Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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Being ; according to Hume nothing whatsoever can be deter-
mined as to their originating causes. But all three fail to
recognise that even granting the objects to be of the character
asserted, namely, mental, the further problem still remains for
consideration, how they come to be consciously apprehended,
and in what such awareness consists.

Certain interpretations of the nature of the knowing
process are, of course, to be found in the writings of Descartes
and his successors. But they are so much a matter of un-
examined presupposition that they never receive exact
formulation, and alternate with one another in quite a
haphazard fashion. We may consider three typical views.

1. There is, Descartes frequently seems to imply the
same assumption is evident throughout Locke's Essay a self
that stands behind all mental states, observing and appre-
hending them. Consciousness is the power which this self
has of contemplating both itself and its ideas. Obviously
this is a mere ignoring of the issue. If we assume an observer,
we ipso facto postulate a process of observation, but we have
not explained or even defined it.

2. There is also in Descartes a second, very different, view
of consciousness, namely, as a diaphanous medium analogous
to light. Just as light is popularly conceived as revealing the
objects upon which it falls, so consciousness is regarded as
revealing to us our inner states. This view of consciousness,
for reasons which I shall indicate shortly, is entirely in-
adequate to the facts for which we have to account. It is
no more tenable than the corresponding view of lighf.

3. In Hume we find this latter theory propounded in what
may at first sight seem a more satisfactory form, but is even


less satisfactory. Sensations, images, feelings, he argues, are
states of consciousness, one might almost say pieces of con-
sciousness, i.e. they are conceived as carrying their own
consciousness with them. Red, for instance, is spoken of as a
sensation, and is consequently viewed both as being a sense-
content, i.e. something sensed or apprehended, and also at the
same time as the sensing or awareness of it. This view is
unable to withstand criticism. There is really no more ground
for asserting that red colour carries with it consciousness of
itself than for saying that a table does. The illegitimacy
of the assertion is concealed from us by the fact that tables
appear to exist when there is no consciousness present,
whereas redness cannot be proved to exist independently of
consciousness it may or may not do so. Many present-day
thinkers, continuing the tradition of the English associa-
tionists, hold to this pre-Kantian view. Sensations, feelings,
etc., are, it is implied, pieces of consciousness, forms of aware-
ness ; through their varying combinations they constitute the
complex experiences of the animal and human mind.

Kant's teaching is developed in direct opposition to all
such views. If we discard his antiquated terminology, and
state his position in current terms, we find that it amounts
to the assertion that consciousness is in all cases awareness of
meaning. There is no awareness, however rudimentary or
primitive, that does not involve the apprehension of meaning.
Meaning and awareness are correlative terms ; each must
be studied in its relation to the other. And inasmuch
as meaning is a highly complex object of apprehension,
awareness cannot be regarded as ultimate or as unanalysable.
It can be shown to rest upon a complexity of generative
conditions and to involve a variety of distinct factors.

There are thus, from the Kantian standpoint, two all-
sufficient reasons why the diaphanous view of consciousness,
i.e. any view which treats consciousness merely as a medium
whereby the existent gets itself reported, must be regarded
as untenable. In the first place, as already remarked, it is
based on the. false assumption that consciousness is an
ultimate, and that we are therefore dispensed from all further
investigation of its nature. Kant claims to have distinguished
successfully the many components which go to constitute it ;
and he also professes to have shown v that until such analysis
has been made, there can be no sufficient basis for a
philosophical treatment either of the problems of sense-
perception or of the logical problems of judgment and
inference. The diaphanous view, with its mirror-like mode
of representation, might allow of the side-by-sideness of


associated contents ; it can never account for the processes
whereby the associated contents come to be apprehended.

Secondly, the diaphanous view ignores the fundamental
distinction between meaning and existence. Existences rest,
so to speak, on their own bottom ; they are self-centred even
at the very moment of their reaction to external influences.
Meaning, on the other hand, always involves the interpretation
of what is given in the light of wider considerations that lend
it significance. In the awareness of meaning the given, the
actually presented, is in some way transcended, and this
transcendence is what has chiefly to be reckoned with in any
attempt to explain the conscious process. Kant is giving
expression to this thesis when he contends that all awareness,
no matter how rudimentary or apparently simple, is an act of
judgment, and therefore involves the relational categories.
Not passive contemplation but active judgment, not mere con-
ception but inferential interpretation, is the fundamental form,
and the only form, in which our consciousness exists. This,
of course, commits Kant to the assertion that there is no
mode of cognition that can be described as immediate or un-
reflective. There is an immediate element in all knowledge,
but our consciousness of it is always conditioned and accom-
panied by interpretative processes, and in their absence there
can be no awareness of any kind.

