Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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boasts of knowledge, and when it represents as speculative
insight that which is grounded only in faith.

"But when empiricism itself, as frequently happens, becomes
dogmatic . . ., and confidently denies whatever lies beyond the
sphere of its intuitive knowledge, it betrays the same lack of
modesty; and that is all the more reprehensible owing to the
irreparable injury which is thereby caused to the practical interests
of Reason."

Each party asserts more than it knows. The one allows
our practical interests to delude Reason as to its inherent
powers ; the other would so extend empirical knowledge as
to destroy the validity of our moral principles. Kant re-
gards the opposition as being historically typified by the
contrasted systems of Platonism and Epicureanism. It befits
us, as self-reflecting beings, to free ourselves, at least pro-
visionally, from the partiality of those divergent interests,
and by application of "the sceptical method," unconcerned
about consequences, to penetrate to the primary sources of
this perennial conflict. As Kant states in the next section,
the conflict is of such a character as to be genuinely resolvable.

This section must have been written, or at least first
sketched, at the time when Kant still intended to bring, his
whole criticism of the metaphysical sciences within the scope
of his doctrine of antinomy. 1



There are sciences the very nature of which requires that
every question which can occur in them must be completely

1 Cf. above, pp. 434 ff., 479. 2 A 476 = 6 504.


answerable from what can be presumed to be known. This
is true of the science of ethics. When I ask to what course
of action I am committed in moral duty, the question must
be answerable in terms of the considerations which have
led to its being propounded. For there can be no moral
obligation in regard to that of which we cannot have know-
ledge. We must not plead that the problem is unanswerable ;
a solution must be found. Kant proceeds to argue that this
is no less true of transcendental philosophy.

" . . . it is unique among speculative sciences in that no question
which concerns an object given to pure Reason is insoluble for this
same human Reason, and that no excuse of an unavoidable ignorance,
or of the unfathomable depth of the problem, can release us from
the obligation to answer it thoroughly and completely. That very
concept which enables us to ask the question must also qualify us
to answer it, since, as in the case of right and wrong, the object is
not to be met with outside the concept."

The third and fourth paragraphs would seem to be later
interpolations. The section, like Section III., must have
been written at the time when Kant still regarded the
doctrine of antinomy as covering the entire field of meta-
physics. Transcendental philosophy is identified with cos-
mology, as dealt with in the antinomies. But in the third
paragraph the former is taken as a wider term. Also, in
the first two paragraphs the problems of pure Reason are
regarded as soluble because their objects are not to be met
with outside the concepts of them ; whereas in the third para-
graph they are viewed as soluble because their object is given
empirically. Again, in the second paragraph transcendental
philosophy has been taken as unique among speculative [i.e.
theoretical] sciences ; in the fourth paragraph mathematics
is placed alongside it.

Examination of this section as a whole (and the same is
true of the immediately following section) justifies the con-
clusion that at the time when it was written Kant regarded
the Ideas of Reason as having a purely and exclusively
regulative function, and consequently as exhausting their
inherent meaning in their empirical reference. He regards
them as entirely lacking in metaphysical significance. They
are invented by Reason for Reason's own satisfaction, and
must therefore yield in their internal content the explanation
of their existence, and must also supply a complete and
thorough answer to all problems which are traceable to them.
A dogmatic (i.e. ontological) solution of the antinomies is,
as we have already found, impossible ; the Critical solution
considers the question subjectively,


"... in accordance with the foundation of the knowledge upon which
it is based." 1 " For your object is only in your brain, and cannot
be given outside it ; so that you have only to take care to be at one
with yourself, and to avoid the amphiboly which transforms your Idea
into a supposed representation of an object which is empirically given
and therefore to be known according to the laws of experience." 2

Kant's argument in proof of this purely subjective inter-
pretation of the Ideas consists in showing that they are
not presented in any given appearances, and are not even
necessary to explain appearances. The unconditioned, whether
of quantity, of division, or of origination, has nothing to do
with any experience, whether actual or possible.

" You would not, for instance, in any wise be able to explain the
appearances of a body better, or even differently, if you assumed that
it consists either of simple or of inexhaustibly composite parts ; for
neither a simple appearance nor an infinite composition can ever
come before you. Appearances demand explanation only in so
far as the conditions of their explanation are given in perception,
[and the unconditioned can never be so given]." 3

This standpoint, at once sceptical and empirical, is further
developed in the next section.



