Stanford philosophy professor wins international book prize

Michael Friedman (Photo credit: Steve Castillo)

MICHAEL FRIEDMAN, a professor of philosophy at Stanford, has won the Fernando Gil International Prize in Philosophy of Science for his latest work on 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Friedman’s book Kant’s Construction of Nature: A Reading of the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (Cambridge University Press, 2013) won the biennial prize, which recognizes the best book on the philosophy of science during the preceding five years. Friedman will be awarded the prize in a ceremony in Lisbon.

In this book, Friedman, an expert on the philosophy of science, addresses one of Kant’s most difficult works, Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786). Friedman carefully reexamines Kant’s work and reconsiders how the English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton made an impact on Kant’s thinking, an influence that has been previously been downplayed.

Stanford philosophy Professor THOMAS RYCKMAN called Friedman’s book “a stunning new interpretation of Kant’s profoundly deep insights into Newtonian mechanics as well as into its difficult problems with Absolute Space and Absolute motion.”

In a recent Stanford news story, about his research, Friedman said that Kant’s writings draw support from Newton’s theories of gravity and motion.

“A better understanding of the way in which Kant, in this work, fashioned a fruitful synthesis of Newtonian physics and Leibnizean metaphysics can also further a better understanding of the deep conceptual transformation that began with Kant and concluded with the revolutionary new [Einsteinian] space-time theories,” said Friedman, the Frederick P. Rehmus Family Professor of Humanities.

According to Ryckman, Friedman’s book is the first systematic examination of Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (MFNS) in English and is certain to be at the center of all subsequent research on the subject. “The dogmatic taint has been lifted from MFNS, and an extraordinarily refreshing vista on this difficult text, one that makes it relevant to contemporary philosophy of science, has been created,” he said.

While a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, Friedman worked on his newest book, Extending the Dynamics of Reason: A Post-Kuhnian Approach to the History and Philosophy of Science, which further develops his ideas about Kant and Newton.

The Fernando Gil International Prize in Philosophy of Science is presented by the Portuguese government to honor the memory and work of Fernando Gil (1937–2006), a philosopher who embraced a diversity of fields.

Previous winners of the prize include HASOK CHANG in 2013 for his book Is Water H2O? Evidence, Realism and Pluralism (2012) and LADISLAV KVASZ in 2010 for his book Patterns of Change, Linguistic Innovations in the Development of Classical Mathematics (2008).