By way of this primary distinction between existence
and meaning Kant advances to all those other distinctions
which characterise our human experience, between appear-
ance and reality, between the real and the Ideal, between
that which is judged and the criteria which control and
direct the judging process. Just because all awareness is
awareness of meaning, our human experience becomes in-
telligible as a purposive activity that directs itself according
to Ideal standards.

The contrast between the Kantian and the Cartesian
views of consciousness can be defined in reference to another
important issue. The diaphanous view commits its adherents
to a very definite interpretation of the nature of relations.
Since they regard consciousness as passive and receptive,
they have to maintain that relations can be known only in so
far as they are apprehended in a manner analogous to the
contents themselves. I do not, of course, wish to imply that
this view of relational knowledge is in all cases and in all
respects illegitimate. Kant, as we shall find, has carried the
opposite view to an impossible extreme, assuming without
further argument that what has been shown to be true of
certain types of relation (for instance, of the causal and


substance-attribute relations) must be true of all relations,
even of those that constitute space and time. It cannot be
denied that, as William James and others have very rightly
insisted, such relations as the space-relations are in some degree
or manner presentational. This does not, however, justify
James in concluding, as he at times seems inclined to do, that
all relations are directly experienced. Such procedure lays
him open to the same charge of illegitimate reasoning. But
even if we could grant James's thesis in its widest form, the
all-important Critical question would still remain : in what
does awareness, whether of presented contents or of presented
relations, consist, and how is it possible? In answering this
question Kant is led to the conclusion that consciousness must
be regarded as an activity, and as supplying certain of the con-
ditions of its own possibility. Its contribution is of a uniform
and constant nature ; it consists, as already noted, of certain
relational factors whose presence can be detected in each and
every act of awareness.

There is one other respect in which Kant's view of
consciousness differs from that of his Cartesian predecessors. 1
Consciousness, he maintains, does not reveal itself, but only
its objects. In other words, there is no awareness of aware-
ness. So far as our mental states and processes can be known
at all, they are known in the same objective manner in which
we apprehend existences in space. 2 Now if that be so, a
very important consequence follows. If there is no awareness
of awareness, but only of meanings all of which are objective,
there can be no consciousness of the generative, synthetic
processes that constitute consciousness on its subjective side.
For consciousness, being an act of awareness in which meaning
is apprehended, has a twofold nature, and must be very
differently described according to the aspect which at any
one time we may have in view. When we regard it on
its objective side as awareness of meaning^ we are chiefly
concerned with the various factors that are necessary to
meaning and that enter into its constitution. That is to
say, our analysis is essentially logical. When, on the other
hand, we consider consciousness as an act of awareness, our
problem is ontological or as it may be entitled (though the
term is in this reference somewhat misleading, since the
enquiry as defined by Kant is essentially metaphysical)
psychological in character. Between these two aspects
there is this very important difference. The logical factors

1 With the sole exception of Malebranche, who on this point anticipated Kant.

2 This is the position that Kant endeavours to expound in the very unsatis-
factory form of a doctrine of " inner sense." Cf. below, pp. 1-ii, 291 ff.


constitutive of meaning can be exhaustively known ; they
are elements in the meanings which consciousness reveals ;
whereas the synthetic processes are postulated solely in view
of these constituent factors, and in order to account for them.
The processes, that is to say, are known only through that
which they condition, and on Kant's teaching we are entirely
ruled out from attempting to comprehend even their possi-
bility. 1 They must be thought as occurring, but they cannot
be known, i.e. their nature cannot be definitely specified.
The postulating of them marks a gap in our knowledge, and
extends our insight only in the degree that it discloses our
ignorance. As consciousness rests upon, and is made possible
by, these processes, it can never be explained in terms of the
objective world to which our sense-experience, and therefore,
as Kant argues, our specific knowledge, is exclusively limited.
The mind can unfold its contents in the sunshine of conscious-
ness, only because its roots strike deep into a soil that the
light does not penetrate. These processes, thus postulated,
Kant regards as the source of the a priori elements, and as
the agency through which the synthetic connections necessary
to all consciousness are brought about.

According to Kant's Critical teaching, therefore, conscious-
ness, though analysable, is not such as can ever be rendered
completely comprehensible. When all is said, it remains for
us a merely de facto form of existence, and has to be taken
just for what it presents itself as being. It is actually such
as to make possible the logical processes of judgment and
inference. It is actually such as to render possible a satis-
factory proof of the scientific validity, within the field of
sense-experience, of the principle of causality, and of such
other principles as are required in the development of the
positive sciences. It is also such as to render comprehensible
the controlling influence of Ideal standards. But when we
come to the question, how is consciousness of this type and
form possible, that is, to the question of its metaphysical
significance and of the generative conditions upon which it
rests, we find, Kant maintains, that we have no data sufficient
to justify any decisive answer.

