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So far as the description and explanation of our mental histories is concerned, the concept
of simple substance is quite empty. ŸAs for the questions raised by the cosmological Idea Did the world begin? Will it end? - answers to these can have no role whatever in
explaining any event in the world. ŸAs for the theological Idea: there is a correct maxim of
natural science that says that we should not try to explain how nature is by appealing to
the will of a highest being, because such an explanation would no longer be natural
science, but rather an admission that we have reached the end of it. So the proper use of
ŸIdeas of reason must be quite different from the use of the Ÿcategories, that is, the Ÿpure
concepts of the understanding through which experience becomes possible.
Now, reason and understanding are related with one another in a certain manner,
which brings in some parts of my laborious analytic of the understanding [that is, the part
of the Critique of Pure Reason labelled ‘Transcendental Analytic’]. How? Well, it cannot
have to do with the business of getting knowledge of nature through experience: the part
reason plays in that - in mathematics and natural science - can be perfectly well played
without all this subtle examination of the nature and functions of the understanding. So my
analytic of the understanding must link with the Ideas of pure reason for a purpose that
lies beyond the empirical use of the understanding. ·So now we have a dilemma. On the
one hand·, I have said that we cannot use the understanding outside the realm of
experience, as that would be a meaningless activity, with no subject-matter. On the other
hand, the nature of reason must conform with the activities of the understanding,
contributing to their perfection and not disturbing them.
Here is the solution - the truth about what reason has to do with understanding.
What pure reason does is to demand that understanding, when it is brought to bear on the
complex of experience, shall achieve completeness in its operations. This, however, is only
a completeness of principles, not of intuitions and objects. ·To put the point in simpler
terms: The demand for completeness says ‘As long as there is something you don’t yet
understand, keep working on it’; it does not say ‘Aim to grasp the whole story all at once:
Ÿsurvey the mind in such a way that you have all its properties on one side and the
ultimate subject that bears those properties on the other; Ÿarrive at results about the
world’s entire past and entire future; Ÿthink in a concrete way about God as the
explanation of the entire world’·. The illusion - which brings the risk of error - comes from
the fact that reason, wanting to make its demand for completeness as sharp and graspable
as possible, slips into treating it as though it were a demand for knowledge of something ·the ultimate subject of mental states, the world’s whole past, etc·.
Section 45: Prefatory Remark to the Dialectic of Pure Reason
I have shown in sections 33 and 34 that the freedom of the categories from any input from
the senses may mislead reason into extending their use, quite beyond all experience, to
things ·as they are· in themselves ·as distinct from things as the appear to us·; though ·no
such use is legitimate, for the following reason·. Because the categories lack any sensory 52
element that can give them meaning or sense in particular cases, they can represent
anything in their role as mere logical functions; but there is nothing about which they can,
unaided, give specific information. The fancy objects ·which reason wrongly tries to bring
under the categories· are known as ‘noumena’, or pure beings of the understanding (or
better, beings of thought). Examples include
substance - but conceived without permanence in time,
cause - but not conceived as acting in time,
and so on. ·In thinking or talking like this· one attaches to these ·supposed· objects
predicates whose only ·legitimate· use is to enable experience to conform to laws; and yet
·by leaving time out of it· one deprives them of all the conditions of intuition that have to
be satisfied for experience to be possible, and so these concepts lose all meaning again.
There is no risk, however, that the understanding, when left to itself and not given
orders from the outside, will so wantonly roam out of its own proper territory into that of
mere creatures of thought. But the empirical use of the rules of the understanding is
conditioned, and reason cannot be fully satisfied with that; so it demands a completion of
this chain of conditions. This forces the understanding to leave its proper domain so that it
can do two things: Ÿrepresent objects of experience in a series that stretches too far for
any experience to capture it, and Ÿlook completely outside itself for noumena to which it
can attach that chain, thus completing the series, escaping from the conditions of
experience, and making its hold complete. So there they are - the transcendental Ideas.
·ŸThey are in themselves virtuous, though Ÿthey can...
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