Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section III: Of the Interest of Reason in these Conflicts [p. 462] - Critique of Pure Reason
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Section III: Of the Interest of Reason in these Conflicts [p. 462] - 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).
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Of the Interest of Reason in these Conflicts [p. 462]
We have thus watched the whole dialectical play of the cosmological ideas, and have seen that they do not even admit of any adequate object being supplied to them in any possible experience, nay, not even of reason treating them in accordance with the general laws of experience. Nevertheless these ideas are not arbitrary fictions, but reason in the continuous progress of empirical synthesis is necessarily led on to them, whenever it wants to free what, according to the rules of experience, can be determined as conditioned only, from all conditions, and comprehend it in its unconditioned totality. These rationalising or dialectical assertions are so many attempts at solving four perfectly natural and inevitable problems of reason. There cannot be either more or less of them, because there are neither more nor less series of synthetical hypotheses, which limit empirical synthesis a priori.
We have represented the brilliant pretensions of reason, extending its domain beyond all the limits of experience, in dry formulas only, containing nothing but the grounds of its claims; and, as it befits transcendental [p. 463] philosophy, divested them of everything empirical, although it is only in connection with this that the whole splendour of the assertions of reason can be fully seen. In their application, and in the progressive extension of the employment of reason, beginning from the field of experience, and gradually soaring up to those sublime ideas, philosophy displays a grandeur which, if it could only establish its pretensions, would leave all other kinds of human knowledge far behind, promising to us a safe foundation for our highest expectations and hopes for the attainment of the highest aims, towards which all the exertions of reason must finally converge. The questions, whether the world has a beginning and any limit of its extension in space; whether there is anywhere, and it may be in my own thinking self, an indivisible and indestructible unity, or whether there exists nothing but what is divisible and perishable; whether in my acts I am free, or, like other beings, led by the hand of nature and of fate; whether, finally, there exists a supreme cause of the world, or whether the objects of nature and their order form the last object which we can reach in all our speculations, — these are questions for the solution of which the mathematician would gladly sacrifice the whole of his science, which cannot give him any satisfaction with regard to the highest and dearest aspirations of mankind. Even the true dignity and worth of mathematics, that pride of human reason, rest [p. 464] on this, that they teach reason how to understand nature in what is great and what is small in her, in her order and regularity, and likewise in the admirable unity of her moving powers, far above all expectations of a philosophy restricted to common experience, and thus encourage reason to extend its use far beyond experience, nay, supply philosophy with the best materials intended to support its investigations, so far as their nature admits of it, by adequate intuitions.
Unfortunately for mere speculation (but fortunately perhaps for the practical destinies of men), reason, in the very midst of her highest expectations, finds herself so hemmed in by a press of reasons and counter reasons, that, as neither her honour nor her safety admit of her retreating and becoming an indifferent spectator of what might be called a mere passage of arms, still less of her commanding peace in a strife in which she is herself deeply interested, nothing remains to her but to reflect on the origin of this conflict, in order to find out whether it may not have arisen from a mere misunderstanding. After such an enquiry proud claims would no [p. 465] doubt have to be surrendered on both sides, but a permanent and tranquil rule of reason over the understanding and the senses might then be inaugurated.
For the present we shall defer this thorough enquiry, in order to consider which side we should like to take, if it should become necessary to take sides at all. As in this case we do not consult the logical test of truth, but only our own interest, such an enquiry, though settling nothing as to the contested rights of both parties, will have this advantage, that it makes us understand why those who take part in this contest embrace one rather than the other side, without being guided by any special insight into the subject. It may also explain some other things, as, for instance, the zelotic heat of the one and the calm assurance of the other party, and why the world greets one party with rapturous applause, and entertains towards the other an irreconcileable prejudice.
There is something which in this preliminary enquiry determines the right point of view, from which alone it can be carried on with proper completeness, and this is the comparison of the principles from which both parties start. If we look at the propositions of the antithesis, we shall find in it a perfect uniformity in the mode of thought and a complete unity of principle, [p. 466] namely, the principle of pure empiricism, not only in the explanation of the phenomena of the world, but also in the solution of the transcendental ideas of the cosmical universe itself. The propositions of the thesis, on the contrary, rest not only on the empirical explanation within the series of phenomena, but likewise on intelligible beginnings, and its maxim is therefore not simple. With regard to its essential and distinguishing characteristic, I shall call it the dogmatism of pure reason.
