Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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"... without it we should have no Reason at all, and without
Reason no coherent employment of the understanding, and in the
absence of this no sufficient criterion of empirical truth. In
order, therefore, to secure an empirical criterion we are absolutely
compelled to presuppose the systematic unity of nature as object-
ively valid and necessary." 1 "It might be supposed that this is
merely an economical contrivance of Reason, seeking to save itself
all possible trouble, a hypothetical attempt, which, if it succeeds,
will, through the unity thus attained, impart probability to the
presumed principle of explanation. But such a selfish purpose can
very easily be distinguished from the Idea. For in the latter we
presuppose that this unity of Reason is in conformity with nature
itself; and that, although we are indeed unable to determine the
limits of this unity, Reason does not here beg but command." 2

This last alternative, that Reason is here propounding a
tentative hypothesis, in order by trial to discover how far it
can be empirically verified an alternative which Kant in the
above passage rejects as unduly subjective, and as conse-
quently failing to recognise the objective claims and a priori
authority of the Ideas of Reason, is yet a view which he
himself adopts and indeed develops at considerable length in
this same section. This, as already stated, affords evidence
of the composite character and varying origins of the material
here presented.

The Dissertation of 1770 gives a purely subjectivist inter-
pretation of the regulative principles, among which, from its
pre-Critical standpoint, it classes the principle of causality
and the principle of the conservation of matter.

" [We adopt principles] which delude the intellect into mistaking
them for arguments derived from the object, whereas they are com-
mended to us only by the peculiar nature of the intellect, owing to
their convenience for its free and ample employment. They there-
fore . . . rest on subjective grounds . . . namely, on the conditions
under which it seems easy and expeditious for the intellect to make
use of its insight. . . . These rules of judging, to which we freely
submit and to which we adhere as if they were axioms, solely for
the reason that ivere we to depart from them almost no judgment
regarding a given object would be permissible to our intellect^ I entitle
principles of convenience, . . . [One of these is] the popularly
received canon, principia non esse multiplicanda praeter summam
necessitate,, to which we yield our adhesion, not because we have
insight into causal unity in the world either by reason or by ex-
perience, but because we seek it by an impulse of the intellect, which
seems to itself to have advanced in the explanation of phenomena
only in the degree in which it is granted to it to descend from a
single principle to the greatest number of consequences." 3

1 Loc. cit. 2 A 653 = B 68 1. 3 Dissertation, 30.


This, in essentials, is the view which we find developed in
A 646-9 = 3 674-8. Reason is the faculty of deducing the
particular from the general. When the general is admitted
only as problematical, as a mere idea, while the particular is
certain, we determine the universality of the rule by applying
it to the particulars, and then upon confirmation of its validity
proceed to draw conclusions regarding cases not actually given.
This Kant entitles the hypothetical use of Reason. Reason
must never be employed constitutively. It serves only for
the introduction, as far as may be found possible, of unity
into the particulars of knowledge. It seeks to make the rule
approximate to universality. 1 The unity which it demands

"... is a projected unity, to be regarded not as given in itself, but
as a problem only. This unity aids us in discovering a principle
for the manifold and special employment of the understanding,
drawing its attention to cases which are not given, and thus render-
ing it more coherent." 2

The unity is merely logical, or rather methodological. 3 To
postulate, in consequence of its serviceableness, real unity in
the objects themselves would be to transform it into a tran-
scendental principle of Reason, and to render

"... the systematic unity necessary, not only subjectively and
logically, as method, but objectively also." 4

The above paragraphs are intercalated between A 645 =
B 673 and A 650-63 = 6 678-91, in which, as we have
already seen, the directly opposite view is propounded,
namely, that such principles are not merely hypothetical,
nor merely logical. In all cases they claim reality, and rest
upon transcendental principles ; they condition the very
possibility of experience ; and may therefore be asserted to
be a priori necessary and to be objectively valid. To quote
two additional passages :

"... we can conclude from the universal to the particular, only
if universal qualities are ascribed to things as the foundation upon
which the particular qualities rest." 5 "The foundation of these
laws [cf. below, pp. 550-1] is not due to any secret design of making
an experiment by putting them forward as merely tentative sugges-
tions. . . . It is easily seen that they contemplate the parsimony of

1 The extremely un-Critical reason which Kant here (A 647-6 675) gives for its
necessarily remaining hypothetical is the "impossibility of knowing all possible
consequences." This use of the term hypothetical is also confusing in view of
Kant's criticism of the hypothetical employment of Reason in A 769 ff. = B 797 ff.

