Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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1 A 238 = 6 298. 2 Cf. below, p. 238. 3 A 238 ff. =B 298 ff.


of the manifold in sensuous intuition. By means of this unity
the understanding combines the manifold into the concept of
an object. This transcendental object cannot be separated from
the sense data, for nothing then remains over through which
it might be thought. Consequently it is not in itself an object of
knowledge, but only the representation of appearances under the
concept of an object in general which is determinable through the
manifold of those appearances. Precisely for this reason also the
categories do not represent a special object given to the understanding
alone, but only serve to specify the transcendental object (the concept
of something in general) through that which is given in sensibility, in
order thereby to know appearances empirically under concepts of
objects." 1 "The object to which I relate appearance in general is
the transcendental object, i.e. the completely indeterminate thought
of something in general. This cannot be entitled the noumenon [i.e.
the thing in itself more specifically determined as being the object
of a purely intelligible intuition] ; 2 for I know nothing of what it is
in itself, and have no concept of it save as the object of a sensuous
intuition in general, and so as being one and the same for all
appearances." 3

Otherwise stated, Kant's teaching is as follows. The
thought of the thing in itself remains altogether indeterminate ;
it does not specify its object, and therefore yields no knowledge
of it ; none the less it is a necessary ingredient in the concept
of objectivity as such. The object as specified in terms of
sense is 'mere representation ; the object as genuinely objective
can only be thought. The correlate of the unity of appercep-
tion is the thought of the thing in itself. This is what Kant is
really asserting, though in a hesitating manner which would
seem to indicate that he is himself already more or less
conscious of its unsatisfactory and un-Critical character.

The phrase transcendental object occurs once in the
second Analogy^ and twice in the Note on Amphiboly? The
passage in the second Analogy may very well, in view of the
kind of subjectivism which it expounds, be of early date of
writing. By transcendental object Kant there quite obviously
means the thing in itself. From the first reference in the
Note on Amphiboly no definite conclusions can be drawn.
The argument is too closely bound up with his criticism
of Leibniz to allow of his own independent standpoint being
properly developed. There is, however, nothing in it which
compels us to regard it as of late origin ; and quite evidently
Kant here means by the transcendental object the thing in
itself. The phrase substantia phaenomenon is not, as might
at first sight seem, equivalent to the empirical object of Kant's

1 A 250-1. 2 Cf. below, p. 407 ff. 3 A 253.

4 A 191 = E 236. 5 A 277-8 = 6 333-4 ; A 288 = 6 344.


phenomenalist teaching. It is an adaptation of Leibnizian
phraseology. 1 The second reference in the Note on Amphiboly
occurs in a passage which may perhaps be of later origin ; 2
but the transcendental object is there mentioned only in order
to afford opportunity for the statements that it cannot be
thought through any of the categories, that we are completely
ignorant whether it is within or without us, and whether if
sensibility were removed it would vanish or remain, and that
it can therefore serve only as a limiting concept. We here
observe it in the very process of being eliminated. As we
shall find, Kant's teaching is ill-expressed in the sections on
Amphiboly ; so much so that they could not be recast without
seriously disturbing the balance of his architectonic. They
were therefore allowed to remain unaltered in the second

We may now pass to the Dialectic. The subjectivist
doctrine of the transcendental object is there expressed in
a much more uncompromising manner. Let us first consider
the references to the transcendental object in the Paralogisms
and in the subsequent Reflection. The phrase transcendental
object occurs twice in the second Paralogism, once in the
third, twice in the fourth, and three times in the Reflection ; 3
and in all these cases there is not the least uncertainty as to
its denotation. It is taken as equivalent to the thing in
itself, and is expounded as a necessary ingredient in the
consciousness of our subjective representations as noumenally

