Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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standing apply to appearances, prescribing the conditions
under which the unity necessary to any and every experience
can alone be attained. The principles of Reason do not apply /
directly to appearances, but only to the understanding, defining s ><f
the standards to which its activities must conform, if a com-
pletely unified experience is to be achieved. Whereas the
rules of understanding are the conditions of objective existence
in space and time, principles in the strict sense are criteria for
the attainment of such absoluteness and totality as will har-
monise Reason with itself. Reason, determined by principles
which issue from its own inherent nature, prescribes what
the actual ought to be ; understanding, proceeding from rules
which express the conditions of possible experience, can yield
knowledge only of what is found to exist in the course of
sense-experience. The unity of Reason is Ideal ; the unity
of understanding is empirical. Principles are due to the self-
determination of reason ; the rules of understanding express
the necessitated determinations of sense. The former demand
a more perfect and complete unity than is ever attainable by
means of the latter. Two passages from the Lose Bltitter
will help to define the distinction.

" There is a synthesis prototypon and a synthesis ectypon. The
one . . . simpliciter, a termino a priori, . . . the other secundum quicL
a termino a posteriori. . . . Reason advances from the universal to\
thejDarticular, the understanding from the particular to the universal./
. . . The first is absolute and belongs to the free or metaphysical,
and also to the moral, employment of Reason." * " The principles of

1 Reicke, i. p. 105.


the synthesis of pure Reason are all metaphysical. . . . JThey] are
principles of the subjective unity of kno^ "
of the agreement of Reason with itself." 1

principles of the subjective unity of knowledge through Reason, i.e.

The chief interest of this section lies in its clear indication
of the dual standpoint to which Kant is committing himself
by the manner in which he formulates this distinction between
rules and principles. The indispensableness of the latter,
upon which Kant is prepared to insist, points to the Idealist
interpretation of their grounds and validity ; their derivation
from mere concepts, without reference to or basis in experience,
must, on the other hand, in view of the teaching of the Ana-
lytic^ commit Kant to a sceptical treatment of their objective
validity. In the above account, suggestions of the Idealist
point of view are not entirely absent ; but, on the whole, it
is the sceptical view that is dominant. The Ideas of Reason
can be justified as necessary only for the perfecting of experi-
ence, not as conditions of experience as such. They express
a subjective interest in the attainment of unity, not conditions
of the possibility of objective existence.

"[Civil Laws] are only limitations imposed upon our freedom
in order that such freedom may completely harmonise with itself;
hence they are directed to something which is entirely our own work,
and of which we ourselves, through these concepts, can be the cause.
But that objects in themselves, the very nature of things, should
stand under principles, and should be determined according to mere
concepts, is a demand which, if not impossible, is at least quite
contrary to common sense \widersinnisches\" ^

(U] The Logical Use of Reason 3

In this subsection Kant introduces the distinction between
understanding and judgment which he has sought to justify
in A 130 ff. = B 169 ff. By showing that inference determines
the relation between a major premiss (due to the understand-
ing) and the condition defined in the minor premiss (due to
the faculty of judgment), he professes to obtain justification
for classifying the possible forms of reasoning according to
the three categories of relation. The general remark is added
that the purpose of Reason, in its logical employment as
inference, is to obtain the highest possible unity, through
subsumption of all multiplicity under the smallest possible
number of universals.

1 Op. cit. i. pp. 109-10. 2 A 301-2 = 6 358. A 303 = B 359.


(V) The Pure Use of Reason^

Kant here states the alternatives between which the Dia-
lectic has to decide. Is Reason merely formal, arranging given
material according to given forms of unity, or is it a source
of principles which prescribe higher forms of unity than any
revealed by actual experience? Further examination of its
formal and logical procedure constrains us, Kant asserts, to
adopt the latter position ; and at the same time indicates how
those principles must be interpreted, namely, as subjective
laws that apply not to objects but only to the activities of the

In the first place, a syllogism is not directly concerned
with intuitions, but only with concepts and judgments. This
may be taken as indicating that pure Reason relates to objects
only mediately by way of understanding and its judgments.
The unity which it seeks is higher than that of any possible
experience ; it is a unity which must be constructed and
cannot be given. 2

