Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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in the light of the sections in which it does not occur, and,
as thus toned down and tempered to something altogether

1 Its first occurrence in the Critique is in the Aesthetic A 46 = 6 63. It
there signifies the thing in itself.


different from what it really stands for, has been taken as an
essential and characteristic tenet of the Critical philosophy.
It was in the course of an attempt to interpret Kant's entire
argument in the light of his doctrine of the transcendental
object that I first came to detect its absence from all his later
utterances. But it is important to recognise that the difficulties
which would result from its retention are quite insuperable,
and would by themselves, even in the absence of all external
evidence of Kant's rejection of it, compel us to regard it as
a survival of pre-Critical thinking. As Vaihinger does not
seem to have detected the un-Critical character of this doctrine,
it is the more significant that he should, on other grounds,
have felt constrained to regard the passage in which it is
expounded as embodying the earliest stage in the development
of the deduction. He would seem to continue in the orthodox
view so far as to hold that though the doctrine of the transcend-
ental object is here stated in pre-Critical terms, it was per-
manently retained by Kant in altered form.

The doctrine of the transcendental object, as here ex-
pounded, is as follows :

"Appearances are themselves nothing but sensuous representa-
tions which must not be taken as capable of existing in themselves
(an sicti) with exactly the same character (in ebenderselben Art) out-
side our power of representation." J

These sense-representations are our only possible repre-
sentations, and when we speak of an object corresponding to
them, we must be conceiving an object in general, equal to x.

"They have their object, but an object which can never be
intuited by us, and which may therefore be named the non-empirical,
i.e. transcendental object = x." 2

This object is conceived as being that which prevents our
representations from occurring at haphazard, necessitating
their order in such manner that, manifold and varied as they
may be, they can yet be self-consistent in their several group-
ings, and so possess that unity which is essential to the
concept of an object.

"The pure concept of this transcendental object, which in fact
throughout all our knowledge is always one and the same, is that
which can alone confer upon all our empirical concepts relation in
general to an object, i.e. objective reality." 3

1 A 104. 2 A 109. 3 A 109.


What renders this doctrine impossible of permanent
retention was that it allowed of no objective existence
mediate between the merely subjective and the thing in itself.
On such teaching there is no room for the empirical object ;
and immediately upon the recognition of that latter pheno-
menal form of existence in space, Kant was constrained to
recognise that it is in the empirical object, not in the thing in
itself, that the contents of our representations are grounded
and unified. Any other view must involve the application of
the categories, especially those of substance and causality, to
the thing in itself. The entire empirical world has still to be
conceived as grounded in the non-empirical, but that is a very
different contention from the thesis that the thing in itself is
the object arid the sole object of our representations. The
doctrine of the transcendental object has thus a twofold
defect : it advocates an extreme subjectivism, and yet at the
same time applies the categories to the thing in itself.

But the latter consequence is one which could not, at the
stage represented by this section, oe appreciated by Kant.
For, as we shall find, he is endeavouring to solve the problem
of the reference of sense-representation to an object without
assumption of a priori categories. It is in empirical concepts,
conditioned only by a transcendental apperception, that he
professes to discover the grounds and conditions of this
objective reference. Let us follow Kant's argument in detail.
The section opens 1 with what may be a reference to the
Aesthetic, and proceeds to deal with the first of the two
problems cited in the 1772 letter to Herz 2 how sense-
representations stand related to their object. The exact
terms in which this question was there formulated should be

" I propounded to myself this question : on what ground rests
the relation of that in us which we name representation ( Vorstellung)
to the object. If the representation contains only the mode in
which the subject is affected by the object, it is easily understood
how it should accord (gemciss set) with that object as an effect with
its cause, and how [therefore] this determination of our mind should
be able to represent something, i.e. have an object. The passive or
sensuous representations have thus a comprehensible (begreifliche)
relation to objects, and the principles, which are borrowed from the
nature of our soul, have a comprehensible validity for all things in
so far as they are to be objects of the senses." 3

Thus in 1772 there was here no real problem for Kant.
The assumed fact, that our representations are generated in

1 A 104. 2 Cf. above, p. 28 ; below, pp. 219-20. 3 W. x. pp. 124-5.


us by the action of independent existences, is taken as sufficient
explanation of their being referred to objects.

