Norman Kemp Smith.

A commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' online

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(Hartenstein, viii. p. 527).

3 Cf. below, p. 274 ff.


manifold as given is not in space and time, the specific space
and time relations assigned by us are determined for us by
the inherent nature of the manifold itself. 1

The form of appearance is defined if the definition given in
the first edition be translated literally as " that which causes
(dasjenigCy welches macht dass] the manifold of appearance to
be intuited as ordered in certain relations." This phrase is
employed by Kant in other connections, and, as Vaihinger
points out, 2 need not necessarily indicate activity. " Sensa-
tion is that in our knowledge which causes it to be called
a posteriori knowledge." 3 In the second edition Kant altered
the text from "geordnet angeschaut wird" to " geordnet werden
kann" The reason probably was that the first edition's
wording might seem to imply that the form is (as the
Dissertation taught) capable in and by itself of ordering
the manifold. Throughout the second edition Kant makes
more prominent the part which understanding plays in the
apprehension of space. 4

This distinction between matter and form is central in
Kant's system. 5 As he himself says :

"These are two conceptions which underlie all other reflection,
so inseparably are they bound up with all employment of the
understanding. The one [matter] signifies the determinable in
general, the other [form] its determination." 6

On the side of matter falls the manifold, given, empirical,
contingent material of sense ; on the side of form fall the '
unifying, a priori, synthetic, relational instruments of sensibility
and thought. For Kant these latter are no mere abstractions,
capable of being distinguished by the mind ; they differ from
the matter of experience in nature, in function, and in origin.
Upon this dualistic mode of conceiving the two factors depends
the strength as well as the weakness of his position. To
its perverting influence most of the unsatisfactory features
of his doctrine of space and time can be directly traced. But
to it is also due his appreciation of the new Critical problems,
.vith their revolutionary consequences, as developed in the

Kant proceeds to argue : (a) that the distinction is between
:wo elements of fundamentally different nature and origin.
The matter is given a posteriori in sensation ; the form, as
listinct from all sensation, must lie ready a priori in the mind.
b} Kant also argues that form, because of its separate origin, is

1 Cf. below, pp. 366-7, 370-2, 377. 2 ii. p. 59. 3 A 42 = B 60.

4 Cf. Reftextonen, ii. note to 469 ; also note to 357.

5 Cf. above, p. xxxiii ff. 6 A 266 = 6 322.


capable of being contemplated apart from all sensation. The
above statements rest upon the unexpressed assumption that
sensations have no spatial attributes of any kind. 1 In them-
selves they have only intensive, not extensive, magnitude. 2
Kant assumes this without question, and without the least
attempt at proof. 3 The assumption appears in Kant's writings
as early as 1768 as a self-evident principle ; 4 and throughout
the Critique is treated as a premiss for argument, never as a
statement calling for proof. The only kind of supporting argu-
ment which is even indirectly suggested by Kant is that space
cannot by itself act upon the senses. 6 This would seem to be
his meaning when he declares 6 that it is no object, but only
an ens imaginarium. " Space is no object of the senses." 7
Such argument, however, presupposes that space can be con-
ceived apart from objects. It is no proof that an extended
object may not yield extended sensations. Kant completely
ignores the possibility that formal relations may be given in
and with the sensations. If our sensibility, in consequence of
the action of objects upon it, is able to generate qualitative

1 In discussing a and b we may for the present identify form with space.
The problem has special complications in reference to time.

