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SECTION VII. Critical Solution of the Cosmological Problem

The antinomy of pure reason is based upon the following dialectical argument: "If that which is conditioned is given, the whole series of its conditions is also given; but sensuous objects are given as conditioned; consequently..." This syllogism, the major of which seems so natural and evident, introduces as many cosmological ideas as there are different kinds of conditions in the synthesis of phenomena, in so far as these conditions constitute a series. These ideas require absolute totality in the series, and thus place reason in inextricable embarrassment. Before proceeding to expose the fallacy in this dialectical argument, it will be necessary to have a correct understanding of certain conceptions that appear in it.

In the first place, the following proposition is evident, and indubitably certain: "If the conditioned is given, a regress in the series of all its conditions is thereby imperatively required." For the very conception of a conditioned is a conception of something related to a condition, and, if this condition is itself conditioned, to another condition- and so on through all the members of the series. This proposition is, therefore, analytical and has nothing to fear from transcendental criticism. It is a logical postulate of reason: to pursue, as far as possible, the connection of a conception with its conditions.

If, in the second place, both the conditioned and the condition are things in themselves, and if the former is given, not only is the regress to the latter requisite, but the latter is really given with the former. Now, as this is true of all the members of the series, the entire series of conditions, and with them the unconditioned, is at the same time given in the very fact of the conditioned, the existence of which is possible only in and through that series, being given. In this case, the synthesis of the conditioned with its condition, is a synthesis of the understanding merely, which represents things as they are, without regarding whether and how we can cognize them. But if I have to do with phenomena, which, in their character of mere representations, are not given, if I do not attain to a cognition of them (in other words, to themselves, for they are nothing more than empirical cognitions), I am not entitled to say: "If the conditioned is given, all its conditions (as phenomena) are also given." I cannot, therefore, from the fact of a conditioned being given, infer the absolute totality of the series of its conditions. For phenomena are nothing but an empirical synthesis in apprehension or perception, and are therefore given only in it. Now, in speaking of phenomena it does not follow that, if the conditioned is given, the synthesis which constitutes its empirical condition is also thereby given and presupposed; such a synthesis can be established only by an actual regress in the series of conditions. But we are entitled to say in this case that a regress to the conditions of a conditioned, in other words, that a continuous empirical synthesis is enjoined; that, if the conditions are not given, they are at least required; and that we are certain to discover the conditions in this regress.

We can now see that the major, in the above cosmological syllogism, takes the conditioned in the transcendental signification which it has in the pure category, while the minor speaks of it in the empirical signification which it has in the category as applied to phenomena. There is, therefore, a dialectical fallacy in the syllogism- a sophisma figurae dictionis. But this fallacy is not a consciously devised one, but a perfectly natural illusion of the common reason of man. For, when a thing is given as conditioned, we presuppose in the major its conditions and their series, unperceived, as it were, and unseen; because this is nothing more than the logical requirement of complete and satisfactory premisses for a given conclusion. In this case, time is altogether left out in the connection of the conditioned with the condition; they are supposed to be given in themselves, and contemporaneously. It is, moreover, just as natural to regard phenomena (in the minor) as things in themselves and as objects presented to the pure understanding, as in the major, in which complete abstraction was made of all conditions of intuition. But it is under these conditions alone that objects are given. Now we overlooked a remarkable distinction between the conceptions. The synthesis of the conditioned with its condition, and the complete series of the latter (in the major) are not limited by time, and do not contain the conception of succession. On the contrary, the empirical synthesis and the series of conditions in the phenomenal world- subsumed in the minor- are necessarily successive and given in time alone. It follows that I cannot presuppose in the minor, as I did in the major, the absolute totality of the synthesis and of the series therein represented; for in the major all the members of the series are given as things in themselves- without any limitations or conditions of time, while in the minor they are possible only in and through a successive regress, which cannot exist, except it be actually carried into execution in the world of phenomena.

After this proof of the viciousness of the argument commonly employed in maintaining cosmological assertions, both parties may now be justly dismissed, as advancing claims without grounds or title. But the process has not been ended by convincing them that one or both were in the wrong and had maintained an assertion which was without valid grounds of proof. Nothing seems to be clearer than that, if one maintains: "The world has a beginning," and another: "The world has no beginning," one of the two must be right. But it is likewise clear that, if the evidence on both sides is equal, it is impossible to discover on what side the truth lies; and the controversy continues, although the parties have been recommended to peace before the tribunal of reason. There remains, then, no other means of settling the question than to convince the parties, who refute each other with such conclusiveness and ability, that they are disputing about nothing, and that a transcendental illusion has been mocking them with visions of reality where there is none. The mode of adjusting a dispute which cannot be decided upon its own merits, we shall now proceed to lay before our readers.

Zeno of Elea, a subtle dialectician, was severely reprimanded by Plato as a sophist, who, merely from the base motive of exhibiting his skill in discussion, maintained and subverted the same proposition by arguments as powerful and convincing on the one side as on the other. He maintained, for example, that God (who was probably nothing more, in his view, than the world) is neither finite nor infinite, neither in motion nor in rest, neither similar nor dissimilar to any other thing. It seemed to those philosophers who criticized his mode of discussion that his purpose was to deny completely both of two self-contradictory propositions- which is absurd. But I cannot believe that there is any justice in this accusation. The first of these propositions I shall presently consider in a more detailed manner. With regard to the others, if by the word of God he understood merely the Universe, his meaning must have been- that it cannot be permanently present in one place- that is, at rest- nor be capable of changing its place- that is, of moving- because all places are in the universe, and the universe itself is, therefore, in no place. Again, if the universe contains in itself everything that exists, it cannot be similar or dissimilar to any other thing, because there is, in fact, no other thing with which it can be compared. If two opposite judgements presuppose a contingent impossible, or arbitrary condition, both- in spite of their opposition (which is, however, not properly or really a contradiction)- fall away; because the condition, which ensured the validity of both, has itself disappeared.

