Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830) Part One
In common with Empiricism, the Critical Philosophy assumes that experience affords the one sole foundation for cognitions; which however it does not allow to rank as truths, but only as knowledge of phenomena.
The Critical theory starts originally from the distinction of elements presented in the analysis of experience, viz. the matter of sense, and its universal relations. Taking into account Hume’s criticism on this distinction as given in the preceding section, viz. that sensation does not explicitly apprehend more than an individual or more than a mere event, it insists at the same time on the fact that universality and necessity are seen to perform a function equally essential in constituting what is called experience. This element, not being derived from the empirical facts as such, must belong to the spontaneity of thought; in other words, it is a priori. The Categories or Notions of the Understanding constitute the objectivity of experiential cognitions. In every case they involve a connective reference, and hence through their means are formed synthetic judgments a priori, that is, primary and underivative connections of opposites.
Even Hume’s scepticism does not deny that the characteristics of universality and necessity are found in cognition. And even in Kant this fact remains a presupposition after all; it may be said, to use the ordinary phraseology of the sciences, that Kant did no more than offer another explanation of the fact.
The Critical Philosophy proceeds to test the value of the categories employed in metaphysic, as well as in other sciences and in ordinary conception. This scrutiny however is not directed to the content of these categories, nor does it inquire into the exact relation they bear to one another: but simply considers them as affected by the contrast between subjective and objective. The contrast, as we are to understand it here, bears upon the distinction (see preceding §) of the two elements in experience. The name of objectivity is here given to the element of universality and necessity, i.e. to the categories themselves, or what is called the a priori constituent. The Critical Philosophy however widened the contrast in such a way, that the subjectivity comes to embrace the ensemble of experience, including both of the aforesaid elements; and nothing remains on the other side but the ‘thing-in-itself’.
The special forms of the a priori element, in other words, of thought, which in spite of its objectivity is looked upon as a purely subjective act, present themselves as follows in a systematic order which, it may be remarked, is solely based upon psychological and historical grounds.
(1) A very important step was undoubtedly made, when the terms of the old metaphysic were subjected to scrutiny. The plain thinker pursued his unsuspecting way in those categories which had offered themselves naturally. It never occurred to him to ask to what extent these categories had a value and authority of their own. If, as has been said, it is characteristic of free thought to allow no assumptions to pass unquestioned, the old metaphysicians were not free thinkers. They accepted their categories as they were, without further trouble, as an a priori datum, not yet tested by reflection. The Critical philosophy reversed this. Kant undertook to examine how far the forms of thought were capable of leading to the knowledge of truth. In particular he demanded a criticism of the faculty of cognition as preliminary to its exercise. That is a fair demand, if it mean that even the forms of thought must be made an object of investigation. Unfortunately there soon creeps in the misconception of already knowing before you know — the error of refusing to enter the water until you have learnt to swim. True, indeed, the forms of thought should be subjected to a scrutiny before they are used: yet what is this scrutiny but ipso facto a cognition?
So that what we want is to combine in our process of inquiry the action of the forms of thought with a criticism of them. The forms of thought must be studied in their essential nature and complete development: they are at once the object of research and the action of that object. Hence they examine themselves: in their own action they must determine their limits, and point out their defects. This is that action of thought, which will hereafter be specially considered under the name of Dialectic, and regarding which we need only at the outset observe that, instead of being brought to bear upon the categories from without, it is Immanent in their own action.
We may therefore state the first point in Kant’s philosophy as follows: Thought must itself investigate its own capacity of knowledge. People in the present day have got over Kant and his philosophy: everybody wants to get further. But there are two ways of going further — a backward and a forward. The light of criticism soon shows that many of our modern essays in philosophy are mere repetitions of the old metaphysical method, an endless and uncritical thinking in a groove determined by the natural bent of each man’s mind.
(2) Kant’s examination of the categories suffers from the grave defect of viewing them, not absolutely and for their own sake, but in order to see whether they are subjective or objective. In the language of common life we mean by objective what exists outside of us and reaches us from without by means of sensation. What Kant did was to deny that the categories, such as cause and effect, were, in this sense of the word, objective, or given in sensation, and to maintain on the contrary that they belonged to our own thought itself, to the spontaneity of thought. To that extent therefore they were subjective. And yet in spite of this, Kant gives the name objective to what is thought, to the universal and necessary, while he describes as subjective whatever is merely felt. This arrangement apparently reverses the first-mentioned use of the word, and has caused Kant to be charged with confusing language. But the charge is unfair if we more narrowly consider the facts of the case. The vulgar believe that the objects of perception which confront them, such as an individual animal, or a single star, are independent and permanent existences, compared with which thoughts are unsubstantial and dependent on something else. In fact however the perceptions of sense are the properly dependent and secondary feature, while the thoughts are really independent and primary. This being so, Kant gave the title objective to the intellectual factor, to the universal and necessary: and he was quite justified in so doing. Our sensations on the other hand are subjective; for sensations lack stability in their own nature, and are no less fleeting and evanescent than thought is permanent and self-subsisting. At the present day, the special line of distinction established by Kant between the subjective and objective is adopted by the phraseology of the educated world. Thus the criticism of a work of art ought, it is said, to be not subjective, but objective — in other words, instead of springing from the particular and accidental feeling or temper of the moment, it should keep its eye on those general points of view which the laws of art establish. In the same acceptation we can distinguish in any scientific pursuit the objective and the subjective interest of the investigation.
But after all, objectivity of thought, in Kant’s sense, is again to a certain extent subjective. Thoughts, according to Kant, although universal and necessary categories, are only our thoughts — separated by an impassable gulf from the thing, as it exists apart from our knowledge. But the true objectivity of thinking means that the thoughts, far from being merely ours, must at the same time be the real essence of the things, and of whatever is an object to us.
Objective and subjective are convenient expressions in current use, the employment of which may easily lead to confusion. Up to this point, the discussion has shown three meanings of objectivity. First, it means what has external existence, in distinction from which the subjective is what is only supposed, dreamed, &c. Secondly, it has the meaning, attached to it by Kant, of the universal and necessary, as distinguished from the particular, subjective, and occasional element which belongs to our sensations. Thirdly, as has been just explained, it means the thought-apprehended essence of the existing thing, in contradistinction from what is merely our thought, and what consequently is still separated from the thing itself, as it exists in independent essence.
(a) The Theoretical Faculty. Cognition qua cognition. The specific ground of the categories is declared by the Critical system to lie in the primary identity of the ‘I’ in thought what Kant calls the ‘transcendental unity of self-consciousness’. The impressions from feeling and perception are, if we look to their contents, a multiplicity or miscellany of elements: and the multiplicity is equally conspicuous in their form. For sense is marked by a mutual exclusion of members; and that under two aspects, namely space and time, which, being the forms, that is to say, the universal type of perception, are themselves a priori. This congeries, afforded by sensation and perception, must however be reduced to an identity or primary synthesis. To accomplish this the ‘I’ brings it in relation to itself and unites it there in one consciousness which Kant calls ‘pure apperception’. The specific modes in which the Ego refers to itself the multiplicity of sense are the pure concepts of the understanding, the Categories.