On the side of dogmatism we find in the determination of the cosmological ideas, or in the Thesis: —
First, A certain practical interest, which every right-thinking man, if he knows his true interests, will heartily share. That the world has a beginning; that my thinking self is of a simple and therefore indestructible nature; that the same self is free in all his voluntary actions, and raised above the compulsion of nature; that, finally, the whole order of things, or the world, derives its origin from an original Being, whence everything receives both unity and purposeful connection — these are so many foundation stones on which morals and religion are built up. The antithesis robs us, or seems to rob us, of all these supports.
Secondly, Reason has a certain speculative interest on the same side. For, if we take and employ the transcendental ideas as they are in the thesis, one may quite a priori grasp the whole chain of conditions and [p. 467] comprehend the derivation of the conditioned by beginning with the unconditioned. This cannot be done by the antithesis, which presents itself in a very unfavourable light, because it cannot return to the question as to the conditions of its synthesis any answer which does not lead to constantly new questions. According to it one has always to ascend from a given beginning to a higher one, every part leads always to a still smaller part, every event has always before it another event as its cause, and the conditions of existence in general always rest on others, without ever receiving unconditioned strength and support from a self-subsisting thing, as the original Being.
Thirdly, This side has also the advantage of popularity, which is by no means its smallest recommendation. The common understanding does not see the smallest difficulty in the idea of the unconditioned beginning of all synthesis, being accustomed rather to descend to consequences, than to ascend to causes. It finds comfort in the ideas of the absolutely first (the possibility of which does not trouble it), and at the same time a firm point to which the leading strings of its life may be attached, while there is no pleasure in a restless ascent from condition to condition, and keeping one foot always in the air.
On the side of empiricism, so far as it determines [p. 468] the cosmological ideas, or the antithesis, there is: —
First, No such practical interest, arising from the pure principles of reason, as morality and religion possess. On the contrary, empiricism seems to deprive both of their power and influence. If there is no original Being, different from the world; if the world is without a beginning, and therefore without a Creator; if our will is not free, and our soul shares the same divisibility and perishableness with matter, moral ideas also and principles lose all validity, and fall with the transcendental ideas, which formed their theoretic support.
But, on the other side, empiricism offers advantages to the speculative interests of reason, which are very tempting, and far exceed those which the dogmatical teacher can promise. With the empiricist the understanding is always on its own proper ground, namely, the field of all possible experience, the laws of which may be investigated and serve to enlarge certain and intelligible knowledge without end. Here every object can and ought to be represented to intuition, both in itself and in its relations, or at least in concepts, the images of which can be clearly and distinctly represented in given similar intuitions. Not only is there no necessity for leaving the chain of the order of nature in order to lay hold of ideas, the objects of which are not known, [p. 469] because, as mere products of thought, they can never be given, but the understanding is not even allowed to leave its proper business and, under pretence of its being finished, to cross into the domain of idealising reason and transcendental concepts, where it need no longer observe and investigate according to the laws of nature, but only think and dream, without any risk of being contradicted by the facts of nature, not being bound by their evidence, but justified in passing them by, or in even subordinating them to a higher authority, namely, that of pure reason.
Hence the empiricist will never allow that any epoch of nature should be considered as the absolutely first, or any limit of his vision into the extent of nature should be considered as the last. He will not approve of a transition from the objects of nature, which he can analyse by observation and mathematics and determine synthetically in intuition (the extended), to those which neither sense nor imagination can ever represent in concreto (the simple); nor will he concede that a faculty be presupposed, even in nature, to act independent of the laws of nature (freedom), thus narrowing the operations of the understanding in investigating, according to the necessary rules, the origin of phenomena. Lastly, he will never tolerate that the cause of anything should be [p. 470] looked for anywhere outside of nature (in the original Being), because we know nothing but nature, which alone can offer us objects and instruct us as to their laws.
If the empirical philosopher had no other purpose with his antithesis but to put down the rashness and presumption of reason in mistaking her true purpose, while boasting of insight and knowledge, where insight and knowledge come to an end, nay, while representing, what might have been allowed to pass on account of practical interests, as a real advancement of speculative enquiry, in order, when it is so disposed, either to tear the thread of physical enquiry, or to fasten it, under the pretence of enlarging our knowledge, to those transcendental ideas, which really teach us only that we know nothing; if, I say, the empiricist were satisfied with this, then his principle would only serve to teach moderation in claims, modesty in assertions, and encourage the greatest possible enlargement of our understanding through the true teacher given to us, namely, experience. For in such a case we should not be deprived of our own intellectual presumptions or of our faith in their influence on our practical interests. They would only have lost the pompous titles of science and rational insight, because true [p. 471] speculative knowledge can never have any other object but experience; and, if we transcend its limits, our synthesis, which attempts new kinds of knowledge independent of experience, lacks that substratum of intuition to which alone it could be applied.
