Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section VII: Critical Decision of the Cosmological Conflict of Reason with itself - Critique of Pure Reason
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Section VII: Critical Decision of the Cosmological Conflict of Reason with itself - 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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Critical Decision of the Cosmological Conflict of Reason with itself
The whole antinomy of pure reason rests on the dialectical argument that, if the conditioned is given, the whole series of conditions also is given. As therefore the objects of the senses are given us as conditioned, it follows, etc. Through this argument, the major of which seems so natural and self-evident, cosmological ideas have been introduced corresponding in number to the difference of conditions (in the synthesis of phenomena) which constitute a series. These cosmological ideas postulate the absolute totality of those series, and thus place reason in inevitable contradiction with itself. Before, however, we show what is deceptive in this sophistical argument, we must prepare ourselves for it by correcting and defining certain concepts occurring in it.
First, the following proposition is clear and admits of no doubt, that if the conditioned is given, it imposes on us the regressus in the series of all conditions of [p. 498] it; for it follows from the very concept of the conditioned that through it something is referred to a condition, and, if that condition is again conditioned, to a more distant condition, and so on through all the members of the series. This proposition is really analytical, and need not fear any transcendental criticism. It is a logical postulate of reason to follow up through the understanding, as far as possible, that connection of a concept with its conditions, which is inherent in the concept itself.
Further, if the conditioned as well as its conditions are things by themselves, then, if the former be given, the regressus to the latter is not only required, but is really given; and as this applies to all the members of the series, the complete series of conditions and with it the unconditioned also is given, or rather it is presupposed that the conditioned, which was possible through that series only, is given. Here the synthesis of the conditioned with its condition is a synthesis of the understanding only, which represents things as they are, without asking whether and how we can arrive at the knowledge of them. But if I have to deal with phenomena, which, as mere representations, are not given at all, unless I attain to a knowledge of them (that is, to the [p. 499] phenomena themselves, for they are nothing but empirical knowledge), then I cannot say in the same sense that, if the conditioned is given, all its conditions (as phenomena) are also given, and can therefore by no means conclude the absolute totality of the series. For phenomena in their apprehension are themselves nothing but an empirical synthesis (in space and time), and are given therefore in that synthesis only. Now it follows by no means that, if the conditioned (as phenomenal) is given, the synthesis also that constitutes its empirical condition should thereby be given at the same time and presupposed; for this takes place in the regressus only, and never without it. What we may say in such a case is this, that a regressus to the conditions, that is, a continued empirical synthesis in that direction is required, and that conditions cannot be wanting that are given through that regressus.
Hence we see that the major of the cosmological argument takes the conditioned in the transcendental sense of a pure category, while the minor takes it in the empirical sense of a concept of the understanding, referring to mere phenomena, so that it contains that dialectical deceit which is called Sophisma figurae dictionis. That deceit, [p. 500] however, is not artificial, but a perfectly natural illusion of our common reason. It is owing to it that, in the major, we presuppose the conditions and their series as it were on trust, if anything is given as conditioned, because this is no more than the logical postulate to assume complete premisses for any given conclusion. Nor does there exist in the connection of the conditioned with its condition any order of time, but they are presupposed in themselves as given together. It is equally natural also in the minor to look on phenomena as things by themselves, and as objects given to the understanding only in the same manner as in the major, as no account was taken of all the conditions of intuition under which alone objects can be given. But there is an important distinction between these concepts, which has been overlooked. The synthesis of the conditioned with its condition, and the whole series of conditions in the major, was in no way limited by time, and was free from any concept of succession. The empirical synthesis, on the contrary, and the series of conditions in phenomena, which was subsumed in the minor, is necessarily successive and given as such in time only. Therefore I had no right to assume the absolute totality of the synthesis and of the series represented by it in this case as well as in the former. For in the former all the members of the series are given by themselves (without determination in time), while here they are possible through the successive regressus only, which cannot exist [p. 501] unless it is actually carried out.
After convicting them of such a mistake in the argument adopted by both parties as the foundation of their cosmological assertions, both might justly be dismissed as not being able to produce any good title in support of their claims. But even thus their quarrel is not yet ended, as if it had been proved that both parties, or one of them, were wrong in the matter contended for (in the conclusion), though they had failed to support it by valid proof. Nothing seems clearer than that, if one maintains that the world has a beginning, and the other that it has no beginning, but exists from all eternity, one or the other must be right. But if this were so, as the arguments on both sides are equally clear, it would still remain impossible ever to find out on which side the truth lies, and the suit continues, although both parties have been ordered to keep the peace before the tribunal of reason. Nothing remains therefore in order to settle the quarrel once for all, and to the satisfaction of both parties, but to convince them that, though they can refute each other so eloquently, they are really quarrelling about nothing, and that a certain transcendental illusion has mocked them with a reality where no [p. 502] reality exists. We shall now enter upon this way of adjusting a dispute, which cannot be adjudicated.