Secondly, Reason in its logical use seeks the universal
condition of its judgment ; and when such is not found in the
major premiss proceeds to its discovery through a regressive
series of prosyllogisms. In so doing it is obviously determined
by a principle expressive of the peculiar function of Reason
in its logical employment, namely, jthat for the conditioned
knowledge of understanding the unconditioned unity in which
that knowledge may find completion must be discovered.',
Such a principle is synthetic, since from analysis of the
conception of the conditioned we can discover its relation to
a condition, but never its relation to the unconditioned. That
is a notion which falls entirely outside the sphere of the under-
standing, and which therefore demands a separate enquiry.
How is the above a priori synthetic principle to be accounted
for, if it cannot be traced to understanding ? Has it objective,
or has it merely subjective validity ? And lastly, what further
synthetic principles can be based upon it ? Such are the ques-
tions to which Critical Dialectic must supply an answer. This
Dialectic will be composed of two main divisions, the doctrine of
" the transcendent concepts of pure Reason " and the doctrine
of " transcendent and dialectical inferences of Reason."

1 A 305 = 6 362.

2 The wording of the concluding sentence of the third paragraph (A 307
= 6363-4) is so condensed as to be misleading. "It [viz. the principle of
causality] makes the unity of experience possible, and borrows nothing from the
Reason. The latter, if it were not for this [its indirect] reference [through
mediation of the understanding] to possible experience, could never [of itself],
from mere concepts, have imposed a synthetic unity of that kind."



The distinction here drawn between concepts obtained by
reflection and concepts gained by inference is a somewhat mis-
leading mode of stating the fact that, whereas the categories
of understanding condition experience and so make possible
the unity of consciousness necessary to all reflection, or, in
other words, are conditions of the material supplied for in-
ference, the concepts of Reason are Ideal constructions which
though in a certain sense resting upon experience none the
less transcend it. The function of the Ideas is to organise
experience in its totality ; that of the categories is to render
possible the sense -perceptions constitutive of its content.
The former refer to the unconditioned, and though that is a
conception under which everything experienced is conceived
to fall, it represents a type of knowledge to which no actual
experience can ever be adequate.

Conceptus ratiocinati conceptus ratiocinantes. When such
transcendent concepts possess " objective validity," they are
correctly inferred, and may be entitled conceptus ratiocinati.
If, on the other hand, they are due to merely sophistical 2
reasoning, they are purely fictitious, conceptus ratiocinantes.
This distinction raises many difficulties. Kant's intention
cannot be to deny that the conceptus ratiocinati are " mere
Ideas " (entia rationis] 3 for such is his avowed and constant
contention or that the inference to them is dialectical and
is based upon a transcendental illusion. Two alternatives are
open. He may mean that they are only valid when the results
of such inference are Critically reinterpreted, and when the
function of the Ideas is realised to be merely regulative ; or
his intention may be to mark off the Ideas, strictly so-called,
which are inevitable and beneficial products of Reason, from
the many idle and superfluous inventions of speculative

1 ASIO=B 366.

2 Schein des Schliessens would seem to be here used in that sense.
3 Cf. above, p. 424.



thought. Kant's concluding remark, that the questions at
issue can be adequately discussed only at a later stage, may
be taken as in the nature of an apology for the looseness of
these preliminary statements, and as a warning to the reader
not to insist upon them too absolutely. The participles ratio-
cinati and ratiocinantes l are of doubtful latinity. The distinc-
tion of meaning here imposed upon them has not been traced
in any other writer, and is perhaps Kant's own invention. 2



Kant connects his use of the term Idea with the meaning in
which it is employed by Plato. He urges upon all true lovers
of philosophy the imperative need of rescuing from misuse a
term so indispensable to mark a distinction more vital than
any other to the very existence of the'philosophical disciplines.

