Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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of dialectical illusion, we must defer until we have examined
the one remaining argument. 1

1 Cf. below, pp. 541-2, 552 ff.



Statement. The teleological proof starts from our definite
knowledge of the order and constitution of the sensible world.
The actual world presents such immeasurable order, variety,
fitness, and beauty, that we are led to believe that here at
least is sufficient proof of the existence of God. Kant's
attitude towards this argument is at once extremely critical
and extremely sympathetic. Though he represents it as the
oldest, the clearest, and the most convincing, he is none the
less prepared to show that it contains every one of the fallacies
involved in the other two proofs, as well as some false
assumptions peculiar to itself. It possesses overpowering
persuasive force, not because of any inherent logical cogency,
but because it so successfully appeals to feeling as to silence
the intellect. It would, Kant declares, be not only comfort-
less, but utterly vain to attempt to diminish its influence.

"[The mind is] aroused from the indecision of all melancholy
reflection, as from a dream, by one glance at the wonders of nature
and the majesty of the universe. . . . " 2

Meantime, however, we are concerned with its merely
logical force. We have to decide whether, as theoretical proof,
it can claim assent on its own merits, requiring no favour, and
no help from any other quarter. On the basis of empirical
facts the argument makes the following assertions, (i) There
are everywhere in the world clear indications of adaptation to
a definite end. (2) As this adaptation cannot be due to the
working of blind, mechanical laws, and accordingly cannot be
explained as originating in things themselves, it must have
been imposed upon them from without ; and there must there-
fore exist, apart from the sensible world, an intelligent Being
who has arranged it according to ideas antecedently formed.
(3) As there is unity in the reciprocal relations of the parts of
the universe as portions of a single edifice, and as the universe
is infinite in extent and inexhaustible in variety, its intelligent
cause must be single, all-powerful, all-wise, i.e. God.

Now, even granting for the sake of argument the admissi-
bility of these assertions, they enable us to infer only an
intelligent author of the purposive form of nature, not of its
matter, only an architect who is very much hampered by the

1 A 620 =B 648. 2 A 624=6 652.


inadaptability of the material in which he has to work, not a
I Creator to whose will everything is due. To prove the
; contingency of matter itself, we should have to establish the
truth of the cosmological proof.

But the assumptions implied even in the demonstration
that God exists as a formative power, are by no means
beyond dispute. Why may not nature be regarded as giving
form to itself by its blindly working forces ? Can it really be
proved that nature is a work of art that demands an artificer
as certainly as does a house, or a ship, or a clock ? Kant's
argument is at this point extremely brief, and I shall so far
digress from the statement of it, which he here gives, as to
supplement it from his other writings. Even so-called dead
matter is not merely inert. By its inherent powers of gravity
and chemical attraction it spontaneously gives rise to the most
wonderful forms. When Clarke and Voltaire, in their first
enthusiasm over Newton's great discovery, asserted that the
planetary system must have been divinely created, each planet
being launched in the tangent of its orbit by the finger of God,
just as a wheel must be fixed into its place by the hand of
the mechanician, they under-estimated the organising power of
blind inanimate nature. As Kant argued in his early treatise, 1
the planetary system can quite well have arisen, and, as it
would seem, actually has come into existence, through the
action of blindly working laws. The mechanical principles
. which account for its present maintenance will also account
for its origin and development. But it is when we turn
to animate nature, which is the chief source from which
arguments for design are derived, that the insufficiency of the
teleological argument becomes most manifest. As Kant
points out in the Critique of Judgment, the differentia
distinguishing the living from the lifeless, is not so much
that it is organised as that it is self-organising. When,
therefore, we treat an organism as an analogon of art we
completely misrepresent its essential nature. 2 In regarding
it as put together by an external agent we are ignoring its
internal self-developing power. As Hume had previously
maintained in his Dialogues on Natural Religion? the facts

1 Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1755).

