Norman Kemp Smith.

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

. (page 62 of 72)
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form to Kant's final teaching. The section can be dated
through its unwavering adherence to the subjectivist doctrin&
of the transcendental object. 3


Statement. The above solution is adopted. Both thesis
and antithesis may be true, the latter of the world of sense
and the former of its non-empirical ground. All things
sensible are contingent, but the contingent series in its en-
tirety may nevertheless rest upon an unconditionally necessary
being. The unconditioned, since it is outside the series, does
not require that any one link in the series should be itself
unconditioned. " Reason follows its own course in the em-
pirical, and again a peculiar course in its transcendental use,"
i.e. it limits itself by the law of causality in dealing with appear-
ances, lest in losing the thread of the empirical conditions it
should fall into idle and empty speculations ; while, on the
other hand, it limits that law to appearances, lest it should
wrongly declare that what is useless for the explanation of

1 Cf. A 537-41 = B 565-9 and A 544=6 572.
Cf. A 566 = 6 594. 3 Cf. above, p. 204 ff. 4 A Q = B <87.


appearances is therefore impossible in itself. This does not
prove that an absolutely necessary being is really possible,
but only that its impossibility must not be concluded from
the necessary contingency of all things sensuous.

Comment. Kant's method of distinguishing l this conclusion
from that of the preceding antinomy is again artificial.
" Necessary being " is not in conception more extramundanum
than " unconditioned cause." If Kant's distinction were valid,
the argument of the fourth antinomy would no longer be
cosmological ; it would coincide with the problem of the Ideal
of Pure Reason.


Statement. When we seek the unconditioned entirely'
iyond experience, our Ideas cease to be cosmological ; they \ ,,
icome transcendent. They separate themselves off from all \ v
ipirical use of the understanding, and create to themselves
an object, the material of which is not taken from experience,
and which is therefore a mere thing of the mind (blosses Ge-
dankending). None the less the cosmological Idea of the fourth
antinomy impels us to take this step. When sensuous appear-
ances, as merely contingent, require us to look for something
altogether distinct in nature from them, our only available
instruments, in so doing, are those pure concepts of things
in general which contingent experience involves. We use
them as instruments in such manner as may enable us to
form, through analogy, some kind of notion of intelligible
things. Taken in abstraction from the forms of sense, they
yield that notion of an absolutely necessary Being which
is equivalent to the concept of the theological Ideal.


We may now, in conclusion, briefly summarise the results
obtained in this chapter. Kant fails to justify the assertion
that on the dogmatic level there exist antinomies in which
both the contradictory alternatives allow of cogent demon-
stration. His proofs are in every instance invalid. The real
nature of antinomy must, as he himself occasionally intimates,
be defined in a very different manner, namely, as a conflict
between the demand of Reason for unity and system, and

i A 561 = B 589. 2 A 565=3593.


the specific nature of the conditions, especially of the spatial
and temporal conditions, under- which the sensuous exists.
In this wider form it constitutes a genuine problem, which
demands for its solution the fundamental Critical distinction
between appearances and things -in -themselves, and also a
more thoroughgoing discussion than has yet been attempted
of the nature of Reason and of the function of its Ideas. It
is to these connected questions that Kant devotes his main
attention in the remaining portions of the Dialectic, so that in
passing to the Ideal of Pure Reason he is not proceeding to
the treatment of a new set of problems, but to the restate-
ment and to the more adequate solution of the fundamental
conflict between understanding and Reason.

