Immanuel Kant – The Critique of Pure Reason; Part 18


You pyonged “Immanuel Kant – The Critique of Pur...”

Save Note No Thanks
Caution: You are now annotating this song as



There exists either in, or in connection with the world--either as a
Part of it, or as the cause of it--an absolutely necessary being


The world of sense, as the sum total of all phenomena, contains a series
Of changes. For, without such a series, the mental representation of
The series of time itself, as the condition of the possibility of the
Sensuous world, could not be presented to us.* But every change stands
Under its condition, which precedes it in time and renders it necessary
Now the existence of a given condition presupposes a complete series of
Conditions up to the absolutely unconditioned, which alone is absolutely
Necessary. It follows that something that is absolutely necessary must
Exist, if change exists as its consequence. But this necessary thing
Itself belongs to the sensuous world. For suppose it to exist out of and
Apart from it, the series of cosmical changes would receive from it a
Beginning, and yet this necessary cause would not itself belong to
The world of sense. But this is impossible. For, as the beginning of a
Series in time is determined only by that which precedes it in time, the
Supreme condition of the beginning of a series of changes must exist
In the time in which this series itself did not exist; for a beginning
Supposes a time preceding, in which the thing that begins to be was
Not in existence. The causality of the necessary cause of changes
And consequently the cause itself, must for these reasons belong
To time--and to phenomena, time being possible only as the form of
Phenomena. Consequently, it cannot be cogitated as separated from the
World of sense--the sum total of all phenomena. There is, therefore
Contained in the world, something that is absolutely necessary--whether
It be the whole cosmical series itself, or only a part of it


An absolutely necessary being does not exist, either in the world, or
Out of it--as its cause


Grant that either the world itself is necessary, or that there is
Contained in it a necessary existence. Two cases are possible. First
There must either be in the series of cosmical changes a beginning
Which is unconditionally necessary, and therefore uncaused--which is at
Variance with the dynamical law of the determination of all phenomena
In time; or, secondly, the series itself is without beginning, and
Although contingent and conditioned in all its parts, is nevertheless
Absolutely necessary and unconditioned as a whole--which is
Self-contradictory. For the existence of an aggregate cannot be
Necessary, if no single part of it possesses necessary existence

Grant, on the other band, that an absolutely necessary cause exists out
Of and apart from the world. This cause, as the highest member in the
Series of the causes of cosmical changes, must originate or begin* the
Existence of the latter and their series. In this case it must also
Begin to act, and its causality would therefore belong to time, and
Consequently to the sum total of phenomena, that is, to the world
It follows that the cause cannot be out of the world; which is
Contradictory to the hypothesis. Therefore, neither in the world, nor
Out of it (but in causal connection with it), does there exist any
Absolutely necessary being



To demonstrate the existence of a necessary being, I cannot be permitted
In this place to employ any other than the cosmological argument
Which ascends from the conditioned in phenomena to the unconditioned in
Conception--the unconditioned being considered the necessary condition
Of the absolute totality of the series. The proof, from the mere idea
Of a supreme being, belongs to another principle of reason and requires
Separate discussion

The pure cosmological proof demonstrates the existence of a necessary
Being, but at the same time leaves it quite unsettled, whether this
Being is the world itself, or quite distinct from it. To establish
The truth of the latter view, principles are requisite, which are not
Cosmological and do not proceed in the series of phenomena. We
Should require to introduce into our proof conceptions of contingent
Beings--regarded merely as objects of the understanding, and also
A principle which enables us to connect these, by means of mere
Conceptions, with a necessary being. But the proper place for all such
Arguments is a transcendent philosophy, which has unhappily not yet been