2 Critique of Judgment, 64, 65.

3 Hamann completed his translation of Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion
on August 7, 1780 (cf. Hamann's Werke, vi. 154 ff.) : and Kant, notwithstanding
his being occupied in finishing the Critique, read through the manuscript. It
is highly likely that this first perusal of Hume's Dialogues not only confirmed
Kant in his negative attitude towards natural theology, but also enabled him to
define more clearly than he otherwise would have done, the negative consequences
of his own Critical principles. The chapter on the Ideal, as we have already
observed (above, pp. 434-5, 527-9, 531), was probably one of the last parts of the


of the organic world not only agree with the facts of the
inorganic world in not supporting the argument of the^
teleological proof, but are in direct conflict with it.

But to return to Kant's immediate statement of the argu-
ment. Setting the above objection aside, and granting for
the present that nature may be regarded as the outcome of
an external artificer, we can argue only to a cause adequate
to its production, i.e. to an extraordinarily wise and wonder-
fully powerful Being. Even if we ignore the existence of
evil and defect in nature, the step from great power to
omnipotence, and from great wisdom to omniscience, is one
that can never be justified on empirical grounds. 1 Since the
Ideas of Reason, and above all the completely determined,
individual Ideal of Reason, transcend experience, experience
can never justify us in inferring their reality. The teleological
argument can, indeed, only lead us to the point of admiring
the greatness, wisdom, and power of the author of the world.
In proceeding further it abandons experience altogether, and
reasons, not from particular kinds and excellencies of natural
design, but from the contingency of all such adaptation to
the existence of a necessary Being, exactly in the manner of
the cosmological argument. And it ends by assuming, in
agreement with the ontological proof, that the only possible
necessary Being is the Ideal of Reason. Thus after com-
mitting a number of fallacies on its own account, the
teleological argument itself endorses all those that are
involved in the more a priori proofs. The teleological
argument rests on the cosmological, and the cosmological on
the ontological, which therefore would be the only proof
possible, were the proof of a completely transcendent proposi-
tion ever possible at all. The strange fact that the convincing
force of the arguments thus varies inversely with their validity
shows, Kant maintains, that we are correct in concluding that
they do not really depend upon their logical cogency, and
merely express, in abstract terms, beliefs deep-rooted in the
human spirit.

Critique to be brought into final form. It does not seem possible, however, to
establish in any specific manner the exact influence which Hume's Dialogues
may thus have exercised upon the argument of this portion of the Critique.
When Schreiter's translation of the Dialogues appeared in 1781, Hamann, not
unwilling to escape the notoriety of seeming to father so sceptical a work,
withdrew his own translation.

1 This is the main point of Hume's argument in Section XI. of his Enquiry
concerning the Human Understanding.




A 631-3 = B 659-66. On the distinction between "theist"
and " deist," cf. Encyclopedia Britannica, vii. p. 934 :

" The later distinction between ' theist ' and ' deist,' which stamped
the latter word as excluding the belief in providence or in the im-
manence of God, was apparently formulated in the end of the
eighteenth century by those rationalists who were aggrieved at being
identified with the naturalists."

A 6334 = B 661-2. Kant here does no more than indicate
that by way of practical Reason it may be possible to postulate,
though not theoretically to comprehend, a Supreme Being.
On the distinction between postulates and hypotheses, cf.
A 769 ff. = B 797 ff., and below, p. 543 ff. Cf. also p. 571 ff.

A 634 = B 662. On relative necessity, cf. below, pp. 555,
571 ff.

A 635-9 = B 663-7 only summarises points already treated.

A 639-42 = B 667-70. Kant concludes by declaring that the
Ideal, in addition to its regulative function, possesses two
further prerogatives. In the first place, it supplies a standard,
in the light of which any knowledge of Divine Existence,
acquired from other sources, can be purified and rendered
consistent with itself. For it is "an Ideal without a flaw,"
the true crown and culmination of the whole of human

"If there should be a moral theology . . . transcendental theology
. . . will then prove itself indispensable in determining its concept
and in constantly testing Reason which is so often deceived by
sensibility, and which is frequently out of harmony with its own
Ideas." 2

And secondly, though the Ideal fails to establish itself
theoretically, the arguments given in its support suffice to
show the quite insufficient foundations upon which all atheistic,
deistic, and anthropomorphic philosophies rest.

