On Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’​: Making Honours of Men’s Impossibilities — Part One



O you mighty gods!

This world I do renounce, and, in your sights,

Shake patiently my great affliction off:

If I could bear it longer, and not fall

To quarrel with your great opposeless wills,

My snuff and loathed part of nature should

Burn itself out. If Edgar live, O, bless him!

Now, fellow, fare thee well.

He falls forward


Gone, sir: farewell.

And yet I know not how conceit may rob

The treasury of life, when life itself

Yields to the theft: had he been where he thought,

By this, had thought been past. Alive or dead?

Ho, you sir! friend! Hear you, sir! speak!

Thus might he pass indeed: yet he revives.

What are you, sir?



But have I fall’n, or no?


From the dread summit of this chalky bourn.

Look up a-height; the shrill-gorged lark so far

Cannot be seen or heard: do but look up.


Alack, I have no eyes.

Is wretchedness deprived that benefit,

To end itself by death? ’Twas yet some comfort,

When misery could beguile the tyrant’s rage,

And frustrate his proud will.


Give me your arm:

Up: so. How is ‘t? Feel you your legs? You stand.


Too well, too well.


This is above all strangeness.

Upon the crown o’ the cliff, what thing was that

Which parted from you?


A poor unfortunate beggar.


As I stood here below, methought his eyes

Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses,

Horns whelk’d and waved like the enridged sea:

It was some fiend; therefore, thou happy father,

Think that the clearest gods, who make them honours

Of men’s impossibilities, have preserved thee.

- William Shakespeare, (1564–1616), ‘King Lear’, Act 4, Scene 6.

What do you know? How do you know it? How do you know that you know it? One thing we can be sure of is that very few of us would wish to live our lives from the stance of radical scepticism, like that of Pyrrho of Elis, (c. 360 — c. 270 BC), whose philosophy aimed at the attainment of a state of ataraxia or freedom from mental agitation and which could be brought about by avoiding beliefs, dogma, about thoughts and perceptions. Nothing can be known for certain. (How does he know that?) Sextus Empiricus, (fl. mid-late 2nd century AD), gives some details of his life, writing some 400 years after his death. You really wouldn’t want to know someone this indifferent albeit he is not very consistent:

‘Antigonus also says that Pyrrho was always in the same state. This is why, if anyone walked away from him while he was in the middle of saying something, he used to continue the discussion with himself. Yet he had been excitable in his youth. According to Antigonus, Pyrrho frequently went out of town without letting anyone know in advance, and he used to roam with whomever he wished. Once, when Anaxarchus fell into a pond, Pyrrho continued on his way without helping him. Some people found fault with Pyrrho, but Anaxarchus himself praised Pyrrho’s indifference and lack of affect… But once he got angry at something concerning his sister (whose name was Philista), and he is supposed to have said to someone who found fault with him that displaying indifference is not appropriate when a female is involved. Once, when a dog attacked him, he was scared away, and he purportedly said to someone who reproached him that it is difficult to shake off humanity completely, and that the point is to contend as much as possible with life’s challenges, first through one’s deeds and then, if that fails, with argument’.

Pyrrhonians were divided into Aporetics, Sceptics, Ephetics, and Zetetics. Their philosophy was searching, or zetetic, because they constantly searched for the truth, it was investigative, or sceptic, because they were always investigating but never discovered anything, it was suspensive, or ephectic, because of what they experienced after their searches, that is to say, their suspension of judgment, and it was perplexing, or aporetic, because they brought both those who put forward doctrines and themselves to a state of perplexity. The term Pyrrhonian comes from the name Pyrrho but in his ‘Sceptical Chapters’, Theodosius, (160–90 BC), denies that it is appropriate to call scepticism ‘Pyrrhonian’ given that if what goes on in another person’s thought is ungraspable, then we will not know Pyrrho’s disposition, and, without knowing that, we could not be called ‘Pyrrhonian’. (Very good point).

