Norman Kemp Smith.

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

. (page 41 of 72)
Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 41 of 72)
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parallelism with that of the transcendental unity of apper-
ception. They were regarded as correlative opposites, the
dual centres of noumenal reference for our merely subjective
representations. Kant's further examination of the nature
of apperception, as embodied in alterations in the second
edition, was certainly, as we shall find, inspired by the criti-
cisms which the first edition had called forth. His replies,
however, are merely more explicit statements of the dis-
tinction which he had already developed in the first edition
between the transcendental and the empirical self, and that
distinction in turn was doubtless itself largely determined by
his own independent recognition of the untenability of his
early view of the transcendental object. Though it is much
more difficult to differentiate between the empirical and the
transcendental self than to distinguish between the empirical
object and the thing in itself, both distinctions are from a

1 B 277. 2 Above, p. 208 ff.


genuinely Critical standpoint equally imperative, and rest
upon considerations that are somewhat similar in the two

One of the chief and most telling criticisms directed
against the teaching of the first edition was that Kant's
doctrine of a transcendental consciousness of the self's exist-
ence, i.e. of the existence of a noumenal being, " this I or he
or it (the thing) which thinks," 1 is inconsistent with the
teaching of the Postulates of Empirical Thought. In that
section, as also later in the section on the theological Ideal,
Kant had declared most emphatically that existence is never
discoverable in the content of any mere concept. It is
revealed in perception, and in perception alone, in virtue of
the element of sensation contained in the latter.

"... to know the actuality of things demands perception, and
therefore sensation. . . . For that the concept precedes perception,
signifies the concept's mere possibility ; the perception which supplies
the content \Stoff\ to the concept, is the sole criterion [Ckarakter]
of actuality." 2

Yet Kant had also maintained that the ' I think ' is
equivalent to ' I am,' 3 and that in this form, as an intellectual
consciousness of the self's existence, it precedes all experience.
The teaching of the Postulates is, however, the teaching of the
Critique as a whole, and such critics as Pistorius seemed
therefore to be justified in maintaining that Kant, in reducing
the experiences of inner sense to mere appearance, destroys
the possibility of establishing reality in any form. Appear-
ance, in order to be appearance, presupposes the reality not
only of that which appears, but also of the mental process
whereby it is apprehended. But if reality is given only in
sensation, and yet all experience that involves sensation is
merely appearance, there is no self by which appearance can
be conditioned ; and only illusion (Schein\ not appearance
(Erscheinung\ is left. To quote Pistorius' exact words :

" [If our inner representations are not things in themselves but only
appearances] there will be nothing but illusion (Schein\ for nothing
remains to which anything can appear." 4

Kant evidently felt the force. of this criticism, for in the
second edition he replies to it on no less than seven different
occasions. 5 In three of these passages 6 the term Schein is

1 A 346=6 404. z A 224-5 = B 272-3. 8 Cf. B 277.

4 Quoted by B. Erdmann : Kriticismus^ p. 107.

8 B xxxix n. , 67-8, 70, 157-8 with appended note, 276-8, 422 ., 427-9.

6 B 70, 157, 428.


employed, and in the note to B xxxix the term Erdichtung
appears. This shows very conclusively that it is such
criticism as the above that Kant has in mind. The most
explicit passage is B 428 :

"The proposition, 'I think,' or 'I exist thinking,' is an empirical
proposition. Such a judgment, however, is conditioned by empirical
intuition, and the object that is thought therefore underlies it as
appearance. It would consequently seem that on our theory the
soul is completely transformed, even in thinking \selbst im Denken\
into appearance, and that in this way our consciousness itself, as
being a mere illusion \Schein\ must refer in fact to nothing."

Kant, in his reply, is unyielding in the contention that the
' I think,' even though it involves an empirical judgment, is
itself intellectual. " This representation is a thinking, not an
intuiting," 1 or as he adds, "The 'I think' expresses the actus
whereby I determine my existence." Existence is therefore
already given thereby. 2 Kant also still maintains that the
self thus revealed is not " appearance and still less illusion."

