Consider the following, fairly famous statement (amongst the cognoscenti of natural philosophy) of Minkowski, a collaborator of Einsteins on the new conception of space and time that Einsteins theory appeared to demand:

The views of space and time which I wish to place before you have spring from the soil of experimental science and therein lie their strength. they are radical.


Space by itself, and time by itself are doomed to fade away into mere shadows and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.

Now, Schopenhauer (over a century earlier) writes in the first book of Die Welt:

But space and time are not only, each for itself, presupposed by matter, but a union of the two constitutes its essence, for this as we have seen consists of action ie causation

The consonance of these two remarks are remarkable; given that the first is meant in a definite and technical relation in physical science (physics) and the latter in terms of Kants Idealism; (or perhaps not so remarkable given the common intellectual soil from which both have sprung from; and it's admixture of various intellectual currents).

But it appears that Schopenhauers, in its generality, goes further than Minkowski: if we suppose its does not refer to space and time but matter; then it appears he conceives matter itself as the essence of the union of the two; and which he concieves as causation.

Is this reading confirmed by reference to Kants Critique of Pure Reason?

2 Answers 2


While the language appears similar, the objects of these comments are very different. Kant (in The Critique), and I presume Shopenhauer (whom I have less exposure to) were referring to matter as something which has extension (space) and which persists (time). Minkowski was referring not to matter but to space (and time) itself - applicable both to matter and to empty space. One was referring to things, the other to the means of measuring things (and time).

  • Kant as well as Schopenhauer, following him in some sense, stated the unity (strong reading) or at least interdependence of space and time.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Dec 13, 2015 at 15:59
  • Don Howard has published a paper on 'Einstein, Schopenhauer and the historical background of the conception of Space' in Norton & Earman's The cosmos of Science p87; in the 1920's, in Berlin, Einstein had on the wall of his study portraits of Faraday, Maxwell and Schopenhauer.
    – sand1
    Dec 14, 2015 at 22:15

Minkowski is a somewhat obscure figure and I do not know if he read Schopenhauer (probably not). However, Einstein did read both Schopenhauer (in his early 20s) and Kant (at 16 he read all 3 critiques).

Kantian transcendental aesthetic was a major influence of Einstein. However, Minkowski-Einstein spacetime (one word) and Kant-Schopenhauer space-time (two words) differ and are not the same thing.

For Kant space and time are qualitatively different, and we cannot synthesize them into a homogeneous whole. Space is a form of outer intuition, and time is a form of inner intuition. 2 units of time cannot exist side by side, and 2 units of space can. Time is numbers and space is geometry. Both are subjective, and cannot exist without the human mind.

For Einstein, spacetime is a synthesis of space and time into one smooth homogeneous quantity. We get 3 coordinates of space, and 1 coordinate of time, expressed metrically as (+---) or (-+++). Space and time now are treated on the same footing, which is very different from how Kant and Schopenhauer saw it.

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    Minkowski might be an obscure figure in modern philosophy but he is a major figure in physics. Einstein wasn't keen on Minkowski's geometrisation of special relativity, he preferred to think of it as a union of physical concepts - inertia and of I recall correctly, motion. Moreover whilst space and time are not exactly treated in exactly the same manner as the the signature of time is negative whilst that of space is positive. They are still distinct. Moreover, space and time have always been interlinked through motion. Motion cannot be thought without the other two concepts. Feb 13 at 13:17
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    This suggests space and time can be thought of as prior to motion. But Aristotle in fact considered time to be merely motion. Feb 13 at 13:18
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    Actually, I do recall now. And since I can't re-edit the comments I'll correct the above here. Einstein wasn't keen about Minkowski's geometrisation of Special Relativity and presenting General Relativity as a geometrical theory. This is because he saw this as pushing physical principles into the background. He saw GR, not geometrically, but as the unification of inertia and gravity. This is the unification of two important basic physical principles. This is what his famous Equivalence Principle emphasises ... Feb 13 at 17:39
  • ... He said this in some letters he exchanged with a student of his theory who insisted upon the geometrical interpretation. Feb 13 at 17:42

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