SOLUTION OF THE GENERAL PROBLEM OF THE PROLEGOMENA.
How is Metaphysics possible as Science.
Metaphysics, as a natural disposition of the Reason, is real, but it is also, in itself, dialectical and deceptive (as was proved in the analytical solution of the third main problem). Hence to attempt to draw our principles from it, and in their employment to follow this natural but none the less fallacious illusion, can never produce science, but only an empty dialectical art, in which one school may indeed outdo the other, but none can ever attain a justifiable and lasting success. In order that, as science, it may lay claim not merely to deceptive persuasion, but to insight and conviction, a Critique of the Reason must exhibit in a complete system the whole stock of conceptions à priori, arranged according to their different sources—the Sensibility, the Understanding, and the Reason; it must present a complete table of these conceptions, together with their analysis and all that can be deduced from them, but more especially the possibility of synthetic knowledge à priori by means of their deduction, the principles of its use, and finally, its boundaries. Thus criticism contains, and it alone contains, the whole plan well tested and approved, indeed all the means whereby metaphysics may be perfected as a science; by other ways and means this is impossible. The question now is not, however, how this business is possible, but only how we are to set about it; how good heads are to be turned from their previous mistaken and fruitless path to a non-deceptive treatment, and how such a combination may be best directed towards the common end.
This much is certain: he who has once tried criticism will be sickened for ever of all the dogmatic trash he was compelled to content himself with before, because his Reason, requiring something, could find nothing better for its occupation. Criticism stands to the ordinary school-metaphysics exactly in the same relation as chemistry to alchemy, or as astronomy to fortune-telling astrology. I guarantee that no one who has comprehended and thought out the conclusions of criticism, even in these Prolegomena, will ever return to the old sophistical pseudo-science. He will rather look forward with a kind of pleasure to a metaphysics, certainly now within his power, which requires no more preparatory discoveries, and which alone can procure for the Reason permanent satisfaction. For this is an advantage upon which metaphysics alone can reckon with confidence, among all possible sciences; namely, that it can be brought to completion and to a durable position, as it cannot change any further, nor is it susceptible of any increase through new discoveries. Since the Reason does not here find the sources of its knowledge in objects and in their intuition (which cannot teach it anything), but in itself; so that when the principles of its possibility are presented completely, and without any misunderstanding, nothing remains for pure Reason to know à priori, or even with justice to ask. The certain prospect of so definite and perfect a knowledge has a special attraction about it, even if all its uses (of which I shall hereafter speak) be set aside.
All false art, all empty wisdom, lasts its time; but it destroys itself in the end, and its highest cultivation is at the same time the moment of its decline. That as regards metaphysics this time has now come, is proved by the state to which it has declined among all cultivated nations, notwithstanding the zeal with which every other kind of science is being worked out. The old arrangement of the university studies preserves its outlines still, a single academy of sciences bestirs itself now and then, by holding out prizes to induce another attempt to be made therein; but it is no longer counted among fundamental sciences, and any one may judge for himself how an intellectually-gifted man, to whom the term great metaphysician were applied, would take this well-meant, but scarcely by any one, coveted, compliment.
But although the period of the decline of all dogmatic metaphysics is undoubtedly come, there are many things wanting to enable us to say that the time of its re-birth by means of a thorough and complete Critique of the Reason, has already appeared. All transitional phases from one tendency to its opposite pass through the state of indifference, and this moment is the most dangerous for an author, but, as it seems to me, the most favourable for the science. For when, through the complete dissolution of previous combinations, party spirit is extinguished, men’s minds are in the best mood for listening gradually to proposals for a combination on another plan. If I say that I hope that these Prolegomena will perhaps make research in the field of criticism more active, and will offer to the general spirit of philosophy, which seems to be wanting in nourishment on its speculative side, a new and very promising field for its occupation, I can already foresee that every one who has trodden unwillingly and with vexation the thorny way I have led him in the Critique, will ask me on what I ground this hope. I answer—on the irresistible law of necessity.
That the spirit of man will ever wholly give up metaphysical investigations is just as little to be expected, as that in order not always to be breathing bad air we should stop breathing altogether. Metaphysics will always exist in the world then, and what is more, [exist] with every one, but more especially with reflecting men, who in default of a public standard will each fashion it in his own way. Now, what has hitherto been termed metaphysics, can satisfy no acute mind; but to renounce it entirely is impossible; hence a Critique of the pure Reason itself must be at last attempted, and when obtained must be investigated and subjected to a universal test, because otherwise there are no means of relieving this pressing requirement, which means something more than mere thirst for knowledge.
Since I have known criticism, on closing the perusal of a work on metaphysics, which had entertained as well as instructed me, by the definition of its conceptions, its variety and its orderly arrangement, in conjunction with its easy style, I could not forbear asking—Has this author brought metaphysics one step farther? I beg the learned men for forgiveness, whose works have in other respects been useful to me, and contributed to the cultivation of the intellectual powers, if I confess that neither in their own nor in my small attempts (to which self-love gives the advantage) have I been able to find that thereby the science has been in the least advanced, and this indeed for the very natural reason that the science did not then exist, and could not be brought together piecemeal, but its germ had to be first fully formed in the Critique. In order, however, to avoid all misconception, it must be remembered from what has gone before, that by analytical treatment our conceptions have indeed been very useful to the understanding, but the science (viz., metaphysics) has not been in the least advanced, because these analyses of conceptions are only materials out of which the science has first to be constructed. We may dissect and define the conception of substance and accident as well as possible; this is useful enough as preparation for its future use. But if I cannot know that in everything that exists, substance continues and only the accidents change, the science would not be furthered in the least by all this dissection. Now, metaphysics has not been able to prove either this proposition, à priori and validly, nor that of adequate cause, much less any more complex, as for instance, one belonging to the theory of the soul or to cosmology, and never any synthetic proposition. Thus nothing has been accomplished by all this analysis, nothing created and nothing promoted, and the science, after so much turmoil and noise, remains where it was in Aristotle’s time, although the arrangements to this end, if the clue to synthetic knowledge à priori had been first found, would indisputably have been much more easily discovered than formerly.
