Norman Kemp Smith.

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

. (page 66 of 72)
Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 66 of 72)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ler as non-natural and as imposed from without on the
material basis of things.

This is a point of sufficient importance to call for more
detailed statement. Hume in his Dialogues points out that
the main defect in the teleological proof of God's existence
is its assumption that order and design are foreign to the
inherent constitution of things, and must be of non-natural
origin. The argument is therefore weakened by every advance
in the natural sciences. It also runs directly counter to the
very phenomena, those of animal life, upon which it is chiefly
based, since the main characteristic of the organic in its dis-
tinction from the inorganic is its inner wealth of productive
and reproductive powers. With these criticisms Kant is in
entire agreement. From them, in the passage before us, he
derives an argument in support of a strictly regulative inter-
pretation of his "a/s ob" doctrine. The avowed intention of the
teleological argument is to prove from nature the existence of
an intelligent supreme cause. If therefore its standpoint be
held to with more consistency than its own defenders have
hitherto shown, it will be found to rest upon the regulative
principle, that we must study nature as if an inherent order
were native to it, and so seek to approach by degrees, in pro-
portion as such natural unity is empirically discovered, the
absolute perfection which inspires our researches. But if
we transform our Ideal into an instrument of explanation,
beginning with what ought properly to be only our goal,
we delude ourselves with the belief that what can only be
acquired through the slow and tentative labours of empirical
enquiry is already in our possession.

" If I begin with a supreme purposive Being as the ground of
all things, the unity of nature is really surrendered, as being quite
foreign and accidental to the nature of things, and as not to be
known from its own general laws. There thus arises a vicious
circle : we are assuming just that very point which is mainly in
dispute." J

Such a method of argument is self-destructive, since if we
do not find order and perfection in the nature of things, and
therefore in their general and necessary laws, we are not in a
position to infer such a Being as the source of all causality.

To the question whether we may not interpret natural
order, once it has been discovered by empirical investigation,
as due to the divine will, Kant replies that such procedure
is allowable only on the condition that it is the same to us

1 A693 = B 721.


whether we say that God has wisely willed it or that nature
has wisely arranged it. We may admit the Idea of a Supreme
Being only in so far as it is required by Reason as the'
regulative principle of all investigation of nature ;

"... and we cannot, therefore, without contradicting ourselves,
ignore the general laws of nature in view of which the Idea was
adopted, and look upon the purposiveness of nature as contingent and
hyper-physical in its origin. For we were not justified in assuming
above nature a Being of those qualities, but only in adopting the Idea
of it in order to be able to view the appearances, according to the
analogy of a causal determination, as systematically connected with
one another." l " Thus pure Reason, which at first seemed to promise
nothing less than the extension of knowledge beyond all limits of
experience, contains, if properly understood, nothing but regulative
principles. . . . " 2


I may now summarise Kant's answer to the three main
questions of the Dialectic-, (i) Whether, or in what degree,
the so-called Ideas of Reason are concepts due to a faculty
altogether distinct from the understanding, and how far, as
thus originating in pure Reason, they allow of definition ;

(2) how far they are capable of a transcendental deduction ;

(3) what kind of objective validity this deduction proves them
to possess.

These questions are closely interconnected ; the solution
of any one determines the kind of solution to be given to
all three. Kant, as we have found, develops his final position
through a series of very subtle distinctions by which he
contrives to justify and retain, though in a highly modified
form, the more crudely stated divisions between Ideas and
categories, between Reason and understanding, upon which
the initial argument of the Dialectic is based.

The answer amounts in essentials to the conclusion that
understanding, in directing itself by means of Ideals, exercises
a function so distinct from that whereby it conditions concrete
and specific experience, that it may well receive a separate
title ; that the Ideas in terms of which it constructs these
Ideals, though schematic (i.e. sensuous and empirical in
content), are not themselves empirical, and so far from being
merely extended concepts of understanding, express tran-
scendental conditions upon which all use of the understand-
ing rests.