" I am conscious of myself . . ., not as I appear to myself, nor
as I am in myself, but only that I am." 3 "I thereby represent
myself to myself neither as I am nor as I appear to myself. I
think myself only as I do any object in general from whose mode of
intuition I abstract." 4

Kant's method of meeting the criticism, while still holding
to these positions, is twofold. It consists in the first place in
maintaining that the 'I think,' though intellectual, can find
expression only in empirical judgments in other words, that
it is in and by itself formal only, and presupposes as the
occasion of its employment a given manifold of inner sense ;
and secondly, by the statement that the ' existence ' which is
involved in the * I think ' is not the category of existence.
Let us take in order each of these two points.

Kant's first method of reply itself appears in two forms, a
stronger and a milder. The milder mode of statement 5 is to
the effect that though the representation ' I am ' already im-
mediately involves the thought of the existence of the subject,
it yields no knowledge of it. Knowledge would involve
intuition, namely, consciousness of inner determinations in
time, which in turn would itself presuppose consciousness of
outer objects. As a merely intellectual representation,

1 B 157.

2 B 157 n. Regarding the un-Critical character of Kant's language in this
passage, and of the tendencies which inspire it, cf. below, p. 329.

3 B 157. 4 B 429.
5 Cf. B 277-8 and B 157.


". . . this 'I' has not the least predicate of intuition which, in
its character of permanence, could, somewhat after the manner of
impenetrability in the empirical intuition of matter, serve as correlate
of time determination in inner sense." l

The stronger and more definite mode of statement is that
the ' I think ' is an empirical proposition. 2 Though it involves
as one factor the intellectual representation, ' I think,' it is
none the less empirical.

"Without some empirical representation supplying the material
for thought, the actus, 'I think,' would not take place. . . ." 3

The empirical is indeed " only the condition of the applica-
tion or employment of the pure intellectual faculty," but as
such is indispensable. This is repeated in even clearer terms
in B 429.

"The proposition, 'I think,' in so far as it amounts to the
assertion, 'I exist thinking,' is no mere logical function but determines
the subject (which is then at the same time object) in respect of
existence, and cannot take place without inner sense. . . ."

This admission is the more significant in that it follows
immediately upon a passage in which Kant has been arguing
that thinking, taken in and by itself, is a merely logical

The real crux lies in the question as to the legitimacy of
Kant's application of the predicate existence to the transcend-
ental subject. Its employment in reference to the empirical
self in time is part of the problem of the Refutation of Idealism
in the second edition ; and the answer there given is clear and
definite. Consciousness of the empirical self as existing in
time involves consciousness of outer objects in space. But
as Kant recognises that a transcendental ego, not in time, is
presupposed in all consciousness of the empirical self, the
question whether the predicate of existence is also applicable
to the transcendental self cannot be altogether avoided, and
is indeed referred to in B 277. The attitude to be taken to
this latter question is not, .however, defined in that section.

In the first edition Kant has insisted that the categories
as pure forms of the understanding, in isolation from space
and time, are merely logical functions " without content."
Interpreted literally, this would signify that they are devoid
of meaning, and therefore are incapable of yielding the
thought of any independent object or existence. As merely
logical forms of relation, they presuppose a material, and that

1 B 278. 2 B 420 and B 422 . 3 B 422 n.


is supplied only through outer and inner sense. Such is not,
however, the way in which Kant interprets his own statement.
It is qualified so as to signify only that they are without
specific or determinate content. They are taken as yielding
the conception of object in general. Passages in plenty can
be cited from the first edition l passages allowed to remain
in the second edition in which Kant teaches that the pure
forms of understanding, as distinct from the schematised
categories, yield the conception of things in themselves.
This view is, indeed, a survival from his earlier doctrine of the
transcendental object. 2 In all passages added in the second
edition the consequences of his argument are more rigor-
ously drawn, and the doctrine of the transcendental object
is entirely eliminated. It is now unambiguously asserted
that the pure forms of understanding, the " modes of self-
consciousness in thinking," 3 are not intellectual concepts of
objects. They "yield no object whatsoever." The only
object is that given through sense. And since in thinking the
transcendental subject we do, by Kant's own account, think
an " object," he is led to the conclusion, also explicitly avowed,
that the notion of existence involved in the * I think ' is not
the category of the same name. 4 So also of the categories
of substance and causality.

