Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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purpose in view of which the argument is propounded. Kant
is seeking to prove that we can derive from the more accessible
procedure of the discursive understanding a clue sufficient
for determining those pre- logical activities which have to
be postulated in terms of his new Copernican hypothesis.
But though that is the real intention of this section, it has,
unfortunately, not been explicitly recognised, and can be
divined by the reader only after he has mastered the later
portions of the Analytic. Kant's argument has also the further
defect that no sufficient statement is given either of the nature
of the discursive concept or of its relation to judgment.
These lacunae we must fill out as best we can from his
utterances elsewhere. I shall first state Kant's view of the
distinction between discursive and synthetic thinking, and
then examine his treatment of the nature of the concept and
of its relation to judgment.

As already noted, 2 the distinction/between transcendental
and general logic marks for Kant ^ill-important differences
in the use of the understanding. /In the one employment

1 The opening statement, A 67 = B 92, that hitherto understanding has been
defined only negatively, is not correct, and would seem to prove that this section
was written prior to the introduction to the Analytic, cf. above, p. 167.

2 See above, pp. 170-1.


the understanding, by creative synthetic activities, generates \
from the given manifold the complex objects of sense- \
experience. In so doing it interprets and organises the \
manifold through concepts which originate from within itself. I
By the other it discriminates and compares, and thereby /
derives from the content of sense-experience the generic con- /
cepts of the traditional logic. Now Kant would seem to
argue in this section that if the difference in the origin of the
concepts in those two cases be left out of account, and if we
attend only to the quite general character of their respective
activities, they will be found to agree in one fundamental
feature, namely, that they express functions of unity. Each
is based on the spontaneity of thought on the spontaneity of
synthetic interpretation on the one hand, of discrimination and
comparison on the other. This feature common to the two
types of activity can be further defined as being the unity of
the act whereby a multiplicity is comprehended under a
single representation. In the judgment " every metal is a
body " the variety of metals is reduced to unity through
the concept body. In an analogous . manner the synthetic
understanding organises a manifold of intuition through some
such form of unity as that of substance and attribute. That
is the category which underlies the above proposition, and
which renders possible the specific unity of the total judgment.
To quote the sentence with which in a later section Kant
introduces his table of categories :

" The same understanding, and by the same operations by which
in concepts, by means of analytic unity, it has produced the logical
form of a judgment, introduces, by means of the synthetic unity of
the manifold in intuition in general, a transcendental element into
its representations. . . ." *

Now Kant's exposition is extremely misleading. As his
later utterances show, his real argument is by no means that
which is here given. We shall have occasion to observe that
Kant is unable to prove, and does not ultimately profess to
prove, that it is " the same understanding," and still less that
it is " the same operations," which are exercised in discursive
and in creative thinking. But this is a criticism which it
would be premature to introduce at this stage. We must
proceed to it by way of preliminary analysis of the above
exposition. Kant's argument does not rest upon any such
analogy as that just drawn, between the concepts formed by
consciously comparing contents and the concepts which
originate from within the understanding itself. Both, it is

1 A 79 = B 105. ' Element' translates the misleading term ' Inhalt.'



true, are functions of unity, but otherwise there is, according
to Kant's own teaching, not the least resemblance between
them. A generic or abstract concept expresses common
qualities found in each of a number of complex contents. It
is itself a content. A category, on the other hand, is always
a function of unity whereby contents are interpreted. It is
not a content, but a form for the organisation of content. 1
It can gain expression only in the total act of judging, not in
any one element such as the discursive concept. But though
the analogy drawn by Kant thus breaks down, his argument
is continued in a new and very different form. It is no
longer made to rest on any supposed resemblance between
discursive and creative thinking, regarded as co-ordinate and
independent activities. It now consists in the proof that the
former presupposes and is conditioned by the latter. Through
study of the understanding in its more accessible discursive
procedure, we may hope to discover the synthetic forms
according to which it has proceeded in its pre-logical activities.
When we determine the various forms of analytic judgment,
the categories which are involved in synthetic thinking reveal
themselves to consciousness.