Kant, it is well known, did not put himself to much trouble in discovering the categories. ‘I’, the unity of selfconsciousness, being quite abstract and completely indeterminate, the question arises, how are we to get at the specialised forms of the ‘I’, the categories? Fortunately, the common logic offers to our hand an empirical classification of the kinds of judgment. Now, to judge is the same as to think of a determinate object. Hence the various modes of judgment, as enumerated to our hand, provide us with the several categories of thought. To the philosophy of Fichte belongs the great merit of having called attention to the need of exhibiting the necessity of these categories and giving a genuine deduction of them. Fichte ought to have produced at least one effect on the method of logic. One might have expected that the general laws of thought, the usual stock-in-trade of logicians, or the classification of notions, judgments, and syllogisms, would be no longer taken merely from observation and so only empirically treated, but be deduced from thought itself. If thought is to be capable of proving anything at all, if logic must insist upon the necessity of proofs, and if it proposes to teach the theory of demonstration, its first care should be to give a reason for its own subject.
(1) Kant therefore holds that the categories have their source in the ‘Ego’ and that the ‘Ego’ consequently supplies the characteristics of universality and necessity. If we observe what we have before us primarily, we may describe it as a congeries or diversity: and in the categories we find the simple points or units, to which this congeries is made to converge. The world of sense is a scene of mutual exclusion: its being is outside itself. That is the fundamental feature of the sensible. ‘Now’ has no meaning except in reference to a before and a hereafter. Red, in the same way, only subsists by being opposed to yellow and blue. Now this other thing is outside the sensible; which latter is, only in so far as it is not the other, and only in so far as that other is. But thought, or the ‘Ego’, occupies a position the very reverse of the sensible, with its mutual exclusions, and its being outside itself. The ‘I’ is the primary identity — at one with itself and all at home in itself. The word ‘I’ expresses the mere act of bringing-to-bear-upon-self: and whatever is placed in this unit or focus is affected by it and transformed into it. The ‘I’ is as it were the crucible and the fire which consumes the loose plurality of sense and reduces it to unity. This is the process which Kant calls pure apperception in distinction from the common apperception, to which the plurality it receives is a plurality still; whereas pure apperception is rather an act by which the ‘I’ makes the materials ‘mine’.
This view has at least the merit of giving a correct expression to the nature of all consciousness. The tendency of all man’s endeavours is to understand the world, to appropriate and subdue it to himself: and to this end the positive reality of the world must be as it were crushed and pounded, in other words, idealised. At the same time we must note that it is not the mere act of our personal self-consciousness which introduces an absolute unity into the variety of sense. Rather, this identity is itself the absolute. The absolute is, as it were, so kind as to leave individual things to their own enjoyment, and it again drives them back to the absolute unity.
(2) Expressions like ‘transcendental unity of self-consciousness’ have an ugly look about them, and suggest a monster in the background: but their meaning is not so abstruse as it looks. Kant’s meaning of transcendental may be gathered by the way he distinguishes it from transcendent. The transcendent may be said to be what steps out beyond the categories of the understanding: a sense in which the term is first employed in mathematics. Thus in geometry you are told to conceive the circumference of a circle as formed of an infinite number of infinitely small straight lines. In other words, characteristics which the understanding holds to be totally different, the straight line and the curve, are expressly invested with identity. Another transcendent of the same kind is the self-consciousness which is identical with itself and infinite in itself, as distinguished from the ordinary consciousness which derives its form and tone from finite materials. That unity of self-consciousness, however, Kant called transcendental only; and he meant thereby that the unity was only in our minds and did not attach to the objects apart from our knowledge of them.
(3) To regard the categories as subjective only, i.e. as a part of ourselves, must seem very odd to the natural mind; and no doubt there is something queer about it. It is quite true however that the categories are not contained in the sensation as it is given us. When, for instance, we look at a piece of sugar, we find it is hard, white, sweet, etc. All these properties we say are united in one object. Now it is this unity that is not found in the sensation. The same thing happens if we conceive two events to stand in the relation of cause and effect. The senses only inform us of the two several occurrences which follow each other in time. But that the one is cause, the other effect — in other words, the causal nexus between the two — is not perceived by sense; it is only evident to thought. Still, though the categories, such as unity, or cause and effect, are strictly the property of thought, it by no means follows that they must be ours merely and not also characteristics of the objects. Kant however confines them to the subject-mind, and his philosophy may be styled subjective idealism: for he holds that both the form and the matter of knowledge are supplied by the Ego — or knowing subject — the form by our intellectual, the matter by our sentient ego.
So far as regards the content of this subjective idealism, not a word need be wasted. It might perhaps at first sight be imagined, that objects would lose their reality when their unity was transferred to the subject. But neither we nor the objects would have anything to gain by the mere fact that they possessed being.
The main point is not, that they are, but what they are, and whether or not their content is true. It does no good to the things to say merely that they have being. What has being, will also cease to be when time creeps over it. It might also be alleged that subjective idealism tended to promote self-conceit. But surely if a man’s world be the sum of his sensible perceptions, he has no reason to be vain of such a world. Laying aside therefore as unimportant this distinction between subjective and objective, we are chiefly interested in knowing what a thing is: i.e. its content, which is no more objective than it is subjective. If mere existence be enough to make objectivity, even a crime is objective: but it is an existence which is nullity at the core, as is definitely made apparent when the day of punishment comes.
The Categories may be viewed in two aspects. On the one hand it is by their instrumentality that the mere perception of sense rises to objectivity and experience. On the other hand these notions are unities in our consciousness merely: they are consequently conditioned by the material given to them, and having nothing of their own they can be applied to use only within the range of experience. But the other constituent of experience, the impressions of feeling and perception, is not one whit less subjective than the categories.
To assert that the categories taken by themselves are empty can scarcely be right, seeing that they have a content, at all events, in the special stamp and significance which they possess. Of course the content of the categories is not perceptible to the senses, nor is it in time and space: but that is rather a merit than a defect. A glimpse of this meaning of content may be observed to affect our ordinary thinking. A book or a speech for example is said to have a great deal in it, to be full of content in proportion to the greater number of thoughts and general results to be found in it: while, on the contrary, we should never say that any book, e.g. a novel, had much in it, because it included a great number of single incidents, situations, and the like. Even the popular voice thus recognises that something more than the facts of sense is needed to make a work pregnant with matter. And what is this additional desideratum but thoughts, or in the first instance the categories? And yet it is not altogether wrong, it should be added, to call the categories of themselves empty, if it be meant that they and the logical Idea, of which they are the members, do not constitute the whole of philosophy, but necessarily lead onwards in due progress to the real departments of Nature and Mind. Only let the progress not be misunderstood. The logical Idea does not thereby come into possession of a content originally foreign to it: but by its own native action is specialised and developed to Nature and Mind.
