Norman Kemp Smith.

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

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This is one of the fundamental points upon which Hume
reveals a deeper speculative insight than either Malebranche,
Geulincx, or Locke. Though these latter insist upon our
ignorance of the relation holding between events, they still
assume that causation and natural necessity are concepts
which have a quite intelligible meaning ; and in consequence
they fail to draw the all-important conclusion, that the general
principle of causality has neither intuitive nor demonstrative
validity. For that is the revolutionary outcome of Hume's
analysis of the notion of necessitated connection. The
principle of causality is a synthetic judgment in which no
connection is discoverable between its subject and its predi-
cate. That is the reason why it is neither self-evident nor
capable of being established upon more ultimate grounds.

As has already been stated, the wider problem concerning
the principle of causality is developed only in the Treatise ;
the problem regarding the concept of causality is discussed
both m the Treatise and in the Enquiry. An appreciation
of the wider problem is required, however, in order to set this
second problem in its true light, for it is only through its
connection with the wider issue that Hume's reduction of the
concept of causality to a merely instinctive, non-rational ex-
pectation acquires its full significance. Hume's analysis then


amounts, as Kant was the first to realise, to an attack upon
the objective validity of all constructive thinking. Not only
rationalism, but even 'such metaphysics as may claim to base
its conclusions upon the teaching of experience, is thereby
rendered altogether impossible. The issue is crucial, and must
be honestly faced, before metaphysical conclusions, no matter
what their specific character may be, whether a priori or em-
pirical, can legitimately be drawn. If we may not assert that
an event must have some cause, even the right to enquire
for a cause must first be justified. And if so fundamental a
principle as that of causality is not self-evident, are there any
principles which can make this claim ?

The account which we have so far given of Hume's argu-
ment covers only that part of it which is directed against the
rationalist position, and which was therefore so influential in
turning Kant on to the line of his Critical speculations. But
Hume attacked with equal vigour the empiricist standpoint ;
and as this aspect of his teaching, constituting as it did an
integral part of Kant's own philosophy, must undoubtedly
have helped to confirm Kant in his early rationalist convictions,
we may profitably dwell upon it at some length. In opposi-
tion to the empiricists, Hume argues that experience is
incapable of justifying any inference in regard to matters of
fact. It cannot serve as a basis from which we can in-
ductively extend our knowledge of facts beyond what the
senses and memory reveal. Inductive inference, when so
employed, necessarily involves a petitio principii ; we assume
the very point we profess to have proved.

The argument by which Hume establishes this important
contention is as follows. All inductive reasoning from ex-
perience presupposes the validity of belief in causal connection.
For when we have no knowledge of causes, we have no
justification for asserting the continuance of uniformities.
Now it has been shown that we have no experience of any
necessary relation between so-called causes and their effects.
The most that experience can supply are sequences which
repeat themselves. In regarding the sequences as causal,
and so as universally constant, we make an assertion for
which experience gives no support, and to which no amount
of repeated experience, recalled in memory, can add one jot
of real evidence. To argue that because the sequences have
remained constant in a great number of repeated experiences,
they are therefore more likely to remain constant, is to assume
that constancy in the past is a ground for inferring it in the
future ; and that is the very point which demands proof. In
drawing the conclusion we virtually assume that there is a


necessary connection, i.e. an absolutely constant relation,
between events. But since no single experience of causal
sequence affords ground for inferring that the sequence will
continue in the future, no number of repeated experiences,
recalled in memory, can contribute to the strengthening of
the inference. It is meaningless to talk even of likelihood
or probability. The fact that the sun has without a single
known exception arisen each day in the past does not (if we
accept the argument disproving all knowledge of necessary
connection) constitute proof that it will rise to-morrow.

"None but a fool or a madman will be unaffected in his
expectations or natural beliefs by this constancy, but he is no
philosopher who accepts this as in the nature of evidence." *

Since, for all that we know to the contrary, bodies may
change their nature and mode of action at any moment, it is
vain to pretend that we are scientifically assured of the future
because of the past.