" [For Plato] Ideas are the archetypes of the things themselves,
and not, like the categories, merely keys to possible experiences.
In his view they issued from the Supreme Reason, and from that
source have come to be shared in by human Reason. . . . He very
well realised that our faculty of knowledge feels a much higher
need than merely to spell out appearances according to a synthetic
unity, in order to read them as experience. He knew that our
Reason naturally exalts itself to forms of knowledge which so far
transcend the bounds of experience that no given empirical object
can ever coincide with them, but which must none the less be
recognised as having their own reality and which are by no means
mere fictions of the brain." 4

Plato found these ideas chiefly, though not exclusively, in
the practical sphere. When moral standards are in question,
experience is the mother of illusion.

"For nothing can be more injurious or more unworthy of a
philosopher than the vulgar appeal to so-called adverse experience.
Such experience would never have existed at all, if those institutions
had been established at the proper time in accordance with Ideas,
and if Ideas had not been displaced by crude conceptions which,
just because they have been derived from experience, have nullified
all good intentions." 5

1 Cf. also A 669 = 6 697 ; A 680 = 6 709.

2 Cf. Vaihinger, " Kant ein Metaphysiker ? " in Philosophische Abhandlungen
(Sigwart Gedenkschrift], p. 144.

3 A 312 = 6368. 4 A 313 = 6370.

6 A 316-17 = 6 373. The context of this passage is a defence of Plato's
Republic against the charge that it is Utopian, because unrealisable.


Even in the natural sphere Ideas which are never them-
selves adequately embodied in the actual must be postulated
in order to account for the actual. Certain forms of exist-
ences " are possible only according to Ideas."

" A plant, an animal, the orderly arrangement of the cosmos
probably, therefore, the entire natural world clearly show that they
are possible only according to Ideas, and that though no single
creature in the conditions of its individual existence coincides with
the Idea of what is most perfect in its kind just as little as does
any individual man exactly conform to the Idea of humanity, which
he actually carries in his soul as the archetype of his actions yet
these Ideas are none the less completely determined in the Supreme
Understanding, each as an individual and each as unchangeable,
and are the original causes of things. But only the totality of
things, in their interconnection as constituting the universe, is com-
pletely adequate to the Idea." 1

Though Kant avows the intention of adapting the term
Idea freely to the needs of his more Critical standpoint, all
these considerations contribute to the rich and varied meanings
in which he employs it.

Reflexionen and passages from the Lectures on Metaphysics
may be quoted to show the thoroughly Platonic character of
Kant's early use of the term, and to illustrate its gradual
adjustment to Critical demands.

"The Idea is the unity of knowledge, through which the manifold
either of knowledge or of the object is possible. In the former, the
whole of knowledge precedes its parts, the universal precedes the
particular; in the latter, knowledge of the objects precedes their
possibility, as e.g. in [objects that possess] order and perfection." 2
" That an object is possible only through a form of knowledge is a
surprising statement ; but all teleological relations are possible only
through a form of knowledge [i.e. a concept]." 3 "The Idea is
single (individuum\ self-sufficient, and eternal. The divinity of our
soul is its capacity to form the Idea. The senses give only copies
or rather apparentia" 4 "As the Understanding of God is the
ground of all possibility, archetypes, Ideas, are in God. . . . The
divine Intuitus contains Ideas according to which we ourselves are
possible; cognitio divina est cognitio archetypa^ and His Ideas are
archetypes of things. The [corresponding] forms of knowledge

1 A 317-18 = 6374-5-

2 Reflexionen ii. 1240. Cf. Schopenhauer: World as Will and Idea (Werke,
ii. p. 277 : Eng. trans, i. p. 303) : "The Idea is the unity that falls into multi-
plicity on account of the temporal and spatial form of our intuitive apprehension ;
the concept, on the contrary, is the unity reconstructed out of multiplicity by
the abstraction of our reason ; the latter may be defined as unit as post rem, the
former as unitas ante rem."

