Front Page Titles (by Subject) NOTE ON THE AMPHIBOLY OF REFLECTIVE CONCEPTS - Critique of Pure Reason
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
NOTE ON THE AMPHIBOLY OF REFLECTIVE CONCEPTS - Friedrich Max Müller, Critique of Pure Reason 
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In Commemoration of the Centenary of its First Publication. Translated into English by F. Max Mueller (2nd revised ed.) (New York: Macmillan, 1922).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
NOTE ON THE AMPHIBOLY OF REFLECTIVE CONCEPTS
I beg to be allowed to call the place which we assign to a concept, either in sensibility or in the pure understanding, its transcendental place. If so, then the determination of this position which belongs to every concept, according to the difference of its use, and the directions for determining according to rules that place for all concepts, would be called transcendental topic; a doctrine which would thoroughly protect us against the subreptitious claims of the pure understanding and the errors arising from it, by always distinguishing to what faculty of knowledge each concept truly belongs. Every concept, or every title to which many kinds of knowledge belong, may be called a logical place. Upon this is based the logical topic of Aristotle, of which orators and schoolmasters avail themselves in order to find under certain titles of thought [p. 269] what would best suit the matter they have in hand, and thus to be able, with a certain appearance of thoroughness, to argue and wrangle to any extent.
Transcendental topic, on the contrary, contains no more than the above-mentioned four titles of all comparison and distinction, which differ from the categories because they do not serve to represent the object according to what constitutes its concept (quantity, reality, etc.), but only the comparison of representations, in all its variety, which precedes the concept of things. This comparison, however, requires first a reflection, that is, a determination of the place to which the representations of things which are to be compared belong, namely, whether they are thought by the pure understanding or given as phenomena by sensibility.
Concepts may be logically compared without our asking any questions as to what place their objects belong, whether as noumena to the understanding, or to sensibility as phenomena. But if with these concepts we wish to proceed to the objects themselves, a transcendental reflection is necessary first of all, in order to determine whether they are meant to be objects for the pure understanding or for sensibility. Without this reflection our use of these concepts would be very uncertain, and [p. 270] synthetical propositions would spring up which critical reason cannot acknowledge, and which are simply founded on transcendental amphiboly, that is, on our confounding an object of the pure understanding with a phenomenon.
For want of such a transcendental topic, and deceived by the amphiboly of reflective concepts, the celebrated Leibniz erected an intellectual system of the world, or believed at least that he knew the internal nature of things by comparing all objects with the understanding only and with the abstract formal concepts of his thought. Our table of reflective concepts gives us the unexpected advantage of being able to exhibit clearly the distinctive features of his system in all its parts, and at the same time the leading principle of this peculiar view which rested on a simple misunderstanding. He compared all things with each other by means of concepts only, and naturally found no other differences but those by which the understanding distinguishes its pure concepts from each other. The conditions of sensuous intuition, which carry their own differences, are not considered by him as original and independent; for sensibility was with him a confused mode of representation only, and not a separate source of representations. According to him a phenomenon was the representation of a thing by itself, though different, in its logical form, from knowledge by means of the [p. 271] understanding, because the phenomenon, in the ordinary absence of analysis, brings a certain admixture of collateral representations into the concept of a thing which the understanding is able to separate. In one word, Leibniz intellectualised phenomena, just as Locke, according to his system of Noogony (if I may use such an expression), sensualised all concepts of the understanding, that is, represented them as nothing but empirical, though abstract, reflective concepts. Instead of regarding the understanding and sensibility as two totally distinct sources of representations, which however can supply objectively valid judgments of things only in conjunction with each other, each of these great men recognised but one of them, which in their opinion applied immediately to things by themselves, while the other did nothing but to produce either disorder or order in the representations of the former.
Leibniz accordingly compared the objects of the senses with each other as things in general and in the understanding only. He did this,
First, so far as they are judged by the understanding to be either identical or different. As he considers their concepts only and not their place in intuition, in which alone objects can be given, and takes no account of the transcendental place of these concepts (whether the object is to be counted among phenomena or among things by themselves), it could not happen otherwise than [p. 272] that he should extend his principle of indiscernibility, which is valid with regard to concepts of things in general only, to objects of the senses also (mundus phaenomenon), and imagine that he thus added no inconsiderable extension to our knowledge of nature. No doubt, if I know a drop of water as a thing by itself in all its internal determinations, I cannot allow that one is different from the other, when their whole concepts are identical. But if the drop of water is a phenomenon in space, it has its place not only in the understanding (among concepts), but in the sensuous external intuition (in space), and in this case the physical place is quite indifferent with regard to the inner determinations of things, so that a place B can receive a thing which is perfectly similar or identical with another in place A, quite as well as if it were totally different from it in its internal determinations. Difference of place by itself and without any further conditions renders the plurality and distinction of objects as phenomena not only possible, but also necessary. That so-called law of Leibniz therefore is no law of nature, but only an analytical rule, or a comparison of things by means of concepts only.
