to impressions and ideas. Kant changed philosophy from a foundational to a critical enterprise, but retained the traditional emphasis on the individual subject as a knower. In the first Critique he accepted physics and mathematics on the basis of their success, used them as a source to determine norms for a true science and rejected traditional metaphysics for not meeting these norms. A post-Kantian tradition culminating in Hegel considered Absolute Spirit to be something immanent in reality and knowable through reason. The natural sciences played a subordinate role. This idealism began to unravel under the criticism of Soren Kierkegaard, who thought that abstract philosophy could not grasp the reality and sometimes stark irrationality of the concrete individual subject; of Friedreich Nietzsche, who debunked philosophical traditions and examined philosophical classics as examples of rhetoric; and of Karl Marx, who transformed idealism into materialism. This wing culminated in Husserl’s critique of European science as resting on a false notion of objectivity, in Heidegger's insistence that engagement with the world is prior to representation, and in Jacques Derrida's radical reconstruction.
Here the end-of-philosophy movement gives philosophical depth to the evaluation of the social constructionists. Realistic interpretations of fundamental physics are seen as relying on a misleading account of objectivity as a correspondence with naked reality, reality as it exists independent of any description and prior to any theory. If this is rejected, then, with a bow to Kuhn, one has a succession of theories, or paradigms, each with its own ontology. Presently accepted theories will undoubtedly encounter the same fate. Nor does it make sense to speak of a succession of theories as approximating the ultimate goal of an objective account. We do not know what the ultimate theory will be. What physics provides, accordingly, is a succession of pictures of reality, useful for theoretical and technological purposes, but pictures nonetheless. Painting and poetry, literature and religion have different successions of pictures of reality, which are useful for other purposes. None can be accorded a privileged ontological status. The most direct way to relate such appraisal to the problem of objectivity is to consider the Heideggerian arguments that spawned deconstruction.
Heidegger’s original interest in the role of fundamental categories was manifested in his dissertation on the categories attributed (wrongly, it seems ) to Duns Scotus. He had some training in physics and kept abreast of current developments39. Yet, when he treats physics in Being and Time, Descartes supplies the focal point. This may seem perverse. Yet, it makes sense in terms of the Heideggerian problematic of raising anew the question of the meaning of being. The ideal of the detached observer contemplating a world of objects received its first clear articulation in Descartes' Meditations and Discourse on Method. "In this way Descartes explicitly switches over from the development of traditional ontology to modern mathematical physics and its transcendental foundations." (Heidegger, 1962, p. 129) This new foundation is being considered as present at hand, something to be contemplated through the eye of the mind. For Heidegger this 'objective' presence at hand is not an experience of naked reality. It is derivative from the primordial experience of beings as ready to hand, a pre-conceptual experience. Descartes set the interpretative perspective for physics and thought of philosophy as doing something similar, but on a more fundamental level. Heidegger extends this appraisal to anyone inspired by a Weltanschauung or a theological attitude.
39 See Kockelmans (1985), Compton (1988) and Chevalley (1990) for Heidegger’s involvement in physics.