Applying the " sceptical method," 5 Kant argues that even
supposing one or other party could conclusively establish
itself through final refutation of the other, no advantage of
any kind would accrue. The victory would be a fruitless one,
and the outcome " mere nonsense." 6 The sole validity of
the Ideas lies in their empirical reference ; and yet that
reference is one which proves them to be, when objectively
interpreted, entirely meaningless. The cosmological Idea is
always either too large or too small for any concept of the
understanding. No matter what view is taken, the only
possible object (viz. that yielded by experience) will not fit
into it. If the world has no beginning, or is infinitely divisible,
or has no first cause, the regress transcends all empirical con-
cepts ; while if the world has a beginning, is composed of

1 A 484=6 512. 2 ibid. s A 483=6 511.

4 A 485 = 6 513. Cf. above, p. 481 ; below, pp. 545-6.

6 Kant is here playing on the double meaning of the German " sinnleeres"
"empty of sense " and " non-sense."


simple parts, and has a first cause, it is too small for the
concepts through which alone it can be experienced. In
other words, the cosmological Ideas are always either too
large or too small for the empirical regress, and therefore
stand condemned by sense- experience, which can alone
impart relation to an object, i.e. truth and meaning to any
concept. For, as Kant explicitly states, we must not reverse
this relation and condemn empirical concepts^ as being in the
one case too small, and in the other case too large for the Idea.
Experience, not Ideas, is the criterion alike of reality and of

"The possible empirical concept is, therefore, the standard by
which we must judge whether the Idea is mere Idea and thought-
entity (Gedankending), or whether it finds its object in the world." 1

When two things are compared, that for the sake of
which the other exists is the sole proper standard. We do
not say " that a man is too long for his coat, but that the
coat is too short for the man." 2 We are thus confirmed in
the view that the antinomies rest upon a false view of the
manner in which the object of the cosmological Ideas can be
given ; and are set upon the track, followed out in the next
section, of the illusion to which they are due.

This reduction of the Ideas to mere thought -entities is
one of the two alternative views which, as we have already
stated, 3 compete with one another throughout the entire
Dialectic. We may, for instance, compare the above explana-
tion of the conflict between the Ideas and experience with that
given in A 422 = B 450. In the latter passage the antinomies
are traced to a conflict between Reason and understanding.
If the unity is adequate to the demands of Reason, it is too
great for the understanding ; if it is adequate to the understand-
ing, it is too small for Reason. Kant does not here allow that
the claims of Reason are ipso facto condemned through the
incapacity of experience to fulfil them. On the contrary, he
implies that it is through the Ideas that we come to realise
the merely phenomenal character of everything experienced.

Our task, in this Commentary, is only to distinguish the
passages in which those two conflicting tendencies appear,
and to trace the consequences which follow from Kant's
alternation between them. Discussion of their significance
had best be deferred to the close of the Dialectic, where Kant
dwells upon the regulative function of Reason. At present
we need merely note that the main content of the above

1 A 489 = 6 517. 2 A 490=6 518. 3 Above, p. 426 ff.


sections, in which the sceptical view is expounded, is of early
date, prior to the working out of the Paralogisms and of the



In this section subjectivism is dominant. The type of
transcendental idealism expounded is that earlier and less
developed form which connects with the doctrine of the
transcendental object. 2 It shows no trace of Kant's maturer
teaching. No distinction is drawn between representation
and the objects represented. To the transcendental object,
the " purely intelligible cause " of appearances in general, and
to it alone, Kant ascribes " the whole extent and connection
of our possible perceptions." 3 Appearances exist only in
the degree to which they are constructed in experience. As
they are mere representations, they cannot exist outside the
mind. Independently of such construction, they may indeed
be said to be given in the transcendental object, but they only
become objects to us on the supposition that they can be
reached through extension of the series of our actual per-
ceptions. It is in this form alone, as conceived in a regressive
series of possible perceptions, and not as having existed in
itself, that even the immemorial past course of the world can
be represented as real ;

"... so that all events which have taken place in the immense
periods that have preceded my own existence mean really nothing
but the possibility of extending the chain of experience from
the present perception back to the conditions which determine
it in time." 4

A similar interpretation has to be given to all propositions
which assert the present reality of that which has never been
actually experienced.

"In outcome it is a matter of indifference whether I say that
in the empirical progress in space I can meet with stars a hundred
times farther removed than the outermost now perceptible to me, or
whether I say that they are perhaps to be met with in cosmical
space even though no human being has ever perceived or ever will

1 A 490= B 518. 2 Cf. above p. 204 ff. 3 A 494 = 6 522-3.

4 A 495 = 6523.


perceive them. For even if they were given as things in them-
selves, without relation to possible experience, 1 they are still nothing
for me, and therefore are not objects, save in so far as they are
contained in the series of the empirical regress." 2

The distinction between appearances and things in them-
selves must always, Kant observes, be borne in mind when we
are interpreting the meaning of our empirical concepts ; and
this is especially necessary when those concepts are brought
into connection with the cosmological Idea of an uncondi-
tioned. The antinomies are due to a failure to appreciate
this fundamental distinction, and the key to their solution
lies in its recognition.