Comment. These concluding remarks cannot be accepted as
representing Kant's true teaching. The Ideal, by his own
showing, is by no means without a flaw. In so far as it
involves the concept of unconditioned necessity, it is meaning-
less ; it is purely logical, and therefore contains no indication of

1 A63i = B659. 3 A 641 = 6669.


real content ; it embodies a false view of the nature of negation,
and therefore of the relation of realities to one another. In
short, it is constituted in accordance with the false, un-Critical'
principles of Leibnizian metaphysics, and is found on ex-
amination to be non-existent even as a purely mental entity.
Reduced to its proper terms, it becomes a mere schema
regulative of the understanding in the extension of experience,
and does not yield even a negative criterion for the testing of
our ideals of Divine Existence. The criterion, which Kant
really so employs, is not that of an Ens realissimum, but the
concept of an Intuitive Understanding, which, as he has
indicated in the chapter on Phenomena and Noumena?- is our
most adequate Ideal of completed Perfection. This latter is
not itself, however, a spontaneously formed concept of natural
Reason, and does not justify the assertion that the Idea of God
is a necessary Idea of the human mind. In attempting to
defend such a thesis, Kant is unduly influenced by the almost
universal acceptance of deistic beliefs in the Europe of his
time. 2 His criticism of the Ideal of Reason and of rational
theology is much more destructive, and really allows that
theology much less value, even as natural dialectic, than he
is willing to admit. 3 Architectonic forbids that the extreme
radical consequences of the teaching of the Analytic should
be allowed to show in their full force. These shortcomings
are, however, in great part remedied in the elaborate Appendix
which Kant has attached to the Dialectic.

1 Cf. above, p. 407 ff., and below, p. 552 ff.
2 Cf. above, p. 454, with further references in n. i. 3 Cf. above, pp. 536-7.



Before we proceed to deal with this Appendix it 'will be of
advantage to consider the section in the Methodology on the
Discipline of Pure Reason in regard to Hypotheses? That
section affords a very illuminating introduction to the
problems here discussed, and is extremely important for
understanding Kant's view of metaphysical science as yielding
either complete certainty or else nothing at all. This is a
doctrine which he from time to time suggests, to the con-
siderable bewilderment of the modern reader. 3 In discuss-
ing it he starts from the obvious objection, that though
nothing can be known through Reason in its pure a priori
employment, metaphysics may yet be possible in an em-
pirical form, as consisting of hypotheses, constructed in
conjectural explanation of the facts of experience. Kant
replies by defining the conditions under which alone hypo-
theses can be entertained as such. There must always be
something completely certain, and not only invented or
merely "opined," namely, the possibility of the object to
which the hypothesis appeals. Once that is proved, it is
allowable, on the basis of experience, to form opinions regard-
ing its reality. Then, and only then, can such opinions be
entitled hypotheses. Otherwise we are not employing the
understanding to explain ; we are simply indulging the im-
agination in its tendency to dream. Now since the categories
of the pure understanding do not enable us to invent a priori
the concept of a dynamical connection, but only to apprehend
it when presented in experience, we cannot by means of these
categories invent a single object endowed with a new quality

1 A 642 = 6 670. 2 A 769-82 = 6 797-810.

3 A xiv, B xxiii-iv, and Reftexionen ii. 1451 : "In metaphysics there can
be no such thing as uncertainty. Cf. above, pp. 10, 35.



not empirically given ; and cannot, therefore, base an hypo-
thesis upon any such conception.