"If I represent myself as subject of thoughts or as ground of
thinking, these modes of representation do not signify the categories
of substance or of cause. . . ."?

The notion of the self, like the notion of things in
themselves, is a concept distinct from all the categories. 6

This conclusion is reinforced by means of an argument
which is employed in the (section of the first edition on Para-
logisms. Apperception is the ground of the possibility of the
categories, and these latter on their side represent only the
synthetic unity which that apperception demands. Self-
consciousness is therefore the representation of that which is

1 Cf. above, pp. 204 ff. , 404 ff. 2 Cf. above, p. 204 ff. 3 B 406.

4 B 422 n. Though both concepts are denoted by the same term, they may
not such is the implication be for that reason identified.

5 B 429. Kant does not, however, even in the second edition, hold
consistently to this position. In the sentence immediately preceding that just
quoted he equates the transcendental self with the notion of " object in general."
" I represent myself to myself neither as I am nor as I appear to myself, but
think myself only as I do any object in general from whose mode of intuition I

6 The broader bearing of this view may be noted. If consistently developed,
it must involve the assertion that noumenal reality is apprehended in terms of the
Ideas of reason, for these are the only other concepts at the disposal of the mind.
Cf. above, pp. liii-v, 217-18; below, pp. 331, 390-1, 414-17, 426 ff., 558-61.


the condition of all unity, and which yet is itself uncon-

"... it does not represent itself through the categories, but
knows the categories and through them all objects in the absolute
unity of apperception, and so through itself. Now it is, indeed, very
evident that I cannot know as an object that which I must pre-
suppose in order to know any object. . . ." l

This argument recurs in B 422.

" The subject of the categories cannot by thinking the categories
acquire a conception of itself as an object of the categories. For,
in order to think them, its pure self-consciousness, which is what
was to be accounted for, must itself be presupposed."

It is extremely difficult to estimate the value and cogency
of this argument. 2 Many objections or rather qualifications
must be made before it can be either accepted or rejected. If
it be taken only as asserting that the unity of self-conscious-
ness is not adequately expressible through any of the categories,
it is undoubtedly valid. If, further, the categories be identified
with the schemata, it is also true that they are not applicable
in any degree or manner. The schemata are applicable only
to natural existences in space and time. Self-consciousness
can never be reduced to a natural existence of that type.
On the other hand, if it is not self-consciousness as such, but
the self-conscious subject, which on Kant's view is always
noumenal "this I or he or it (the thing) which thinks" 3
that is referred to, and if we distinguish between the categories
strictly so called, that is, the pure forms of understanding,
and the schemata, it is not at all evident that the self-conscious
subject may not be described as being an existence that is
always a subject and never a predicate, and as being related
to experience as a ground or condition. These indefinite
assertions leave open alternative possibilities. They do not
even decide whether the self is " I or he or it." 4 In so far
as they advance beyond the mere assertion that the self rests
upon noumenal conditions they are, indeed, incapable of proof,
but by no Critical principle can they be shown to be inapplic-
able. When, therefore, Kant may seem to extract a more
definite conclusion from the above argument, 5 he advances
beyond what it can be made to support.

1 A 402.

2 It is doubtful whether A 401-2 represents a genuinely Critical position.
Several of its phrases seem reminiscent of Kant's semi-Critical view of the nature
of apperception. This is especially true of the assertion that self-consciousness is
" itself unconditioned."

3 A 346 = 6 404. Cf. below, pp. 456, 461-2. 4 Cf. A 345.

B That he does not really do so is clear from the context and also from the
manner in which he restated this argument in the second edition (B 421-2).


