Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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unless it be granted, our thinking will revolve in a perpetual
circle. 2 But, he proceeds, this conclusion may easily be mis-
interpreted. It might be taken as proving the objective reality
of noumena, and as justifying us in maintaining a distinction
between the sensible and the intelligible worlds, and therefore
in asserting that whereas the former is the object of intuition,
the latter is apprehended by the understanding in pure thought.
We should then be arguing that though in experience things
are known only as they appear, through pure understanding a
nobler world than that of sense, " eine Welt im Geiste gedacht"
is opened to our view.

But any such interpretation, Kant insists, runs directly
counter to the teaching of the Analytic, and is ruled out by
the conclusions to which it has led. Categories yield only
" rules for the exposition of appearances," and cannot be
extended beyond the field of possible experience. It is
true that all our sense -representations are related by the
understanding to an object that is " transcendental." But
that object, in its transcendental aspect, signifies only a some-
thing = x. It cannot be thought apart from the sense-data
which are referred to it. When we attempt to isolate it,
and so to conceive it in its independent nature, nothing remains
through which it can be thought.

"It is not in itself an object of knowledge, but only the
representation of appearances under the concept of an object in
general, viewed as determinable through the manifold of those

Kant is here again expounding his early doctrine of the
transcendental object. 3 Evidently, at the time at which this
passage was written, he^had not yet come to realise that such
teaching is not in harmony with his Critical principles. It is,
as we have seen above, a combination of subjectivism and of

1 Beginning "Appearances, so far as . . .," which was omitted in the second
edition. It probably constitutes, as Adickes maintains (A", p. 254 .)> the original
beginning of this chapter. The "as we have hitherto maintained" of its second
paragraph, which obviously cannot apply to the pages which precede it in its
present position, must refer to the argument of the Analytic.

a A 249, 251. 3 Above, p. 204 ff.



ogmatic rationalism. 1 The very point which he here chiefly
stresses was bound, however, when consistently followed out,
to reveal the untenableness of the doctrine of the transcend-
ental object ; and in the second edition Kant so recast this
chapter on phenomena and noumena as to eliminate all pas-
sages in which the transcendental object is referred to. 2

But to return to Kant's own argument : the reason why
the mind is " not satisfied with this substrate of sensibility," 3
and therefore proceeds to duplicate the phenomenal world by
a second world of noumena, lies in the character of the agency
whereby sensibility is limited. Sensibility is limited by the
understanding ; and the understanding, overestimating its
powers and prerogatives, proceeds to transform the notion of
the transcendental object = x into the concept of a noumenon,
viewed in a manner conformable to its etymological signifi-

1 In large part it represents the Critical position as understood by Schopenhauer,
who never succeeded in acquiring any genuine understanding of Kant's more
mature teaching (cf. above, p. 366 n.}. Schopenhauer is correct in maintain-
ing that one chief ground of Kant's belief in the existence of things in
themselves lies in his initial assumption that they must be postulated in order to
account for the given manifold. Schopenhauer is also justified in stating that
Kant, though starting from the dualistic Cartesian standpoint, so far modified it
as to conclude that the origin of this manifold must be "objective, since there is no
ground for regarding it as subjective' 1 '' (Parerga imd Paralipomena,l%$ i ed. , p. 74ff. ).
But for two reasons this is a very incomplete, and therefore extremely misleading,
account of Kant's final teaching. In the first place, Schopenhauer fails to take
account of Kant's implied distinction between the sensations of the special senses
and the manifold of outer sense. When Kant recognises that the sensations of the
special senses are empirically conditioned, he is constrained in consistency to dis-
tinguish between them and the manifold which constitutes the matter of all experi-
ences (cf. above, p. 275 ff.). Things in themselves, in accounting for the latter,
account also, but in quite indirect fashion, for the former. Though sensations are
empirically conditioned, the entire natural world is noumenally grounded.
Secondly, Kant's subjectivism undergoes a similar transformation on its inner or
mental side. The analysis of self-consciousness, which is given both in the
Deductions and in the Paralogisms, indicates with sufficient clearness Kant's recog-
nition that the form of experience is as little self-explanatory as its content, and
that it must not, without such proof as, owing to the limitations of our experience,
we are debarred from giving, be regarded as more ultimate in nature. The realities
which constitute and condition our mental processes are not apprehended in any
more direct manner than the thing in itself. When, therefore, Schopenhauer
asserts in the World as Will and Idea (Werke, Fratienstddt, ii. p. 494, Eng.
trans, ii. p. 6) that Kant proves the world to be merely phenomenal by demon-
strating that it is conditioned by the intellect, he is emphasising what is least
characteristic in Kant's teaching. Schopenhauer's occasional identification of the
intellect with the brain the nearest approximation in his writings to what may be
described as phenomenalism itself suffices to show how entirely he is lacking in
any firm grasp of Critical principles.

