Norman Kemp Smith.

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

. (page 61 of 72)
Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 61 of 72)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

whole object. Any assertion, therefore, which we can make,
must be dictated solely by the rule, and be an expression of
it. Neither the thesis nor the antithesis of the first antinomy
is valid ; there is a third alternative. The sensible world is
neither finite nor infinite in extent ; it is infinitely extensible,
in terms of the rule.

Unfortunately Kant is not content to leave his conclusion
in this form. He complicates his argument, and bewilders
the reader, by maintaining that this is a virtual acceptance of
the antithesis, in that we assert negatively, that an absolute
limit in either time or space is empirically impossible ; 2 and
affirmatively, that the regress goes on in indefinitum, and
consequently has no absolute quantity.

Kant also repeats the argument of the preceding section
in regard to given wholes. 3 When the problem is that of
subdivision, the regress starts from a given whole, and there-
fore from a whole whose conditions (the parts) are given with
it. The division is, therefore, in infinitum, and not merely in
indefinitum. This does not, however, he argues, mean that
the given whole consists of infinitely many parts. For though
the parts are contained in the intuition of the whole, yet the
whole division arises only through the regress that generates
it. It is a quantum continuum, not a quantum discretum*
This argument has been criticised above. 5 Kant here ignores
the possibility that the parts of matter, though extended, may
be physically indivisible, or that they may be centres of force
which control, but do not occupy, a determinate space.

1 A 519-20= B 547-8.

2 When Kant adds (A 521 = 6 549), "and therefore absolutely also," he
inconsistently reverts to the position ambiguously suggested in A 499 = 6 527.
Cf. above, p. 506.

3 A 523-6 = 6551-4.

4 The assertion of infinite divisibility is not applicable, Kant states (A 526-7 =
B 554-5), to bodies as organised, but only to bodies as mere occupants of space.
Organisation involves distinction of parts, and therefore discreteness. How far
organisation can go in organised bodies, experience alone can show us.

5 P. 508.



Statement. Kant again 2 introduces the distinction betweei
the mathematical and the dynamical. The mathematics
Ideas synthesise the homogeneous, the dynamical may conned
the heterogeneous. In employing the former we must there-
fore remain within the phenomenal ; through the latter we
may be able to transcend it. The way is thus opened for
propounding, in regard to the third and fourth antinomies, a
solution in which the pretensions of Reason no less than those
of understanding may find satisfaction. Whereas both the
theses and the antitheses of the first and second antinomies
have to be declared false, those of the third and fourth
antinomies may both be true the theses applying to the
intelligible realm, and the antitheses to the world of sense.

Comment. When the distinction between the mathematical
and the dynamical is thus extended from the categories to
the Ideas, its validity becomes highly doubtful. Space and
time are certainly themselves homogeneous, and the categories
of quality and quantity, in so far as they are mathematically
employed, may perhaps be similarly described. But when
the term is still further extended, to cover the pairs of correla-
tive opposites with which the first two antinomies deal, those,
namely, between the limited and the unlimited, the simple
and the infinitely divisible, Kant would seem to be making a
highly artificial distinction. The first two antinomies deal
not with space and time as such, but with the sensible world
in space and time ; and within this sensible world, even in its
quantitative aspects, qualitative differences have to be reckoned
with. Common sense does, indeed, tend to assume that the
unlimited and the simple must, like that which they condition,
be in space and time, and so form with the conditioned a
homogeneous series. But this assumption ordinary conscious-
ness is equally disposed to make in regard to a first cause and
to the unconditionally necessary.

Kant further attempts 3 to distinguish between the mathe-
matical and the dynamical by asserting that the dynamical
antinomies are not concerned with the quantity of their object,
but only with its existence. He admits, however, that in all
four cases a series arises which is either too large or too small
for the understanding ; and that being so, in each case the
problem arises as to the existence of an unconditioned.

