Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section III: Of the Arguments of Speculative Reason in Proof of the Existence of a Supreme Being - Critique of Pure Reason
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Section III: Of the Arguments of Speculative Reason in Proof of the Existence of a Supreme Being - 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 Arguments of Speculative Reason in Proof of the Existence of a Supreme Being
Notwithstanding this urgent want of reason to presuppose something, as a foundation for the complete determination of the concepts of the understanding, reason nevertheless becomes too soon aware of the purely ideal and factitious character of such a supposition to allow itself to be persuaded by it alone to admit a [p. 584] mere creation of thought as a real being, unless it were forced by something else to seek for some rest in its regressus from the conditioned, which is given, to the unconditioned which, though in itself and according to its mere concept not given as real, can alone complete the series of conditions followed up to their causes. This is the natural course, taken by the reason of every, even the most ordinary, human being, although not every one can hold out in it. It does not begin with concepts, but with common experience, and thus has something really existing for its foundation. That foundation however sinks, unless it rests upon the immoveable rock of that which is absolutely necessary; and this itself hangs without a support, if without and beneath it there be empty space, and everything be not filled by it, so that no room be left for a why, — in fact, if it be not infinite in reality.
If we admit the existence of something, whatever it may be, we must also admit that something exists by necessity. For the contingent exists only under the condition of something else as its cause, and from this the same conclusion leads us on till we reach a cause which is not contingent, and therefore unconditionally necessary. This is the argument on which reason founds its progress towards an original being.
Now reason looks out for the concept of a [p. 585] being worthy of such a distinction as the unconditioned necessity of its existence, not in order to conclude a priori its existence from its concept (for if it ventured to do this, it might confine itself altogether to mere concepts, without looking for a given existence as their foundation), but only in order to find among all concepts of possible things one which has nothing incompatible with absolute necessity. For that something absolutely necessary must exist, is regarded as certain after the first conclusion. And after discarding everything else, as incompatible with that necessity, reason takes the one being that remains for the absolutely necessary being, whether its necessity can be comprehended, that is, derived from its concept alone, or not. Now the being the concept of which contains a therefore for every wherefore, which is in no point and no respect defective, and is sufficient as a condition everywhere, seems, on that account, to be most compatible with absolute necessity, because, being in possession of all conditions of all that is possible, it does not require, nay, is not capable of any condition, and satisfies at least in this one respect the concept of unconditioned necessity more than any other concept which, because it is deficient and in need of completion, does not exhibit any such [p. 586] characteristic of independence from all further conditions. It is true that we ought not to conclude that what does not contain the highest and in every respect complete condition, must therefore be conditioned even in its existence; yet it does not exhibit the only characteristic of unconditioned existence, by which reason is able to know any being as unconditioned by means of a concept a priori.
The concept of a being of the highest reality (ens realissimum) would therefore seem of all concepts of all possible things to be the most compatible with the concept of an unconditionally necessary Being, and though it may not satisfy that concept altogether, yet no choice is left to us, and we are forced to keep to it, because we must not risk the existence of a necessary Being, and, if we admit it, can, in the whole field of possibility, find nothing that could produce better founded claims on such a distinction in existence.
This therefore is the natural course of human reason. It begins by persuading itself of the existence of some necessary Being. In this being it recognises unconditioned existence. It then seeks for the concept of that which is independent of all condition, and finds it in that [p. 587] which is itself the sufficient condition of all other things, that is, in that which contains all reality. Now as the unlimited all is absolute unity, and implies the concept of a being, one and supreme, reason concludes that the Supreme Being, as the original cause of all things, must exist by absolute necessity.
We cannot deny that this argument possesses a certain foundation, when we must come to a decision, that is, when, after having once admitted the existence of some one necessary Being, we agree that we must decide where to place it; for in that case we could not make a better choice, or we have really no choice, but are forced to vote for the absolute unity of complete reality, as the source of all possibility. If, however, we are not forced to come to a decision, but prefer to leave the question open till our consent has been forced by the full weight of arguments, that is, if we only have to form a judgment of what we really do know, and what we only seem to know, then our former conclusion does by no means appear in so favourable a light, and must appeal to favour in order to make up for the defects of its legal claims.