‘No man has seen that which is clear, nor will there be anyone who knows it’, said Xenophanes, (c. 570 — c. 478 BC). Scepticism didn’t begin with Pyrrho. It has a long history. But to answer my own questions that I opened with, I know that a mushroom isn’t going to spontaneously sprout out of my laptop. Even if I have been smoking something and see a mushroom sprouting out of my laptop it is not a real mushroom. How do I know it is not going to happen? Immanuel Kant’s, (1724–1804), answer to my questions, outlined in ‘A Critique of Pure reason’, is transcendental idealism, the thesis, basically, that there are some things we can know to be true because the knowing mind makes them true. An interesting thought that took Kant to some strange places.

So let us go there.

‘Hallucinations’, Odilon Redon, (1840–1916)

The principal ideas forwarded in the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ are as follows:

1. To establish the possibility of metaphysics as a science, it must be shown that synthetic a priori truths are possible.

2. Synthetic a priori truths are universally and necessarily true (hence, a priori), but their necessity cannot be derived by analysis of the meanings of such truths (hence, they are synthetic).

3. The two sources of knowledge are sensibility and understanding.

4. Space and time are the a priori forms of sensibility (intuition), we are so constituted that we cannot perceive, anything at all except by casting it into the forms of space and time.

5. The a priori conditions of our understanding are called the categories of our understanding; the categories of quantity are unity, plurality, and totality; of quality: reality, negation, and limitation; of relation: substance and accident, cause and effect, and reciprocity between agent and patient; of modality: possibility and impossibility, existence — non-existence, and necessity, contingency.

6. The principles of science which serve as presuppositions are synthetic a priori; the possibility of such principles is based upon the use of a priori forms of intuition together with the categories of the understanding.

Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ is an established classic in the history of epistemology, first published in 1781 and then revised n 1787 it is the fruit of Kant’s later years and as such clearly reflects the insight and wisdom of a mature mind, a work in which the author attempted to conciliate two conflicting theories of knowledge current at his time-British empiricism as represented by John Locke, (1632–1704), Bishop Berkeley, (1685–1753), and David Hume, (1711–1776); and Continental rationalism as represented by René Descartes (1596–1650), Gottfried Leibniz, (1646–1716), and Christian Wolff, (1679–1754). The latter theory maintained that important truths about the natural and the supernatural world are knowable by pure reason alone, independently of perceptual experience, whereas the former held that perceptual experience is the source of all our legitimate concepts and truths of the world. Kant believed that both these doctrines were wrong, and he tried in the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ to correct the pretensions of each while saving what was sound in each, and we can best see to what extent Kant succeeded in this undertaking by reviewing the main arguments of this complex work.

Kant began his inquiry by asking why metaphysics had not kept pace with mathematics and natural science in the discovery of facts about our world. Celestial mechanics had been developed by Johannes Kepler,(1571–1630), at the beginning of the seventeenth century and terrestrial mechanics by Galileo Galilei, (1564–1642), later in the same century and the two theories were soon united into one by Isaac Newton, (1642–1727). These developments represented astonishing progress in natural science but Kant could detect no parallel progress in metaphysics, indeed, in metaphysics he saw only interminable squabbling with no apparent method for settling differences, and so he asked whether it is at all possible for metaphysics to be a science. Metaphysics can be a science, Kant reasoned, only if there exists a class of truths different in kind either from the straightforward synthetic truths of nature discoverable through sense-experience or from the straightforward analytic truths which owe their validity to the fact that the predicate term is contained in the subject term of such judgments, in other words, to the fact that they are true by virtue of the meanings of their terms, true by definition. This distinction is illustrated by the statements ‘Peaceful resistance is effective’ (synthetic) and ‘Peaceful resisters shun violence’ (analytic). This distinction had been recognized by Hume, who regarded it as exhausting the kinds of statements that can be true or false, but Kant believed that there are statements neither empirical nor analytic in character, synthetic a priori statements. These are statements which are true neither by definition nor because of facts discoverable through sense-experience, rather, they can be seen to be true independently of sense-experience, in this sense they are a priori and necessarily true since no sense experience can possibly confute them. Kant believed that all mathematical statements are of this sort, for example: ‘Seven plus five equals twelve’. He also believed that synthetic a priori truths constitute the framework of Newtonian science, but if such truths exist, Kant next asked himself, how are they possible?

