Source: Translator's Introduction in Kant’s Prolegomena and Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, trans. with a Biography and Introduction by Ernest Belfort Bax (2nd revised edition) (London: George Bell and Sons, 1891).
The three great epochs in modern philosophy are characterised respectively by the names of Descartes, Locke and Kant. Of these epochs, that inaugurated by Kant is the one to which the thought of our own day may be said to belong, and this in more than a special sense, for the influence of Kant is almost as deeply visible in the general current of speculation as in philosophy proper. There is, indeed, scarcely a doctrine or portion of modern science or controversy, the germ of which is not to be found in Kant, hazarded, it may be, in the form of a mere idle fancy, but unmistakably there. Kant was a Titan alike in the range and depth of his knowledge, as in his almost unequalled and certainly unsurpassed intellectual grasp. The only other thinker in the world’s history who can be deemed worthy of a place beside him for this all-but unique combination of qualities is perhaps Aristotle. But the results of the Königsberg philosopher’s labour have been incomparably richer than even those of the Stagirite. The works of the latter thinker may constitute an encyclopædia of ancient thought, but neither his own successors nor the ancient world generally showed any capacity for developing the hints and speculations thrown out by him. They became an oracle of appeal for his followers, of which the meaning was to be elucidated, but so far as any capacity for organic assimilation is concerned they fell upon barren ground. Ancient philosophy practically reached high-water mark in Plato and Aristotle. No real advance was made upon these thinkers. With Kant the case is different. He stands at the commencement instead of the culmination of an epoch. Though he also brought to a focus the speculation and research of his predecessors; the intellectual ferment of the 19th century lay before him, and it was in this fruitful soil that his doctrines were destined to germinate. With none but 18th-century materials he founded 19th-century thought. The Kantian system, as propounded by Kant, is too full of contradictions ever to become petrified into a code of phosophical dogma. It steadily refuses to crystallise. Many positions equally insisted upon fail to blend with one another, notwithstanding the profusion of ingenuity that has been lavished in the attempt to make them do so. This applies almost as much to the general bearings of the system as to its special points and technical details. Idealist and realist, theist and agnostic, severally draw from Kant’s writings arguments and expressions of approval for their respective standpoints; but no one has yet succeeded in placing the Kantian system as a whole beyond the reach of criticism. Hence, no two Kantians can be found to agree in its interpretation, one accentuating one line of thought and one another. The reason of this lies in the untrodden nature of the ground he was exploring.
There is no trace of Kant’s ever having studied Spinoza at first hand, though he unquestionably took up the mantle of the author of the Tractatus theologicopoliticus, in matters concerning Biblical criticism and the free expression of opinion in theology and politics. The thinker with whom Kant was most in contact at the outset of his philosophical career was Leibnitz, especially through the medium of the Leibnitzians Wolff and Baumgarten. He subsequently entered on a thorough study of the English philosophic dynasty—Locke, Berkeley and Hume. He appears also to have had some acquaintance with the Scotch psychologists, Reid, Beattie, etc. Thus he became versed no less in the English empiricist, than in the dogmatic-metaphysical school then uppermost on the continent. It was Hume, he says, who first broke his dogmatic slumber with his statement of the causation problem. With no one is it more important than with Kant to bear in mind the sources whence the start was made on the philosophical voyage of discovery, a neglect of this rendering many elements of Kant’s thought well nigh incomprehensible. It cannot be too much insisted upon that in the ‘Critique’ two distinct lines of philosophic thought meet, but fail to coalesce satisfactorily.
The phenomenalism and scepticism of the British school appear uppermost at one time, while at another, repudiation of Berkeleyan idealism, and protestations as to the necessary existence of a world of things-in-themselves reveal the former disciple of Leibnitz and Wolff. A few words on the philosophy then dominant in Germany may be desirable to facilitate an appreciation of the influences under which Kant started.
Leibnitz had sought to bridge over the Cartesian dualism between matter and spirit by his hypothesis of an intelligible world as expounded in the ‘Monadology,’ and by the celebrated doctrine of a “Pre-established harmony.” The monads of Leibnitz may be described as spiritual atoms in contradistinction to the material atoms of the ordinary atomistic doctrine. They were infinite in number, unextended and possessed of various degrees of consciousness. These immaterial essences were thus subjects capable of receiving impressions, the differences between them consisting in the relative clearness or confusion of these impressions. A material body is an aggregate of monads, which, owing to our confused consciousness, is presented as a continuous whole. Minerals and plants consist, so to speak, of sleeping monads, whose impressions do not reach the niveau of consciousness. The order of impressions or presentations, i.e., the subjective order, in each monad is determined by an immanent causality; but the objective relations of the monads among each other by a purely mechanical causality, the system of pre-established harmony, effecting and regulating the correspondence of these two orders with one another. Christian Wolff, while adopting the Leibnitzian positions in the main, endeavoured to reconcile them with the older Aristotelian system of the schools, and to reduce their somewhat confused statement to scholastic form and precision. This endeavour, if successful in its immediate object, was so at the sacrifice of all that gave to the system its plausibility and attractiveness in the hands of its author. Wolff is nevertheless saved from oblivion by Kant’s employment of his terminology and classification. Wolff divided philosophy into Ontology, or the science of being in general; Psychology, or the science of the soul as a simple substance; Cosmology, or the science of the material universe; and Theology, or the science of the existence and attributes of the Deity. The traces of this division in the Transcendental Dialectic are apparent on its very surface.
While Wolff, Baumgarten and their disciples in Germany were thus engaged in developing the principles and following the abstract and dogmatic method propounded by Descartes, on the lines of Leibnitz (Spinoza’s monism remaining a dead letter to his immediate successors no less than his contemporaries, except for an occasional polemic) another and very different view was being worked out in this country. Hobbes and Locke had successfully applied the inductive method laid down by Bacon to the problems of empirical psychology, and more than hinted at the nescience of human knowledge of all save the phenomena immediately present in consciousness. Berkeley had carried these principles to their logical issue on the one side, in denying a matter other than the qualities known to us, and the existence of which is equivalent to their perception by a mind; while Hume had developed the equally logical thesis on the other side that the word “mind” itself merely denoted a succession of impressions and ideas, and had thence argued that our notion of causality is solely the result of habit, and therefore limited in its application to experience.