3 Lectures on Metaphysics (Politz, 1821), p. 79. 4 Reflexionen ii. 1243.


possessed by the human understanding we may also entitle (in a
comparative sense) archetypes or Ideas. They are those representa-
tions of our understanding which serve for judgment upon things." 1
" Idea is the representation of the whole in so far as it necessarily
precedes the determination of the parts. It can never be empiric-
ally represented, because in experience we proceed from the parts
through successive synthesis to the whole. It is the archetype of
things, for certain objects are only possible through an Idea.
Transcendental Ideas are those in which the absolute whole deter-
mines the parts in an aggregate or as series." 2 "The pure concepts
of Reason have no exemplaria ; they are themselves archetypes.
But the concepts of our pure Reason have as their archetypes this
Reason itself and are therefore subjective, not objective." 3 "The
transcendental Ideas serve to limit the principles of experience,
forbidding their extension to things in themselves, and showing that
what is never an object of possible experience is not therefore
a non-entity [Unding\ t and that experience is not adequate either
to itself or to Reason, but always refers us further to what is beyond
itself." 4 "The employment of the concept of understanding was
immanent, that of the Ideas as concepts of objects is transcend-
ent. But as regulative principles alike of the completion and of
the limitation of our knowledge, they are Critically immanent." 5
"The difficulties of metaphysics all arise in connection with the
reconciling of empirical principles with Ideas. The possibility of
the latter cannot be denied, but neither can they be made empirically
intelligible. "The Idea is never a conceptus dabilis ; it is not an
empirically possible conception." 6

Kant 7 appends the following ' Stufenleiter ' (ladder-like)
arrangement of titles for the various kinds of representation.
Representation ( Vorstellung] is the term which he substitutes
for the Cartesian and Lockian employment of the term idea,
now reserved for use in its true Platonic meaning. To entitle
such a representation as that of red colour an idea is, in
Kant's view, an intolerable and barbaric procedure ; that
representation is not even a concept of the understanding.

(Idea (Idee} or concept of
Reason [formed , Kant here
says, from notions, but
transcending the possi-
Notio y n( e ^& e ) r [l n c C ategory
of understanding].

i i_ i wiiQ conscious- i i ^

th or without Untuition (Anschauung).

isciousness \. V. Subjective = Sensation (Emffindung).

1 Lectures on Metaphysics, pp. 308-9. 2 Reflexionen ii. 1244.

3 Reflexionen ii. 1254. Reflexionen ii. 1258.

8 Reflexionen ii. 1259. Reflexionen ii. 1260.

7 A 320 = 6 376-7.

2 G



This section completes the metaphysical deduction of the
Ideas. In the preceding sections on the logical and on the
pure use of Reason, Kant has pointed out that Reason pro-
ceeds in accordance with the principle, that for the conditioned
knowledge of understanding the unconditioned, in which it
finds completion, must be discovered. This principle is syn-
thetic, involving a concept which transcends the understanding ;
and as Reason in its logical use is merely formal, that concept
must be due to Reason in its creative or transcendental
I activity. In the section before us Kant deduces from the
\ three kinds of syllogism the three possible forms in which
;such an Idea of Reason can present itself. The deduction
is, as already noted, wholly artificial, and masks Kant's real
method of obtaining the Ideas, namely, through combination
of the unique concept of the unconditioned with the three
categories of relation. The deduction is based upon an
extremely ingenious analogy between the logical function of
Reason in deductive inference and its transcendental procedure
in prescribing the Ideal of unconditioned totality. In the
syllogism the predicate of the conclusion is shown to be
connected with its subject in accordance with a condition
which is stated in its universality in the major premiss. Thus
if the conclusion be : Caius is mortal, in constructing the
syllogism, required to establish it, we seek for a conception
which contains the condition under which the predicate is
given in this case the conception " man " and we state that
condition in, its universality : All men are mortal. Under
this major premiss is then subsumed Caius, the object dealt
with : Caius is a man. And so indirectly, by reference to the
universal condition, we obtain the knowledge that Caius is
mortal. Universality, antecedently stated, is restricted in the
conclusion to a specific object. Now what corresponds in the
synthesis of intuition to the universality (universalitas] of a
logical premiss is allness (universitas) or totality of conditions.
The transcendental concept of Reason, to which the logical
procedure is to serve as clue, can therefore be no other than
that of the totality of conditions for any given conditioned.
And as totality of conditions is equivalent to the unconditioned,
this latter must be taken as the fundamental concept of Reason ;

