Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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which decides the possibility of constructive metaphysics.
This is what Kant means when he declares that the Critique
is a criticism of the power of reason, in respect of all knowledge
after which it may strive independently of experience. Pure
reason is the subject-matter of the enquiry ; it is also the
instrument through which the enquiry is made. 3 Nothing
empirical or merely hypothetical has any place in it, either
as subject-matter or as method of argument.

From this position Kant draws several important conse-

1 A v.-vi. 2 A v. n. 3 Cf. above on title, pp. 2-3.


quences. First, since pure reason means that faculty whereby
we gain knowledge independently of all experience, it can
be isolated and its whole nature exhaustively determined.
Indeed pure reason (Kant seeks to prove) is so perfect a unity
that if " its principle" should be found insufficient to the solu-
tion of a single one of all the questions which are presented
to it by its own nature, we should be justified in forthwith
rejecting it as also incompetent to answer with complete
certainty any one of the other questions. In metaphysics it
must be either all or nothing, 1 either final and complete
certainty or else absolute failure.

" While I am saying this I can fancy that I detect in the face of
the reader an expression of indignation mingled with contempt at
pretensions seemingly so arrogant and vainglorious ; and yet they are
incomparably more moderate than the claims of all those writers who
on the lines of the usual programme profess to prove the simple
nature of the soul or the necessity of a first beginning of the world." 2

In so doing they pretend to define realities which lie
beyond the limits of possible experience ; the Critique seeks
only to deal with that faculty of reason which manifests
itself to us within our own minds. Formal logic shows how
completely and systematically the simple acts of reason can
be enumerated. Aristotle created this science of logic
complete at a stroke. Kant professes to have established
an equally final metaphysics ; and as logic is not a science
proper, but rather a propaedeutic to all science, metaphysics,
thus interpreted, is the only one of all the sciences which can
immediately attain to such completeness.

" For it is nothing but the inventory of all our possessions through
pure reason, systematically arranged. In this field nothing can
escape us. What reason produces entirely out of itself cannot lie
concealed, but is brought to light by reason itself immediately the
common principle has been discovered." 3

Secondly, the Critique also claims certainty. With the re-
moval of everything empirical, and the reduction of its subject-
matter to pure reason, all mere opinion or hypothesis is like-
wise eliminated. Probabilities or hypotheses can have no place
in a Critique of Pure Reason* Everything must be derived
according to a priori principles from pure conceptions in which
there is no intermixture of experience or any special intuition.

This Preface to the first edition, considered as introductory

1 Cf. below, pp. 543, 576-7. 2 A vii.-viii.

3 A xiv. 4 Cf. below, pp. 543 ff.


to the Critique, is misleading for two reasons. First, because
in it Kant is preoccupied almost exclusively with the problems
of metaphysics in the strict ontological sense, that is to say,
with the problems of the Dialectic. The problems of the
Analytic, which is the very heart of the Critique, are almost
entirely ignored. They are, it is true, referred to in A x-xi,
but the citation is quite externally intercalated ; it receives
no support or extension from the other parts of the Preface.
This results in a second defect, namely, that Kant fails to
indicate the more empirical features of his new Critical stand-
point. Since ultimate reality is supersensuous, metaphysics,
as above conceived, can have no instrument save pure reason.
The subjects of its enquiry, God, freedom, and immortality,
if they are to be known at all, can be determined only through
a priori speculation. This fact, fundamental and all-important
for Kant, was completely ignored in the popular eclectic
philosophies of the time. They professed to derive meta-
physical conclusions from empirical evidence. They sub-
stituted, as Kant has pointed out, 1 "a physiology of the
human understanding " for the Critical investigation of the
claims of reason, and anthropology for ethics. They were
blind to the dogmatism of which they are thereby guilty.
They assumed those very points which most call for proof,
namely, that reason is adequate to the solution of metaphysical
problems, and that all existence is so fundamentally of one
type that we can argue from the sensuous to the super-
sensuous, from appearance to reality. When they fell into
difficulties, they pleaded the insufficiency of human reason,
and yet were all the while unquestioningly relying upon it
in the drawing of the most tremendous inferences. Such,
for instance, are the assumptions which underlie Moses
Mendelssohn's contention that since animals as well as men
agree in the apprehension of space, it must be believed to be
absolutely real. 2 These assumptions also determine Priestley's
assertion that though every event has its cause, there is one
causeless happening, namely, the creative act to which the
existence of the world is due. 3 On such terms, metaphysics
is too patently easy to be even plausible. " Indifference,
doubt, and, in final issue, severe criticism, are truer signs of
a profound habit of thought." 4 The matter of experience
affords no data for metaphysical inference. In the a
priori forms of experience, and there alone, can meta-

