Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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Vaihinger : Philos. Monatshefte, 1883, p. 501 ff.

6 Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding (sec. xii. pt. ii. at the end).

7 Sixth edition, pp. 132, 214, 243 ff.


the former Kant would learn of Berkeley's empirical view
of space and also of the sceptical tendencies of his idealist
teaching. From it he might also very naturally infer that
Berkeley denies all reality to objects. By Beattie Kant would
be confirmed in this latter view, and also in his contention
that Berkeley is unable to supply a criterion for distinguishing
between reality and dreams. Kant may also have received
some impressions regarding Berkeley from Hamann.

To take Kant's criticisms of Berkeley more in detail. In
the first edition of the Critique^ Kant passes two criticisms,
without, however, mentioning Berkeley by name : first, that he
overlooks the problem of time, and, like Descartes, ascribes
complete reality to the objects of inner sense. This is the
cause of a second error, namely, that he views the objects of
outer sense as mere illusion (blosser Schein). Proceeding,
Kant argues that inner and outer sense are really in the same
position. Though they yield only appearances, these appear-
ances are conditioned by things in themselves. Through this
relation to things in themselves they are distinguished from
all merely subjective images. Berkeley is again referred to
in the fourth Paralogism? His idealism is distinguished
from that of Descartes. The one is dogmatic ; the other is
sceptical. The one denies the existence of matter ; the other
only doubts whether it is possible to prove it. Berkeley claims,
indeed, that there are contradictions in the very conception of
matter; and Kant remarks that this is an objection which he
will have to deal with in the section on the Antinomies. But
this promise Kant does not fulfil ; and doubtless for the reason
that, however unwilling he may be to make the admission,
on this point his own teaching, especially in the Dialectic, fre-
quently coincides with that of Berkeley. So little, indeed,
is Kant concerned in the first edition to defend his position
against the accusation of subjectivism, that in this same
section he praises the sceptical idealist as a " benefactor of
human reason."

" He compels us, even in the smallest advances of ordinary ex-
perience, to keep on the watch, lest we consider as a well-earned
possession what we perhaps obtain only in an illegitimate manner.
We are now in a position to appreciate the value of the objections
of the idealist. They drive us by main force, unless we mean to
contradict ourselves in our commonest assertions, to view all our
perceptions, whether we call them inner or outer, as a consciousness
only of what is dependent on our sensibility. They also compel us
to regard the outer objects of these perceptions not as things in

1 A 38. 2 A 37?i


themselves, but only as representations, of which, as of every other
representation, we can become immediately conscious, and which
are entitled outer because they depend on what we call ' outer sense '
whose intuition is space. Space itself, however, is nothing but an
inner mode of representation in which certain perceptions are con-
nected with one another." l

These criticisms are restated in A 491-2 = B 519-20, with
the further addition that in denying the existence of extended
beings " the empirical idealist " removes the possibility of
distinguishing between reality and dreams. This is a new
criticism. Kant is no longer referring to the denial of un-
knowable things in themselves. He is now maintaining that
only the Critical standpoint can supply an immanent criterion
whereby real experiences may be distinguished from merely
subjective happenings. This point is further insisted upon in
the Prolegomena? but is nowhere developed with any direct
reference to Berkeley's own personal teaching. Kant assumes
as established that any such criterion must rest upon the
a priori ; and in this connection Berkeley is conveniently made
to figure as a thoroughgoing empiricist.

The Critique, on its publication, was at once attacked,
especially in the Garve-Feder review, as presenting an idealism
similar to that of Berkeley. As Erdmann has shown, the
original plan of the Prolegomena was largely modified in order
to afford opportunity for reply to this " unpardonable and
almost intentional misconception." 3 Kant's references to
Berkeley, direct and indirect, now for the first time manifest
a polemical tone, exaggerating in every possible way the
difference between their points of view. Only the transcend-
ental philosophy can establish the possibility of a priori know-
ledge, and so it alone can afford a criterion for distinguishing
between realities and dreams. It alone will account for the
possibility of geometrical science ; Berkeley's idealism would
render the claims of that science wholly illusory. The Critical
idealism transcends experience only so far as is required to
discover the conditions which make empirical cognition
possible ; Berkeley's idealism is * visionary ' and ' mystical.' 4
Even sceptical idealism now comes in for severe handling. It
may be called " dreaming idealism " ; it makes things out of

1 A 377-8. Though Kant here distinguishes between perceptions and their
<( outer objects," the latter are none the less identified with mental representations.