2 Cf. B 207.

3 Herbart's doctrine of space, Lotze's local sign theory, also the empiricist
theories of the Mills and Bain, all rest upon this same assumption. It was first
effectively called in question by William James. Cf. Bergson : Les Donnees
immediate*, pp. 70-71, Eng. trans, pp. 92-3 : "The solution given by Kant does
not seem to have been seriously disputed since his time : indeed, it has forced
itself, sometimes without their knowledge, on the majority of those who have
approached the problem anew, whether nativists or empiricists. Psychologists
agree in assigning a Kantian origin to the nativistic explanation of Johann
Miiller ; but Lotze's hypothesis of local signs, Bain's theory, and the more
comprehensive explanation suggested by Wundt, may seem at first sight quite
independent of the Transcendental Aesthetic. The authors of these theories seem
indeed to have put aside the problem of the nature of space, in order to investigate
simply by what process our sensations come to be situated in space and to be set,
so to speak, alongside one another : but this very question shows that they
regard sensations as inextensive, and make a radical distinction, just as Kant did,
between the matter of representation and its form. The conclusion to be drawn
from the theories of Lotze and Bain, and from Wundt's attempt to reconcile them,
is that the sensations by means of which we come to form the notion of space are
themselves unextended and simply qualitative : extensity is supposed to result
from their synthesis, as water from the combination of two gases. The empirical
or genetic explanations have thus taken up the problem of space at the very point
where Kant left it : Kant separated space from its contents : the empiricists ask
how these contents, which are taken out of space by our thought, manage to get
back again." Bergson proceeds to argue that the analogy of chemical combina-
tion is quite inapplicable, and that some ' ' unique act very like what Kant calls
an a priori form" must still be appealed to. With the Kantian standpoint in this
matter Bergson does not, of course, agree. He is merely pointing out what the
consequences must be of this initial assumption of inextensive sensations.

4 Cf. Von dem ersten Grunde des Unterschiedes der Gegenden im Raume, in its
penultimate paragraph.

5 Cf. Dissertation, last sentence of 4, quoted below, p. 87.

6 A 291 = 6 347 ; A 429 = 6 457. 7 Reflexionen, ii. 334.


sensations, why, as Vaihinger very pertinently enquires, 1
should it be denied the power of also producing, in conse-
quence of these same causes, impressions of quantitative
formal nature ? Sensations, on Kant's view, are the product
of mind much more than of objects. Why, then, may not
space itself be sensational ? 2 From 'the point of view of
-empirical science there is no such radical difference bqtween
cause and effect in the latter case as exists in the former. As
Herbert Spencer has remarked, 3 Kant makes the enormous

"... that no differences among our sensations are determined by
any differences in the non-ego (for to say that they are so determined
is to say that the form under which the non-ego exists produces an
effect upon the ego) ; and as it similarly follows that the order of
coexistence and sequence among these sensations is not determined
by any order in the non-ego ; we are compelled to conclude that all
these differences and changes in the ego are self-determined."

Kant's argument in the Dissertation is exactly of this

"Objects do not strike the senses by their form. In order,
therefore, that the various impressions from the object acting on the
sense may coalesce into some whole of representation, there is
required an inner principle of the mind through which in accordance
with stable and innate laws that manifold may take on some form." 4

In the paragraph before us Kant may, at first sight, seem
to offer an argument. He is really only restating his
premiss. " That wherein alone sensations can be arranged
(sick ordnen 5 ) and placed in a certain form cannot itself again
be sensation." Now, of course, if the term sensation is to be
limited to the sense qualities, i.e. to content or matter, con-
ceived as existing apart from all formal relations, the formal
elements cannot possibly be sensational. The legitimacy of

1 P- 73-

2 Cf. Stout: Manual of Psychology (3rd edition), pp. 465-6. "We find that
the definite apprehension of an order of coexistence, as such, arises and develops
only in connection with that peculiar aspect of sense-experience which we have
called extensity, and more especially the extensity of sight and touch. Two
sounds or a sound and a smell may be presented as coexistent in the sense of
being simultaneous ; but taken by themselves apart from association with
experiences of touch and sight, they are not apprehended as spatially juxtaposed
or separated by a perceived spatial interval or as having perceived spatial
direction and distance relatively to each other. Such relations can only be
perceived or imagined, except perhaps in a very rudimentary way, when the
external object is determined for us as an extensive whole by the extensity of
the same presentation through which we apprehend it."

3 Principles of Psychology, 399, cited by Vaihinger. 4 4.

5 Sich ordnen has here, in line with common German usage, the force of a
passive verb.


that limitation is, however, the question at issue. It cannot
be thus decided by an arbitrary verbal distinction.