‘Hällucinationen’, 1920, Heinrich Hoerle

They are possible, he said, if it can be shown that human knowledge is dependent upon certain concepts which are not empirical in origin but have their origin in human understanding. But even before he revealed the existence of such concepts he attempted to show in the first major division of the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, entitled the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’ that a priori considerations form the basis even of human perception or sensibility. This view was important to Kant, for in his proposed Copernican revolution in epistemology the two sources of knowledge are sensibility and understanding working in inseparable harness together. He had already written in the introduction to the Critique that all knowledge begins with experience, but it does not necessarily arise out of experience. What are these a priori foundations of sensibility? According to Kant they are space and time. He reasoned that all objects of perception are necessarily located in space and time. Such objects may vary over a period of time in colour, shape, size, and so on and still be perceptible objects, but they cannot be deprived of space and time and still remain perceptible. Even to establish ourselves as perceivers, and objects in our environment as objects of perception, requires the use of spatial and temporal terms; hence, the concepts of space and time. As percipients we regard perceived objects as separate from or distant from us; and we realize that our perceptions themselves, whether of external objects or of our own thoughts and feelings, succeed one another in time. We cannot represent them otherwise and still sensibly preserve the meaning of the terms ‘perceiver’ and ‘object of perception’. In this sense space and time deserve recognition as presuppositions of sense experience. All our empirical, descriptive characterizations of perceptible objects take for granted their fundamental nature as objects in space and time, and this is why Kant calls space and time forms of intuition in order to distinguish them from the contents of sense-experience. Certainly, portions of space and moments of time can be perceived, but such parts must always be understood as forming parts of an underlying continuum of space and time. British phenomenalists like Berkeley and Hume were not in agreement with this interpretation of space and time, but whether we can agree with Kant in the details of his argument, we probably can agree with him that the perception of anything presupposes the existence of space and time.

Believing that he had already exhibited the dependency of human knowledge upon conditions prior to immediate sense-experience, Kant next proceeded to a consideration of the a priori conditions of human understanding. As already noted, in Kant’s view, all knowledge is the product of human understanding applied to sense-experience . Does the understanding organize the contents of sense-experience according to its own rules-rules which must originate elsewhere than in sense-experience if their function is to categorize it? Such rules exist indeed, declared Kant, and he called them the categories of the understanding. He argued that there are twelve such categories and that they can be discovered and classified by careful scrutiny of the logical forms of the judgments we characteristically make about the world. For example, if we look at our categorical judgments we see that they contain a referring expression which we call the grammatical subject and a characterizing expression which we call the predicate. ln ‘Beethoven was a great composer’ the referring or subject term is of course ‘Beethoven’, and our characterizing or predicate term is ‘great composer’. Now a tremendous number of the factual claims we normally make are of this same basic form, Substance and predicated property, and for Kant, therefore, the concept of substance deserves the status of a category of knowledge. Under it are subsumed all the substance-words in our conceptual scheme of things, such as ‘table’, ‘tree’, ‘moon’, ‘nail’, and so on, which denote material objects in our environment. It is thus a family-like concept denoting all those objects which have substantiality in common, something which none of the individual terms in this category does.