But, if we begin our proof cosmologically, by laying at the foundation
Of it the series of phenomena, and the regress in it according to
Empirical laws of causality, we are not at liberty to break off from
This mode of demonstration and to pass over to something which is not
Itself a member of the series. The condition must be taken in exactly
The same signification as the relation of the conditioned to its
Condition in the series has been taken, for the series must conduct us
In an unbroken regress to this supreme condition. But if this relation
Is sensuous, and belongs to the possible empirical employment of
Understanding, the supreme condition or cause must close the regressive
Series according to the laws of sensibility and consequently, must
Belong to the series of time. It follows that this necessary existence
Must be regarded as the highest member of the cosmical series

Certain philosophers have, nevertheless, allowed themselves the liberty
Of making such a saltus (metabasis eis allo gonos). From the changes
In the world they have concluded their empirical contingency, that
Is, their dependence on empirically-determined causes, and they thus
Admitted an ascending series of empirical conditions: and in this they
Are quite right. But as they could not find in this series any primal
Beginning or any highest member, they passed suddenly from the empirical
Conception of contingency to the pure category, which presents us with
A series--not sensuous, but intellectual--whose completeness does
Certainly rest upon the existence of an absolutely necessary cause. Nay
More, this intellectual series is not tied to any sensuous conditions;
And is therefore free from the condition of time, which requires it
Spontaneously to begin its causality in time. But such a procedure is
Perfectly inadmissible, as will be made plain from what follows

In the pure sense of the categories, that is contingent the
Contradictory opposite of which is possible. Now we cannot reason from
Empirical contingency to intellectual. The opposite of that which is
Changed--the opposite of its state--is actual at another time, and is
Therefore possible. Consequently, it is not the contradictory opposite
Of the former state. To be that, it is necessary that, in the same time
In which the preceding state existed, its opposite could have existed in
Its place; but such a cognition is not given us in the mere phenomenon
Of change. A body that was in motion = A, comes into a state of rest =
Non-A. Now it cannot be concluded from the fact that a state opposite
To the state A follows it, that the contradictory opposite of A is
Possible; and that A is therefore contingent. To prove this, we should
Require to know that the state of rest could have existed in the very
Same time in which the motion took place. Now we know nothing more than
That the state of rest was actual in the time that followed the state of
Motion; consequently, that it was also possible. But motion at one time
And rest at another time, are not contradictorily opposed to each other
It follows from what has been said that the succession of opposite
Determinations, that is, change, does not demonstrate the fact of
Contingency as represented in the conceptions of the pure understanding;
And that it cannot, therefore, conduct us to the fact of the existence
Of a necessary being. Change proves merely empirical contingency, that
Is to say, that the new state could not have existed without a cause
Which belongs to the preceding time. This cause--even although it is
Regarded as absolutely necessary--must be presented to us in time, and
Must belong to the series of phenomena


The difficulties which meet us, in our attempt to rise through the
Series of phenomena to the existence of an absolutely necessary supreme
Cause, must not originate from our inability to establish the truth of
Our mere conceptions of the necessary existence of a thing. That is to
Say, our objections not be ontological, but must be directed against
The causal connection with a series of phenomena of a condition which is
Itself unconditioned. In one word, they must be cosmological and relate
To empirical laws. We must show that the regress in the series of
Causes (in the world of sense) cannot conclude with an empirically
Unconditioned condition, and that the cosmological argument from the
Contingency of the cosmical state--a contingency alleged to arise from
Change--does not justify us in accepting a first cause, that is, a prime
Originator of the cosmical series

