The Things of the World

Written by Robert Sargent

I would like to say something for the things as they are, in themselves
Not standing for anything else, multiform, legion
In their fleeting exactitude,

Fashioned in intricate and elusive ways, individual,
Each like nothing else precisely. I am speaking
Of observable things, this chair,

This leaf, that slab, the sun, dust, a fly,
Sometimes interacting, sometimes not, depending
On the nature of each, but always

And ever changing, coming into being, vanishing;
Maybe observed or not; beautiful or ugly
Only as someone’s opinion;

Neither right nor wrong; neutral; concerned only with
Their presence here, enduring their given span;
The manifold things of the world

“The Only Possible Basis of Proof,” a book written by Immanuel Kant uses the language of Leibnizian throughout. But in it the distinction between the actual and the possible goes back to the more profound methodological distinction between ‘contingent’ and ‘necessary’ knowledge, between “truths of fact” and “truths of reason.” The latter, to which belong all propositions of logic and mathematics, are independent of the state of transient things, for they do not express the particular existent, occurring once, here and now, in a specific locus in space and at a determinate point of time, but rather they signify relations that are valid completely universally and are binding on any given content. That 7 + 5 = 12, that the angle inscribed in a semi-circle is a right angle are “eternal truths,” which do not depend on the nature of spatio-temporal things, and which remain true even if there were no things of those sorts and no physical world. In logic, in pure geometry and number science, and moreover in the principles of the pure theory of motion, it is thus a matter of cognitions that express a purely ideal dependence between substances in general, not of a connection between determinate empirical, actual objects or events.  If we translate this logical insight into the terminology of Leibnizian metaphysics, it can be said that the truths of pure reason, are valid for all possible worlds that are comprehended in the divine understanding, while the mere truths of fact pertain only to specifications of the one actual world that has been lifted out of this sphere of general possibilities and “permitted” actual existence.

Reference:  Kant’s Life and thought, by Ernst Cassirer