"Thus it is not permissible to invent any new original powers,
as, for instance, an understanding capable of intuiting its objects
without the aid of senses ; or a force of attraction without any contact ;
or a new kind of substance existing in space and yet not im-
penetrable. Nor is it legitimate to postulate any other form of
communion of substances than that revealed in experience, any
presence that is not spatial, any duration that is not temporal. In a
word our Reason can employ as conditions of the possibility of things
only the conditions of possible experience ; it can never, as it were,
create concepts of things, independently of those conditions. Such
concepts, though not self-contradictory, would be without an object." l

This does not, however, mean that the concepts of pure
Reason can have no valid employment. They are, it is true,
Ideas merely, with no object corresponding to them in any
experience ; but then it is also true that they are not hypo-
theses, referring to imagined objects, supposed to be possibly
real. They are purely problematic. They are heuristic
fictions (heuristiscke Fiktioneri), the sole function of which is
to serve as principles regulative of the understanding in its
systematic employment. Used in any other manner they
reduce to the level of merely mental entities (Gedankendinge]
whose very possibility is indemonstrable, and which cannot
therefore be employed as hypotheses for the explanation of
appearances. Given appearances can be accounted for only
in terms of laws known to hold among appearances. To
explain natural phenomena by a transcendental hypothesis
mental processes by the assumption of the soul as a substantial,
simple, spiritual being, or order and design in nature by the
assumption of a Divine Author is never admissible.

"... that would be to explain something, which in terms of
known empirical principles we do not understand sufficiently, by
something which we do not understand at all." 2

And Kant adds that the wildest hypotheses, if only they
are physical, are more tolerable than a hyperphysical one.
They at least conform to the conditions under which alone
hypothetical explanation as such is allowable. " Outside this
field, to form opinions, is merely to play with thoughts. . . ." 3

A further condition, required to render an hypothesis
acceptable, is its adequacy for determining a priori all the
consequences which are actually given. If for that purpose
supplementary hypotheses have to be called in, the force of

1 A 770-1 = B 798-9. a A 772 = B 800. s A 775 = B 803.


main assumption is proportionately weakened. Thus we
easily explain natural order and design, if we are allowed
postulate a Divine Author who is absolutely perfect and
-powerful. But that hypothesis lies open to all the
>jections suggested by defects and evils in nature, and can
ly be preserved through new hypotheses which modify the
main assumption. Similarly the hypothesis of the human
soul as an abiding and purely spiritual being, existing in
independence of the body, has to be modified to meet the
difficulties which arise from the phenomena of growth and
decay. But the new hypotheses, then constructed, derive
their whole authority from the main hypothesis which they
are themselves defending.

Such is Kant's criticism of metaphysics when its teaching
is based on the facts of experience hypothetically interpreted.
In regard to transcendent metaphysics, there are, in Kant's
view, only two alternatives. 1 Either its propositions must be
established independently of all experience in purely a priori
fashion, and therefore as absolutely certain ; or they must
consist in hypotheses empirically grounded. The first
alternative has in the Analytic and Dialectic been shown to be
impossible ; the second alternative he rejects for the above

But this does not close Kant's treatment of metaphysical
hypotheses. He proceeds to develop a doctrine which, in its
fearless confidence in the truth of Critical teaching, is the
worthy outcome of his abiding belief in the value of a
" sceptical method." 2 As Reason is by its very nature
dialectical, outside opponents are not those from whom we
have most to fear. Their objections are really derived from a
source which lies in ourselves, and until these have been traced
to their origin, and destroyed from the root upwards, we 'can
expect no lasting peace. Our duty, therefore, is to encourage
our doubts, until by the very luxuriance of their growth they
enable us to discover the hidden roots from which they derive
their perennial vitality.

"External tranquillity is a mere illusion. The germ of these
objections, which lies in the nature of human Reason, must be
rooted out. But how can we uproot it, unless we give it freedom,
nay, nourishment, to send out shoots so that it may discover itself to
our eyes, and that we may then destroy it together with its root?
Therefore think out objections which have never yet occurred to
any opponent; lend him, indeed, your weapons, or grant him the
most favourable position which he could possibly desire. You have

1 Cf. A ;8i-2 = B 809-10. 2 Cf. above, pp. 481, 501.

2 N


nothing to fear in all this, but much to hope for ; you may gain for
yourselves a possession which can never again be contested." 1