The observations which closed our comment upon the
Paralogisms are thus again in order. The teaching of the
sections on the Antinomies, no less than that of those on the
Paralogisms, is incomplete, and if taken by itself is bound to
mislead. The Ideas of an unconditioned self and of an un-
conditioned ground of nature have thus far been taken as at
least conceptually possible, and as signifying what may
perhaps be real existences. These Ideas are in certain of
the remaining sections of the Dialectic called in question.
They are there declared to be without inherent meaning.
They are useful fictions heuristische Fiktionen and in their
psychological nature are simply schemata of regulative
principles. Their theoretical significance consists merely in
their regulative and limitative functions. They must not be
regarded, even hypothetically, as representing real existences.
In the practical (i.e. ethical) sphere they do indeed acquire
a very different standing. But with that the Critique of Pure
Reason is not directly concerned. The reader may therefore
be warned not to omit the chapter on the Ideal of Pure
Reason, on the supposition that it embodies only a criticism
of the Cartesian and teleological proofs of God's existence.
It is an integral part of Critical teaching, and carries Kant's
entire argument forward to its final conclusions. Only in
view of the new and deeper considerations, which it brings
to light, can his treatment even of the Antinomies be properly
understood. Its main opening section (Section II.) is, indeed,
among the most scholastically rationalistic in the entire
Critique ; but in the later sections it unfolds, with a boldness
and consistency to which we find no parallel in the treatment
of the Paralogisms and of the Antinomies, the full conse-
quences of the more sceptical of Kant's alternating standpoints.
It disintegrates the concepts of the unconditioned, which
have hitherto been employed without analysis and without


question ; and upon their elimination from among the legiti-
mate instruments of Reason, the situation undergoes entire
transformation, the two points of view appearing for the first
time in the full extent of their divergence and conflict. For
Kant's Idealist view of Reason and of its Ideas still continues
to find occasional statement, showing that he has not been
able decisively to commit himself to this more sceptical inter-
pretation of the function of Reason ; that he is conscious that
the Idealist view alone gives adequate expression to certain
fundamental considerations which have to be reckoned with ;
and that unless the two views can in some manner be
reconciled with one another, a really definitive and satisfactory
solution of the problem has not been reached. When,
therefore, we speak of Kant's final conclusions, we must be
taken as referring to the twofold tendencies, sceptical and
Idealist, which to the very last persist in competition with
me another. The greater adequacy of Kant's argument in
ie chapter on the Ideal of Pure Reason and in the important
\ppendix attached to the Dialectic consists in its forcible
and considered exposition of both attitudes. Most of the
sections on the Antinomies must, as we have seen, be dated
as among the earliest parts of the Critique. Their teaching
is correspondingly immature. The chapter on the Ideal and
the Appendix, on the other hand, were among the latest to
be written, and contain, together with the central portions of
the Analytic, our most authoritative exposition of Kant's
Critical principles.





THE statements of the first section cannot profitably be
commented upon at this stage ; they are of a merely general
character. 2 I pass at once to Section II., which, as above
stated, is quite the most archaic piece of rationalistic
argument in the entire Critique. It is not merely Leibnizian,
but Wolffian in character. For Kant the Wolffian logic had
an old-time flavour and familiarity that rendered it by no
means distasteful ; and he is here, as it were, recalling, not
altogether without sympathy, the lessons of his student years.
They enable him to render definite, by way of contrast, the
outcome of his own Critical teaching.

As Kant here restates the Wolffian notion of the Ens realis-
simum in such fashion as is required to make it conform
to his deduction of the theological Idea from the disjunctive
syllogism, a preliminary statement of the more orthodox
formulation will help to set Wolff's doctrine in a clearer
light. In so doing, I shall follow Baumgarten, whose Meta-
physica Kant used as a class text-book. Briefly summarised
Baumgarten's statement is as follows. 3 The Ens perfectissimum
is that Being which possesses as many predicates, i.e. per-
fections, as can possibly exist together in a single thing, and
in which every one of its perfections is as great as is anywhere
possible. This most perfect Being must be a real Being, and
its reality must be the greatest possible. It is that in which
the most and the greatest realities are. But all realities are

1 A 567 = 6 593.

2 For Kant's comparison of his Ideas with those of Plato, cf. above, pp. 447-9.

3 803 ff. in 5th edition (Halle, 1763).



affirmative determinations, and no denial is a reality. Accord-
ingly no reality can contradict another reality, and all realities
can exist together in the same thing. The Ens perfectissimum,
in possessing all the realities that can exist together, must
therefore possess all realities without exception, and every
one of them in the highest degree. The notion of an individual
existence that is at once perfectissimum and also realissimum
is thus determinable by pure Reason from its internal re-
sources. It is the ground and condition of all other exist-
ences ; all of them arise through limitation of its purely
positive nature.