Should any one feel himself offended by what is here said, he can very easily refute the accusation if he will only adduce a single synthetic proposition belonging to metaphysics which admits of being demonstrated in a dogmatic manner à priori; for only when he has achieved this shall I allow that he has really advanced the science, even though the proposition in question may be sufficiently confirmed by common experience. No demand can be more moderate, and more fair, and in the event (unquestionably certain) of non-accomplishment, no statement can be juster than that metaphysics as science has not hitherto existed at all.
I must only forbid two things, in case the challenge be accepted: first, the apparatus of probability and conjecture, which just as ill becomes metaphysics as geometry; and secondly, a decision by means of the magic wand of so-called sound common sense, which every one does not wave, but which regulates itself according to personal characteristics. For as regards the first, nothing can be more absurd than in a system of metaphysics, a philosophy of pure Reason, to attempt to base judgments on probability and conjecture. All that can be known à priori is thereby given out as apodictically certain, and must be proved as such. A geometry or arithmetic might just as well be attempted to be founded on conjectures; (for as concerns the calculus probabilium of the latter, it does not contain probable but perfectly certain judgments, on the degree of possibility in certain cases, under given similar conditions, which in the sum of all possible cases must infallibly follow in accordance with the rule—although in respect of any single instance this is not sufficiently determined). Even in empirical natural science conjectures (by means of induction and analogy) can only be permitted, in such a manner that at least the possibility of what I assume must be quite certain.
With the appeal to sound common sense we are still worse off, if possible, when we have to do with conceptions and principles, not so far as they are valid in respect of experience, but when they would be given out as valid outside the conditions of experience. For what is sound sense? It is the common understanding rightly used. And what is the common understanding? It is the faculty of the cognition and employment of rules in concreto in contradistinction to the speculative understanding, which is a faculty for the cognition of rules in abstracto. Thus, the common understanding will hardly comprehend the rule that all which happens is determined by means of its cause, and never be able to view this rule in its universal bearing. Hence it requires an example from experience, and when it hears that it points to nothing else but what it had always thought, when a window-pane was broken or a household utensil lost, it understands the axiom and admits it. Common understanding has no farther use, then, than to be able to see its rules confirmed in experience (although they really pertain to it à priori), and therefore to regard them à priori and independently of experience belongs to the speculative understanding, and lies wholly outside the horizon of the common understanding. But metaphysics is exclusively occupied with the latter kind of knowledge, and it is certainly a bad sign of a sound understanding to appeal to a protector, having no right of judgment here, and which one otherwise only looks at askance, except when one sees oneself pressed, and does not know how to advise or help oneself in a speculation.
A usual resource employed by these false friends of the common human understanding (who sometimes honour it highly, though they generally despise it) is to say: there must be some propositions, immediately certain, and of which one not only requires to give no proof, but no account whatever, as otherwise we should never come to an end of the grounds of our judgments; but in proof of this assertion they can never bring forward anything undoubted, and which they can attribute immediately to the common human understanding (except the axiom of contradiction, which is inadequate to demonstrate the truth of synthetic judgments) and mathematical propositions; as, for instance, that twice two make four, that between two points there is only one straight line, &c. But these are judgments from which those of metaphysics are totally distinct. For in mathematics I can make (construct) all this by my own thinking, representing it to myself as possible through a conception; I gradually add to the one two, the other two, and myself make the number four; or drawing in thought all sorts of lines from one point to another, can only draw one that is similar in all its parts, equal no less than unequal. But I cannot with my whole power of thought bring out from the conception of one thing the conception of something else, the existence of which is necessarily connected with the first, but must call experience to my aid; and although my understanding à priori offers me such a conception, [viz.] causality (though only in reference to possible experience), I cannot present it à priori in intuition, like the conceptions of mathematics, and thus exhibit its possibility à priori, but the conception together with the principles of its use, if it is to be valid à priori (as is required in metaphysics), demands a demon stration and deduction of its possibility, since otherwise we do not know how far it is valid, and whether it can only be used in experience or [may be used] outside [experience]. Hence, in metaphysics as a speculative science of the pure Reason, we can never appeal to the common human understanding, but when we are obliged to leave it, and to renounce all pure speculative cognition, which must be always a branch of knowledge, and therefore under certain circumstances metaphysics itself and its teaching, a reasonable faith will be found alone possible, and indeed sufficient to our needs, and perhaps even better for us than knowledge itself. Then the aspect of the matter is quite altered. Metaphysics must be a science, not alone as a whole, but in all its parts, else it is nothing; because in speculation of the pure Reason, nothing has a standing but universal notions. But, apart from this, probability and healthy human understanding, have their useful and justifiable employment, but on their own special principles, whose validity always depends on their relation to the practical.
This it is which I hold myself justified in demanding of a system of metaphysics, as science.