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Does Kant Succeed in Disposing of the Antinomies?

Module: PHIL103 - Mind Knowledge and Reality Word Count: 2329 Scored: 80

Kants Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Prolegomena) is presented to us as an analytic summary of his earlier book, the Critique of Pure Reason (CPR). In these books Kant relays four cosmological antinomies or contradictions that occur due to the nature of pure reason. Kant believed that it was essential to dispose of these in order to show that reason should not venture to explain things which are beyond our experience. Hence the antinomies main purpose is to assist Kant in showing the limits of pure reason. However, Kant appreciated the fact that many readers would find it difficult to accept that such questions about the world are in fact void in their very nature. Based on this it is necessary to look at the arguments aimed at each antinomy in order to assess whether Kant did or did not succeed in disposing of the antinomies.

An antinomy can be defined as two opposed arguments presented side-by-side in order to show that each is as valid as the other1. The antinomies form part of the cosmological idea, as they are all related to aspects of the world in which we live. Each consists of two parts, a thesis and antithesis. It is important to understand the point of Kants analysis of the antinomies. For each, Paul Guyer argues that the thesis relates to reasons need for closure, and the antithesis to reasons need for infinite extension2. Others argue that the theses relate to rationalism, and the antitheses to empiricism. While both of these assumptions appear to be accurate, I believe Kants arguments are more in alignment with the latter than the former, as he is attempting to show the futility of reason attempting to explain the world via both rationalization and experience, and to also show the close relationship between the two. If this is the case, then the antinomies should be easier for Kant to dispose of as they refer to the contradictory aspects of different viewpoints rather than the inner workings of human reason.

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Caygill, H. (1995). A Kant Dictionary. p. 75 Guyer, P. (1998, 2004). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/ DB047SECT8

Furthermore, the antinomies are described by Kant as being unavoidable due to reasons tendency to look for and achieve the highest possible knowledge3. It has been noted that even though people are now aware of the existence of the antinomies, reason still cannot avoid attempting to answer such questions about the world. Therefore, although Kant appears to provide valid arguments (as we will see below) for the disposal of the antinomies, one argument is that they have not been successfully disposed of as reason will always attempt to draw conclusions about the nature of the world we live in.

The first of these four antinomies pertains to the infinitude of time and space. The thesis states the world has, as to time and space, a beginning4, whilst the antithesis states that the world is, as to time and space, infinite5. In this section of the Prolegomena, Kant argues that previous philosophers have failed to resolve the antinomies because they have tried to resolve them in the common dogmatic way6. For Kant, this, and the three subsequent antinomies, are irresolvable via the realm of experience, something which had been overlooked by previous philosophers. Kant states that no-one can have experience of things such as the limits of time and space because they are not things in themselves (noumena) nor are they things which we experience via the senses (phenomena), they are instead representations used by the mind or reason in order to interpret the world of experience into something intelligible to us as humans.

Consequently, it is from this perspective that Kant argues that the first antinomy is based on a self-contradictory principle, and both the thesis and antithesis are in fact false. This is the
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McCormick, M. (2006). Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Metaphysics. http://www.iep.utm.edu/k/kantmeta.htm Kant, I. (2001) J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 74 5 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 74 6 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 75.

case, Paul Guyer states, as space and time are always indefinite in extent because they are finite yet always extendible products of our own cognitive activity7. Also, Kant states that it makes no sense for us to try to make judgements about the magnitude of time and space, as this magnitude of the world [be it infinite or finite], would therefore have to exist in the world itself apart from all experience8 which for Kant is completely inconceivable. This is opposed to the concept of the world of sense9, which earlier in the Prolegomena Kant has shown to be a collection of appearances which we interpret and synthesize in our minds. Some may criticize Kant by conjecturing that it is in fact possible to identify the beginning of time and space as we know them, i.e. the Big Bang. However, Kant would argue that the Big Bang refers to the science of physics, rather than the science of metaphysics.10 However, it does not explain how, if time and space are mere representations in the human mind, that scientists have discovered objective facts about them. But, once again Kant would argue that these objective facts relate to phenomena rather than noumena. So, Kant appears to provide a convincing argument for disposing of the first antinomy, as it is seemingly impossible to argue that time and space are actually things in themselves rather than part of the human representational system which allows us to make sense of the world.

