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The Prolegomena , Remark One

25 September, 2015 - 16:33

Pure mathematics, and especially pure geometry, can only possess objective reality under the condition that they merely refer to objects of sense, in view of which, however, the axiom holds good that our sensuous presentation is in nowise a presentation of things in themselves, but only of the manner wherein they appear to us. Hence it follows that the propositions of geometry are not the mere determinations of a creation of our poetic fancy, which therefore cannot be referred with confidence to real objects, but that they are necessarily valid of space, and consequently of everything that may be found in space; because space is nothing more than the form of all external phenomena, under which alone objects of sense can be given us. Sensibility, the form of which lies at the foundation of geometry, is that whereon the possibility of external phenomena rests; so these can never contain anything but what geometry prescribes for them. It would be quite different if the senses had to present the objects as they are in themselves. For in that case it would by no means follow from the presentation of space (which the geometrician posits with all its properties as an aprioribasis), that all this, together with what is deduced therefrom, is exactly so constituted in Nature. The space of the geometrician would be regarded as a mere fiction, and no objective validity ascribed to it, because we do not see why things must necessarily conform to the image that we make of them spontaneously and beforehand. But when this image, or rather this formal intuition, is the essential property of our sensibility by means of which alone objects are presented to us; and yet this sensibility presents not things in themselves, but only their appearances, it is quite easy to conceive, and at the same time incontrovertibly proved, that all the external objects of our sense-world must necessarily conform with the most complete accuracy to the propositions of geometry. For sensibility, by its form of external intuition (space) with which the geometrician is occupied, makes those objects themselves (though as mere appearances) primarily possible. It will always remain a remarkable phenomenon in the history of philosophy that there has been a time when even math- ematicians who were also philosophers began to doubt, not indeed of the correctness of their propositions in so far as they concerned space, but of the objective validity and application of this conception, with all its geometrical determi- nations, to Nature. They were concerned lest a line in Nature might consist of physical points, and the true space in the object, accordingly of simple parts, whereas the space the geometrician has in his mind can never consist of such. They did not recognise that this space in thought makes the physical space, i.e., the extension of matter, itself possible; that the latter is no quality of things in themselves, but only a form of our sensible faculty of presentation; that all objects in space are mere phenomena, i.e., are not things in themselves, but presentations of our sensuous intuition; and hence that space, as the geometrician thinks it, is exactly the form of sensuous intuition we find aprioriin ourselves, contain- ing the ground of possibility of all external phenomena (as regards their form); and that these must necessarily and in the most exact manner agree with the propositions of the geometrician, which he draws from no fictitious conception, but from the subjective foundation of all external phenomena, namely, the sensibility itself. In such and no other man- ner can the geometrician be ensured as to the indubitable objective reality of his propositions against all the cavils of an arid metaphysics, however strange it may seem to him, owing to his not having reverted to the sources of his conceptions.