Thirdly. The Leibnizian monadology has really no other foundation than that Leibniz represented the difference of the internal and the external in relation to the understanding only. Substances must have something internal, which is free from all external relations, and therefore from composition also. The simple, therefore, or uncompounded, is the foundation of the internal of things by themselves. This internal in the state of substances cannot consist in space, form, contact, or motion (all these determinations being external relations), and we cannot therefore ascribe to substances any other internal state but that which belongs to our own internal sense, namely, the state of representations. This is the history of the monads, which were to form the elements of the whole universe, and the energy of which consists in representations only, so that properly they can be active within themselves only.
For this reason, his principle of a possible community of substances could only be a pre-established harmony, and not a physical influence. For, as everything [p. 275] is actively occupied internally only, that is, with its own representations, the state of representations in one substance could not be in active connection with that of another; but it became necessary to admit a third cause, exercising its influence on all substances, and making their states to correspond with each other, not indeed by occasional assistance rendered in each particular case (systema assistentiae), but through the unity of the idea of a cause valid for all, and in which all together must receive their existence and permanence, and therefore also their reciprocal correspondence according to universal laws.
Fourthly. Leibniz’s celebrated doctrine of space and time, in which he intellectualised these forms of sensibility, arose entirely from the same delusion of transcendental reflection. If by means of the pure understanding alone I want to represent the external relations of things, I can do this only by means of the concept of their reciprocal action; and if I want to connect one state with another state of the same thing, this is possible only in the order of cause and effect. Thus it happened that Leibniz conceived space as a certain order in the community of substances, and time as the dynamical sequence of their states. That which space and time seem to possess as proper to themselves and independent [p. 276] of things, he ascribed to the confusion of these concepts. which made us mistake what is a mere form of dynamical relations for a peculiar and independent intuition, antecedent to things themselves. Thus space and time became with him the intelligible form of the connection of things (substances and their states) by themselves, and things were intelligible substances (substantiae noumena). Nevertheless he tried to make these concepts valid for phenomena, because he would not concede to sensibility any independent kind of intuition, but ascribed all, even the empirical representation of objects, to the understanding, leaving to the senses nothing but the contemptible work of confusing and mutilating the representations of the understanding.
But, even if we could predicate anything synthetically by means of the pure understanding of things by themselves (which however is simply impossible), this could never be referred to phenomena, because these do not represent things by themselves. We should therefore in such a case have to compare our concepts in a transcendental reflection under the conditions of sensibility only, and thus space and time would never be determinations of things by themselves, but of phenomena. What things may be by themselves we know not, nor need [p. 277] we care to know, because, after all, a thing can never come before me otherwise than as a phenomenon.
The remaining reflective conceptions have to be treated in the same manner. Matter is substantia phenomenon. What may belong to it internally, I seek for in all parts of space occupied by it, and in all effects produced by it, all of which, however, can be phenomena of the external senses only. I have therefore nothing that is absolutely, but only what is relatively internal, and this consists itself of external relations. Nay, what according to the pure understanding should be the absolutely internal of matter is a mere phantom, for matter is never an object of the pure understanding, while the transcendental object which may be the ground of the phenomenon which we call matter, is a mere something of which we could not even understand what it is, though somebody should tell us. We cannot understand anything except what carries with it in intuition something corresponding to our words. If the complaint ‘that we do not understand the internal of things,’ means that we do not comprehend by means of the pure understanding what the things which appear to us may be of themselves, it seems totally unjust and unreasonable; for it means that without senses we should be able to know and therefore to see things, that is, that we should possess a faculty of knowledge totally different from the human, not only in degree, but in kind [p. 278] and in intuition, in fact, that we should not be men, but beings of whom we ourselves could not say whether they are even possible, much less what they would be like. Observation and analysis of phenomena enter into the internal of nature, and no one can say how far this may go in time. Those transcendental questions, however, which go beyond nature, would nevertheless remain unanswerable, even if the whole of nature were revealed to us, for it is not given to us to observe even our own mind with any intuition but that of our internal sense. In it lies the mystery of the origin of our sensibility. Its relation to an object, and the transcendental ground of that unity, are no doubt far too deeply hidden for us, who can know even ourselves by means of the internal sense only, that is, as phenomena, and we shall never be able to use the same imperfect instrument of investigation in order to find anything but again and again phenomena, the non-sensuous, and non-phenomenal cause of which we are seeking in vain.