Thus in spite of Kant's insistence upon the conceptual
predicate, and upon the unity to which it gives expression,
immediately he proceeds to the deduction of the categories,
the emphasis is shifted to the unity which underlies the
judgment as a whole. What constitutes such propositions
as "all bodies are divisible," "every metal is a body," a
unique and separate type of judgment is not the character
of the predicate, but the category of substance and attribute
whereby the predicate is related to the subject. To that
category they owe their specific form ; and it is a function
of unity for which the discursive understanding can never
account. As Kant states in the Prolegomena, if genuine
judgments, that is, judgments that are "objectively valid,"
are analysed,

"... it will be found that they never consist of mere intuitions con-
nected only (as is commonly believed) by comparison in a judgment.
They would be impossible were not a pure concept of the under-

1 Kant's definition of transcendental logic as differing from general logic in
that it does not abstract from a priori content must not be taken as implying that
the categories of understanding are contents, though of a priori nature. As we
shall find, though that is Kant's view of the forms of sense, it is by no means his
view of the categories. They are, he repeatedly insists, merely functions, and
are quite indeterminate in meaning save in so far as a content is yielded to them
by sense. In A 76-7 = 6 102, in distinguishing between the two logics, Kant is
careful to make clear that the a priori content of transcendental logic consists
exclusively of the a priori manifolds of sense.


standing superadded to the concepts abstracted from intuition.
The abstract concepts are subsumed under a pure concept, and
in this manner only can they be connected in an objectively valid
judgment." 1

Thus the analogy between discursive and a priori concepts
is no sooner drawn than it is set aside as irrelevant. Though
generic concepts rest upon functions of unity, and though
(as we shall see immediately) they exist only as factors
in the total act of judging, there is otherwise not the
least resemblance between them and the categories. 2 The
clue to the categories is not to be found in the inherent
characteristics of analytic thinking, or of its specific products
(namely, concepts), but solely in what, after all abstraction,
it must still retain from the products which synthetic thinking
creates. Each type of analytic judgment will be found on
examination to involve some specific function whereby the
conceptual factors are related to, and unified with, the other
elements in the judgment. This function of unity is in each
case an a priori category of the understanding. That is the
thesis which underlies the concluding sentence of this section.

"The functions of the understanding [i.e. the a priori concepts
of understanding] can be discovered in their completeness, if it is
possible to state exhaustively the functions of unity [i.e. the forms
of relation] in judgments."

The adoption of such a position involves, it may be noted,
the giving up of the assertion, which is so emphatically made
in the passage above quoted, that it is by the same activities
that the understanding discursively forms abstract concepts
and creatively organises the manifold of sense. That is in no
respect true. There is no real identity there is not even
analogy between the processes of comparison and abstraction
on the one hand and those of synthetic interpretation on the
other. The former are merely reflective : the latter are
genuinely creative. Discursive activities are conscious pro-
cesses, and are under our control : the synthetic processes,
are non-conscious ; only their finished products appear within
the conscious field. This, however, is to anticipate a conclu-
sion which was among the last to be realised by Kant himself,
namely that there is no proof that these two types of activity
are ascribable to one and the same source. The synthetic
activities as he himself finally came to hold are due to a
faculty of imagination.

1 20, Eng. trans, p. 58.

2 The view of the two as co-ordinate reappears in the Prolegomena ( 20) in a
section the general tendency of which runs directly counter to any such standpoint.