" My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. 2 But you mistake
the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in
the point; but as a philosopher, who has some share of curiosity,
I will not say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this
inference. No reading, no enquiry has yet been able to remove my
difficulty or give me satisfaction in a matter of such importance.
Can I do better than propose the difficulty to the public, even
though, perhaps, I have small hopes of obtaining a solution ? We
shall at least, by this means, be sensible of our ignorance, if we do
not augment our knowledge." 3

Kant was the first, after thirty years, to take up this
challenge. Experience is no source of evidence until the
causal postulate has been independently proved. Only if the
principle of causality can be established prior to all specific
experience, only if we can predetermine experience as neces-
sarily conforming to it, are empirical arguments valid at all.
Hume's enquiry thus directly leads to the later, no less than
to the earlier form of Kant's epoch-making question. 4 In its
earlier formulation it referred only to a priori judgments ; in
its wider application it was found to arise with equal cogency
in connection with empirical judgments. And as thus, ex-
tended, it generated the problem : How is sense-experience,
regarded as a form of knowledge, possible at all? 5 By

1 Enquiry, p. 32.

2 This is the objection upon which Beattie chiefly insists.

\ P- cit - PP- 33-4- 4 Cf. above, pp. 39 ff., 54, 222 ff., 241, 286-9.

How far Hume's criticism of empiricism really influenced Kant in his

appreciation of this deeper problem, it seems impossible to decide. Very prob-


showing that the principle of causality has neither intuitive
nor demonstrative validity, Hume cuts the ground from
under the rationalists; by showing that sense -experience
cannot by itself yield conclusions which are objectively valid,
he at the same time destroys the empiricist position. In this
latter contention Kant stands in complete agreement with
Hume. That the sensuously given is incapable of grounding
even probable inferences, is a fundamental presupposition
(never discussed, but always explicitly assumed) of the
Critical philosophy. It was by challenging the sufficiency
of Hume's other line of argument, that which is directed
against the rationalists, that Kant discovered a way of
escape from the sceptical dilemma. The conditions of ex-
perience can be proved by a transcendental method, which,
though a priori in character, does not lie open to Hume's
sceptical objections. Each single experience involves rational
principles, and consequently even a single empirical observa-
tion may suffice to justify an inductive inference. Experience
conforms to the demands of pure a priori thought ; and can
legitimately be construed in accordance with them.

We may now pass to the philosophy in which Kant was
educated. It gave to his thinking that rationalist trend, to
which, in spite of all counter-influences, he never ceased to
remain true. 1 It also contributed to his philosophy several
of its constructive principles. Only two rationalist systems
need be considered, those of Leibniz and of Wolff. Kant,
by his own admission, 2 had been baffled in his attempts
(probably not very persevering) to master Spinoza's philo-
sophy. It was with Wolff's system that he was most familiar ;
but both directly and indirectly, both in his early years and
in the 'seventies, the incomparably deeper teaching of Leibniz
must have exercised upon him a profoundly formative in-
fluence. In defining the points of agreement and of difference
between Hume and Leibniz, 3 we have already outlined
Leibniz's general view of the nature and powers of pure
thought, and may therefore at once proceed to the relevant
detail of his main tenets.

Upon two fundamental points Leibniz stands in opposition
to Spinoza. He seeks to maintain the reality of the contingent

ably Kant proceeded to it by independent development of his own standpoint,
after the initial impulse received on the more strictly logical issue.

1 The assertion, by Kuno Fischer and Paulsen, of an empirical period in
Kant's development, has been challenged by Adickes, B. Erdmann, Riehl, and

2 Cf. B. Erdmann's Kriticismus, p. 147 ; Critiqtie of Judgment, W. v. p. 391
(Bernard's trans, p. 301).

3 Above, pp. xxx-iii.


or accidental. These terms are indeed, as he conceives them,
synonymous with the actual. Necessity rules only in the
sphere of the possible. Contingency or freedom is the
differentiating characteristic of the real. This point of view
is bound up with his second contention, namely, that the real
is a kingdom of ends. It is through divine choice of the best
among the possible worlds that the actual present order has
arisen. There are thus two principles which determine the
real : the principle of contradiction which legislates with
absolute universality, and the principle of the best, or, other-
wise formulated, of sufficient reason, which differentiates reality
from truth, limiting thought, in order that, without violating
logic, it may freely satisfy the moral needs. Leibniz thus
vindicates against Spinoza the reality of freedom and the
existence of ends.