2 As we have noted (above, p. 204 ff.), the doctrine of the transcendental
object was entirely eliminated from those main sections that were rewritten or
substantially altered in the second edition, namely, the chapters on the Transcend-
ental Deduction, on Phenomena and Noumena, and on the Paralogisms. That it
remained in the section on Amphiboly, in the Second Analogy, and in the
Antinomies is sufficiently explained by Kant's unwillingness to make the very
extensive alterations which such further rewriting would have involved.

3 A 251.


cance, as something apprehended by reason or pure intuition,
i.e. as intuited in some non- sensuous fashion. For only
by postulating the possibility of a non- sensuous species of
intuition, can the notion of a noumenon, thus positively con-
ceived, be saved from self-contradiction. Otherwise we should
be asserting the apprehension of an object independently of
appearances, and yet at the same time denying the only means
through which such apprehension is possible. Statement of
the postulate suffices, however, to reveal its unsupported
character. We have no such power of non-sensuous, intuitive
apprehension ; l nor can we in any way prove that such a
power is possible even in a Divine Being. Though, therefore,
the concept of noumena is not self-contradictory, it involves
more than we have the right to assert ; the process whereby
the empty notion of a transcendental object = x is transformed
into the positive concept of a noumenon is easily comprehen-
sible, 2 but it is- none the less illegitimate. We must, Kant
insists, keep strict hold of the central doctrine of Critical teach-
ing, namely, that the categories are applicable only to the data
of sense. We can still employ them as pure logical functions,
yielding the notion of objects in general (of the transcendental
object = x). But this does not widen the sphere of known
existences. It only enables us to comprehend the limited
and merely phenomenal character of the world experienced.

At this point 3 Kant's argument takes a strange and
misleading turn. The concept of object in general (the
transcendental object = x] has been proved to be involved in
the apprehension of appearances as appearances, and in this
capacity to be a limiting concept (Grenzbegriff\ which, though
negative in function, is indispensably involved in the constitu-
tion of human experience. Now, however, Kant proceeds to
ascribe this function to the concept of the noumenon. That
concept is, he repeats, purely problematic. Even the mere
possibility of its object, presupposing as it does the possibility
of an understanding capable through non-sensuous intuition
of apprehending it, we have no right to assert. That the
concept is not self-contradictory is the most that we can say
of it. None the less, it is to this concept that Kant here
ascribes the indispensable limiting function.

"The concept of a noumenon is a merely limiting concept, the
function of which is to curb the pretensions of sensibility ; and it is

1 Not even, as Kant teaches in his doctrine of inner sense, in the inner world
of apperception, cf. above, p. 295 ff.

2 Kant claims in the Dialectic that this process is also unavoidable, constitut-
ing what he calls " transcendental illusion."

