. (89–90)

[Our concern] is with the process of theoretical explanation generally, the process by which our world has been so vastly expanded. This is the kind of inference that makes science into the powerful instrument of discovery it has become. . . . As a process of inference, it is not rule-governed as deduction is, nor regulated by technique as induction is. Its criteria, like coherence, empirical adequacy, fertility, are of a more oblique sort. They leave room for disagreement, sometimes long-lasting disagreement. Yet they also allow controversies to be adjudicated and eventually resolved.

It is a complex, continuing, sort of inference, involving deduction, induction, and abduction. Abduction is generally prompted by an earlier induction (here we disagree with Peirce). The regularity revealed by the induction may or may not be surprising. Deductions are made in order that consequences may be tested, novel results obtained, consistency affirmed. The process as a whole is the inference by means of which we transcend the limits of the observed, even the instrumentally observed.

Let us agree to call the entire process retroduction. We are "led backwards" from effect to cause, and arrive at an affirmation, not simply a conjecture. Retroduction in this sense is more than abduction. It is not simply the initial plausible guess. It is a continuing process that begins with the first regularity to be explained or anomaly to be explained away. It includes the initial abduction and the implicit estimate of plausibility this requires. It includes the drawing of consequences, and the evaluation of the match between those and the observed data, old or acquired in light of the hypothesis. Tentative in the first abduction, gradually strengthening if consequences are verified, if anomalies are successfully overcome, if hitherto disparate domains are unified, retroduction is the inference that in the strongest sense "makes science." (92–93)


Richard Feynman regarded hypotheses and laws arrived at abduction as educated guesses whose credibility had to be established by experiment.

See: http://www.youtube.c...feature=related
around 35 minutes.


See also: http://www.youtube.c...feature=related
about 5 minutes in or a little after.

Ba'al Chatzaf



Edited by BaalChatzaf, 21 April 2011 - 01:38 AM.

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#17 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 17 July 2013 - 07:49 AM

Supplement to #11

 

Last year new English translations of Kant’s works in natural science, mainly from his pre-critical period, were issued in a volume Natural Science in the series The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant.

 

This year saw the issue of Kant’s Construction of Nature by Michael Friedman. Prof. Friedman is the author of superfine study Kant and the Exact Sciences (1992), and he is the translator of Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science for the Cambridge series (2002).

 

Abstract for Kant’s Construction of Nature


Kant's Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science is one of the most difficult but also most important of Kant's works. Published in 1786 between the first (1781) and second (1787) editions of the Critique of Pure Reason, the Metaphysical Foundations occupies a central place in the development of Kant's philosophy, but has so far attracted relatively little attention compared with other works of Kant's critical period. Michael Friedman's book develops a new and complete reading of this work and reconstructs Kant's main argument clearly and in great detail, explaining its relationship to both Newton's Principia and eighteenth-century scientific thinkers such as Euler and Lambert. By situating Kant's text relative to his pre-critical writings on metaphysics and natural philosophy and, in particular, to the changes Kant made in the second edition of the Critique, Friedman articulates a radically new perspective on the meaning and development of the critical philosophy as a whole.






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