2 A 647 = B 675. 3 Loc. cit. and A 649 = 6 677.
4 A 648 = B 676. 5 A 652 = B 680.


fundamental causes, the manifoldness of effects, and the conse-
quent affinity of the parts of nature, as being in themselves both
rational and natural. Hence these principles carry their recom-
mendation directly in themselves, and not merely as methodological
devices." *

Thus, in direct opposition to the preceding view of Reason's
function as hypothetical, Kant is now prepared to maintain
that the maxims of Reason are without meaning and without
application save in so far as they can be grounded in a tran-
scendental principle. 2

Let us follow Kant's detailed exposition of this last thesis.
The logical maxim, to seek for systematic unity, rests upon
the transcendental principle that the apparently infinite
variety of nature does not exclude identity of species, that
the various species are varieties of a few genera, and these
again of still higher genera. This is the scholastic maxim :
entia praeter necessitatem non esse multiplicanda. Upon this
principle rests the possibility of concepts, and therefore of the
understanding itself. It is balanced, however, by a second
principle, no less necessary, the transcendental law of
specification, namely, that there must be manifoldness and
diversity in things, that every genus must specify itself in
divergent species, and these again in sub-species. Or as it
is expressed in its scholastic form : entium varietates non
temere esse minuendas. This principle is equally transcend-
ental. It expresses a condition no less necessary for the
possibility of the understanding, and therefore of experience.
As the understanding knows all that it knows by concepts
only, however far it may carry the division of genera, it can
never know by means of pure intuition, but always again by
lower concepts. If, therefore, there were no lower concepts,
there could be no higher concepts ; 3 the gap existing between
individuals and genera could never be bridged ; or rather,
since neither individuals nor universals could then be appre-
hended, neither would exist for the mind. As the higher
concepts acquire all their content from the lower, they pre-
suppose them for their own existence.

" Every concept may be regarded as a point which, in so far as
it represents the standpoint of a spectator, has its own horizon. . . .
This horizon must be capable of containing an infinite number of
points, each of which again has its own narrower horizon ; that is,
every species contains sub-species, according to the principle of
specification, and the logical horizon consists exclusively of smaller

1 A 660- 1 = B 688-9. 2 A 656 = B 684. 3 A 656 = B 684.


izons (sub-species), never of points which possess no extent
iividuals)." 1

Combining these two principles, that of homogeneity and
it of specification, we obtain a third, that of continuity. The
jical law of the continuum formarum logicarum presupposes
the transcendental law, lex continui in natura. It provides
that homogeneity be combined with the greatest possible
diversity by prescribing a continuous transition from every
species to every other, or in other words by requiring that
between any two species or sub-species, however closely
related, intermediate species be always regarded as possible.
(The paragraph at the end of A 66 1 == B 689, with its proviso
that we cannot make any definite empirical use of this law,
is probably of later origin ; it connects with the concluding
parts of the section.) That this third law is also a priori
and transcendental, is shown by the fact that it is not derived
from the prior discovery of system in nature, but has itself
given rise to the systematised character of our knowledge. 2

The psychological, chemical, and astronomical examples
which Kant employs to illustrate these laws call for no special
comment. They were taken from contemporary science, and
in the advance of our knowledge have become more confus-
ing than helpful. The citation in A 646 = B 674 of the con-
cepts of " pure earth, pure water, pure air " as being " concepts
of Reason " is especially bewildering. They are, even in the
use which Kant himself ascribes to them, simply empirical
hypotheses, formulated for the purposes of purely physical
explanation ; they are in no genuine sense universal, regulative