1 A 528 = B 556. 2 Cf. above, pp. 345-7. 8 A 535'6 = B 563-4.


The artificiality of Kant's distinction becomes clear when
! ,ve recognise that the opposed solutions, which he gives of
che two sets of antinomies, can be mutually interchanged.
As the sensible world rests upon intelligible grounds, both the
theses and the antitheses of the first two antinomies may be
true, the former in the intelligible realm and the latter in the
sensuous. Similarly, both the theses and antitheses of the
third and fourth antinomies may be false. In the sensible
world, about which alone anything can be determined, the
series of dynamical conditions forms neither a finite nor an
infinite series. There is a third alternative, akin to that of
the antitheses, but distinct in character from it, namely, that
the series is infinitely extensible. Kant's differential treatment
of the two sets of antinomies is arbitrary, and would seem to
be due to his having attempted to superimpose, with the
least possible modification, a later solution of the antinomies
upon one previously developed. In the earlier view, as we
have already had occasion to observe, Reason has a merely
empirical application. Its Ideas are taken as existing "only
in the brain." Only their empirical reference can sub-
stantiate them, or indeed give them the least significance.
And as they are by their very nature incapable of empirical
embodiment, all assertions which involve them must necessarily
be false. Later, Kant came to regard Reason as having its
own independent rights. Encouraged by his successful estab-
lishment of the objective validity of the categories, progress-
ively more and more convinced of the importance of the
distinction, which that proof reinforced, between appear-
ances and things in themselves, and preoccupied with the
problems of the spiritual life, his old-time faith in the absolute
claims of pure thought reasserted itself. Through Reason we
realise our kinship with noumenal realities, and through its
demands the nature of the unconditioned is foreshadowed to
the mind. The theses and antitheses, which throughout the
entire history of philosophy have competed with one another,
may both be true. Their perennial conflict demonstrates the
need for some more catholic standpoint from which the two
great authorities by which human life is controlled and directed,
the intellectual and the moral, may be reconciled. Neither can
be made to yield to the other ; each is supreme in its own
field. The distinction between appearances and things in
themselves, recognition of which is the first step towards an
adequate theory of knowledge, and without which the nature
of the intellectual life remains self -contradictory and in-
comprehensible, itself affords the means of such a reconcilia-
tion. The understanding is the sole key to the world of


appearance, the moral imperative to the realm of things in
themselves. Reason with its demand for the unconditioned
mediates between them, and enables us to realise our dual


This radical alteration of standpoint was bound to make
the employment of manuscript representing the earlier and
more sceptical attitude altogether unsatisfactory ; and only
Kant's constitutional unwillingness to sacrifice what he had
once committed to paper can account for his retention of the
older expositions. He allows his previous treatment of the
first two antinomies to remain in its sceptical form, and, by
means of the distinction between the mathematical and the
dynamical, develops his newer, more Idealist view exclusively
in reference to the third and fourth antinomies. That it is
no less applicable to the others, we have already seen.

Though the Idealist view, as here expounded, may be thus
described, relatively to the sceptical view of Reason, as later,
that is not to be taken as meaning that it represents the latest
stage in the development of Kant's Critical teaching. It seems
to belong to the period prior to that in which the central
sections of the A nalytic were composed. The evidence x for this
consists chiefly in its subjectivist references to the nature of
appearances. It would seem to be contemporary with Kant's
doctrine of the transcendental object.


Statement. As appearances are representations only, they
must have a ground which is not itself an appearance ; 3 and
though the effects of such an intelligible cause ^appear, and
accordingly are determined through other appearances, its
causality is not itself similarly conditioned. Both it and its
causality lie outside the empirical series ; only the effects fall
within the realm of experience. And that causality, not
being subject to time, does not require to stand under another
cause as its effect. In this way Kant derives from his tran-
scendental idealism an explanation of the possibility of an
action being at once free and causally determined. This
explanation he takes as applying either to a first cause of the
whole realm of natural phenomena or to a finite being re-
garded as a free agent. The proof of the possibility of this

1 Cf. A 537 = B 564-5 ; also A 546 = B 574-5, in which Kant asserts that man
knows himself not only through the senses but " also through pure apperception,
and indeed in actions and inner determinations which cannot be reckoned as
impressions of the senses." Such statements would seem to show that, at the
time of writing, Kant had not yet developed his doctrine of inner sense.