In France the great materialist and sensationalist school held sway, and its echoes probably reached the shores of the Baltic. The reason Kant makes little direct allusion to it, is not unlikely to be that he regarded it as an extreme one-sided off-shoot of Lockeian empiricism. The German Aufklärung of Basedow, Reimarus, etc., affected the current of philosophy proper but slightly. Two fundamental lines of thought were thus at this time visible—the German dogmatic-metaphysical, and the English empirist-sceptical, with its dogmatic pendant, the French materialist.* These two principal lines met in Kant, and their respective doctrines were destined to be resolved in his critical crucible. Idealism and Materialism, supposed to be irreconcilable, were to be exhibited as merely diverse aspects of one problem, the solution of which, if to be found at all, must be sought for in a higher synthesis. Their respective pretensions to “pluck out the heart” of the mystery of existence were to be disposed of; dogmatism of every kind was to receive its death-blow, and the first real attempt (because the first which adequately recognised the strength of its position) be made to grapple with philosophic scepticism. Kant’s system is comprised in three treatises, the ‘Critique of the Pure Reason,’ the ‘Critique of the Practical Reason,’ and the ‘Critique of the Faculty of Judgment’—the first of these dealing with the origin of Knowledge, the second with the criterion of Ethics, and the third with the data of Æsthetics. The fundamental task of the ‘Critique of the Pure Reason,’ immeasurably the most important of the three, is to reduce conscious experience to its elements. It is in no sense intended as a treatise on psychology. Psychology deals with the objects or phenomena given in internal experience and their relations, just as the natural sciences deal with the objects or phenomena given in external experience and their relations. The purpose of the branch of philosophy founded by Kant, and of which the ‘Critique’ is the organon, is to inquire into the conditions of consciousness, and not to analyse its content, whether external or internal. He termed it Erkenntnisstheorie, or “Theory of knowledge,” its problem being to discover how knowledge is possible? Psychology started from consciousness as a given fact, without inquiring as to its genesis. The old dogmatic metaphysicians applied its conceptions as they listed without, no less than within, the region of possible experience. Kant cried, “hold!”—the first duty of philosophy is to inquire at once into the credentials of experience, and of the conceptions that profess to transcend it. The question, as propounded by him, was accordingly, “How are synthetic propositions à priori possible?” His own solution of this momentous question, which has revolutionised the whole of philosophy, is contained in the ‘Critique.’*
We have more than once spoken of Kant’s “system,” though it must be remembered that Kant formulated no system in the old sense of the word, namely, as implying a body of doctrines concerning speculative questions in general. This is acknowledged under the title of the Prolegomena. Kant claimed to have founded and elaborated the science of Criticism, as a special philosophic discipline (to use the old expression), which was to constitute the propædeutic to every other philosophic discipline, but not to have attempted a definite solution of the problems of philosophy. The Kantian system, then, is one of criticism. It is concerned with the elements and modes of cognition, the synthesis of which we term experience, or in other words it is a critical investigation into the primary conditions of our knowledge. We may remark that there is also another and a secondary sense in which Kant’s system is critical. As Dr. Vaihinger observes, “Kant’s ‘Critique,’ more than any other work arose out of polemic, and hence consists in such.” As a natural consequence, any explanation of the ‘Critique’ must largely occupy itself in tracing each doctrine and discussion to its historical source. But to a right understanding of Kant, it is not only necessary to trace the pedigree of every principle; it is also necessary to follow its subsequent development in the post-Kantian philosophy. The elementary constituent of every post-Kantian system is to be found in the ‘Critique,’ in the form of some principle implicitly or explicitly given, and this is in many cases first seen in its full bearings in the system into which it developed.
It does not lie within the scope of the present introduction to add one more to the many condensed expositions of the ‘Critique’ already before the world. At the same time, a brief notice of one or two of the leading points in dispute, together with a rather more extended examination of one of its fundamental principles, may not be out of place, or without an interest for the student of Kant. It is of the utmost importance to remember that “knowledge” or “experience,” in a critical sense, does not mean knowledge or experience in the individual quâ individual, which is a matter concerning empirical psychology; and that Kant’s object is not to trace the origin and progress of knowledge or experience in the individual mind, but to discover the elements which go to make an experience in general,—or in other words, objectivity itself—possible, without which no such thing as individual experience could exist at all, but yet which lie concealed in individual experience.
Kant’s main question may be split up into two: I. How is pure Reason possible? II. How is experience possible? These questions severally recall the dogmatic and empirical sides of Kant’s philosophic training. Kant had to show the dogmatists that the possibility of à priori cognition presupposed experience. He had to show the empiricists that an à priori element lay concealed in experience itself. Experience and Reason, according to Kant, mutually condition one another. The inchoate matter of feeling receives its form from the à priori Reason and the world of conscious experience arises. True cognition à priori implies experience, while experience, in so far as it is necessary and universal (in other words, objectively valid), implies cognition à priori. Hence Kant’s answer to the above question was, pure Reason is possible in and through experience, and experience is possible by means of a system of pure conceptions, conditioned by an à priori unity, or, in other words, through pure Reason.
The respective positions of Dogmatism, Empiricism and Criticism, with regard to the problem of the origin of knowledge, may be expressed in terms of the old scholastic controversy. Dogmatism assumed the forms of a consciousness in general as obtaining apart from and independently of the particular consciousness of the individual (the extreme realist position, universalia ante res). Psychological Empiricism denied these forms any standing, otherwise than as abstract notions derived from individual experience of particulars (the extreme nominalist position, universalia post res). Criticism re-affirmed the universal forms of conscious experience in general, apart from the particular consciousness of the individual, but only, in and with reference to, some such individual consciousness (universalia in rebus). The above affords us an illustration of how old and apparently barren controversies reappear in the evolution of thought, so metamorphosed, and with such an infinitely richer content, as to be hardly recognisable.
Kant’s statement of the theory of knowledge, it is scarcely necessary to remind the reader, falls into three divisions. The first, the transcendental Æsthetic, deals with the Sensibility, the receptive element, which intuites the as yet blind matter of feeling under the forms of space and time; the second, the transcendental Analytic, treats of the Understanding, the active element, which contributes to the material furnished by sense its own categories or conceptions; the third, the transcendental Dialectic, is concerned with Pure Reason, which through its ideas extends the conditioned, actual experience attained by means of the former, unconditionally.
A good instance of a typical English misconception of Kant is to be found in Mr. Herbert Spencer’s ‘First Principles’ (p. 50), where an attempt is made to crush Kant by attributing to him an inconsequence hardly possible with the merest tyro in philosophic thought. “If,” says Mr. Spencer, “space and time are the conditions under which we think, then when we think of space and time themselves, our thoughts must be unconditioned; and if there can be unconditioned thoughts, what becomes of the theory?” Now, it so happens that Kant did not claim space and time as conditions of thought, but of sensuous intuition. Thought, moreover, in the sense of the passage quoted, namely, empirical reproductive thought, lies altogether outside the range of Kant’s inquiry, which is concerned with the genetic origin of cognition, and not with its empirical character. Space and time, he might have answered, we can, indeed, only think of reproductively as abstractions; it is only thus that they can become objects of empirical thought. But this does not touch the critical position. The possibility of their reproduction in experience in the form of abstract notions does not invalidate the claim for them to be à priori conditions of the possibility of the original productive synthesis of experience. We have here an instance of how the most eminent representatives of the typical English school beat the air in attempting to combat Kant.