2 Cf. below, p. 305 ff.

3 Prolegomena, 13, Remark III. ; and Anhang ( W. iv. p. 374).

4 Kant's description of Berkeley's idealism as visionary and mystical is doubt-
less partly due to the old-time association of idealism in Kant's mind with
the spiritualistic teaching of Swedenborg (W. ii. p. 372). This association of
ideas was further reinforced owing to his having classed Berkeley along with Plato.


mere representations, and like idealism in its dogmatic form it
virtually denies the existence of the only true reality, that of
things in themselves. Sceptical idealism misinterprets space
by making it empirical, dogmatic idealism by regarding it as
an attribute of the real. Both entirely ignore the problem of
time. For these reasons they underestimate the powers of
sensibility (to which space and time belong as a priori forms),
and exaggerate those of pure understanding.

" The position of all genuine idealists from the Eleatics to Berkeley
is contained in this formula : 'All cognition through the senses and
experience is nothing but mere illusion, and only in the ideas of
pure understanding and Reason is there truth.' The fundamental
principle ruling all my idealism, on the contrary, is this: 'All cogni-
tion of things solely from pure understanding or pure Reason is
nothing but mere illusion and only in experience is there truth.' " l

This is an extremely inadequate statement of the Critical
standpoint, but it excellently illustrates Kant's perverse inter-
pretation of Berkeley's teaching.

To these criticisms Kant gives less heated but none the
less explicit expression in the second edition of the Critique.
He is now much more careful to avoid subjectivist modes of
statement. His phenomenalist tendencies are reinforced, and
come to clearer expression of all that they involve. The
fourth Paralogism with its sympathetic treatment of em-
pirical idealism is omitted, and in addition to the above
passage Kant inserts a new section, entitled Refutation of
Idealism, in which he states his position in a much more
adequate manner.

IV. B 71. Kant continues the argument of A 39.2 If
space and time condition all existence, they will condition
even divine existence, and so must render God's omniscience,
which as such must be intuitive, not discursive, difficult of
conception. Upon this point Kant is more explicit in the

" Whatever is, is somewhere and sometime, is a spurious axiom. . . .
By this spurious principle all beings, even though they be known
intellectually, are restricted in their existence by conditions of space
and time. Philosophers therefore discuss every form of idle question
regarding the locations in the corporeal universe of substances that
are immaterial and of which for that very reason there can be no
sensuous intuition nor any possible spatial representation or regard-

1 Prolegomena, Anhang, W. iv. p. 374 ; Eng. trans, p. 147.

2 Cf. above, pp. 140-1.

3 27. In translating Kant's somewhat difficult Latin I have found helpful
the English translation of the Dissertation by W. J. Eckoff (New York, 1894).


