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Heisenberg and the Transformation of Kantian Philosophy

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In this paper, I argue that Heisenberg's mature philosophy of quantum mechanics must be understood in the context of his epistemological project to reinterpret and redefine Kant's notion of the a priori. After discussions with Weizs├Ącker and Hermann in Leipzig in the 1930s, Heisenberg attempted to ground his interpretation of quantum mechanics on what might be termed a ‘practical' transformation of Kantian philosophy. Taking as his starting point, Bohr's doctrine of the indispensability of classical concepts, Heisenberg argued that concepts such as space, time and causality can be regarded as ‘practically a priori', in so far as they remain the conditions for the possibility of experience and even of ‘objective reality', though they are not universal and necessary in a strictly Kantian sense. We cannot avoid using classical concepts in the description of experiments in quantum theory, despite the fact that there are limits to their applicability. Such concepts are, for Heisenberg, historically contingent, yet indispensable in our time, because we have no other language through which we can describe and conceive of the interaction between ‘object' and ‘measuring device'.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: October 1, 2005

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