"Synthesis in general ... is the mere result of the power of
imagination, a blind but indispensable function of the soul, without
which we should have no knowledge whatsoever, but of which we
are scarcely ever conscious." l

This sentence occurs in a passage which is undoubtedly
a later interpolation. 2 The " scarcely ever " (selten nur
einrnat} indicates Kant's lingering reluctance to recognise this
fundamental fact, destructive of so much in his earlier views,
even though it completes and reinforces his chief ultimate
conclusions. With this admission Kant also gives up his sole
remaining ground for the contention that there must be a
complete parallelism between discursive and creative thinking.
If they arise from such different sources, we have no right to
assume, without specific proof, that they must coincide in the
forms of their activity. This is a point to which we shall
return in discussing Kant's formulation of the principle which
is supposed to guarantee the completeness of the table of

This unavowed change in point of view is the main cause
of confusion in this section. Its other defects are chiefly
those of omission. Kant fails to develop in sufficient detail
his view of the nature of the discursive concept, or to make
sufficiently clear the grounds for his assertion that conception
as an activity of the understanding is identical with judgment.
To take the former point first. Kant's mode of viewing the
discursive concept finds expression in the following passage
in the Introduction to his Logic : 3

"Human knowledge is on the side of the understanding dis-
cursive ; that is, it takes place by means of ideas which make what
is common to many things the ground of knowledge : and hence
by means of attributes as such. We therefore cognise things only
by means of attributes. An attribute is that in a thing which con-
stitutes part of our cognition of it ; or, what is the same, a partial
conception so far as it is considered as a ground of cognition of the
whole conception. All our concepts, therefore, are attributes, and all
thought is nothing but conception by means of attributes"

The limitations of Kant's view of the concept could hardly
find more definite expression. The only type of judgment
which receives recognition is the categorical, interpreted in
the traditional manner. 4

"To compare something as a mark with a thing, is called 'to judge.'
The thing itself is the subject, the mark [or attribute] is the predi-

A 78 = B 103. 2 Cf. below, pp. 196, 204, 226.

Einleitung, viii., Eng. trans, p. 48. 4 Cf. above, pp. 37 "


cate. The comparison is expressed by the word 'is,' . . . which when
used without qualification indicates that the predicate is a mark [or
attribute] of the subject, but when combined with the sign of nega-
tion states that the predicate is a mark opposed to the subject." 1

Kant's view of analytic thinking is entirely domin-
ated by the substance-attribute teaching of the traditional
logic. A concept must, in its connotation, be an abstracted
attribute, and in its denotation represent a class. Relational
thinking, and the concepts of relation, are ignored. Thus,
in the Aesthetic, as we have already noted, 2 Kant maintains
that since space and time are not generic class concepts they
must be intuitions. This argument, honestly employed by
Kant, shows how completely unconscious he was of the
revolutionary consequences of his new standpoint. Even in
the very act of insisting upon the relational character of the
categories, he still continues to speak of the concept as if it
must necessarily conform to the generic type. In this, as in so
many other respects, transcendental logic is not, as he would
profess, supplementary to general logic ; it is its tacit recanta-
tion. Modern logic, as developed by Lotze, Sigwart, Bradley,
and Bosanquet, is, in large part, the recasting of general logic
in terms of the results reached by Kant's transcendental en-
quiries. Meantime, sufficient has been said to indicate the
strangely limited character of Kant's doctrine of the logical

But on one fundamental point Kant breaks entirely free
from the traditional logic. The following passage occurs in
the above-quoted pamphlet on The Mistaken Subtlety of the
Four Syllogistic Figures :

"It is clear that in the ordinary treatment of logic there is a
serious error in that distinct and complete concepts are treated
before judgments and ratiocinations, although the former are only
possible by means of the latter." " I say, then, first, that a distinct
concept is possible only by means of a judgment, a complete concept
only by means of a ratiocination. In fact, in order that a concept
should be distinct, I must clearly recognise something as an attribute
of a thing, and this is a judgment. In order to have a distinct con-
cept of body, I clearly represent to myself impenetrability as an attri-
bute of it. Now this representation is nothing but the thought, ' a
body is impenetrable.' Here it is to be observed that this judgment
is not the distinct concept itself, but is the act by which it is realised ;
for the idea of the thing which arises after this act is distinct. It
is easy to show that a complete concept is only possible by means
of a ratiocination : for this it is sufficient to refer to the first section

