Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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in perception, cannot be determined as possible. As they

1 Cf. above, pp. 38-9 ; below, pp. 398-9, 418 ff. 2 Cf. A 220-3 = 6 267-71.


involve sensuous contents, the formal elements of experience
do not suffice for proof of their possibility ; and since the
contents are supposed to have been recombined in ways not
supported by experience, an empirical criterion is equally
inapplicable. Obviously Kant is here using the term ' possible '
not in the meaning of the first Postulate, but in its narrower
connotation as signifying that which is capable of objective
reality. Such fictitious concepts may completely fulfil all the
demands prescribed by space, time, and the categories, and
yet, as he here insists, be none the less incapable of objective

The argument is still further obscured by the character
of the concrete examples which Kant cites. They involve
modes of action or of intuition which contradict the very
conditions of human experience, and so for that reason alone
fall outside the realm of the empirically possible. That would
not, however, seem to be Kant's meaning in employing them.
Assumed powers of anticipating the future or of telepathic
communication with other minds are, he says, concepts

"... the possibility of which is altogether groundless, as they cannot
be based on experience and its known laws, and without such con-
firmation are arbitrary combinations of thoughts, which, although
indeed free from contradiction, can make no claim to objective
reality and so to the possibility of an object such as we here profess
to think." 1

The mathematical examples which Kant gives in A 223 =
B 271 2 are no less misleading. The concept of a triangle can,
it is implied, be determined as possible in terms of the first
Postulate, since it harmonises with a formal condition of
experience, namely, space. This is true only if it be granted
that construction in space can be executed absolutely a priori,
in independence of all sense-experience. Such is, of course,
Kant's most usual view ; and to that extent the argument is
consistent. Mathematical concepts will from this point of
view represent the only possible exception to the general
statement that the formal conditions of experience constitute
a criterion of possibility for no concepts save themselves.
Kant's final conclusion is clearly and explicitly stated in the
following terms :

" I leave aside everything the possibility of which can be derived
only from its reality in experience, and have here in view only the
possibility of things through a priori concepts ; and I maintain the
thesis that the possibility of such things can never be established

1 A 223 = B 270. - Cf. A 220 = B 268.


from such concepts taken in and by themselves, but only when
they are viewed as formal and objective conditions of experience in
general." l

We are now in a position to appreciate the reasons which
have induced Adickes to regard the text as of composite
origin. 2 Adickes argues that Kant's original intention was to
treat the three concepts together, showing that they can be
defined only in empirical terms, and that their significance is
consequently limited to the world of appearance. Such is the
content of the first, second, fourth (excepting the first sentence),
and fifth paragraphs. No attempt is made to separate the
three Postulates ^ and the term possibility is throughout em-
ployed exclusively as referring to objective reality. (In
the third paragraph it is used in both senses.) The other
paragraphs were, according to Adickes' theory, added later,
when Kant unfortunately resolved to fulfil more exactly
the requirements of his architectonic. That involved the
formulation of three separate Postulates, with all the many
evil consequences which that attempt carried in its train.
He must then have interpolated the third paragraph, added
the first sentence to the fourth paragraph, corrected the too
extensive sweep of the older paragraphs through the intro-
duction of the sixth paragraph, further supplemented the
exposition of the first Postulate by the seventh paragraph,
and added independent treatments of the postulates of actual-
ity and necessity. This may seem a very complicated and
hazardous hypothesis ; but careful examination of the text,
with due recognition of the confused character of the argu-
ment as it stands, will probably convince the reader that
Adickes is in the right.

Second Postulate. 3 Perception is necessary to all deter-
mination of actuality. The actual is either itself given in
perception or can be shown, in accordance with the Analogies,
to stand within the unity of objective experience, in con-
nection with what is thus given. So long as Kant expresses
himself in these terms his statements are entirely valid.
Nothing which cannot be shown to be bound up with the
contingent material of sense-experience can be admitted as
actual. He proceeds, however, to give a definition of actuality
which entirely omits all reference to the Analogies, and which
is open to the same fundamental criticism as his characterisa-
tion of possibility in the first Postulate, Though the earlier
statements give due recognition both to the material content
and to the relational forms constitutive of complete experience,
1 A 223 = 6 270-1. 2 K. p. 223 n. 3 A224 = B 272.