"It would be an injustice to ascribe to us that long-decried
empirical idealism which, while it admits the genuine actuality of
space, denies the existence of the extended beings in it . . ." 3

This is in line with the passages from the Prolegomena
commented upon above. 4



Kant's argument is as follows. The antinomies rest upon
the principle that if the conditioned be given, the entire series
of all its conditions is likewise given. If the objects of the
senses were independently real, there would be no escape from
this assumption, and the dialectical conflict would conse-
quently be irresolvable. Transcendental idealism, as above
stated, reveals a way out of the dilemma. As appearances
are merely representations, their antecedent conditions do not
exist as appearances, save in the degree in which they are
mentally constructed. Though the appearances are given,
their empirical conditions are not thereby given. The most
that we can say is that a regress to the conditions, i.e. a
continued empirical synthesis in that direction, is commanded
or required. The cosmological argument can thus be shown
to be logically invalid. The syllogism, which it involves, is
as follows :

If the conditioned be given, the entire series of all its
conditions is likewise given.

1 Cf. A 494 = B 522-3 : "... we can say of the transcendental object that
it is given in itself prior to all experience."

2 A 496^6 524. * A 491 = 6 519. 4 Pp. 306-7. 5 A 497 = B 525.


The objects of the senses are given.

Therefore the entire series of all their conditions is like-
wise given.

In the major premiss the concept of the conditioned is
employed transcendently (Kant says transcendentally), in the
minor empirically. But though the inference thus commits
the logical fallacy of sophisma figurae dictionis, the ground
of its occurrence, and the reason why it is not at once
detected, lie in a natural and inevitable illusion which leads
us to accept the sensible world in space as being independently
real. Only through Critical investigation can the deceptive
power of this illusion be overcome. Owing to its influence,
the above fallacy has been committed by dogmatists and em-
piricists alike. It can be shown that in refuting each other

..." they are really quarrelling about nothing, and that a certain
transcendental illusion has caused them to see a reality where none
is to be found." 1

The existence of antinomy, Kant further argues, presup-
poses that theses and antitheses are contradictory opposites,
i.e. that no third alternative is possible. When opposed asser-
tions are not contradictories but contraries, the opposition, .
to use Kant's terms, is not analytical but dialectical. -Both \
may be false ; for the one does not merely contradict the
other, but makes, in addition, a further statement on its own
account. Now examination of the illusion above described
enables us to perceive that the opposites, in reference to which
antinomy occurs, are of this dialectical character. Theses
and antitheses are alike false. Since the world does not exist ^
as a thing in itself, it exists neither as an infinite whole nor
as a finite whole, but only in the degree in which it is con-
structed in an empirical regress. We must not apply "the
Idea of absolute totality, which is valid only as a condition of
things in themelves"* to appearances. (The words which I
have italicised mark the emergence of Kant's non-sceptical,
non-empirical view of the nature and function of the Ideas of
Reason.) Thus antinomy, rightly understood, does not favour
scepticism, but only the " sceptical method," and indeed yields
an indirect proof of the correctness of Critical teaching. This
proof may be presented in the form of a dilemma. If the
world is a whole existing in itself, it is either finite or infinite.
But the former alternative is refuted by the proofs given of
the antitheses, and the latter alternative by the proofs of the
theses. Therefore the world cannot be a whole existing in
itself. From this it follows that appearances are nothing

1 A 501-2 = 6 529-30. 2 A 506 = B 534.


outside our representations ; and that is what is asserted
in the doctrine of transcendental idealism.

In A 499 =B 527 Kant uses ambiguous language, 1 which
can be interpreted as asserting that in the regress there can
be no lack of given conditions. Such a statement would
presuppose positive knowledge regarding the unknown tran-
scendental object. 2 The opposite, more correct, view is given
in A 514-15 = B 542-3 and A 517 ff. = B 545 ff., though in the
latter passage with a reversion to the above position. 3

The earlier manuscripts, which Kant has so far been em-
ploying, probably terminate either, as Adickes suggests, 4 at the
end of this section, or at the close of Section VIII., which is of
doubtful date. Section IX. is certainly from a later period ;
it represents a more complex standpoint, in which Reason is
no longer viewed as possessing a merely empirical function,
and in which consequently the theses and antitheses are no
longer indiscriminately denounced as being alike false. Under
the influence of his later, more Idealistic preoccupations, Kant
so far modifies the above solution as to assert that in the case
of the last two antinomies both theses and antitheses are
when properly interpreted.



The principle of pure Reason, correctly formulated, is that
when the conditioned is given a regress upon the totality of
its conditions is set as a problem. As such it is valid,

"... not indeed as an axiom . . . but as a problem for the under-
standing . . ., leading it to undertake and to continue, according to
the completeness in the Idea, the regress in the series of conditions
of any given conditioned." 6

It does not anticipate, prior to the regress, what actually
exists as object, but only postulates, in the form of a rule,
how the understanding ought to proceed. It does not tell
us whether or how the unconditioned exists, but how the
empirical regress is to be carried out under the guidance of a

1 Cf. end of passage : ' ' There can be no lack of conditions that are given
through this regress."

2 Cf. below, pp. 507-8. 3 Cf. below, pp. 507-9.

4 K. p. 414 n. The two last paragraphs of Section VII., which correct its
argument, that of the Transcendental Aesthetic, are probably later additions.