3 A254-; = B 310-12.


erefore only of negative employment. At the same time it is no
arbitrary invention, and it is bound up with the limitation of sensi-
bility, though it cannot affirm anything positive beyond the field
of sensibility." 1

This confusion, between the concept of a noumenon and
the less definite concept of object in general, which is probably
due to the combining of manuscripts of different dates, is
corrected in the second edition by means of a new distinction
which Kant introduces, evidently for this very purpose. The
term noumenon may, he there says, 2 be used either positively
or negatively. Taken' positively, it signifies "an object of a
non-sensuous intuition " ; regarded negatively, it means only
" a thing so far as it is not an object of our sensuous intuition."
Only in its negative employment, he states, is it required as
a limiting concept ; and it is then, as he recognises, in- :
distinguishable from the notion of the unknown thing in

But despite this variation in mode of expression, in the
main Kant holds consistently to his fundamental teaching.

"... understanding is not limited through sensibility; on the con-
trary, it itself limits sensibility by applying the term noumena to things
in themselves (things not regarded as appearances). But in so doing
it at the same time sets limits to itself, recognising that it cannot
know these noumena through any of the categories, and that it must
therefore think them only under the title of an unknown some-
thing." 3

Or as Kant adds in the concluding sentence of this
chapter :

"... the problematic thought which leaves open a place for [intel-
ligible objects], serves only, like an empty space, for the limitation of
empirical principles, without itself containing or revealing any other
object of knowledge beyond their sphere."

A sentence in A 258 = B 314 deserves special notice.

"... we can never know whether such a transcendental or
exceptional knowledge is possible under any conditions, least of all
if it is to be regarded as of the sort that stands under our ordinary

This sentence clearly shows that Kant was willing to
recognise that the categories may be inapplicable, not merely
owing to lack of data for their specification, but because of
their inherent character. They may be intrinsically inapplic-

1 A 255 = 6310-11. 2 Cf. below, p. 412 ff.

3 A 256= B 312. For A 257 = 6 312 on the empirical manner of distinguish-
ing between the sensuous and the intelligible, cf. above, pp. 143 ff., 149 ff.


able, expressing only the modi of our self -consciousness.
They may be merely the instruments of our human thinking,
not forms necessary to knowledge as such.


Before passing to consideration of the extensive alterations
made in this chapter in the second edition, it is advisable to
take account of the two passages dealing with this problem
in the first edition section on Amphiboly : namely, A 277-
280 = B 333-6, and A 285-9 = 6 342-6. The first of these
passages is of great interest in other connections ; * its chief
importance in reference to the present problem lies in its con-
cluding paragraph. Kant there declares that the representa-
tion of an object " as thing in general " is not only, in the
absence of specific data, insufficient for the determination
of an object, but is self-contradictory. For we must either
abstract from all reference to an object, and so be left with
a merely logical representation ; or, in assuming an object,
we must postulate a special form of intuition which we do not
ourselves possess, and which therefore we cannot employ in
forming our concept of the object. Here again Kant is
substituting the concept of a noumenon for the less definite
concept of the thing in itself. This is still more explicitly done
in the second passage. The pure categories are, Kant there
declares, incapable of yielding the concept of an object. Apart
from the data of sense they have no relation to any object.
As purely logical functions, they are altogether lacking in
content or meaning. By objects as things in themselves we
must therefore mean objects of a non-sensuous intuition. 2
Kant still, indeed, continues to maintain that to them the
categories do not apply, and that we cannot, therefore, have
any knowledge of them, either intuitional or conceptual.

" Even if we assume a non-sensuous form of intuition, our
functions of thought would still have no meaning in reference
to it." 3

1 Cf. above, pp. 143-4, 147, 214-15, 291 ff.

2 Kant here (A 286 = B 342) speaks of this concept of the noumenon as an
object of non-sensiious intuition as being "merely negative." This is apt to
confuse the reader, as he usually comes to it after having read the passage intro-
duced into the chapter on Phenomena and Noumena in the second edition, in
which, as above noted (p. 409), Kant describes this meaning of the term as
positive, in distinction from its more negative meaning as signifying a thing merely
so far as it is not an object of our sense-intuition. Cf. below, p. 413.

8 Kant's meaning here is not quite clear. He may mean either that the
categories as such are inapplicable to things in themselves, or that, as this form of
intuition is altogether different from our own, it will not help in giving meaning to
the categories. What follows would seem to point to the former view.