"Were the contention that the relations of sensations are not
themselves sensed correct, the inference to the pure apriority of the
form of our perception would be inevitable. For sensation is the
sole form of interaction between consciousness and reality. . . . But
that contention is false. The relations of sensations, their deter-
mined coexistence and sequence, impress consciousness, just as do
the sensations. We feel this impression in the compulsion which
the determinateness of the empirical manifolds lays upon the per-
ceiving consciousness. The mere affection of consciousness by these
relations does not, indeed, by itself suffice for their apprehension ;
but neither does it suffice for the apprehension of the sensation
itself. Thus there is in these respects no difference between the
matter and the form of appearance." l

In this way, then, by means of his definition of sensation,
Kant surreptitiously introduces his fundamental assumption.
That assumption reappears as the conclusion that since the
form of appearance cannot be sensation, it does not arise
through the action of the object, and consequently must be
a priori. Though the paragraph seems to offer an argu-
ment in support of the apriority of space and time, it is
found on examination merely to unfold a position adopted
without the slightest attempt at proof. 2

The form of appearance must lie ready in the mind. 3
Comment upon this, in order to be adequate, had best take
the form of a systematic discussion of Kant's views, here and
elsewhere, of space as an a priori form of intuition. As already
stated, the definition which Kant gives of intuition as know-
ledge which stands in immediate relation to objects applies
only to empirical intuition. Though by the term object Kant,
in so far as he is definite, means content, that content is such
as can arise only through the action of some independent
object upon the sensibility. In other words, the content
apprehended must be sensuous. Now such a view of intuition
obviously does not apply to pure intuition. As the conclud-
ing line of the paragraph before us states, pure intuition " can
be contemplated in separation from all sensation ; " and as the
next paragraph adds, it exists in the mind "without any
actual object of the senses." Yet Kant does not mean to
imply that it is without content of any kind. " This pure

1 Riehl : Kriticismus (1876-1879) ii. Erster Theil, p. 104. As already noted,
Kant tacitly admits this in regard to time relations of coexistence and sequence.

He continues, however, to deny it in regard to space relations.

2 Cf. below, pp. 101-2, 105. 3 A 20 B 34.


form of sensibility may also itself be called pure intuition." *
" It can be known before all actual perception, and for that
reason is called pure intuition." 2 Though, therefore, pure
intuition has an intrinsic content, and is the immediate
apprehension of that content, it stands in no relation to any
actual independent object. The content as well as the form
is a priori. That, however, raises wider questions, and these
we must now discuss.

Here, as in most of his fundamental positions, Kant enter-
tains divergent and mutually contradictory doctrines. Only
in his later utterances does he in any degree commit himself
to one consistent view. The position to which he finally
inclines must not, however, be allowed to dominate the in-
terpretation, of his earlier statements. The Aesthetic calls
for its own separate exegesis, quite as if it formed by itself
an independent work. Its problems are discussed from a
standpoint more or less peculiar to itself. The commentator
has the twofold task of stating its argumentation both in
its conflict with, and in its relation to, the other parts of the

One essential difference between Kant's earlier and later
treatments of space is that in his earlier utterances it is
viewed almost exclusively as a psychological a priori. The
logical aspect of the problem first receives anything like
adequate recognition in the Analytic. If we keep this im-
portant fact in mind, two distinct and contradictory views
of the psychological nature of space intuition can be traced
throughout the Aesthetic. On one view, it antedates ex-
perience as an actual, completed, conscious intuition. On
the other view, it precedes experience only as a potential dis-
position. We rule ourselves out from understanding Kant's
most explicit utterances if we refuse to recognise the
existence of both views. Kant's commentators have too
frequently shut their eyes to the first view, and have then
blamed Kant for using misleading expressions. It is always
safer to take Kant quite literally. He nearly always means
exactly what he says at the time when he says it. Frequently
he holds views which run completely counter to present-day
psychology, and on several occasions he flatly contradicts
what he has with equal emphasis maintained in other con-
texts. The aspects of Kant's problems are so complex and
various, and he is so preoccupied in doing complete justice

\A 20 =B 34.