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The Eleatic philosopher Zeno, a subtle dialectician, was severely reprimanded by Plato as a heedless Sophist who, in order to display his skill, would prove a proposition by plausible arguments and subvert the same immediately afterwards by arguments equally strong. He maintained, for instance, that God (which to him was probably nothing more than the universe) is neither finite nor infinite, neither in motion nor at rest, neither similar nor dissimilar to any other thing. It seemed to his critics as if he had intended to deny completely both of the two self-contradictory proposition which would be absurd. But I do not think that he can be rightly charged with this. We shall presently consider the first of these propositions more carefully. With regard to the others, if by the word God he meant the universe, he could not but say that it is neither permanently present in its place (at rest) nor that it changes it (in motion), because all places exist in the universe only, while the universe exists in no place. If the universe comprehends in itself everything that exists, it follows that it cannot be similar or dissimilar to any other thing, because there is no other thing besides it with which it could be compared. If two opposite [p. 503] judgments presuppose an inadmissible condition, they both, in spite of their contradiction (which, however, is no real contradiction), fall to the ground, because the condition fails under which alone either of the propositions was meant to be valid.
If somebody were to say that everybody has either a good or a bad smell, a third case is possible, namely, that it has no smell at all, in which case both contradictory propositions would be false. If I say that it is either good smelling or not good smelling (vel suaveolens vel nonsuaveolens), in that case the two judgments are contradictory, and the former only is wrong, while its contradictory opposite, namely, that some bodies are not good smelling, comprehends those bodies also which have no smell at all. In the former opposition (per disparata) the contingent condition of the concept of a body (smell) still remained in the contradictory judgment and was not eliminated by it, so that the latter could not be called the contradictory opposite of the former.
If I say therefore that the world is either infinite in space or is not infinite (non est infinitus), then, if the former proposition is wrong, its contradictory opposite, that the world is not infinite, must be true. I should thus only eliminate an infinite world without affirming another, namely, the finite. But if I had said the world [p. 504] is either infinite or finite (not-infinite), both statements may be false. For I then look upon the world, as by itself, determined in regard to its extent, and I do not only eliminate in the opposite statement the infinity, and with it, it may be, its whole independent existence, but I add a determination to the world as a thing existing by itself, which may be false, because the world may not be a thing by itself, and therefore, with regard to extension, neither infinite nor finite. This kind of opposition I may be allowed to call dialectical, that the real contradiction, the analytical opposition. Thus then of two judgments opposed to each other dialectically both may be false, because the one does not only contradict the other, but says something more than is requisite for a contradiction.
If we regard the two statements that the world is infinite in extension, and that the world is finite in extension, as contradictory opposites, we assume that the world (the whole series of phenomena) is a thing by itself; for it remains, whether I remove the infinite or the finite regressus in the series of its phenomena. But if we remove this supposition, or this transcendental illusion, and deny that it is a thing by itself, then the contradictory opposition of the two statements becomes [p. 505] purely dialectical, and as the world does not exist by itself (independently of the regressive series of my representations), it exists neither as a whole by itself infinite, nor as a whole by itself finite. It exists only in the empirical regressus in the series of phenomena, and nowhere by itself. Hence, if that series is always conditioned, it can never exist as complete, and the world is therefore not an inconditioned whole, and does not exist as such, either with infinite or finite extension.
What has here been said of the first cosmological idea, namely, that of the absolute totality of extension in phenomena, applies to the others also. The series of conditions is to be found only in the regressive synthesis, never by itself, as complete, in phenomenon as an independent thing, existing prior to every regressus. Hence I shall have to say that the number of parts in any given phenomenon is by itself neither finite nor infinite, because a phenomenon does not exist by itself, and its parts are only found through the regressus of the decomposing synthesis through and in the regressus, and that regressus can never be given as absolutely complete, whether as finite or as infinite. The same applies to the series of causes, one being prior to the other, and to the series leading from conditioned to unconditioned necessary existence, which can never be regarded either by [p. 506] itself finite in its totality or infinite, because, as a series of subordinated representations, it forms a dynamical regressus only, and cannot exist prior to it, by itself, as a self-subsistent series of things.
The antinomy of pure reason with regard to its cosmological ideas is therefore removed by showing that it is dialectical only, and a conflict of an illusion produced by our applying the idea of absolute totality, which exists only as a condition of things by themselves, to phenomena, which exist in our representation only, and if they form a series, in the successive regressus, but nowhere else. We may, however, on the other side, derive from that antinomy a true, if not dogmatical, at least critical and doctrinal advantage, namely, by proving through it indirectly the transcendental ideality of phenomena, in case anybody should not have been satisfied by the direct proof given in the transcendental Æsthetic. The proof would consist in the following dilemma. If the world is a whole existing by itself, it is either finite or infinite. Now the former as well as the latter proposition is false, as has been shown by the proofs given in the antithesis on one and in the thesis on the other side. It is false, therefore, that the world (the sum total of all phenomena) is a whole existing [p. 507] by itself. Hence it follows that phenomena in general are nothing outside our representations, which was what we meant by their transcendental ideality.
This remark is of some importance, because it shows that our proofs of the fourfold antinomy were not mere sophistry, but honest and correct, always under the (wrong) supposition that phenomena, or a world of sense which comprehends them all, are things by themselves. The conflict of the conclusions drawn from this shows, however, that there is a flaw in the supposition, and thus leads us to the discovery of the true nature of things, as objects of the senses. This transcendental Dialectic therefore does not favour scepticism, but only the sceptical method, which can point to it as an example of its great utility, if we allow the arguments of reason to fight against each other with perfect freedom, from which something useful and serviceable for the correction of our judgments will always result, though it may not be always that which we were looking for.