Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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of apprehending a sign as a sign. Animals may seem to do
so owing to the influence of associated ideas, but are, as
it would appear, debarred from crossing the boundary line
which so sharply distinguishes associative suggestion from
reflective knowledge.

But Kant is committed to a further assertion. If animals
are devoid of all awareness of meaning, they must also be
denied anything analogous to what we must signify by the
term consciousness. Their experience must fall apart into
events, that may, perhaps, be described as mental, but cannot
be taken as equivalent to an act of awareness. " Apprehensio
bruta without consciousness," 2 such is Kant's view of the
animal mind. Its mental states, like all other natural exist-
ences, are events in time, explicable in the same naturalistic
fashion as the bodily processes by which they are conditioned ;
they can not be equated with that human consciousness
which enables us to reflect upon them, and to determine
the conditions of their temporal happening.

The distinction which Kant desires to draw is ultimately
that between events and consciousness of events. Even if
events are psychical in character, consisting of sensations and
feelings, there will still remain as fundamental the distinction
between what is simply a member of the causal series of
natural events and the consciousness through which the series
is apprehended. Kant's most explicit statements occur in a
letter to Herz. 3 He is referring to data of the senses which
cannot be self-consciously apprehended :

" I should not be able to know that I have them, and they would
therefore be for me, as a cognitive being, absolutely nothing.

1 Rcflexioncn zur Anthropologie, 207.

2 In sketch of a letter (summer 1792) to Fiirst von Beloselsky (IV. xi. p. 331).
3 May 26, 1789 (W. xi. p. 52).


They might still (if I conceive myself as an animal) exist in me
(a being unconscious of my own existence) as representations . . . ,
connected according to an empirical law of association, exercising
influence upon feeling and desire, and so always disporting them-
selves with regularity, without my thereby acquiring the least cogni-
tion of anything, not even of these my own states." l

As to whether Kant is justified in maintaining that the
distinction between animal and human consciousness coincides
with the distinction between associative and logical or
reflective thinking, I am not concerned to maintain. This
digression has been introduced solely for the purpose of
defining more precisely the central tenets of Kant's Critical


We have still to consider what is perhaps the most serious
of all the misunderstandings to which Kant has laid himself
open, and which is in large part responsible for the widespread
belief that his Critical principles, when consistently developed,
must finally eventuate in some such metaphysics as that of
Fichte and Hegel. I refer to the view that Kant in postulating
synthetic processes as conditioning consciousness is postulat-
ing a noumenal self as exercising these activities, and is
therefore propounding a metaphysical explanation of the
synthetic, a priori factors in human experience. 2

Kant's language is frequently ambiguous. The Leibnizian
spiritualism, to which in his pre-Critical period he had un-
questioningly held, continued to influence his terminology,
and so to prevent his Critical principles from obtaining con-
sistent expression. This much can be said in support of the
above interpretation of Kant's position. But in all other
respects such a reading of his philosophy is little better than
a parody of his actual teaching. For Kant is very well aware
that the problem of knowledge is not to be solved in any such
easy and high-handed fashion. In the Critique he teaches
quite explicitly that to profess to explain the presence of

1 That Kant has not developed a terminology really adequate to the statement
of his meaning, is shown by a parenthesis which I have omitted from the above

2 This interpretation of Kant appears in a very crude form in James's references
to Kant in his Principles of Psychology. It appears in a more subtle form in Lotze
and Green. Caird and Watson, on the other hand, have carefully guarded them-
selves against this view of Kant's teaching, and as I have maintained (pp. xliii-v),
lie open to criticism only in so far as they tend to ignore those aspects of Kant's
teaching which cannot be stated in terms of logical implication.


i priori factors in human experience by means of a self
issumed for that very purpose would be a flagrant violation,
lot only of Critical principles, but even of the elementary
naxims of scientific reasoning. In the first place, explanation
yy reference to the activities of such a self would be explana-
ion by faculties, by the unknown ; it is a cause that will
explain anything and everything equally well or badly. 1
Self-consciousness has, indeed, to be admitted as a fact ; 2
ind from its occurrence Kant draws important conclusions in
egard to the conditions which make experience possible.
But, in so doing, Kant never intends to maintain that we
ire justified in postulating as part of those conditions, or as
:ondition of those conditions, a noumenal self. The conditions
vhich make experience possible, whatever they may be, are
ilso the conditions which make self-consciousness possible.
Since the self is known only as appearance, it cannot be
isserted to be the conditioning ground of appearance.