2 A 42 = B 60. Cf. Dissertation^ 12 : [" Space and time, the objects of pure
mathematics,] are not only formal principles of all intuition, but themselves
original intuitions. "


to each in turn, that the question of the mutual consistency
of his results is much less considered than is ideally desirable.
The two views can be more explicitly formulated. The
first view alone is straightforward and unambiguous. Space
lies ready (liegt bereif} in the mind, i.e. it does not arise.
Prior even to sense-experience it exists as a conscious intuition.
For this reason it can be contemplated apart from all sensa-
tion. It still remains when all sense content is thought away,
and yet is not a mere form. In independence of the sensuous
manifold it possesses a pure manifold of its own. The ground
thesis of the second view that space, prior to sense-experience,
exists only as a permanent endowment of the mind is like-
wise unambiguous. But in its development Kant throws
consistency to the winds. The possible ways in which, on
the second view, consciousness of space may be gained, can
be tabulated as follows :

(a) By reflection upon the activity of the mind in the
construction of experience, yielding the intuition of a
pure manifold ; or (fr) by reflection upon the space-
endowed products of experience. 1 The latter mode of
reflection may reveal :

(a) A pure manifold distinct from the manifold of

sense ; or
(/?) Space as a form of the sensuous manifold.

There are thus three different ways (a, a, /?) in which the
second view can be developed : (a) represents the view of
the Dissertation (1770), of the reply to Eberhard (1790), and
of those parts of the first edition's deduction of the categories
which are of very early origin ; (a) represents the final
standpoint of the Analytic ; (/?), the prevailing view of the
present day, is nowhere accepted by Kant. 2

Kant's utterances in the Aesthetic are all of them coloured
by the first main view. We can best approach them by way
of the contrasted teaching of the Dissertation of 1770. The
teaching there formulated practically coincides, as above
stated, with (a) of the second main view. Space, he main-
tains, is neither innate nor acquired from sense-experience.

"Certainly both conceptions [of time and of space] are un-
doubtedly acquired, not indeed by abstraction from our sensations
of objects (for sensation gives the matter, not the form of human

1 A 196 = 6 241 ; A 293 = B 349.

2 That is to say, in his published writings. It finds expression in one, and
only one, of the Reflexionen (ii. 410 : " Both space and time are nothing but
combinations of sensuous impressions ").


cognition), but from the mind's own action in co-ordinating its sensa-
tions in accordance with unchanging laws. Each represents, as it
were, an immutable type, and so can be known intuitively. Sensa-
tions excite this act of mind but do not contribute to the intuition.
There is here nothing innate except this law of the mind according
to which it conjoins in a certain manner the sensations derived from
the presence of some object." l

How this view is to be reconciled with the contention,
no less explicitly maintained, 2 that space is not only a form
of intuition but itself a pure intuition, Kant does not make
clear. Reflection upon an activity of the mind may yield the
representation of space as a form ; it is difficult to comprehend
how it should also yield an a priori content.

Kant nowhere in the Critique directly discusses the
question whether the representation of space is innate or
acquired. Such suggestions as occur refer (with the solitary
exceptions of A 196 = B 241 and B 166 fT.) 3 only to the cate-
gories, 4 or as in the Prolegomena 5 to the Ideas of reason. But
in 1790 Kant in his reply to Eberhard 6 again formulates the
view of the Dissertation. The Critique allows, he there says,
of no innate representations. All, without exception, are
acquired. But of certain representations there is an original
acquisition (ursprilngliche Erwerbung]. Their ground (Grund]
is inborn. In the case of space this ground is the mind's
peculiar capacity for acquiring sensations in accordance with
its subjective constitution. 7

"This first formal ground is alone inborn, not the space representa-
tion itself. For it always requires impressions to determine the
faculty of knowledge to the representation of an object (which in
every case is its own action). Thus arises the formal intuition,
which we name space, as an originally acquired representation (the
form of outer objects in general), the ground of which (as mere
receptivity) is likewise inborn, and the acquisition of which long
antedates the determinate conception of things which are in accord-
ance with this form." 8

That last remark is confusing. Kant cannot mean that
the representation of space is acquired prior to sense -
experience, but only that since the mind gains it by reflection
upon its own activity, it is among the first things to be

1 15, Coroll. at the end. 2 Cf. 12, quoted above, p. 89 n. 2.