In passing to A 663-8 = B 691-6 we find still another varia-
tion in the substance of Kant's teaching. He returns, though
with a greater maturity of statement, and with a very different
and much more satisfactory terminology, to the more sceptical
view of A 646-9 = B 674-7.3 The interest of the above principles,
Kant continues to maintain, lies in their transcendentality.
Despite the fact that they are mere Ideas for the guidance
of understanding, and can only be approached asymptotically,
they are synthetic a priori judgments, and would seem to
have an objective, though indeterminate, validity. So far his
statements are in line with the preceding paragraphs. But
he proceeds to add that this objective validity consists exclu-
sively in their heuristic function. They differ fundamentally

1 A 658 = 6 686. 2 A 660= B 688.

8 The opening paragraphs of the section, A 642-5 = 6 670-3, may be of the
same date as the concluding paragraphs.


from the dynamical, no less than from the mathematical,
principles of understanding, in that no schema of sensibility,
can be assigned to them. In other words, their object can
never be exhibited in concreto ; it transcends all possible
experience. For this reason they are incapable of a tran-
scendental deduction. 1 They are among the conditions indis-
pensably necessary to the possibility, not of each and every
experience, but only of experience as systematised in the
interest of Reason. In place of a schema they can possess
only what may be called the analogon of a schema, that is,
they represent the Idea of a maximum, which the understand-
ing in the subjective -interest of Reason or, otherwise
expressed, 2 in the interest of a certain possible perfection of
our knowledge of objects is called upon to realise as much
as possible. Thus they are at once subjective in the source
from which they arise, and also indeterminate as to the
conditions under which, and the extent to which, they can
obtain empirical embodiment. The fact that in this capacity
they represent a maximum, does not justify any assertion
either as to the degree of unity which experience on detailed
investigation will ultimately be found to verify, or as to the
noumenal reality by which experience is conditioned.

In A 644-5 = B 672-3 Kant employs certain optical
analogies to illustrate the illusion which the Ideas, in the
absence of Critical teaching, inevitably generate. When
the understanding is regulated by the Idea of a maximum,
and seeks to view all the lines of experience as converging
upon and pointing to it, it necessarily regards it, focus
imaginarius though it be, as actually existing. The illusion,
by which objects are seen behind the surface of a mirror, is
indispensably necessary if we are to be able to see what lies
behind our backs. The transcendental illusion, which confers
reality upon the Ideas of Reason, is similarly incidental to the
attempt to view experience in its greatest possible extension.


This section is thoroughly unified and consistent in its
teaching. Its repetitious character is doubtless due to
Kant's personal difficulty either in definitively accepting or
in altogether rejecting the constructive, Idealist interpretation
of the function of Reason. He at least succeeds in formulat-
ing a view which, while not asserting anything more than is

1 Cf. per contra A 669-70 = B 697-8. 2 A 666 = B 694. 3 A 669 = B 697.


juired in the scientific extension of experience, indicates
le many possibilities which such experience fails to exclude,
the Ideas of Reason are not merely empty thought-entities
itia rationis ratio cinantis^, but have a certain kind of
objective validity (i.e. are entia rationis ratiocinatae 2 }, they
demand a transcendental deduction. 3 What this deduction
is, and how it differs from that of the categories, we must now
determine. Its discovery will, Kant claims, crown and com-
plete our Critical labours.

Kant begins by drawing a distinction between represent-
ing an object absolutely, and representing an object in the Idea.

" In the former case our concepts are employed to determine the
object, in the latter case there is in truth only a schema for which
no object, not even a hypothetical one, is directly given, and which
only enables us to represent to ourselves indirectly other objects in
their systematic unity, by means of their relation to this Idea." 4

An Idea is, only a schema (Kant in terms of A 655 = B 693
ought rather to have said analogon of a schema) whereby
we represent to ourselves, as for instance in the concept of
a Highest Intelligence, not an objective reality but only such
perfection of Reason as will tend to the greatest possible unity
in the empirical employment of understanding.