5 A 508 = B 536, 6 Loc. cit.


mere Idea. Such a rule can be regulative only, and the Idea of
totality which it contains must never be invested with objective
reality. As the absolutely unconditioned can never be met
with in experience, we know, indeed, beforehand that in
the process of the regress the unconditioned will never be
reached. But the duty of seeking it by way of such regress
is none the less prescribed.

Kant proceeds to give a somewhat bewildering account of
the familiar distinction between progressus in infinitum and
progressus in indefinitum, and to draw a very doubtful distinc-
tion between the series in division of a given whole and the
series in extension of it. 1 The illustration from the series of
human generations is an unfortunate one ; the discovery that
it began at some one point in the past would not necessarily
violate any demand of Reason. Such a series is not compar-
able with those of space, time, and causality. 2 The only im-
portant result of this digression is the conclusion that whatever
demand be made, whether of regress in infinitum or of regress
in indefinitum, in neither case can the series of conditions be
regarded as being given as infinite in the object.

"The question, therefore, is no longer how great this series of
conditions may be in itself, whether finite or infinite, for it is nothing
in itself ; but how we are to carry out the empirical regress, and how
far we should continue it." 3

We have already noted 4 Kant's ambiguous suggestion in
A 499 = B 527, that in the empirical regress there can be no
lack of given conditions. The statement, thus interpreted,
is illegitimate. The most that he can claim is that, were
further sensations not forthcoming, we should still have to
conceive those last obtained as being preceded by empty
space and time, and as lacking in any experienced cause.
Under such circumstances we should experience neither fini-
tude nor unconditionedness, but only incapacity to find a
content suitable to the inexhaustible character of the spatial
and temporal conditions of experience, or in satisfaction of
our demand for causal antecedents. In A 514-15 = 6 542-3
Kant shows consciousness of this difficulty, but in dealing
with it adopts a half-way position which still lies open to
objection. He recognises that, since no member of a series
can be empirically given as absolutely unconditioned, a
higher member is always possible, and that the search for it is
therefore prescribed ; none the less he asserts that in regard to

1 As to the distinction between the ascending and the descending series, cf.
ve, pp. 453 > 484-

2 Cf. A 522 = B 549-50. 3 A 514 = 6 542. 4 Above, p. 506.


given wholes we are justified in taking up a very different
position, namely, that the regress in the series of their internal
conditions does not proceed, as in the above case, in indefinitum,
but in infinitum, i.e. that in this case more members exist ai
are empirically given than we can reach through the regress
In given wholes we are commanded to find more members
in serial extension we are justified only in inquiring for moi
This half-way position is a makeshift, and is in no resj
tenable. The evidence for the infinite extensibility of spa<
and time is as conclusive as for their infinite divisibility. And
when we consider sensuous existence under these forms, it is
just as possible that the transcendental object may, beyond a
certain point, fail to supply material for further division, as
that it may fail to yield data for further expansion. What
Kant asserts of the latter, that further advance must always
remain as a possibility, and for that Reason must always call
for the open mind of further inquiry, without any attempted
anticipatory assertion either pro or contra, alone represents
the true Critical standpoint. The cessation of data may
really, however, be due to an increase in the subtlety of the
conditioning processes that incapacitates them from acting
upon our senses ; * by indirect means this disability may be
overcome. Reason, in its conception of an unconditioned,
prescribes to us a task that is inexhaustible in its demands.
We have no right to lay down our intellectual arms before
any barrier however baffling, or to despair before any chasm
however empty and abrupt.




Statement. The fundamental fact upon which, as Kant
has already stated, the regulative principle of Reason is based,
is that it is impossible to experience an absolute limit. It is
always possible that a still higher member of the series may
be found ; and that being so, it is our duty to search for it.
But as we are here dealing with possibilities only, the regress
is in indefinitum^ not in infinitum.

1 Cf. A522 = B55o. 2 A 515 = 6 543.


" . . . we must seek the concept of the quantity of the world only
according to the rule which determines the empirical regress in it.
This rule says no more than that however far we may have attained
in the series of empirical conditions, we should never assume an
absolute limit, but should subordinate every appearance, as con-
ditioned, to another as its condition, and that we must then advance
to this condition. This is the regressus in indefinitum, which, as it
determines no quantity in the object, is clearly enough distinguish-
able from the regressus in infinitum" l

We are acquainted only with the rule, and not with the

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 60 of 72)