1 Cf. A86=B 118-19.

2 Morgenstunden ; Gesammelte Schriften, 1863 edition, ii. pp. 246, 288. Cf.
below, pp. 1 60- 1.

8 Cited by R. A. Sigsbee, Philosophisches System Joseph Priestley s (1912),
p. 33- 4 A v. n.


physics hope to find a basis, if any basis is really dis-

This is Kant's reason for so emphatically insisting that the
problem of the Critique is to determine " how much we can
hope to achieve by reason, when all the material and assistance
of experience is taken away." 1 But in keeping only this one
point in view Kant greatly misrepresents the problems and
scope of the Critique. Throughout the Preface he speaks the
language of the Aufklarung. Even in the very act of limiting
the scope of reason, he overstresses its powers, and omits
reference to its empirical conditions. It is well to contrast
this teaching with such a passage as the following :

" The position of all genuine idealists from the Eleatics to Berkeley
is contained in this formula : * All cognition through the senses and
experience is nothing but mere illusion, and only in the ideas of
pure understanding and Reason is there truth.' The fundamental
principle ruling all my idealism, on the contrary, is this : ' All cogni-
tion of things solely from pure understanding or pure Reason is
nothing but mere illusion, and only in experience is there truth.' "

But that passage is equally inadequate as a complete expression
of Kant's Critical philosophy. The truth lies midway between
it and the teaching of the Preface to the first edition. Pure
reason is as defective an instrument of knowledge as is factual
experience. Though the primary aim of metaphysics is to
determine our relation to the absolutely real, and though that
can only be done by first determining the nature and possible
scope of a priori principles, such principles are found on
investigation to possess only empirical validity. The central
question of the Critique thus becomes the problem of the
validity of their empirical employment. The interrelation of
these two problems, that of the a priori and that of experi-
ence, and Kant's attitude towards them, cannot be considered
till later. The defects of the Preface to the first edition are
in part corrected by the extremely valuable Preface substituted
in the second edition. But some further points in this first
Preface must be considered.

Prescribed by the very nature of reason itself. 3 Metaphysics
exists as a "natural disposition," and its questions are not
therefore merely artificial.

" As natural disposition (Naturarilage) . . . metaphysics is real.
For human reason, without being moved merely by the idle desire for
extent and variety of knowledge, proceeds impetuously, driven on by

1 A viii. 2

Prolegomena, Anhang, Trans, of Mahaffy and Bernard, p. 147.
3 A i.


an inward need, to questions such as cannot be answered by any
empirical employment of reason, or by principles thence derived.
Thus in all men, as soon as their reason has become ripe for
speculation, there has always existed and will always continue to
exist some kind of metaphysics." l

Hence results what Kant entitles transcendental illusion.

"The cause of this transcendental illusion is that there are
fundamental rules and maxims for the employment of Reason,
subjectively regarded as a faculty of human knowledge, and that
these rules and maxims have all the appearance of being objective
principles. We take the subjective necessity of a connection of
our concepts, i.e. a connection necessitated for the advantage of the
understanding, for an objective necessity in the determination of
things in themselves. This is an illusion which can no more be
prevented than we can prevent the sea from appearing higher at the
horizon than at the shore, since we see it through higher light rays ;
or to cite a still better example, than the astronomer can prevent the
moon from appearing larger at its rising, although he is not deceived
by this illusion. . . . There exists, then, a natural and unavoidable
dialectic of pure Reason, not one in which a bungler might entangle
himself through lack of knowledge, or one which some sophist has
artificially invented to confuse thinking people, but one which is
inseparable from human Reason, and which, even after its deceiving
power has been exposed, will not cease to play tricks with it and
continually to entrap it into momentary aberrations that will ever
and again call for correction." 2