With this introduction, Kant ushers in his famous " als
ob" doctrine. We must view the things of the world as if
they derived their existence from a Highest Intelligence.
That Idea is heuristic only, not expository. Its purpose is
not to enable us to comprehend such a Being, or even to
think its existence, but only to show us how we should seek
to determine the constitution and connection of the objects
of experience. The three transcendental Ideas do not
determine an object corresponding to them, but, under the
presupposition of such an object in the Idea, lead us to
systematic unity of empirical knowledge. When they are
thus strictly interpreted as merely regulative of empirical
enquiry, they will always endorse experience and never run
counter to it. Reason, which seeks completeness of explana-
tion, must therefore always act in accordance with them.
Only thereby can experience acquire its fullest possible
extension. This is the transcendental deduction of which
we are in search. It establishes the indispensableness of the
Ideas of Reason for the completion of experience, and their
legitimacy as regulative principles.

We may here interrupt Kant's exposition so far as to

1 Cf. above, pp. 446-7. 2 Cf. A 68i = B 709.

3 Cf. per contra A 663-4 = 6 691-2. 4 A 670 = 6 698.


point out that this argument does not do justice to the full
force of his position. The true Critical contention and only
if we interpret the passage in the light of this contention can
the proof be regarded as transcendental in the strict sense
is that the Ideas are necessary to the possibility of each a
every experience, involved together with the categories a
conditions of the very existence of consciousness. They are
not merely regulative, but are regulative of an experience
which they also help to make possible. 1 They express the
standards in whose light we condemn all knowledge which
does not fulfil them ; and we have consequently no option
save to endeavour to conform to their demands. In
other words, they are not derivative concepts obtained by
merely omitting the restrictions essential to our empirical
consciousness, but represent a presupposition necessarily
involved in all consciousness. Some such restatement of the
argument is demanded by the position which Kant has
himself outlined in A 645 = B 673 and in A 650 ff. = B 678 ff.
Unfortunately he does not return to it. The more sceptical
view which he has meantime been developing remains domi-
nant. The deduction is left in this semi-Critical form.

A 672-6 = B 700-4 give a fuller statement of the " als ob "
doctrine. In psychology we must proceed as if the mind
were a simple substance endowed with personal identity 2 (in
this life at least), not in order to derive explanation of its
changing states from the soul so conceived, but to derive
them from each other in accordance with the Idea. In
cosmology and theology (we may observe the straits to
which Kant is reduced in his attempt to distinguish them)
we ought to consider all phenomena both in their series and
in their totality as if they were due to a highest and all-
sufficient unitary ground. In so doing we shall not derive
the order and system in the world from the object of the
Idea, but only extract from the Idea the rule whereby the
understanding attains the greatest possible satisfaction in the
connecting of natural causes and effects.

1 I may here guard against misunderstanding. Though the Ideas of Reason
condition the experience which they regulate, this rrnrst not be taken as nullifying
Kant's fundamental distinction between the regulative and the constitutive. Even
when he is developing his less sceptical view, he adopts, in metaphysics as in
ethics, a position which is radically distinct from that of Hegel. Though the
moral ideal represents reality of the highest order, it transcends all possible realisa-
tion of itself in human life. Though it conditions all our morality, it at the same
time condemns it. The Christian virtue of humility defines the only attitude
proper to the human soul. In an exactly similar manner, the fact that the Ideas
of Reason have to be regarded as conditioning the possibility of sense-experience
need not prevent us from also recognising that they likewise make possible our
consciousness of its limitations. 2 Cf. above, pp. 473-7.


In A 676-7 = B 704-5 Kant resorts to still another dis-
tinction between suppositio relativa and suppositio absoluta.
This distinction is suggested by the semi - objectivity of
principles that are merely regulative. Though we have to
recognise them as necessary, such necessity does not justify
the assertion of their independent validity. When we admit
a supreme ground as the source of the order and system
which the principles demand, we do so only in order to think
the universality of the principles with greater definiteness.
Such supposition is relative to the needs of Reason in its
empirical employment : not absolute, as pointing to the
existence of such a being in itself.