2 A 532 = B 560. 3 A 536-7 = B 564-5.


metaphysical, or, as Kant entitles it, " transcendental freedom,"
removes what has always been the real difficulty that lay in
the way of " practical freedom." The conception of freedom
is a transcendental Idea which can neither be derived from ex-
perience nor verified by it. It is created by Reason for itself ; 1
and reveals the possibility that in this third antinomy both
thesis and antithesis may be true. The alternatives " every
effect must arise from nature," and " every effect must arise
from freedom " are not exclusive of one another. They may
be true of one and the same event in different relations. 2
The event may be free in reference to its intelligible cause,
determined as an existence in space and time. Were appear-
ances things in themselves, freedom and causality would
necessarily conflict : by means of the above ontological
distinction freedom can be asserted without any diminution
in the scope allowed to the causal principle. All events,
without a single possible exception, are subject to the law of
natural determination ; and yet every event may at the same
time proceed from a free cause.


Statement. The above conclusion is so seemingly para-
doxical that Kant devotes this and the following section to
its further elucidation. How can events be both free and
determined ? The answer lies in recognition of the two-sided
character of every natural existence. It is, in one aspect,
mere appearance ; in another, it has at its foundation a tran-
scendental object. It is an appearance of the latter, and for
its complete comprehension this latter must be taken into
account. Now there is nothing to prevent us from attribut-
ing to the transcendental object a causality which is not
phenomenal. Such causality may make the appearance just
that appearance which it is. In the world of sense every
efficient cause must have a specific empirical character, since
only so can it determine one effect rather than another accord-
ing to the universal and invariable law expressive of its
nature. We must similarly allow to the transcendental object
an intelligible character, and trace to it all those appearances
which as members of the empirical series stand to one another
in unbroken causal connection. This transcendental object,
owing to its intelligible character, is not in time. Its act

1 A 533 = B 561. 2 A S 3 6=B 564. 3 A 538 = 6 566.

2 L


does not either arise or perish, and is not, therefore, subject
to the law of empirical determination which applies only
to the changeable, i.e. to events subsequent upon previous
states. Such supersensuous causality can find no place in
the series of empirical conditions, and though it can be con-
ceived only in terms of the empirical character which is its
outcome, the difference between it and natural causality may
be as complete as that which subsists between the tran-
scendental and the empirical objects of knowledge. In its
empirical character the action is a part of nature, and enters
into a causal nexus which conforms to universal laws. 1 All
its effects are inevitably determined by antecedent natural
conditions. In its intelligible character, however, this same
active subject must be considered free from all influence of
sensibility and from all determination through natural events.
In so far as it is a noumenon, there can be no change in it,
and therefore nothing which is capable of explanation in
terms of natural causes. Even its empirical effects are not
traceable to it as events in time. For as events these effects
are always the results of antecedent empirical causes. What
is alone due to noumenal causality is that empirical character
in virtue of which appearances are what they are, and owing
to which they stand in specific and necessary causal relations
to one another.

"... the empirical character is permanent, while its effects,
according to variation in the concomitant, and in part limiting con-
ditions, appear in changeable forms." 2

Empirical causality is itself in its specific nature conditioned
by an intelligible cause. 3


Statement. No single appearance can be exempted from
the law of natural causality. For it would then be placed
outside all possible experience, and would be for us a fiction
of the brain, or rather could not be conceived at all. Nothing,
therefore, in nature can act freely or spontaneously. But
while thus recognising that all events without exception are

1 Cf. Kant's Uebergang von der metaph. Anfangsgriinde der Naturwissenschaft
zur Phystk (Altpreussische Monatsschrift (1882), pp. 272-1)
A 549 = B 577. Italics not in Kant.