Much has been written on the relation of the “Understanding” to the “Reason,” in the critical philosophy. There is no doubt that the difference as conceived by Kant was more one of function than of structure, although his utterances on this point are by no means always clear or even consistent. As Schopenhauer points out, there are passages intended to be elucidatory in which the distinction sought to be established is so wiredrawn as to be hardly intelligible. The function of the understanding is out of perceptions to construct cognitions or experience. This it effects by imposing upon them its pure conceptions or categories, or, in Kant’s language, “subsuming” the forms containing the perceptions (viz., space and time) under these. Kant appears at times to overlook the fact that mere perception itself involves the category. Perception, he says, which is purely subjective, merely presupposes the primitive unity of the consciousness, together with the laws of the connection of perceptions therein. Knowledge, cognition or experience, on the contrary, which passes beyond the mere subjective connection of the perceptions, ascribing objective reality and a definite objective order to the presentations contained in them, presupposes the categories. The essence of objectivity is, in fact, space, and the dynamic categories. The function of the “Ideas of the Reason” is, according to Kant, “to posit the unconditioned possible to the conditioned actual.” But the realm of the Pure Reason, in Kant’s sense, is purely “regulative.” It is a determination of the pure conceptions of the understanding in a particular manner, the objective validity of which, and of the propositions based upon it, is assumed on “practical” grounds. The “Ideas,” in short, are not constitutive of experience. Their reality is not implied in the nature of cognition in general, like the categories or the pure forms of space and time. They are outworks, as it were, of the main edifice of the theory of knowledge, giving symmetry, perhaps, to the form the structure assumed in Kant’s hands, but hardly indispensable to it even in his case.
The great battleground in the critical philosophy is unquestionably the problem of the relation between the Thing-in-itself and the phenomenon present in consciousness. That Kant himself is by no means clear as to his own position in the matter is evident. On this ground the principles of dogmatism and scepticism have, in fact, contended for possession of the critical philosophy, both in the person of the Königsberg sage himself and his successors. A clear and correct view of the significance of the Ding-an-sich in Kant’s system would go a long way toward settling all other questions with regard to it. The noumenon, or thing-in-itself, is the point of contact between “theory of knowledge” and ontology. In the critical philosophy it appears in three forms; I. as the unconditioned object of the internal sense; II. as the unconditioned object of the external sense; and III. as the unconditioned object in general, the ens realissimum or Absolute. In briefly considering these several aspects of the Kantian Ding-an-sich, we will take the second and third in order first, a procedure the desirability of which will become apparent in the course of our investigation.
In the transcendental Æsthetic, by reducing space and time to the subjective forms of the Sensibility, Kant logically carried out the position taken up, but imperfectly developed, by Berkeley, that all perception is just as much affection of a conscious subject as the sensations of pleasure and pain, and just as little entitled to be regarded as obtaining outside consciousness. But at this point Kant diverged from Berkeley. Besides contending that the forms of experience in general (as opposed to that merely referable to the individual mind) namely, space and time, together with the categories, give external reality to the presentation in the only sense in which we understand the expression, he assumed, somewhat inconsequently, the existence of a world of unknown and unknowable things-in-themselves, as giving rise to the material element in the affections of sense. The conception of objects as phenomena supposes the existence of things-in-themselves, or noumena. Without the reference of the empirical object to a non-empirical object—of the appearance to a thing of which it is the appearance—the word phenomenon itself would lose all meaning, there would be nothing, philosophically speaking, to distinguish it from sheer illusion.* That which gives material as opposed to formal reality to the empirical object is its necessary reference to a thing or object in itself. We may term this non-empirical object of the outer sense the cosmological thing-in-itself, to distinguish it from the two other forms in which the thing-in-itself appears in Kant, and which may be characterised respectively as the psychological and the theological thing-in-itself. It is worthy of note that the cosmological thing-in-itself is frequently spoken of as plural by Kant. Phenomena are said to imply things-in-themselves, the obvious inference being that to each empirical object there corresponds a non-empirical. Now as will be seen this reference to individuation and number, which, as implying space, time and the category of quantity, should, on Kant’s principles, apply exclusively to phenomena, to the unknown ground outside phenomena, is an obvious inconsequence. Individuation and plurality imply limitation in time, or space, or both. Can we ascribe such a glaring inconsistency to a mere carelessness of language? The more probable explanation seems to the present writer to be that we have here an indication of the fact that Kant was still haunted, even in his critical days, by the Leibnitz-Wolffian monads, and that in the cosmological things-in-themselves, the noumena which affect the external sense, we may see a survival of the Monadology. Kant doubtless disengaged himself with difficulty from his old philosophical associations, a circumstance which here, as elsewhere, prevented him from clearly grasping the import of his own doctrines. But, whatever the explanation, the fact remains that Kant never fully realised that the exclusive subjectivity of space and time, the sources of individuation, must necessarily preclude the assumption of individuation in the noumenon.
A further inconsistency is traceable in Kant’s doctrine of an objective world of noumena. The noumenal object is continually referred to as the cause of our sense-presentations, a transcendent application of the category of cause and effect, hardly less reprehensible on critical principles than the one above mentioned. Kant’s subjectivism is at times too strong to admit of any via media between the dualism implied in this conception and a thoroughgoing illusionism; for the via media of Monism was not for him, but his successors. As a consequence, whenever he thinks it is landing him in the quicksands of absolute illusion, he clutches desperately at this problematical straw of an objective world of things-in-themselves. Throughout the whole system the struggle between the two points of view—phenomenalism and dogmatism—is maintained.*
The thing-in-itself, as the ideal of the Reason, stands at the opposite pole of the ‘Critique’ to the thing-in-itself as transcendental object. It is admittedly not an assumption necessitated by the nature of cognition in general, but a “mere idea.” Though the culminating “idea” of the Pure Reason, it is no more than an “idea.” The cosmological things-in-themselves, on the other hand, only appear in the domain of the Reason, indirectly, viz., as affording a basis for the idea of freedom, the antinomies furnishing a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the claims of nature to be more than empirically valid. In its objective or cosmological aspect, the noumenon appears as an infinite plurality; in its Ideal aspect as an infinite unity. If in the one we have an echo of the Leibnitz-Wolffian monads, in the other we are recalled to the One Substance of Spinoza. It is undeniable that both points of view are alike remnants of the old transcendent or dogmatic metaphysics. Notwithstanding that Kant’s acquaintance with the system of Spinoza was merely secondhand and superficial, the first two of the following passages are scarcely distinguishable from Spinozism. Kant defines the Ideal object as a “transcendental substratum” lying “at the foundation of the complete determination of things—a substratum which is to form the fund from which all possible predicates of things are to be supplied,” in short, as an “ideal of a sum total of all reality.” “In this view,” continues Kant, “negations are nothing but limitations—a term which could not with propriety be applied to them if the unlimited (the all) did not form the true basis of our conception” (‘Critique,’ p. 355). “The conception of an ens realissimum,” says Kant, “is the conception of an individual being, inasmuch as it is determined by that predicate of all possible predicates which indicates and belongs to being.” The course of the exposition shows a progressive development on the theological side, till we arrive at the theistic idea in its complete form. “We proceed to hypostasise this idea of the sum total of all reality, by changing the distributive unity of the empirical exercise of the understanding into the collective unity of an empirical whole, a dialectical illusion, and by cogitating the whole or sum of experience as an individual thing, which stands at the head of the possibility of all things, the real conditions of whose determination it presents” (‘Critique,’ p. 339).