1 A 321 = 6377.


the unconditioned is conceived as being the ground of
the synthesis of everything conditioned. ' But there are three
species of relation, and consequently there are three forms in
which the concept of Reason seeks to realise its demand for
the unconditioned: (i) through categorical synthesis in one
subject, (2) through hypothetical synthesis of the members of
a series, and (3) through disjunctive synthesis of the parts in
one system. To these three correspond the three species of
syllogism, categorical, hypothetical, and disjunctive, in each
of which thought passes through a regressive series of pro-
syllogisms back to an unconditioned : the first to a concept
which stands for what is always a subject and never a predi-
cate ; the second to a presupposition which itself presupposes
nothing further ; and the third to such an aggregate of the
members of the division as will make that division complete.
It may be observed that in this proof the threefold specifica-
tion of the concept of the unconditioned is really obtained
directly from the categories of relation, or at least from the
judgments of relation, and not from the corresponding species
of syllogism.

Totality and unconditionedness, when taken as equivalent,
become synonymous with the absolute^ This last term, how-
ever, especially when taken as defining possibility and necessity,
is ambiguous. The absolutely possible may signify either
that which in itself, i.e. so far as regards its internal content,
is possible ; or else that which is in every respect and in all
relations possible. The two meanings have come to be
connected largely owing to the fact that the internally im-
possible is impossible in every respect. Otherwise, however,
the two meanings fall completely apart. Absolute necessity
and inner necessity are quite diverse in character. We must
not, for instance, argue that the opposite of what is absolutely
necessary must be inwardly impossible, nor consequently that
absolute necessity must in the end reduce to an inner necessity.
Examination will show that, in certain types of cases, not the
slightest meaning can be attached to the phrase * inner neces-
sity.' As we possess the terms inner and logical to denote
the first form of necessity, there is no excuse for employing
the term absolute in any but the wider sense. That, Kant
holds, is its original and proper meaning. The absolute totality
to which the concept of Reason refers is that form of complete-
ness which is in every respect unconditioned.

In A 326 = B 383 Kant's mode of statement emphasises the
connection of the Ideas with the categories of relation. Reason,
he claims, " seeks to extend the synthetic unity, which is

1 A 323-4 = 6 380-1. Cf. below, pp. 480, 529, 559-60.


thought in the category, to the absolutely unconditioned."
Such positive content as the Ideas can possess lies in the
experience which they profess to unify ; in so far as they
transcend experience and point to an Ideal completion
that is not empirically attainable, they refer to things of
which the understanding can have no concept. It is necessary,
however, that they should present themselves in this absolute
and transcendent form, since otherwise the understanding
would be without stimulus and without guidance. Though
mere Ideas, they are neither arbitrary nor superfluous. They
regulate the understanding in its empirical pursuit of that
systematic unity which it requires for its own satisfaction.

In A 327-8 = B 383-4 one and the same ground is assigned
for entitling the Ideas transcendental and also transcendent,
namely, that, as they surpass experience, no object capable of
being given through the senses corresponds to them. But a
difference would none the less seem to be implied in the
connotation of the two terms. /In being prescribed by the
very nature of Reason, they are transcendental ; as over-^
stepping the limits of experience, they are transcendent,/ 1
Kant's use of the terms subject and object in this passage" is
also somewhat puzzling. * Object ' is employed in the
metaphysical sense proper only from the pre-Critical stand-
point of the Dissertation, as meaning an existence apprehended
through pure thought. The term 'subject' receives a corre-
spondingly un-Critical connotation. The further phrase " the
merely speculative use of Reason " is somewhat misleading,
even though we recognise that for Kant speculative and
theoretical are synonymous terms ; we should rather expect
" Reason in its legitimate or Critical or directive function."
Kant's intended meaning, however, is sufficiently clear.
When we say that a concept of Reason is an Idea merely,
we have in mind the degree to which it can be empirically
verified. We are asserting that it prescribes an Ideal to
which experience may be made to approach, but which it
can never attain. It defines " a problem to which there is

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 54 of 72)