What renders this criticism of the conclusions by means of the acts of mere reflection extremely useful is, that it shows clearly the nullity of all conclusions with regard to objects compared with each other in the understanding only, and that it confirms at the same time what [p. 279] we have so strongly insisted on, namely, that phenomena, though they cannot be comprehended as things by themselves among the objects of the pure understanding, are nevertheless the only objects in which our knowledge can possess objective reality, i.e. where intuition corresponds to concepts.
When we reflect logically only, we only compare in our understanding concepts among themselves, trying to find out whether both have exactly the same contents, whether they contradict themselves or not, whether something belongs to a concept, or is added to it, and which of the two may be given, while the other may be a mode only of thinking the given concept. But if I refer these concepts to an object in general (in a transcendental sense), without determining whether it be an object of sensuous or intellectual intuition, certain limitations appear at once, warning us not to go beyond the concept, and upsetting all empirical use of it, thus proving that a representation of an object, as of a thing in general, is not only insufficient, but, if without sensuous determination, and independent of empirical conditions, self-contradictory. It is necessary therefore either to take no account at all of the object (as we do in logic) or, if not, then to think it under the conditions of sensuous intuition, because the intelligible would require a quite peculiar intuition which we do not possess, and, without it, would be nothing to us, while on the other side phenomena also could never [p. 280] be things by themselves. For if I represent to myself things in general only, the difference of external relations cannot, it is true, constitute a difference of the things themselves, but rather presupposes it; and, if the concept of one thing does not differ at all internally from that of another, I only have one and the same thing placed in different relations. Furthermore, by adding a mere affirmation (reality) to another, the positive in it is indeed augmented, and nothing is taken away or removed, so that we see that the real in things can never be in contradiction with itself, etc.
* * * * * * * *
A certain misunderstanding of these reflective concepts has, as we showed, exercised so great an influence on the use of the understanding, as to mislead even one of the most acute philosophers to the adoption of a so-called system of intellectual knowledge, which undertakes to determine objects without the intervention of the senses. For this reason the exposition of the cause of the misunderstanding, which lies in the amphiboly of these concepts, as the origin of false principles, is of great utility in determining and securing the true limits of the understanding.
It is no doubt true, that what can be affirmed or denied of a concept in general, can also be affirmed or denied of any part of it (dictum de omni et nullo); but it [p. 281] would be wrong so to change this logical proposition as to make it say that whatever is not contained in a general concept, is not contained either in the particular concepts comprehended under it; for these are particular concepts for the very reason that they contain more than is conceived in the general concept. Nevertheless the whole intellectual system of Leibniz is built up on this fallacy, and with it falls necessarily to the ground, together with all equivocation in the use of the understanding, that had its origin in it.
Leibniz’s principle of discernibility is really based on the supposition that, if a certain distinction is not to be found in the general concept of a thing, it could not be met with either in the things themselves, and that therefore all things were perfectly the same (numero eadem), which are not distinguished from each other in their concept also, as to quality or quantity. And because in the mere concept of a thing, no account has been taken of many a necessary condition of its intuition, it has rashly been concluded that that which, in forming an abstraction, has been intentionally left out of account, did really not exist anywhere, and nothing has been allowed to a thing except what is contained in its concept. [p. 282]
If by purely intelligible objects we understand things which, without all schemata of sensibility, are thought by mere categories, such objects are simply impossible. It is our sensuous intuition by which objects are given to us that forms the condition of the objective application of all the concepts of our understanding, and without that intuition the categories have no relation whatever to any object. Nay, even if we admitted a kind of intuition different from the sensuous, our functions of thought would have no meaning with regard to it. If we only mean objects of a non-sensuous intuition, to which our categories do not apply, and of which we can have no knowledge whatever (either intuitional or conceptual), there is no reason why noumena, in this merely negative meaning, should not be admitted, because in this case we mean no more than this, that our intuition does not embrace all things, but objects of our senses only; that, consequently, its objective validity is limited, and space left for some other kind of intuition, and consequently for things as objects of it. But in that sense the concept of a noumenon is problematical, that is, the representation of a thing of which we can neither say that it is possible or that it is impossible, because we have no conception of any kind of intuition but that of our senses, or of any kind of concepts but of our categories, [p. 287] neither of them being applicable to any extra-sensuous object. We cannot therefore extend in a positive sense the field of the objects of our thought beyond the conditions of our sensibility, or admit, besides phenomena, objects of pure thought, that is, noumena, simply because they do not possess any positive meaning that could be pointed out. For it must be admitted that the categories by themselves are not sufficient for a knowledge of things, and that, without the data of sensibility, they would be nothing but subjective forms of unity of the understanding, and without an object. We do not say that thought is a mere product of the senses, and therefore limited by them, but it does not follow that therefore thought, without sensibility, has its own pure use, because it would really be without an object. Nor would it be right to call the noumenon such an object of the pure understanding, for the noumenon means the problematical concept of an object, intended for an intuition and understanding totally different from our own, and therefore themselves mere problems. The concept of the noumenon is not therefore the concept of an object, but only a problem, inseparable from the limitation of our sensibility, whether there may not be objects independent of its intuition. This is a question that [p. 288] can only be answered in an uncertain way, by saying that as sensuous intuition does not embrace all things without exception, there remains a place for other objects, that cannot therefore be absolutely denied, but cannot be asserted either as objects of our understanding, because there is no definite concept for them (our categories being unfit for that purpose).