Kant seeks to justify his metaphysical deduction of the
Ideal from the disjunctive syllogism, by recasting the above
argument in the following manner. Since everything which
exists is completely determined, it is subject to the principle
of complete determination, according to which one of each
of the possible pairs of contradictory predicates must be
applicable to it. To be completely determined the thing
must be compared with the sum total of all possible predicates.
Although this idea of the sum total of all possible predicates,
through reference to which alone any concept can be com-
pletely determined, seems itself indeterminate, we find never-
theless on closer examination that it individualises itself a
priori, transforming itself into the concept of an individual
existence that is completely determined by the mere Idea,
and which may therefore be called an Ideal of pure Reason.
That is proved as follows. No one can definitely think a
negation unless he founds it on the opposite affirmation.
A man completely blind cannot frame the smallest concep-
tion of darkness, because he has none of light. All negations
are therefore derivative ; it is the realities which contain the
the material by which a complete determination of anything
becomes possible. The source, from which all possible pre-
dicates may be derived, can be nothing but the sum total
of reality. And this concept of the omnitudo realitatis is
the Idea of a Being that is single and individual. As all
finite beings derive the material of their possibility from it,
they presuppose it, and cannot, therefore, constitute it. They
are imperfect copies (ectypa\ of which it is the sole Ideal.
The Idea is also individual. Out of each possible pair of
contradictory predicates, that one which expresses reality
belongs to it. By these infinitely numerous positive predicates
it is determined to absolute concreteness ; and as it therefore
possesses all that has reality, not only in nature but in man,
it must be conceived as a personal and intelligent Primordial
Being. The logical Ideal, thus determining itself completely


by its own concept, appears not only as ideal but also as real,
not only as logical but also as divine.

Kant so far anticipates his criticism of the ontological
argument as to give, in the remaining paragraphs of this
second section, a preliminary criticism of this procedure.
For the purpose for which the Ideal is postulated, namely,
the determination of all finite and therefore limited existences,
Reason does not require to presuppose an existence corre-
sponding to it. Its mere Idea will suffice.

"All manifoldness of things is only a correspondingly varied
mode of limiting the concept of the highest reality which forms their
common substratum, just as all figures are only possible as so many
different modes of limiting infinite space." 1

This relation is not, however, that of a real existence to
other things but of an Idea to concepts. The Idea is a mere
fiction, necessary for comprehending the limited, not a reality
that can be asserted, even hypothetically, 2 as given along
with the limited. None the less, owing to a natural tran-
scendental illusion, the mind inevitably tends to hypostatise
it, arid so generates the object of rational theology.

Comment. The explanation of this illusion, which Kant
proceeds to give in the two concluding paragraphs, is
peculiarly confusing. Though the concept of an all-compre-
hensive reality may, he argues, be required for the definition
of sensible objects, such a concept must not for that reason
be taken as representing a real existence. The teaching of
the section on Amphiboly is here entirely ignored ; and the
reader is bewildered by the assumption, which Kant apparently
makes, that something analogous to the Leibnizian Ideal is
a prerequisite of possible experience.

