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Unformatted text preview: lectical assertions and their contradictories· - is not something I thought up to
amuse myself: it is grounded in the nature of human reason, which means that it can’t be
avoided or brought to an end. The Antinomy contains the following four theses together
with their antitheses:
1. Thesis: The world has a beginning in time and space (a limit).
Antithesis: The world is spatially and temporally infinite.
2. Thesis: Everything in the world consists of ·elements that are· simple.
Antithesis: There is nothing simple; everything is composite.
3. Thesis: There are in the world causes through freedom.
Antithesis: There is no liberty, but all is nature. 57
4. Thesis: In the series of the world’s causes there is some necessary being.
Antithesis: There is nothing necessary in the world; in that series everything
We have here the strangest phenomenon of human reason; no other use of reason
produces anything like it. If we Ÿthink of the appearances of the world of the senses as
things in themselves (as we often do), and if we Ÿtake them to be combined through
principles that hold universally for things in themselves rather than merely through
principles of experience (which we also often do - indeed without my critique we can’t
help it!), there arises an unexpected conflict that never can be removed in the usual
dogmatic way ·by proving one side in the conflict and refuting the other·. That won’t
work, because thesis and antithesis can both be shown by equally clear, evident, and
compelling proofs (I guarantee that all the proofs are correct), so reason sees that it is
divided against itself - a state of affairs that gladdens the heart of the sceptic but must
make the critical philosopher pause and feel ill at ease.
We can blunder in various ways in metaphysics without any fear of being detected in
falsehood. For as long as we avoid self-contradiction, which we can always do when we
assert synthetic propositions (even if they are wholly fictitious), ·our only way of being
detected in falsehood is through experience. And· experience can’t refute us when we
assert propositions ·of the sort involved in metaphysics, namely ones in which the concepts
that are involved are mere Ideas, instances of which can’t be presented to us in experience.
For how can we tell from experience whether the world has lasted from eternity or had a
beginning, whether matter is infinitely divisible or consists of simple parts? Such concepts
can’t be instantiated in any experience, however extensive, and consequently neither the
positive nor the negative proposition ·in the antinomy· can be empirically discovered to be
The only way in which reason could unintentionally reveal its secret dialectic, which it
falsely offers as positive doctrine, would be for this to happen:
Reason bases an assertion on a universally admitted principle, and infers the
exactly opposite assertion, with the greatest correctness of argument, from another
principle that is equally accepted.
This what actually does happen in our present case of the four natural Ideas of reason,
from which arise four assertions and four counter-assertions, each validly derived from
universally accepted principles, thus revealing the dialectical illusion of pure reason in the
use of these principles - an illusion that would otherwise have stayed hidden for ever.
So this is a decisive experiment, which must necessarily reveal to us any error lying
hidden in the presuppositions of reason.13Contradictory propositions cannot both be false
-----------------------------------13 I should therefore like the critical reader ·of the Critique of Pure Reason to attend especially to this
antinomy of pure reason, because nature itself seems to have arranged it to pull reason up short in its bold
claims, and to force it to look into itself. I take responsibility for every proof I have given for the thesis as
well as for the antithesis, and thereby promise to show the certainty of the inevitable antinomy of reason.
If this curious phenomenon ·of the ‘proofs’ of both P and not-P· leads you to go back to examine the 58
unless they both involve some self-contradictory concept. ·And then they can both be
false·. For example A square circle is round is false (it is false that the circle is round,
because it is square), and A square circle is not round is likewise false (it is false that the
circle is not round, i.e. that it has corners, because it is a circle.) The logical mark of the
impossibility of a concept consists precisely in this, that two contradictory propositions
involving it are both false, and as no third proposition can be thought between them,
nothing at all is thought through that concept.
The first two antinomies, which I call ‘mathematical’ because they are concerned with the
addition or division of the homogeneous, are based on such a self- contradictory concept;
and that is how it comes about that in each of them both the thesis and antithesis are f...
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