Norman Kemp Smith.

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

. (page 46 of 72)
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sion of an event B in time, the apprehension of B follows
upon the apprehension of a previous event A, and we cannot
reverse the order, the mind is compelled to view the order of
succession, in terms of the category of causality, as necessitated,
and therefore as objective. The order is a necessary order
not in the sense that A must always precede B, that A is the
cause of B, but that the order, if we are to. apprehend it
correctly, must in this particular case be conceived as necessary.
The succession, that is, need not be conceived as a causal one,
but in order to be conceived as objective succession it must
be conceived as rendered necessary by connections that are

Having, in this general fashion, shown the bearing of his
previous analysis of objective experience upon the problem in
hand, Kant proceeds to develop from it his proof of the special
principle of causality. The schema of causality is necessary
succession in time, and it is through this, its time aspect, that
Kant approaches the principle. It has to do with the special
case of change. To be conscious of change we must be
conscious of an event, that is, of something as happening at a
particular point in time. The change, in other words, requires
to be dated, and as we are not conscious of time in general,
it must be dated by reference to other events, and obviously
in this case in relation to the preceding events, in contrast to
which it is apprehended as change. But according to the
results of our analysis of what constitutes objective experience,
it can be fixed in its position in objective time only if it be
conceived as related to the preceding events according to a
necessary law ; and the law of necessary connection in time is
the law of causality. In order, then, that something which
has taken place may be apprehended as having occurred, that
is, as being an objective change, it must be apprehended as
necessarily following upon that which immediately precedes
it in time, i.e. as causally necessary.

The principle of causality thus conditions consciousness of
objective succession, and Hume, in asserting that we are

2 B


conscious of the succession of events, therefore admits all that
need be assumed in order to prove the principle. The reason
why Hume failed to recognise this, is that he ignored the
distinction between consciousness of the subjective order of
our apprehensions and consciousness of the objective sequence
of events. Yet that is a distinction upon which his own
position rested. For he teaches that determination of causal
laws, sufficiently certain to serve the purposes alike of practical
life and of natural science, can be obtained through observation
of those sequences which remain constant. Such is also the
position of all empiricists. They hold that causal relation is
discovered by comparison of given sequences. Kant's conten-
tion is that the apprehension of change as change, and there-
fore ultimately the apprehension even of an arbitrarily
determined order of subjective succession, 1 presupposes, and
as only possible through, an application of the category of
\ causality. . The primary function of the understanding does
not consist in the clarification of our representation of an event,
but in making such representation possible at all. 2 The
primary field of exercise for the understanding lies not in
the realm of reflective comparison, but in the more funda-
mental sphere of creative synthesis. 3 In determining the
nature of the given it predetermines the principles to which
all reflection upon the given must conform. The discursive
activities of scientific reflection are secondary to, and condi-
tioned by, the transcendental processes which generate the
experience of ordinary consciousness. Only an experience
which conforms to the causal principle can serve as founda-
tion either for the empirical judgments of sense experience,
or for that ever-increasing body of scientific knowledge into
which their content is progressively translated. The principle
of causality is applicable to everything experienced, for the
sufficient reason that experience is itself possible only in terms
of it. This conclusion finds its most emphatic and adequate
statement in the Methodology.

"... through concepts of understanding pure reason establishes
secure principles, not however directly from concepts, but always
only indirectly through relation of these concepts to something
altogether contingent, namely, possible experience. For when such
experience (i.e. something as object of possible experience) is pre-
supposed, the principles are apodictically certain, though by them-

1 By an "arbitrary" order Kant does not, of course, mean an order of
succession that is not determined, but only one that is determined by subjectively
conditioned direction of attention. Cf. below, p. 377.