If we say: "Everybody has either a good or a bad smell," we have omitted a third possible judgement- it has no smell at all; and thus both conflicting statements may be false. If we say: "It is either good-smelling or not good-smelling (vel suaveolens vel non-suaveolens)," both judgements are contradictorily opposed; and the contradictory opposite of the former judgement- some bodies are not good-smelling- embraces also those bodies which have no smell at all. In the preceding pair of opposed judgements (per disparata), the contingent condition of the conception of body (smell) attached to both conflicting statements, instead of having been omitted in the latter, which is consequently not the contradictory opposite of the former.

If, accordingly, we say: "The world is either infinite in extension, or it is not infinite (non est infinitus)"; and if the former proposition is false, its contradictory opposite- the world is not infinite- must be true. And thus I should deny the existence of an infinite, without, however affirming the existence of a finite world. But if we construct our proposition thus: "The world is either infinite or finite (non-infinite)," both statements may be false. For, in this case, we consider the world as per se determined in regard to quantity, and while, in the one judgement, we deny its infinite and consequently, perhaps, its independent existence; in the other, we append to the world, regarded as a thing in itself, a certain determination- that of finitude; and the latter may be false as well as the former, if the world is not given as a thing in itself, and thus neither as finite nor as infinite in quantity. This kind of opposition I may be allowed to term dialectical; that of contradictories may be called analytical opposition. Thus then, of two dialectically opposed judgements both may be false, from the fact, that the one is not a mere contradictory of the other, but actually enounces more than is requisite for a full and complete contradiction.

When we regard the two propositions- "The world is infinite in quantity," and, "The world is finite in quantity," as contradictory opposites, we are assuming that the world- the complete series of phenomena- is a thing in itself. For it remains as a permanent quantity, whether I deny the infinite or the finite regress in the series of its phenomena. But if we dismiss this assumption- this transcendental illusion- and deny that it is a thing in itself, the contradictory opposition is metamorphosed into a merely dialectical one; and the world, as not existing in itself- independently of the regressive series of my representations- exists in like manner neither as a whole which is infinite nor as a whole which is finite in itself. The universe exists for me only in the empirical regress of the series of phenomena and not per se. If, then, it is always conditioned, it is never completely or as a whole; and it is, therefore, not an unconditioned whole and does not exist as such, either with an infinite, or with a finite quantity.

What we have here said of the first cosmological idea- that of the absolute totality of quantity in phenomena- applies also to the others. The series of conditions is discoverable only in the regressive synthesis itself, and not in the phenomenon considered as a thing in itself- given prior to all regress. Hence I am compelled to say: "The aggregate of parts in a given phenomenon is in itself neither finite nor infinite; and these parts are given only in the regressive synthesis of decomposition- a synthesis which is never given in absolute completeness, either as finite, or as infinite." The same is the case with the series of subordinated causes, or of the conditioned up to the unconditioned and necessary existence, which can never be regarded as in itself, ind in its totality, either as finite or as infinite; because, as a series of subordinate representations, it subsists only in the dynamical regress and cannot be regarded as existing previously to this regress, or as a self-subsistent series of things.

Thus the antinomy of pure reason in its cosmological ideas disappears. For the above demonstration has established the fact that it is merely the product of a dialectical and illusory opposition, which arises from the application of the idea of absolute totality- admissible only as a condition of things in themselves- to phenomena, which exist only in our representations, and- when constituting a series- in a successive regress. This antinomy of reason may, however, be really profitable to our speculative interests, not in the way of contributing any dogmatical addition, but as presenting to us another material support in our critical investigations. For it furnishes us with an indirect proof of the transcendental ideality of phenomena, if our minds were not completely satisfied with the direct proof set forth in the Trancendental Aesthetic. The proof would proceed in the following dilemma. If the world is a whole existing in itself, it must be either finite or infinite. But it is neither finite nor infinite- as has been shown, on the one side, by the thesis, on the other, by the antithesis. Therefore the world- the content of all phenomena- is not a whole existing in itself. It follows that phenomena are nothing, apart from our representations. And this is what we mean by transcendental ideality.

This remark is of some importance. It enables us to see that the proofs of the fourfold antinomy are not mere sophistries- are not fallacious, but grounded on the nature of reason, and valid- under the supposition that phenomena are things in themselves. The opposition of the judgements which follow makes it evident that a fallacy lay in the initial supposition, and thus helps us to discover the true constitution of objects of sense. This transcendental dialectic does not favour scepticism, although it presents us with a triumphant demonstration of the advantages of the sceptical method, the great utility of which is apparent in the antinomy, where the arguments of reason were allowed to confront each other in undiminished force. And although the result of these conflicts of reason is not what we expected- although we have obtained no positive dogmatical addition to metaphysical science- we have still reaped a great advantage in the correction of our judgements on these subjects of thought.


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first edition 1994/12/23 last modified 1999/8/29