The section of the Critique under consideration shows
that Kant had come to realise the inadequacy of this explana-
tion quite early, indeed prior to his solution of the second
and further question which in that same letter is spoken of as
" the key to the whole secret " of metaphysics. On what
grounds, he now asks, is a subjective idea, even though it be
a sense impression, capable of yielding consciousness of an
object? In the letter to Herz the use of the term representa-
tion ( Vorstellung] undoubtedly helped to conceal this problem.
It is now emphasised that appearances are nothing but sense
representations, and must never be regarded as objects capable
of existing in themselves, with exactly the same character,
outside our power of representation. Now also Kant employs,
in place of the phrase "in accord with," the much more
definite term " corresponding to." He points out that when we
speak of an object corresponding to our knowledge, we imply
that it is distinct from that knowledge. Consciousness of
such an object must therefore be acquired from some other
source than the given impressions. In other words, Kant is
now prepared to withdraw his statement that " the passive or
sensuous representations have an [easily] comprehensible
relation to objects." In and by themselves they are purely
subjective, and can involve no such concept. The latter is a
thought (Gedanke\ a concept (Begriff), additional to, and
distinct from, the given impressions. Its possibility, as
regards both origin J and validity, must be " deduced."

There then results this first and very peculiar form of
the transcendental deduction. That part of it which persists
in the successive stages rests upon an explicitly developed
distinction between empirical and transcendental apperception.
Kant teaches, in agreement with Hume, though, as we may
believe, independently of his direct influence, that there is no
single empirical state of the self which is constant throughout
experience. 2

" The consciousness of the self, according to the determinations
of our state in inner perception, is merely empirical, and always in
process of change. . . . That which has to be represented as of
necessity numerically identical cannot be thought as such through
empirical data. There must be a condition which precedes all
experience, and renders experience itself possible, if a transcendental
pre-supposition of this kind is to be rendered valid. . . . This pure,

1 Cf. below, pp. 209-10.

2 Hume's view of the self is not developed in the Enquiry, and is not men-
tioned by Beanie.


original, unchangeable consciousness I shall name transcendental
apperception." l

Kant would seem to have first developed this view in a
quite crude form. The consciousness of the self, he seems to
have held, consists in its awareness of its own unceasing
activities. As consciousness of activity, it is entirely distinct
in nature and in origin from all apprehension of sense impres-
sions. 2 This teaching is a natural extension of the doctrine of
the Dissertation? that such pure notions as those of possibility,
existence, necessity, substance, cause, are "acquired by attend-
ing to the actions of the mind on the occasion of experience."
Kant would very naturally hold that consciousness of the
identity and unity of the self is obtained in a similar manner.
Such, indeed, is the teaching of the section before us.

" No knowledge can take place in us ... without that unity of
consciousness which precedes all data of intuitions, and in relation
to which all representation of objects is alone possible." 4 "It is
precisely this transcendental apperception that constructs out of
\macht aus] all possible appearances, which are capable of coexisting
in one experience, a connection of all these representations accord-
ing to laws. For this unity of consciousness would be impossible
if the mind could not become conscious, in the knowledge of the
manifold, of the identity of the function whereby it combines it
synthetically in one knowledge. Thus the mind's original and
necessary consciousness of the identity of itself is at the same time
a consciousness of an equally necessary unity of the synthesis of all
appearances according to concepts, i.e. according to rules. . . . For
the mind could not possibly think the identity of itself in the
manifold of its representations, and indeed a priori, if it did not
have before its eyes the identity of its action. . . ." 5

That is to say, the self is the sole source of all unity. As
a pure and original unity it precedes experience ; to its
synthetic activities all conceptual unity is due ; and by
reflection upon the constancy of these activities it comes to
consciousness of its own identity.