1 A 699-700 = 3 727-8. 2 A 701 = B 729.


Now if this position is to be justified, Kant ought to show
that the fundamental Idea of Reason, that of the unconditioned,
is altogether distinct from any concept of the understanding,
and in particular that it must not be identified with the
category of totality, nor be viewed as being merely the
concept of conditioned existence with its various empirical
limitations thought away. Needless to say, Kant does not fulfil
these requirements in any consistent manner. The Critique
contains the material for a variety of different solutions ; it does
not definitively commit itself to any one of them.

If the argument of A 650 ff. = B 678 ff. were developed
we should be in possession of what may be called the Idealist
solution. It would proceed somewhat as follows. Conscious-
ness as such is always the awareness of a whole which pre-
cedes and conditions its parts. Such consciousness cannot be
accounted for on the assumption that we are first conscious
of the conditioned, and then proceed to remove limitations
and to form for ourselves, by means of the more positive
factors involved in this antecedent consciousness, an Idea of
the totality within which the given falls. The Idea of the un-
conditioned, distinct from all concepts of understanding, is
one of the a priori conditions of possible experience, and is
capable of a transcendental deduction of equal validity with,
and of the same general nature as, that of the categories.
It is presupposed in the possibility of our contingently given

As this Idea conditions all subordinate concepts, it cannot
be defined in terms of them. That does not, however,
deprive it of all meaning ; its significance is of a unique kind ;
it finds expression in those Ideals which, while guiding the
mind in the construction of experience, also serve as the
criteria through which experience is condemned as only

But this, as we have found, is not a line of argument
which Kant has developed in any detail. The passages which
point to it occur chiefly in the introductory portions of the
Dialectic ; in its later sections they are both brief and scanty.
When he sets himself, as in the chapter on the Ideal of Pure
Reason and in the subsequent Appendix, to define his con-
clusions, it is a much more empirical, and indeed sceptical,
line that he almost invariably follows. There are, he then
declares, strictly no pure, a priori Ideas. The supposed
Ideas of unconditionedness and of absolute necessity are dis-
covered on examination to be without the least significance for
the mind. The Ideas, properly defined, are merely schemata
of regulative principles, and their whole content reduces


without remainder to such categories as totality, substance,
causality, necessity, transcendently applied. As Ideas, they
are then without real meaning ; but they can be employed by
analogy to define an Ideal which serves an indispensable
function in the extension of experience. From this point of
view, the transcendental deduction of the Ideas is radically
distinct frdm that of the categories. The proof is not that
they are necessary for the possibility of experience, but only
that they are required for its perfect, or at least more complete,
development. And as Kant is unable to prove that such
completion is really possible, the objective validity of the
Ideas is left open to question. They should be taken only
as heuristic principles ; the extent of their truth, even in the
empirical realm, cannot be determined by the a priori method
that is alone proper to a Critique of Pure Reason.

The first view is inspired by the fundamental teaching of
the Analytic, and is the only view which will justify Kant in
retaining his distinction between appearance and things in
themselves. All that is positive in the second view can be
combined with the first view ; but, on the other hand, the
negative implications of the second view are at variance with
its own positive teaching. For when the Ideas are regarded
as empirical in origin no less than in function, their entire
authority is derived from experience, and cannot be regarded
as being transcendental in any valid sense of that term. In
alternating between these two interpretations of the function
of Reason, Kant is wavering between the Idealist and the
merely sceptical view of the scope and powers of pure
thought. On the Idealist interpretation Reason is a meta-
physical faculty, revealing to us the phenomenal character of
experience, and outlining possibilities such as may perhaps be
established on moral grounds. From the sceptical standpoint,
on the other hand, Reason gives expression to what may be
only our subjective preference for unity and system in the
ordering of experience. According to the one, the criteria
of truth and reality are bound up with the Ideas ; according
to the other, sense-experience is the standard by which the
validity even of the Ideas must ultimately be judged. From
the fact that Kant should have continued sympathetically to
develop two such opposite standpoints, we would seem to be
justified in concluding that he discerned, or at least desiderated,
some more complete reconciliation of their teaching than he
has himself thus far been able to achieve, and that no solution
which would either subordinate the Ideal demands of thought,
or ignore the gift.s of experience, could ever have been defini-
tively accepted by him as satisfactorily meeting the issues at