" What matter may be* as a thing in itself (transcendental object)
is completely unknown to us, though, owing to its being represented
as something external, its permanence as appearance can indeed be
observed." 4 "We can indeed admit that something, which may be
(in the transcendental 5 sense) 'outside us,' is the cause of our outer
intuitions, but this is not the object of which we are thinking in the
representations of matter and of corporeal things, for these are merely
appearances, i.e. mere kinds of representation which are never to be
met with save in us, and whose actuality depends on immediate
consciousness just as does the consciousness of my own thoughts.
The transcendental object is equally unknown in respect to inner
and to outer intuition." 6

1 Cf. mundus phaenomenon in A 272 = 6 328.

2 It is so dated by Adickes (K. p. 272 .)> owing to a single reference to
schemata in A 286 = B 342.

3 A 358 and A 361 (cf. A 355); A 366 ; A 372 and A 379-80; A 390-1,
A 393, and A 394.

4 A 366.

5 "Transcendental" here means "transcendent." Cf. A 379.

6 A 372 ; so also in A 613-14 = 6 641-2.


Here Kant at one and the same time distinguishes between,
and confounds together, representation and its empirical object.
What is alone clear is that by the transcendental object he
means simply the thing in itself viewed as the cause of our
sensations. In A 358 it is used in a wider sense as also
comprehending the noumenal conditions which underlie the
conscious subject.

"... this something which underlies the outer appearances and
which so affects our sense that it obtains the representations of space,
matter, shape, etc., this something viewed as noumenon (or better
as transcendental object) might also at the same time be the subject
that does our thinking. . . ."

Similarly in A 379-80 :

"Though the I, as represented through inner sense in time,
and objects in space outside me, are specifically quite distinct appear-
ances, they are not for that reason thought as being different things.
Neither the transcendental object which underlies outer appearances,
nor that which underlies inner intuition, is in itself either matter or
a thinking being, but is a ground (to us unknown) of the appearances
which supply to us the empirical concepts of the former as well as
of the latter kind."

The references in the Reflection on the Paralogisms are of
the same general character and are equally definite. 1 A 390-1
has special interest in that it explicitly states that to appear-
ances, taken as Kant invariably takes them throughout the
Paralogisms in the first edition as mere subjective representa-
tions, the category of causality, and therefore by implication
the category of substance, is inapplicable.

" No one could dream of asserting that that which he has once
come to recognise as mere representation is an outer cause."

We may now turn to the passages in the chapter on the

"The non-sensuous cause of our representations is completely
unknown to us, and therefore we cannot intuit it as object. . . .
We may, however, entitle the purely intelligible cause of appearances
in general the transcendental object. ... To this transcendental
object we can ascribe the whole extent and connection of our
possible perceptions. . . ." 2

Appearances can be regarded as real only to the extent
to which they are actually experienced. Otherwise they
exist only in some unknown noumenal form of which we can

1 The passage in A 393 is given below, p. 464.

2 A 494 = B 522. Cf. A 492 = B 521 : "The true self (das eigentliche Selbst}
as it exists in itself, i.e. the transcendental subject."



juire no definite concept, and which is therefore really
nothing to us. This, Kant declares, is true even of that
immemorial past of which we are ourselves the product.

"... all the events which have taken place in the immense periods
that have preceded my own existence mean really nothing but the
possibility of extending the chain of experience from the present
perception back to the conditions which determine it in time." l

In other words, we may not claim that such events, em-

. pirically conceived, have ever actually existed in any such

empirical form. A similar interpretation is given to the

assertion of the present reality of what has never been actually


" Moreover, in outcome it is a matter of indifference whether I say
that in the empirical progress in space I can meet with stars a hundred
times farther removed than the outermost now perceptible to me, or
whether I say that they are perhaps to be met with in cosmical space
even though no human being has ever perceived or ever will perceive
them. For though they might be given as things in themselves,
without relation to possible experience, they are still nothing for me,
and therefore are not objects, save in so far as they are contained in
the series of the empirical regress." 2 " The cause of the empirical
conditions of this process, that which determines what members I
shall meet with and how far by means of such members I can carry
out the regress, is transcendental and is therefore necessarily
unknown to me." 3

