The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action

By John Dewey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE COPERNICAN REVOLUTION

KANT CLAIMED THAT he had effected a Copernican evolution in philosophy by treating the world and our knowledge of it from the standpoint of the knowing subject. To most critics, the endeavor to make the known world turn on the constitution of the knowing mind, seems like a return to an ultra- Ptolemaic system. But Copernicus, as Kant understood him, effected a straightening out of astronomical phenomena by interpreting their perceived movements from their relation to the perceiving subject, instead of treating them as inherent in the things perceived. The revolution of the sun about the earth as it offers itself to sense-perception was regarded as due to the conditions of human observation and not to the movements of the sun itself. Disregarding the consequences of the changed point of view, Kant settled upon this one feature as characteristic of the method of Copernicus. He thought he could generalize this feature of Copernican method, and thus clear up a multitude of philosophical difficulties by attributing the facts in question to the constitution of the human subject in knowing.

That the consequence was Ptolemaic rather than Copernican is not to be wondered at. In fact, the alleged revolution of Kant consisted in making explicit what was implicit in the classic tradition. In words, the latter had asserted that knowledge is determined by the objective constitution of the universe. But it did so only after it had first assumed that the universe is itself constituted after the pattern of reason. Philosophers

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