This first objection is not explicitly stated by Kant, but
t is implied in a second argument which finds expression
joth in the Deduction of the Categories and in the, chapter on
:he Paralogisms. The only self that we know to exist is the
'onscious self. Now, as Kant claims to have proved, the
self can be thus conscious, even of itself, only in so far as it
s conscious of objects. Consequently we have no right to
issume that the self can precede such consciousness as its
generating cause. That would be to regard the self as existing
Drior to its own conditions, working in darkness to create
tself as a source of light.

But there is also a third reason why Kant's Critical solution
}f the problem of knowledge must not be stated in spiritualist
:erms. Self-consciousness, as he shows, is itself relational in
:haracter. It is a fundamental factor in human experience,

1 It may be objected that this is virtually what Kant is doing when he
jostulates synthetic activities as the source of the categories. Kant would
probably have replied that he has not attempted to define these activities save to
he extent that is absolutely demanded by the known character of their products,
ind that he is willing to admit that many different explanations of their nature
ire possible. They may be due to some kind of personal or spiritual agency, but
tlso they may not. On the whole question of the legitimacy of Kant's general
nethod of procedure, cf. below, pp. 235-9, 263 ff., 273-4, 277 ff., 461-2, 473-7.

2 Cf. Concerning the Advances made by Metaphysics since Leibniz and Wolff
Werke (Hartenstein), viii. 530-1) : " I am conscious to myself of myself this

s a thought which contains a twofold I, the I as subject and the I as object. .
flow it should be possible that I, the I that thinks, should be an object ... to
nyself, and so should be able to distinguish myself from myself, it is altogether
ieyond our powers to explain. It is, however, an undoubted fact . . . and has
is a consequence the complete distinguishing of us off from the whole animal
dngdom, since we have no ground for ascribing to animals the power to say I to


not because the self can be shown to be the agency to which
relations are due, but solely because, itself a case of recognition,
it is at the same time a necessary condition of recognition,
and recognition is indispensably presupposed in all conscious-
ness of meaning. 1 Awareness of meaning is the fundamental
mystery, and retains its profoundly mysterious character even
when self-consciousness has been thus detected as an essential
constituent. For self-consciousness does not explain the
possibility of meaning ; it is itself, as I have just remarked,
only one case of recognition, and so is itself only an instance,
though indeed the supreme and most important instance, of
what we must intend by the term meaning. All awareness,
not excepting that of the knowing self, rests upon noumenal
conditions whose specific nature it does not itself reveal.
Only on moral grounds, never through any purely theoretical
analysis of cognitive experience, can it be proved that the self
is an abiding personality, and that in conscious, personal
form it belongs to the order of noumenal reality.


Even so summary a statement of Critical teaching as I
am attempting in this Introduction would be very incomplete
without some reference to Kant's threefold distinction between
the forms of sensibility, the categories of the understanding,
and the Ideas of Reason.

On investigating space and time Kant discovers that they
cannot be classed either with the data of the bodily senses or
with the concepts of the understanding. They are sensuous
(i.e. are not abstract but concrete, not ways of thinking, but
modes of existence), yet at the same time are a priori. They
thus stand apart by themselves. Each is unique in its
kind, is single, and is an infinite existence. To describe
them is to combine predicates seemingly contradictory. In
Kant's own phrase, they are monstrosities (Undinge), none
the less incomprehensible that they are undeniably actual.
To them, primarily, are due those problems which have been
a standing challenge to philosophy since the time of Zeno
the Eleatic, and which Kant has entitled "antinomies of

In contrast of sensibility Kant sets the intellectual faculties,
understanding and Reason. In the understanding originate
certain pure concepts, or as he more usually names them,

1 Cf. above, p. xxxiv ; below, pp. 250-3, 260-3, 285-6.


categories. The chief of these are the categories of " rela-
tion " substance, causality and reciprocity. They combine
with the forms of sensibility and the manifold of sense to
yield the consciousness of an empirical order, interpretable
in accordance with universal laws.