These last remarks indicate the kind of criticism to which
the argument of this section lays itself open. In expounding
the teaching of the Leibnizian science of rational theology,
Kant strives to represent its Ideal as being an inevitable
Idea of human Reason ; and in order to make this argument
at all convincing he is constrained to treat as valid the pre-
supposed ontology, though that has already been shown in
the discussion of Amphiboly to be altogether untenable. 3
Limitation is not merely negative ; genuine realities may
negate one another. Though the objects of sense presuppose
the entire system to which they belong, the form of this pre-
supposition is in no respect analogous to that which Wolff
would represent as holding between finite existences and the

1 A 578 = B 606. 2 A 580 = B 608. 3 Cf. above, p. 418 ff.


\ns realissimum. The passage in the Analytic^ in which
lant directly controverts the above teaching is as follows :

" The principle, that realities (as pure assertions) never logically
mtradict each other . . . has not the least meaning either in regard
to nature or in regard to any thing-in-itself. . . . Although Herr von
Leibniz did not, indeed, announce this proposition with all the pomp
of a new principle, he yet made use of it for new assertions, and his
followers expressly incorporated it in their Leibnizian-Wolffian system.
According to this principle all evils, for instance, are merely conse-
quences of the limitations of created beings, i.e. negations, because
^gations alone conflict with reality. . . . Similarly his disciples
msider it not only possible, but even natural, to combine all reality,
without fear of any conflict, in one being, because the only conflict
rhich they recognise is that of contradiction, whereby the concept
a thing is itself removed. They do not admit the conflict of
reciprocal injury in which each of two real grounds destroys the
effect of the other a process which we can represent to ourselves
only in terms of conditions presented to us in sensibility."

Thus the Ideal which Kant here declares to be a neces-
sary Idea of Reason is denounced in the Analytic as based
on false principles peculiar to the Leibnizian philosophy, and
as " without the least meaning in regard either to nature or
to any thing in itself." The teaching of the Analytic will no
more combine with this scholastic rationalism than oil with
water. The reader may safely absolve himself from the
thankless task of attempting to render Kant's argumenta-
tion in these paragraphs consistent with itself. Fortunately,
in the next section, Kant returns to the standpoint proper to
the doctrine he is expounding, and lays bare, with remarkable
subtlety and in a very convincing manner, the concealed
dialectic by which the conclusions of this metaphysical
science are really determined. 2



Statement. Though the Ideal is not arbitrary, but is pre-
supposed in every attempt to define completely a finite con-
cept, Reason would feel hesitation in thus transforming what
is merely a logical concept into a Divine Existence, were it

1 A 272-4=6 328-30.

2 Cf. Kant's distinction between distributive and collective unity in A 582-3 =
B 610 with A 644 = 6 672. 3 A 583 = 6611.


not that it is impelled from another direction to derive reality
from such a source. All existences known in experience are
contingent, and so lead us (owing to the constitution of our
Reason) to assume an absolutely necessary Being as their
ground and cause. Now when we examine our various con- ,
cepts, to ascertain which will cover this notion of necessary
existence, we find that there is one that possesses outstanding
claims, namely, that Idea which contains a therefore for every
wherefore, which is in no respect defective, and which does
not permit us to postulate any condition. The concepts of
the Ideal and of the necessary alone represent the uncon-
ditioned ; and as they agree in this fundamental respect,
they must, we therefore argue, be identical. And to this
conclusion we are the more inclined, in that, by thus idealising
reality, we are at the same time enabled to realise our Ideal.

This line of argument, which starts from the contingent,
is as little valid as that which proceeds directly from the
Ideal. But since these arguments express certain tendencies
inherent in the human mind, they have a vitality which
survives any merely forensic refutation. Though the con-
clusions to which they lead are false, they are none the less
inevitably drawn. Our acceptance of them is due to a tran-
scendental illusion which may be detected as such, but which,
like the ingrained illusions of sense - experience, must none
the less persist.

The opening paragraph of Section V l is the natural com-
pletion of the above analysis. The ontological argument,
in starting from the concept of the Ens realissimum^ inverts
the natural procedure. It is "a merely scholastic innova-
tion," and would never have been attempted save for the
need of finding some necessary Being, to which we may ascend
from contingent existence. It maintains that this necessary
Being must be unconditioned and a priori certain, and accord-
ingly looks for a concept capable of fulfilling this requirement.
Such a concept is supposed to exist in the Idea of an Ens
realissimum, and this Idea is therefore used to gain more
definite knowledge of that which has been previously and
independently recognised, namely, the necessary Being.

