Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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nothing. This curious and ingenious classification of the;
various meanings of the term * nothing ' is chiefly of interest
through its first division : " empty conception without object,
ens rationis." The ens rationis can best be defined in its
distinction from the fourth division : " empty object without
conception, nihil negativum" The former is a Gedankending ;
the latter is an Unding. The former indeed, though not
contradictory, is mere fiction (bloss Erdichtung\ and con-
sequently must not be taken as falling within the field of the
possible. The latter is a concept which destroys itself, and
which therefore stands in direct conflict with the possible.
The ens rationis includes, Kant explicitly states, 1 the con-
ception of noumena, "which must not be reckoned among
the possibilities, although they must not for that reason be
declared to be also impossible." Kant must here be taking
noumena in the positive sense. 2 As usual Kant's attempt to
obtain parallels for the four classes of category breaks down.
The so-called nihil privativum and the ens imaginarium do
not properly come within the denotation of the term ' nothing.'
This is very evident in the examples which Kant cites. Cold
is as real as the opposite with which it is contrasted, while
pure space and pure time are not negative even in a con-
ventional sense.

1 A 290=3 347. 2 Cf. above, p. 409 ff.




We have had constant occasion to observe the composite
origin and conflicting tendencies of the Analytic. The
Dialectic is hardly less composite in character, and is certainly
not more uniform in its fundamental teaching.

The composite nature of the text, though bewildering to
the unsophisticated reader, is not, however, without its com-
pensations. The text, as it stands, preserves the record of the
manifold influences which presided over its first inception, and
of the devious paths by which Kant travelled to his later con-
clusions. It thus enables us to determine, with considerable
accuracy, the successive stages through which it has passed
in the process of settling into its present form. As we shall
find, the sections on the antinomies contain the original
argument, out of which by varied processes of supplementa-
tion and modification the other parts have arisen.

The conflict of doctrine has also its counter-advantages.
The problems are impartially discussed from opposed stand-
points ; the difficulties peculiar to each of the competing
possible solutions are frankly recognised, and indeed insisted
upon ; and the internal dialectic of Kant's own personal
thinking obtains dramatic expression. We are thus the better
enabled to appreciate the open-minded pertinacity with which
Kant set himself to do justice to every significant aspect of
his many-sided problems, and are consequently in less danger
of simplifying his argument in any arbitrary manner, or of
ignoring the tentative character of the solutions at which he



I shall first define the main lines of conflict, and shall then
attempt to trace those conflicts to the considerations in which
they have their source. The two chief lines of thought trace-
able throughout the Dialectic are represented by its negative
and by its positive tendencies respectively. From one point
of view, Reason is merely the understanding in its self-
limiting, self-regulative employment, and the main purpose
of the Dialectic is to guard against the delusive power of
fictitious principles. From the other point of view, Reason is
a faculty distinct from understanding, and its problems run
parallel with those of the Analytic, forming no less important
a subject of philosophical reflection, and no less fruitful
a source of positive teaching. The one line of argument
connects with Kant's more sceptical tendencies, the other with
his deep-rooted belief in the ultimate validity of the absolute
claims of pure thought.

When we approach the Dialectic from the standpoint of the
Analytic, it is the negative aspect that is naturally most
prominent. In the Analytic Kant has proved that all know-
ledge is limited to sense-experience, and that a metaphysical
interpretation of reality is altogether impossible. But as the
human mind would seem to be possessed by an inborn need
of metaphysical construction, this conclusion cannot obtain
its due influence until the sources of the metaphysical tendency
have been detected and laid bare. The Dialectic must yield
a psychology of metaphysics as well as a logic of illusion.