In Kant’s exposition, the conception of a sum total of reality mingles itself in a rather vague manner with that of a first cause. In a note to the passage last quoted, Kant adds: “This ideal of the ens realissimum, although merely a mental representation, is first objectivised, that is, has an objective existence attributed to it, then hypostasised, and finally, by the natural progress of the Reason, personified, as we shall show presently. For the regulative unity of experience is not based upon phenomena themselves, but upon the connection of the variety of phenomena by the understanding, and a consciousness, and thus the unity of the supreme reality seems to reside in a Supreme Understanding, in a conscious intelligence” (‘Critique,’ ibid.). Kant then proceeds to demolish the traditional arguments for the existence of a Supreme Being, which start from the assumed validity of these conditions of experience outside the range of experience, in other words, from their transcendent application. The theistic idea, being thus deprived of all dogmatic character and objective reality, is reduced to the mere conception or ideal for the regulation of the theoretical Reason in its investigations into Nature, which is to be regarded as though it were the work of a Supreme Understanding and Will; and of the Practical Reason in life, which is to be conceived as though it were under the superintendence of an all-wise and all-just Ruler. As to the nature and extent of the debt Kant claims theology to be under for this attenuation of its fundamental doctrine, theologians may be left to decide.
The noumenon, under all the forms in which it appears in Kant, is characterised by certain unmistakable features. It is throughout defined as an intelligible object, that is, one which, if it is to be cognised at all, must be so, in and through the intellect without any sensuous medium. It is further described as a boundary conception, the analogy being drawn from geometry. Just as the point, line and superficies cannot be constructed in actual space, because they severally exclude in definition one or more of the dimensions of space, but at the same time serve as boundaries of actual space; so the thing-in-itself, although it can never be given in any experience, external or internal, inasmuch as it excludes by its definition all the predicates drawn from experience, serves, nevertheless, to mark the boundaries of experience, to indicate the unknown quantity, the X., which experience presupposes.
An objection has been raised and is much insisted upon by Ueberweg (Geschichte der Philosophie, Band iii., p. 185, note) and Volkelt (Kant’s Erkenntnisstheorie, pp. 44–50), that Kant in excluding the formal conditions of experience from the thing-in-itself, trenches in a negative sense on the incognisability of the latter. In asserting, it is said, that space and time, inasmuch as they are the forms of our sensibility, cannot obtain in objects as things-in-themselves, he is assuming a dogmatic attitude with regard to it. To this we would observe that, admitting the apodictic phraseology used, negative though it be, to be technically inconsequent, the inconsequence is not more than technical. Kant’s aim is to show that we have no grounds for ascribing any of the qualities of the sense or phenomenal world to the intelligible or noumenal world. Granting him to have been successful in this, all that the objection amounts to is that he failed to use language sufficiently guarded to admit the technical contingency that among all possible contradictory modes of existence this one is included. But inasmuch as this possibility is only as one against infinity, the error can have no material significance whatever. It is nevertheless curious that Kant should not have recognised it, as he is sponsor for “possibilities” of this nature when hard-pressed on the practical side of his philosophy.*
It must be apparent to every student of the ‘Critique’ that the three aspects of the noumenon, the three sets of noumena, as they have been called, altogether fail to harmonise with one another. Their mutual relations are throughout completely undetermined. The connection of the cosmological with the psychological thing-in-itself, and of either with the ideal thing-in-itself, the Ens realissimum, or Absolute, is nowhere indicated. Are we to understand Kant as really implying a quantitative or qualitative distinction, or both, or are the differences merely due to the diverse points of view from which he is regarding one conception? These are questions which may occupy the student of Kant for some time to come. That Kant was, in the modern sense of the word, a Monist, is however, extremely improbable, the passages sometimes supposed to show a monistic tendency being more naturally interpretable otherwise. It is worthy of note that, while transcendental reality is asserted of the constitutive aspects of the thing-in-itself, i.e. the psychological and cosmological noumena—although all knowledge of this reality is denied; with the purely regulative aspect (i.e. ideal of the Reason) conversely, the reality is denied, although its nature as a mere idea is asserted to be fully determinable. In the one case the stress is laid on the reality, in the other on the determinability, in accordance with the supposed requirements of the Reason. The “ideas” all have a practical reference, are maxims rather than principles, and as such do not touch the real import of the thing-in-itself as a theoretic datum in the critical philosophy. While the cosmological and psychological noumena form an integral element in the structure of the ‘Critique,’ the theological Absolute is merely the crowning of the edifice. Immortality, Freedom, God take their rise in the fact that the practical Reason may assume what it likes respecting that of which the Pure Reason asserts the bare predicate of existence and nothing more. A consistent carrying out of the idealistic and sceptical element contained in Kant’s thought would have led to a declaration of our complete nescience, even of the bare existence of anything beyond our own presentations and thoughts, and the laws of their unity in consciousness. But Kant’s purpose was other than that of restating empiricism; only the enormous mass of raw material he had to deal with rendered consistency impracticable. He discovered the ore, forged the tools, and indicated the process by which it was to be worked, but the complete “opening up” of the mine exceeded the powers of its discoverer, even though he was a Kant.
