Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section V: Sceptical Representation of the Cosmological Questions in the Four Transcendental Ideas [p. 485] - Critique of Pure Reason
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Section V: Sceptical Representation of the Cosmological Questions in the Four Transcendental Ideas [p. 485] - 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.
Sceptical Representation of the Cosmological Questions in the Four Transcendental Ideas [p. 485]
We should no doubt gladly desist from wishing to have our questions answered dogmatically, if we understood beforehand that, whatever the answer might be, it would only increase our ignorance, and throw us from one incomprehensibility into another, from one obscurity into a still greater obscurity, or it may be even into contradictions. If our question can only be answered by yes or no, it would seem to be prudent to take no account at first of the probable grounds of the answer, but to consider before, what we should gain, if the answer was yes, and what, if the answer was no. If we should find that in either case nothing comes of it but mere nonsense, we are surely called upon to examine our question critically, and to see whether it does not rest on a groundless supposition, playing only with an idea which betrays its falsity in its application and its consequences better than when represented by itself. This is the great advantage of the sceptical treatment of questions which [p. 486] pure reason puts to pure reason. We get rid by it, with a little effort, of a great amount of dogmatical rubbish, in order to put in its place sober criticism which, as a true cathartic, removes successfully all illusion with its train of omniscience.
If, therefore, I could know beforehand that a cosmological idea, in whatever way it might try to realise the unconditioned of the regressive synthesis of phenomena (whether in the manner of the thesis or in that of the antithesis), that, I say, the cosmological idea would always be either too large or too small for any concept of the understanding, I should understand that, as that cosmological idea refers only to an object of experience which is to correspond to a possible concept of the understanding, it must be empty and without meaning, because the object does not fit into it, whatever I may do to adapt it. And this must really be the case with all cosmical concepts, which on that very account involve reason, so long as it remains attached to them, in inevitable antinomy. For suppose: —
First, That the world has no beginning, and you will find that it is too large for your concept, which, as it consists in a successive regressus, can never reach the whole of past eternity. Or, suppose, that the world has a beginning, then it is again too small for the concept of your understanding engaged in the necessary empirical regressus. For as a beginning always presupposes [p. 487] a time preceding, it is not yet unconditioned; and the law of the empirical use of the understanding obliges you to look for a higher condition of time, so that, with reference to such a law, the world (as limited in time) is clearly too small.
The same applies to the twofold answer to the question regarding the extent of the world in space. For if it is infinite and unlimited, it is too large for every possible empirical concept. If it is finite and limited, you have a perfect right to ask what determines that limit. Empty space is not an independent correlate of things, and cannot be a final condition, still less an empirical condition forming a part of a possible experience; — for how can there be experience of what is absolutely void? But, in order to produce an absolute totality in an empirical synthesis, it is always requisite that the unconditioned should be an empirical concept. Thus it follows that a limited world would be too small for your concept.
Secondly, If every phenomenon in space (matter) consists of an infinite number of parts, the regressus of a division will always be too large for your concept, while if the division of space is to stop at any member (the simple), it would be too small for the idea of the unconditioned, because that member always admits of a regresus to more parts contained in it. [p. 488]
Thirdly, If you suppose that everything that happens in the world is nothing but the result of the laws of nature, the causality of the cause will always be something that happens, and that necessitates a regressus to a still higher cause, and therefore a continuation of the series of conditions a parte priori without end. Mere active nature, therefore, is too large for any concept in the synthesis of cosmical events.
If you admit, on the contrary, spontaneously produced events, therefore generation from freedom, you have still, according to an inevitable law of nature, to ask why, and you are forced by the empirical law of causality beyond that point, so that you find that any such totality of connection is too small for your necessary empirical concept.
Fourthly, If you admit an absolutely necessary Being (whether it be the world itself or something in the world, or the cause of the world), you place it at a time infinitely remote from any given point of time, because otherwise it would be dependent on another and antecedent existence. In that case, however, such an existence would be unapproachable by your empirical concept, and too large even to be reached by any continued regressus.
But if, according to your opinion, everything [p. 489] which belongs to the world (whether as conditioned or as condition) is contingent, then every given existence is too small for your concept, because compelling you to look still for another existence, on which it depends.
We have said that in all these cases, the cosmical idea is either too large or too small for the empirical regressus, and therefore for every possible concept of the understanding. But why did we not take the opposite view and say that in the former case the empirical concept is always too small for the idea, and in the latter too large, so that blame should attach to the empirical regressus, and not to the cosmological idea, which we accused of deviating from its object, namely, possible experience, either by its too-much or its too-little? The reason was this. It is possible experience alone that can impart reality to our concepts; without this, a concept is only an idea without truth, and without any reference to an object. Hence the possible empirical concept was the standard by which to judge the idea, whether it be an idea and fiction only, or whether it has an object in the world. For we then only say that anything is relatively to something else either too large or too small, if it is required for the sake of the other and ought to be adapted to it. One of the playthings of the old dialectical school was the question, whether we [p. 490] should say that the ball is too large or the hole too small, if a ball cannot pass through a hole. In this case it is indifferent what expression we use, because we do not know which of the two exists for the sake of the other. But you would never say that the man is too large for his coat, but that the coat is too small for the man.
We have thus been led at least to a well-founded suspicion that the cosmological ideas, and with them all the conflicting sophistical assertions, may rest on an empty and merely imaginary conception of the manner in which the object of those ideas can be given, and this suspicion may lead us on the right track to discover the illusion which has so long led us astray.