But when, on the other hand, the problems of the Dialectic
are viewed in their distinction from those of the Analytic, and
their independent character is recognised, they appear in
a perspective which sets them in a very different light
Reason is a faculty co-ordinate with understanding, and yields
a priori concepts distinct in function, no less than in nature,
from the categories. To mark this distinction Kant entitles "
the concepts of Reason Ideas. They demand both a meta-
physical and a transcendental deduction. These requirements
are fulfilled through their derivation from the three forms of
syllogism, and by the proof that they exercise an indis-
pensable function, at once limiting and directing the under-
standing. As limiting concepts, they condition the con-
sciousness of those Ideal standards through which the human
mind is enabled to distinguish between appearance and things
yin themselves. As regulative, they prescribe the problems
which the understanding in its search for knowledge is called
upon to solve.

These two tendencies, sceptical and constructive, are never,
indeed, in complete opposition. Common to both, rendering


possible the psychological explanation of the metaphysical
impulse, which even the negative standpoint demands, is the
doctrine of the regulative function of Ideal principles. This
doctrine, which already appears in the Dissertation of 1 77> was
later developed into the Critical theory of transcendental illu-
sion ; and by means of that theory Kant succeeded in bringing
the two standpoints into a very real and vital connection
with one another. At first sight it may seem to achieve
their complete reconciliation, accounting for their distinction
while rendering them mutually complementary ; and Kant's
teaching may perhaps be so restated as to bear out that im-
pression. But the harmony is never completely attained by
Kant. Here, as in the Analytic, there is an equipoise of
tendencies that persist in opposition.

Kant's mediating doctrine of transcendental illusion may
first be stated. It rests upon a distinction between appearance
and illusion. Appearance (Erscheinung) is a transcript in
phenomenal terms of some independent reality ; and of such
appearances we can acquire what from the human point of
view is genuine knowledge. On the other hand, all professed
insight into the nature of the transcendent or non-empirical is
sheer illusion (Schein), and purely subjective. There are. three
species of illusion, logical, empirical and transcendental.
Logical illusion stands apart by itself. It is due merely to
inattention or ignorance ; and vanishes immediately the atten-
tion is aroused. Empirical and transcendental illusion, on the
other hand, have a twofold point of agreement, first, in being
unavoidable, and secondly, in that they originate in our prac-
tical needs. We may know that the moon at its rising is no
larger than in mid-heavens, that the ocean is no higher in the
distance than at the shore ; this makes not the least difference
in the perceptions as they continue to present themselves.
That the illusions are adapted to our practical needs, and are
consequently beneficial, is less often observed. Changes in
the colour, form, and size of objects as they recede from us,
the seeing of the parallel sides of a street as converging, enable
us to achieve what would not otherwise be possible. By their
means we acquire the power of compressing a wide extent of
landscape into a single visual field, of determining distance,
and the like. Their practical usefulness is in almost exact
proportion to the freedom with which they depart from the
standards of the independently real. Kant argues that, in
these respects, transcendental illusion is analogous to the em-
pirical. Just as the illusory characteristics of our perceptions
are to be understood only in terms of their practical function,
so the Ideas of pure Reason have always a practical bearing,


and can only be explained and justified in terms of the needs
which they satisfy. As theoretical enquirers, we accept all
that affords us orientation in the attainment of knowledge ;
as moral agents, we postulate the conditions which are
necessary for the realisation of the moral imperative. And as
the Ideals of natural science are found (such is Kant's con-
tention) to be in general form akin to those of the moral con-
sciousness, they thus acquire a twofold footing in the mental
life, maintaining their place there quite independently of
theoretical proof. Though illusory, they are unavoidable ;
and though theoretically false, 1 they are from a practical point
of view both legitimate and indispensable.

Kant, in developing this thesis, might profitably have
pointed to still another respect in which the analogy holds
between sense-experience and transcendental beliefs. The
illusions of sense -perception come in the ordinary processes
of experience to be detected as such by the mind. From the
theoretical standpoint of the outside observer who compares
the situation of one percipient with that of another, and so is
enabled to cancel the differences which variety of situation
carries with it, the useful illusions of ordinary experience are
reduced to the level of mere appearance. In contradicting
one another they reveal their subjective character, and also at
the same time afford data for determining the objective con-
ditions to which their subjectively necessary existence is
causally due. In similar fashion the transcendental illusions
result in contradictions, which compel the mind to recognise
that the Ideals to which it is committed by its practical needs
are of a merely subjective character, and may never be legiti-
mately interpreted as representing the actual nature of the
independently real.