1 This was Kant's chief reason for omitting the so-called " subjective deduction
of the categories " from the second edition. The teaching of the subjective
deduction is, however, preserved in almost unmodified form throughout the
Critique as a whole, and its "transcendental psychology" forms, as I shall try to
show, an essential part of Kant's central teaching. In this matter I find myself
in agreement with Vaihinger, and in complete disagreement with Riehl and
the majority of the neo - Kantians. The neo- Kantian attempt to treat epis-
temology in independence of all psychological considerations is bound to lead
to very different conclusions from those which Kant himself reached. Cf. below,
pp. 237 ff., 263-70.


The ontological, creative, or dynamical aspect of con-
sciousness, I may further insist, must be constantly borne
in mind if the Critical standpoint is to be properly viewed.
The logical analysis is, indeed, for the purposes of the central
portions of the Critique much the more important, and alone
allows of detailed, exhaustive development ; but the other is no
less essential for an appreciation of Kant's attitude towards
the more strictly metaphysical problems of the Dialectic.

Hegel and his disciples have been the chief culprits in
subordinating, or rather in entirely eliminating, this aspect
of Kant's teaching. Many of the inconsistencies of which
they accuse Kant exist only if Kant's teaching be first reduced
to a part of itself. To eliminate the ontological implications
of his theory of consciousness is, by anticipation, to render
many of his main conclusions entirely untenable, and in
particular to destroy the force of his fundamental distinction
between appearance and reality. If consciousness knows
itself in its ultimate nature and such is Hegel's contention
one half of reality is taken out of the obscurity in which, on
Kant's reading of the situation, it is condemned to lie hidden.
Man is more knowable than nature, and is the key to nature ;
such is Hegel's position, crudely stated. Contrast therewith
the teaching of Kant. We can know nature more completely
(though still very incompletely) than we can ever hope to
comprehend the conditions that make possible and actual
man's spiritual life. The moral consciousness is an auto-
nomously acting source of independent values, and though a
standing miracle, must be taken for all that on independent
and separate enquiry it is found to be. Hegel, in his
endeavour to establish an intellectual monism, does violence
to some of the highest interests which he professes to be
safeguarding. Kant, while outlining in Idea a Kingdom of
Ends, remains satisfied with a pluralistic distinction between
the intellectual and the moral categories. The antithesis of
the two philosophies is in some degree the ancient opposition
between Aristotle and Plato, restated in modern terms.


The revolutionary character of the above conclusions rs
shown by the difficulty which Kant himself found in breaking
away from many of the presuppositions that underlie the
views which he was renouncing ; and this is nowhere more
evident than in his constant alternation throughout the


Critique between a subjectivism l that is thoroughly Cartesian
we might almost, allowing for his rationalism, say
Berkeleian in character, and a radically different position
which may be entitled phenomenalism. The latter is alone
genuinely Critical, and presents Kant's teaching in its
maturest form. For though first formulated only in those
portions of the Analytic that are late in date of writing, and
in those passages of the second edition which supplement
them, it would seem to be the only logical outcome of Kant's
other main doctrines.

I have especially in mind Kant's fundamental distinction
between appearance and reality; it has an all -important
bearing upon the Cartesian opposition between the mental
and the material, and especially upon the question as to what
view ought to be taken of our so-called subjective experiences.
The objective is for the Cartesians the independently real ;
the subjective is asserted to have an altogether different kind
of existence in what is named the field of consciousness.
Kant's phenomenalist restatement of this distinction is too
complex and subtle to be made intelligible in the brief space
available in this Introduction it is expounded in the body of
the Commentary ' 2 but its general character I may indicate
in a few sentences. All subjectivist modes of stating the
problem of knowledge, such as we find in Hume and in
Leibniz no less than in Descartes, Locke, and Berkeley, are,
Kant finally concluded, illegitimate and question -begging.
Our so-called subjective states, whether they be sensations,
feelings, or desires, are objective in the sense that they are
objects for consciousness. 3 Our mental states do not run
parallel with the system of natural existences ; nor are they
additional to it. They do not constitute our consciousness
of nature ; they are themselves part of the natural order
which consciousness reveals. They compose the empirical
self which is an objective existence, integrally connected with
the material environment in terms of which alone it can be
understood. The subjective is not opposite in nature to the
objective, but a sub-species within it. While, however, the
psychical is thus to be regarded as a class of known appear-
ances, and as forming together with the physical a single

1 This subjectivism finds expression in Kant's doctrine of the "transcendental
object " which, as I shall try to prove, is a doctrine of early date and only semi-
Critical. That doctrine is especially prominent in the section on the Antinomies.
See below p. 204 ff.