The reader will observe in this antinomy a very remarkable contrast. The
Very same grounds of proof which established in the thesis the existence
Of a supreme being, demonstrated in the antithesis--and with equal
Strictness--the non-existence of such a being. We found, first, that a
Necessary being exists, because the whole time past contains the series
Of all conditions, and with it, therefore, the unconditioned (the
Necessary); secondly, that there does not exist any necessary being
For the same reason, that the whole time past contains the series of
All conditions--which are themselves, therefore, in the aggregate
Conditioned. The cause of this seeming incongruity is as follows. We
Attend, in the first argument, solely to the absolute totality of the
Series of conditions, the one of which determines the other in time, and
Thus arrive at a necessary unconditioned. In the second, we consider
On the contrary, the contingency of everything that is determined in
The series of time--for every event is preceded by a time, in which the
Condition itself must be determined as conditioned--and thus everything
That is unconditioned or absolutely necessary disappears. In both, the
Mode of proof is quite in accordance with the common procedure of human
Reason, which often falls into discord with itself, from considering an
Object from two different points of view. Herr von Mairan regarded
The controversy between two celebrated astronomers, which arose from
A similar difficulty as to the choice of a proper standpoint, as a
Phenomenon of sufficient importance to warrant a separate treatise
On the subject. The one concluded: the moon revolves on its own axis
Because it constantly presents the same side to the earth; the other
Declared that the moon does not revolve on its own axis, for the same
Reason. Both conclusions were perfectly correct, according to the point
Of view from which the motions of the moon were considered

SECTION III. Of the Interest of Reason in these Self-contradictions

We have thus completely before us the dialectical procedure of the
Cosmological ideas. No possible experience can present us with an object
Adequate to them in extent. Nay, more, reason itself cannot cogitate
Them as according with the general laws of experience. And yet they
Are not arbitrary fictions of thought. On the contrary, reason, in
Its uninterrupted progress in the empirical synthesis, is necessarily
Conducted to them, when it endeavours to free from all conditions and
To comprehend in its unconditioned totality that which can only be
Determined conditionally in accordance with the laws of experience
These dialectical propositions are so many attempts to solve four
Natural and unavoidable problems of reason. There are neither more, nor
Can there be less, than this number, because there are no other series
Of synthetical hypotheses, limiting a priori the empirical synthesis

The brilliant claims of reason striving to extend its dominion beyond
The limits of experience, have been represented above only in dry
Formulae, which contain merely the grounds of its pretensions. They
Have, besides, in conformity with the character of a transcendental
Philosophy, been freed from every empirical element; although the full
Splendour of the promises they hold out, and the anticipations they
Excite, manifests itself only when in connection with empirical
Cognitions. In the application of them, however, and in the advancing
Enlargement of the employment of reason, while struggling to rise from
The region of experience and to soar to those sublime ideas, philosophy
Discovers a value and a dignity, which, if it could but make good its
Assertions, would raise it far above all other departments of human
Knowledge--professing, as it does, to present a sure foundation for our
Highest hopes and the ultimate aims of all the exertions of reason
The questions: whether the world has a beginning and a limit to its
Extension in space; whether there exists anywhere, or perhaps, in my
Own thinking Self, an indivisible and indestructible unity--or whether
Nothing but what is divisible and transitory exists; whether I am a free
Agent, or, like other beings, am bound in the chains of nature and fate;
Whether, finally, there is a supreme cause of the world, or all our
Thought and speculation must end with nature and the order of external
Things--are questions for the solution of which the mathematician would
Willingly exchange his whole science; for in it there is no satisfaction
For the highest aspirations and most ardent desires of humanity. Nay, it
May even be said that the true value of mathematics--that pride of human
Reason--consists in this: that she guides reason to the knowledge of
Nature--in her greater as well as in her less manifestations--in her
Beautiful order and regularity--guides her, moreover, to an insight into
The wonderful unity of the moving forces in the operations of nature
Far beyond the expectations of a philosophy building only on experience;
And that she thus encourages philosophy to extend the province of reason
Beyond all experience, and at the same time provides it with the most
Excellent materials for supporting its investigations, in so far as
Their nature admits, by adequate and accordant intuitions

Unfortunately for speculation--but perhaps fortunately for the
Practical interests of humanity--reason, in the midst of her highest
Anticipations, finds herself hemmed in by a press of opposite and
Contradictory conclusions, from which neither her honour nor her safety
Will permit her to draw back. Nor can she regard these conflicting
Trains of reasoning with indifference as mere passages at arms, still
Less can she command peace; for in the subject of the conflict she has a
Deep interest. There is no other course left open to her than to reflect
With herself upon the origin of this disunion in reason--whether it may
Not arise from a mere misunderstanding. After such an inquiry, arrogant
Claims would have to be given up on both sides; but the sovereignty
Of reason over understanding and sense would be based upon a sure