The chief transcendental illusion, and ultimately the cause
of all the others, consists in the belief that the Ideals of ex-
planation which satisfy Reason must in general outline repre-
sent the nature of ultimate reality. What the individual seeks
to discover he naturally believes to exist prior to the discovery.
As practical beings, we regard the objects of sense-experience
as absolute realities they are the realities of practical life, and
we are practical rather than theoretical beings and the exist-
ing empirical sciences, conceived as Ideally completed, are
therefore viewed as yielding an adequate representation of
ultimate reality. But such a belief involves us in contra-
dictions. The world of phenomena in space and time is
endlessly relative. It can have no outer bounds or first

1 Kant's commentators have frequently misrepresented this aspect of his
teaching. Cf. below, pp. 498, 520-1, 527-37, 541-2, 543 ff., 555, 558-61.


beginning, and no smallest parts ; and in the series of causal
antecedents there can be no member that is not effect as well
as cause. Viewed as representing a pre-existent goal, the
Ideas of Reason are imaginary completions of the intrinsically
and merely relative, and are in their very notion self-contra-
dictory. All that is definite in their content conflicts with
their absoluteness ; and yet, as it would seem, only in their
empirical reference can they hope for objective verification.

Such are the problems of the Dialectic, so far as they can
be formulated in terms common to the two opposed stand-
points. Their deeper significance, and the grounds of Kant's
alternating treatment of them, only appear when he raises the
further questions, what those Ideals of explanation which
Reason prescribes really are, and how, if they conflict with the
content of experience, it is possible that they should be con-
ceived at all. To these questions Kant propounds both a
sceptical and an Idealist answer. The former, in bare outline,
may be stated as follows. The so-called Ideas are based upon
experience and are derived from it. The understanding
removes the limitations to which its pure concepts are subject
in sense-experience, and proceeds to use them in their widest
possible application, i.e. to things in general. As thus employed,
they are without real significance, and are indeed self-contra-
dictory. To form the Idea of the unconditioned, we have to
omit all those conditions through which alone anything can
be apprehended, even as possible. To construct the concept
of absolute or unconditioned necessity, we have similarly to
leave aside the conditions upon which necessity, as revealed in
experience, in all cases depends ; in eliminating conditions,
we eliminate necessity in the only forms in which it is con-
ceivable by us. Such Ideas are, indeed, simply schematic
forms, whereby we body forth to ourselves, in more or less
metaphorical terms, the concept of a maximum. They are
imaginary extensions, in Ideal form, of the unity and system
which understanding has discovered in actual experience, and
which, under the inspiration of such Ideals, it seeks to realise
in ever-increasing degree. If the understanding, as thus in-
sisting upon Ideal satisfaction, be entitled Reason, the Ideas
must be taken as expressing a subjective interest, and as ex-
hausting their legitimate employment in the regulation of the
understanding. Their transcendental deduction will consist
in the proof that they are necessary to the understanding
for the perfecting of its experience. They do not justify us
in attempting to decide, in anticipation of actual experience,
how far the contingent collocations and the inexhaustible
complexities of brute experience are really reducible to a