The understanding therefore limits the sensibility without enlarging thereby its own field, and by warning the latter that it can never apply to things by themselves, but to phenomena only, it forms the thought of an object by itself, but as transcendental only, which is the cause of phenomena, and therefore never itself a phenomenon: which cannot be thought as quantity, nor as reality, nor as substance (because these concepts require sensuous forms in which to determine an object), and of which therefore it must always remain unknown, whether it is to be found within us only, or also without us; and whether, if sensibility were removed, it would vanish or remain. If we like to call this object noumenon, because the representation of it is not sensuous, we are at liberty to do so. But as we cannot apply to it any of the concepts of our understanding, such a representation remains to us empty, serving no purpose but that of indicating the limits of our sensuous knowledge, and leaving at the same time an [p. 289] empty space which we cannot fill either by possible experience, or by the pure understanding.
The critique of the pure understanding does not therefore allow us to create a new sphere of objects beyond those which can come before it as phenomena, or to stray into intelligible worlds, or even into the concept of such. The mistake which leads to this in the most plausible manner, and which, though excusable, can never be justified, consists in making the use of the understanding, contrary to its very intention, transcendental, so that objects, that is, possible intuitions, are made to conform to concepts, not concepts to possible intuitions, on which alone their objective validity can rest. The cause of this is again, that apperception, and with it thought, precedes every possible determinate arrangement of representations. We are thinking something in general, and determine it on one side sensuously, but distinguish at the same time the general object, represented in abstraction, from this particular mode of sensuous intuition. Thus there remains to us a mode of determining the object by thought only, which, though it is a mere logical form without any contents, seems to us nevertheless a mode in which the object by itself exists (noumenon), without regard to the intuition which is restricted to our senses. [p. 290]
* * * * * * * *
Before leaving this transcendental Analytic, we have to add something which, though in itself of no particular importance, may yet seem to be requisite for the completeness of the system. The highest concept of which all transcendental philosophy generally begins, is the division into the possible and the impossible. But, as all division presupposes a divisible concept, a higher concept is required, and this is the concept of an object in general, taken as problematical, it being left uncertain whether it be something or nothing. As the categories are the only concepts which apply to objects in general, the distinction whether an object is something or nothing must proceed according to the order and direction of the categories.
I. Opposed to the concepts of all, many, and one, is the concept which annihilates everything, that is, none; and thus the object of a concept, to which no intuition can be found to correspond, is = 0, that is, a concept without an object, like the noumena, which cannot be counted as possibilities, though not as impossibilities either (ens nationis); or like certain fundamental forces, [p. 291] which have been newly invented, and have been conceived without contradiction, but at the same time without any example from experience, and must not therefore be counted among possibilities.
II. Reality is something, negation is nothing; that is, it is the concept of the absence of an object, as shadow or cold (nihil privativum).
III. The mere form of intuition (without substance) is in itself no object, but the merely formal condition of it (as a phenomenon), as pure space and pure time (ens imaginarium), which, though they are something, as forms of intuition, are not themselves objects of intuition.
IV. The object of a concept which contradicts itself, is nothing, because the concept is nothing; it is simply the impossible, as a figure composed of two straight lines (nihil negativum).
A table showing this division of the concept of nothing (the corresponding division of the concept of something follows by itself) would have to be arranged as follows.
We see that the ens rationis (No. 1) differs from the ens negativum (No. 4), because the former cannot be counted among the possibilities, being the result of fancy, though not self-contradictory, while the latter is opposed to possibility, the concept annihilating itself. Both, however, are empty concepts. The nihil privativum (No. 2) and the ens imaginarium (No. 3) are, on the contrary, empty data for concepts. It would be impossible to represent to ourselves darkness, unless light had been given to the senses, or space, unless extended beings had been perceived. The negation, as well as the pure form of intuition are, without something real, no objects.