Kant is here influenced by the results of the ethical
enquiries with which in the period subsequent to 1781 he was
chiefly preoccupied. He believed himself to have proved
that the self, as a self-conscious being, is a genuinely noumenal
existence. That being so, he was bound to hold that the
categories, even as pure logical forms, are inadequate to
express its real determinate nature. But he confounds this
position with the assertion that they are not only inadequate,
but in and by themselves are likewise inapplicable. That is
not a legitimate conclusion, for even if the self is more than
mere subject or mere ground, it will at least be so much.
When ethical considerations are left out of account, the only
proper conclusion is that the applicability of the categories
to the self-conscious subject is capable neither of proof nor of
disproof, but that when the distinction between appearance
and reality (which as we shall find is ultimately based upon
the Ideas of Reason) has been drawn, the categories can
be employed to define the possible difference between self-
conscious experience and its unknown noumenal conditions.
Any other conclusion conflicts with the teaching of the section
on the Paralogisms.

It is important to observe a point ignored by such critics
as Caird and Watson that in the sections under considera-
tion * Kant most explicitly declares self-consciousness to be
merely " the representation of that which is the condition of
all unity." He maintains that this representation, as stand-
ing for u the determining self (the thinking), is to be dis-
tinguished from the self which we are seeking to determine
(the subject which thinks) as knowledge from its object," 2 or
in other words, that, without special proof, unattainable on
theoretical grounds, " the unity of thought " may not be taken as
equivalent to the unity of the thinking subject. 3 They may
be as diverse as unity of representation and unity of object
represented are frequently found to be. We may never argue
from simplicity in a representation to simplicity in its object.

But to return to the main thesis, it may be observed that
these arguments, with the exception of that which we have
just been considering from the nature of self-consciousness,
lead to the conclusion that the categories are as little applicable
to the thing in itself as to the transcendental subject. Even
the argument from the necessary and invariable presence of
self-consciousness in each and every act of judgment is itself
valid only from a .point of view which regards self-conscious-
ness in the manner of Kant's early semi-Critical view of the

1 A 401-2, B 421-2 ; below, pp. 461-2.
2 A 402 ; cf. B 407. 3 Cf. B 421-2.


transcendental subject 1 as an ultimate. But if, as is main-
tained in the section in which this argument occurs, viz. that
on the Paralogisms, self-consciousness may be complexly con-
ditioned, and may indeed have conditions similar in nature
to those which underlie outer experience, the categories may
be just as applicable, or as inapplicable, to its noumenal
nature as to the nature of the thing in itself. It is noticeable
that in the second edition, doubtless under the influence of
preoccupation with ethical problems, some of Kant's utter-
ances betray a tendency to relax the rigour of his thinking,
and to bring his theoretical teaching into closer agreement
with his ethical results than the theoretical analysis in and by
itself at all justifies. This tendency was, of course, reinforced
by the persisting influence of that view of the transcendental
subject which he had held in the middle 'seventies, and from
which he never completely emancipated either his language
or his thinking. 2 Indeed in several of the passages added in
the second edition 3 Kant even goes so far as to adopt language
which if taken quite literally would mean that the ' I think J is
an immediate consciousness of the mind's purely intellectual
activity a view which, as we have seen, 4 is altogether alien
to the Critical position. It would, as he argues so forcibly
elsewhere, involve a kind of experience which does not con-
form to Critical requirements, and which would lie open to
the attacks of sceptics such as Hume.

In B 157-8 the difficulties of Kant's position are again
manifest. Speaking of the representation of the self, he
declares that " I am conscious of myself . . ., not as I appear
to myself, nor as I am in myself, but only that I am." This
may seem to imply that existence is predicable of the tran-
scendental self. He adds that though the determination, i.e.
specification in empirical form, of my existence (mem eigenes
Daseiri] is possible only in inner sensuous intuition, it is " not
appearance and still less mere illusion." But in the appended
note it is urged that my existence (Dasein) as self -active
being is represented in purely indeterminate fashion. Only
my existence as sensuous, and therefore as appearance, can
be known, i.e. can be made determinate.