completely unified system ; but they quite legitimately demand
that through all discouragements we persist in the endeavour
towards their realisation. In any case, it is by experience
that the degree of their reality has to be decided. We judge
of things by the standard of that for which they exist, and not
vice versa. As the sole legitimate function of the Ideas is
that of inspiring the understanding in its empirical employ-
ment, they must never be interpreted as having metaphysical
significance. As the Ideas exist solely for the sake of ex-
perience; it is they that must be condemned, if the two really
diverge. We do not say " that a man is too long for his coat,
but that the coat is too short for the man." 1 It is experience,
not Ideas, which forms the criterion alike of truth and of reality.
Kant's teaching, when on Idealist lines, is of a very
different character. Reason is distinct from understanding,
and yet is no less indispensably involved in the conditioning
of experience. All consciousness is consciousness of a whole
which precedes and conditions its parts. Such consciousness
cannot be accounted for by assuming that we are first
conscious of the conditioned, and then proceed through
omission of its limitations to form to ourselves, by means
of the more positive factors involved in this antecedent
consciousness, an Idea of an unconditioned whole. The
Idea of the unconditioned is distinct in nature from all other
concepts, and cannot be derived from them. It must be a
pure a priori product of what may be named the faculty of
Reason. Its uniqueness is what causes its apparent meaning-
lessness. As it is involved in all consciousness, it conditions
all other concepts ; and cannot, therefore, be defined in terms
of them. Its significance must not be looked for save in that
Ideal, to which no experience, and no concept other than
itself, can ever be adequate. That in this Ideal form it has a
very real and genuine meaning is proved by our capacity to
distinguish between appearance and reality. For upon it
this distinction, in ultimate analysis, is found to rest. Con-
sciousness of limitation presupposes a consciousness of what
is beyond the limit ; consciousness of the unconditioned is prior
to, and renders possible, our consciousness of the contingently
given. The Ideaof the unconditioned must therefore be counted
as being, like the categories, though in a somewhat different
manner, a condition of the possibility of experience. With
it our standards both of truth and of reality are inextricably
bound up. 2 The Ideas in which it specifies itself, so far from
depending upon empirical verification, are the touchstone by
which we detect the unreality of the sensible world, and by
1 A 490 = 6 518. 2 Cf. above, pp. 416-17.


which a truer reality, such as would be adequate to the Ideal
demands of pure Reason, is prefigured to the mind.

These two standpoints are extremely divergent in their
consequences. Each leads to a very different interpretation
of the content of the Ideas, of their function in experience, and
of their objective validity. On the one view, their content is
merely empirical, and sense-experience is our sole criterion of J
truth and reality ; on the other, they have to be recognised
as containing a pure a priori concept, and are themselves the
standards by which even empirical truth can alone be
determined. In the one case, they are Ideals projected by
experience for its own empirical guidance ; they are built upon
contingent experience, and depend upon it alike for the content
which makes them conceivable and for their validity. In the
other, they are presuppositions of experience, at once con-
ditioning its possibility and revealing its merely phenomenal
character. According to the sceptical view, Reason is con-
cerned only with itself and its own subjective demands ; on '
the Idealist view, it is a metaphysical faculty, and outlines
possibilities that may perhaps be established by practical

Such, in broad outline, are the central doctrines of the
Dialectic. They constitute an extraordinarily stimulating and
suggestive body of Critical teaching. In no other division of
the Critique do the power and originality of Kant's thinking
gain such abundant, forceful and illuminating expression.
The accumulated results of the painstaking analyses of the
earlier sections contribute a solidity and fulness of meaning,
which render the argument extremely impressive, even to
those who are out of sympathy with Kant's ultimate purposes.
Its persistent influence, on sceptical no less than on Idealist
lines, and often conveyed by very devious channels, can
frequently be detected even in thinkers Herbert Spencer is
an instance who would indignantly repudiate the charge of
being indebted to such a source.


We may now proceed to consider the evidence in support
of the early origin of the central portions of the Dialectic the
sections on the antinomies. As Benno Erdmann 2 has very

1 Those readers who are not already well acquainted with the argument of
the Dialectic may be recommended to pass at once to p. 441. What here follows
presupposes acquaintance with the nature and purposes of the main divisions of
the Dialectic. 2 Introd. to Reflexionen, Bd. ii.


conclusively shown, preoccupation with the problem of anti-
nomy was the chief cause of the revolution which took place
in Kant's views in 1769, and which found expression in his
Dissertation of 1770. It was the existence of antinomy which
led Kant to recognise the subjectivity of space and time.
That is to say, it led him to develop that doctrine of tran-
scendental idealism which reappears in the concluding sections
of the Aesthetic, and which was recast and developed in the
Analytic. Already in the Dissertation it supplies the key for
the solution of the problems concerning infinity. The im-
possibility of completing the space, time, and causal series,
and the consequent impossibility of satisfying the demands
of the mind for totality, simplicity and unconditionedness,
do not, it is there maintained, discredit reason, but only serve
to establish the subjectivity of the sensuous forms to which
the element of infinitude is in all cases due.