Much the same point can be made about the concept of causality, to take another of Kant’s categories, which he derived from the form of hypothetical or conditional judgments, our ‘if . . . then’ judgments. ‘If water is heated under normal atmospheric conditions to 2I2"F, it will boil’ and ‘If one suppresses his guilt-feelings he will become neurotic’ are examples of hypothetical judgments which assert a causal connection between the states of affairs mentioned by the antecedent and consequent of such judgments. Such judgments also appear frequently in our factual reports on the world and suggest that the concept of causality is an important and fundamental concept in our way of recording experience. It is a concept embracing numerous words in our language, such as ‘create’, ‘produce’, ‘bring about’, ‘make’, and so forth, all of which are causal terms. By virtue of designing such a large family of terms the concept of causality must be regarded as one of the relatively few root concepts or categories at the basis of our conceptual scheme which give this scheme its flavour by influencing it throughout. The importance of causality is something which Kant clearly saw, even though it had been missed by the British phenomenalists. Many philosophers have disagreed with Kant over his number and selection of categories as well as his method of arriving at them, but they have not taken issue with him as to the existence of categories in our conceptual framework and their importance in any account of human knowledge. But many others have rejected Kant’s major contention that human knowledge is dependent upon such categories as substance and causality and so have sided with Hume, who, not finding anything answering to such categories in immediate sense-experience, proceeded to dismiss them as fictitious. Kant, of course, agreed with Hume that substance and causality are not to be found in sense-experience, but he insisted nevertheless that they are necessary ingredients in a world about which we can hope to have knowledge. The Kantian point is sometimes made by saying that unless one assumes that the general features referred by one’s judgments persist in time and are public entities independent of any particular percipient, there can be no confirmation judgments and consequently no knowledge at all. Kant saw this simple but essential point when he stated that the categories are necessary conditions for our having any knowledge whatsoever. He also saw that categories such as substance and causality are by no means arbitrary impositions upon sense-experience, as is sometimes implied by Hume and his followers, but are useful concepts since sense experience testifies to a great amount of orderliness in the world rather than to a befuddling chaos. It is the presence of order observable by all which vindicates the use of such ordering principles as substance and causality, they would have no utility whatever in a chaotic world.

It is chiefly as ordering principles that Kant viewed the categories. What they order or synthesize in his partly phenomenalistic theory of knowledge are the items of experience, u, shapes, sizes, sounds, tactile impressions, odours, and so on. But Kant believed that there is a problem in showing how such a priori principles can be applied to empirical data, and he thought that the answer to this problem is to be found in the mediatory power of time which, as previously noted, is an a priori ordering form which is a necessary condition of sense-experience. Kant proceeded to relate the categories to the concept of time, and it was this merger of the concepts of substance, causality, and time which paved the way to his discussion of the presuppositions of Newtonian science. Kant believed that there are three such presuppositions; namely, the principles of the conservation of matter, of universal causality, and of the universal interrelation of all things making up the natural world. In the Newtonian view of the universe recall all objects were considered to be made up of material particles governed in their behaviour by the universal laws of motion and attraction.

‘The Scream’, Edvard Munch, (1863–1944)

Such principles are not analytic truths, according to Kant, since their denials are not self-contradictory nor are they empirical generalizations since we know them to be necessarily true, and no empirical generalization is ever necessarily true. They must therefore be genuine synthetic a priori truths, and their possibility arises from the fact that they utilize a priori concepts whose use is indispensable to human knowledge and yet whose only sanctioned cognitive use is in relation to the objects of sense-experience in the manner dictated by the principles in question themselves. Kant’s argument in this respect is somewhat circular, though it has been defended as illuminating by thinkers who believe that any examination of basic principles must inevitably be circular in that they must be elucidated in terms of one another. But his argument has not been convincing to many others who, although granting that Kant isolated the main presuppositions of the scientific thinking of his day, do not concede that the presuppositions are synthetic a priori. Such critics argue that it is one thing to show that certain concepts are not empirical in origin and another to show that the judgments in which they figure are a priori. Concepts such as substance and causality may indeed underlie our factual discourse about the world and so be necessary and ineradicable concepts to intelligible and informative discourse, but it is not at all evident that the principles in which they occur, such as that the quantity of substance remains invariant throughout all physical transformations are necessarily true. Such principles may be fruitful guide-posts in scientific inquiry, yet not be true or false judgments at all, merely heuristic rules in the way that Kant himself was to regard certain metaphysical concepts.

Up to this point Kant’s concern was to explore the foundations of scientific knowledge and to disclose the dependency of such knowledge upon a handful of forms, concepts, and principles. In this exploration he clashed sometimes head-on, sometimes obliquely, with accounts of human knowledge provided by British empiricists, but his conclusions thus far were also brewing trouble and embarrassment for Continental rationalism as well. For what follows from showing that concepts such as causality and substance are presuppositions of empirical knowledge? It follows, Kant said, that their use independent of sense experience is illegitimate and can only result in conceptual difficulties and empty noise. Recall that Kant’s initial concern was to determine whether humans can fruitfully engage in metaphysical speculation. In his time such speculation chiefly revolved around such matters as the immortality of the soul, the origin and extent of the universe, and the existence and nature of God. Was a science of such matters really possible? In the third and concluding portion of his inquiry called the ‘Transcendental Dialectic’ (that dealing with the categories and principles he had termed the ‘Transcendental Analytic’), Kant’s answer to this pressing question was an unequivocally no.