It follows that the categories are no fit terms to express the Absolute – the Absolute not being given in perception – and Understanding, or knowledge by means of the categories, is consequently incapable of knowing the Things-in-themselves.
The Thing-in-itself (and under ‘thing’ is embraced even Mind and God) expresses the object when we leave out of sight all that consciousness makes of it, all its emotional aspects, and all specific thoughts of it. It is easy to see what is left utter abstraction, total emptiness, only described still as an ‘other-world’ the negative of every image, feeling, and definite thought. Nor does it require much penetration to see that this caput mortuum is still only a product of thought, such as accrues when thought is carried on to abstraction unalloyed: that it is the work of the empty ‘Ego’, which makes an object out of this empty self-identity of its own. The negative characteristic which this abstract identity receives as an object is also enumerated among the categories of Kant, and is no less familiar than the empty identity aforesaid. Hence one can only read with surprise the perpetual remark that we do not know the Thing-in-itself. On the contrary there is nothing we can know so easily.
It is Reason, the faculty of the Unconditioned, which discovers the conditioned nature of the knowledge comprised in experience. What is thus called the object of Reason, the Infinite or Unconditioned, is nothing but self-sameness, or the primary identity of the ‘Ego’ in thought (mentioned in § 42). Reason itself is the name given to the abstract ‘Ego’ or thought, which makes this pure identity its aim or object (cf. note to the preceding §). Now this identity, having no definite attribute at all, can receive no illumination from the truths of experience, for the reason that these refer always to definite facts. Such is the sort of Unconditioned that is supposed to be the absolute truth of Reason what is termed the Idea; while the cognitions of experience are reduced to the level of untruth and declared to be appearances.
Kant was the first definitely to signalise the distinction between Reason and Understanding. The object of the former, as he applied the term, was the infinite and unconditioned, of the latter the finite and conditioned. Kant did valuable service when he enforced the finite character of the cognitions of the understanding founded merely upon experience, and stamped their contents with the name of appearance. But his mistake was to stop at the purely negative point of view, and to limit the unconditionality of Reason to an abstract self-sameness without any shade of distinction. It degrades Reason to a finite and conditioned thing, to identify it with a mere stepping beyond the finite and conditioned range of understanding. The real infinite, far from being a mere transcendence of the finite, always involves the absorption of the finite into its own fuller nature. In the same way Kant restored the Idea to its proper dignity: vindicating it for Reason, as a thing distinct from abstract analytic determinations or from the merely sensible conceptions which usually appropriate to themselves the name of ideas. But as respects the Idea also, he never got beyond its negative aspect, as what ought to be but is not.
The view that the objects of immediate consciousness, which constitute the body of experience, are mere appearances (phenomena) was another important result of the Kantian philosophy. Common Sense, that mixture of sense and understanding, believes the objects of which it has knowledge to be severally independent and self-supporting; and when it becomes evident that they tend towards and limit one another, the interdependence of one upon another is reckoned something foreign to them and to their true nature. The very opposite is the truth. The things immediately known are mere appearances — in other words, the ground of their being is not in themselves but in something else. But then comes the important step of defining what this something else is. According to Kant, the things that we know about are to us appearances only, and we can never know their essential nature, which belongs to another world we cannot approach.
Plain minds have not unreasonably taken exception to this subjective idealism, with its reduction of the facts of consciousness to a purely personal world, created by ourselves alone. For the true statement of the case is rather as follows. The things of which we have direct consciousness are mere phenomena, not for us only, but in their own nature; and the true and proper case of these things, finite as they are, is to have their existence founded not in themselves but in the universal divine Idea. This view of things, it is true, is as idealist as Kant’s; but in contradistinction to the subjective idealism of the Critical philosophy should be termed absolute idealism. Absolute idealism, however, though it is far in advance of vulgar realism, is by no means merely restricted to philosophy. It lies at the root of all religion; for religion too believes the actual world we see, the sum total of existence, to be created and governed by God.
But it is not enough simply to indicate the existence of the object of Reason. Curiosity impels us to seek for knowledge of this identity, this empty thing-in-itself. Now knowledge means such an acquaintance with the object as apprehends its distinct and special subject-matter. But such subject-matter involves a complex interconnection in the object itself, and supplies a ground of connection with many other objects. In the present case, to express the nature of the features of the Infinite or Thing-in-itself, Reason would have nothing except the categories: and in any endeavour so to employ them Reason becomes over-soaring or ‘transcendent’.
Here begins the second stage of the Criticism of Reason – which, as an independent piece of work, is more valuable than the first. The first part, as has been explained above, teaches that the categories originate in the unity of self-consciousness; that any knowledge which is gained by their means has nothing objective in it, and that the very objectivity claimed for them is only subjective. So far as this goes, the Kantian Criticism presents that ‘common’ type of idealism known as Subjective Idealism. It asks no questions about the meaning or scope of the categories, but simply considers the abstract form of subjectivity and objectivity, and that even in such a partial way that the former aspect, that of subjectivity, is retained as a final and purely affirmative term of thought. In the second part, however, when Kant examines the application, as it is called, which Reason makes of the categories in order to know its objects, the content of the categories, at least in some points of view, comes in for discussion: or, at any rate, an opportunity presented itself for a discussion of the question. It is worth while to see what decision Kant arrives at on the subject of metaphysic, as this application of the categories to the unconditioned is called. His method of procedure we shall here briefly state and criticise.
[a] The first of the unconditioned entities which Kant examines is the Soul (see above, § 34). ‘In my consciousness’, he says, ‘I always find that I (1) am the determining subject; (2) am singular or abstractly simple; (3) am identical, or one and the same, in all the variety of what I am conscious of; (4) distinguish myself as thinking from all the things outside me.’
Now the method of the old metaphysic, as Kant correctly states it, consisted in substituting for these statements of experience the corresponding categories or metaphysical terms. Thus arise these four new propositions: (a) the Soul is a substance; (b) it is a simple substance; (c) it is numerically identical at the various periods of existence; (d) it stands in relation to space.
Kant discusses this translation, and draws attention to the Paralogism or mistake of confounding one kind of truth with another. He points out that empirical attributes have here been replaced by categories; and shows that we are not entitled to argue from the former to the latter, or to put the latter in place of the former.
This criticism obviously but repeats the observation of Hume (§ 39) that the categories as a whole – ideas of universality and necessity – are entirely absent from sensation; and that the empirical fact both in form and contents differs from its intellectual formulation.
If the purely empirical fact were held to constitute the credentials of the thought, then no doubt it would be indispensable to be able precisely to identify the ‘idea’ in the ‘impression’.