We shall at present defer this radical inquiry and, in the meantime
Consider for a little what side in the controversy we should most
Willingly take, if we were obliged to become partisans at all. As, in
This case, we leave out of sight altogether the logical criterion of
Truth, and merely consult our own interest in reference to the question
These considerations, although inadequate to settle the question of
Right in either party, will enable us to comprehend how those who have
Taken part in the struggle, adopt the one view rather than the other--no
Special insight into the subject, however, having influenced their
Choice. They will, at the same time, explain to us many other things
By the way--for example, the fiery zeal on the one side and the cold
Maintenance of their cause on the other; why the one party has met with
The warmest approbations, and the other has always been repulsed by
Irreconcilable prejudices

There is one thing, however, that determines the proper point of view
From which alone this preliminary inquiry can be instituted and carried
On with the proper completeness--and that is the comparison of the
Principles from which both sides, thesis and antithesis, proceed. My
Readers would remark in the propositions of the antithesis a complete
Uniformity in the mode of thought and a perfect unity of principle. Its
Principle was that of pure empiricism, not only in the explication
Of the phenomena in the world, but also in the solution of the
Transcendental ideas, even of that of the universe itself. The
Affirmations of the thesis, on the contrary, were based, in addition to
The empirical mode of explanation employed in the series of phenomena
On intellectual propositions; and its principles were in so far
Not simple. I shall term the thesis, in view of its essential
Characteristic, the dogmatism of pure reason

On the side of Dogmatism, or of the thesis, therefore, in the
Determination of the cosmological ideas, we find:

1. A practical interest, which must be very dear to every right-thinking
Man. That the word has a beginning--that the nature of my thinking self
Is simple, and therefore indestructible--that I am a free agent, and
Raised above the compulsion of nature and her laws--and, finally, that
The entire order of things, which form the world, is dependent upon a
Supreme Being, from whom the whole receives unity and connection--these
Are so many foundation-stones of morality and religion. The antithesis
Deprives us of all these supports--or, at least, seems so to deprive us

2. A speculative interest of reason manifests itself on this side. For
If we take the transcendental ideas and employ them in the manner which
The thesis directs, we can exhibit completely a priori the entire
Chain of conditions, and understand the derivation of the
Conditioned--beginning from the unconditioned. This the antithesis does
Not do; and for this reason does not meet with so welcome a reception
For it can give no answer to our question respecting the conditions of
Its synthesis--except such as must be supplemented by another question
And so on to infinity. According to it, we must rise from a given
Beginning to one still higher; every part conducts us to a still smaller
One; every event is preceded by another event which is its cause; and
The conditions of existence rest always upon other and still higher
Conditions, and find neither end nor basis in some self-subsistent thing
As the primal being

3. This side has also the advantage of popularity; and this constitutes
No small part of its claim to favour. The common understanding does not
Find the least difficulty in the idea of the unconditioned beginning of
All synthesis--accustomed, as it is, rather to follow our consequences
Than to seek for a proper basis for cognition. In the conception of an
Absolute first, moreover--the possibility of which it does not inquire
Into--it is highly gratified to find a firmly-established point
Of departure for its attempts at theory; while in the restless and
Continuous ascent from the conditioned to the condition, always with one
Foot in the air, it can find no satisfaction

On the side of the antithesis, or Empiricism, in the determination of
The cosmological ideas:

1. We cannot discover any such practical interest arising from pure
Principles of reason as morality and religion present. On the contrary
Pure empiricism seems to empty them of all their power and influence
If there does not exist a Supreme Being distinct from the world--if the
World is without beginning, consequently without a Creator--if our wills
Are not free, and the soul is divisible and subject to corruption just
Like matter--the ideas and principles of morality lose all validity and
Fall with the transcendental ideas which constituted their theoretical