The second antinomy is subjected to a similar argument as the first, as they are both described by Kant as being mathematical antinomies, because they are concerned with the addition or division of the homogeneous11. The second antinomy consists of the thesis everything in the world is constituted out of the simple12 and the antithesis there is nothing

Guyer, P. (1998, 2004). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/ DB047SECT8 8 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 77. 9 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 77. 10 http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/prolegomena/section7.rhtml 11 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 76. 12 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 74

simple, but everything is composite13. Here, Kant states that reason is attempting to surmise whether objects in the world are simple or are made up of a possible infinite number of parts. He argues that reason is once again attempting to draw conclusions about the wrong thing, but in this case, the composites refer to appearances of objects rather than their noumenal selves. Therefore their division or simplicity merely refers to our experience of the objects, which cannot truly explain the nature of things in themselves (which are the concepts that metaphysics attempts to explain). Kant also refers to the idea that appearances may contain all the constituent parts of an object that we may ever experience. He argues that this is an impossibility because it involves ascribing an appearance with an existence prior to experience. For Kant, this is impossible as an appearance can only exist within our mental representation of the world. Appearances do not exist noumenally, they are representations of noumenal objects created by our senses, which we then interpret and categorise into phenomena14. In my opinion, this argument holds less weight than that for the previous antinomy, as although the premise that we only experience appearances rather than things in themselves is a convincing one, it leaves open the question of whether things in the noumenal world are simple or composite. However, Kant would respond to this argument by stating that we can never discover this either through experience or through the use of pure reason. From this it can be said that Kant does succeed in disposing of this antinomy too, but although this resolves one question it may lead to other, more ultimate questions about the world. This leads on to the final two antinomies, which relate to the ultimate causes of events in the world.

As the third antinomy relates to the notions of cause and effect, it can not be classed as a mathematical antinomy, as the concepts it deals with are not homogeneous as in the first two
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Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 74. Caygill, H. (1995). A Kant Dictionary. p. 80

antinomies. It is therefore described as being within the dynamical class of antinomy. These also differ from the mathematical antinomies in that they are not in fact self-contradictory, as it is possible that both the thesis and antithesis may be true. Here it is argued that the antinomy should be disposed of because it is presenting to us two concepts which may be true as being contradictory. The thesis of this antinomy is that there are in the world causes through freedom15, and the antithesis is that there is no freedom, but all is nature16. Kant postulates that the term nature in fact refers to the world of appearances, whilst the term freedom applies to things in themselves, and that they are therefore compatible with one another. For instance, if they both applied solely to either the world of appearances or of things in themselves they could then be deemed contradictory. He then goes on to state that nature and freedom therefore can without contradiction be attributed to the very same thing, but in different relations - on one side as an appearance, on the other as a thing in itself17. Also, because our freedom manifests itself in an orderly, law-like manner, it does not violate the laws of nature that apply to all appearances18. Once again, this argument seems to be both convincing and valid, as Kant shows us that freedom and nature as causes of events can co-exist, which appears to be the most logical explanation. Nevertheless, it is not entirely clear how Kant decides that nature should be connected to the world of appearances, and freedom to the noumenal world. It has been posited that Kant employs sophisms19 in order to make this argument appear valid, by making connections between concepts just for the sake of the argument, rather than it being accurate. It is also a possibility that Kant chose which terms, i.e. freedom and nature, to include in the antinomy simply for the ease of his argument, as the antinomies are not only used to show the limitations of pure reason, they can be used to provide support for his theory of Transcendental Idealism. It is for this reason that it is in
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Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 75 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 75 17 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 79 18 http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/prolegomena/section7.rhtml 19 Smith, N. K. (1918). A Commentary to Kants Critique of Pure Reason. http://www.archive.org/stream/ commentarytokant00smitrich/commentarytokant00smitrich_djvu.txt