stake. The Idealist solution is that to which his teaching as
a whole most decisively points ; but he is as conscious of the
difficulties which lie in its path as he is personally convinced
of its ultimate truth. His continuing appreciation of the
value of sceptical teaching is a tacit admission that the
Idealist doctrines, in the form which he has so far been able
to give to them, are not really adequate to the complexity
of the problems. As further confirmation of the tentative
character of Kant's conclusions in the Critique of Pure Reason,
we have his own later writings. In the Critique of Judgment ',
published nine years later, in teaching less sceptical and
more constructive, though still delicately balanced between
the competing possibilities, and always, therefore, leaving the
final decision to moral considerations, Kant ventures upon
a restatement of the problems of the Dialectic. To this
restatement both of the above tendencies contribute valuable

2 O



KANT is neither an intellectualist nor an anti-intellectualist.
Reason, the proper duty of which is to prescribe a discipline
to all other endeavours, itself requires discipline ; and when
it is employed in the metaphysical sphere, independently of
experience, it demands not merely the correction of single
errors, but the eradication of their causes through " a separate
negative code," such as a Critical philosophy can alone supply.
In the Transcendental Doctrine of Elements this demand has
been met as regards the materials or contents of the Critical
system ; we are now concerned only with its methods or formal

This distinction is highly artificial. As already indicated,
it is determined by the requirements of Kant's architectonic.
The entire teaching of the Methodology has already been
more or less exhaustively expounded in the earlier divisions
of the Critique.



In dealing with the distinction between mathematical and
philosophical knowledge, Kant is here returning to one of the

1 Nearly all the important points raised in the Methodology, and several of its
chief sections, I have commented upon in their connection with the earlier parts of
the Critique. Also, the Methodology is extremely diffuse. For these reasons I
have found it advisable to give such additional comment as seems necessary in
the form of this Appendix.

2 On Kant's use of the terms 'discipline' and 'canon,' cf. above, pp. 71-2,
170, 174, 438. 3 Cf. above, p. 438.




main points of his Introduction to the Critique}- His most!
exhaustive treatment of it is, however, to be found in a
treatise which he wrote as early as 1764, his Enquiry into thA
Clearness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morals\
The continued influence of the teaching of that early work]
is obvious throughout this section, and largely accounts f<
the form in which certain of its tenets are propounded.

"... one can say with Bishop Warburton that nothing has
been more injurious to philosophy than mathematics, that is, thar
the imitation of its method in a sphere where it is impossible o;
application. . . ." 2

So far from being identical in general nature, mathematics
and philosophy are, Kant declares, fundamentally opposec
in all essential features. For it is in their methods, and not
merely in their subject-matter, that the essential difference
between them is to be found. 3 Philosophical knowledge car
be acquired only through concepts^ mathematical knowledge
is gained through the construction of concepts. 4 The one is
discursive merely ; the other is intuitive. Philosophy car
consider the particular only in the general ; mathematics
studies the general in the particular. 5 Philosophical concepts
such as those of substance and causality, are, indeed, capabk
of application in transcendental synthesis, but in this employ-
ment they yield only empirical knowledge of the sensuously
given ; and from empirical concepts the universal and neces-
sary judgments required for the possibility of metaphysica
science can never be obtained.

The exactness of mathematics depends on definitions
axioms, and demonstrations, none of which are obtainable ir
philosophy. To take each in order.

I. Definitions. To define in the manner prescribed b>
mathematics is to represent the complete concept of a thing
This is never possible in regard to empirical concepts. We
are more certain of their denotation than of their connotation
and though they may be explained, they cannot be defined
Since new observations add or remove predicates, an empirica
concept is always liable to modification.