2 Cf. A 199 = B 244, and above, pp. 133, 288-9; below, p. 377.

8 Cf. A 195-6 = 6 240-1, and above, pp. 172, 176 ff., 182-3, 26 3 ff - 277-8.



selves (directly) a priori they cannot even be recognised at all.
Thus no one can acquire insight into the proposition that everything
which happens has its cause, merely from the concepts involved.
It is not, therefore, a dogma, although from another point of view,
namely, from that of the sole field of its possible employment, i.e.
experience, it can be proved with complete apodictic certainty.
But though it needs proof, it should be entitled a principle, not a
theorem, because /'/ has the peculiar character that it makes possible
the very experience which is its own ground of proof, and in this
experience must always itself be presupposed? '- 1

Before making further comment upon Kant's central argu-
ment, it is advisable to consider the varying statements which
Kant has given of it. We may take his successive proofs
in the order in which they occur in the first edition.

First Proof. 2 The argument is developed in terms of
Kant's early doctrine of the transcendental object The
only points specially characteristic of the statement here
given of that doctrine consist (a) in the emphasis with which
it is asserted that representations can be experienced only in
succession to one another, and that they can never stand in
the. relation of coexistence, 3 and (#) in the almost complete
ignoring of the transcendental object as source or ground of
the rule in terms of which the successive representations are
organised, (a) This is a point common to the arguments of
all three Analogies. In the first and third the problem' is
how, from representations merely successive, permanence and
coexistence can be determined. In the second Analogy the
problem is how from representations invariably successive a
distinction can be drawn between the subjectively determined
order of our apprehensions and the objective sequence of
events. Or in other words : how under such conditions we
can recognise an order as given, and so as prescribing the
order in which it must be apprehended. Or to state the
same point in still another manner : how we can distinguish
between an arbitrary or reversible order and an imposed or
fixed order, and so come to apprehend the subjective order of
our apprehensions as in certain cases controlled by, and
explicable only through, the objective sequence of events. 4

(b) The reason why the transcendental object, as source of
the determinate and prescribed order of the given events,
falls into the background in this passage is that Kant is
concerned only with the general principle or category by
means of which the order is apprehended as necessary. That

1 A 736-7 = B 765. Italics of last sentence not in Kant.

2 A 189-94 = B 234-9 : first to fourth paragraphs (first edition).
8 Cf. above, pp. 348, 358. 4 Cf. A 192-3 = 6 238-9.


principle has a subjective origin even though the particular
sequences of concrete events have by means of that concept
to be conceived as inexorably determined by their noumenal
conditions. 1 The principle accounts for the comprehension of
the order as objective, and that is the only point with which
Kant is here immediately concerned. That the assertion of
the subjective origin of the category is not inconsistent with
recognition of the imposed order of the given has already been
shown above. 2 Kant's own illustration, in this section, of the
ship sailing down stream shows that he was prepared to
assume without question that they are compatible. His argu-
ment is, however, obscure, owing to his failure to distinguish
between the two senses in which the term * rule ' may be
employed. The term may signify either the universal and
merely formal principle that every event must have a cause,
or it may be used to denote the fixed order in which concrete
events are presented to sense-perception. The latter order
need not represent a series the members of which are causally
connected with one another, but only one that is due to causal
necessities. Thus the successive positions of a ship sailing
down stream are not interrelated as cause and effect, and yet
in order to be apprehended as objectively successive must be
conceived as causally conditioned. The term ' rule ' has very
different meanings in the two cases. ' Rule ' in the first sense
is of subjective origin. It is formal, and can never be given.
It is read into the given. ' Rule ' in the second sense is given
merely, and being due to noumenal conditions constitutes the
material element in natural science, the empirical content of
some particular causal law. Owing to Kant's failure explicitly
to distinguish between these two very different connotations
of the term, such a sentence as the following is ambiguous :
"That in appearance which contains the condition of this
necessary rule of apprehension is the object." Kant may
mean that the prescribed order of the concrete events is due
to the transcendental object ; but in that case it is not given
as necessary. Necessity, as he constantly insists, is the one
thing that can never be given. The sentence is also mis-