1 The Mistaken Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures (1762). W. ii. p. 47,
Eng. trans, p. 79. 2 Cf. above, pp. 99-100, 106-7.


of this essay. We might say, therefore, that a distinct concept is
one which is made clear by a judgment, and a complete concept
one which is made distinct by a ratiocination. If the completeness
is of the first degree, the ratiocination is simple ; if of the second or
third degree, it is only possible by means of a chain of reasoning
which the understanding abridges in the manner of a sorites. . . .
Secondly, as it is quite evident that the completeness of a concept
and its distinctness do not require different faculties of the mind
(since the same capacity which recognises something immediately
as an attribute in a thing is also employed to recognise in this attri-
bute another attribute, and thus to conceive the thing by means of
a remote attribute), so also it is evident that understanding and
reason, that Us, the power of cognising distinctly and the power of
forming ratiocinations, are not different faculties. Both consist in the
power of judging, but when we judge mediately we reason." ]

In the section before us this same standpoint is maintained,
but is expressed in a much less satisfactory manner. Concepts
are no longer spoken of as complete judgments. In the above
passages Kant always speaks of the concept as the subject of
the proposition ; it is now treated only as a predicate. 2 This
difference is significant. The concept as subject can repre-
sent the judgment as a whole (or at least it does so from the
traditional standpoint to which Kant holds) ; the concept as
predicate is merely one element, even though it be a unifying
element, in the total act of judging. This falling away from
his own maturer standpoint would seem to be due to Kant's
lack of clearness as to the nature of the analogy which he
is here drawing between analytic and synthetic thinking. It
is connected with his mistaken, and merely temporary, com-
parison of a priori with discursive concepts. His position in
1762 alone harmonises with his essential teaching. Now, as
then, he is prepared to view judgment as the sole ultimate
activity of the understanding, and therefore to define under-
standing as the faculty of judging.

But the new Critical standpoint compels Kant to rein-
terpret this definition in a manner which involves a still more
radical transformation of the traditional doctrine. The cate-
gories constitute a unique type of concept, and condition
the processes of discursive thought. They are embodied in
the complex contents from which analytic thinking starts ;
and however far the processes of discursive comparison and
abstraction be carried, one or other of these categories must
still persist, determining the form which the analytic judgment
is to take. The categorical judgment can formulate itself

W. ii. pp. 58-9, Eng. trans, pp. 92-3.
2 Cf. Reflexionen, ii. 599.


only by means of the a priori concept of subject and attribute,
the hypothetical only by means of the pure concept of ground
and consequence, and so with the others. And there are in
consequence just as many categories as there are forms
of the analytic judgment. This is how the principle of the
metaphysical deduction must be interpreted when the later
and deeper results of the transcendental deduction are properly
taken into account. In deducing the forms of the understand-
ing from the modes of discursive judgment Kant is virtually
maintaining that analytic judgment involves the same pro-
blems as does judgment of the synthetic type. The categories
can be derived from the forms of discursive judgment only
because they are the conditions in and through which it
becomes possible.

But though Kant, both here and in the central portions
of the Analytic, seems to be on the very brink of this conclu-
sion, it is never explicitly drawn. As we shall see, 1 it would
have involved the further admission that there is no absolute
guarantee of the completeness of the table of categories, and
no satisfactory method of determining their interrelations.
To the very last general logic is isolated from transcendental
logic. The Critical enquiry is formulated as if it concerned
only such judgments as are explicitly synthetic. The principle
of the metaphysical deduction is not, therefore, stated by
Kant himself in the above manner ; and we have still to
decide the difficult question as to what the principle employed
by Kant in the deduction actually is.

