Transcendental argument in philosophy: Immanuel Kant


OUR knowledge is derived from two fundamental sources of the consciousness. The first is the faculty of receptivity of impressions; the second, the faculty of cognition of an object by means of these impressions or representations, this second power being sometimes styled spontaneity of concepts. By the first, an object is given to us; by the second it is thought of in the mind. Thus intuition and concepts constitute the elements of our entire knowledge, for neither intuition without concepts, nor concepts without intuition can yield any knowledge whatever. Hence arise two branches of science, 'aesthetic' and logic, the former being the science of the rules of sensibility; the latter, the science of the rules of understanding.

Logic can be treated in two directions; either as logic of the general use of the understanding, or of some particular use of it. The former includes the rules of thought, without which there can be no use of the understanding; but it has no regard to the objects to which the understanding is applied. This is elementary logic. But logic of the understanding in some particular use includes rules of correct thought in relation to special classes of objects; and this latter logic is generally taught in schools as preliminary to the study of sciences.

Thus, general logic takes no account of any of the contents of knowledge, but is limited simply to the consideration of the forms of thought. But we are constrained by anticipation to form an idea of a logical science which has to deal not only with pure thought, but also has to determine the origin, validity and extent of the knowledge to which intuitions relate, and this might be styled transcendental logic.

In 'transcendental aesthetic' we isolated the faculty of sensibility. So in transcendental logic we isolate the understanding, concentrating our consideration on that element of thought which has its source simply in the understanding. But transcendental logic must be divided into transcendental analytic and transcendental dialectic. The former is a logic of truth, and is intended to furnish a canon of criticism. When logic is used to judge not analytically, but to judge synthetically of objects in general, it is called transcendental dialectic, which serves as a protection against sophistical fallacy.

Analytic of Pure Concepts

The understanding may be defined as the faculty of judging. The function of thought in a judgement can come under four heads, each with three subdivisions.

1. Quantity of judgements: Universal, particular, singular.

2. Quality: Affirmative, negative, infinite.

3. Relation: Categorical, hypothetical, disjunctive.

4. Modality: Problematical, assertory, apodictic (above contradiction).

If we examine each of these forms of judgement we discover that in every one is involved some peculiar idea which is its essential characteristic. Thus, a singular judgement, in which the subject of discourse is a single object, involves obviously the special idea of oneness, or unity. A particular judgement, relating to several objects, implies the idea of plurality, and discriminates between the several objects. Now the whole list of these ideas will constitute the complete classification of the fundamental conceptions of the understanding, regarded as the faculty which judges, and these may be called categories.

1. Of Quantity: Unity, plurality, totality.

2. Of Quality: Reality, negation, limitation

3. Of Relation: Substance and accident, cause and effect, action and reaction.

4. Of Modality: Possibility--impossibility, existence--non - existence, necessity--contingence.

These, then, are the fundamental, primary, or native conceptions of the understanding, which flow from, or constitute the mechanism of, its nature; are inseparable from its activity; and are hence for human thought, universal and necessary, or a priori. These categories are 'pure' conceptions of the understanding, inasmuch as they are independent of all that is contingent in sense.

Transcendental Dialectic

A distinction is usually made between what is immediately known and what is only inferred. In every syllogism is first a fundamental proposition; secondly, another deduced from it; and, thirdly, the consequence.

In the use of pure reason its concepts, or transcendental ideas aim at unity of all conditions of thought. So all transcendental ideas may be arranged in three classes; the first containing the unity of the thinking subject; the second, the unity of the conditions of phenomena observed; the third, the unity of the objective conditions of thought.

This classification becomes clear if we note that the thinking subject is the object-matter of psychology; while the system of all phenomena (the world) is the object-matter of cosmology; and the Being of all Beings (God) is the object-matter of theology.