Kant identified the main concepts of the above mentioned metaphysical issues as the psychological idea, or soul; the cosmological idea, or world; and the theological idea, or God; and he considered the author of such ideas to be human reason rather than human understanding or sensibility. But why is human reason unable to develop these ideas cogently and scientifically? Kant’s chief explanation for this debility was that nothing in sense-experience corresponds to the ideas of pure reason and thus there can be no control over their speculative use. Cartesians and Leibnizians, for example, argued that the soul was an immaterial, simple, therefore indestructible substance, but where is the empirical support for such claims? It does not exist, said Kant, and furthermore the reasoning leading up to such conclusions is wholly fallacious. These Cartesians and Leibnizians have treated the ‘I think’ or cogito, that is presupposed by all acts of knowing, as the logical subject of our judgments analogous to the way in which ‘Beethoven’ is the subject of the judgment ‘Beethoven became deaf in his later years’; further, Cartesians and Leibnizians have argued that just as ‘Beethoven’ designates a real person, so does the knowing subject of the cogito. Kant’s rebuttal to this argument consisted of saying that it is an analytic truth that acts of knowing presuppose a knower, but the existence of the knower is an empirical question which cannot be inferred from an analytic truth whose validity is founded upon the meaning of terms. The existence of the soul as well as its properties must remain an empirical question, and the concept of substance is properly applied only to the self that is the object of empirical psychology.

Kant next turned to metaphysical speculation about the universe at large. People have always asked themselves with respect to the universe whether it had a beginning in time or has always existed, whether it is finitely or infinitely extended in space, and whether it was created. Kant showed that no definitive answers are possible to such questions. Indeed, he argued that reasoning can establish with equal cogency alternative answers to such questions. His explanation for such a disconcerting and paradoxical state of affairs in metaphysics was that one cannot regard the universe as a substance or given entity in the way a desk, for example, can be so regarded. It is of course meaningful to ask when a certain desk was made, how it was made, and what its spatial boundaries are. Such questions can be settled empirically, for we can trace the history of the desk and have it before us to measure. But this investigation of the properties of the desk and the countless ones like it which we undertake in our daily lives occur within the framework of the universe, so that the questions that can significantly be raised about things within the universe cannot significantly or profitably be asked of the universe itself. If the categories of substance and causality have as their proper epistemic function the characterization of given and possible objects of perception, it is an improper use of such categories to apply them to what is neither a given nor even a possible object of perception such as the universe. Because it is not such an object, the universe cannot serve as a check or control upon our speculations about it; and it is this basic consideration again which explains reason’s incompetence in this area.

‘Hällucinationen’, 1920, Heinrich Hoerle

Can human reason do any better, then, in the area of theological speculation? Can it, in the absence of empirical evidence, produce convincing arguments for God’s existence, his benevolence, omniscience, and so forth? Kant surveyed the standard arguments or alleged proofs for the existence of God and concluded that none of them have any real force. He found that arguments which use the facts of existence, design, and causality in nature to support claims on behalf of divine existence not only make an unwarranted leap from the known to the unknown, but also fall back on the ontological argument for the existence of God as propounded successively by Saint Anselm, (1033/4–1109), Descartes, and Leibniz. This well-known and for some reason found to be captivating argument begins with the premise that God is the being greater than which nothing is conceivable, and with the help of a subordinate premise to the effect that existence in the real world is better than existence merely in idea proceeds to the conclusion that God must exist, for if he did not he would not then be the greatest conceivable entity. Kant’s rebuttal of the ontological argument consists of saying that all existential statements of the form ‘X exists’ are synthetic a posteriori and must be established on empirical grounds. If the major premise of the ontological argument is analytic, then existence is included in the definition of ‘God’ and one has in effect defined God into existence. But, Kant asked, can we by definition define anything into existence, or must we not look beyond our concept of something in order to determine whether it genuinely exists? Kant added that it is in any case a mistake to view existence as a predicate like any other, since in all statements in which referring expressions such as ‘God’ occur as subject terms. The existence of the denoted object(s) is not asserted by such statements but rather taken for granted in order to see what is attributed truly or falsely to the denoted object(s). But if existence is taken for granted in this way, then as far as the ontological argument is concerned one has assumed the very point in question and the argument is question-begging.