"... even the purest objective unity, namely that of the
a priori concepts (space and time), is possible only through relation

1 A 107.

2 Cf. Reflexionen, ii. 952 (belonging, as Erdmann notes, to the earliest Critical
period): "Appearances are representations whereby we are affected. The
representation of our free self-activity (Selbsttatigkeif) does not involve affection,
and accordingly is not appearance, but apperception." Cf. below, p. 296.

3 8. Cf. above, pp. 1-ii ; below, pp. 243, 260-3, 272-3, 327-8, 473'7> 515-

4 A 107. It is significant that Kant in A 107 uses, in reference to appercep-
tion, the very unusual phrase, ' ' unwandelbares Bewusstsein.'"

5 A 108.


of the intuitions to [transcendental apperception]. The numerical
unity of this apperception is therefore the a priori condition of all
concepts, just as the manifoldness of space and of time is of the
intuitions of sensibility." 1

To this consciousness of the abiding unity of the self Kant
also traces the notion of the transcendental object. The latter,
he would seem to argue, is formed by analogy from the former.

"This object is nothing else than the subjective representation
(of the subject) itself, but made general, for I am the original of all
objects." 2 "The mind, through its original and underived thinking,
is itself the pattern (Urbild) of such a synthesis." 3 "1 would not
represent anything as outside me, and so make [subjective] appear-
ances into objective experience if the representations were not
related to something which is parallel to my ego, and so in that way
referred by me to another subject." 4

These quotations from the Lose Blatter would seem to
contain the key to Kant's extremely enigmatic statement in
A 105, that " the unity which the object makes necessary can
be nothing else than the formal unity of consciousness in its
synthesis of the manifold of its representations," and again
in A 109, that "this relation [of representations to an object]
is nothing else than the necessary unity of consciousness." 5

But this does not complete the sum-total of the functions
which Kant is at this stage prepared to assign to apperception.
It mediates our consciousness of the transcendental object in
still another manner, namely, by rendering possible the
formation of the empirical concepts which unify and direct its
synthetic activities. This is, indeed, the feature in which
this form of the deduction diverges most radically from all
later positions. Space and time are, it would seem, regarded
as being the sole a priori concepts. 6 The instruments through
which the unity of apperception acts, and through which the
thought of an object becomes possible, are empirical concepts.
Such general concepts as " body " or " triangle " serve as rules
constraining the synthetic processes of apprehension and

1 A 107.

2 Reicke, Lose Blatter ; p. 19. The bearing and date of this passage is dis-
cussed below, p. 233.

3 Op. cit. p. 20.

4 Op. cit. p. 22 (written on a letter dated May 20, 1775).

6 This last statement cannot possibly be taken literally. In view of the
manner in which the transcendental object is spoken of elsewhere in this section,
and also in the Dialectic, we must regard it as standing for an independent
existence, and the relation of representations to it as being, therefore, something
else than simply the unity of consciousness.

8 It may be observed that when Kant in A 107, quoted above, refers to
" a priori concepts," he adds in explanation, and within brackets, " space and time."



reproduction to take place in such unitary fashion as is
required for unitary consciousness. The notion of objectivity
is specified in terms of the necessities which these empirical
concepts thus impose.