In this campaign to eradicate doubt by following it out
to its furthermost limits, the hypotheses of pure Reason,
" leaden weapons though they be, since they are not steeled
by any law of experience," are an indispensable part of our
equipment. For though hypotheses are useless for the
establishment of metaphysical propositions, they are, Kant
teaches, both admirable and valuable for their defence. That
is to say, their true metaphysical function is not dogmatic,
but polemical. They are weapons of war to which we may
legitimately resort for the maintenance of beliefs otherwise
established. If, for instance, we have been led to postulate
the immaterial, self-subsistent nature of the soul, and are met
by the difficulty that experience would seem to prove that
both the growth and the decay of our mental powers are due
to the body, we can weaken this objection by formulating
the hypothesis that the body is not the cause of our thinking,
but only a restrictive condition of it, peculiar to our present
state, and that, though it furthers our sensuous and animal
faculties, it acts as an impediment to our spiritual life.
Similarly, to meet the many objections against belief in the
eternal existence of a finite being whose birth depends upon
contingencies of all kinds, such as the food supply, the whims
of government, or even vice, we can adduce the transcendental
hypothesis that life has neither beginning in birth nor ending
in death, the entire world of sense being but an image due to
our present mode of knowledge, an image which like a dream
has in itself no objective reality. Such hypotheses are not,
indeed, even Ideas of Reason, but simply concepts invented
to show that the objections which are raised depend upon the
false assumption that the possibilities have been exhausted,
and that the mere laws of nature comprehend the whole field
of possible existences. These hypotheses at least suffice to
reveal the uncertain character of the doubts which assail us in
our practical beliefs.

"[Transcendental hypotheses] are nothing but private opinions.
Nevertheless, we cannot properly dispense with them as weapons
against the misgivings which are apt to occur ; they are necessary
even to secure our inner tranquillity. We must preserve to them
this character, carefully guarding against the assumption of their
independent authority or absolute validity, since otherwise they
would drown Reason in fictions and delusions." 2

1 A 777-8 = B 805-6. 2 A 782 = B 810.


We may now return to A 642-68 = B 670-96. The teach-
ing of this section is extremely self-contradictory, waver-
ing between a subjective and an objective interpretation of
the Ideas of Reason. The probable explanation is that
Kant is here recasting older material, and leaves standing
more of his earlier solutions than is consistent with his final
conclusions. We can best approach the discussion by con-
sidering Kant's statements in A 645 = B 673 and in A 650 ff.
= B 678 ff. They expound, though unfortunately in the
briefest terms, a point of view which Idealism has since
adopted as fundamental. Kant himself, very strangely, never
develops its consequences at any great length. 1 The Idea,
which Reason follows in the exercise of its sole true function,
the systematising of the knowledge supplied by the under-
standing, is that of a unity in which the thought of the whole
precedes the knowledge of its parts, and contains the con-
ditions according to which the place of every part and its
relation to the other parts are determined a priori. This Idea
specialises itself in various forms, and in all of them directs
the understanding to a, knowledge that will be that of no
mere aggregate but of a genuine system. Such concepts are
not derived from nature ; we interrogate nature according to
them, and consider our knowledge defective so long as it fails
to embody them. In A 650= B 678 Kant further points out
that this Idea of Reason does not merely direct the under-
standing to search for such unity, but also claims for itself
objective reality. And he adds,

"... it is difficult to understand how there can be a logical
principle by which Reason prescribes the unity of rules, unless we
also presuppose a transcendental principle whereby such systematic
unity is a priori assumed to be necessarily inherent in the objects."

For how could we treat diversity in nature as only dis-
guised unity, if we were also free to regard that unity as
contrary to the actual nature of the real ?

" Reason would then run counter to its own vocation, proposing
as its aim an Idea quite inconsistent with the constitution of nature." 2

Nor is our knowledge of the principle merely empirical,
deduced from the unity which we find in contingent experience.
On the contrary, there is an inherent and necessary law of
Reason compelling us, antecedently to all specific experience,
to look for such unity.

^ Cf. above, pp. 97-8, 102, 390-1, 426 ff., 447 ff. 2 A 651 = B 679.

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 64 of 72)