The furthest point we reach on critical principles in our investigation into the sources of knowledge is the transcendental subject at its basis. The original synthetic unity of consciousness is to be distinguished from the quantitative categorical unity (which is opposed to plurality and totality), inasmuch as it is from the former that the categories themselves are deduced. The assumption of a soul or thinking principle in the individual is only due to the dialectical illusion by which the original synthetic unity is hypostasised. The “internal sense” only shows us ourselves as we appear, not as we are. The ego in itself can never be known, but only its states. Hence both the idealist and materialist hypotheses are alike inadmissible. The reduction of the extended or material world to a mere mode of the unextended or ideal world is as fallacious as the converse procedure. Both orders of phenomena, the inner and the outer, are equally fundamental data of experience, incapable of any legitimate reduction into terms of one another. Feelings, thoughts and volitions are as much phenomena of experience as the presentations called external. But the thought or feeling is no more identical with that which has the thought or feeling than is the outward presentation. What it is which thinks, feels, perceives, etc., we can never cognise. The material or objective order, and the immaterial or subjective order remain irreducible factors of conscious experience or cognition in all respects but one—they equally presuppose a self-centred fact to which they are, in the last resort, referable. This fact of I-ness or Egoition is thus the primary condition of all possible experience. It must be distinguished from the synthetic unity which is merely formal, as well as from the internal sense. “The subject of the categories cannot therefore, for the very reason that it cogitates these, frame any conception of itself as an object of the categories; for to cogitate these it must lie at the foundation of its own pure self-consciousness—the very thing that it wishes to explain and describe. In like manner, the subject in which the representation of time has its basis cannot determine, for this very reason, its own existence in time” (‘Critique,’ p. 249). Notwithstanding this, the postulate at the foundation of the forms of sensibility and the categories is given immediately in consciousness as, to use Kant’s expression, “a feeling of an existence without the least conception.” I am conscious not of what I am, but that I am, as the seat of phenomenalisation, or, more clearly, that something fundamentally the same as this “I” is that in and for which alone phenomenalisation can take place. In the indication of this fact we see the germs of the Monism of modern thought; but it remains a germ. The most (apparently) monistic passage in Kant occurs in the section in the paralogisms (‘Critique,’ p. 252) where Kant is discussing the community between the subjective and the objective orders, or, in terms of the old psychological formula of the “soul with the body.” The difficulty, he observes, consists in the supposed heterogeneity of the two orders; “inasmuch as the formal intuition of the one is time, and that of the other, space also.” “But if we consider,” he adds, “that both kinds of objects do not differ internally, but only in so far as the one appears externally to the other, consequently that what lies at the basis of phenomena, as a thing-in-itself, may not be heterogeneous, this difficulty disappears.” Here we certainly seem to have indications of a monistic point of view, but from the context, and especially what follows relative to a “community of substances,” it is evident that qualitative, not quantitative homogeneity is meant; in other words, it is evident at once that the psychological formulæ still retain their hold on Kant, and that the spell of the Leibnitzian monads has not been dissolved.
The only point of community, then, between the internal and external orders of phenomena lies, if the foregoing be admitted, in their both being conditioned by an ego under the form of time. This is the central condition of phenomenalisation. It is plain that this foundation of all consciousness, whether of subject or object, cannot be identified with either “mind” or “matter,” both of which are terms designating sets of phenomena in consciousness. The old mode of stating the problem as to the possibility of two dissimilar substances, soul and body, thought and extension, furnishing the unity of man and of consciousness, ceases to have any meaning when we recognise them to be not substances, but mere phenomena of that which becomes conscious, i.e. the primal condition of the synthesis of experience. To the question, whether there is such a thing as matter without mind, or mind without matter, the answer is, matter is a name for a class of feelings connected by certain categories under the form of space as well as time; mind is a name for another class of feelings connected by those categories under the form of time alone; that each class constitutes an integral element in the whole Conscious Experience, and hence that mind or soul (a thinking subject) apart from material conditions, is philosophically as absurd a notion as matter (an extended object) apart from its perception in a consciousness, either hypothesis involving self-contradictory assumptions. That which becomes conscious, in other words, the possibility of a consciousness in general, regarded materialiter, must be genetically prior to the individual consciousness and the formal conditions at its foundation. The principle in question, considered in itself, in short, must be independent of space, time and the categories, with the formal unity at their basis; in other words, independent of individuation whether of subject or object.* It is in fact the pure subject or subject proper, in contradistinction to the pseudo-subject of psychology which is really object—the “object of the internal sense,” to use Kant’s language—although Kant himself in the main confounds it with the latter. It will be seen, therefore, that on this view, Kant’s transcendental object disappears, as based at bottom on the old dualist fallacy so severely criticised by him on other occasions; the abstract ens realissimum ceases to have any significance in a philosophical connection, while the transcendental subject itself loses the psychological character usually assigned to it by Kant, owing to his inability to free himself from the psychological method. We thus arrive at a pure Monism distinct alike from Spiritualism, Materialism and Dualism.
It is becoming more and more recognised by philosophers and philosophic savants, that no justifiable break can be made in our interpretation of objective phenomena; that just as we infer a mind in the case of other men and the higher animals (interpreting the phenomena in terms of our own consciousness), so we must infer all matter whatever to involve a mental side analogous in kind to, however differing in degree from, our own consciousness. The late Professor Clifford, the bestknown exponent of the view in question in this country (a view more or less implied in all the post-Kantian systems of Germany, especially in those of Schopenhauer and Hartmann), writes, “we may assume that the quasimental fact, which goes along with the motion of every particle of matter, is of such inconceivable simplicity as compared with our own mental fact, our consciousness, as the motion of a molecule of matter is of inconceivable simplicity when compared with motion in our brain” (Essay on “Body and Mind”).* This mode of statement is unimpeachable as far as it goes, expressing, as it does, a logical consequence of the doctrine of evolution; but when the thesis is put forward (as is done by Professor Clifford) in the sense of an ontology, it is open to the obvious objection that it is a generalisation respecting phenomena alone, and, although embracing the totality of phenomena within its pale, does not deal with “things-in-themselves.” Like all pluralistic pseudo-ontologies it assumes the conditions of experience, space, time and individuation, i.e. the very points an ontology (assuming such to be possible) ought to explain, and is thus no ontology at all. It is obvious that an ultimate ontological postulate must lie outside the differentiation of subject and object with the conditions involved therein. The monistic view forces us to regard the whole of nature, or the external world, in other words, matter in all its forms, from inorganic upwards, as simply a transfigured representation in the complex forms of our sensuous consciousness of the momenta of the one transcendental fact or thing-in-itself at its basis, of which, in the words of Kant, we have “the feeling of an existence without the least conception.” This transfigured sense-world, it may be observed, is re-transfigured in abstract thought in the shape of the generalisations of science and philosophy. Nature, if the foregoing be admitted, with its great evolutionary stages, the atom, the molecule, the cell, the organism, is simply the phenomenalised unfolding of a timeless transcendental process. The difficulty of apprehending this is owing to the impossibility of placing ourselves, fixed in a highly complex consciousness, at the subjective standpoint of lower forms of being. We cannot represent to ourselves that the externality or world present to the quasi-consciousness of the zoophyte or crustacean is something toto-cœlo different from our world in which we cognise the zoophyte or the crustacean. The whole scale of nature is unrolled before us as object, but as object only—as subject-object our knowledge of it is rigorously bounded by our own place in the scale. As an individual then, on the one side a synthesis of thoughts, feelings and volitions, and on the other, of cells, tissues and organs, I am a phenomenon amongst phenomena, but that which feels, thinks, cognises, etc., whether in me or the monad or the molecule, is transcendentally indistinguishable from the incognisable if intuitable self constituting the material postulate at the basis of my (our) own formal self-consciousness.