But Kant now insists that the notion of noumena, viewed
in the above manner, differs from the notion of " objects in
general " (transcendental = x) in being a legitimate non-con-
tradictory conception ; and he also insists that though more
positive in content, it is for that very reason less open to
misunderstanding. Its function is not to extend our know-
ledge, but merely to limit it.

" For it merely says that our species of intuition does not extend
to all things, but only to objects of our senses; that its objective
validity is consequently limited ; and that a place therefore remains
open for some other species of intuition, and so for things as its
objects." 1

The concept of a noumenon, as thus employed to signify
the objects of a non-sensuous intuition, is, Kant proceeds,
merely problematic. As we have neither intuition nor (it
may be) categories fitted for its apprehension, it represents
something upon the possibility or impossibility of which we
are quite unable to pronounce.

"... as the problematic concept of an object for a quite
different intuition and a quite different understanding than ours, it
is itself a problem."

We may not therefore assert the existence of noumena, but
we must none the less form to ourselves the concept of them.
This concept is indispensably involved in the constitution of our
empirical knowledge, and is demanded for its proper interpreta-
tion. Only when viewed as a self-sufficient representation of
an absolute existence does it become dogmatic and therefore
illegitimate. In its Critical aspects it stands for a problem
which human reason is constrained by its very nature to

"The concept of the noumenon is, therefore, not the concept of an
object, but is a problem unavoidably bound up with the limitation
of our sensibility the problem, namely, as to whether there may
not be objects entirely disengaged from our sensuous species of
intuition. This is a question which can only be answered in n
indeterminate manner, by saying that, as sense intuition does not
extend to all things without distinction, a place remains open for
other different objects'; and consequently that these latter must not
be absolutely denied, though since we are without a determinate
concept of them (inasmuch as no category can serve that purpose)
neither can they be asserted as objects for our understanding." 2

1 A 286 = 6343. 2 A 287-8 = 6344.


The fact that these fundamental concepts have not yet
been quite definitely and precisely formulated in Kant's own
mind, appears very clearly from the immediately following
paragraph. For he there again introduces the concept of the
transcendental object, and adds that if " we are pleased to
name it noumenon for the reason that its representation is
not sensuous, we are free so to do." 1 The characterisation
given in this paragraph of the transcendental object deserves
special notice, for in it Kant goes further in the sceptical
expression of his position, though not indeed in the modifica-
tion of it, than in any other passage.

"[The understanding in limiting sensibility] thinks for itself an
object in itself, but only as transcendental object which is the cause
of appearance and therefore not itself appearance, and which can be
thought neither as quantity nor as reality nor as substance, etc. . . .
We are completely ignorant whether it is to be met with in us or
outside us, whether it would be at once removed with the cessation
of sensibility, or whether in the absence of sensibility it would still
remain." 2

This sentence reveals Kant as at once holding unquestion-
ingly to the existence of things in themselves, and yet at the
same time as teaching that they must not be conceived in
terms of the categories, not even of the categories of reality
and existence.


In the second edition certain paragraphs of the chapter
on Phenomena and Noumena are omitted, and new paragraphs
are inserted to take their place. Though these alterations do
not give adequate expression to the Critical teaching in its
maturest form, there are three important respects in which
they indicate departures from the teaching of the first edition.
In the first place, those paragraphs in which the doctrine of
the transcendental object finds expression are entirely elimi-
nated, and the phrase 'transcendental object' is no longer
employed. This, as we have already noted, is in harmony
with the changes similarly made in the second edition Tran-
scendental Deduction and Paralogisms?

1 A 288 = B 345-

2 A 288 = B 344. Kant allowed the section within which this passage occurs
to remain, without the least modification, in the second edition.

3 Benno Erdmann's explanation (Kriticismus, p. 194) of Kant's omission of
all references to the transcendental object, namely, because of their being likely
to conduce to a mistaken idealistic interpretation of his teaching, we cannot
accept. As already argued (above, p. 204 ff. ), they represent a view which he
had quite definitely and consciously outgrown.