Hence we perceive that pure reason supplies three transcendental ideas, namely, the idea of a transcendental science of the soul (psychologia rationalis); of a transcendental science of the world (cosmologia rationalis); and, lastly, of a transcendental science of God (theologia transcendentalis). It is the glory of transcendental idealism that by it the mind ascends in the series of conditions till it reaches the unconditioned, that is, the principles. We thus progress from our knowledge of self to a knowledge of the world, and through it to a knowledge of the Supreme Being.


TRANSCENDENTAL reason attempts to reconcile conflicting assertions. There are four of these antinomies, or conflicts.

FIRST ANTINOMY. Thesis. The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited in regard to space. Proof. Were the world without a time-beginning we should have to ascribe a present limit to that which can have no limit, which is absurd. Again, were the world not limited in regard to space, it must be conceived as an infinite whole, yet it is impossible thus to conceive it.

Antithesis. The world has neither beginning in time, nor limit in space, but in both regards is infinite. Proof. The world must have existed from eternity, or it could never exist at all. If we imagine it had a beginning, we must imagine an anterior time when nothing was. But in such time the origin of anything is impossible. At no moment could any cause for such a beginning exist.

SECOND ANTINOMY. Thesis. Every composite substance in the world is composed of simple parts. This thesis seems scarcely to require proof. No one can deny that a composite substance consists of parts, and that these parts, if themselves composite, must consist of others less composite, till at length we come, by compulsion of thought, to the conception of the absolutely simple as that wherein the substantial consists.

Antithesis. No composite thing in the world consists of simple parts, and nothing simple exists anywhere in the world. Proof. Each simple part implied in the thesis must be in space. But this condition is a positive disproof of their possibility. A simple substance would have to occupy a simple portion of space; but space has no simple parts. The supposition of such a part is the supposition, not of space, but of the negation of space. A simple substance, in existing and occupying any portion of space, must contain a real multiplicity of parts external to each other, i.e. it must contradict its own nature, which is absurd.

THIRD ANTINOMY. Thesis. The causality of natural law is insufficient for the explanation of all the phenomena of the universe. For this end another kind of causality must be assumed, whose attribute is freedom. Proof. All so-called natural causes are effects of preceding causes, forming a regressive series of indefinite extent, with no first beginning. So we never arrive at an adequate cause of any phenomenon. Yet natural law has for its central demand that nothing shall happen without such a cause.

Antithesis. All events in the universe occur under the exclusive operation of natural laws, and there is no such thing as freedom. Proof. The idea of a free cause is an absurdity. For it contradicts the very law of causation itself, which demands that every event shall be in orderly sequence with some preceding event. Now, free causation is such an event, being the active beginning of a series of phenomena. Yet the action of the supposed free cause must be imagined as independent of all connexion with any previous event. It is without law or reason, and would be the blind realization of confusion and lawlessness. Therefore transcendental freedom is a violation of the law of causation, and is in conflict with all experience. We must of necessity acquiesce in the explanation of all phenomena by the operation of natural law, and thus transcendental freedom must be pronounced a fallacy.

FOURTH ANTINOMY. Thesis. Some form of absolutely necessary existence belongs to the world, whether as its part or as its cause. Proof. Phenomenal existence is serial, mutable, consistent. Every event is contingent upon a preceding condition. The conditioned presupposes, for its complete explanation, the unconditioned. The whole of past time, since it contains the whole of all past conditions, must of necessity contain the unconditioned or also 'absolutely necessary.'

Antithesis. There is no absolutely necessary existence, whether in the world as its part, or outside of it as its cause. Proof. Of unconditionally necessary existence within the world there can be none. The assumption of a first unconditioned link in the chain of cosmical conditions is self-contradictory. For such link or cause, being in time, must be subject to the law of all temporal existence, and so be determined--contrary to the original assumption--by another link or cause before it.

The supposition of an absolutely necessary cause of the world, existing without the world, also destroys itself. For, being outside the world, it is not in time. And yet, to act as a cause, it must be in time. This supposition is therefore absurd.

The theses in these four antinomies constitute the teaching of philosophical dogmatism. The antitheses constitute doctrines of philosophical empiricism.

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