And in order to make out, in his criticism of the metaphysical psychology, that the soul cannot be described as substantial, simple, self-same, and as maintaining its independence in intercourse with the material world, Kant argues from the single ground that the several attributes of the soul, which consciousness lets us feel in experience, are not exactly the same attributes as result from the action of thought thereon. But we have seen above that according to Kant all knowledge, even experience, consists in thinking our impressions – in other words, in transforming into intellectual categories the attributes primarily belonging to sensation.
Unquestionably one good result of the Kantian criticism was that it emancipated mental philosophy from the ‘soul-thing’, from the categories, and, consequently, from questions about the simplicity, complexity, materiality, etc., of the soul. But even for the common sense of ordinary men, the true point of view, from which the inadmissibility of these forms best appears, will be not that they are thoughts, but that thoughts of such a stamp neither can nor do retain truth.
If thought and phenomenon do not perfectly correspond to one another, we are free at least to choose which of the two shall be held the defaulter. The Kantian idealism, where it touches on the world of Reason, throws the blame on the thoughts; saying that the thoughts are defective, as not being exactly fitted to the sensations and to a mode of mind wholly restricted within the range of sensation, in which as such there are no traces of the presence of these thoughts. But as to the actual content of the thought, no question is raised.
Paralogisms are a species of unsound syllogism, the especial vice of which consists in employing one and the same word in the two premises with a different meaning. According to Kant the method adopted by the rational psychology of the old metaphysicians, when they assumed that the qualities of the phenomenal soul, as given in experience, formed part of its own real essence, was based upon such a Paralogism. Nor can it be denied that predicates like simplicity, permanence, etc., are inapplicable to the soul. But their unfitness is not due to the ground assigned by Kant, that Reason, by applying them, would exceed its appointed bounds. The true ground is that this style of abstract terms is not good enough for the soul, which is very much more than a mere simple or unchangeable sort of thing. And thus, for example, while the soul may be admitted to be simple selfsameness, it is at the same time active and institutes distinctions in its own nature. But whatever is merely or abstractly simple is as such also a mere dead thing. By his polemic against the metaphysic of the past Kant discarded those predicates from the soul or mind. He did well; but when he came to state his reasons, his failure is apparent.
[b] The second unconditioned object is the World (§ 35). In the attempt which reason makes to comprehend the unconditioned nature of the World, it falls into what are called Antinomies. In other words it maintains two opposite propositions about the same object, and in such a way that each of them has to be maintained with equal necessity. From this it follows that the body of cosmical fact, the specific statements descriptive of which run into contradiction, cannot be a self-subsistent reality, but only an appearance. The explanation offered by Kant alleges that the contradiction does not affect the object in its own proper essence, but attaches only to the Reason which seeks to comprehend it.
In this way the suggestion was broached that the contradiction is occasioned by the subject-matter itself, or by the intrinsic quality of the categories. And to offer the idea that the contradiction introduced into the world of Reason by the categories of Understanding is inevitable and essential was to make one of the most important steps in the progress of Modern Philosophy. But the more important the issue thus raised the more trivial was the solution. Its only motive was an excess of tenderness for the things of the world. The blemish of contradiction, it seems, could not be allowed to mar the essence of the world; but there could be no objection to attach it to the thinking Reason, to the essence of mind. Probably nobody will feel disposed to deny that the phenomenal world presents contradictions to the observing mind; meaning by ‘phenomenal’ the world as it presents itself to the senses and understanding, to the subjective mind. But if a comparison is instituted between the essence of the world and the essence of the mind, it does seem strange to hear how calmly and confidently the modest dogma has been advanced by one, and repeated by others, that thought or Reason, and not the World, is the seat of contradiction. It is no escape to turn round and explain that Reason falls into contradiction only by applying the categories. For this application of the categories is maintained to be necessary, and Reason is not supposed to be equipped with any other forms but the categories for the purpose of cognition. But cognition is determining and determinate thinking: so that, if Reason be mere empty indeterminate thinking, it thinks nothing. And if in the end Reason be reduced to mere identity without diversity (see next §), it will in the end also win a happy release from contradiction at the slight sacrifice of all its facets and contents.
It may also be noted that his failure to make a more thorough study of Antinomy was one of the reasons why Kant enumerated only four Antinomies. These four attracted his notice, because, as may be seen in his discussion of the so-called Paralogisms of Reason, he assumed the list of the categories as a basis of his argument. Employing what has subsequently become a favourite fashion, he simply put the object under a rubric otherwise ready to hand, instead of deducing its characteristics from its notion. Further deficiencies in the treatment of the Antinomies I have pointed out, as occasion offered, in my Science of Logic. Here it will be sufficient to say that the Antinomies are not confined to the four special objects taken from Cosmology: they appear in all objects of every kind, in all conceptions, notions, and Ideas. To be aware of this and to know objects in this property of theirs makes a vital part in a philosophical theory. For the property thus indicated is what we shall afterwards describe as the Dialectical influence in logic.
The principles of the metaphysical philosophy gave rise to the belief that, when cognition lapsed into contradictions, it was a mere accidental aberration, due to some subjective mistake in argument and inference. According to Kant, however, thought has a natural tendency to issue in contradictions or antinomies, whenever it seeks to apprehend the infinite. We have in the latter part of the above paragraph referred to the philosophical importance of the antinomies of reason, and shown how the recognition of their existence helped largely to get rid of the rigid dogmatism of the metaphysic of understanding, and to direct attention to the Dialectical movement of thought. But here too Kant, as we must add, never got beyond the negative result that the thing-in-itself is unknowable, and never penetrated to the discovery of what the antinomies really and positively mean. That true and positive meaning of the antinomies is this: that every actual thing involves a coexistence of opposed elements. Consequently to know, or, in other words, to comprehend an object is equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations. The old metaphysic, as we have already seen, when it studied the objects of which it sought a metaphysical knowledge, went to work by applying categories abstractly and to the exclusion of their opposites.
Kant, on the other hand, tried to prove that the statements issuing through this method could be met by other statements of contrary import with equal warrant and equal necessity. In the enumeration of these antinomies he narrowed his ground to the cosmology of the old metaphysical system, and in his discussion made out four antinomies, a number which rests upon the list of the categories. The first antinomy is on the question: Whether we are or are not to think the world limited in space and time. In the second antinomy we have a discussion of the dilemma: Matter must be conceived either as endlessly divisible, or as consisting of atoms. The third antinomy bears upon the antithesis of freedom and necessity, to such extent as it is embraced in the question, Whether everything in the world must be supposed subject to the condition of causality, or if we can also assume free beings, in other words absolute initial points of action, in the world. Finally, the fourth antinomy is the dilemma: Either the world as a whole has a cause or it is uncaused.