" This natural procedure of Reason was concealed from view, and
instead of ending with this concept, the attempt was made to begin
with it, and so to deduce from it that necessity of existence which it
was only fitted to complete. Thus arose the unfortunate ontological
proof, which yields satisfaction neither to the natural and healthy
understanding nor to the more academic demands of strict proof." 2

1 A 603 = 6 631. 2 A 6o 3 . 4== B 631-2.


To return to Section III. : Kant breaks the continuity of
is argument, and anticipates his discussion of the cosmo-
logical proof, by stopping to point out the illegitimacy of
the assumption which underlies the first step in the above
rgument, namely, that a limited being cannot be absolutely
;essary. Though the concept of a limited being does not
>ntain the unconditioned, that does not prove that its exist-
ice is conditioned. Indeed each and every limited being
lay, for all their concepts show to the contrary, be uncon-
ditionally necessary. 1 The above argument is consequently
inconclusive, and cannot be relied on to give us any concept
whatever of the qualities of a necessary Being. But this is a
merely logical defect, and, as already noted, it is not really
upon logical cogency that the persuasive force of the argu-
ment depends.

In conclusion Kant points out that there are only three
possible kinds of speculative (i.e. theoretical) proofs of the
existence of God : (i) from definite experience and the
specific nature of the world of sense as revealed in experience ;
(2) from indefinite experience, i.e. from the fact that any
existence at all is empirically given ; (3) the non-empirical
a priori proof from mere concepts. The first is the physico-
theological or teleogical argument, the second is the cosmo-
logical, and the third is the ontological. Kant finds it advisable
to reverse the order of the proofs, and to begin by considera-
tion of the ontological argument. This would seem to
indicate that the * scholastic innovation ' to which he traces the
origin of the ontological proof has more justification than his
remarks appear to allow.



Statement. Hitherto Kant has employed the concept of
an absolutely necessary Being without question. He now
recognises that the problem, from which we ought to start,
is not whether the existence of an absolutely necessary Being
can be demonstrated, but whether, and how, such a Being
can even be conceived. And upon analysis he discovers that
the assumed notion of an absolutely necessary, i.e. uncondi-
tioned Being is entirely lacking in intelligible content. For
in eliminating all conditioning causes through which alone
the understanding can conceive necessity of existence we
1 Cf. below, pp. 533, 536. 2 A 592 = 6 620.


also remove this particular kind of necessity. A verbal
definition may, indeed, be given of the Idea, as when we say
that it represents something the non-existence of which is
impossible. But this yields no insight into the reasons which
make its non-existence inconceivable, and such insight is
required if anything at all is to be thought in the Idea.

" The expedient of removing all those conditions which the under-
standing indispensably requires in order to regard something as
necessary, simply through the introduction of the word unconditioned \
is very far from sufficing to show whether I am still thinking any-
thing, or not rather perhaps nothing at all, in the concept of the
unconditionally necessary." l

The untenableness of the concept has been in large part
concealed through a confusion between logical and ontological
necessity, that is, between necessity of judgment and necessity
of existence. The fact that every proposition of geometry
must be regarded as absolutely necessary was supposed to
justify this identification. It was not observed that logical
necessity refers only to judgments, not to things and their
relations, and that the absolute necessity of the judgment
holds only upon the assumption that the conditioned necessity
of the thing referred to has previously been granted. If there
be any such thing as a triangle, the assertion that it has three
angles will follow with absolute necessity ; but the existence
of a triangle or even of space in general is contingent. In
other words, the asserted necessity is only a form of logical
sequence, not the unconditioned necessity of existence which
is supposed to be disclosed in the Idea of Reason. All
judgments, so far as they refer to existence, as distinct from
mere possibility, are hypothetical, and serve to define a reality
that is only contingently given. In adopting this position,
Kant is in entire agreement with Hume. The contradictory of
a matter of fact is always thinkable. There has, Kant claims,

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 62 of 72)