Such is the form in which Kant's pre-Critical doctrine of
the transcendental object survives in the Critique^ It contains
no trace of the teaching of the objective deduction of the first
and second edition or of the teaching of the refutation of
idealism in the second edition. It closely resembles Mill's
doctrine of the permanent possibilities of sensation, and is
almost equally subjectivist in character. As already noted, 5
it also lies open to the further objection that it involves
an illegitimate application of the categories to things in
themselves. As Kant started from the naive and natural
assumption that reference of representations to objects must
be their reference to things in themselves, he also took over
the current Cartesian view that it is by an inference in
terms of the category of causality that we advance from a
representation to its cause. The thing in itself is regarded
as the sole true substance and as the real cause of every-
thing which happens in the natural world. Appearances,

1 A 495 = B 523. 2 A 496 = 6 524. 3 Loc. cit.

4 Cf. also A 538 = 8 566; A 540 = 6 568; A 557 = 6 585; A 564 = 6 592;
A 565-6 = 6 593-4 ; A 613 = 6 641-2. 5 Above, p. 206.


being representations merely, are wholly transitory and com-
pletely inefficacious. Not only, therefore, are the categories
regarded as valid of things in themselves, they are also declared
to have no possible application to phenomena. Sense appear-
ances do not, on this view, constitute the mechanical world
of the natural sciences ; they have a purely subjective, more
or less epi-phenomenal, existence in the mind of each separate
observer. It was very gradually, in the process of developing
his own Critical teaching, that Kant came to realise the very
different position to which he was thereby committed. The
categories, including that of causality, are pre-empted for the
empirical object which is now regarded as immediately appre-
hended ; and the function of mediating the reference of
phenomena to things in themselves now falls to the Ideas of
Reason. The distinction between appearance and reality is
no longer that between representations and their noumenal
causes, but between the limited and relative character of the
entire world in space and time and the unconditioned de-
manded by Reason. But these are questions whose discussion
must meantime be deferred. 1

I may now briefly summarise the evidence in favour of
the view that the doctrine of the transcendental object is a
pre-Critical or semi-Critical survival and must not be taken
as forming part of Kant's final and considered position, (i)
Of the six sections in which the phrase transcendental object
occurs, three 2 were omitted in the second edition, and in the
passages which were substituted for them it receives no
mention. There are various reasons which can be suggested
in explanation of the retention of the other three 3 in the
second edition. The Note on Amphiboly was too unsatis-
factory as a whole to encourage Kant to improve upon it in
detail. The other two are outside the limit at which Kant
thought good to terminate all attempts to improve, whether
in major or in minor matters, the text of the first edition. 4
To have recast the Antinomies as he had recast the Paralogisms

1 Cf. above, pp. liii-v ; below, pp. 280, 331, 373-4, 390-1, 414-17, 429-31,

2 Viz. the first layer of the deduction of the first edition, the relevant sections
in the chapter on phenomena and noumena (A 250 ff.), and the Paralogisms with
the subsequent Reflection.

3 Viz. the Note on Amphiboly, the chapter on the Antinomies, and the
chapter on the Ideal.

4 To the statement that the alterations in the second edition cease at the close
of the chapter on the Paralogisms, there is only one single exception, namely, the
very brief note appended to A 491 = 6519. This exception, however, supports our
general thesis. It is of polemical origin, referring to the nature of the distinction
between transcendental and subjective idealism, and was demanded by the new
Refutation of Idealism which in the second edition he had attached to the