The method which Kant follows in discussing these antinomies is as follows. He puts the two propositions implied in the dilemma over against each other as thesis and antithesis, and seeks to prove both: that is to say he tries to exhibit them as inevitably issuing from reflection on the question. He particularly protests against the charge of being a special pleader and of grounding his reasoning on illusions. Speaking honestly, however, the arguments which Kant offers for his thesis and antithesis are mere shams of demonstration. The thing to be proved is invariably implied in the assumption he starts from, and the speciousness of his proofs is only due to his prolix and apagogic mode of procedure. Yet it was, and still is, a great achievement for the Critical Philosophy when it exhibited these antinomies: for in this way it gave some expression (at first certainly subjective and unexplained) to the actual unity of those categories which are kept persistently separate by the understanding. The first of the cosmological antinomies, for example, implies a recognition of the doctrine that space and time present a discrete as well as a continuous aspect: whereas the old metaphysic, laying exclusive emphasis on the continuity, had been led to treat the world as unlimited in space and time. It is quite correct to say that we can go beyond every definite space and beyond every definite time: but it is no less correct that space and time are real and actual only when they are defined or specialised into ‘here’ and ‘now’ — a specialisation which is involved in the very notion of them. The same observations apply to the rest of the antinomies. Take, for example, the antinomy of freedom and necessity. The main gist of it is that freedom and necessity as understood by abstract thinkers are not independently real, as these thinkers suppose, but merely ideal factors (moments) of the true freedom and the true necessity, and that to abstract and isolate either conception is to make it false.
[c] The third object of the Reason is God (§ 36): he also must be known and defined in terms of thought. But in comparison with an unalloyed identity, every defining term as such seems to the understanding to be only a limit and a negation: every reality accordingly must be taken as limitless, i.e. undefined. Accordingly God, when he is defined to be the sum of all realities, the most real of beings, turns into a mere abstract. And the only term under which that most real of real things can be defined is that of Being itself the height of abstraction. These are two elements, abstract identity, on one hand, which is spoken of in this place as the notion; and Being on the other which Reason seeks to unify. And their union is the Ideal of Reason.
To carry out this unification two ways or two forms are admissible. Either we may begin with Being and proceed to the abstractum of Thought: or the movement may begin with the abstraction and end in Being.
We shall, in the first place, start from Being. But Being, in its natural aspect, presents itself to view as a Being of infinite variety, a World in all its plentitude. And this world may be regarded in two ways: first, as a collection of innumerable unconnected facts; and second, as a collection of innumerable facts in mutual relation, giving evidence of design. The first aspect is emphasised in the Cosmological proof; the latter in the proofs of Natural Theology. Suppose now that this fullness of being passes under the agency of thought. Then it is stripped of its isolation and unconnectedness, and viewed as a universal and absolutely necessary being which determines itself and acts by general purposes or laws. And this necessary and self-determined being, different from the being at the commencement, is God.
The main force of Kant’s criticism on this process attacks it for being a syllogising, i.e. a transition. Perceptions, and that aggregate of perceptions we call the world, exhibit as they stand no traces of that universality which they afterwards receive from the purifying act of thought. The empirical conception of the world therefore gives no warrant for the idea of universality. And so any attempt on the part of thought to ascend from the empirical conception of the world to God is checked by the argument of Hume (as in the paralogisms, § 47), according to which we have no right to think sensations, that is, to elicit universality and necessity from them.
Man is essentially a thinker: and therefore sound Common Sense, as well as Philosophy, will not yield up their right of rising to God from and out of the empirical view of the world. The only basis on which this rise is possible is the thinking study of the world, not the bare sensuous, animal, attuition of it. Thought and thought alone has eyes for the essence, substance, universal power, and ultimate design of the world. And what men call the proofs of God’s existence are, rightly understood, ways of describing and analysing the native course of the mind, the course of thought thinking the data of the senses. The rise of thought beyond the world of sense, its passage from the finite to the infinite, the leap into the supersensible which it takes when it snaps asunder the chain of sense, all this transition is thought and nothing but thought. Say there must be no such passage, and you say there is to be no thinking. And in sooth, animals make no such transition. They never get further than sensation and the perception of the senses, and in consequence they have no religion.
Both on general grounds, and in the particular case, there are two remarks to be made upon the criticism of this exaltation in thought. The first remark deals with the question of form. When the exaltation is exhibited in a syllogistic process, in the shape of what we call proofs of the being of God, these reasonings cannot but start from some sort of theory of the world, which makes it an aggregate either of contingent facts or of final causes and relations involving design. The merely syllogistic thinker may deem this starting-point a solid basis and suppose that it remains throughout in the same empirical light, left at last as it was at the first. In this case, the bearing of the beginning upon the conclusion to which it leads has a purely affirmative aspect, as if we were only reasoning from one thing which is and continues to be, to another thing which in like manner is. But the great error is to restrict our notions of the nature of thought to its form in understanding alone. To think the phenomenal world rather means to recast its form, and transmute it into a universal. And thus the action of thought has also a negative effect upon its basis: and the matter of sensation, when it receives the stamp of universality, at once loses its first and phenomenal shape. By the removal and negation of the shell, the kernel within the sense-percept is brought to the light (§§ 13 and 23). And it is because they do not, with sufficient prominence, express the negative features implied in the exaltation of the mind from the world to God that the metaphysical proofs of the being of a God are defective interpretations and descriptions of the process. If the world is only a sum of incidents, it follows that it is also deciduous and phenomenal, in esse and posse null. That upward spring of the mind signifies that the being which the world has is only a semblance, no real being, no absolute truth; it signifies that, beyond and above that appearance, truth abides in God, so that true being is another name for God. The process of exaltation might thus appear to be transition and to involve a means, but it is not a whit less true that every trace of transition and means is absorbed; since the world, which might have seemed to be the means of reaching God, is explained to be a nullity. Unless the being of the world is nullified, the point d’appui for the exaltation is lost. In this way the apparent means vanishes, and the process of derivation is cancelled in the very act by which it proceeds. It is the affirmative aspect of this relation, as supposed to subsist between two things, either of which is as much as the other, which Jacobi mainly has in his eye when he attacks the demonstrations of the understanding. Justly censuring them for seeking conditions (i.e. the world) for the unconditioned, he remarks that the Infinite or God must on such a method be presented as dependent and derivative. But that elevation, as it takes place in the mind, serves to correct this semblance: in fact, it has no other meaning than to correct that semblance. Jacobi, however, failed to recognise the genuine nature of essential thought – by which it cancels the mediation in the very act of mediating; and consequently, his objection, though it tells against the merely ‘reflective’ understanding, is false when applied to thought as a whole, and in particular to reasonable thought.