The results of Kant’s inquiry into classical metaphysics prompted him to reject the view that the leading concepts of such speculation have any constitutive place in human knowledge at all. Such concepts do not enter into the web-like structure of our knowledge of the world, as do the categories in his view, But Kant did not progress further to the Humean conclusion that metaphysical works containing these concepts should therefore be consigned to the flames. On the contrary he argued that although such concepts do not have a constitutive role in human knowledge, they nevertheless have a vital regulative function in the scientific quest, for they posit a systematic unity to the world and so stimulate scientists to look for connections in nature, even between such diverse elements, say, as falling apples and orbiting planets. It is pure reason with its concept of an ordering, purposeful, and wholly rational God, for example, which proposes for investigation the idea that the world created by God must be rationally constructed throughout and so reward experimental inquiry by men similarly endowed with reason. No other faculty of the mind was for Kant capable of such a stirring vision. In this remarkable conclusion to his inquiry into the contributing factors of human knowledge, Kant plainly conceded enormous importance to pure reason, although not that exactly which rationalists defended. He therefore no more appeased the rationalists than he did the British empiricists.

Many philosophers since Kant have appreciated his middle road between rationalism and empiricism, even if they have not been able to accept the details of this reasoning, and they have credited Kant with the rare ability to raise problems worthy of philosophical investigation. But other philosophers have not been impressed by Kant’s strictures against rationalism and empiricism, and they have borrowed from his meticulous genius (happily wedded to broad vision) what suits their purposes while ignoring what does not. Thus Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), for example, was stimulated by Kant to seize upon pure reason’s dialectical tendencies, so futile in Kant’s view, and erect upon such tendencies a complete picture of history and the world, quite often, it is alleged, at the expense of empirical facts. And latter-day phenomenalists such as John Stuart Mill, (1806–1873), and Bertrand Russell, (1872–1970), have persisted in the search for the foundations of human knowledge among sense-data (more lately in conjunction with formal logic), which in all their fleeting transiency are so much unlike Kant’s enduring and causally ordered substances. But most philosophical critics assent to the rich stimulation of Kant’s ever surprising fertile mind and rank him among the great philosophers of all time (but not by me).

‘Meine Augen zur Zeit der Erscheinungen’, ‘My Eyes at the Moment of the Apparitions’, 1911/13, August Natterer

When I was an undergraduate studying Kant I drew heavily on A. C. Ewing’s, (1899–1973), short commentary on the Critique, reasonably enough for an undergraduate though anyone wanting to take a great philosopher seriously they need to get it straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak rather than relying on what lesser minds thought they were saying. In his Preface, A. C. Ewing acknowledges his indebtedness to Norman Kemp Smith, (1872–1958), for his commentary, and to H. J. Paton, (1887–1969), for his work on Kant’s metaphysic of experience, but he notes that their influence ‘often operates in reverse directions’. Paton’s commentary changed many of Ewing’s ideas that were influenced by Kemp Smith’s commentary, but Ewing admits that he was strongly influenced by both. Ewing’s ‘Introduction’ points out that Immanuel Kant wrote the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ as a preliminary investigation of the human faculties of knowledge to prepare the way for the intellect’s most important task, that of constructing a satisfactory metaphysics; but Kant realized, when his work was completed, that there was no room for any further metaphysics: the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ had done it all. Although originally profoundly influenced by Leibniz’s views, Kant was led by accounts of David Hume’s ‘Treatise of Human Nature’ to deny the possibility of a priori knowledge of the real world. He designed the Critique to answer two fundamental questions, according to Ewing. First, how can the a priori categories be applied to appearances in advance of experience, and second, is there any justification for applying the a priori categories to reality? Ewing argues that despite verbal inconsistencies in Kant’s work (composed over an eleven-year period), it is possible to put together a consistent doctrine, and it is reasonable to assume that had the work been purged of its contradictions it would have been so unified.