For, if we accept everything as here stated, namely, first, that we may infer rightly from any given existence [p. 588] (perhaps even my own only) the existence of an unconditionally necessary Being, secondly, that I must consider a being which contains all reality and therefore also all condition, as absolutely unconditioned, and that therefore the concept of the thing which is compatible with absolute necessity has thus been found, it follows by no means from this, that a concept of a limited being, which does not possess the highest reality, is therefore contradictory to absolute necessity. For, though I do not find in its concept the unconditioned which carries the whole of conditions with it, this does not prove that, for the same reason, its existence must be conditioned; for I cannot say in a hypothetical argument, that if a certain condition is absent (here the completeness according to concepts), the conditioned also is absent. On the contrary, it will be open to us to consider all the rest of limited beings as equally unconditioned, although we cannot from the general concept which we have of them deduce their necessity. Thus this argument would not have given us the least concept of the qualities of a necessary Being, in fact it would not have helped us in the least.
Nevertheless this argument retains a certain importance and authority, of which it cannot be at once deprived on account of this objective insufficiency. For suppose [p. 589] that there existed certain obligations, quite correct in the idea of reason, but without any reality in their application to ourselves, that is without any motives, unless we admitted a Supreme Being to give effect to practical laws, we should then be bound to follow the concepts which, though not objectively sufficient, are yet, according to the standard of our reason, preponderant, and more convincing than any others. The duty of deciding would here turn the balance against the hesitation of speculation by an additional practical weight; nay, reason would not be justified, even before the most indulgent judge, if, under such urgent pleas, though with deficient insight, it had not followed its judgment, of which we can say at least, that we know no better.
This argument, though it is no doubt transcendental, as based on the internal insufficiency of the contingent, is nevertheless so simple and natural, that the commonest understanding accepts it, if once led up to it. We see things change, arise and perish, and these, or at least their state, must therefore have a cause. Of [p. 590] every cause, however, that is given in experience, the same question must be asked. Where, therefore, could we more fairly place the last causality, except where there exists also the supreme causality, that is in that Being, which originally contains in itself the sufficient cause for every possible effect, and the concept of which can easily be realised by the one trait of an all-comprehending perfection? That supreme cause we afterwards consider as absolutely necessary, because we find it absolutely necessary to ascend to it, while there is no ground for going beyond it. Thus among all nations, even when still in a state of blind polytheism, we always see some sparks of monotheism, to which they have been led, not by meditation and profound speculation, but by the natural bent of the common understanding, which they gradually followed and comprehended.
There are only three kinds of proofs of the existence of God from speculative reason.
All the paths that can be followed to this end begin either from definite experience and the peculiar nature of the world of sense, known to us through experience, and ascend from it, according to the laws of causality, to the highest cause, existing outside the world; or they rest on indefinite experience only, that is, on any existence which is empirically given; or lastly, they leave all experience out of account, and conclude, entirely a priori from mere concepts, the existence of a supreme [p. 591] cause. The first proof is the physico-theological, the second the cosmological, the third the ontological proof. There are no more, and there can be no more.
I shall show that neither on the one path, the empirical, nor on the other, the transcendental, can reason achieve anything, and that it stretches its wings in vain, if it tries to soar beyond the world of sense by the mere power of speculation. With regard to the order in which these three arguments should be examined, it will be the opposite of that, followed by reason in its gradual development, in which we placed them also at first ourselves. For we shall be able to show that, although experience gives the first impulse, it is the transcendental concept only which guides reason in its endeavours, and fixes the last goal which reason wishes to retain. I shall therefore begin with the examination of the transcendental proof, and see afterwards how far it may be strengthened by the addition of empirical elements.