Dogmatism. 3 According to Kant there are three possible
standpoints in philosophy the dogmatic, the sceptical, and
the critical. All preceding thinkers^ come under the first two
heads. A dogmatist is one who assumes that human reason
can comprehend ultimate reality, and who proceeds upon this
assumption. He does not, before proceeding to construct a
metaphysics, enquire whether it is -possible. Dogmatism
expresses itself (to borrow Vaihinger's convenient mode of
definition 4 ) through three factors rationalism , realism , and
transcendence. Descartes and Leibniz are typical dogmatists.
As rationalists they hold that it is possible to determine from
pure a priori principles the ultimate nature of God, of the
soul, and of the material universe. They are realists in
that they assert that by human thought the complete nature
of objective reality can be determined. They also adopt the
attitude of transcendence. Through pure thought they go
out beyond the sensible and determine the supersensuous.

1 B 21. Cf. Prolegomena, 6off., and below, pp. 427-9, 552.
2 A 297-8 = 6 353-5. Cf. below, pp. 427-9. 3 A iii. 4 i. p. 50.


Scepticism (Kant, as above stated, 1 regards it as being in
effect equivalent to empiricism) may similarly be defined
through the three terms, empiricism, subjectivism, immanence.
A sceptic can never be a rationalist. He must reduce know-
ledge to sense-experience. For this reason also his knowledge
is infected by subjective conditions ; through sensation we
cannot hope to determine the nature of the objectively real.
This attitude is also that of immanence ; knowledge is limited
to the sphere of sense-experience. Criticism has similarly
its three constitutive factors, rationalism, subjectivism, im-
manence. It agrees with dogmatism in maintaining that
only through a priori principles can true knowledge be
obtained. Such knowledge is, however, subjective 2 in its
origin, and for that reason it is also only of immanent
application ; knowledge is possible only in the sphere of
sense-experience. Dogmatism claims that knowledge arises .
independently of experience and extends beyond it. Em- ,
piricism holds that knowledge arises out of sense-experience f
and is valid only within it. Criticism teaches that knowledge
arises independently of particular experience but is valid only |
for experience.

The following passages in the Methodology give Kant's
view of the historical and relative values of the two false
methods :

"The sceptic is the taskmaster who constrains the dogmatic
reasoner to develop a sound critique of the understanding and
reason. When the latter has been made to advance thus far, he
need fear no further challenge, since he has learned to distinguish
his real possessions from that which lies entirely beyond them, and
to which he can therefore lay no claim. . . . Thus the sceptical
procedure cannot of itself yield any satisfying answer to the questions
of reason, but none the less it prepares the way by awakening its
circumspection, and by indicating the radical measures which are
adequate to secure it in its legitimate possessions." 3 "The first
step in matters of pure reason, marking its infancy, is dogmatic. The
second step is sceptical, and indicates that experience has rendered
our judgment wiser and more circumspect. But a third step, such
as can be taken only by fully matured judgment, is now necessary.
. . . This is not the censorship but the critique of reason,
whereby not its present bounds but its determinate [and necessary]
limits, not its ignorance on this or that point, but in regard to

1 P. 9.

2 This statement, as we shall find, calls for modification. Kant's Critical
position is more correctly described as phenomenalism than as subjectivism.
Cf. above, pp. xlv-vii ; below, p. 270 ff.

3 A 769 = 6 797.


all possible questions of a certain kind, are demonstrated from
principles, and not merely arrived at by way of conjecture. Scep-
ticism is thus a resting-place for human reason, where it can reflect
upon its dogmatic wanderings and make survey of the region in
which it finds itself, so that for the future it may be able to choose
its path with more certainty. But it is no dwelling-place for per-
manent settlement. That can be obtained only through perfect
certainty in our knowledge, alike of the objects themselves and of
the limits within which all our knowledge of objects is enclosed." 1

Locke. 2 Cf. A 86 = B 1 19 ; A 270 = B 327 ; B 127.

On the unfavourable contrast between mathematics and meta-
physics. 3 Cf. Ueber die Deutlichkeit der Grunds'dtze (1764),
erste Betrachtung, and below, pp. 40, 563 ff.