To explain what we mean by the neglect of the negative factor in thought, we may refer by way of illustration to the charges of Pantheism and Atheism brought against the doctrines of Spinoza. The absolute Substance of Spinoza certainly falls short of absolute spirit, and it is a right and proper requirement that God should be defined as absolute spirit. But when the definition in Spinoza is said to identify the world with God, and to confound God with nature and the finite world, it is implied that the finite world possesses a genuine actuality and affirmative reality. If this assumption be admitted, of course a union of God with the world renders God completely finite, and degrades Him to the bare finite and adventitious congeries of existence. But there are two objections to be noted. In the first place Spinoza does not define God as the unity of God with the world, but as the union of thought with extension, that is, with the material world. And secondly, even if we accept this awkward popular statement as to this unity, it would still be true that the system of Spinoza was not Atheism but Acosmism, defining the world to be an appearance lacking in true reality. A philosophy which affirms that God and God alone is should not be stigmatised as atheistic, when even those nations which worship the ape, the cow, or images of stone and brass, are credited with some religion. But as things stand the imagination of ordinary men feels a vehement reluctance to surrender its dearest conviction, that this aggregate of finitude, which it calls a world, has actual reality; and to hold that there is no world is a way of thinking they are fain to believe impossible, or at least much less possible than to entertain the idea that there is no God. Human nature, not much to its credit, is more ready to believe that a system denies God, than that it denies the world. A denial of God seems so much more intelligible than a denial of the world.
The second remark bears on the criticism of the material propositions to which that elevation in thought in the first instance leads. If these ‘propositions have for their predicate such terms as substance of the world, its necessary essence, cause which regulates and directs it according to design, they are certainly inadequate to express what is or ought to be understood by God. Yet apart from the trick of adopting a preliminary popular conception of God, and criticising a result by this assumed standard, it is certain that these characteristics have great value, and are necessary factors in the idea of God. But if we wish in this way to bring before thought the genuine idea of God, and give its true value and expression to the central truth, we must be careful not to start from a subordinate level of facts. To speak of the ‘merely contingent’ things of the world is a very inadequate description of the premises.
The organic structures, and the evidence they afford of mutual adaptation, belong to a higher province, the province of animated nature. But even without taking into consideration the possible blemish which the study of animated nature and of the other teleological aspects of existing things may contract from the pettiness of the final causes, and from puerile instances of them and their bearings, merely animated nature is, at the best, incapable of supplying the material for a truthful expression to the idea to God. God is more than life: he is Spirit. And therefore if the thought of the Absolute takes a starting-point for its rise, and desires to take the nearest, the most true and adequate starting-point will be found in the nature of spirit alone.
The other way of unification by which to realise the Ideal of Reason is to set out from the abstractum of Thought and seek to characterise it: for which purpose Being is the only available term. This is the method of the Ontological proof. The opposition, here presented from a merely subjective point of view, lies between Thought and Being; whereas in the first way of junction, being is common to the two sides of the antithesis, and the contrast lies only between its individualisation and universality. Understanding meets this second way with what is implicitly the same objection as it made to the first. It denied that the empirical involves the universal; so it denies that the universal involves the specialisation, which specialisation in this instance is being. In other words it says: Being cannot be deduced from the notion by any analysis.
The uniformly favourable reception and acceptance which attended Kant’s criticism of the Ontological proof was undoubtedly due to the illustration which he made use of. To explain the difference between thought and being, he took the instance of a hundred sovereigns, which, for anything it matters to the notion, are the same hundred whether they are real or only possible, though the difference of the two cases is very perceptible in their effect on a man’s purse. Nothing can be more obvious than that anything we only think or conceive is not on that account actual; that mental representation, and even notional comprehension, always falls short of being. Still it may not unfairly be styled a barbarism in language, when the name of notion is given to things like a hundred sovereigns. And, putting that mistake aside, those who perpetually urge against the philosophic Idea the difference between Being and Thought might have admitted that philosophers were not wholly ignorant of the fact. Can there be any proposition more trite than this? But after all, it is well to remember, when we speak of God, that we have an object of another kind than any hundred sovereigns, and unlike any one particular notion, representation, or however else it may be styled. It is in fact this and this alone which marks everything finite: its being in time and space is discrepant from its notion. God, on the contrary, expressly has to be what can only be ‘thought as existing’; his notion involves being. It is this unity of the notion and being that constitutes the notion of God.
If this were all, we should have only a formal expression of the divine nature which would not really go beyond a statement of the nature of the notion itself. And that the notion, in its most abstract terms, involves being is plain. For the notion, whatever other determination it may receive, is at least reference back on itself, which results by abolishing the intermediation, and thus is immediate. And what is that reference to self, but being? Certainly it would be strange if the notion, the very inmost of mind, if even the ‘Ego’, or above all the concrete totality we call God, were not rich enough to include so poor a category as being, the very poorest and most abstract of all. For, if we look at the thought it holds, nothing can be more insignificant than being. And yet there may be something still more insignificant than being that which at first sight is perhaps supposed to be, an external and sensible existence, like that of the paper lying before me. However, in this matter, nobody proposes to speak of the sensible existence of a limited and perishable thing. Besides, the petty stricture of the Kritik that ‘thought and being are different’ can at most molest the path of the human mind from the thought of God to the certainty that he is: it cannot take it away. It is this process of transition, depending on the absolute inseparability of the thought of God from his being, for which its proper authority has been revindicated in the theory of faith or immediate knowledge — whereof hereafter.
In this way thought, at its highest pitch, has to go outside for any determinateness; and although it is continually termed Reason, is out-and-out abstract thinking. And the result of all is that Reason supplies nothing beyond the formal unity required to simplify and systematise experiences; it is a canon, not an organon, of truth, and can furnish only a criticism of knowledge, not a doctrine of the infinite. In its final analysis this criticism is summed up in the assertion that in strictness thought is only the indeterminate unity and the action of this indeterminate unity.
Kant undoubtedly held reason to be the faculty of the unconditioned but if reason be reduced to abstract identity only, it by implication renounces its unconditionality and is in reality no better than empty understanding. For reason is unconditioned only in so far as its character and quality are not due to an extraneous and foreign content, only in so far as it is self-characterising, and thus, in point of content, is its own master. Kant, however, expressly explains that the action of reason consists solely in applying the categories to systematise the matter given by perception, i.e. to place it in an outside order, under the guidance of the principle of non-contradiction.
(b) The Practical Reason is understood by Kant to mean a thinking Will, i.e. a Will that determines itself on universal principles. Its office is to give objective, imperative laws of freedom laws, that is, which state what ought to happen. The warrant for thus assuming thought to be an activity which makes itself felt objectively, that is, to be really a Reason, is the alleged possibility of proving practical freedom by experience, that is, of showing it in the phenomenon of selfconsciousness. This experience in consciousness is at once met by all that the Necessitarian produces from contrary experience, particularly by the sceptical induction (employed among others by Hume) from the endless diversity of what men regard as right and duty i.e. from the diversity apparent in those professedly objective laws of freedom.