3 There also Kant teaches that the representation of space is gained from the
space-endowed objects of experience.

4 Cf. Bi. s 43 .

6 Ueber eine Entdeckung nach der alle neue Kritik der reinen Kritik dtirch
eine dltere entbehrlich geniacht werden soil.

7 Op. cit. W. viii. pp. 221-2. 8 Loc. cit. p. 222.


apprehended an extremely questionable assertion, could the
premisses be granted. If "the determinate conception of
things " comes late, still later must come the determinate
conception of anything so abstract as pure space. The above
passage thus repeats without essential modification the teach-
ing of the Dissertation, and is open to the same objections.
This teaching coincides with that of Leibniz in his Nouveaux
Essais ; and in formulating it in the Dissertation Kant was
very probably influenced by Leibniz. Though it is an im-
provement upon the more extreme forms of the Cartesian
doctrine of innate ideas, it does not go sufficiently far.

Now while Kant thus in 1770 and in 1790 so emphatically
teaches that the representation of space is not innate, he none
the less, in the intermediate period represented by the Aesthetic^
would seem to maintain the reactionary view. Space is no
mere potential disposition. As a conscious representation it
lies ready in the mind. What, then, were the causes which
constrained Kant to go back upon his own better views and to
adopt so retrograde a position? The answer must be con-
jectural, but may perhaps be found in the other main point in
which the teaching of the Aesthetic is distinguished from that
of the Dissertation. Throughout the Critique Kant insists
that space is a form of receptivity. It is given to the mind.
It has nothing to do with spontaneity or understanding,
and therefore cannot be acquired by reflection upon any
activity of the mind. But neither can it, as a priori, be
acquired from without. Consequently it cannot be acquired
at all. But if given, and yet not acquired, it must as a
representation lie ready in the mind from the very birth of
consciousness. Constrained by such reasoning, Kant views it
as given in all its completeness just as truly as is a sensation
of colour or sound. This conclusion may not be satisfactory.
Kant's candid recognition of it is, however, greatly preferable
to the blurring of the issue by most of his commentators.

Kant came, no doubt, to the more consistent position of
the Aesthetic chiefly through further reflection upon the argu-
ments of the Dissertation? and especially by recognition of the
fact that though reflection upon an activity of the mind may
be regarded as yielding a form of intuition, it can hardly be
capable of yielding a pure manifold which can be substituted
for, and take the place of, the manifold of sense. There are
for Kant only two ways of escape from this unhappy quandary :
(a} Either he must return to the Dissertation position, and
admit that the mind is active in the construction of space.

1 Especially those which he had offered in support of the contention that pure
mathematical science is intuitive, not merely conceptual.


This he does in the 1790 reply to Eberhard, but only by mis-
representing his own teaching in the Critique. In order con-
sistently to maintain that space is acquired by reflection upon
an activity of the mind, he would have to recast the entire
Aesthetic, as well as much of the Analytic, and to do so in
ways which cannot genuinely harmonise with the main
tendencies of his teaching. 1 (b) No such obstacle lay in the
way of an alternative modification of his position. Kant
might very easily have given up the contention that space is
a pure intuition. If he had been willing to recognise that the
sole possible manifold of intuition is sensuous, he could then
have maintained that though space is innate as a potential
form of receptivity, it is acquired only through reflection upon
the space-endowed products of sensibility. So obvious are
the advantages of this position, so completely does it harmonise
with the facts of experience and with the teaching of modern
psychology, and so obscure are the various passages in which
Kant touches on this central issue, that many of his most
competent commentators are prepared to regard it as being
the actual teaching of the Critique. The evidence 2 seems to
me, however, to refute this interpretation of Kant's position.
The traditional, Cartesian, semi-mystical worship of mathe-
matical truth, as altogether independent of the contingencies
of sense-experience, and as a body of knowledge absolutely
distinct in origin from the merely empirical sciences, influences
Kant's thinking even at the very moment when he is main-
taining, in opposition to the Cartesians, that its subject matter

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 15 of 72)