Transcendental Dialectic in two books, with their chapters and sections [p. 293]
Of Transcendental Appearance (Illusion)
We call Dialectic in general a logic of illusion (eine Logik des Scheins). This does not mean that it is a doctrine of probability (Wahrscheinlichkeit), for probability is a kind of truth, known through insufficient causes, the knowledge of which is therefore deficient, but not deceitful, and cannot properly be separated from the analytical part of logic. Still less can phenomenon (Erscheinung) and illusion (Schein) be taken as identical. For truth or illusion is not to be found in the objects of intuition, but in the judgments upon them, so far as they are thought. It is therefore quite right to say, that the senses never err, not because they always judge rightly, but because they do not judge at all. Truth therefore and error, and consequently illusory appearance also, as the cause of error, exist in our judgments only, that is, in the relation of an object to our understanding. No error exists in our knowledge, if it completely agrees with the laws of our understanding, nor can there be [p. 294] an error in a representation of the senses, because they involve no judgment, and no power of nature can, of its own accord, deviate from its own laws. Therefore neither the understanding by itself (without the influence of another cause), nor the senses by themselves could ever err. The understanding could not err, because as long as it acts according to its own laws, the effect (the judgment) must necessarily agree with those laws, and the formal test of all truth consists in this agreement with the laws of the understanding. The senses cannot err, because there is in them no judgment at all, whether true or false. Now as we have no other sources of knowledge but these two, it follows that error can only arise through the unperceived influence of the sensibility on the understanding, whereby it happens that subjective grounds of judgment are mixed up with the objective, and cause them to deviate from their destination;1 just as a body in motion would, if left to itself, always follow a straight line in the same direction, which is changed however into a curvilinear motion, as soon as another force influences it at the same time in a different direction. In order to distinguish the proper action [p. 295] of the understanding from that other force which is mixed up with it, it will be necessary to look on an erroneous judgment as the diagonal between two forces, which determine the judgment in two different directions, forming as it were an angle, and to dissolve that composite effect into the simple ones of the understanding and of the sensibility, which must be effected in pure judgments a priori by transcendental reflection, whereby, as we tried to show, the right place is assigned to each representation in the faculty of knowledge corresponding to it, and the influence of either faculty upon such representation is determined.
It is not at present our business to treat of empirical, for instance, optical appearance or illusion, which occurs in the empirical use of the otherwise correct rules of the understanding, and by which, owing to the influence of imagination, the faculty of judgment is misled. We have to deal here with nothing but the transcendental illusion, which touches principles never even intended to be applied to experience, which might give us a test of their correctness, — an illusion which, in spite of all the warnings of criticism, tempts us far beyond the empirical use of the categories, and deludes us with the mere dream of an extension of the pure understanding. All principles the application of which is entirely confined within the limits of possible experience, we [p. 296] shall call immanent; those, on the contrary, which tend to transgress those limits, transcendent. I do not mean by this the transcendental use or abuse of the categories, which is a mere fault of the faculty of the judgment, not being as yet sufficiently subdued by criticism nor sufficiently attentive to the limits of the sphere within which alone the pure understanding has full play, but real principles which call upon us to break down all those barriers, and to claim a perfectly new territory, which nowhere recognises any demarcation at all. Here transcendental and transcendent do not mean the same thing. The principles of the pure understanding, which we explained before, are meant to be only of empirical, and not of transcendental application, that is, they cannot transcend the limits of experience. A principle, on the contrary, which removes these landmarks, nay, insists on our transcending them, is called transcendent. If our critique succeeds in laying bare the illusion of those pretended principles, the other principles of a purely empirical use may, in opposition to the former, be called immanent.
Logical illusion, which consists in a mere imitation of the forms of reason (the illusion of sophistic syllogisms), arises entirely from want of attention to logical rules. It disappears at once, when our attention [p. 297] is roused. Transcendental illusion, on the contrary, does not disappear, although it has been shown up, and its worthlessness rendered clear by means of transcendental criticism, as, for instance, the illusion inherent in the proposition that the world must have a beginning in time. The cause of this is that there exists in our reason (considered subjectively as a faculty of human knowledge) principles and maxims of its use, which have the appearance of objective principles, and lead us to mistake the subjective necessity of a certain connection of our concepts in favour of the understanding for an objective necessity in the determination of things by themselves. This illusion is as impossible to avoid as it is to prevent the sea from appearing to us higher at a distance than on the shore, because we see it by higher rays of light; or to prevent the moon from appearing, even to an astronomer, larger at its rising, although he is not deceived by that illusion.