2. But empiricism, in compensation, holds out to reason, in its
Speculative interests, certain important advantages, far exceeding any
That the dogmatist can promise us. For, when employed by the empiricist
Understanding is always upon its proper ground of investigation--the
Field of possible experience, the laws of which it can explore, and thus
Extend its cognition securely and with clear intelligence without being
Stopped by limits in any direction. Here can it and ought it to find and
Present to intuition its proper object--not only in itself, but in all
Its relations; or, if it employ conceptions, upon this ground it can
Always present the corresponding images in clear and unmistakable
Intuitions. It is quite unnecessary for it to renounce the guidance of
Nature, to attach itself to ideas, the objects of which it cannot know;
Because, as mere intellectual entities, they cannot be presented in
Any intuition. On the contrary, it is not even permitted to abandon
Its proper occupation, under the pretence that it has been brought to
A conclusion (for it never can be), and to pass into the region of
Idealizing reason and transcendent conceptions, which it is not required
To observe and explore the laws of nature, but merely to think and to
Imagine--secure from being contradicted by facts, because they have not
Been called as witnesses, but passed by, or perhaps subordinated to the
So-called higher interests and considerations of pure reason

Hence the empiricist will never allow himself to accept any epoch of
Nature for the first--the absolutely primal state; he will not believe
That there can be limits to his outlook into her wide domains, nor pass
From the objects of nature, which he can satisfactorily explain by
Means of observation and mathematical thought--which he can determine
Synthetically in intuition, to those which neither sense nor imagination
Can ever present in concreto; he will not concede the existence of a
Faculty in nature, operating independently of the laws of nature--a
Concession which would introduce uncertainty into the procedure of the
Understanding, which is guided by necessary laws to the observation of
Phenomena; nor, finally, will he permit himself to seek a cause beyond
Nature, inasmuch as we know nothing but it, and from it alone receive an
Objective basis for all our conceptions and instruction in the unvarying
Laws of things

In truth, if the empirical philosopher had no other purpose in the
Establishment of his antithesis than to check the presumption of a
Reason which mistakes its true destination, which boasts of its insight
And its knowledge, just where all insight and knowledge cease to
Exist, and regards that which is valid only in relation to a practical
Interest, as an advancement of the speculative interests of the mind
(in order, when it is convenient for itself, to break the thread of our
Physical investigations, and, under pretence of extending our cognition
Connect them with transcendental ideas, by means of which we really know
Only that we know nothing)--if, I say, the empiricist rested satisfied
With this benefit, the principle advanced by him would be a maxim
Recommending moderation in the pretensions of reason and modesty in its
Affirmations, and at the same time would direct us to the right mode
Of extending the province of the understanding, by the help of the only
True teacher, experience. In obedience to this advice, intellectual
Hypotheses and faith would not be called in aid of our practical
Interests; nor should we introduce them under the pompous titles of
Science and insight. For speculative cognition cannot find an objective
Basis any other where than in experience; and, when we overstep its
Limits our synthesis, which requires ever new cognitions independent of
Experience, has no substratum of intuition upon which to build

But if--as often happens--empiricism, in relation to ideas, becomes
Itself dogmatic and boldly denies that which is above the sphere of its
Phenomenal cognition, it falls itself into the error of intemperance--an
Error which is here all the more reprehensible, as thereby the practical
Interest of reason receives an irreparable injury

And this constitutes the opposition between Epicureanism and Platonism

Both Epicurus and Plato assert more in their systems than they know. The
Former encourages and advances science--although to the prejudice of
The practical; the latter presents us with excellent principles for the
Investigation of the practical, but, in relation to everything regarding
Which we can attain to speculative cognition, permits reason to append
Idealistic explanations of natural phenomena, to the great injury of
Physical investigation