ing the seat of the soul, and the like. And since the sensuous
mixes with the intellectual about as badly as square with round, it
frequently happens that the one disputant appears as holding a
sieve into which the other milks the he -goat. The presence of
immaterial things in the corporeal world is virtual, not local,
although it may conveniently be spoken of as local. Space con-
tains the conditions of possible interaction only when it is between
material bodies. What, however, in immaterial substances con-
stitutes the external relations of force between them or between
them and bodies, obviously eludes the human intellect. . . . But
when men reach the conception of a highest and extra-mundane
Being, words cannot describe the extent to which they are deluded
by these shades that flit before the mind. They picture God as
present in a place : they entangle Him in the world where He is
supposed to fill all space at once. They hope to make up for the
[spatial] limitation they thus impose by thinking of God's place per
eminentiam, i,e. as infinite. But to be present in different places at
the same time is absolutely impossible, since different places are
mutually external to one another, and consequently what is in several
places is outside itself, and is therefore present to itself outside itself
which is a contradiction in terms. As to time, men have got into
an inextricable maze by releasing it from the laws that govern sense
knowledge, and what is more, transporting it beyond the confines of
the world to the Being that dwells there, as a condition of His very
existence. They thus torment their souls with absurd questions, for
instance, why God did not fashion the world many centuries earlier.
They persuade themselves that it is easily possible to conceive how
God may discern present things, i.e. what is actual in the time in
which He is. But they consider that it is difficult to comprehend
how He should foresee the things about to be, i.e. the actual in the
time in which He is not yet. They proceed as if the existence of
the Necessary Being descended successively through all the moments
of a supposed time, and having already exhausted part of His dura-
tion, foresaw the eternal life that still lies before Him together with
the events which [will] occur simultaneously [with that future life of
His]. All these speculations vanish like smoke when the notion of
time has been rightly discerned."

The references in B 71-2 to the intuitive understanding
are among the many signs of Kant's increased preoccupation,
during the preparation of the second edition, with the pro-
blems which it raises. Such understanding is not sensuous,
but intellectual ; it is not derivative, but original ; the object
itself is created in the act of intuition. Or, as Kant's position
may perhaps be more adequately expressed, all of God's
activities are creative, and are inseparable from the non-
sensuous intuition whereby both they and their products are
apprehended by Him. Kant's reason for again raising this
point may be Mendelssohn's theological defence of the reality


of space in his Morgenstunden. 1 Mendelssohn has there
argued that just as knowledge of independent reality is con-
firmed by the agreement of different senses, and is rendered
the more certain in proportion to the number of senses which
support the belief, so the validity of our spatial perceptions
is confirmed in proportion as men are found to agree in this
type of experience with one another, with the animals, and
with angelic beings. Such inductive inference will culminate
in the proof that even the Supreme Being apprehends things
in this same spatial manner. 2 Kant's reply is that however
general the intuition of space may be among finite beings,
it is sensuous and derivative, and therefore must not be predi-
cated of a Divine Being. For obvious reasons Kant has not
felt called upon to point out the inadequacy of this inductive
method to the solution of Critical problems. In A 42 Kant,
arguing that our forms of intuition are subjective, claims
that they do not necessarily belong to all beings, though
they must belong to all men. 3 He is quite consistent in now
maintaining 4 that their characteristics, as sensuous and deri-
vative, do not necessarily preclude their being the common
possession of all finite beings.


The purpose, as already noted, of the above sections
II. to IV., as added in the second edition, is to afford 'con-
firmation ' of the ideality of space and time. That being so,
it is noticeable that Kant has omitted all reference to an
argument embodied, for this same purpose, in 13 of the
Prolegomena. The matter is of sufficient importance to call
for detailed consideration. 5

As the argument of the Prolegomena is somewhat com-
plicated, it is advisable to approach it in the light of its
history in Kant's earlier writings. It was to his teacher
Martin Knutzen that Kant owed his first introduction to
Newton's cosmology ; and from Knutzen he inherited the
problem of reconciling Newton's mechanical view of nature
and absolute view of space with the orthodox Leibnizian
tenets. In his first published work 6 Kant seeks to prove

1 Besides the internal evidence of the passage before us, we also have Kant's
own mention of Mendelssohn in this connection in notes (to A 43 and A 66) in
his private copy of the first edition of the Critique. Cf. Erdmann's Nachtrdge zu
Kant 's Kritik, xx. and xxxii. ; and above, p. 1 1.

2 Cf. Morgenstunden, Bd. ii. of Gesammelte Schriften (1863), pp. 246, 288.

3 Cf. above, p. 116. 4 B 72.

8 Upon this subject cf. Vaihinger's exhaustive discussion in ii. p. 518 ff.
e Gedanken von der wahren Schdtzung der lebendigen Krdfte (1747).



that the very existence of space is due to gravitational force,
and that its three-dimensional character is a consequence of
the specific manner in which gravity acts. Substances, he
teaches, are unextended. Space results from the connection
and order established between them by the balancing of their
attractive and repulsive forces. And as the law of gravity
is merely contingent, other modes of interaction, and there-
fore other forms of space, with more than three dimensions,
must be recognised as possible.