Kant now contrasts the mere or bare (blosser) concept
and the given perception in a manner which suggests the
unfortunate distinction drawn in the Prolegomena, and re-
peated in the second edition of the Critique, between judg-
ments of perception and judgments of experience. 1 Kant's
reference to " the mere concept of a thing " 2 is on the same
lines as the opening paragraph of the section. However
complete the concept may be, it yields not the least ground
for deciding as to the existence of its object.

Kant's thinking, as I have already pointed out, is here
perverted by the continuing influence of the Leibnizian
rationalism. He is forgetting that, on Critical principles,
even the categories are meaningless except in their refer-
ence to the contingently given. If that be true of the
strictly a priori, it must hold with even greater force of
empirical concepts with sensuous content. As the sole legiti-
mate function of concepts, whether a priori or empirical,
is to organise and unify the material of sense, there can be no
such thing as the mere or bare concept. Such a combination
of words is without Critical significance. A concept as such
must refer to, and embody insight into, the real. Only in
proportion to its incompleteness, that is, to its indefiniteness,
can it remain without specific and quite determinate location
within the context of unified experience. It may, indeed, be
found convenient to retain the phrase " mere concept " not-
withstanding its misleading character and rationalistic origin.
It must, however, be used only to mark the indefiniteness,
indeterminateness, or incompleteness which prevents it from
adequately revealing the denotation to which through the
nature of its content it necessarily refers. Meaning and
existence, connotation and denotation, are complementary
the one to the other, and though not, perhaps, coextensive
(if that term has itself meaning in this connection), are none
the less inseparably conjoined. When Kant's utterances, as
frequently happens, imply the contrary, they may be taken
as revealing the strength and insidious tenacity of the influ-
ences from which he was sufficiently courageous, but not
always sufficiently watchful, to break away.

The doctrine of the " mere concept " finds its natural
supplement in the equally un-Critical assertion that

"... perception [evidently employed in the less pregnant sense, as
signifying ' sensation accompanied by consciousness '], which supplies
the material to the concept, is the sole character of actuality"'*'

1 Cf. above, pp. 288-9. 2 A 225 = 6 272. Cf. above, pp. 394-6.

3 A 225 = B 273. Italics not in Kant.


This same position is expressed equally strongly by Kant
in his Reflexionen (ii. 1095).

" Possibility is thought without being given ; actuality is given
without being thought ; necessity is given through being thought."

Such statements are entirely out of harmony with Kant's
central teaching. There is no lack of passages in the Critique
which inculcate the direct contrary. Though the element of
sensation is a sine qua non of all experience of the actual, the
formal elements are no less indispensable. In their absence
the merely given would reduce to less than a dream ; for
even in dreams images are interpreted and are referred to
some connected context. The given, merely as such, cannot
enter the field of consciousness, and is therefore " for us as
good as nothing." As Caird has pointed out, we find in

"... two apparently contradictory forms of expression (i) that the
understanding by means of its conceptions refers our preceptions to
objects, and (2) that conceptions are referred to objects only in-
directly through perceptions. The former mode of expression is
preferred whenever Kant has to show that * perceptions without con-
ceptions are blind ' ; the latter when he has to show that ' conceptions
without perceptions are empty.' " l " We can understand the
possibility of Kant's looking at the subject in these two opposite
ways, only if we remember the reciprocal presupposition of per-
ception and conception in the judgment of knowledge, and the way
in which Kant tries to explain it, now from the point of view of per-
ception, and now from the point of view of conception. The effect
of this is, no doubt, a formal contradiction which Kant himself never
disentangles, but which we must endeavour to disentangle, if we
would do justice to him," 2