Fichte was the first among Kant’s followers to show that his master’s teaching, when logically carried out, led to a transcendental Monism of this description; but it forms the basis of all the more important post-Kantian philosophies of Germany. Professor Adamson observes, relative to Kant’s position as a thinker: “In the Kantian system, the problems of speculation were taken up in the form presented by the antecedent popular philosophy—a form essentially limited in scope—and it was therefore matter of some difficulty to discern the real import of the new treatment to which they were subjected. One may even say that from Kant himself the significance of much of his work was concealed by the limited and partial character of the questions which presented themselves to him as the essential problems of speculative inquiry. In the critical philosophy can be traced the somewhat narrow psychological method characteristic of modern thought to the larger view of speculative problems which recalls the work of the Greek thinkers. The analysis of human knowledge, which had been for Locke and his successors the sole function of philosophy, appears in the critical system as part, though an essential part, of the more comprehensive inquiry dealing with the whole ground of human interests, to which only the title of philosophy by right belongs” (Fichte, pp. 214–15).
To Fichte, as we have said, undoubtedly attaches the credit of the first attempt to construct, on the basis of criticism, a philosophy proper—in fact to reduce criticism to coherence and system. Neither his idealistic terminology and mode of exposition, nor the mystical and extravagant tendencies of the later developments of his system should blind us to this fact or to the general soundness of his starting-point. Schelling’s subject-object or Absolute is, at bottom, and apart from mystical terminology, nothing but the same principle otherwise stated, the stress being laid on the indifference between subject and object of the prius of reality—of that which constitutes the possibility of consciousness. The method and terminology originated by Fichte, and carried out in a modified form by Schelling, reached its culmination in Hegel, who may be said to have anticipated in metaphysical guise the doctrine of evolution. The dialectical method which, though discovered by Fichte, was perfected as regards expression by Hegel is contained in principle in the table of the categories. The noumenal fact constituting the essence of conscious experience consists with Hegel in the process of the categories themselves. “The idee is essentially process, because its identity is only the absoluteness and freedom of the conception, in so far as it is absolute negativity and therefore dialectic” (Encyclopædie der Philosophischen Wissenschaften, p. 186). Hegel, in seizing the formal element at the root of experience, lets fall the material, and hence some have failed to distinguish his philosophy from an Absolute Illusionism.
The systems of which Hegel’s is the culmination are founded essentially on the transcendental analytic and dialectic. Side by side with the dialectical, two other schools have coexisted in Germany equally claiming the parentage of Kant, but founding more especially upon the transcendental æsthetic. Rejecting the dialectical method, they endeavour to obtain speculative results by induction. Their most prominent representatives are Schopenhauer, Hartmann and Bahnsen on the one side, and Herbart, Beneke and Lotze on the other.
Schopenhauer, in identifying the metaphysical principle at the basis of the Conscious, with Will, holds fast the Kantian antithesis of noumenon and phenomenon. The pure self-existence posited in every conscious act is opposed to its realisation as phenomenon of consciousness, but this opposition cannot be said to involve dualism as the Hegelians contend. The world as will and the world as presentation, in other words, the world as thing-in-itself, and the world as appearance are only diverse aspects of the same fundamental fact. The identification of the thing-in-itself with the function termed Will may be open to criticism, but Schopenhauer’s Monism can hardly be called in question. An attempt to obliterate the distinction between the content of consciousness and the principle it presupposes can only be completely successful at the cost of the whole critical position, and by a relapse into the crude Materialism or Idealism of the last century, which would make either “matter” or “mind” itself absolute.
The most distinguished modern representative of the Pessimist doctrine, Eduard von Hartmann, defines the fact at the foundation of the reality given in consciousness as “the Unconscious.” This negative designation he employs to discountenance the vulgar anthropomorphic confusion by which consciousness is attributed to the Absolute it implies (Philosophie des Unbewussten, 3rd ed. p. 543). Consciousness is a contradiction in any other than a phenomenal sense. A peculiarity of Hartmann’s metaphysics is his rehabilitation of the Kantian things-in-themselves, which he conceives not to be inconsistent with a monistic postulate. In opposition to Schopenhauer he maintains will to be impossible apart from presentation, hence a noumenal will implies a noumenal presentation as its correlate. Space, time and the individuation deducible from them are generated unconsciously, or extraconsciously, and in this way a world of things-in-themselves arises, which becomes transformed in consciousness into the world of phenomena with its determinate forms. Only thus, according to Hartmann, can individuation of consciousness be explained. The objective thing-in-itself is thus, on Hartmann’s principles, not an ultimate but a derivative fact. The objective thing exists in itself in so far as it is independent of consciousness, but not absolutely.
Herbart (1776–1840), the founder of the second line of thought mentioned, represents a partial reaction to a dogmatic standpoint. Being is assumed as coincident with appearance, in so far that every quality in the phenomenon indicates a corresponding thing-in-itself. This, as will be seen, is simply the re-introduction of the Kantian cosmological noumena and à fortiori of the Leibnitzian monadology in a slightly altered form. Not only every thing but every quality of the sense-world has a noumenal correlate according to Herbart. The monistic indications in Kant are lost in a maze of Leibnitzian pluralism based upon mathematical formulæ. Herbart’s philosophy is not unjustly defined by Dühring (Geschichte der Philosophie, p. 455), as based on the principle of “making a mistake in order to excuse it by another mistake.” Most of Herbart’s followers (e.g. Beneke) have confined themselves to psychology, and it is noteworthy that, whereas in the case of Hermann Lotze a wider range is attempted, the pluralist basis has been abandoned as untenable.
The extent to which the modern scientific materialist school is indebted to Kant may be seen from Lange’s great work. Professor Wundt remarks (‘Mind,’ vol. ii. p. 502) of its doctrines: “In them a strictly mechanical and atomistic theory of the universe is connected with the idea that the atoms possess internal states, and that these internal states in combination constitute what we call physical phenomena. Such a theory is evidently not materialism, but may be more fitly designated “Monism,” as by Haeckel, to distinguish it from the Dualism in vogue.” This is of course closely analogous to the “mind-stuff” theory of Clifford, and the same criticism will apply to it, namely, that it leaves the fundamental difficulty untouched, while professing to solve it. It assumes a phenomenal world as given, without attempting to deduce it from any principle, such as “theory of knowledge” demands. The designation “Monism” is therefore hardly applicable.
The tendency of all systematic thought in the present day is nevertheless toward a Monism, and this explains the favour beginning to be shown by scientists for Spinoza. Most savants of any eminence instinctively recognise the impossibility of a mere mechanical aggregate of phenomena being the “last word” of systematised human knowledge. Scientific Monism, as is perhaps only natural, seeks to attain satisfaction by mere phrases such as “unknowable,” “one reality,” &c. (frequently so expressed as to imply a dualism), rather than by a diligent investigation into the conditions of knowledge itself, the method inaugurated by Kant, and the only one which can lead to a permanently satisfactory synthesis. That which is posited in the very fact of consciousness, but which can only find a place in discursive thought as the notion of an existence realising itself in the world-process—this fact, the fundamental postulate of all conscious experience, and therefore of all reality—can alone be the starting-point for any synthetic system. The notion of plurality—a mechanical aggregate in space and time—will not explain the relation of myself to other phenomena like myself, still less to the world-evolution as a whole. The erection of the individual consciousness (the empirical ego) or of ideas or presentations into things-in-themselves will further this quite as little as the erection of material qualities into things-in-themselves, standpoints we see appearing in protean guises in the present day both in this country and on the continent.