The age of criticism. 4 Kant considered himself as con-
tributing to the further advance of the eighteenth century
Enlightenment. 5 In view, however, of the contrast between
eighteenth and nineteenth century thought, and of the real
affiliations and ultimate consequences of Kant's teaching, it
seems truer to regard the Critical philosophy as at once
completing and transcending the Aufkldrung. Kant breaks
with many of its most fundamental assumptions.

The Critique of Pure Reason. 6 Kant here defines the
Critique as directed upon pure reason. 7 Further, it is a
criticism of knowledge which is "independent of all ex-
perience," or, as Kant adds " free from all experience." Such
phrases, in this context, really mean transcendent. The
Critique is here taken as being a Critical investigation of tran-
scendent metaphysics, of its sources, scope, and limits. 8

Opinion or hypothesis not permissible. 9 Cf. below, p. 543 ff.

I know no enquiries, etc. 10 The important questions raised
by this paragraph are discussed below, p. 235 ff.

Jean Terrasson ( 1670-1 7 5o). n The quotation is from his
work posthumously published (1754), and translated from the
French by Frau Gottsched under the title Philosophie nach
ihrem allgemeinen Einflusse auf alle Gegenst'dnde des Geistes
und der Sitten (1762). Terrasson is also referred to by Kant
in his Anthropologie, 44 and 77. Terrasson would seem to be
the author of the Traite de Pinfini crie which has been falsely
ascribed to Malebranche. I have translated this latter
treatise in the Philosophical Review (July 1905).

Such a system of pure speculative reason. 12 The relation in

1 A 761 = B 789-90. Cf. Sections I. -III. in the Methodology.

2 A iii. 3 A v. n. * A v. n.

5 Cf. Kant's Beantwortung der Frage : Was heist Aufkldrung? 1784.

6 A v. 7 Cf. above, pp. 2-3.

8 Cf. above, pp. xliv-v ; below, pp. 19, 33, 56, 66 ff.

9 A ix. 10 A x.-xi. " A xii.-xiii. 12 A xv.


which this system would stand to the Critique is discussed
below, pp. 71-2. Speculative does not with Kant mean
transcendent, but merely theoretical as opposed to practical.
Cf. 625, A 15 = 629, A 845 = 6873.

Under the title : Metaphysics of Nature. 1 No such work, at
least under this title, was ever completed by Kant. In the
Kantian terminology "nature" signifies "all that is." Cf.
below, p. 580.

1 A xv. Cf. below, pp. 66-7.


I SHALL again give a brief explanatory paraphrase, before
proceeding to detailed comment. The main points of the
preface of the first edition are repeated. " Metaphysics soars
above all teaching of experience, and rests on concepts only. In
it reason has to be her own pupil." * But Kant immediately
proceeds to a further point. That logic should have attained
the secure method of science is due to its limitation to the
mere a priori form of knowledge. For metaphysics this is far
more difficult, since it " has to deal not with itself alone, but also
with objects" 2

The words which I have italicised form a very necessary
correction of the first edition preface, according to which the
Critique would seem to "treat only of reason and its pure
thinking." A further difference follows. The second edition
preface, in thus emphasising the objective aspect of the
problem, is led to characterise in a more complete manner
the method to be followed in the Critical enquiry. How can
the Critique^ if it is concerned, as both editions agree in
insisting, only with the a priori which originates in human
reason, solve the specifically metaphysical problem, viz. that
of determining the independently real ? How can an idea
in us refer to, and constitute knowledge of, an object ? The
larger part of the preface to the second edition is devoted to
the Critical solution of this problem. The argument of the
Dialectic is no longer emphasised at the expense of the
A nalytic.