Kant makes a twofold demand upon the principle. It
must enable us to discover the categories, and it must also
in so doing enable us to view them as together forming a
systematic whole, and so as having their completeness
guaranteed by other than merely empirical considerations.
The principle is stated sometimes in a broader and some-
times in a more specific form ; for on this point also Kant
speaks with no very certain voice. 2 The broader formulation
of the principle is that all acts of understanding are judgments,
and that therefore the possible ultimate a priori forms of
understanding are identical with the possible ultimate forms
of the judgment. 3 The more specific and correct formulation
is that to every form of analytic judgment there corresponds
a pure concept of understanding. The first statement of the
principle is obviously inadequate. It merely reformulates the

1 Below, pp. 185-6.

3 The same indefiniteness of statement is discernible in Caird's (i. p. 322 ff. )
and Watson's (Kant Explained, pp. 121-2) discussions of the principle supposed to
be involved.

3 Cf. A8o = B 106.


problem as being a problem not of conception but of judgment.
If a principle is required to guarantee the completeness of our
list of a priori concepts, it will equally be required to guarantee
the completeness of our list of judgments. Even if the above
principle be more explicitly formulated, as in the Prolego-
mena^ where judging is defined as the act of understanding
which comprises all its other acts, it will not enable us to
guarantee the completeness of any list of the forms of judg-
ment or to determine their systematic interrelation. We
are therefore thrown back upon the second view. This,
however, only brings us face to face with the further question,
what principle guarantees the completeness of the table of
analytic judgments. And to that query Kant has absolutely
no answer. The reader's questionings break vainly upon his
invincible belief in the adequacy and finality of the classifica-
tion yielded by the traditional logic.

The fans et origo of all the confusions and obscurities of
this section are thus traceable to Kant's attitude towards
formal logic. He might criticise it for ignoring the inter-
dependence of conception, judgment, and reasoning ; he
might reject the second, third, and fourth syllogistic figures ;
and he might even admit that its classification of the forms
of judgment is not as explicit as might be desired ; but
however many provisos he made and defects he acknowledged,
they were to him merely minor matters, and he accepted its
teaching as complete and final. This unwavering faith in
the fundamental distinctions of the traditional logic was indeed,
as we shall have constant occasion to observe, an ever present
influence in determining alike the general framework and
much of the detail of Kant's Critical teaching. The defects
of the traditional logic were very clearly indicated in his own
transcendental logic. He showed that synthetic thinking is
fundamental ; that by its distinctions the forms and activities
of analytic thought are predetermined ; that judgment in its
various forms can be understood only by a regress upon the
synthetic concepts to which these forms are due ; that notions
are not merely of the generic type, but that there are also
categories of relation. None the less, to the very last, Kant
persisted in regarding general logic as a separate discipline,
and as quite adequate in its current form. He continued to
ignore the fact that the analytic judgment, no less than the
synthetic judgment, demands a transcendental justification.

The resulting situation is strangely perverse. In the very
act of revolutionising the traditional logic, Kant relies upon
its prestige and upon the assumed finality of its results to



make good the shortcomings of the logic which is to displace
it. By Kant's own admission transcendental logic is incap-
able of guaranteeing that completeness upon which, through-
out the whole Critique, so great an emphasis is laid. General
logic is allowed an independent status, sufficient to justify
its authority being appealed to ; and the principle which
is supposed to guarantee the completeness of the table of
categories is so formulated as to contain no suggestion of the
dependence of discursive upon synthetic thinking. Formal
logic, Kant would seem to hold, can supply a criterion for the
classification of the ultimate forms of judgment just because
its task is relatively simple, and is independent of all epistemo-
logical views as to the nature, scope, and conditions of the
thought process. Since formal logic is a completed and per-
fectly a priori science, which has stood the test of 2000 years,
and remains practically unchanged to the present day, its
results can be accepted as final, and can be employed

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 25 of 72)