" A science of all these possible kinds of space would undoubtedly
be the highest enterprise which a finite understanding could under-
take in the field of geometry." l

In the long interval between 1747 and 1768 Kant continued
to hold to some such compromise, retaining Leibniz's view
that space is derivative and relative, and rejecting Newton's
view that it is prior to, and pre-conditions, all the bodies that
exist in it. But in that latter year he published a pamphlet 2
in which, following in the steps of the mathematician, Euler, 3
he drew attention to certain facts which would seem quite
conclusively to favour the Newtonian as against the Leibnizian
interpretation of space. The three dimensions of space are
primarily distinguishable by us only through the relation in
which they stand to our body. By relation to the plane
that is at right angles to our body we distinguish 'above'
and ' below ' ; and similarly through the other two planes we
determine what is ' right ' and * left,' ' in front ' and * behind.'
Through these distinctions we are enabled to define differences
which cannot be expressed in any other manner. All species
of hops so Kant maintains wind themselves around their
supports from left to right, whereas all species of beans take
the opposite direction. All snail shells, with some three
exceptions, turn, in descending from their apex downwards,
from left to right. This determinate direction of movement,
natural to each species, like the difference in spatial configura-
tion between a right and a left hand, or between a right hand
and its reflection in a mirror, involves in all cases a reference
of the given object to the wider space within which it falls,
and ultimately to space as a whole. Only so can its determin-
ate character be distinguished from its opposite counterpart.
For as Kant points out, though the right and the left hand
are counterparts, that is to say, objects which have a common

1 Op. cit. 10. Cf. above, p. 117 ff.

2 Von deni ersten Grunde des Unterschiedes der Gegenden im Raume.

3 Euler, Reflexions sur Pespace et le temps (1748). Vaihinger (ii. p. 530)
points out that Kant may also have been here influenced by certain passages in the
controversy between Leibniz and Clarke.


definition so long as the arrangement of the parts of each is
determined in respect to its central line of reference, they are
none the less inwardly incongruent, since the one can never be
made to occupy the space of the other. As he adds in the
Prolegomena, the glove of one hand cannot be used for the
other hand. This inner incongruence compels us to distinguish
them as different, and this difference is only determinable by
location of each in a single absolute space that constrains
everything within it to conform to the conditions which it
prescribes. In three-dimensional space everything must have
a right and a left side, and must therefore exhibit such inner
differences as those just noted. Spatial determinations are
not, as Leibniz teaches, subsequent to, and dependent upon,
the relations of bodies to one another ; it is the former that
determine the latter.

" The reason why that which in the shape of a body exclusively
concerns its relation to pure space can be apprehended by us only
through its relation to other bodies, is that absolute space is not an
object of any outer sensation, but a fundamental conception which
makes all such differences possible. " '

Kant enforces his point by arguing that if the first portion
of creation were a human hand, it would have to be either a
right or a left hand. Also, a different act of creation would
be demanded according as it was the one or the other. But
if the hand alone existed, and there were no pre-existing
space, there would be no inward difference in the relations of
its parts, and nothing outside it to differentiate it. It would
therefore be entirely indeterminate in nature, i.e. would suit
either side of the body, which is impossible.

This adoption of the Newtonian view of space in 1768
was an important step forward in the development of Kant's
teaching, but could not, in view of the many metaphysical
difficulties to which it leads, be permanently retained ; and in
the immediately following year a year which, as he tells
us, 2 " gave great light " he achieved the final synthesis which
enabled him to combine all that he felt to be essential in
the opposing views. Though space is an absolute and pre-
conditioning source of differences which are not conceptually
resolvable, it is a merely subjective form of our sensibility.