To the faculty of Reason Kant ascribes what he entitles
Ideas. The Ideas differ from space, time, and the categories
in being not " constitutive " but " regulative." They demand
an unconditionedness of existence and a completeness of ex-
planation which can never be found in actual experience.
Their function is threefold. In the first place, they render
the mind dissatisfied with the haphazard collocations of
ordinary experience, and define the goal for its scientific
endeavours. Secondly, they determine for us the criteria
that distinguish between truth and falsity. 1 And thirdly, in
so doing, they likewise make possible the distinction between
appearance and reality, revealing to us an irreconcilable
conflict between the ultimate aims of science and the human
conditions, especially the spatial and temporal conditions
under which these aims are realised. The Ideas of Reason
are the second main factor in the " antinomies."

The problem of the Critique, the analysis of our awareness
of meaning, is a single problem, and each of the above elements
involves all the others. Kant, however, for reasons into
which I need not here enter, has assigned part of the problem
to what he entitles the Transcendental Aesthetic, and another
part to the Transcendental Dialectic. Only what remains
is dealt with in what is really the most important of the three
divisions, the Transcendental Analytic. But as the problem
is one and indivisible, the discussions in all three sections are
condemned to incompleteness save in so far as Kant, by
happy inconsistency, transgresses the limits imposed by his
method of treatment. The Aesthetic really does no more
than prepare the ground for the more adequate analysis of
space and time given in the Analytic and Dialectic, while the
problem of the Analytic is itself incompletely stated until the
more comprehensive argument of the Dialectic is taken into
account. 2 Thus the statement in the Aesthetic that space
and time are given to the mind by the sensuous faculty of

1 Cf. A 651 = B 679 : " The law of Reason, which requires us to seek for this
unity, is a necessary law, as without it we should have no Reason at all, and
without Reason no coherent employment of the understanding, and in the absence
of this no sufficient criterion of empirical truth." Cf. also below, pp. 390-1,
414-17, 429-3 1 , 5I9-2I, 558-61.

2 Regarding a further complication, due to the fact that the Dialectic was
written before the teaching of the Analytic was properly matured, cf. above,
p. xxiv.


receptivity is modified in the Analytic through recognition of
the part which the syntheses and concepts of the understand-
ing must play in the construction of these forms ; and in the
Dialectic their apprehension is further found to involve an
Idea of Reason. Similarly, in the concluding chapter of the
Analytic, in discussing the grounds for distinguishing between
appearance and reality, Kant omits all reference to certain
important considerations which first emerge into view in the
course of the Dialectic. Yet, though no question is more
vital to Critical teaching, the reader is left under the im-
pression that the treatment given in the Analytic is complete
and final.

Partly as a consequence of this, partly owing to Kant's
inconsistent retention of earlier modes of thinking, there are
traceable throughout the Critique two opposed views of the
nature of the distinction between appearance and reality.
On the one view, this distinction is mediated by the relational
categories of the understanding, especially by that of causality ;
on the other view, it is grounded in the Ideas of Reason.
The former sets appearance in opposition to reality ; the
latter regards the distinction in a more tenable fashion, as
being between realities less and more comprehensively con-
ceived. 1