The problem is more directly and candidly faced in the
note to B 422. That note is interesting for quite a number
of reasons. It reveals Kant in the very act of recasting
his position, and in the process of searching around for a
mode of formulation which will enable him to hold to
a transcendental consciousness of the selfs existence and

1 Cf. above, pp. 1-ii, 208-9, 260-3. 2 Cf. above, he. cit.

3 Cf. B 157-8 and 157 ., B 278, B 428-9. 4 Above, pp. 295-6, 311 n. 4.


at the same time not to violate the definition of existence
given in the Postulates, i.e. both to posit the transcendental
self as actual and yet to deny the applicability to it of any
of the categories. After stating that the * I think ' is an
empirical proposition in which my existence is immediately
involved, he proceeds further to describe it as expressing " an
undetermined empirical intuition, i.e. perception," and so as
showing that sensation underlies its assertion of existence.
Kant does not, however, mean by these words that the
existence asserted is merely that of the empirical self; for
he proceeds :

"... existence is here not a category, which as such does not
apply to an indeterminately-given object. . . . An indeterminate
perception here signifies only something real that is given, given
indeed to thought in general, and so not as appearance, nor as thing
in itself (Noumenon\ but as something which actually [in der That]
exists, and which in the proposition, I think, is denoted \bezeichnet\
as such."

The phrases here employed are open to criticism on every
side. Kant completely departs from his usual terminology
when he asserts that through an "indeterminate perception"
the self is given, and " given to thought in general " as " some-
thing real." The contention, that the existence asserted is
not a category, is also difficult to accept. 1 It is equally sur-

1 There is this difference between the category of existence and the categories
of relation, namely, that it would seem to be impossible to distinguish between a
determinate and an indeterminate application of it. Either we assert existence
or we do not ; there is no such third alternative as in the case of the categories of
substance and causality. The category of substance, determinately used, signifies
material existence in space and time ; indeterminately applied it is the purely
problematic and merely logical notion of something that is always a subject and
never a predicate. The determinate category of causality is the conception of
events conditioning one another in time ; indeterminately employed it signifies only
the quite indefinite notion of a ground or condition. Also, Kant's explicit teaching
(A 597 ff. = B 625 ff. ) is that the notion of existence stands in an altogether different
position from other predicates. It is not an attribute constitutive of the concept
of the subject to which it is applied, but is simply the positing of the content of
that concept as a whole. Nor, again, is it a relational form for the articulation
of content. These would seem to be the reasons why no distinction is possible
between a determinate and an indeterminate application of the notion of existence,
and why, therefore, Kant, in defending the possible dual employment of it, has
difficulty in holding consistently to the doctrines expounded in the Postulates. He
is, by his own explicit teaching, interdicted from declaring that the notion of
existence is both a category and not a category, or, in other words, that it may
vary in meaning according as empirical or noumenal reality is referred to, and
that only in the former case is it definite and precise. Yet such a view would,
perhaps, better harmonise with certain other lines of thought which first obtain
statement in the Dialectic. For though it is in the Dialectic that Kant expounds
his grounds for holding that existence and content are separate and independent,
it is there also that he first begins to realise the part which the Ideas of Reason
are called upon to play in the drawing of the distinction between appearance and


prising to read that its reality is given " neither as appearance
nor as thing [Sac/ie] in itself (Noumenon) " ; for hitherto no
such alternative form of real existence has been recognised.
But to press such criticisms is to ignore the spirit for the
sake of the letter. Kant here breaks free from all his habitual
modes of expression for the very good and sufficient reason
that he is striving to develop a position more catholic and
comprehensive than any previously adopted. He is seeking
to formulate a position which, without in any way justifying
or encouraging the transcendent employment of the categories,
will yet retain for thought the capacity of self-limitation,
that is, of forming concepts which will reveal the existence
of things in themselves and so will enable the mind to appre-
hend the radical distinction between things in themselves and
things experienced. But he has not yet discovered that in so

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 41 of 72)