" This explains why, in relation to what is given to the senses as
existing, we require the Idea of a primordial Being necessary in itself,
and yet can never form the slightest concept of it or of its absolute
necessity." 1

This last statement leads to the further problem to which
Kant here gives his final solution, how if, as has been shown
in the Dialectic^ the concepts of absolute necessity and of
unconditionedness are without meaning, the Ideas of Reason
can be entertained at all, even mentally. What is their
actual content and how is it possible to conceive them ?
Kant's reply is developed in terms of the semi - Critical
subjectivist point of view which dominates this section. The
Ideas are mere Ideas. They yield not the slightest concept
either of the internal possibility or of the necessity of any
object corresponding to them. They only seem to do so,
owing to a transcendental illusion. On examination we find
that the concepts which we employ in thinking them as
independently real, are one and all derived from experience.
That is to say, we judge of them after the analogy of reality,
substance, causality, and necessity in the sensible world. 2

" [They are consequently] analoga only of real things, not real
things in themselves. We remove from the object of the Idea the
conditions which limit the concept of the understanding, but which
at the same time alone make it possible for us to have a determinate
concept of anything. What we then think is, therefore, a something
of which, as it is in itself, we have no concept whatsoever, but which
we none the less represent to ourselves as standing in a relation to
the sum-total of appearances analogous to that in which appearances
stand to one another." 3

1 A 679 = 6 707. 2 A 678=6 706.

3 A 674 = 6 702. Cf. A 678-9 = 6 706-7.


They do not carry our knowledge beyond the objects
of possible experience, but only extend the empirical unity of,
experience. They are the schemata of regulative principles.
In them Reason is concerned with nothing but its own
inherent demands ; and as their unity is the unity of a system
which is to be sought only in experience, 1 qualities derived
from the sensible world can quite legitimately be employed
in their specific determination. They are not inherently
dialectical ; their demands have the rationality which we
have a right to expect in the Ideals of Reason. When
Critically examined, they propound no problem which
Reason is not in itself entirely competent to solve. 2 It is
to their misemployment that transcendental illusion is due.
In the form in which they arise from the natural disposition
of our Reason they are good and serviceable. 3

To the question what is the most adequate form in which
the regulative schema can be represented, 4 Kant gives an
answer which shows how very far he is from regarding the
Leibnizian Ens realissimum as the true expression of the
Ideal of Reason. It is through the employment of teleological
concepts that we can best attain the highest possible form of
systematic unity.

" The highest formal unity ... is the purposive unity of things.
The speculative [i.e. theoretical] interest of Reason makes it necessary
to regard all order in the world as z/ it had originated in the purpose
of a Supreme Reason. Such a principle opens out to our Reason,
as applied in the field of experience, altogether new views as to how
the things of the world may be connected according to teleological
laws, and so enables it to arrive at their greatest systematic unity.
The assumption of a Supreme Intelligence, as the one and only
cause of the universe, though in the Idea alone, can therefore
always benefit Reason and can never injure it." 5

For so long as this assumption is employed only as a
regulative principle, even error cannot be really harmful.
The worst that can happen is that where we expected a
teleological connection, a merely mechanical or physical one
is met with. If, on the other hand, we leave the solid
ground of experience, and use the assumption to explain
what we are unable to account for in empirical terms, we
sacrifice all real insight, and confound Reason by transforming
a concept, which is anthropomorphically determined for the

1 A 680 =6708.

2 As above noted (pp. 499 ff.), when we find Kant thus insisting upon
the completely soluble character of all problems of pure Reason, the sceptical,
subjectivist tendency is dominant.

3 A 669 = 6 697. 4 Cf. above, pp. 536-7, 541-2. 5 A 686-7 = B 714-15.


>ses of empirical orientation, into a means of explaining

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 65 of 72)