A similar defect is caused by Kant's isolation of immanent
from transcendent metaphysics. 2 The former is dealt with
only in the Analytic, the latter only in the Dialectic. The
former, Kant asserts, is made possible by the forms of
sensibility and the categories of the understanding ; the latter
he traces to an illegitimate employment of the Ideas of
Reason. Such a mode of statement itself reveals the im-
possibility of any sharp distinction between the immanent
and the transcendent. If science is conditioned by Ideals
which arouse the mind to further acquisitions, and at the
same time reveal the limitations to which our knowledge is
for ever condemned to remain subject ; if, in other words,
everything known, in being correctly. known, must be appre-
hended as appearance (i.e. as a subordinate existence within
a more comprehensive reality), the distinction between the
immanent and the transcendent falls within and not beyond
the domain of our total experience. The meaning which our
consciousness discloses in each of its judgments is an essentially
metaphysical one. It involves the thought, though not the
knowledge, of something more than what the experienced
can ever itself be found to be. The metaphysical is imma-
nent in our knowledge ; the transcendent is merely a name
1 Cf. below, pp. 331, 390-1, 414-17- ' 2 Cf. below, pp. 22, 33, 56, 66 ff.


for this immanent factor when it is falsely viewed as capable
of isolation and of independent treatment. By Kant's own
showing, the task of the Dialectic is not merely to refute the
pretensions of transcendent metaphysics, but to develop the
above general thesis, in confirmation of the positive conclu-
sions established in the Analytic. The Critique will then
supply the remedy for certain evils to which the human mind
has hitherto been subject.

" The Critique of Pure Reason is a preservative against a malady
which has its source in our rational nature. This malady is the
opposite of the love of home (the home-sickness) which binds us to
our fatherland. It is a longing to pass out beyond our immediate
confines and to relate ourselves to other worlds." J


The positive character of Kant's conclusions cannot be
properly appreciated save in the wider perspectives that open
to view in the Critique of Practical Reason and in the Critique
of Judgment. Though in the Critique of Pure Reason a
distinction is drawn between theoretical and moral belief, it is
introduced in a somewhat casual manner, and there is no
clear indication of the far-reaching consequences that follow
in its train. Unfortunately also, even in his later writings,
Kant is very unfair to himself in his methods of formulating
the distinction. His real intention is to show that scientific
knowledge is not coextensive with human insight ; but he
employs a misleading terminology, contrasting knowledge
with faith, scientific demonstration with practical belief.

As already indicated r the term knowledge has, in the
Critical philosophy, a much narrower connotation than in
current speech. It is limited to sense-experience, and to such
inferences therefrom as can be obtained by the only methods
that Kant is willing to recognise, namely, the mathematico-
physical. Aesthetic, moral and religious experience, and
even organic phenomena, are excluded from the field of
possible knowledge.

In holding to this position, Kant is, of course, the child of
his time. The absolute sufficiency of the Newtonian physics
is a presupposition of all his utterances on this theme.
Newton, he believes, has determined in a quite final manner
the principles, methods and limits of scientific investigation.
For though Kant himself imposes upon science a further

1 Reflcxionen (B. Erdmann's edition) ii. 204.


limitation, namely, to appearances, he conceives himself, in so
doing, not as weakening Newton's natural philosophy, but as
securing it against all possible objections. And to balance
the narrow connotation thus assigned to the term knowledge,
he has to give a correspondingly wide meaning to the terms
faith, moral belief, subjective principles of interpretation. If
this be not kept constantly in mind, the reader is certain to
misconstrue the character and tendencies of Kant's actual

But though the advances made by the sciences since Kant's
time have rendered this mode of delimiting the field of
knowledge altogether, untenable, his method of defining the
sources of philosophical insight has proved very fruitful, and
has many adherents at the present day. What Kant does
stated in broad outline is to distinguish between the problems
of existence and the problems of value, assigning the former to
science and the latter to philosophy. 1 Theoretical philosophy,
represented in his system by the Critique of Pure Reason,
takes as its province the logical values, that is, the distinction
of truth and falsity, and defining their criteria determines the
nature and limits of our theoretical insight. Kant finds that
these criteria enable us to distinguish between truth and falsity
only on the empirical plane. Beyond making possible a
distinction between appearance and reality, they have no
applicability in the metaphysical sphere.