What, then, is to serve as the law which the Practical Reason embraces and obeys, and as the criterion in its act of selfdetermination? There is no rule at hand but the same abstract identity of understanding as before: there must be no contradiction in the act of self- determination. Hence the Practical Reason never shakes off the formalism which is represented as the climax of the Theoretical Reason.
But this Practical Reason does not confine the universal principle of the Good to its own inward regulation: it first becomes practical, in the true sense of the word, when it insists on the Good being manifested in the world with an outward objectivity, and requires that the thought shall be objective throughout, and not merely subjective. We shall speak of this postulate of the Practical Reason afterwards.
The free self-determination which Kant denied to the speculative, he has expressly vindicated for the practical reason. To many minds this particular aspect of the Kantian philosophy made it welcome; and that for good reasons. To estimate rightly what we owe to Kant in the matter, we ought to set before our minds the form of practical philosophy and in particular of ‘moral philosophy’ which prevailed in his time. It may be generally described as a system of Eudaemonism, which, when asked what man’s chief end ought to be, replied Happiness. And by happiness Eudaemonism understood the satisfaction of the private appetites, wishes, and wants of the man: thus raising the contingent and particular into a principle for the will and its actualisation. To this Eudaemonism, which was destitute of stability and consistency, and which left the ‘door and gate’ wide open for every whim and caprice, Kant opposed the practical reason, and thus emphasised the need for a principle of will which should be universal and lay the same obligation on all. The theoretical reason, as has been made evident in the preceding paragraphs, is identified by Kant with the negative faculty of the infinite; and as it has no positive content of its own, it is restricted to the function of detecting the finitude of experiential knowledge. To the practical reason, on the contrary, he has expressly allowed a positive infinity, by ascribing to the will the power of modifying itself in universal modes, i.e. by thought. Such a power the will undoubtedly has: and it is well to remember that man is free only in so far as he possesses it and avails himself of it in his conduct. But a recognition of the existence of this power is not enough and does not avail to tell us what are the contents of the will or practical reason. Hence to say that a man must make the Good the content of his will raises the question, what that content is, and what are the means of ascertaining what good is. Nor does one get over the difficulty by the principle that the will must be consistent with itself, or by the precept to do duty for the sake of duty.
(c) The Reflective Power of Judgment is invested by Kant with the function of an Intuitive Understanding. That is to say, whereas the particulars had hitherto appeared, so far as the universal or abstract identity was concerned, adventitious and incapable of being deduced from it, the Intuitive Understanding apprehends the particulars as moulded and formed by the universal itself. Experience presents such universalised particulars in the products of Art and of organic nature.
The capital feature in Kant’s Criticism of the Judgment is, that in it he gave a representation and a name, if not even an intellectual expression, to the Idea. Such a representation, as an Intuitive Understanding, or an inner adaptation, suggests a universal which is at the same time apprehended as essentially a concrete unity. It is in these apercus alone that the Kantian philosophy rises to the speculative height. Schiller, and others, have found in the idea of artistic beauty, where thought and sensuous conception have grown together into one, a way of escape from the abstract and separatist understanding. Others have found the same relief in the perception and consciousness of life and of living things, whether that life be natural or intellectual. The work of Art, as well as the living individual, is, it must be owned, of limited content. But in the postulated harmony of nature (or necessity) and free purpose in the final purpose of the world conceived as realised, Kant has put before us the Idea, comprehensive even in its content. Yet what may be called the laziness of thought, when dealing with the supreme Idea, finds a too easy mode of evasion in the ‘ought to be’: instead of the actual realisation of the ultimate end, it clings hard to the disjunction of the notion from reality. Yet if thought will not think the ideal realised, the senses and the intuition can at any rate see it in the present reality of living organisms and of the beautiful in Art. And consequently Kant’s remarks on these objects were well adapted to lead the mind on to grasp and think the concrete Idea.
We are thus led to conceive a different relation between the universal of understanding and the particular of perception, than that on which the theory of the Theoretical and Practical Reason is founded. But while this is so, it is not supplemented by a recognition that the former is the genuine relation and the very truth. Instead of that, the unity (of universal with particular) is accepted only as it exists in finite phenomena, and is adduced only as a fact of experience. Such experience, at first only personal, may come from two sources. It may spring from Genius, the faculty which produces ‘aesthetic ideas’; meaning by aesthetic ideas, the picture-thoughts of the free imagination which subserve an idea and suggest thoughts, although their content is not expressed in a notional form, and even admits of no such expression. It may also be due to Taste, the feeling of congruity between the free play of intuition or imagination and the uniformity of understanding.
The principle by which the Reflective faculty of Judgment regulates and arranges the products of animated nature is described as the End or final cause the notion in action, the universal at once determining and determinate in itself. At the same time Kant is careful to discard the conception of external or finite adaptation, in which the End is only an adventitious form for the means and material in which it is realised. In the living organism, on the contrary, the final cause is a moulding principle and an energy immanent in the matter, and every member is in its turn a means as well as an end.
Such an Idea evidently radically transforms the relation which the understanding institutes between means and ends, between subjectivity and objectivity. And yet in the face of this unification, the End or design is subsequently explained to be a cause which exists and acts subjectively, i.e. as our idea only: and teleology is accordingly explained to be only a principle of criticism, purely personal to our understanding.
After the Critical philosophy had settled that Reason can know phenomena only, there would still have been an option for animated nature between two equally subjective modes of thought. Even according to Kant’s own exposition, there would have been an obligation to admit, in the case of natural productions, a knowledge not confined to the categories of quality, cause and effect, composition, constituents, and so on. The principle of inward adaptation or design, had it been kept to and carried out in scientific application, would have led to a different and a higher method of observing nature.
If we adopt this principle, the Idea, when all limitations were removed from it, would appear as follows. The universality moulded by Reason, and described as the absolute and final end or the Good, would be realised in the world, and realised moreover by means of a third thing, the power which proposes this End as well as realises it that is, God. Thus in him, who is the absolute truth, those oppositions of universal and individual, subjective and objective, are solved and explained to be neither self-subsistent nor true.
But Good which is thus put forward as the final cause of the world has been already described as only our good, the moral law of our Practical Reason. This being so, the unity in question goes no further than make the state of the world and the course of its events harmonise with our moral standards. Besides, even with this limitation, the final cause, or Good, is a vague abstraction, and the same vagueness attaches to what is to be Duty. But, further, this harmony is met by the revival and reassertion of the antithesis, which it by its own principle had nullified. The harmony is then described as merely subjective, something which merely ought to be, and which at the same time is not real a mere article of faith, possessing a subjective certainty, but without truth, or that objectivity which is proper to the Idea. This contradiction may seem to be disguised by adjourning the realisation of the Idea to a future, to a time when the Idea will also be. But a sensuous condition like time is the reverse of a reconciliation of the discrepancy; and an infinite progression which is the corresponding image adopted by the understanding on the very face of it only repeats and re-enacts the contradiction.