3. In regard to the third motive for the preliminary choice of a party
In this war of assertions, it seems very extraordinary that empiricism
Should be utterly unpopular. We should be inclined to believe that the
Common understanding would receive it with pleasure--promising as it
Does to satisfy it without passing the bounds of experience and its
Connected order; while transcendental dogmatism obliges it to rise to
Conceptions which far surpass the intelligence and ability of the most
Practised thinkers. But in this, in truth, is to be found its real
Motive. For the common understanding thus finds itself in a situation
Where not even the most learned can have the advantage of it. If it
Understands little or nothing about these transcendental conceptions, no
One can boast of understanding any more; and although it may not express
Itself in so scholastically correct a manner as others, it can busy
Itself with reasoning and arguments without end, wandering among mere
Ideas, about which one can always be very eloquent, because we know
Nothing about them; while, in the observation and investigation of
Nature, it would be forced to remain dumb and to confess its utter
Ignorance. Thus indolence and vanity form of themselves strong
Recommendations of these principles. Besides, although it is a hard
Thing for a philosopher to assume a principle, of which he can give to
Himself no reasonable account, and still more to employ conceptions, the
Objective reality of which cannot be established, nothing is more usual
With the common understanding. It wants something which will allow it
To go to work with confidence. The difficulty of even comprehending
A supposition does not disquiet it, because--not knowing what
Comprehending means--it never even thinks of the supposition it may be
Adopting as a principle; and regards as known that with which it
Has become familiar from constant use. And, at last, all speculative
Interests disappear before the practical interests which it holds dear;
And it fancies that it understands and knows what its necessities
And hopes incite it to assume or to believe. Thus the empiricism of
Transcendentally idealizing reason is robbed of all popularity; and
However prejudicial it may be to the highest practical principles, there
Is no fear that it will ever pass the limits of the schools, or acquire
Any favour or influence in society or with the multitude

Human reason is by nature architectonic. That is to say, it regards all
Cognitions as parts of a possible system, and hence accepts only such
Principles as at least do not incapacitate a cognition to which we may
Have attained from being placed along with others in a general system
But the propositions of the antithesis are of a character which renders
The completion of an edifice of cognitions impossible. According to
These, beyond one state or epoch of the world there is always to be
Found one more ancient; in every part always other parts themselves
Divisible; preceding every event another, the origin of which
Must itself be sought still higher; and everything in existence is
Conditioned, and still not dependent on an unconditioned and primal
Existence. As, therefore, the antithesis will not concede the existence
Of a first beginning which might be available as a foundation, a
Complete edifice of cognition, in the presence of such hypothesis, is
Utterly impossible. Thus the architectonic interest of reason, which
Requires a unity--not empirical, but a priori and rational--forms a
Natural recommendation for the assertions of the thesis in our antinomy

But if any one could free himself entirely from all considerations
Of interest, and weigh without partiality the assertions of reason
Attending only to their content, irrespective of the consequences which
Follow from them; such a person, on the supposition that he knew no
Other way out of the confusion than to settle the truth of one or
Other of the conflicting doctrines, would live in a state of continual
Hesitation. Today, he would feel convinced that the human will is free;
To-morrow, considering the indissoluble chain of nature, he would look
On freedom as a mere illusion and declare nature to be all-in-all. But
If he were called to action, the play of the merely speculative reason
Would disappear like the shapes of a dream, and practical interest would
Dictate his choice of principles. But, as it well befits a reflective
And inquiring being to devote certain periods of time to the examination
Of its own reason--to divest itself of all partiality, and frankly to
Communicate its observations for the judgement and opinion of others; so
No one can be blamed for, much less prevented from, placing both
Parties on their trial, with permission to end themselves, free
From intimidation, before intimidation, before a sworn jury of equal
Condition with themselves--the condition of weak and fallible men

Edit news description to add:

  • Historical context: how the event or text affects the world and history
  • An explanation of the work's overall story (example: "Here, President Obama confirms the legality of drone strikes...")
  • The work's impact on current issues
This text has been changed by someone else. Copy your work to your clipboard and click here to reload.