Though Leibniz agrees with Spinoza that the philosophic-
ally perfect method would be to start from an adequate
concept of the Divine Being, and to deduce from His attributes
the whole nature of finite reality, he regards our concept of
God as being too imperfect to allow of such procedure. We
are compelled to resort to experience, and by analysis to
search out the various concepts which it involves. By the
study of these concepts and their interrelations, we determine,
in obedience to the law of contradiction, the nature of the
possible. The real, in contradistinction from the possible,
involves, however, the notion of ends. The existence of
these ends can never be determined by logical, but only by
moral considerations. The chief problem of philosophical
method is, therefore, to discover the exact relation in which
the logical and the teleological, the necessary and the
contingent, stand to one another.

The absence of contradiction is in itself a sufficient
guarantee of possibility, i.e. even of the possibility of real
existence. How very far Leibniz is willing to go on this line
is shown by his acceptance of the ontological argument. The
whole weight of his system rests, indeed, upon this proof.
The notion of God is, he maintains, the sole concept which
can determine itself in a purely logical manner not only as
possible but also as real. If we are to avoid violating the
principle of contradiction, the Ens perfectissimum must be
regarded as possessing the perfection of real existence. And
since God is perfect in moral as in all other attributes, His
actions must be in conformity with moral demands. In creat-
ing the natural order God must therefore have chosen that
combination of possibilities which constitutes the best of all
possible worlds. By means of this conceptual bridge we are


enabled to pass by pure a priori thinking from the logically
possible to the factually real.

Pure logical thinking is thus an instrument whereby ulti-
mate reality can be defined in a valid manner. Pure thought
is speculative and metaphysical in its very essence. It uncovers
to us what no experience can reveal, the wider universe which
exists eternally in the mind of God. Every concept (whether
mathematical, dynamical, or moral), provided only that it is
not self-contradictory, is an eternal essence, with the intrinsic
nature of which even God must reckon in the creation of
things. When, therefore, we are determining the unchanging
nature of the eternally possible, there is no necessary reference
to Divine existence. The purely logical criterion suffices
as a test of truth. Every judgment which is made in regard
to such concepts must express only what their content in-
volves. All such judgments must be analytic in order to
be true.

When, however, we proceed from the possible to the real,
that is to say, from the necessary to the contingent, the
logical test is no longer sufficient ; and only by appeal to the
second principle, that of sufficient reason, can judgments
about reality be logically justified. Whether or not the
principle of sufficient reason is deducible, as Wolff sought to
maintain, from the principle of contradiction, is a point of
quite secondary importance. That is a question which does
not deserve the emphasis which has been laid upon it. What
is chiefly important is that for Leibniz, as for Wolff, both
principles are principles of analysis. The principle of sufficient
reason is not an instrument for determining necessary relations
between independent substances. The sufficient ground of a
valid predicate must in all cases be found in the concept of
the subject to which it is referred. The difference between
the two principles lies elsewhere, namely, in the character of
the connection established between subject and predicate.
In the one case the denial of the proposition involves a direct
self-contradiction. In the other the opposite of the judgment
is perfectly conceivable ; our reason for asserting it is a
moral (employing the term in the eighteenth-century sense),
not a logical ground. The subject is so constituted, that
in the choice of ends, in pursuit of the good, it must by
its very nature so behave. The principle of sufficient reason,
which represents in our finite knowledge the divine prin-
ciple of the best, compels us to recognise the predicate as
involved in the subject as involved through a ground which
inclines without necessitating. Often the analysis cannot be
carried sufficiently far to enable us thus to transform a


judgment empirically given into one which is adequately
grounded. None the less, in recognising it as true, we postu-
late that the predicate is related to the subject in this way.
There are not for Leibniz two methods of establishing truth,
sense-perception to reveal contingent fact, and general reason-
ing to establish necessary truth. A proposition can be
accepted as true only in so far as we can at least postulate,
through absence of contradiction and through sufficient
reason, its analytic character. It must express some form
of identity. The proposition, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, is
given us as historical fact. The more complete our know-
ledge of Caesar and of his time, the further we can carry the
analysis ; and that analysis if completely executed would
displace the merely factual validity of the judgment by
insight into its metaphysical truth. Thus experience, with
its assertions of the here and now about particulars in-
exhaustibly concrete, sets to rational science an inexhaustible
task. We can proceed in our analysis indefinitely, pushing out
the frontiers of thought further and further into the empirical
realm. Only by the Divine Mind can the task be completed,
and all things seen as ordered in complete obedience to the
two principles of thought.

