Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist

By Paul Arthur Schilpp | Go to book overview

22 THE PHILOSOPHIC DIALECTIC OF THE CONCEPTS OF RELATIVITY*

I

PHILOSOPHERS have removed the great cosmic drama of Copernican thought from the dominion of reality to the dominion of metaphor. Kant described his Critical philosophy as a Copernican revolution in metaphysics. Following the Kantian thesis, the two fundamental philosophies, rationalism and empiricism, changed places, and the world revolved about the mind. As a result of this radical modification, the knowing mind and the known world acquired the appearance of being relative to each other. But this kind of relativity remained merely symbolic. Nothing had changed in the detail or the principles of coherence of knowledge. Empiricism and rationalism remained face-to-face and incapable of achieving either true philosophical co-operation or mutual enrichment.

The philosophic virtues of the Einsteinian revolution could be quite differently effective, as compared to the philosophic metaphors of the Copernican revolution, if only the philosopher were willing to seek all the instruction contained in relativity science. A systematic revolution of basic concepts begins with Einsteinian science. In the very detail of its concepts a relativism of the rational and the empirical is established. Science then undergoes what Nietzsche called "an upheaval of concepts," as if the earth, the universe, things, possessed a different structure from the fact that their explanation rests upon new foundations. All rational organization is "shaken" when the fundamental concepts undergo dialectical transformation.

Moreover, this dialectic is not argued by an automatic logic, as is the dialectic of the philosopher too often. In relativity,

____________________
*
Translated from the French manuscript by Forrest W. Williams.

-565-

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