2 Cf. pp. 270 ff., 298 ff., 308-21, 373-4, 414-17-

3 That this statement holds of feelings and desires, and therefore of all the
emotions, as well as of our sense-contents, is emphasised by Kant in the Critique
of Practical Reason. Cf. below, pp. 276, 279-80, 312, 384-5.


system of nature, this entire order is, in Kant's view, con-
ditioned by an underlying realm of noumenal existence ; and
when the question of the possibility of the knowing, that is,
of the experiencing of such a comprehensive natural system,
is raised, it is to this noumenal sphere that we are referred.
Everything experienced, even a sensation or feeling, is an
event, but the experiencing of it is an act of awareness, and
calls for an explanation of an altogether different kind.

Thus the problem of knowledge, stated in adequate Critical
terms, is not how we can advance from the merely subjective
to knowledge of the independently real, 1 but how, if everything
known forms part of a comprehensive natural system, con-
sciousness and the complex factors which contribute to its
possibility are to be interpreted. On this latter question, as
already indicated, Kant, though debarring both subjectivism
and materialism, otherwise adopts a non-committal attitude.
So long as we continue within the purely theoretical domain,
there are a number of alternatives between which there are no
sufficient data for deciding. To debar subjectivism is not to
maintain the illusory or phenomenal character of the individual
self; and to rule out materialism is not to assert that the
unconscious may not generate and account for the conscious.
In other words, they are ruled out not for any ulterior reasons
derived from their supposed metaphysical consequences, but
solely because they are based on palpable misinterpretations
of the cognitive situation that generates those very problems
to which they profess to be an answer.


The inwardness of Kant's Critical standpoint may per-
haps be made clearer by a brief consideration of his view
of animal intelligence. We are accustomed nowadays to
test a psychology of human consciousness by its capacity
to render conceivable an evolution from lower forms. How
does Kant's teaching emerge from such a test ?

It may at once be admitted that Kant has made no special
study of animal behaviour, and was by no means competent
to speak with authority in regard to its conditions. Indeed it
is evident that anything which he may have to say upon this

1 The connection of this teaching with Kant's theory of consciousness may be
noted. If consciousness in all its forms, however primitive, is already awareness
of meaning, its only possible task is to define, modify, reconstruct, and develop
such meaning, never to obtain for bare contents or existences objective or other
significance. Cf. above, pp. xli-ii, xliv.



question is entirely of the nature of a deduction from results
obtained in the human sphere. But when this has been
admitted, and we are therefore prepared to find the problems
approached from the point of view of the difference rather
than of the kinship between man and the animals, we can
recognise that, so far as the independent study of human
consciousness is concerned, there is a certain compensating
advantage in Kant's pre-Darwinian standpoint. For it leaves
him free from that desire which exercises so constant, and
frequently so deleterious an influence, upon many workers in
the field of psychology, namely, to maintain at all costs, in
anticipation of conclusions not yet by any means established,
the fundamental identity of animal and human intelligence.
This besetting desire all too easily tends to the minimising of
differences that may perhaps with fuller insight be found to
involve no breach of continuity, but which in the present state
of our knowledge cannot profitably be interpreted save in
terms of their differentiating peculiarities.

The current controversy between mechanism and vitalism
enforces the point which I desire to make. Biological
problems, as many biologists are now urging, can be most
profitably discussed in comparative independence of ultimate
issues, entirely in view of their own domestic circumstances.
For only when the actual constitution of organic compounds
has been more completely determined than has hitherto been
possible can the broader questions be adequately dealt with.
In other words, the differences must be known before the
exact nature and degree of the continuity can be defined.
They cannot be anticipated by any mere deduction from
general principles.

The value of Kant's analysis of human consciousness is
thus closely bound up with his frank recognition of its inherent
complexity. Not simplification, but specification, down to
the bedrock of an irreducible minimum of correlated factors, is
the governing motive of his Critical enquiries. His results
have therefore the great advantage of being inspired by no
considerations save such as are prescribed by the actual
subject-matter under investigation. As already noted, Kant
maintains that human consciousness is always an awareness of
meaning, and that consequently it can find expression only in
judgments which involve together with their other factors the
element of recognition or self-consciousness.

This decides for Kant the character of the distinction to be
drawn between animal and human intelligence. As animals,
in his view, cannot be regarded as possessing a capacity of
self-consciousness, they must also be denied all awareness of


meaning. However complicated the associative organisation
of their ideas may be, it never rises to the higher level of
logical judgment. For the same reason, though their ideas
may be schematic in outline, and in their bearing on behaviour
may therefore have the same efficiency as general concepts,
they cannot become universal in the logical sense. " Animals
have apprehensions, but not apperceptions, and cannot, there-
fore, make their representations universal." l In support of
this position Kant might have pointed to the significant fact
that animals are so teachable up to a certain point, and so
unteachable beyond it. They can be carried as far as
associative suggestion will allow, but not a step further.
To this day it remains true at least I venture the assertion
that no animal has ever been conclusively shown to be capable

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 4 of 72)