A general remark may still be offered on the result to which the Critical philosophy led as to the nature of knowledge; a result which has grown one of the current ‘idols’ or axiomatic beliefs of the day. In every dualistic system, and especially in that of Kant, the fundamental defect makes itself visible in the inconsistency of unifying at one moment what a moment before had been explained to be independent and therefore incapable of unification. And then, at the very moment after unification has been alleged to be the truth, we suddenly come upon the doctrine that the two elements, which, in their true status of unification, had been refused all independent subsistence, are only true and actual in their state of separation. Philosophising of this kind wants the little penetration needed to discover, that this shuffling only evidences how unsatisfactory each one of the two terms is. And it fails simply because it is incapable of bringing two thoughts together. (And in point of form there are never more than two.) It argues an utter want of consistency to say, on the one hand, that the understanding only knows phenomena, and, on the other, assert the absolute character of this knowledge, by such statements as ‘Cognition can go no further’; ‘Here is the natural and absolute limit of human knowledge.’ But ‘natural’ is the wrong word here. The things of nature are limited and are natural things only to such extent as they are not aware of their universal limit, or to such extent as their mode or quality is a limit from our point of view, and not from their own. No one knows, or even feels, that anything is a limit or defect, until he is at the same time above and beyond it. Living beings, for example, possess the privilege of pain which is denied to the inanimate: even with living beings, a single mode or quality passes into the feeling of a negative. For living beings as such possess within them a universal vitality, which overpasses and includes the single mode; and thus, as they maintain themselves in the negative of themselves, they feel the contradiction to exist within them. But the contradiction is within them only in so far as one and the same subject includes both the universality of their sense of life, and the individual mode which is in negation with it. This illustration will show how a limit or imperfection in knowledge comes to be termed a limit or imperfection, only when it is compared with the actually present Idea of the universal, of a total and perfect. A very little consideration might show that to call a thing finite or limited proves by implication the very presence of the infinite and unlimited, and that our knowledge of a limit can only be when the unlimited is on this side in consciousness.
The result however of Kant’s view of cognition suggests a second remark. The philosophy of Kant could have no influence on the method of the sciences. It leaves the categories and method of ordinary knowledge quite unmolested. Occasionally, it may be, in the first sections of a scientific work of that period, we find propositions borrowed from the Kantian philosophy; but the course of the treatise renders it apparent that these propositions were superfluous decoration, and that the few first pages might have been omitted without producing the least change in the empirical contents.
We may next institute a comparison of Kant with the metaphysics of the empirical school. Natural plain Empiricism, though it unquestionably insists most upon sensuous perception, still allows a supersensible world or spiritual reality, whatever may be its structure and constitution, and whether derived from intellect, or from imagination, etc. So far as form goes, the facts of this supersensible world rest on the authority of mind, in the same way as the other facts embraced in empirical knowledge rest on the authority of external perception. But when Empiricism becomes reflective and logically consistent, it turns its arms against this dualism in the ultimate and highest species of fact; it denies the independence of the thinking principle and of a spiritual world which develops itself in thought. Materialism or Naturalism, therefore, is the consistent and thoroughgoing system of Empiricism. In direct opposition to such an Empiricism, Kant asserts the principle of thought and freedom, and attaches himself to the first mentioned form of empirical doctrine, the general principles of which he never departed from. There is a dualism in his philosophy also. On one side stands the world of sensation, and of the understanding which reflects upon it. This world, it is true, he alleges to be a world of appearances. But that is only a title or formal description; for the source, the facts, and the modes of observation continue quite the same as in Empiricism. On the other side and independent stands a self-apprehending thought, the principle of freedom, which Kant has in common with ordinary and bygone metaphysic, but emptied of all that it held, and without his being able to infuse into it anything new. For, in the Critical doctrine, thought, or, as it is there called, Reason, is divested of every specific form, and thus bereft of all authority. The main effect of the Kantian philosophy has been to revive the consciousness of Reason, or the absolute inwardness of thought. Its abstractness indeed prevented that inwardness from developing into anything, or from originating any special forms, whether cognitive principles or moral laws; but nevertheless it absolutely refused to accept or indulge anything possessing the character of an externality. Henceforth the principle of the independence of Reason, or of its absolute self-subsistence, is made a general principle of philosophy, as well as a foregone conclusion of the time.
(1) The Critical philosophy has one great negative merit. It has brought home the conviction that the categories of understanding are finite in their range, and that any cognitive process confined within their pale falls short of the truth. But Kant had only a sight of half the truth. He explained the finite nature of the categories to mean that they were subjective only, valid only for our thought, from which the thing-in-itself was divided by an impassable gulf. In fact, however, it is not because they are subjective that the categories are finite: they are finite by their very nature, and it is on their own selves that it is requisite to exhibit their finitude. Kant however holds that what we think is false, because it is we who think it. A further deficiency in the system is that it gives only a historical description of thought, and a mere enumeration of the factors of consciousness. The enumeration is in the main correct: but not a word touches upon the necessity of what is thus empirically colligated. The observations made on the various stages of consciousness culminant in the summary statement that the content of all we are acquainted with is only an appearance. And as it is true at least that all finite thinking is concerned with appearances, so far the conclusion is justified. This stage of ‘appearance’ however — the phenomenal world — is not the terminus of thought: there is another and a higher region. But that region was to the Kantian philosophy an inaccessible ‘other world’.
(2) After all it was only formally that the Kantian system established the principle that thought is spontaneous and self-determining. Into details of the manner and the extent of this self-determination of thought, Kant never went. It was Fichte who first noticed the omission; and who, after he had called attention to the want of a deduction for the categories, endeavoured really to supply something of the kind. With Fichte, the ‘Ego’ is the starting-point in the philosophical development: and the outcome of its action is supposed to be visible in the categories. But in Fichte the ‘Ego’ is not really presented as a free, spontaneous energy; it is supposed to receive its first excitation by a shock or impulse from without. Against this shock the ‘Ego’ will, it is assumed, react, and only through this reaction does it first become conscious of itself. Meanwhile, the nature of the impulse remains a stranger beyond our pale: and the ‘Ego’, with something else always confronting it, is weighted with a condition. Fichte, in consequence, never advanced beyond Kant’s conclusion, that the finite only is knowable, while the infinite transcends the range of thought. What Kant calls the thing-by-itself, Fichte calls the impulse from without — that abstraction of something else than ‘I’, not otherwise describable or definable than as the negative or non-Ego in general. The ‘I’ is thus looked at as standing in essential relation with the not-I, through which its act of self-determination is first awakened. And in this manner the ‘I’ is but the continuous act of self-liberation from this impulse, never gaining a real freedom, because with the surcease of the impulse the ‘I’, whose being is its action, would also cease to be. Nor is the content produced by the action of the ‘I’ at all different from the ordinary content of experience, except by the supplementary remark, that this content is mere appearance.
Findlay's explanation | V: Third Attitude to Objectivity
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