Kant points out that as a matter of historical fact each
of the two rational sciences, mathematics and physics, first
entered upon the assured path of knowledge by a sudden
revolution, and by the adoption of a method which in its
general characteristics is common to both. This method
consists, not in being led by nature as in leading-strings,
but in interrogating nature in accordance with what reason

1 B xiv. 2 B ix.

17 C


produces on its own plan. The method of the geometrician
does not consist in the study of figures presented to the
senses. That would be an empirical (in Kant's view, sceptical)
method. Geometrical propositions could not then be re-
garded as possessing universality and necessity. Nor does the
geometrician employ a dogmatic method, that of studying
the mere conception of a figure. By that means no new
knowledge could ever be attained. The actual method con-
sists in interpreting the sensible figures through conceptions
that have been rigorously defined, and in accordance with
which the figures have been constructively generated. The
first discovery of this method, by Thales or some other Greek,
was "far more important than the . discovery of the passage
round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope." 1

Some two thousand years elapsed before Galileo formu-
lated a corresponding method for physical science. He' relied
neither on mere observation nor on his own conceptions. He
determined the principles according to which alone concordant
phenomena can be admitted as laws of nature, and then by
experiment compelled nature to answer the questions which
these principles suggest. Here again the method is neither
merely empirical nor purely dogmatic. It possesses the
advantages of both. ^

Metaphysics is ripe for a similar advance. It must be
promoted to the rank of positive science by the transform-
ing power of an analogous method. The fundamental and
distinguishing characteristic of mathematical and physical
procedure is the legislative power to which reason lays claim.
Such procedure, if generalised and extended, will supply the
required method of the new philosophy. Reason must be
regarded as self-legislative in all the domains of our possible
knowledge. Objects must be viewed as conforming to human
thought, not human thought to the independently real. This
is the " hypothesis" to which Kant has given the somewhat
misleading title, " Copernican." 2 The method of procedure
which it prescribes is, he declares, analogous to that which
was followed by Copernicus, and will be found to be as
revolutionary in its consequences. In terms of this hypothesis
a complete and absolutely certain metaphysics, valid now and
for all time, can be created at a stroke. The earliest and
oldest enterprise of the human mind will achieve a new
beginning. Metaphysics, the mother of all the sciences, will
renew her youth, and will equal in assurance, as she surpasses
in dignity, the offspring of her womb.

From this new standpoint Kant develops phenomenalisi

1 B xi. 2 Cf. below, pp. 22-5.


on rationalist lines. He professes to prove that though our
knowledge is only of appearances, it is conditioned by a priori
principles. His " Copernican hypothesis," so far from destroy-
ing positive science, is, he claims, merely a philosophical
extension of the method which it has long been practising.
Since all science worthy of the name involves a priori
elements, it can be accounted for only in terms of the new
hypothesis. Only if objects are regarded as conforming to our
forms of intuition, and to our modes of conception, can they
be anticipated by a priori reasoning. Science can be a priori
just because, properly understood, it is not a rival of meta-
physics, and does not attempt to define the absolutely real.

But such a statement at once suggests what may at first
seem a most fatal objection. Though the new standpoint may
account for the a priori in experience and science, it can be
of no avail in metaphysics. If the a priori concepts have
a mental origin, they can have no validity for the independ-
ently real. If we can know only what we ourselves originate,
things in themselves must be unknown, and metaphysics
must be impossible. But in this very consequence the new
hypothesis first reveals its full advantages. It leads to
an interpretation of metaphysics which is as new and as
revolutionary 1 as that which it gives to natural science.
Transcendent metaphysics is indeed impossible, but in
harmony with man's practical and moral vocation, its place
is more efficiently taken by an immanent metaphysics on the
one hand, and by a metaphysics of ethics on the other.
Together these constitute the new and final philosophy which
Kant claims to have established by his Critical method. Its
chief task is to continue " that noblest enterprise of antiquity," 2
the distinguishing of appearances from things in themselves.
The unconditioned is that which alone will satisfy speculative
reason ; its determination is the ultimate presupposition of
metaphysical enquiry. But so long as the empirical world is
regarded as true reality, totality or unconditionedness cannot
possibly be conceived is, indeed, inherently self-contradictory.
On the new hypothesis there is no such difficulty. By the proof
that things in themselves are unknowable, a sphere is left open
within which the unconditioned can be sought. For though
this sphere is closed to speculative reason, the unconditioned
can be determined from data yielded by reason in its practical
activity. The hypothesis which at first seems to destroy
metaphysics proves on examination to be its necessary pre-
supposition. The " Copernican hypothesis " which conditions

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 7 of 72)