"What useful purpose could be served by defining an empirica
concept, such, for instance, as that of water? When we speak o

1 A 4-5 = 68-9.

2 Untersuchung : Zweite Betrachtung, W. ii. p. 283.

3 Kant here disavows the position of the Untersuchung in which (Erste Betrach
tung, 4) he had asserted that mathematics deals with quantity and philosoph}
with qualities.

4 For comment upon this distinction, cf. above, pp. 131-3, 338-9.

5 Untersuchung: Erste Betrachtung, 2.


vvater and its properties, we do not stop short at what is thought in
:he word water, but proceed to experiments. The word, with the few
marks which are attached to it, is more properly to be regarded as
merely a designation than as a conception. The so-called definition
.s nothing more than a determining of the word." 1

Exact definition is equally impossible in regard to a priori
forms, such as time or causality. Since they are not framed
by the mind, but are given to it, the. completeness of our
analysis of them can never be guaranteed. Though they are
known, they are known only as problems.

"As Augustine has said, 'I know well what time is, but if any
one asks me, I cannot tell.' " 2

Mathematical definitions make concepts ; philosophical
definitions only explain them. 3 Philosophy cannot, therefore,
imitate mathematics by beginning with definitions. In philo-
sophy the incomplete exposition must precede the complete ;
definitions are the final outcome of our enquiry, and not as in
mathematics the only possible beginning of its proofs. Indeed,
the mathematical concept may be said to be given by the
very process in which it is constructively defined ; and, as
thus originating in the process of definition, it can never be
erroneous. 4 Philosophy, on the other hand, swarms with
faulty definitions, which are none the less serviceable.

"In mathematics definition belongs ad esse, in philosophy ad
me/ms' esse. It is desirable to attain it, but often very difficult.
Jurists are still without a definition of their concept of Right." 5

II. Axioms. This paragraph is extremely misleading as a
statement of Kant's view regarding the nature of geometrical
axioms. In stating that they are self-evident, 6 he does not
really mean to assert what that phrase usually involves,
namely, absolute a priori validity. For Kant the geometrical
axioms are merely descriptions of certain de facto properties
of the given intuition of space. They have the merely hypo-
thetical validity of all propositions that refer to the contingently

1 A;28=B 756.

2 Untersuchung: Ziveite Betrachtung, W. ii. p. 283.

3 Untersuchung: Erste Betrachtung, I, W. ii. p. 276 : " Mathematics
proceeds to all its definitions by a synthetic procedure, philosophy by an analytic

4 In the Untersuchung Kant's statements are more cautious, and also
more adequate. Cf. Erste Betrachtung^ 3, W. ii. p. 279: "In mathematics
there are only a few but in philosophy there are innumerable irresolvable
concepts. ..."

5 A 731 .=B759.

6 The phrases which Kant employs (A 732-3 = 6 760-1) are: " unmittel-
bargewiss," "evident" " augenscheinlich. " Cf. above, pp. xxxv-vi, 36 ff., 53.


given For even as a pure intuition, space belongs to the
realm of the merely factual. 1 This un-Critical opposition of
the self-evidence of geometrical axioms to the synthetic char-
acter of such "philosophical" truths as the principle of
causality is bound up with Kant's unreasoned conviction
that space in order to be space at all, must be Euclidean. 2
Kant's reference in this paragraph to the propositions of
arithmetic is equally open to criticism. For though he is
more consistent in recognising their synthetic character, he
still speaks as if they could be described as self-evident, i.e. as
immediately certain. The cause of this inconsistency is, of
course, to be found in his intuitional theory of mathematical
science. Mathematical propositions are obtained through
intuition ; those of philosophy call for an elaborate and diffi-
cult process of transcendental deduction. When modern
mathematical theory rejects this intuitional view, it is really
extending to mathematical concepts Kant's own interpreta-
tion of the function of the categories. Concepts condition the
possibility of intuitional experience, and find in this condi-
tioning power the ground of their objective validity. 3 Here,
as in the Aesthetic? Kant fails adequately to distinguish
between the problems of pure and applied mathematics.