In A 540= B 568 a different and less satisfactory view finds expression.
4 A 542 = B 570.


empirically conditioned, we may, as already pointed out,
regard empirical causality as itself an effect of a non-empirical
and intelligible power. 1 In events there may be nothing but
nature, and yet nature itself, or perhaps even some of the
existences composing it, may rest upon powers of a noumenal
order. Kant proceeds to show that such an hypothesis is not
only allowable, but is indispensable for understanding the dis-
tinguishing features of human life in its practical aspect.

Man is a natural existence, and his activities are subject
to empirical laws. Like all other objects of nature, he has
an empirical character, and in virtue of it takes his place as
an integral part of the system of nature. But man is unique
among all natural existences in that he not only knows himself
as a sensible existence, but also, through pure apperception,
becomes aware of himself as possessing faculties of a strictly
intelligible character. 2 Such are the faculties of understanding
and Reason, especially the latter in its practical employment.
The "ought" of the moral imperative expresses a kind of
necessity and a form of causation which we nowhere find in
the world of nature. The understanding can know in nature
only what actually is, has been, or will be. Nothing natural
can be other than it is in the particular relations in which it is
found. Moral action transcends the natural in that it finds
its cause, not in an appearance or set of appearances, but
in an Ideal of pure Reason. Such action must indeed be
possible under natural conditions, but such conditions do not
determine its Tightness, and consequently cannot determine
its causality.

" Reason . . . does not here follow the order of things as they
present themselves in appearance, but frames to itself with perfect
spontaneity an order of its own according to Ideas, to which it adapts
the empirical conditions, and according to which it declares actions
to be necessary even although they have never yet taken place, and
perhaps never will take place. And at the same time it also pre-
supposes that Reason can have causality in regard to all these
actions, since otherwise no empirical effects could be expected from
its Ideas." 3

If such action of pure Reason be admitted to be possible,
it will have to be viewed, purely intelligible though it be, as
also possessing an empirical character, i.e. as conforming to
the system of nature. Its empirical consequences will be the
effects of antecedent appearances, and will empirically deter-
mine by natural necessity all subsequent acts. In this empirical
character, therefore, there can be no freedom. Were our

1 A 544 = B 572. . 2 A 546-7 = 6 574-5- 3 A 548 = 6 576.


knowledge of the circumstances sufficiently extensive, every
human action, so far as it is appearance, could be pre-
dicted and shown to be necessary. How, then, can we talk
of actions as free, when from the point of view of appearances
they must in all cases be regarded as inevitable ? The solu-
tion is that which has already been given of the broader issue.
The entire empirical character, the whole system of nature, is
determined by the intelligible character. And the former
results from the latter, not empirically, and therefore not
according to any temporal, causal law. It does not arise or
begin at a certain time. The intelligible character condi-
tions the empirical series as a series, and not as if it were a
first member of it.

" Thus what we have missed in all empirical series is disclosed
as possible, namely, that the condition of a successive series of
events may itself be empirically unconditioned." 1

The intelligible character lies outside the series of appear-
ances. " Reason is the abiding (beharrliche] condition of all
free actions. . . . " 2 Freedom ought not, therefore, to be
conceived only negatively as independence of empirical con-
ditions, but also positively as the power of originating a
series of events. The empirical series is in time. Reason,
which is its unconditioned condition, admits of nothing ante-
cedent to itself ; it knows neither before nor after. The series
is the immediate effect of a non-temporal reality.