Transcendental Dialectic must, therefore, be content to lay bare the illusion of transcendental judgments and guarding against its deceptions — but it will never succeed in removing the transcendental illusion (like the logical), and putting an end to it altogether. [p. 298] For we have here to deal with a natural and inevitable illusion, which itself rests on subjective principles, representing them to us as objective, while logical Dialectic, in removing sophisms, has to deal merely with a mistake in applying the principles, or with an artificial illusion produced by an imitation of them. There exists, therefore, a natural and inevitable Dialectic of pure reason, not one in which a mere bungler might get entangled from want of knowledge, or which a sophist might artificially devise to confuse rational people, but one that is inherent in, and inseparable from human reason, and which, even after its illusion has been exposed, will never cease to fascinate our reason, and to precipitate it into momentary errors, such as require to be removed again and again.
Of Pure Reason, as the Seat of Transcendental Illusion
Of Reason in General
All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds thence to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason, for working up the material of intuition, and comprehending it under the highest unity of thought. As it here becomes [p. 299] necessary to give a definition of that highest faculty of knowledge, I begin to feel considerable misgivings. There is of reason, as there is of the understanding, a purely formal, that is logical use, in which no account is taken of the contents of knowledge; but there is also a real use, in so far as reason itself contains the origin of certain concepts and principles, which it has not borrowed either from the senses or from the understanding. The former faculty has been long defined by logicians as the faculty of mediate conclusions, in contradistinction to immediate ones (consequentiae immediatae); but this does not help us to understand the latter, which itself produces concepts. As this brings us face to face with the division of reason into a logical and a transcendental faculty, we must look for a higher concept for this source of knowledge, to comprehend both concepts: though, according to the analogy of the concepts of the understanding, we may expect that the logical concept will give us the key to the transcendental, and that the table of the functions of the former will give us the genealogical outline of the concepts of reason.
In the first part of our transcendental logic we defined the understanding as the faculty of rules, and we now distinguish reason from it, by calling it the faculty of principles. [p. 300]
The term principle is ambiguous, and signifies commonly some kind of knowledge only that may be used as a principle, though in itself, and according to its origin, it is no principle at all. Every general proposition, even though it may have been derived from experience (by induction), may serve as a major in a syllogism of reason; but it is not on that account a principle. Mathematical axioms, as, for instance, that between two points there can be only one straight line, constitute even general knowledge a priori, and may therefore, with reference to the cases which can be brought under them, rightly be called principles. Nevertheless it would be wrong to say, that this property of a straight line, in general and by itself, is known to us from principles, for it is known from pure intuition only.
I shall therefore call it knowledge from principles, whenever we know the particular in the general, by means of concepts. Thus every syllogism of reason is a form of deducing some kind of knowledge from a principle, because the major always contains a concept which enables us to know, according to a principle, everything that can be comprehended under the conditions of that concept. As every general knowledge may serve as a major in such a syllogism, and as the understanding supplies such general propositions a priori, these no doubt may, with reference to their possible use, be called principles. [p. 301]
But, if we consider these principles of the pure understanding in themselves, and according to their origin, we find that they are anything rather than knowledge from concepts. They would not even be possible a priori, unless we relied on pure intuition (in mathematics) or on conditions of a possible experience in general. That everything which happens has a cause, can by no means be concluded from the concept of that which happens; on the contrary, that very principle shows in what manner alone we can form a definite empirical concept of that which happens.
It is impossible therefore for the understanding to supply us with synthetical knowledge from concepts, and it is really that kind of knowledge which I call principles absolutely; while all general propositions may be called principles relatively.
It is an old desideratum, which at some time, however distant, may be realised, that, instead of the endless variety of civil laws, their principles might be discovered, for thus alone the secret might be found of what is called simplifying legislation. Such laws, however, are only limitations of our freedom under conditions by which it always agrees with itself; they refer to something which is entirely our own work, and of which we ourselves can be the cause, by means of these concepts. But that objects in themselves, as for instance material nature, should be subject to principles, and be determined according [p. 302] to mere concepts, is something, if not impossible, at all events extremely contradictory. But be that as it may (for on this point we have still all investigations before us), so much at least is clear, that knowledge from principles (by itself) is something totally different from mere knowledge of the understanding, which, in the form of a principle, may no doubt precede other knowledge, but which by itself (in so far as it is synthetical) is not based on mere thought, nor contains anything general, according to concepts.
If the understanding is a faculty for producing unity among phenomena, according to rules, reason is the faculty for producing unity among the rules of the understanding, according to principles. Reason therefore never looks directly to experience, or to any object, but to the understanding, in order to impart a priori through concepts to its manifold kinds of knowledge a unity that may be called the unity of reason, and is very different from the unity which can be produced by the understanding.