Now it is significant that when Kant expounds this view
in the Dissertation of 1770, the argument from incongruous
counterparts is no longer employed to establish the absolute

1 Loc. cit., at the end.

2 In the Dorpater manuscript, quoted by Erdmann in his edition of the
Prolegomena, p. xcvii //.


and pre-conditioning character of space, but only to prove
that it is a pure non-conceptual intuition.

"Which things in a given space lijb towards one side, and which
lie towards the other, cannot by arty intellectual penetration be
discursively described or reduced to, intellectual marks. For in
solids that are completely similar and \ equal, but incongruent, such
as the right and the left hand (conceived solely in terms of their
extension), or spherical triangles from two opposite hemispheres,
there is a diversity which renders impossible the coincidence of
their spatial boundaries. This holds true, even though they can be
substituted for one another in all those respects which can be
expressed in marks that are capable of being made intelligible to
the mind through speech. It is therefore evident that the diversity,
that is, the incongruity, can only be apprehended by some species
of pure intuition." l

There is no mention of this argument in the first edition
of the Critique, and when it reappears in the Prolegomena it
is interpreted in the light of an additional premiss, and is
made to yield a very different conclusion from that drawn
in the Dissertation, and a directly opposite conclusion from that
drawn in 1768. Instead of being employed to establish either
the intuitive character of space or its absolute existence, it is
cited as evidence in proof of its subjectivity. As in 1768, it
is spoken of as strange and paradoxical, and many of the
previous illustrations are used. The paradox consists in the
fact that bodies and spherical figures, conceptually considered,
can be absolutely identical, and yet for intuition remain
diverse. This paradox, Kant now maintains 2 in opposition
to his 1768 argument, proves that such bodies and the
space within which they fall are not independent existences.
For were they things in themselves, they would be adequately
cognisable through the pure understanding, and could not
therefore conflict with its demands. Being conceptually
identical, they would necessarily be congruent in every
respect. But if space is merely the form of sensibility, the
fact that in space the part is only possible through the whole
will apply to everything in it, and so will generate a funda-
mental difference between conception and intuition. 3 Things
in themselves are, as such, unconditioned, and cannot, there-
fore, be dependent upon anything beyond themselves. The
objects of intuition, in order to be possible, must be merely

1 15 C.

2 So also in the Metaphysical First Principles of Natural Science (1786),
Erstes Hauptstiick, Erklarung 2, Anmerkung 3.

3 Cf. above, p. 105.


Now the new premiss which differentiates this argument
from that of 1768, and which brings Kant to so opposite a
conclusion, is one which is entirely out of harmony with the
teaching of the Critique. In this section of the Prolegomena
Kant has unconsciously reverted to the dogmatic standpoint
of the Dissertation, and is interpreting understanding in the
illegitimate manner which he so explicitly denounces in the
section on Amphiboly.

" The mistake . . . lies in employing the understanding contrary
to its vocation transcendentally \i.e. transcendently] and in making
objects, i.e. possible intuitions, conform to concepts, not concepts
to possible intuitions, on which alone their objective validity rests." *

The question why no mention of this argument is made
in the second edition of the Critique is therefore answered.
Kant had meantime, in the interval between 1783 and I787, 2
become aware of the inconsistency of the position. So far
from being a paradox, this assumed conflict rests upon a
false view of the function of the understanding. 3 The relevant
facts may serve to confirm the view of space as an intuition
in which the whole precedes the parts ; 4 but they can afford
no evidence either of its absoluteness or of its ideality. In
1768 they seem to Kant to prove its absoluteness, only
because the other alternative has not yet occurred to him.
In 1783 they seem to him to prove its ideality, only because
he has not yet completely succeeded in emancipating his
thinking from the dogmatic rationalism of the Dissertation.

As already noted, 5 Kant's reason for here asserting that
space is intuitive in nature, namely, that in it the parts are
conditioned by the whole, is also his reason for elsewhere
describing it as an Idea of Reason. The further implication
of the argument of the Prolegomena, that in the noumenal
sphere the whole is made possible only by its unconditioned
parts, raises questions the discussion of which must be deferred.
The problem recurs in the Dialectic in connection with Kant's

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 23 of 72)