1 Cf. Riehl, PhUosophischer Kriticismus (second edition), i. pp. 551-2. While
recognising the above main point, Riehl seems to assert that empirical sequence
determines the application of the causal concept. It would be truer, and more in
accordance with the position which Kant is endeavouring to establish, to assert
that appeal to constancy of sequence enables us to determine which antecedents
of any given event are causal conditions. The principle of causality is already
applied when the sequent experiences are apprehended as sequent events. This
ambiguity, however, would seem to be due only to Riehl's mode of expression.
For, as he himself says (p. 551), the law of causality is a ground of experience,
and cannot therefore be derived from it. Cf. above, pp. 267-8, 367.

2 Pp. 365-71, 377-


leading through its use of the term 'appearance.' That
term has no legitimate place in a passage inspired by the
doctrine of the transcendental object ; there can be no such
middle term between subjective representations and the thing
in itself. As Kant himself states, 1 appearance defined in
terms of that doctrine is " nothing save a complex of repre-

There is a very essential difference in the view which Kant
takes of the causal relation according as he is proceeding
upon subjectivist or upon phenomenalist lines. From the
one point of view appearances are representations merely,
and accordingly are entirely devoid of causal efficacy. They
are not causes and effects of one another. They have not
the independence or self-persistence necessary for the exercise
of dynamical energy or even for the reception of modifications.
Being " states of the identical self," all causal relation, dynamic-
ally conceived, must lie solely in their noumenadf conditions.
Causality reduces to the thought of necessitated (not necessi-
tating) sequence. It is, as Kant has suggested in A 181
= B 224, a mere 'analogy' in terms of which we apply the
logical relation of ground and consequence 2 to the interpre-
tation of our subjective representations, and so view them as
grounded not in one another but exclusively in the thing in
itself. Causality in the strict sense, i.e. dynamical agency, can
be looked for only in the noumenal sphere.

Caird, while adopting this explanation of the term
1 analogy,' 3 is, as might be expected from his Hegelian stand-
point, extremely indefinite and non-committal as to whether
or not empirical objects can be genuine causes. Riehl,
notwithstanding his professedly realistic interpretation of
Kant, adopts the above subjectivist view of natural causation.
So also do Benno Erdmann and Paulsen. The latter 4 speaks
with no uncertain voice.

" Causality in the phenomenal world signifies for Kant, as for
Hume, nothing but regularity in the sequence of phenomena. Real
causal efficiency cannot of course occur here, for phenomena are
ideational products. As such they can no more produce an effect
than concepts can."

The corresponding phenomenalist view of the causal rela-
tion receives no quite definite formulation either in this section
or elsewhere in the Critique, but may be gathered from the

1 A 191 = B 236. Cf. above, pp. 216-18.

2 As pointed out above, this is really a secondary meaning which Kant reads
into the term analogy ; it is not the true explanation of his choice of the term.

3 Critical Philosophy of Kant ', vol. i. pp. 540, 580.

4 Kant, p. 198 : trans, by Creighton and Lefevre, p. 196.


general trend of Kant's phenomenalist teaching. 1 It is some-
what as follows. The term c analogy ' is viewed as having a
meaning very different from that above suggested. The
causal relation is not a mere analogy from the logical relation
of ground and consequence ; it is the representation of
genuinely dynamical activities in the objects apprehended.
Those objects are not mere states of the self, subjective
representations. They are part of an independent order
which in the form known to us is a phenomenalist transcript
of a deeper reality. If the causal relation is the analogy of
anything distinguishable from itself, it is an analogon or
interpretation of dynamical powers exercised by things in
themselves, 2 not of the merely logical relation between
premisses and conclusion. The objects of representation may
exercise powers which representations as such can never be
conceived as possessing. Between the individual's subjective
states and things in themselves stands the phenomenal world
of the natural sciences. Its function, whether as directly
experienced through sense-perception or as conceptually
reconstructed through scientific hypothesis, is to stand as the
representative in human consciousness of that noumenal realm
in which all existence is ultimately rooted. The causal
interactions of material bodies in space are as essentially
constitutive of those bodies as are any of their quantitative
properties. Causal relation, even in the phenomenal sphere,
must not be identified with mere conformity to law. The
true and complete purpose of the natural sciences is not to
be found in the Berkeleian or sceptical ideal of simplification,
but in the older and sounder conception of causal explanation.
That, at least, is the view which Kant invariably defends
whenever he has occasion to discuss the principles of physical

