How is Knowledge possible from Pure Reason?
We have already seen the important distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments. The possibility of analytic propositions can be very easily conceived, for they are based simply on the principle of contradiction. The possibility of synthetic propositions à posteriori, i.e., of such as are derived from experience, requires no particular explanation, for experience is nothing more than a continual adding together (synthesis) of perceptions. There remains, then, only synthetic propositions à priori, the possibility of which has yet to be sought for, or examined, because it must rest on other principles than that of contradiction.
But we do not require to search out the possibility of such propositions, that is, to ask whether they are possible, for there are enough of them, actually given, and with unquestionable certainty; and as the method we are here following is analytic, we shall assume at the outset that such synthetic but pure knowledge from the Reason, is real; but thereupon we must investigate the ground of this possibility and proceed to ask—How is this knowledge possible? in order that, from the principles of its possibility, we may be in a position to determine the conditions, the scope, and limits of its use. The proper problem, on which everything turns, when expressed with scholastic precision, will accordingly stand thus—How are synthetic propositions à priori possible?
In the above, for the sake of popularity, I have expressed the question somewhat differently, namely, as an inquiry after knowledge from pure Reason, which I could do on this occasion without detriment to the desired insight. For as we are here simply concerned with metaphysics and its sources, I hope, after the above remarks, readers will constantly bear in mind that, when we here speak of knowledge from pure Reason, we invariably refer to synthetic and never to analytic knowledge. Upon the solution of this problem, the standing or falling of metaphysics, in other words, its very existence, entirely lepends. Let any one lay down assertions, however plausible, with regard to it, pile up conclusions upon conclusions to the point of overwhelming, if he has not been able first to answer satisfactorily the above question, I have a right to say: It is all vain, baseless philosophy, and false wisdom. You speak through pure Reason, and claim to create à priori cognitions, inasmuch as you pretend not merely to dissect given conceptions but new connections which do not rest on the principle of contradiction, and which you think you conceive quite independently of all experience. How do you arrive at them, and how will you justify yourself in such pretensions? To appeal to the concurrence of the general common sense of mankind you cannot be allowed, for that is a witness whose reputation rests only on vulgar report.
- Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi.
- (All that thou thus showest me, I disbelieve and hate.)
But indispensable as is the answer to this question, it is at the same time no less difficult, and although the chief cause why men have not long ago endeavoured to answer it, lies in the fact of its never having occurred to them that anything of the kind could be asked; there is a second cause, in that the satisfactory answer to this one question demands a more persistent, a deeper and more laborious reflection than the most diffuse work, on metaphysics, the first appearance of which has given promise of immortal fame to its author. And every thoughtful reader, on attentively considering the requirement of this problem, frightened at the outset by its difficulty, would regard it as insoluble; and indeed, were it not for the actual existence of such pure synthetic cognitions à priori, as altogether impossible. This happened in the case of David Hume, although he did not place the problem before him in such generality by far as is here done, and as must be done if the answer is to be decisive for the whole of metaphysics. For how is it possible, said the acute man, that when a conception is given me, I can pass out of it, and connect it with another, which is not contained in the former, and indeed in such a manner as if it necessarily belonged to it? Only experience can present us with such connections (this he concluded from the difficulty which he mistook for an impossibility), and all this imagined necessity, or, what is the same thing, knowledge assumed to be à priori, is nothing but a long habit of finding something true, and thence of holding the subjective necessity for objective. If the reader complains of the difficulty and trouble I shall give him in the solution of this problem, let him only set about the attempt to solve it in an easier way. He will then perhaps feel obliged to one who has undertaken for him the labour of such deep research, and rather show some surprise at the facility with which the solution has been able to be given, when the nature of the subject is taken into account. It has cost years of trouble to solve this problem in its whole universality (in the sense in which mathematicians use this word, namely, as sufficient for all cases), and to be able finally to present it in analytic form, such as the reader will here find.
All metaphysicians are therefore solemnly and lawfully suspended from their occupations, till they shall have adequately answered the question—How are synthetic cognitions à priori possible? for in their answer alone consists the credentials they must produce, if they have aught to bring us in the name of pure Reason; in default of this, they can expect nothing else, than to be rejected, without any further inquiry as to their productions, by sensible people who have been so often deceived.
If, on the other hand, they carry on their business not as a science, but as an art of wholesome persuasion, suitable to the general common sense of mankind, this calling cannot in fairness be denied them. In that case they will only use the modest language of a rational belief; they will admit that it is not allowed them even to conjecture, much less to know, anything, respecting that which lies beyond the boundaries of all possible experience, but merely to assume (not indeed for speculative use, for this they must renounce, but for purely practical purposes) what is possible and even indispensable for the direction of the understanding and will, in life. In this way alone can they possibly carry the reputation of wise and useful men, and they will do so the more in proportion as they renounce that of metaphysicians. For the object of the latter is to be speculative philosophers, and inasmuch as when we are concerned with judgments à priori, bare probabilities are not to be relied on (for what on its assumption is known à priori, is thereby announced as necessary), it cannot be allowed them to play with conjectures, but their assertions must be either science, or they are nothing at all.
It may be said that the whole transcendental philosophy which necessarily precedes all metaphysics is itself nothing more than the full solution in systematic order and completeness of the question here propounded, and that therefore as yet we have no transcendental philosophy. For what bears its name is properly a part of metaphysics, but the former science must first constitute the possibility of the latter, and must therefore precede all metaphysics. Considering, then, that a complete and in itself entirely new science, and one respecting which no aid is to be derived from other sciences, is necessary before a single question can be adequately answered, it is not to be wondered at if the solution of the same is attended with trouble and difficulty, and even perhaps with some degree of obscurity.
As we now proceed to this solution according to analytic method, in which we presuppose that such cognitions from pure Reason are real, we can only call to our aid two sciences of theoretic knowledge (with which alone we are here concerned), namely, pure mathematics and pure natural science, for only these can present to us objects in intuition, and therefore (if a cognition à priori should occur in them) show their truth or agreement with the object in concreto, i.e., their reality; from which to the ground of their possibility we can proceed on the analytic road. This facilitates the matter very much, as the universal considerations are not merely applied to facts but even start from them, rather than as in synthetic procedure, being obliged to be derived, wholly in abstracto, from conceptions.
But from these real and at the same time well-grounded pure cognitions à priori, to rise to a possible one such as we are seeking, namely, to metaphysics as a science, we must needs embrace under our main question that which occasions it, to wit, the naturally given, though as regards its truth not unsuspicious, knowledge à priori lying at its foundation, and the working out of which, without any critical examination of its possibility, is now usually called metaphysics—in a word, the natural tendency to such a science; and thus the transcendental main question, divided into four other questions, will be answered step by step:—
- 1. How is pure mathematics possible?
- 2. How is pure natural science possible?
- 3. How is metaphysics in general possible?
- 4. How is metaphysics as a science possible?
It will be seen, that although the solution of these problems is chiefly meant to illustrate the essential contents of the Critique, it has nevertheless something special, which is of itself worthy of attention, namely, to seek the sources of given sciences in the Reason, in order to investigate and measure this, their faculty of knowing something à priori, by means of the act itself. In this way the particular science itself must gain, if not in respect of its content, at least as regards its right employment, and while it throws light on the higher question of its common origin, at the same time give occasion to better elucidating its own nature.