The Critique of Practical Reason deals with values of a
very different character. The faculty of Reason, which, as
already noted, 2 renders our consciousness a purposive agency
controlled by Ideal standards, is also, Kant maintains, the
source of the moral sanctions. But whereas in the theoretical
field it subdues our minds to the discipline of experience, and
restrains our intellectual ambitions within the limits of the
empirical order, it here summons us to sacrifice every natural
impulse and every secular advantage to the furtherance of an
end that has absolute value. In imposing duties, it raises our
life from the " pragmatic " 3 level of a calculating expediency
to the higher plane of a categorical imperative.

The categorical imperative at once humbles and exalts ; it
discloses our limitations, but does so through the greatness of
the vocation to which it calls us.

"This principle of morality, just on account of the universality
of the legislation which makes it the formal supreme determining
principle of our will, without regard to any subjective differences, is

1 For an alternative and perhaps more adequate method of describing Kant's
general position, cf. below, p. 571 ff.

2 Above, pp. xxxviii-ix, xlii, xliv. 3 Cf. below, p. 577.


declared by the Reason to be a law for all rational beings. . . .
It is, therefore, not limited to men only, but applies to all finite
beings that possess Reason and Will; nay, it even includes the
Infinite Being as the Supreme Intelligence." 1

Consequently, in employing moral ends in the interpreta-
tion of the Universe, we are not picturing the Divine under
human limitations, but are discounting these limitations in the
light of the one form of value that is known to us as absolute.

"Duty! . . . What origin is worthy of thee and where is to
be found the root of thy noble descent ... a root to be derived
from which is the indispensable condition of the only worth that
men can give themselves." 2

In his earlier years Kant had accepted the current,
Leibnizian view that human excellence consists in intellectual
enlightenment, and that it is therefore reserved for an elite t
privileged with the leisure and endowed with the special
abilities required for its enjoyment. From this arid in-
tellectualism he was delivered through the influence of

" I am by disposition an enquirer. I feel the consuming thirst
for knowledge, the eager unrest to advance ever further, and the
delights of discovery. There was a time when I believed that this
is what confers real dignity upon human life, and I despised the
common people who know nothing. Rousseau has set me right.
This imagined advantage vanishes. I learn to honour men, and
should regard myself as of much less use than the common labourer,
if I did not believe that my philosophy will restore to all men the
common rights of humanity. " 3

These common rights Kant formulates in a. purely
individualist manner. For here also, in his lack of historic
sense and in his distrust alike of priests and of statesmen, he
is the child of his time. In the education and discipline of
the soul he looks to nothing so artificial and humanly limited
Kant so regards them as religious tradition and social

1 Critique of Practical Reason, W. v. p. 32; Abbott's trans, pp. 120-1.

2 Op. cit. p. 86 ; Abbott's trans, p. 180.

3 Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse ( Werke (Hartenstein), viii. p. 624). Cf. below,
PP- 577-8- Kant claims for all men equality of political rights, and in his treatise
on Perpetual Peace maintains that wars are not likely to cease until the republican
form of government is universally adopted. He distinguishes, however, between
republicanism and democracy. By the former he means a genuinely representative
system ; the latter he interprets as being the (in principle) unlimited despotism of
majority rule. Kant accordingly contends that the smaller the staff of the executive,
and the more effective the representation of minorities, the more complete will be
the approximation to the ideal constitution. In other words, the less government
we can get along with, the better.


institutions. Human rights, he believes, do not vary with
time and place ; and for their enjoyment man requires no
initiation and no equipment beyond what is supplied by
Nature herself. It is from this standpoint that Kant adduces,
as the twofold and sufficient inspiration to the rigours and
sublimities of the spiritual life, the starry heavens above us
and the moral law within. They are ever-present influences
on the life of man. The naked eye reveals the former ; of
the latter all men are immediately aware. In their universal
appeal they are of the very substance of human existence.
Philosophy may avail to counteract certain of the hindrances
which prevent them from exercising their native influence ;

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 5 of 72)