This is a general definition of the faculty of reason, so far as it was possible to make it intelligible without the help of illustrations, which are to be given hereafter.
Of the Logical Use of Reason [p. 303]
A distinction is commonly made between what is immediately known and what is only inferred. That in a figure bounded by three straight lines there are three angles, is known immediately, but that these angles together are equal to two right angles, is only inferred. As we are constantly obliged to infer, we grow so accustomed to it, that in the end we no longer perceive this difference, and as in the case of the so-called deceptions of the senses, often mistake what we have only inferred for something perceived immediately. In every syllogism there is first a fundamental proposition; secondly, another deduced from it; and lastly, the conclusion (consequence), according to which the truth of the latter is indissolubly connected with the truth of the former. If the judgment or the conclusion is so clearly contained in the first that it can be inferred from it without the mediation or intervention of a third representation, the conclusion is called immediate (consequentia immediata): though I should prefer to call it a conclusion of the understanding. But if, besides the fundamental knowledge, another judgment is required to bring out the consequence, then the conclusion is called a conclusion of reason. In the proposition ‘all men are mortal,’ the following propositions are contained: some men are mortal; or some mortals are men; or nothing that is immortal is a man. These are therefore immediate [p. 304] inferences from the first. The proposition, on the contrary, all the learned are mortal, is not contained in the fundamental judgment, because the concept of learned does not occur in it, and can only be deduced from it by means of an intervening judgment.
In every syllogism I first think a rule (the major) by means of the understanding. I then bring some special knowledge under the condition of the rule (the minor) by means of the faculty of judgment, and I finally determine my knowledge through the predicate of the rule (conclusio), that is, a priori, by means of reason. It is therefore the relation represented by the major proposition, as the rule, between knowledge and its condition, that constitutes the different kinds of syllogism. Syllogisms are therefore threefold, like all judgments, differing from each other in the manner in which they express the relation of knowledge in the understanding, namely, categorical, hypothetical, and disjunctive.
If, as often happens, the conclusion is put forward as a judgment, in order to see whether it does not follow from other judgments by which a perfectly different object is conceived, I try to find in the understanding the assertion of that conclusion, in order to see whether it does not exist in it, under certain conditions, according to a general rule. If I find such a condition, and if the object of the conclusion can be brought under the given [p. 305] condition, then that conclusion follows from the rule which is valid for other objects of knowledge also. Thus we see that reason, in forming conclusions, tries to reduce the great variety of the knowledge of the understanding to the smallest number of principles (general conditions), and thereby to produce in it the highest unity.
Of the Pure Use of Reason
The question to which we have at present to give an answer, though a preliminary one only, is this, whether reason can be isolated and thus constitute by itself an independent source of concepts and judgments, which spring from it alone, and through which it has reference to objects, or whether it is only a subordinate faculty for imparting a certain form to any given knowledge, namely, a logical form, a faculty whereby the cognitions of the understanding are arranged among themselves only, and lower rules placed under higher ones (the condition of the latter comprehending in its sphere the condition of the former) so far as all this can be done by their comparison. Variety of rules with unity of principles is a requirement of reason for the purpose of bringing the understanding into perfect agreement with itself, just as the understanding brings the variety of intuition under concepts, and thus imparts to intuition a connected form. Such a principle however prescribes no law to the objects [p. 306] themselves, nor does it contain the ground on which the possibility of knowing and determining objects depends. It is merely a subjective law of economy, applied to the stores of our understanding; having for its purpose, by means of a comparison of concepts, to reduce the general use of them to the smallest possible number, but without giving us a right to demand of the objects themselves such a uniformity as might conduce to the comfort and the extension of our understanding, or to ascribe to that maxim any objective validity. In one word, the question is, whether reason in itself, that is pure reason, contains synthetical principles and rules a priori, and what those principles are?
The merely formal and logical procedure of reason in syllogisms gives us sufficient hints as to the ground on which the transcendental principle of synthetical knowledge, by means of pure reason, is likely to rest.
First, a syllogism, as a function of reason, does not refer to intuitions in order to bring them under rules (as the understanding does with its categories), but to concepts and judgments. Although pure reason refers in the end to objects, it has no immediate relation to them and their intuition, but only to the understanding and its judgments, these having a direct relation to the [p. 307] senses and their intuition, and determining their objects. Unity of reason is therefore never the unity of a possible experience, but essentially different from it, as the unity of the understanding. That everything which happens has a cause, is not a principle discovered or prescribed by reason, it only makes the unity of experience possible, and borrows nothing from reason, which without this relation to possible experience could never, from mere concepts, have prescribed such a synthetical unity.