Second Proof. 3 The argument of the first proof is here
developed in indirect fashion. In the absence of any rule
prescribing necessary sequence, no distinction can be made
between subjective and objective succession. The justifica-
tion for such a rule lies therefore, not in an inductive inference
from repeated experience, but in its necessity for the possibility
of experience. It is an expression of the synthetic unity in
which experience consists.

Third Proof. 4 This is for the most part merely a restate-

1 Cf. above, pp. 270 ff., 313-21.

2 Kant, of course, recognises that we cannot make any such positive assertion ;
to do so would be to transcend the limits imposed by Critical principles. Cf.
below, p. 382.

3 A 194-6 = B 239-41 : fifth to seventh paragraphs (first edition).

4 A 196-9 = 6 241-4 : eighth to tenth paragraphs (first edition).


ment of the first proof. It differs from it in making rather
more explicit that the objective reference involved in the
notion of the transcendental object is one that carries the
mind beyond all representations to the thought of something
which determines their order according to a rule. Otherwise
the ambiguities of the terms employed are identical with those
of the first proof. Its concluding paragraph, however, is a
much clearer statement of the difficult argument of A 192-3 =
B 238-9.

Fourth Proof. 1 This proof differs from all the others. It
argues from the characteristics of pure time to the properties
necessary to the empirical representation of the time-series.
As time cannot be experienced in and by itself, all its
essential characteristics must be capable of being represented
in terms of appearance. "Only in appearances can we
empirically recognise continuity in the connection of times."
The primary function of the understanding is to make such
recognition possible, and it does so by " transferring the time
order to the appearances and their existence." It is a neces-
sary law of time that we can only advance to the succeeding
through the preceding. Each moment of time is the indispens-
able condition of the existence of that which follows it. We can
pass to the year 1915 only by way of the preceding year 1914.
And since, as just noted, time is not cognisable by itself but
only as the form of our perceptions, this law must be applic-
able to them. We can only be conscious of all times as
successively conditioning one another in one single time, and
that means in one single objective time, if we are conscious of
all the phenomena perceived as conditioning one another in
their order in time.

It is somewhat difficult to understand how Kant came to
formulate the argument in this form. The explanation may
perhaps be found in his preoccupation 2 with the doctrine of
a transcendental activity of the productive imagination and
with the connected doctrine of a pure a priori manifold. For
this proof would seem to rest upon the assumption that the
characteristics of time are known purely a priori and therefore
with complete certainty, independently of sense experience.
The unusual and somewhat scholastic character of the proof
also appears in Kant's substitution of the principle of sufficient
reason for the principle of causality. But despite the artificial
character of the standpoint, the argument serves to bring
prominently forward Kant's central thesis, viz. that the
principle of causality is presupposed in all consciousness of

1 A 199-201 = B 244-6 : eleventh to thirteenth paragraphs (first edition).
2 Cf. above, pp. 224 ff., 264 ff. ; below, 377.


time, even of the subjectively successive. Also, by emphasising
that time in and by itself can never be " an object of
perception," and that the relating of appearances to " absolute
time" is possible only through the determining of them in
their relations to one another, it supplies the data for
correction of its own starting-point.