would have involved alterations much too extensive. Also,
there were no outside polemical influences or at least none
acting quite directly such as undoubtedly reinforced his other
reasons for revising the Paralogisms. (2) Secondly, the tran-
scendental object is not mentioned in the later layers of the
deduction of the first edition, nor in the deduction of the
second edition, nor in any passage or note added in the
second edition. That Kant should thus suddenly cease to
employ a phrase to which he had accustomed himself is
the more significant in view of his conservative preference for
the adapting of familiar terminology to new uses. It can
only be explained as due to his recognition of the completely
untenable character of the teaching to which it had given
expression. As the object of knowledge is always em-
pirical, it can never legitimately be called transcendental.
(3) Thirdly, the general teaching of the passages in which
the phrase transcendental object occurs is by itself sufficient
proof of their early origin. They reveal not the least trace
of the deepened insight of his final standpoints. As we
know, it was certain difficulties involved in the working out
of the objective deduction that delayed the publication of the
Critique for so many years ; and the sections which deal
with these difficulties contain Kant's maturest teaching. In
them he seems to withdraw definitely from the positions to
which he had unwarily committed himself by his un-Critical
doctrine of the transcendental object. I now pass to the
second section constitutive of the first stage.

A 84-92 -B 116-24, I. 13. Just as in II. 3 Kant deals
solely with the first of the two questions formulated in the
letter of 1772 to Herz the reference of ^^^-representations
to an object, so in I. 13 he raises only the second that of
the objective validity of intellectual representations (now
spoken of as pure concepts of understanding, or pure a priori
concepts, and only in one sentence as categories). And just
as in the former section he carries the problem a step further,
yet without attaining to the true Critical position, so in this
latter he still assumes that it is the application of these pure
concepts to real independent objects, i.e. to things in them-
selves, which calls for justification. We must again consider
the exact terms in which this problem is formulated in the
letter to Herz. 1

"Similarly, if that in us which is called a representation, were
active in relation to the object, that is to say, if the object itself
were produced by the representation (as on the view that the ideas

1 It follows immediately upon the passage quoted above, p. 206.


in the Divine Mind are the archetypes of things), the conformity
of representations with objects might be understood. We can
thus render comprehensible at least the possibility of two kinds
of intelligence of an intellectus archetypus, on whose intuition the
things themselves are grounded, and of an intellectus ectypus which
derives the data of its logical procedure from the sensuous intuition
of things. But our understanding (leaving moral ends out of account)
is not the cause of the object through its representations, nor is the
object the cause of its intellectual representations (in sensu reali).
Hence, the pure concepts of the understanding cannot be abstracted
from the data of the senses, nor do they express our capacity for
receiving representations through the senses. But, whilst they have
their sources in the nature of the soul, they originate there neither
as the result of the action of the object upon it, nor as themselves
producing the object. In the Dissertation I was content to explain
the nature of these intellectual representations in a merely negative
manner, viz. as not being modifications of the soul produced by the
object. But I silently passed over the further question, how such
representations, which refer to an object and yet are not the result
of an affection due to that object, can be possible. I had maintained
that the sense representations represent things as they appear, the
intellectual representations things as they are. But how then are
these things given to us, if not by the manner in which they affect
us ?, And if such intellectual representations are due to our own
inner activity, whence comes the agreement which they are supposed
to have with objects, which yet are not their products ? How
comes it that the axioms of pure reason about these objects agree
with the latter, when this agreement has not been in any way assisted
by experience? In mathematics such procedure is legitimate, because
its objects only are quantities for us, and can only be represented
as quantities, in so far as we can generate their representation by
repeating a unit a number of times. Hence the concepts of
quantity can be self-producing, and their principles can therefore be
determined a priori. But when we ask how the understanding can
form to itself completely a priori concepts of things in their
qualitative determination, with which these things must of necessity
agree, or formulate in regard to their possibility principles which are
independent of experience, but with which experience must exactly
conform, we raise a question, that of the origin of the agreement
of our faculty of understanding with the things in themselves, over
which obscurity still hangs." *

The section before us represents the same general stand-
point as that given in the above letter. Here, too, it is the
validity of the a priori concepts in reference to things in
themselves that is under consideration. The implication of
Kant's argument is that the categories, being neither determin-
able nor discoverable by means of experience, will only apply

1 W. x. pp. 125-6.


appearances if they determine, or rather reveal, the
:tual non - experienced nature of things in themselves,
'hese pure concepts, it is implied, owing to their combined
priori and intellectual characteristics, make this inherent
:laim. Either they are altogether empty and illusory, or
such unlimited validity must be granted to them. Kant, that
is to say, still holds, as in the Dissertation, that sense-repre-
sentations reveal things as they appear, intellectual representa-
tions things as they are.