The one-sidedness of Kant's definition of actuality is
certainly due to the cause suggested by Caird. The definition,
notwithstanding its misleading character, serves to enforce
against the older rationalism, with which Kant through-
out this section is almost exclusively concerned, the central
tenet through which the Critical teaching is distinguished from
that of Leibniz, namely, that neither existence, possibility,
nor necessity, can be established save by reference to the
contingent nature of the sensuously given. Proof by reference
to the possibility of experience can establish only those
conditions which can be shown to be de facto necessary in
order that consciousness of time may be accounted for. The
formal conditions of experience, which in and by themselves

1 The Critical Philosophy of Kant) i. p. 591. 2 Op. tit. p. 595.


are determinable neither as actual nor as possible, are estab-
lished as actual, and so as necessary, by reference to the
merely given ; they are necessary only in this merely relative
fashion, as being indispensable to what can never itself be
viewed as other than contingent.

" Our knowledge of the existence of things reaches, then, only so
far as perception and its continuation according to laws of nature can
extend. If we do not start from experience, or do not proceed
according to laws of the empirical connection of appearances, our
guessing or enquiring into the existence of anything will only be an
idle pretence." 1

Polemically, therefore, Kant's formulation of the second
Postulate is not without its advantages, though from the inner
standpoint of Critical teaching it is altogether inadequate.

For comment upon A 226 = B 273, and upon the general
teaching of this Postulate in its important bearing upon Kant's
phenomenalism, cf. above, pp. 318-19.

B 274-9. Refutation of Idealism, cf. above, p. 308 ff.

Third Postulate. 2 In the opening sentence Kant draws the
distinction which was lacking in his treatment of the first
Postulate between ' material ' and ' formal ' modality. (No
distinction, however, is drawn between the * formal ' possibility
of the first Postulate and logical possibility, which consists in
absence of contradiction.) It is with the former alone that
we have to deal. As existence cannot be determined com-
pletely a priori, necessity can never be known from concepts,
but only by reference to the actually given, in accordance
with the universal principles that condition experience.
Further, since such empirical necessity does not concern the
existence of substances, but only the existence of their states,
viewed as dynamically caused, the criterion of empirical
necessity reduces to the second Analogy, viz. that everything
which happens is determined by an antecedent empirical cause.
This criterion does not extend beyond the field of possible
experience, and even within that field applies only to those
existences which can be viewed as effects, i.e. as events which
come into existence in time, and of which therefore the causes
are of the same temporal and conditioned character. The
necessity is a hypothetical necessity ; given an empirical event,
it can always be legitimately viewed as necessitated by an
antecedent empirical cause.

Kant introduces, reinterprets, and in this altered form

1 A 226 - B 273-4. 2 A 226 ff. = B 279 ff.


professes to justify, four of the central principles of the
Leibnizian metaphysics. In mundo non datur casus gives
expression to the above empirical principle. Non datur fatum
may be taken as meaning that natural (i.e. empirical) necessity
is a conditioned and therefore comprehensible necessity, and
is consequently not rightly described as blind. The other
two principles, non datur saltus, and non datur hiatus connect
with the principle of continuity already established in the
Anticipations of Perception and in the second Analogy.

Kant's further remarks reveal an uneasy feeling that he is
neglecting to assign these principles to the pigeon - holes
provided in his architectonic. The reader, he states, may
easily do so for himself. That may be so, but only if the
reader be permitted the same high - handed methods of
adjustment that are here illustrated in Kant's location of non
datur fatum with the principles of modality. 1

In the next paragraph (A 230=6 282) Kant suddenly,
without warning or explanation, attaches to the term possi-
bility a meaning altogether different from any yet assigned to
it. He now takes it as equivalent to the absolutely or_meta-
physically possible. Combining this with the meanings previ-
ously given to it by Kant we obtain the following table :


Logical : equivalent to absence of contradiction.