Secondly, Kant is even more emphatic than in the first
edition, that the categories must not be employed save in
reference to sense intuitions. In the first edition he still
allows that their application to things in themselves is logically
possible, though without objective validity. In the second
edition he goes much further. Save in their empirical em-
ployment the categories " mean nothing whatsoever." *

"[In the absence of sensibility] their whole employment, and
indeed all their meaning entirely ceases ; for we have then no means
of determining whether things in harmony with the categories are
even possible. . . ." 2

In the third place, Kant, as already noted, distinguishes
between a negative and a positive meaning of the term
noumenon. Noumenon in its negative sense is defined as
being merely that which is not an object of sensuous intuition.
By noumenon in the positive sense, on the other hand, is
meant an object of non-sensuous intuition. Kant now claims
that it is the concept of noumenon in the negative sense, as
equivalent therefore simply to the thing in itself, that alone is
involved, as a Grenzbegriff, in the " doctrine of sensibility."
For its determination the categories cannot be employed ;
that would demand a faculty of non-sensuous intuition, which
we do not possess, and would amount to the illegitimate asser-
tion of noumena in the positive sense. The limiting concept,
indispensably presupposed in human experience, is therefore
the bare notion of things in themselves. And accordingly,
in modification of the conclusion arrived at in the first
edition, viz. that " the division of objects into phenomena and
noumena ... is not in any way admissible," 3 Kant now adds
to the term noumena the qualifying phrase " in the positive
sense." In this way the assumption that things in themselves
actually exist becomes quite explicit, despite Kant's greater
insistence upon the impossibility of applying any of the
categories to them.

But beyond thus placing in still bolder contrast the two
counter assertions, on the one hand that the categories must
not be taken by us as other than merely subjective thought-
functions, and on the other that a limiting concept is indis-
pensably necessary, Kant makes no attempt in these new
passages to meet the difficulties involved. With the asser-
tion that the categories as such, and therefore by implication

1 B 306. Cf. above, pp. 290-1.

2 B 308. This, it may be noted, is in keeping with the passages above
quoted from the section on Amphiboly.


those of reality and existence, are inapplicable to things in
themselves, 1 he combines, without any apparent consciousness
of conflict, the contention that things in themselves must
none the less be postulated as actually existing.

The teaching of this chapter must be regarded as only
semi-Critical. The fact that it is formulated in terms of the
doctrine of the transcendental object, itself suffices to determine
the date at which it must have been composed as compara-
tively early ; and such changes as Kant could make in the
second edition were necessarily of a minor character. More
extensive alterations would have involved complete reconstruc-
tion of the entire chapter, and indeed anticipation of the
central teaching of the Dialectic.

Kant is also hampered by the unfortunate location to
which he has assigned this chapter. At this point in the
development of his argument, namely, within the limits of the
Analytic, Kant could really do no more than recapitulate the
negative consequences which follow from the teaching of the
transcendental deduction. For though these might justify
him in asserting that it is understanding that limits sensibility,
he was not in a position to explain that the term understand-
ing, as thus employed, has a very wide meaning, and that
within this faculty he is prepared to distinguish between
understanding in the strict sense as the source of the cate-
gories, and a higher power to which he gives the title Reason,
and which he regards as originating a unique concept, that
of the unconditioned. Yet only when these distinctions, and
the considerations in view of which they are drawn, have
been duly reckoned with, can the problem before us be
discussed in its full significance.

This placing of the chapter within the Analytic, and there-
fore prior to the discussions first broached in the Dialectic,
has indeed the unfortunate consequence of concealing not
only from the reader, but also, as it would seem, to some
extent from Kant himself, the ultimate grounds upon which,
from the genuinely Critical standpoint, the distinction between
phenomena and noumena must be based. For neither in this
chapter, nor in any other passage in the Critique, has Kant
sought to indicate, in any quite explicit manner, the bearing

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 50 of 72)