III. Demonstrations. Kant again introduces his very un-
satisfactory doctrine of the construction of concepts : 5 and he
even goes so far as to maintain, in complete violation of his
own doctrine of transcendental deduction, that where there is
no intuition, there can be no demonstration. Apodictic pro-
positions, he declares, are either dogmata or mathemata ; and
the former are beyond the competence of the human mind.
But no sooner has he made these statements than he virtually
withdraws them by adding that, though apodictic propositions
cannot be established directly from concepts, they can be
indirectly proved by reference to something purely contingent,
namely, possible experience. Thus the principle of causality
can be apodictically proved as a condition of possible ex-
perience. Though it may not be called a dogma, it can be
entitled a principle \ In explanation of this distinction, which
betrays a lingering regard for the self-evident maxims of
rationalistic teaching, Kant adds that the principle of
causality, though a principle, has itself to be proved.

"... it has the peculiarity that it first makes possible its own
ground of proof, namely, experience. . . ." 6

\ above > PP- Il8 > J 42, 185-6. 2 Cf abov) p II? ff

Cf. above, pp. 38-42, 93-4, 118-20, 133. Cf. above, pp. 111-12, 114-15.
6 Cf. above, p. 131 ff. c A = B


This, as we have noted, 1 is exactly what mathematical
axioms must also be able to do, if they are to establish their
objective validity.



This section contains an admirable defence of the value of

" Even poisons have their use. They serve to counteract other
poisons generated in our system, and must have a place in every
complete pharmacopeia. The objections against the persuasions and
complacency of our purely speculative Reason arise from the very
nature of Reason itself, and must therefore have their own good use
and purpose, which ought not to be disdained. Why has Providence
placed many things which are closely bound up with our highest
interests so far beyond our reach, that we are only permitted to
apprehend them in a manner lacking in clearness and subject to
doubt, in such fashion that our enquiring gaze is more excited than
satisfied ? It is at least doubtful whether it serves any useful purpose,
and whether it is not, indeed, perhaps even harmful to venture upon
bold interpretations of such uncertain appearances. But there can be no
manner of doubt that it is always best to grant Reason complete liberty,
both of enquiry and of criticism, so that it may be without hindrance
in attending to its own proper interests. These interests are no less
furthered by the limitation than by the extension of its speculations ;
and they will always suffer when outside influences intervene to divert
it from its natural path, and to constrain it by what is irrelevant to its
own proper ends." 2 " Whenever I hear that a writer of real ability
has demonstrated away the freedom of the human will, the hope of a
future life, and the existence of God, I am eager to read the book,
for I expect him by his talents to increase my insight into these
matters." 3

1 Cf. above, pp. 36 ff., 117 ff., 128 ff., 565-6. 2 A 743-4=6 771-2.

3 A 753 = B 781. In A 745 = 6 773 Kant's mention of Hume can hardly refer
to Hume's Dialogues (cf. above, pp. 539-40 n. ). Kant probably has in mind
Section XI. of the Enqiiiry. The important discussion of Hume's position in
A 760 ff. =B 788 ff. has been commented upon above, p. 61 ff. With Priestley's
teaching (A 745-6-6 773-4) Kant probably became acquainted through some
indirect source. The first of Priestley's philosophical writings to appear in
German was his History of the Corruptions of Christianity. The translation was
published in 1782. In A 747-8 = 6 775-6 Kant quite obviously has Rousseau in




This section merely restates the general nature and re-
quirements of transcendental proof. The exposition is much
less satisfactory than that already given in the Analytic and
Dialectic. The only really new factor is the distinction
between apagogical and direct proof. The former may pro-
duce conviction, but cannot enable us to comprehend the
grounds of the truth of our conviction. Also, outside mathe-
matics, it is extremely dangerous to attempt to establish a
thesis by showing its contradictory to be impossible. 3 This is
especially true in the sphere of our Critical enquiries, since the
chief danger to be guarded against is the confounding of the
subjectively necessary with the independently real. In this

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 66 of 72)