"We have either to surrender completely all claims to judgments
of pure reason, in the most esteemed of all fields, that which
extends beyond the limits of all possible experience, or we must
bring this Critical investigation to perfection." 1

The pure concepts, unlike space, "apply to objects
generally, apart from the conditions of sensibility." 2 But
here also, as in the letter to Herz, the strange and problematic
character of such knowledge is clearly recognised.

Kant's discussion of the concept of causality in A 90 may
seem to conflict with the above contention that it is its
applicability to things in themselves which Kant is considering.
But this difficulty vanishes if we bear in mind that here, as
in the Dissertation, there is no such distinction as we find in
Kant's later more genuinely phenomenalist position, between
the objects causing our sensations and things in themselves?
The purely intelligible object, supposed to remain after
elimination of the empirical and a priori sensory factors, is
the thing in itself. The objects apprehended through sense
are real, only not in their sensuous form.

There are two connected facts which together may perhaps
be taken as evidence that I. 13 is later than II. 3 b.
Intellectual concepts are reinstated alongside the a priori
concepts of space and time. Kant has evidently in the mean-
time given up the attempt to construe the former as empirical
in origin. That that attempt was earlier in time would seem
to be proved by the further fact, that the a priori concepts are
here viewed as performing the same kind of function as that
ascribed in II. 3 b to concepts that are empirical. They are
conditions of the " synthetic unity of thought." 3 This view
of the function of concepts is certainly fundamental and
important, and Kant permanently retained it from his previous
abortive method of ' deduction.' But it was a long step from
the discovery of the distinction between empirical and a priori
concepts to its fruitful application. That involved appreciation

1 A 89= B 121. I adopt B. Erdmann's reading of a/for als.
- A 88 = B 120. 3 A 90.


of the further fact that the two problems, separately stated
in the letter to Herz and separately dealt with in II. 3 b and
in I. 13 the problem of the relation of sense-representa.-
tions, and the problem of the relation of intellectual repre-
sentations, to an object, are indeed one and the same,
soluble from one and the same standpoint, by one and the
same method of deduction, namely, by reference to the possi-
bility of experience. Only in and through relation to an
object can sense-representations be apprehended ; and only
as conditions of such sense - experience are the categories
objectively valid. Relation to an object is constituted by the
categories, and is necessary in reference to sense-representa-
tions, because only thereby is consciousness of any kind
possible at all.

That this truly Critical position had not been attained
when I. 13 was written, 1 is shown not only by its concentra-
tion on the single problem of the validity of a priori concepts,
but also by its repeated assertion that representations can
be consciously apprehended independently of all relation to
the faculty of understanding. The directly counter assertion
appears, however, in the sections (I. 14, II. : first four
paragraphs) which immediately follow in the text of the
Critique indicating that in the period represented by these
latter the revolutionary discovery, the truly Copernican
hypothesis, had at last been achieved. They constitute the
second stage, and to it we may now proceed.

Second Stage. A 92-4 = B 124-7 5 A 95-7 ; A 110-14.

A 92-4, I. 14 (with the exception of the concluding
classification of mental powers). This section makes a fresh
start ; it stands in no necessary relation to any preceding
section. The problem is still formulated, in its opening
sentences, in terms reminiscent of the letter to Herz ; but
otherwise the standpoint is entirely new, and save for the
wording of a single sentence (A 93 : " if not intuited, yet "),
is genuinely Critical. The phrase " possibility of experience "
now appears, and is at once assigned the central rdle. The
words " if not intuited, yet " in A 93 may possibly have been

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 29 of 72)