According to Ewing, the Critique has two main aims, first, to provide science with a philosophical basis in the a priori, and second, to provide faith with adequate grounds even though such grounds fell short of knowledge. The latter aim, if achieved, was to prepare the way for the ethical arguments of the ‘Critique of Practical Reason’, and Kant hoped that in solving the problem of freedom, by showing freedom to be compatible with causality, he would make sense of ethics. Kant realized that although it can be shown that the categories apply to objects of experience and that the a priori rests on that possibility, the categories could not be referred to in the attempt to prove propositions having to do with God, freedom, and immortality, for the categories did not apply to matters falling outside the realm of experience. Ewing compares Kant’s effort in ‘critical’ philosophy to that which would be made by investigators who compared objects they saw clearly with objects they saw dimly and then made generalizations about the two kinds of objects so seen, and explained by reference to a theory of vision why the one kind was seen clearly and the other dimly. The author warns the reader that his work is intended to be a commentary to be read in conjunction with Kant’s work and not as a self-contained essay on the Critique. It falls between the more detailed and extensive commentaries of Edward Caird, (1835–1908), Kemp Smith, and Paton on the one hand, and the brief accounts given by Robert Adamson, (1852–1902), and A. D. Lindsay, (1879–1952),on the other. He also comments that his work is one of exegesis, not criticism, although occasionally, for the sake of clarity, some criticism is advanced.

Ewing describes Kant’s claim to completeness and certainty (in the Preface to the first edition) ‘audacious’ and he points out that even a great philosopher may commit errors (and hence can hardly lay claim to certainty) and that there is always something more to be said about any important subject. Among the most useful comments made in Ewing’s introduction is that having to do with the term Anschauung, usually translated ‘intuition’. Ewing indicates that the sense of the term in Kant is different from the sense of the term ‘intuition’ in English (an a priori insight not based on conscious reasoning). In Kant the term Anschauurng means, Ewing suggests, ‘awareness of individual entities’ (as by looking at something). But Ewing rejects the use of the word ‘perception’ in translation since it is at least possible that there are beings other than human beings that are aware of individual entities without having to perceive them. Ewing’s discussion of the question as to whether there are synthetic a priori judgments (propositions) is also interesting and useful. Many philosophers confuse two possible meanings of the term ‘analytic proposition’, according to Ewing: some think that an analytic proposition is that which yields no new knowledge, while others suppose it is a proposition that becomes self-contradictory when denied. Ewing claims that the proposition that a judgment which is analytic in the second sense must be analytic in the first sense is itself a synthetic judgment, hence, the effort to deny synthetic a priori propositions yields a synthetic a priori proposition. The distinction between ‘transcendent’ and ‘transcendental’ is also important, Ewing points out. The term ‘transcendent’ refers to what is not a possible object of knowledge, while the term ‘transcendental’ refers to the necessary conditions of experience. Hence, transcendental knowledge is possible, according to Kant, in that by reference to the conditions of knowledge one understands how synthetic a priori propositions are possible as applying to the ‘appearances’ or objects of experience. Ewing’s commentary is careful and thorough, and he is particularly careful to point out differences between what terms in translation ordinarily mean and what they mean in the context of Kant’s thought. He is also determined to show the development of Kant’s thought even in cases, and perhaps especially in cases, in which the development or transition is not clear in the Critique. In his commentary Ewing discusses ‘The Transcendental Aesthetic’ (which has to do with perception, not beauty), ‘The Transcendental Deduction of the Categories’, ‘The Individual Categories and Their Proofs’, ‘Kant’s Attitude to Material Idealism. The Thing-in-Itself’, ‘The Paralogisms and the Antinomies’, and ‘Theology and the Ideas of Reason’.