Leibniz, in propounding this view, develops a genuinely
original conception of the relation holding between appearance
and reality. Only monads, that is, spiritual beings, exist.
Apart from the representative activity of the monads there
are no such existences as space and time, as matter and
motion. The mathematical and physical sciences, in their
present forms, therefore, cannot be interpreted as revealing
absolute existences. But, if ideally developed, they would
emancipate themselves from mechanical and sensuous notions ;
and would consist of a body of truths, which, as thus perfected,
would be discovered to constitute the very being of thought.
Pure thought or reason consists in the apprehension of such
truths. To discover and to prove them thought does not
require to issue out beyond itself. It creates this conceptual
world in the very act of apprehending it ; and as this realm
of truth thus expresses the necessary character of all thought,
whether divine or human, it is universal and unchanging.
Each mind apprehends the same eternal truth ; but owing
to imperfection each finite being apprehends it with some
degree of obscurity and confusion, fragmentarily, in terms
of sense, and so falls prey to the illusion that the self stands
in mechanical relations to a spatial and temporal world of
matter and motion.

Leibniz supports this doctrine by his theory of sense-


experience as originating spontaneously from within the
individual mind. Thereby he is only repeating that pure
thought generates its whole content from within itself. Sense-
experience, in its intrinsic nature, is nothing but pure thought.
Such thought, owing to the inexhaustible wealth of its con-
ceptual significance, so confuses the mind which thus generates
it, that only by prolonged analysis can larger and larger
portions of it be construed into the conceptual judgments
which have all along constituted its sole content. And in
the process, space, time, and motion lose all sensuous character,
appearing in their true nature as orders of relation which
can be adequately apprehended only in conceptual terms.
They remain absolutely real as objects of thought, though
as sensible existences they are reduced to the level of mere
appearance. Such is the view of thought which is unfolded
in Leibniz's writings, in startling contrast to the naturalistic
teaching of his Scotch antagonist.

As already indicated, Kant's first-hand knowledge of
Leibniz's teaching was very limited. He was acquainted
with it chiefly through the inadequate channel of Wolffs
somewhat commonplace exposition of its principles. But
even from such a source he could derive what was most
essential, namely, Leibniz's view of thought as absolute in
its powers and unlimited in its claims. How closely Wolff
holds to the main tenet of Leibniz's system appears from his
definition of philosophy as " the science of possible things, so
far as they are possible." He thus retains, though without
the deeper suggestiveness of Leibniz's speculative insight, the
view that thought precedes reality and legislates for it. By
the possible is not meant the existentially or psychologically
possible, but the conceptually necessary, that which, prior to
all existence, has objective validity, sharing in the universal
and necessary character of thought itself.

As Riehl has very justly pointed out, 1 Wolff's philosophy
had, prior even to the period of Kant's earliest writings, been
displaced by empirical, psychological enquiries and by eclectic,
popular philosophy. Owing to the prevailing lack of thorough-
ness in philosophical thinking, " Problemlosigkeit " charac-
terised the whole period. The two exclusively alternative
views of the function of thought stood alongside one another
within each of the competing systems, quite unreconciled
and in their mutual conflict absolutely destructive of all
real consistency and thoroughness of thought. It was Kant
who restored rationalism to its rightful place. He reinvigorated
the flaccid tone of his day by adopting in his writings, both