"We think a triangle as object in so far as we are conscious of
the combination of three straight lines according to a rule by which
such an intuition can at all times be generated. This unity of rule
determines the whole manifold and limits it to conditions which
make the unity of apperception possible; and the concept of this
unity [of rule] is the representation of the object. . . . All knowledge
demands a concept, . . . and a concept is always, as regards its^
form, something general, something that serves as a rule. Thus the
concept of body serves as a rule to our knowledge of outer appear-
ances, in accordance with the unity of the manifold which is thought
through it. ... The concept of body necessitates . . . the representa-
tion of extension, and therewith of impenetrability, shape, etc." l

Such is the manner in which Kant accounts for our concept
of the transcendental object. It consists of two main elements :
first, the notion of an unknown #, to which representations
may be referred ; and secondly, the consciousness of this x as
exercising compulsion upon the order of our thinking. The
former notion is framed on the pattern of the transcendental
subject ; it is conceived as another but unknown subject. The
consciousness of it as a source of external necessity is
mediated by the empirical concepts which transcendental
apperception also makes possible. And from this explanation
of the origin of the concept of the transcendental object Kant
derives the proof of its validity? It is indispensable for the
realisation by the unitary self of a unitary consciousness.

" This relation [of representations to an object] is nothing else
than the necessary unity of consciousness, and therefore also of the
synthesis of the manifold, by a common (gemeinschaftlicJi) functioning
of the mind, which unites it in one representation." 3

Through instruments empirical in origin, and subjectively
necessary, the notion of an objective necessity is rendered
possible to the mind.

It is not surprising that Kant did not permanently hold
to this view of the empirical concept. The objections are
obvious. Such a view of the function of general concepts
renders unintelligible their own first formation. For as they

1 A 105-6.

2 The actual nature of Kant's teaching as to the origin and constitution of
the notion of the transcendental object is largely masked by the fact that he
places this proof of its validity so prominently in the foreground. The general
nature of this proof is, of course, identical with that of his later positions.

3 A 109.


are empirical, they can only be acquired by conscious processes
that do not involve them. That is to say, consciousness of
objects follows upon a prior consciousness in and through
which concepts, such as that of body, are discovered and
formed. Yet, as the argument claims, general concepts are
the indispensable conditions of unitary consciousness. How
through a consciousness that is not yet unified can general
concepts be formed ? Also it is difficult to see how empirical
concepts can be viewed as directly conditioned by, and as
immediately due to, anything so general as pure apperception.
These objections Kant must have come very quickly to
recognise. This was the first part of his teaching to be
modified. In the immediately succeeding stage, 1 so far as
the stages can be reconstructed from the survivals in the
Critique, the empirical concepts are displaced once and for all
by the a priori categories.

The only sentences which can be regarded as possibly
conflicting with the above interpretation are those two (in the
second last and in the last paragraphs) in which the phrase
"rules a priori" occurs. Even granting (what is at least
questionable as regards the first) that the words are meant
to be taken together, it does not follow that Kant is here
speaking of categories. For contrary to his usual teaching
he speaks of the concept of body as a source of necessity.
If so, it may well, with equal looseness, be spoken of as
a priori. That is indeed done, by implication, in the second
and third paragraphs, where he speaks of a rule (referring
to "body and triangle") as making the synthesis of repro-
duction " a priori necessary." Such assertions are completely
inconsistent with Kant's Critical teaching, but so is the
entire section.

The setting in which the passage before us occurs has its
own special interest. 2 When Kant, as it would seem, on
the very eve of the publication of the Critique, developed
the doctrine of a threefold synthesis culminating in a
" synthesis of recognition in the concept," he must have
bethought himself of this earlier position, and have completed
his subjective deduction by incorporation, probably with
occasional alterations of phrasing, of the older manuscript.
This procedure has bewildered even the most discerning
among Kant's readers ; but now, thanks to Vaihinger's con-
vincing analysis, it may be welcomed as of illuminating
interest in the historical study of Kant's development.