Kant's thinking was, of course, diverted into an entirely
new channel (as his letter to Herz of February 21, 1772, 1 shows),
when he came to realise that the metaphysical validity or
invalidity of thought must be decided prior to any attempt to
discover a positive solution of such problems as are presented
by the antinomies. And when, owing to the renewed influence
of Hume, at some time subsequent to the date of the letter
to Herz, this new problem was recognised as being the
problem of a priori synthesis, all questions regarding the
nature of the absolutely real were made to take secondary
rank, yielding precedence to those of logical theory. When
the antinomy problems re-emerge, their discussion assumes
Critical form.

In three fundamental respects Kant's treatment of the
antinomies in the Dissertation differs from that of the Critique.
In the first place, the demand for totality or absoluteness is
not in the Dissertation ascribed to a separate faculty. Indeed
Kant's words would seem to show that at times he had inclined
to ascribe it merely to the free-ranging fancy or imagination. 2
Secondly, as the various antinomies were traced exclusively
to the influence of space and time upon pure thought, they
were treated together, and no classification of them was
attempted. And lastly, though Kant's utterances are some-
what ambiguous, 3 the illusory character of the antinomies was
in the main viewed as being of a more or less logical nature.
That is to say, it was regarded as entirely preventable and as
" vanishing like smoke " 4 upon adoption of a true philosophical

1 W. x. p. 123 ff. Cf. above, pp. 219-20. 2 Cf. Dissertation, 27)7*.

3 Op. cit. Cf. 24 with 27. * Op. cit. 27.


A number of the Reflexionen reveal the various tentative
schemes, by trial of which Kant worked his way toward
a more genuinely Critical treatment of the problems of
infinity. The intellectual factors receive fuller recognition,
and as a consequence a definite classification results. At
some time prior to the discovery of the table of categories,
Kant adopted a threefold division of what he names first
principles or presuppositions principles of substance-accident,
of ground-consequence, and of whole-part. Reflexion ii. 578
is typical.

"Three principia: (i) in the field of the actual there is the
relation of substance to accident (inhaerentid) : (2) of ground to
consequence (dependentia) : (3) of parts and of composition
(compositio). There are three presuppositions : of the subject, of the
ground, and of the parts ; of insition [Kant's own term], of sub-
ordination, and of composition ; therefore also three first prindpia : .
(i) subject, which is never a predicate; (2) ground, which is never
a consequence ; (3) unity, which is not itself composite."

There are numerous other Reflexionen to the same effect. 1
The resulting conceptions are defined both as limits 2 and as
absolute totalities, and in Reflexion ii. 1252 are enumerated as

follows :

" The first subject ; the first ground ; the first part. The subject
ffhich holds everything in itself; the ground which takes everything
ander itself; the whole which comprehends everything. The
'otalitas absoluta of reality, of series, of co-ordination."

The introduction of the terms ' absolute ' and * totality '
ndicate that Kant has also come to recognise the presence
}f a unique notion (equivalent to the " unconditioned " of the
Critique}, distinct in content from any of the three enumerated
'irincipici) but common to them all. From the very first
ECant would seem to have appropriated for it the title Idea.
Reflexionen ii. 1243, I2 44> and I2 4 ma 7 be quoted :

"The Idea is single (individuum), self -sufficient, and eternal.
The divinity of our soul is its capacity to form the Idea. The
;enses give only copies or rather apparentia" "Idea is the repre-

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 52 of 72)