Kants best interest to dispose of each antinomy in any way possible in order to avoid criticism of his theory. This may be the reason why as the class of antinomy changes, so does the format of the third antinomy. Where the first and second consider the same concepts in both their theses and antitheses, the third antinomy contrasts freedom with nature, whereas Kant could have written the third antinomy as There are in the world no causes through freedom. It is possible that the omission of the term nature could have created a problem for Kants disposal of the antinomy, and this inability to resolve the antinomy could have portrayed the rest of his work in a negative light. So, whilst after a first consideration of the third antinomy it appeared that Kant had succeeded in disposing of it successfully, a closer analysis suggests that the disposal of the antinomy occurs under dubious circumstances. Also, after the number of criticisms that have been levelled at the antinomy have been considered, it seems that Kant is not so successful at disposing of this antinomy.

Kants fourth and final antinomy can be subjected to similar criticism as the third, as it is again based upon the dynamical principle. The thesis is in the series of world-causes there is some necessary being20, and the antithesis is there is nothing necessary in the world, but in this series all is contingent21. Kant has very little to say on this antinomy as he feels that it is solved in the same way as the conflict of reason with itself in the third22. It seems that here, he does not wish to discuss the notion of a necessary being in any detail. He does not state why the necessary being is important, nor where the concept is derived, nor how the necessary being comes to be either a part of the world of appearances or the noumenal world, which is unusual as he went into great detail about the concepts contained in the previous antinomies. Here it seems that he wishes to dispose of the antinomy with as little controversy

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Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 75 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 75 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 81

as possible, an idea which is supported by Norman Kemp Smith, who summarises this issue very concisely by stating: In order to seem to mark a real distinction between the fourth and third antinomies, Kant has perforce to trespass upon the domain of theology: but as he is aware that the trespass is forbidden, he seeks to mitigate the offence by returning from the foray empty handed.23 This also brings up the criticism that both the third and fourth antinomies appear to be not only of the same class of antinomies, but in fact they seem to be arguing the same case, as to the nature of causality, be it freedom, nature or a necessary being. It is for this reason that the final antinomy can be judged to be the weakest of the four, and the one which is least successfully disposed of.

In conclusion, Kant appears to argue very convincingly for the disposal of the antinomies, looking at each in turn and presenting the reader with credible and plausible arguments. Despite this, closer consideration of his arguments uncover a number of flaws which affect the validity of the very basis of his arguments, and subsequently have an impact on deciding whether he really does succeed in disposing of the antinomies. Also, Kant recognises that it is almost impossible for reason to disregard such questions about the world as the reader had hitherto always regarded [the antinomies] as true24. Consequently, despite Kants attempts, it is clear that he does not successfully dispose of the antinomies as there are many criticisms levelled against his arguments. It is also impossible to declare the antinomies as being

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Smith, N. K. (1918). A Commentary to Kants Critique of Pure Reason. http://www.archive.org/stream/ commentarytokant00smitrich/commentarytokant00smitrich_djvu.txt 24 Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 82

disposed of successfully whilst the objects of the sensible world are [still] taken for things in themselves and not for mere appearances25.

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Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Ed.) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition), p. 82

Bibliography Caygill, H. (1995). A Kant Dictionary. Blackwell:Oxford.

Guyer, P. (1998, 2004). Kant, Immanuel. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved January 5, 2009, from http://www.rep. routledge.com/article/DB047SECT8.

Kant, I. (2001). J. W. Ellington (Trans.). Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Second Edition). Hackett: Indianapolis.

McCormick, M. (2006). Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Metaphysics. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/k/kantmeta.htm.

Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Third Part, Sections 5056 www.sparknotes.com/ philosophy/prolegomena/section7.rhtml. Retrieved January 5, 2009.

Smith, N. K. (1918). A Commentary to Kants Critique of Pure Reason. MacMillan & Co., Limited: London. Retrieved January 4, 2009, from http://www.archive.org/stream/ commentarytokant00smitrich/commentarytokant00smitrich_djvu.txt.

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