In illustration of his meaning, not, as he is careful to add,
with the profession of thereby confirming its truth, Kant
points out that moral judgment upon a vicious action is not
determined in view of the inheritance, circumstances and past
life of the offender, but is passed just as if he might in each
action be supposed to begin, quite by himself, a new series of
effects. This, in Kant's view, shows that practical Reason is
regarded as a cause completely capable, independently of all
empirical conditions, of determining the act, and that it is
present in all the actions of men -under all conditions, and is
always the same. To explain why the intelligible character
should in any specific case produce just this particular em-
pirical character, good or bad,

"... transcends all the powers of our Reason, indeed all its rights
of questioning, just as if we were to ask why the transcendental
object of our outer sense-intuition yields intuition in space only and
no other." 3

A 552 = 6580. 2 A553 = B 5 8i. 3 A 557 = 6 585.


In con


In conclusion Kant states that his intention has not been
to establish the reality of freedom, not even to prove its
possibility. Freedom has been dealt with only as a transcend-
ental Idea ; and the only point established is that freedom
is, so to speak, a possible possibility, in that it is not contra-
dicted either by experience or by anything that can be proved
to be a presupposition of experience.

Comment. Adequate comment upon this section is difficult
for many reasons. The section is full of archaic expressions
from the earlier stages of Kant's Critical teaching. Secondly,
the section anticipates a problem which is first adequately
dealt with in the second Critique. And lastly, but not least,
the discussion of freedom in connection with a cosmological
antinomy leads Kant to treat it in the same manner as the
general antinomy, and in so doing to ignore the chief diffi-
culty to which human freedom, as an independent problem
with its own peculiar difficulties, lies open. For it is com-
paratively easy to reconcile the universality of the causal
principle with the unconditionedness of the transcendental
ground upon which nature as a whole is made to rest. It is
a very different matter to reconcile the spontaneous origina-
tion of particular causal series, or the freedom of particular
existences, such as human beings, with the singleness and
uniformity of a natural system in which every part is deter-
mined by every other. Self-consciousness, with the capacity
which it confers of constructing rational ideals, certainly,
as Kant rightly contends, creates a situation to which
51 mechanical categories are by no means adequate. But
the mere reference to the conceivability of distinct causal
series, having each a pure conception as their intelligible
ground, does not suffice to meet the fundamental difficulty
that, on Kant's own admission, each such separate series must
form an integral part of the unitary system of natural law.
In only one passage does Kant even touch upon this difficulty.
Speaking * of Reason's power of originating a series of events,
he adds that while nothing begins in Reason itself (as it admits
of no conditions antecedent to itself in time), the new series
must none the less have a beginning in the natural world.
But the proviso, which he at once makes, indicates that he is
aware that this statement is untenable. For he adds the
qualification that though a beginning of the series, it is never
an absolutely first beginning. In other words, it is not a
beginning in any real sense of the term. As the argument
of his next paragraph shows, it is the entire system of nature,

1 A 553-4 = 6581-2.


and not any one series within it, which can alone account, in
empirical terms, for any one action.

It- is open to Kant to argue, as he has already done, 1 that
the transcendental object conditions each separate appearance
as well as all appearances in their totality, and that the
specific empirical character of each causal series is therefore
no less noumenally conditioned than is nature as a whole.
But this does not suffice to meet the difficulty how, if all
natural phenomena constitute a single closed system in which
everything is determined by everything else, a moral agent,
acting spontaneously, can be free to originate a genuinely
new series of natural events. We seem constrained to con-
clude that Kant has failed to sustain his position. A solution
is rendered impossible by the very terms in which he formu-
lates the problem. If the spiritual and the natural be opposed
to one another as the timeless and the temporal, and if the
natural be further viewed as a unitary system, individual
moral freedom is no longer defensible. Only the " transcend-
ental freedom " of the cosmological argument can be reckoned
as among the open possibilities.

As regards the character of the Critical doctrine which
underlies this section, we need only note that the statement
in A 546-7 = 6 574-5, that man knows himself through pure
apperception as " a purely intelligible object," 2 does not con-

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 61 of 72)