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Unformatted text preview: . What I am concerned 38
with is how experiential knowledge of things involves those three types of judgment, i.e.
how objects of experience can be brought under those concepts of the understanding. I
have perfect insight into that: I grasp not merely that we can bring appearances under
these concepts but that we must do so, in that way using the concepts as principles of the
possibility of experience.
Let us apply all this to Hume’s problematic concept, namely the concept of cause. Sheer
logic tells me a priori that there can be conditional judgments - ones of the form ‘If . . .,
then . . .’ - in which one piece of knowledge is treated as a source and another as an
upshot. I may have occasion to make such a judgment, reporting that in my perceptions
one kind of appearance is regularly followed by another, as when I say ‘If the sun shines
long enough on a body, then the body grows warm’. This doesn’t connect the two
necessarily, and it doesn’t involve the concept of cause; so far, it is merely a subjective
connection of perceptions. For it to be a proposition of experience, it must be regarded as
necessary and as universally valid, like the proposition ‘The sun through its light is the
cause of heat’. The empirical generalization with which I started is now regarded as a law,
and as being valid for appearances in a manner that is required if experience is to be
possible - for there can’t be experience without rules that are universally and therefore
necessarily valid. So I do have insight into the concept of cause, as a concept necessarily
belonging to the possibility of experience. What about the concept of things ·in
themselves· as causes? I have no conception of that, because the concept of cause doesn’t
correspond to anything in Ÿthings but only to a Ÿfact about experience, namely that if
experience is to be objectively valid knowledge of appearances and of their sequence in
time, some appearances must be related to later ones in conditional judgments.
Hence the pure concepts of the understanding have absolutely no meaning if they are
pulled away from objects of experience and applied to things in themselves (noumena).
[Kant uses ‘noumenon’ (plural ‘noumena’) to mean ‘thing that can only be thought’, in
contrast to ‘phenomenon’ (plural ‘phenomena’), meaning ‘thing that can be experienced’.
Things in themselves are noumena because although we can perhaps think about them, we
can’t possibly experience them.] The role of pure concepts of the understanding is to spell
out appearances, so to speak, enabling them to be read as experience. When these
concepts are applied to the world of the senses, the principles that arise from this use help
our understanding to manage our experience. Beyond the bounds of experience they are
arbitrary connections without objective reality: there is no a priori guarantee that they
apply to anything, and no examples can be given of their applicability to objects. Indeed,
we don’t even know what such an example could be like. We have no conception of it,
because examples have to be drawn from some possible experience. Possible experience is
the proper domain of the pure concepts of the understanding.
So the Humean problem is completely solved, though in a way that would have
surprised its inventor. The solution secures an a priori origin for the pure concepts of the
understanding, and for the universal laws of nature it secures a status as valid laws of the 39
understanding; but it does this in such a way as to limit the use of these concepts to
experience only, and it grounds them in a relation between the understanding and
experience that is the complete reverse of anything that Hume envisaged - instead of the
concepts being derived from experience, that experience is derived from them.
My line of argument yields the following result: All synthetic a priori principles are
simply principles of possible experience; they can never be applied to things in
themselves, but only to appearances as objects of experience. Hence pure mathematics as
well as pure natural science can never bear on anything except appearances.
Until now, metaphysicians have proceeded boldly enough, but always tramping over
everything blindly, without making any distinctions. My work gives us, at last, something
definite to rely on as a guide in metaphysical enterprises. It never dawned on the dogmatic
thinkers that the goal of their efforts might be so near; nor did it dawn on the philosophers
who, proud of their supposedly sound reason, set out on their quest for results, equipped
with concepts and principles of pure reason (which were legitimate and natural, but fit
only for merely empirical use). These philosophers did not and could not know any fixed
boundaries to territory within which results might be gained, because they hadn’t and
couldn’t have ever reflected on the nature of such a pure understanding or even on its
Many a naturalist of pure reason (by which I mean someone who thinks he can settle
metaphysical questions with...
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