Week 3: Kant – Prolegomena II (Potential Metaphysics)

Week 3: Kant – Prolegomena II


  1. (§ 15). Kant states that universal natural science contains a priori basic principles, including the principles ‘substance remains and persists’ and ‘everything that happens is always determined previously by a cause according to constant laws.’ What is the discipline that explicitly reflects on such principles?

The discipline that reflects on the continuation of substance and causes under laws is ‘Metaphysics’, which Kant saw as being almost synonymous with pure mathematics and so he sought to label it pure philosophical cognition. It was only after metaphysics had almost drawn to a halt that Kant set to work to understand its origins. Inspired by Hume the father of German Idealism reflected on the reflective centre of philosophical enquiry (a cognition that resides beyond experience: metaphysical) and unearthed a new understanding of the discipline.

  1. (§ 22). If ‘[t]o think … is to unite representations in a consciousness’, what is it in Kant’s account of cognition that entails that this unity is ‘necessary and universally valid’?

The unity of representations in a consciousness rests initially on his unique distinction: that all acts of thinking entail judgements, and these judgements Kant split into two analytical (explicative – adding nothing to the content of the cognition), and synthetic (ampliative – augmenting the given cognition, adding something in the predicate that was not in the subject’s concept). Moreover, this then leads Kant to apprehend how synthetic cognition and precisely how pure intuition contains not only mathematical certainty, an apodictic quality, but space and time are also a priori (existing outside of experience). Culminating in one more sharp distinction after stating that,

‘thinking is the same as judging or as relating representations to judgements in general. Judgements are therefore either merely subjective, if representations are related to one consciousness in one subject alone and are united in it, or they are objective, if they are united in a consciousness in general, i.e., are united necessarily therein… This unification in a consciousness is either
analytic, through identity, or synthetic, through combination and addition
of various representations with one another.’

(§§ 30, 33). With the notions ‘thing in itself,’ ‘noumenon’ and ‘thought-being’ Kant refers to objects thought independently of their spatial and temporal determinations, which cannot therefore be objects of experience.

  1. (313) How does the notion of a noumenon help Kant provide the ‘complete solution of the Humean problem’?

The noumenon, contrasted to the phenomenon is often described as a realm where things are as they are… or the thing in itself: in German   …. It provides a solution to the Humean problem of habitual causality by offering an account of the cause i,e, objects that we can perceive through our senses, but we may never know them for what they truly are because we only have access to a representation of them via an act of judging. In Kant’s own language he says in two key sections of his famous preparatory study:

1)‘…even the pure concepts of the understanding have no significance at all

if they depart from objects of experience and want to be referred to things in

themselves (noumena). They serve as it were only to spell out appearances,

so that they can be read as experience;’

  • ‘This complete solution of the Humean problem, though coming out contrary

to the surmise of the originator, thus restores to the pure concepts of the

understanding  their a priori origin, and to the universal laws of nature their validity

as laws of the understanding, but in such a way that it restricts their use to

experience only, because their possibility is founded solely in the relation of the

understanding to experience: not, however, in such a way that they are derived

from experience, but that experience is derived from them,’       

  1. ‘[M]etaphysics is further concerned with pure concepts of reason that are never given in any possible experience whatsoever’: here Kant has in mind what he usually calls ideasof reason such as the soul, the world as a whole, and God.  These ideas are ‘transcendent’ (328) as they exceed any possible experience.
  1. (328). “Since all illusion … use that is immanent”. Try to summarise this paragraph in your own words to explain what Kant means by ‘illusion’.

Although the ideas of reason are generally illusory, they can also be useful or even ‘quite necessary in another respect’ (331). Kant gives the example of the ‘absolute totality of experience’, which provides our cognition with a systematic unity (349-50).  This is an example of a ‘regulative’ idea.

  1. (350). What is the difference between ‘regulative’ and ‘constitutive’ ideas?


‘But if one looks upon this unity of mode of cognition as if it were inhering in the object of cognition, if one takes that which really is only regulative to be constitutive, and becomes convinced that by means of these ideas one’s knowledge can be extended far beyond all possible experience, hence can be expanded transcendentally, even though this unity serves only to bring experience in itself as near as possible to completeness (i.e., to have its advance constrained by nothing that cannot belong to experience), then this is a mere misunderstanding in judging the true vocation of our reason and its principles, and it is a dialectic, which partly confounds the use of reason in experience, and partly divides reason against itself. […]’

Here Kant summarises the distinction between ideas of pure concepts of reason (categories), and pure concepts of the understanding, as cognitions of completely different type. With the latter’s ideas and thinking can be given in experience and confirmed. The former, transcendent cognitions of reason oppose this so neither allow what relates to their ideas to be given in experience, nor their theses ever to be confirmed or refuted via experience. Therefore it is possible here to argue either/or (Kierkegaard would’ve been proud) as it seems like both aspects could contain ideas that are regulative or constitutive? However, for Kant it appears that concepts of the understanding contain regulative ideas because of the immanence with which experience can be given. Finally the ideas of pure reason are constitutive because they extend to completeness, ‘the collective unity of the whole of possible experience, and in that way exceed any given experience and become transcendent’.

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