Empirical : in the wider sense, equivalent to agreement
with the formal conditions of experience ; in the nar-
rower or stricter sense, involving in addition the capacity
of being presented in sense-experience.

Metaphysical : equivalent to absolute possibility, a con-
ception not of understanding but of Reason.

When this last meaning is given to the term, an entirely new
set of problems arises, to the confusion of the reader who very
properly continues to employ the term possibility in the
empirical sense which, as Kant has been insisting, is alone
legitimate. Kant has temporarily changed over to the stand-
point of the metaphysical view which he has been criticising,
and accordingly uses the term * possibility ' in the Leibnizian
sense. Is Leibniz, he asks, justified in maintaining that the
field of the possible is wider than the realm of the actual, and
the latter in turn wider in extent than the necessary? In
reply Kant accepts the metaphysical meaning assigned to the
term ' possibility,' but restates the problem in Critical fashion.
Do all things belong as appearances to the context of a single
experience, or are other types of experience possible? Do

2 D


other forms of intuition besides space and time, other forms
of understanding besides the discursive through concepts,
come within the range of the possible ? These are questions
which fall to be answered, not by the mere understanding,
the sole function of which is empirical, but by Reason, which
transcends the world of appearance.

Kant introduces these questions, as he is careful to state, 1
only because they are currently believed to be within the
competence of the understanding ; and he now for the first
time points out that possibility, in this sense, means absolute
possibility, that which is independent of all limiting conditions,
a meaning ruled out by the preceding treatment of the modal
categories. Like all other absolute conceptions, it belongs to
Reason, and must therefore await treatment in the Dialectic.
These admissions come, however, only after the discussion has
been completed. Had Kant reversed the order of the two
paragraphs which constitute this digression, and marked them
off as being a digression, he would have greatly assisted the
reader in following the argument.

Kant adds a refutation of the merely logical arguments by
which Leibniz had professed to establish the priority and
greater scope of the possible. From the proposition, every-
thing actual is possible, we can infer by immediate inference
that some possible things are actual. That, however, would
seem to imply that part of the possible is not actual, and that
something must be added to the possible in order to constitute
the actual. But this, Kant replies, is obviously an untenable
view. The something additional to the possible, not being
itself possible, we should be constrained to regard as im-
possible. For our understanding? the possible is that which
connects with some perception in agreement with the formal
conditions of experience. (Kant here gives the correct Critical
definition of the possible, by combining the two first postulates.)
Whether, and how far, other existences beyond the field
of sense experience are possible, we have no means of

B 288-294. This second edition section emphasises the fact
that possibility cannot be determined through the categories
alone, but only through the categories in their relation to
intuition, and indeed to outer intuition. Possibility is through-
out taken as referring to objective reality. The section is
chiefly important in connection with the problems bearing on
the relation of inner and outer sense and on the nature of
our consciousness of time. 3

In B 289-91 Kant criticises those rationalistic arguments

1 A 232 = 6 284. a A 231 =B 284. 3 Cf. above, p. 309 ff.


which rest upon the equating of necessity of thought with
necessity of existence. When it is sought by mere analysis
of concepts to prove that all accidental existence has a cause,
the most that can be shown is that the existence of the
accidental cannot be comprehended by us, unless the existence
of a cause be assumed. But we may not argue that a con-
dition of possible understanding is likewise a condition of
possible existence. 1 What is or is not possible for thought is,
without special proof, no sufficient criterion of what is or is
not possible in the real. If, again, the term accidental be taken
as meaning that which can exist only as a consequence of some
other existence, the general principle becomes merely analytic,
and must not be taken as establishing the synthetic principle
of causality. The latter demands transcendental proof by
reference to the possibility Of contingent experience.

1 Kant's argument in the note to B 290 is that of his early essay on Negative
Quantity. Cf. below, pp. 527 ff., 5336., 536.