As it is, empiricism becomes often itself dogmatical with regard to ideas, and boldly denies what goes beyond the sphere of its intuitive knowledge, and thus becomes guilty itself of a want of modesty, which here is all the more reprehensible, because an irreparable injury is thereby inflicted on the practical interests of reason.
This constitutes the opposition of Epicureanism1 to Platonism.
Either party says more than it knows; but, [p. 472] while the former encourages and advances knowledge, although at the expense of practical interests, the latter supplies excellent practical principles, but with regard to everything of which speculative knowledge is open to us, it allows reason to indulge in ideal explanations of natural phenomena and to neglect physical investigation.
With regard to the third point which has to be considered in a preliminary choice between the two opposite parties, it is very strange that empiricism should be so unpopular, though it might be supposed that the common understanding would readily accept a theory which promises to satisfy it by experimental knowledge and its rational connection, while transcendental dogmatism forces it to ascend to concepts which far surpass the insight and rational faculties of the most practised thinkers. But here is the real motive; — the man of ordinary [p. 473] understanding is so placed thereby that even the most learned can claim no advantage over him. If he knows little or nothing, no one can boast of knowing much more, and though he may not be able to employ such scholastic terms as others, he can argue and subtilise infinitely more, because he moves about among mere ideas, about which it is easy to be eloquent, because no one knows anything about them. The same person would have to be entirely silent, or would have to confess his ignorance with regard to scientific enquiries into nature. Indolence, therefore, and vanity are strongly in favour of those principles. Besides, although a true philosopher finds it extremely hard to accept the principle of which he can give no reasonable account, still more to introduce concepts the objective reality of which cannot be established, nothing comes more natural to the common understanding that wants something with which it can operate securely. The difficulty of comprehending such a supposition does not disquiet a person of common understanding, because not knowing what comprehending really means, it never enters into his mind, and he takes everything for known that has become familiar to him by frequent use. At last all speculative interest disappears before the practical, and he imagines that he understands and knows what his fears and hopes impel him to accept or to believe. Thus the empiricism of a transcendentally idealising reason [p. 474] loses all popularity and, however prejudicial it may be to the highest practical principles, there is no reason to fear that it will ever pass the limits of the school and obtain in the commonwealth any considerable authority, or any favour with the multitude.
Human reason is by its nature architectonic, and looks upon all knowledge as belonging to a possible system. It therefore allows such principles only which do not render existing knowledge incapable of being associated with other knowledge in some kind of system. The propositions of the antithesis, however, are of such a character that they render the completion of any system of knowledge quite impossible. According to them there is always beyond every state of the world, an older state; in every part, other and again divisible parts; before every event, another event which again is produced from elsewhere, and everything in existence is conditioned, without an unconditioned and first existence anywhere. As therefore the antithesis allows of nothing that is first, and of no beginning which could serve as the foundation of an edifice, such an edifice of knowledge is entirely impossible with such premisses. Hence the architectonic interest of reason (which demands not empirical, but pure [p. 475] rational unity a priori) serves as a natural recommendation of the propositions of the thesis.
But if men could free themselves from all such interests, and consider the assertions of reason, unconcerned about their consequences, according to the value of their arguments only, they would find themselves, if they knew of no escape from the press except adhesion to one or the other of the opposite doctrines, in a state of constant oscillation. To-day they would be convinced that the human will is free; to-morrow, when considering the indissoluble chain of nature, they would think that freedom is nothing but self-deception, and nature all in all. When afterwards they come to act, this play of purely speculative reason would vanish like the shadows of a dream, and they would choose their principles according to practical interests only. But, as it well befits a reflecting and enquiring being to devote a certain time entirely to the examination of his own reason, divesting himself of all partiality, and then to publish his observations for the judgment of others, no one ought to be blamed, still less be prevented, if he wishes to produce the thesis [p. 476] as well as the antithesis, so that they may defend themselves, terrified by no menace, before a jury of his peers, that is, before a jury of weak mortals.
[1 ]It is, however, doubtful whether Epicurus did ever teach these principles as objective assertions. If he meant them to be no more than maxims for the speculative use of reason, he would have shown thereby a truer philosophical spirit than any of the philosophers on antiquity. The principles that in explaining phenomena we must proceed as if the field of investigation were enclosed by no limit or beginning of the world; that the material of the world should be accepted as it must be, if we want to learn anything about it from experience; that there is no origination of events except as determined by invariable laws of nature; and, lastly, that we must not appeal to a cause distinct from the world, all these are still perfectly true, though seldom observed in enlarging the field of speculative philosophy, or in discovering the principles of morality, independently of foreign aid. It is not permissible that those who wish only to ignore those dogmatical propositions, while still engaged in mere speculation, should be accused of wishing to deny them.