It is generally recognised that no existing system can lay any claim to finality. There can hardly be said now to be a philosophical school in the old sense of the word, namely, a body of thinkers slavishly adhering to every detail of a master, if we except the Comtists. The tendency of the modern mind is rather (so to speak) to revel in disintegration. It is the mode, to exaggerate differences, to repudiate all connection, save, perhaps, that of suggestion, with older systems, even when, notwithstanding the parade of originality, the assumed new departure leads us back to old positions essentially unchanged, but for being presented in a modern guise and with a precision of language more in accordance with the present state of philosophic terminology. This is to be regretted, as the bane of philosophy in the past, even in its most eminent representatives, has lain in overstraining after originality. The divergency with which metaphysicians are commonly taunted lies more in terminology than is often thought. This fact is strikingly illustrated by the case of Fichte and Schopenhauer. The leading principles and much of the development of Schopenhauer’s system is contained in Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre, yet this did not prevent Schopenhauer from stigmatising the last-named work as a farrago of absurdities. Had Schopenhauer been less solicitious to maintain his character as an “original thinker,” he would possibly have admitted his debt to the elder philosopher.
The tendency of the various eddies and streamlets of current philosophic thought, to converge into two main channels is unmistakable. These main channels are the philosophy of modern scientific realism, with its leading doctrines of the Persistence of Force and of Evolution, based on induction from the data of completed experience; and the philosophy of transcendental Monism, based on an analysis of those processes of consciousness in general, which make experience possible. The seeming hostility of these two lines of thought is owing to the fact that one is based on experience made, the other on experience in the making.* The immediate task of philosophy is their reconciliation in a synthesis.
“Our knowledge,” says the scientist, “is strictly confined to what is contained in the teaching of experience.” “With all my heart,” replies the transcendentalist (with reminiscences of Carlyle), “only, what is contained in the teaching of experience?” In philosophy we have to reconstruct the world in reproductive consciousness, i.e. in abstract thought; the only way we can do this effectually is by educing it from the most elementary datum of that productive experience, in and for which the world alone exists. To the oft-repeated sneers as to Metaphysics being a thing of the past, and having to give way before positive science, the object-matter of which alone deals with realities, the reply is easy so far as concerns Metaphysics in the modern sense of the word, the only sense in which a thinker of the present day would care to defend it. Metaphysics deals as much with reality as any abstract science. But the propositions of every abstract science represent a transfigured reality, and this the more so, the more abstract it is; in other words, the more its subject-matter is removed from the given concrete reality of sensuous intuition. The atom, the ultimate postulate of physical science, is in itself a striking instance of this. The same may be said of the postulates of the higher mathematics, &c. It is surely, then, only to be expected that the most abstract of all sciences, that which has for its subject-matter, not merely the laws of a particular department or aspect of the content of experience, but the conditions of experience itself, should, by reason of its abstractness, be unintelligible to the superficial thinker. Metaphysics, in so far as we understand by this term “Theory of Knowledge,” is as little in danger of becoming obsolete as Mathematics. The future may reject in whole or in part Kant’s solution, but mankind will never be able permanently to ignore the problem Kant formulated. Philosophy, since Kant, it has been well said, is the re-reading of experience rather than, as previously, the transcending of experience.
The renewed study of Kant must certainly be regarded as a hopeful sign of the times. Philosophy, there is reason to believe, is ceasing to be a thing of class-rooms and examinations merely, and becoming a common interest among all thinking men. At the same time that dissatisfaction is felt with existing systems the need of a synthesis—the intrinsic worthlessness of any serious study that does not have synthesis for an end—is more and more generally recognised. This being the state of things, a conviction of the importance of a thorough study of Kant, the fountainhead of modern systematic thought, is a natural consequence.
It would be impossible to give anything like a sketch, however general, of the flood of neo-Kantian literature, which for some years past has been pouring from the press. Germany is, of course, first in the Kantian revival, but it has extended, in a relatively equal degree, to Britain, the United States and even France. Indeed, everywhere where philosophy is being studied it is felt that the results of post-Kantian thought need thorough revision, if not complete reconstruction, and hence attention is being turned on all sides to a further elucidation of the great Königsberg thinker’s work itself.
We can devote but little space to an indication of the obligations, immense though they be, which science and general culture are under to Kant. The first germ of the modern scientific doctrine of Evolution, the nebular theory of the origin of the planetary systems, was enunciated and developed by Kant in his Theorie des Himmels, published in 1755, forty years previous to the publication by Laplace, in 1796, of his celebrated Système du Monde. The hypothesis of the sun being surrounded by an atmosphere of luminous gas, and if not itself of gaseous nature, at least a molten body, undergoing a slow process of solidification, was verified by independent research, a few years after being put forward by Kant. “There will come a time,” wrote Kant, “when it” (the sun) “will be burnt out, and its place, at present the centre of light and life, will be occupied by an eternal darkness.” The fixed stars Kant regarded (equally in accord with the views of modern astronomers) as the centres of solar systems like our own. His observations on earthquakes and volcanoes represent no less, in the main, present views on the subject. It is noteworthy that one important idea, thrown out by Kant as a speculation, namely, that of the gradual diminution of the earth’s motion on its axis, owing to the friction produced by the contrary action of the tides, was first theoretically verified by Mayer in his work Beitrage zur Mechanik des Himmels, in the year 1848. It was not before 1865, a hundred years after its hypothetical enunciation by Kant, that the fact of such a diminution having actually taken place was astronomically established by Hausen of Gotha. The same eminent astronomer had previously substantiated another astronomical suggestion of Kant’s, i.e. that the moon’s centre of gravity did not coincide with its actual centre, but lay on the side furthest removed from the earth. It may not be generally known that Kant predicted on theoretical grounds the existence of the planet Uranus, many years before its discovery by Herschel. Dove’s law of the motion of the winds was also anticipated by Kant in his ‘Observations on the Theory of the Winds,’ published in 1756. But by far the most significant fact in connection with Kant as a scientific thinker is his forestallment of Darwinism, and indeed of the doctrine of Evolution in its broadest form, as the following passages will show: “The union of so many species of animals,” says Kant, “in a certain common schema . . . seeming to form their basis, where remarkable simplicity of outline seems capable—by the shortening of one and the lengthening of another, the compression of this and the development of that part—of bringing forth so great a variety of species, allows us, at least, a faint ray of hope that something may be explained here on that principle of the mechanism of Nature, without which there could be no such thing as natural science at all. This analogy of forms, which, in spite of all their diversity, seem to be generated from a common origin, strengthens the supposition of a real relationship between them, in their production from an original parent form, by the progressive approach of one species to another, from that in which the principle of purpose seems most exhibited, namely, from the man, to the polyp, and from this again to the moss and lichen, and finally to the lowest phase of nature known to us—to inorganic matter—from which, together with its forces, the whole technique of nature seems derivable according to mechanical laws—that technique of nature, to us so incomprehensible in organised beings, that we believe ourselves obliged to assume a distinct principle for its explanation”* (Kritik der Urtheilskraft, ed. Kirchmann, p. 299). And again, “He (the naturalist) may allow the earth—itself arisen from chaotic conditions—to have given birth originally to beings of a less perfect form, these again to others, which have developed themselves in a manner more adapted to their habitat, and their mutual relations [natural selection?], till this mother-earth—herself becoming rigid—has limited her births to definite species, incapable of further modifications; and thus their variety has remained as it was at the end of the operation of her formative productivity.” Further on, Kant speaks of the possibility of “certain water-animals developing by degrees into marsh-animals, and these, again, after some generations, into land-animals.” History can point to few more distinct premonitions of a great truth than is contained in the foregoing and many other passages of similar import. It must be remembered that while these views were laid before the world in 1780, Erasmus Darwin’s ‘Zoonomia, or the laws of organic life,’ did not appear till, at the earliest, 1794, so that Kant’s utterances actually preceded those of the father of so-called Darwinism, the grandfather of Charles Darwin himself.