I may here draw attention to the two important respects

1 As in the Lose Blatter. Cf. below, p. 233.
2 Cf. below, pp. 227, 233-4, 268-9.


in which the positions revealed in this section continued to
influence Kant's later teaching : namely, in the emphasis laid
upon the transcendental unity of apperception, and in the
view of objectivity as involving the thought of the thing in

The excessive emphasis which in this first stage is laid
upon the transcendental unity of apperception persists
throughout the later forms of the deduction, and, as I shall
try to show, does so to the detriment of the argument.
Though its functions are considerably diminished, they are
still exaggerated ; this is perhaps in part due to its having
been in this early stage regarded as in and by itself the sole
ultimate ground of unitary experience. There were, however,
two other influences at work. Kant continued to employ
the terminology of his earlier view, and in his less watchful
moments was betrayed thereby into conflict with his con-
sidered teaching. But even more important was the influence
of his personal convictions. He was irrevocably committed
in his own private thinking to a belief in the spiritual and
abiding character of the self; and this belief frequently colours,
in illegitimate ways, the expression of his views. This is
especially evident in some of the alterations 1 of the second
edition, written as they were at a time when he was chiefly
preoccupied with moral problems.

As regards the other factor, the view adopted in regard to
the nature of objectivity, there is ample evidence that even
after the empirical concepts had been displaced by the
categories Kant still continued for some time (possibly for
several years in the earlier and middle 'seventies) to hold to
his doctrine of the transcendental object. Passages which
expound it in this later form occur in the Note on Amphi-
boly and throughout the Dialectic? That this may not be
taken for his final teaching is equally certain. The entire
first layer of the deduction of the first edition, all the
relevant passages in the chapter on phenomena and noumena,
and some of those in the Dialectic, were omitted in the second
edition ; and nowhere, either in the other portions of the
deduction of the first edition, or in the deduction of the
second edition, or in any passages added elsewhere in the
second edition, is such teaching to be found.

A brief statement of Kant's doctrine of the transcendental
object in its later form seems advisable at this point ; it is
required in order to complete and to confirm the interpreta-

1 Cf. below, pp. 322-8 ; also pp. 260-3.

2 As above noted (p. 204 n.} it also occurs in the Aesthetic (A 46 B 63),
as signifying the thing in itself.


tion which I have given of the earlier exposition. At the
same time I shall endeavour to show that the sections in which
the doctrine occurs, though later than the first layer of the
deduction of the first edition, are all of comparatively early
origin, and that they reveal not the least trace of Kant's more
mature, phenomenalist view of the empirical world in space.

We may begin with the passages in the chapter on
phenomena and noumena. The meaning in which the term
transcendental is employed is there made sufficiently clear.

" The transcendental employment of a concept in any principle
consists in its being referred to things in general and in themselves. 1 ' 1 1

That is to say, the term transcendental, as used in the
phrase transcendental object, is not employed in any sense
which would oppose it to the transcendent. In so far as the
thought of the thing in itself is a necessary ingredient in the
concept of objectivity, it is a condition of apperception, and
therefore of possible experience ; in other words, the thought
of a transcendent object is one of the transcendental conditions
of our experience. As Kant is constantly interchanging the
terms transcendent and transcendental, such an explanation
of the phrase is perhaps superfluous ; but if any is called
for, the above would seem to suffice. As we shall have
occasion to observe, 2 other factors besides the a priori must
be reckoned among the conditions of experience ; and to both
types oT conditions Kant applies the epithet transcendental.

In the chapter on phenomena and noumena Kant enquires
at considerable length whether the categories (meaning, of
course, the pure forms of understanding, not their schematised
correlates) allow of transcendental (i.e. transcendent) employ-
ment. The passages in which this discussion occurs 3 would
seem, however, to be highly composite ; many paragraphs, or
portions of paragraphs, are of much later date than others.
We may therefore limit our attention to those in which the
phrase transcendental object is actually employed, i.e. to
those which appear only in the first edition.

"All our representations are referred by the understanding to
some object ; and since appearances are merely representations, the
understanding refers them to a something as the object of sensuous
intuition. But this something, thus conceived (in so fern), is
only the transcendental object; and by that is meant a some-
thing = #, of which we know, and with the present constitution of
our understanding can know, nothing whatsoever, but which, as a
correlate of the unity of apperception, can serve only for the unity

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 28 of 72)