Fifth Proof. 1 This proof is probably later than the
preceding proofs. Though its essential content coincides with
that of the opening proof, its formulation would seem to be
a first attempt at statement of the sixth proof, i.e. of the
argument which Kant added in the second edition. Adickes
considers this proof to be earlier in date than the first four
proofs, but the reason which he assigns for so regarding it,
viz. that Kant here postulates a synthesis of the imagination
independent of the categories as preceding a synthesis of
apprehension in terms of the categories, seems to be based
upon a much too literal reading of Kant's loose mode of
statement. The argument rather appears to be, as in the
sixth proof, that synthesis of the imagination may be either
subjective or objective ; and the term "apprehension" would
seem to be used as signifying that the manifold synthesised is
given to the imagination through actual sense experience,
and that as thus given it has a determinate order of its own.
The argument concludes with the statement (more definite
than any to be found in the preceding arguments), that the
proof of the principle of causality consists in its indispens-
ableness as a condition of all empirical judgments, and so
of experience as such. As a ground of the possibility of
experience it must be valid of all the objects of experience.

Sixth Proof. 2 The argument of the fifth proof is here
more clearly stated. All synthesis is due to "the faculty
of imagination which determines inner sense in respect of
the time relation." Such synthesis may, however, yield the
consciousness either of subjective succession or of succes-
sion " in the object." In the latter form it presupposes the
employment of a pure concept of the understanding, that of
the relation of cause and effect. And the conclusion reached
is again that only so is empirical knowledge possible. This
mode of stating the argument is far from satisfactory. It
tends to obscure Kant's central thesis, that only through
consciousness of an objective order is consciousness of
subjective sequence possible, and that the principle of causality
is therefore a conditioning factor of all consciousness. The
misleading distinction drawn in the Prolegomena between

1 A 201-2 = 6246-7 : fourteenth paragraph (first edition).
2 B 233-4 : second paragraph (second edition).


judgments of perception and judgments of experience also
crops out in Kant's use of the phrase " mere perception." l

We may again return to Kant's central argument. For
we have still to consider certain objections to which it may
seem to lie open, and also to comment upon Kant's further
explanations in the remaining paragraphs of the section. 2
Kant's imperfect statement of his position has suggested to
Hutchison Stirling and others a problem which is largely
artificial, namely, how the mind is enabled to recognise the
proper occasions upon which to apply the category of causality.
On the one hand sequence as such cannot be the criterion,
since many sequences are not causal, and on the other hand
the absence of sequence does not appear to debar its applica-
tion, since cause and effect would frequently seem to be co-
existent. This difficulty arises from failure to appreciate the
central thesis upon which Kant's proof of the principle of
causality ultimately rests. Kant's diffuse and varying mode
of statement may conceal but never conflicts with that thesis,
which consists in the contention that the category of causality
is a necessary and invariable factor in all consciousness.
Nothing can be apprehended save in terms of it. 3 It pre-
scribes an interpretation which the mind has no option save
to apply in the consciousness of each and every event, of the
coexistent no less than of the sequent. Whether two changes
are coexistent or are successive, each must be conceived as
possessing an antecedent cause. The only difference is that
in the case of sequent events one of them (i.e. the antecedent
change) may, upon empirical investigation, be found to be
itself the cause of the second and subsequent event, whereas
with coexistent events this can never be possible. As the
principle of causality is that every event must have an ante-
cedent cause, it follows that where there is no sequence there
can be no causation. But when Kant states that sequence is
" the sole empirical criterion " 4 of the causal relation, he does
less than justice to the position he is defending. The empirical
criteria are manifold in number, and are such as John Stuart
Mill has attempted to formulate in his inductive methods.

Schopenhauer has objected 5 that Kant's argument proves
too much, since it would involve that all objective sequences,

1 B 233-4. 2 From A 202 = B 247 to the end.

3 Kant's phenomenalist substitute for the Cartesian subjectivism (cf. above, pp.
270 ff., 312 ff.) enables him to develop this thesis in a consistent and thoroughgoing
manner. The subjective is a subspecies within the class of what is determined
by natural law ; and the principle of causality is therefore applicable to subjective
change in the same rigorous fashion as to the objectively sequent.

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 46 of 72)