1 Philosophise her Kriticismus, 2nd ed. p. 209.


early and late, the strict method of rational science, and by
insisting that the really crucial issues be boldly faced. In
essentials Kant holds to Wolffs definition of philosophy as
" the science of possible things, so far as they are possible."
As I have just remarked, the possible is taken in an objective
sense, and the definition consequently gives expression to the
view of philosophy upon which Kant so frequently insists, as
lying wholly in the sphere of pure a priori thought. Its func-
tion is to determine prior to specific experience what ex-
perience must be ; and obviously that is only possible by means
of an a priori, purely conceptual method. His Critique, as
its title indicates, is a criticism of pure reason by pure reason.
Nothing which escapes definition through pure a priori
thinking can come within its sphere. The problem of the
" possibility of experience " is the problem of discovering the
conditions which necessarily determine experience to be what
it is. Kant, of course, radically transforms the whole problem,
in method of treatment as well as in results, when in defining
the subject-matter of enquiry he substitutes experience for
things absolutely existent. This modification is primarily
due to the influence of Hume. But the constant occurrence
in Kant's philosophy of the term " possibility " marks his
continued belief in the Idealist view of thought. Though
pure thought never by itself amounts to knowledge therein
Kant departs from the extreme rationalist position only
through it is any knowledge, empirical or a priori, possible at
all. Philosophy, in order to exist, must be a system of
a priori rational principles. Nothing empirical or hypothetical
can find any place in it. 1 Yet at the same time it is the
system of the a priori conditions only of experience, not of
ultimate reality. Such is the twofold relation of agreement
and difference in which Kant stands to his rationalist

1 Cf. above, pp. Iv-vi, Ixi, 543 ff.


Absolute. See Unconditioned

Absolutist aspect of human conscious-
ness, xxx-xxxiii, liii, liv-lv, Ivi-lvii,
270-1, 274, 282, 285-7, 331 n. , 423 n.

Actuality, 391 ff.

Adamson, R., 38, 311, 314

Addison, 156

Adickes, E., xx-xxi, 76, 166, 200, 215
., 233 ., 234, 304, 363, 376, 397,
406 n., 423, 439-4. 44L 464 '
466, 479, 579 n. , 601 n.

Affinity, objective, 224, 253-7, 266-7

" Ah ob" doctrine, 524, 553 ff.

Analogy, Kant's use of the term, 356-8

Analytic and synthetic judgment, xxv ff. ,
xxxv-xxxvi, xxxviii, 28 ff. , 37 ff. , 59-
60, 65 ; existential judgment, 530-1 ;
distinction perhaps suggested by ex-
amination of ontological argument,
531. See Judgment

Analytic and synthetic methods, 44 ff.,
in, 117 n. See Transcendental

Analytic, distinguished from the Dia-
lectic, 172-4, 438-42

Anthropologie, Kant's, 81 . , 100 n.

Antinomies, Hi, liii, 432, 478 ff. , 519-20

Appearance, Kant's views regarding,
xxxvii, xlvi-xlvii, liii-liv, 18-22, 83-5,
i20-a, 147 ff. , 205 ff. , 215 ff. , 279-
284, 293 ff., 301 ff., 312 ff. , 321 ff. ,
330-1, 372-3, 404 ff. , 427 ff. ; criticism
of Leibnizian view of, 143-6 ; criticism
of Locke's view of, 146-7 ; ideality of,
147 ff. ; outer and inner appearances
reduce to relations, 147-8 ; appearance
and illusion, 148 ff. ; causal efficacy
of appearances, 216, 217-18, 351,
373-4 ; distinction between appear-
ance and reality based not on categories
of understanding but on Ideas of
Reason, liii-liv, 217-18, 326 n. , 331,
390-1, 414-17. 426-31, 473-7, S"-".
519-21, 541-2, 558-61
Apperception, and memory, 251 ; in
what sense original, xxxiv, xliii-xlv, 1-lii,

260-3, 461-2, 472-7 ; transcendental
unity of, 1-lii, 207 ff. , 212, 250-3, 260-
263, 270, 277-9, 3 22 ff -. 455 ff -. 473-
477 ; absent from the animal mind,
xlvii-1 ; objective unity of, 270-1, 274,
282, 285-7 ; and inner sense, 295-8,
321 ff. , 512 n. See Self

A priori, Kant's views regarding the,
xxvi-xxviii, xxxiii-xxxvi, lii-lv, 1-2, 39-
40, 42, 54 ff. ; problem of a priori
synthetic judgment, 26 ff., 39-40,
43 ff. ; its validity merely de facto,

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 70 of 72)