Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section VIII: The Regulative Principle of Pure Reason with Regard to the Cosmological Ideas [p. 508] - Critique of Pure Reason
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Section VIII: The Regulative Principle of Pure Reason with Regard to the Cosmological Ideas [p. 508] - 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.
The Regulative Principle of Pure Reason with Regard to the Cosmological Ideas [p. 508]
As through the cosmological principle of totality no real maximum is given of the series of conditions in the world of sense, as a thing by itself, but can only be required in the regressus of that series, that principle of pure reason, if thus amended, still retains its validity, not indeed as an axiom, requiring us to think the totality in the object as real, but as a problem for the understanding, and therefore for the subject, encouraging us to undertake and to continue, according to the completeness in the idea, the regressus in the series of conditions of anything given as conditioned. In our sensibility, that is, in space and time, every condition which we can reach in examining given phenomena is again conditioned, because these phenomena are not objects by themselves, in which something absolutely unconditioned might possibly exist, but empirical representations only, which always must have their condition in intuition, whereby they are determined in space and time. The principle of reason is therefore properly a rule only, which in the series of conditions [p. 509] of given phenomena postulates a regressus which is never allowed to stop at anything absolutely unconditioned. It is therefore no principle of the possibility of experience and of the empirical knowledge of the objects of the senses, and not therefore a principle of the understanding, because every experience is (according to a given intuition) within its limits; nor is it a constitutive principle of reason, enabling us to extend the concept of the world of sense beyond all possible experience, but it is merely a principle of the greatest possible continuation and extension of our experience, allowing no empirical limit to be taken as an absolute limit. It is therefore a principle of reason, which, as a rule, postulates what we ought to do in the regressus, but does not anticipate what may be given in the object, before such regressus. I therefore call it a regulative principle of reason, while, on the contrary, the principle of the absolute totality of the series of conditions, as given in the object (the phenomena) by itself, would be a constitutive cosmological principle, the hollowness of which I have tried to indicate by this very distinction, thus preventing what otherwise would have inevitably happened (through a transcendental surreptitious proceeding), namely, an idea, which is to serve as a rule only, being invested with objective reality.
In order properly to determine the meaning of this rule of pure reason it should be remarked, first of all, that it cannot tell us what the object is, but only how [p. 510] the empirical regressus is to be carried out, in order to arrive at the complete concept of the object. If we attempted the first, it would become a constitutive principle, such as pure reason can never supply. It cannot therefore be our intention to say through this principle, that a series of conditions of something, given as conditioned, is by itself either finite or infinite; for in that case a mere idea of absolute totality, produced in itself only, would represent in thought an object such as can never be given in experience, and an objective reality, independent of empirical synthesis, would have been attributed to a series of phenomena. This idea of reason can therefore do no more than prescribe a rule to the regressive synthesis in the series of conditions, according to which that synthesis is to advance from the conditioned, through all subordinate conditions, towards the unconditioned, though it can never reach it, for the absolutely unconditioned can never be met with in experience.
To this end it is necessary, first of all, to define accurately the synthesis of a series, so far as it never is complete. People are in the habit of using for this purpose two expressions which are meant to establish a difference, though they are unable clearly to define the ground of the distinction. Mathematicians speak only of a progressus in infinitum. Those who enquire into concepts (philosophers) will admit instead the expression of a [p. 511] progressus in indefinitum only. Without losing any time in the examination of the reasons which may have suggested such a distinction, and of its useful or useless application, I shall at once endeavour to define these concepts accurately for my own purpose.
Of a straight line it can be said correctly that it may be produced to infinity; and here the distinction between an infinite and an indefinite progress (progressus in indefinitum) would be mere subtilty. No doubt, if we are told to carry on a line, it would be more correct to add in indefinitum, than in infinitum, because the former means no more than, produce it as far as you wish, but the second, you shall never cease producing it (which can never be intended). Nevertheless, if we speak only of what is possible, the former expression is quite correct, because we can always make it longer, if we like, without end. The same applies in all cases where we speak only of the progressus, that is, of our proceeding from the condition to the conditioned, for such progress proceeds in the series of phenomena without end. From a given pair of parents we may, in the descending line of generation, proceed without end, and conceive quite well that that line should so continue in the world. For here reason never requires an absolute totality of the series, [p. 512] because it is not presupposed as a condition, and as it were given (datum), but only as something conditioned, that is, capable only of being given (dabile), and can be added to without end.
The case is totally different with the problem, how far the regressus from something given as conditioned may ascend in a series to its conditions; whether I may call it a regressus into the infinite, or only into the indefinite (in indefinitum; and whether I may ascend, for instance, from the men now living, through the series of their ancestors, in infinitum; or whether I may only say that, so far as I have gone back, I have never met with an empirical ground for considering the series limited anywhere, so that I feel justified, and at the same time obliged to search for an ancestor of every one of these ancestors, though not to presuppose them.
I say, therefore, that where the whole is given in empirical intuition, the regressus in the series of its internal conditions proceeds in infinitum, while if a member only of a series is given, from which the regressus to the absolute totality has first to be carried out, the regressus is only in indefinitum. Thus we must [p. 513] say that the division of matter, as given between its limits (a body), goes on in infinitum, because that matter is complete and therefore, with all its possible parts, given in empirical intuition. As the condition of that whole consists in its part, and the condition of that part in the part of that part, and so on, and as in this regressus of decomposition we never meet with an unconditioned (indivisible) member of that series of conditions, there is nowhere an empirical ground for stopping the division; nay, the further members of that continued division are themselves empirically given before the continuation of the division, and therefore the division goes on in infinitum. The series of ancestors, on the contrary, of any given man, exists nowhere in its absolute totality, in any possible experience, while the regressus goes on from every link in the generation to a higher one, so that no empirical limit can be found which should represent a link as absolutely unconditioned. As, however, the links too, which might supply the condition, do not exist in the empirical intuition of the whole, prior to the regressus, that regressus does not proceed in infinitum (by a division of what is given), but to an indefinite distance, in its search for more links in addition to those which are given, and which themselves are again always conditioned only.
In neither case — the regressus in infinitum [p. 514] nor the regressus in indefinitum — is the series of conditions to be considered as given as infinite in the object. They are not things by themselves, but phenomena only, which, as conditions of each other, are given only in the regressus itself. Therefore the question is no longer how great this series of conditions may be by itself, whether finite or infinite, for it is nothing by itself, but only how we are to carry out the empirical regressus, and how far we may continue it. And here we see a very important difference with regard to the rule of that progress. If the whole is given empirically, it is possible to go back in the series of its conditions in infinitum. But if the whole is not given, but has first to be given through an empirical regressus, I can only say that it is possible to proceed to still higher conditions of the series. In the former case I could say that more members exist and are empirically given than I can reach through the regressus (of decomposition); in the latter I can only say that I may advance still further in the regressus, because no member is empirically given as absolutely unconditioned, and a higher member therefore always possible, and therefore the enquiry for it necessary. In the former case it was necessary to find more members of the series, in the latter it is necessary to enquire for more, because no experience is absolutely limiting. For [p. 515] either you have no perception which absolutely limits your empirical regressus, and in that case you cannot consider that regressus as complete, or you have a perception which limits your series, and in that case it cannot be a part of your finished series (because what limits must be different from that which is limited by it), and you must therefore continue your regressus to that condition also, and so on for ever.
The following section, by showing their application, will place these observations in their proper light.