THIS chapter, as Kant himself states, 1 can yield no new
results. It will serve merely to summarise those already
established in the Analytic^ showing how they one and all
converge upon a conclusion of supreme importance for under-
standing the nature and scope of human experience the
conclusion, that though the objective employment of the
categories can be justified only within the realm of sense-
experiences, they have a wider significance whereby they
define a distinction between appearances and things in them-
selves. This is the conclusion which Kant now sets himself to
illustrate and enforce in somewhat greater detail. It may be
observed that the title of the chapter makes mention only of
grounds for distinguishing between phenomena and noumena.
That things in themselves really exist, Kant, as we shall find,
never seriously thought of questioning.

Kant begins by recalling a main point in the preceding
argument. The categories apart from the manifold of sensibility
are merely logical functions without content. 2 Though a priori^
they require to be supplemented through empirical intuition.

"Apart from this relation to possible experience they have no
objective validity of any sort, but are a mere play of the imagination
or the understanding with their respective representations." 3

As evidence of the truth of this conclusion Kant now adds
a further argument, namely, the impossibility of defining the
categories except in terms that involve reference to the con-
ditions of sensibility. 4 When these conditions are omitted,

1 A 236=6295.

2 Cf. above, pp. xxxv-vi, xxxviii, 185-6, 191, 195-6, 257-8, 290-1, 325 ff., 339.
8 The mathematical illustrations which Kant proceeds to give (A 239 = B 299)

are peculiarly crude and off-hand in manner of statement. Cf. per contra A 140 =
B 179 for Kant's real view of the distinction between image, schema, and concept.
4 Cf. above, pp. 195-6, 198, 339-42.



the categories are without relation to any object and conse-
quently without meaning. They are no longer concepts of
possible empirical employment, but only of "things in general."
When, for instance, the permanence of existence in time, which
is the condition of the empirical application of the concept of
substance, is omitted, the category reduces merely to the
notion of something that is always a subject and never a

" But not only am I ignorant of all conditions under which this
logical pre-eminence may belong to anything, I can neither put such
a concept to any use nor draw the least inference from it. For under
these conditions no object is determined for its employment, and
consequently we do not at all know whether it signifies anything
whatsoever." l

In abstraction from sense-data, the categories still remain
as concepts or thoughts, logically possible ; but that is not
to be taken as signifying that they still continue to possess
meaning, i.e. reference to an object. 2 And in the absence of
ascertainable meaning they cannot, of course, be defined.

In A 244 3 Kant states his position in somewhat different
fashion. In abstraction from sense the categories have mean-
ing, but not determinate meaning ; they relate not to any
specific object, but only to things in general. In this latter
reference, however, they possess no objective validity, since
in the absence of intuition there is no means of deciding
whether or not any real existence actually corresponds to

But whichever mode of statement be adopted, the same
conclusion follows.

"Accordingly, the transcendental Analytic has this important
result, that the most the understanding can achieve a priori is to
anticipate the form of a possible experience in general. And since
that which is not appearance cannot be an object of experience, the
understanding can never transcend those limits of sensibility within
which alone objects are given to us. Its principles are merely rules
for the exposition of appearances ; and the proud title of an Ontology,
which presumptuously claims to supply, in systematic doctrinal form,
synthetic a priori knowledge of things in general (e.g. the principle
of causality), must therefore give place to the modest claims of a
mere Analytic of pure understanding." 4

1 A243 = B3oi. 2 A 242 = 6302.

3 Cf. A 248 = 6 305.

4 A 246-7 = 6 303-4. A 247-8 = 6 304-5 (beginning " Thought is the action,"
etc. ) is merely a repetition of the preceding argument, and probably represents
a later intercalation.


A 248-9 l opens a new line of argument which starts from
the results obtained in the Aesthetic. The proof that space
and time are subjective forms establishes the merely pheno-
menal character of everything which can be apprehended in
and through them, and is meaningless except on the assump-
tion that things in themselves exist. This assumption, Kant
argues, is already involved in the very word ' appearance/ and

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 49 of 72)