Although, as we observed on a previous page, Kant cannot be said to have founded a science of society, and although his views on some subjects, embraced within this wide field (especially on their practical side), are to modern notions crude, we must not forget the brilliant glimpses occasionally to be met with in his works, of vistas, which to Kant were obscure and hazy, but which the subsequent evolution of thought and social life has placed in a comparatively clear light. The most remarkable of these glimpses is contained in the short essay entitled “An Idea of Universal History from the point of view of Humanity,” an essay which explicitly recognises the phenomena of human society as under the dominion of law, and hence as capable of scientific treatment, anticipating in many points the “historical method” of modern thought, and even the actual conceptions of a Comte, a Buckle, or a Spencer. Kant, indeed, went so far as to prophesy the advent of thinkers who would elaborate and develop to an incalculable extent the hints thrown out in his now slight sketch. It would perhaps be hardly too great praise to describe this little brochure as the most valuable of all Kant’s minor works, when viewed in its relation to later thought.
We have only detailed a few of the more important achievements of Kant in natural science; his works teem with fruitful suggestions and hints to the interrogator of nature. But Kant’s scientific achievements were, during his lifetime, as they have been since his death, eclipsed by his philosophic fame. Had he confined himself to physical research, it is likely enough the world would have recognised in him the rival of Newton. As it is, Kant the philosopher, not Kant the scientist, has come down to us.
Kant’s influence on the general culture and thought of the nineteenth century, apart from the “faculties” of philosophy and science in a special sense, is so immense and wide-reaching, that to follow its course through all its ramifications, direct and indirect, would be an undertaking amounting to little less than writing a history of nineteenth-century thought itself. As we have seen, nearly all the great speculative problems of the present age were formulated by Kant. There is scarcely a subject of human interest upon which he has not thrown some light, if not by actual suggestion, by the impulse of the mighty wave of thought he inaugurated. Perhaps the most prominent feature of this wave of thought is the conception of the universality of law which characterises it. Before Kant’s time the great principle referred to was apprehended in its full bearing by none but a few isolated savants and philosophers; since his time it has become the common heritage of the thoughtful and cultured among all nations. We do not mean to imply that the conception itself, much less the great change of mental attitude involved therein, is entirely the work of Kant. All we claim is that the Königsberg colossus may fairly be taken as the representative personality of that intellectual movement which is based on a recognition of the universal reign of law.
The tremendous hold the critical spirit took upon the minds of Kant’s countrymen in every direction, even in matters most immediately under the ægis of obscurantism and authority, is illustrated by the rise and rapid spread of the schools of scientific Biblical criticism, some of which, indeed, like that of Paulus, were soon superseded, but only to give way to others, which have achieved results now the common property of modern scholarship. Regard it in what light we may, the fact is incontestable that Kant indirectly dealt a deadly blow at supernatural religion in Germany among all classes—a blow from the effects of which it has never since recovered.
Kant’s relation to traditional authority generally is aptly expressed by Schopenhauer (Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, pp. 475–6). “Descartes was a remarkable intellect, and when one considers the age in which he lived, he achieved much. But if we leave this consideration aside and measure him by his boasted emancipation of thought from all its chains and his would-be inauguration of a new period of independent research, we shall find—with all his scepticism, which was destitute of any real earnestness, and therefore quickly and readily yielding—that he indeed made as though he were about to strike off all the chains of indoctrinated opinion that bound his age and nation; but that this is merely a pretence, assumed for the purpose of immediately taking them up again and riveting them so much the faster—And thus it is with all his successors till Kant.* Goethe’s verse is especially applicable to an independent thinker of this stamp:
Kant had reason to make as though he too meant no more. But the bound contemplated—which was permitted because it was known only to lead back again into the grass—developed this time into a flight, and now those who stood below could only look after him, unable as they were to seize him.”
We may conclude this chapter, and our introduction, by observing that, whatever may be the advances made in philosophy since Kant’s death, and whatever the obvious and even grave defects in Kant’s work, the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ must assuredly continue to furnish the most valuable of historical landmarks in all future philosophical investigations. Adapting the words used by an eminent modern historian in reference to Gibbon and the study of history, to Kant and the study of philosophy, we may say, “Whatever else is read” Kant “must be read too.”
[* ]Berkeleyan idealism and French materialism may be regarded equally as antithetical dogmatic offshoots of English Empiricism.
[* ]When the word ‘Critique’ is used alone throughout the present introduction, the ‘Critique of the Pure Reason’ is to be understood.
[* ]A view diametrically opposed to the one before mentioned, which makes space and the categories the conditions of external reality in the only intelligible sense of the word.
[* ]The most emphatic utterances on the realistic side, in a cosmological sense, are contained in the remarks appended to the first division of the Prolegomena.
[* ]It is in virtue of these possibilities introduced by Kant that respectable persons in the present day can ward off the charge of Atheism, by sheltering themselves under the ægis of Agnosticism.
[* ]To put this somewhat differently: the conscious ego is only the formal determination of in-ness in time. The fact of in-ness, or existence in and for itself, is implied in this very fact of conscious egoition—or, as Kant has it, the transcendental unity of apperception—from which the notion of objective reality itself is ultimately deducible. (See section on “Deduction of Categories,” ‘Critique,’ first ed.)
[* ]For a detailed statement of the, perhaps not very happily designated, “mind-stuff” theory, see the essay “On the nature of things-in-themselves.”
[* ]Even empirical psychology, which traces the unfolding of experience in the individual, presupposes experience in general as already given. Psychology is the anatomisation—the mechanical dissection—of experience; “Theory of Knowledge,” or Transcendental Philosophy, its chemical analysis.
[* ]The italics are my own.
[* ]Schopenhauer ought to have excepted Spinoza from this accusation.
Last modified April 10, 2014