Secondly. Reason, in its logical employment, looks for the general condition of its judgment (the conclusion), and the syllogism produced by reason is itself nothing but a judgment by means of bringing its condition under a general rule (the major). But as this rule is again liable to the same experiment, reason having to seek, as long as possible, the condition of a condition (by means of a prosyllogism), it is easy to see that it is the peculiar principle of reason (in its logical use) to find for every conditioned knowledge of the understanding the unconditioned, whereby the unity of that knowledge may be completed.
This logical maxim, however, cannot become a principle of pure reason, unless we admit that, whenever the condition is given, the whole series of conditions, subordinated to one another, a series, which consequently is [p. 308] itself unconditioned, is likewise given (that is, is contained in the object and its connection).
Such a principle of pure reason, however, is evidently synthetical; for analytically the conditioned refers no doubt to some condition, but not to the unconditioned. From this principle several other synthetical propositions also must arise of which the pure understanding knows nothing; because it has to deal with objects of a possible experience only, the knowledge and synthesis of which are always conditioned. The unconditioned, if it is really to be admitted, has to be especially considered with regard to all the determinations which distinguish it from whatever is conditioned, and will thus supply material for many a synthetical proposition a priori.
The principles resulting from this highest principle of pure reason will however be transcendent, with regard to all phenomena; that is to say, it will be impossible ever to make any adequate empirical use of such a principle. It will thus be completely different from all principles of the understanding, the use of which is entirely immanent and directed to the possibility of experience only. The task that is now before us in the transcendental Dialectic which has to be developed from sources deeply hidden in the human reason, is this: to discover the correctness or otherwise the falsehood of the principle that the series of conditions (in the synthesis of phenomena, or of objective thought in general) extends to the unconditioned, and what consequences result therefrom with regard to the empirical use of the understanding: — to find [p. 309] out whether there is really such an objectively valid principle of reason, and not only, in place of it, a logical rule which requires us, by ascending to ever higher conditions, to approach their completeness, and thus to bring the highest unity of reason, which is possible to us, into our knowledge: to find out, I say, whether, by some misconception, a mere tendency of reason has not been mistaken for a transcendental principle of pure reason, postulating, without sufficient reflection, absolute completeness in the series of conditions in the objects themselves, and what kind of misconceptions and illusions may in that case have crept into the syllogisms of reason, the major proposition of which has been taken over from pure reason (being perhaps a petitio rather than a postulatum), and which ascend from experience to its conditions. We shall divide it into two parts, of which the first will treat of the transcendent concepts of pure reason, the second of transcendent and dialectical syllogisms.
OF THE CONCEPTS OF PURE REASON [p. 310]
Whatever may be thought of the possibility of concepts of pure reason, it is certain that they are not simply obtained by reflection, but by inference. Concepts of the understanding exist a priori, before experience, and for the sake of it, but they contain nothing but the unity of reflection applied to phenomena, so far as they are necessarily intended for a possible empirical consciousness. It is through them alone that knowledge and determination of an object become possible. They are the first to give material for conclusions, and they are not preceded by any concepts a priori of objects from which they could themselves be deduced. Their objective reality however depends on this, that because they constitute the intellectual form of all experience, it is necessary that their application should always admit of being exhibited in experience.
The very name, however, of a concept of reason gives a kind of intimation that it is not intended to be limited to experience, because it refers to a kind of knowledge of which every empirical knowledge is a part only (it may be, the whole of possible experience or of its empirical [p. 311] synthesis): and to which all real experience belongs, though it can never fully attain to it. Concepts of reason serve for conceiving or comprehending; concepts of the understanding for understanding (perceptions). If they contain the unconditioned, they refer to something to which all experience may belong, but which itself can never become an object of experience; — something to which reason in its conclusions from experience leads up, and by which it estimates and measures the degree of its own empirical use, but which never forms part of empirical synthesis. If such concepts possess, notwithstanding, objective validity, they may be called conceptus ratiocinati (concepts legitimately formed); if they have only been surreptitiously obtained, by a kind of illusory conclusion, they may be called conceptus ratiocinantes (sophistical concepts). But as this subject can only be fully treated in the chapter on the dialectical conclusions of pure reason, we shall say no more of it now, but shall only, as we gave the name of categories to the pure concepts of the understanding, give a new name to the concepts of pure reason, and call them transcendental ideas, a name that has now to be explained and justified. [p 312]
[1 ]Sensibility, if subjected to the understanding as the object on which it exercises its function, is the source of real knowledge, but sensibility, if it influences the action of the understanding itself and leads it on to a judgment, is the cause of error.