‘Antichrist’, 1917, August Natterer

In his work on Kant’s Critique, T. D. Weldon, (1896–1958), disclaims any intention of writing another commentary; he cites H. J. Paton and Herman Jean de Vleeschauwer, (1899–1986), as having provided substantial and authoritative commentaries. Weldon’s intention is to discuss the Critique as an account of Critical Philosophy, and he maintains that such an account must make clear the context in which Kant’s book was written (as influenced by Descartes, Leibniz, and Newton, not Albert Einstein, (1879–1955), Werner Heisenberg, (1901–1976), and Erwin Schrodinger, (1887–1961). Weldon’s book begins with a discussion of the European influences (Descartes, Leibniz, John Locke, and David Hume) and the local influences (Christian von Wolff, A. G. Baumgarten, (1714–1762), and G. F. Meier, (1718–1777)), on Kant. The problem for the Europeans, Weldon suggests, was that of reconciling the new experimental methods of science (including the use of mathematics) with metaphysics and theology. Many of the problems were of the sort we now call linguistic, Weldon claims, but he warns that it is an over-simplification to presume that the linguistic approach does justice to the issues. (One notes, however, that in his conclusion to the book Weldon claims that Kant’s distinction between things-in-themselves and phenomena was ‘not a distinction between two types of entity but a distinction between two alternative ways of talking about the world’.) Weldon then comments on Kant’s early works from the ‘Correct Method of Calculating the Active Force of Bodies’ (1747) through ‘Dreams of a Spirit-Seer’, (1766, an examination of issues raised by the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg, 1688–1772) to the ‘Dissertation; of l77O. (‘De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis’, (‘On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible Worlds’).) Weldon points out that although in the ‘Dissertation’Kant argued that things qua sensuous are apprehended through sensibility, he was inclined to think that through pure reason one could know independently existing real objects qua intelligible. The transition to the viewpoint of the Critical Philosophy was perhaps incited by Hume’s work, Weldon suggests. Weldon goes on to summarize and discusses in detail the argument of the Critique, including the Prefaces, the Aesthetic, the Analytic, and the Dialectic. Weldon describes Kant as a ‘logician rather than an epistemologist’ in the formulation and answering of the fundamental question about the limits of knowledge and the consequences of limitation to beliefs in God, freedom, an immortality. Although Kant argued that only phenomena can be known, and that they are known a priori: ‘objects must conform to our knowledge’, the distinction between things as they appear and as they are ‘in themselves’ made it possible to argue that belief in God and immortality, and hence the belief in freedom, was compatible with the limitation of knowledge to the phenomena.

The aim of the Aesthetic is described by Weldon as that of demonstrating that the axioms of arithmetic and geometry are applicable to phenomena; the aim of the Analytic is to do the same for physics. (The solution, of course, was to refer to the forms of space and time as imposed on what is given in experience, and to the concepts of the understanding as making possible the derivation of tt e axioms of physics. ) . The purpose of the Dialectic, Weldon writes, was to account for the transcendent ideas of God, freedom, and immortality, and to explain how metaphysics can yield knowledge. Just as the Aesthetic developed the ‘transcenden:al implications of sensibility’, and the Analytic the transcendental implications of the understanding’s use of concepts, so the Dialectic develops the transcendental implications of reason’s capacity for inference. In his discussion of inner sense and transcendental synthesis Weldon examines Kant’s assumption of an ‘inner sense’ and his unanalyzed assumptions about modes of perception. Weldon contends that if Kant had concentrated on the function of models such as the Newtonian model of physical reality, instead of on the origin of such models (in the ‘transcendental imagination’) he would have come closer to what modem scientific theory concentrates on and would thus have avoided many of the problems occasioned by adopting a deficient or unclear empirical psychology.

Weldon contends that Kant’s achievement was that of making clear what happens in the course of scientific thinking and in emphasizing (although, Weldon says, he did not realize that he was doing so) ways of talking about the world. His work provides a foundation for the philosophical analysis of scientific method. Insofar as Kant falls short, Weldon states, he did so because he was handicapped by the limitations of Newtonian physics, Aristotelian logic, and the empirical psychology of Locke, Hume, and J. N. Tetens, (1736–1807).

‘As a Man Thinketh’

by James Allen, (1864–1912)

Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,

And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes

The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,

Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:-

He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:

Environment is but his looking-glass.

Coming up next:

Hegel’s response to Kant.

‘Der Baum der Sehnsucht’, (‘The Tree of Longing’), 1920, Heinrich Hoerle



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David Proud

David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.