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The Prolegomena, Remark Three

25 September, 2015 - 16:38

Hence we may readily set aside an easily foreseen but pointless objection: namely, that through the ideality of space and time, the whole sense-world would be changed to sheer illusion. All philosophical insight into the nature of sen- suous cognition was ruined from the first by making sensibility to consist simply in a confused mode of presentation, by which we cognise the things as they are, without having the capacity to bring everything in this, our cognition, to clear consciousness. On the other hand, it has been proved by us that sensibility does not consist in this logical distinc- tion of clearness and obscurity, but in the genetic distinction of the origin of knowledge itself, since sensuous cognition does not present the things as they are, but only the manner in which they affect our senses; and that therefore through them mere phenomena, and not the things themselves, are given to the understanding for reflection. After this necessary correction, a consideration presents itself, arising from an inexcusable and almost purposeless misapplication, as though my doctrine changed all the objects of sense into mere illusion.

When an appearance is given us we are quite free as to what we thence infer with regard to the matter. The former, namely, the appearance, rests on the senses, but the judgment on the understanding; and the only question is, whether or not there is truth in the determination of the object. But the distinction between truth and dream is not decided by the construction of the presentations, which are referred to objects, for they are alike in both, but by the connection of the same according to the rules determining the coherence of presentations in the conception of an object, and by whether they can stand together in an experience or not. Hence the fault does not lie with the phenomena, if our cog- nition takes the illusion for truth, i.e., if an intuition, whereby an object is given, is held to be the conception of the object or its existence, which the understanding alone can cogitate. The senses present to us the course of the planets as first forwards and then backwards, and in this there is neither falsehood nor truth, because so long as it is considered as an appearance only, no judgment is yet formed as to the objective character of their motion. But inasmuch as when the understanding does not take great care lest this subjective mode of presentation be held for objective, a false judgment may easily arise; it is said, they seemto go back; the illusion, however, is not to be laid to the account of the senses, but of the understanding, whose province alone it is to form an objective judgment on the phenomenon.

In this manner, even if we did not reflect on the origin of our presentations, and let our intuitions of sense contain what they may, if it be but connected according to the coherence of all knowledge in an experience, [we shall find that] deceptive illusion or truth will arise according as we are negligent or careful; for it concerns solely the use of sensuous presentations in the understanding, and not their origin. In the same way, if I hold all presentations of sense together with their form, namely, space and time, to be nothing but phenomena, and the latter to be a mere form of sensibility not present in the objects external to it, and I make use of these presentations only in reference to a possible experi- ence, there is not therein the least temptation to error, neither is there an illusion implied in my regarding them as mere appearances; for in spite of this they can rightly cohere according to the rules of truth in an experience. In such wise all the propositions of geometry respecting space are valid just as much of all the objects of sense, and therefore in respect of all possible experience, whether I regard space as a mere form of sensibility or as something inhering in the things themselves. But in the first case alone can I conceive howit is possible to know apriorithe above propositions concerning objects of external intuition. Otherwise everything remains in respect to all merely possible experience just as though I had never undertaken this departure from the popular judgment.

But, let me only venture with my conceptions of space and time beyond all possible experience, which is unavoidable if I give them out as qualities appertaining to the things in themselves (for what should prevent me from assuming them as valid of these same things, even though my senses were differently constructed, and whether they were suited to them or not?) then a serious error may arise, resting on an illusion giving out as universally valid what is a mere con- dition of the intuition of things pertaining to my subject (certain for all the objects of sense, and thereby for all possible experience), because I refer them to things in themselves and fail to limit them to the conditions of experience.

So far, then, from my doctrine of the ideality of space and time reducing the whole sense-world to mere illusion, it is rather the only means of ensuring the application of some of the most important cognitions, namely, those propounded priori by mathematics, to real objects, and of guarding them from being held as illusion. For without this observation it would be quite impossible to ascertain whether the intuitions of space and time we borrow from no experience, but which nevertheless lie aprioriin our faculty of presentation, were not mere self-made cobwebs of the brain, to which no object, or at least no adequate object, corresponded, and geometry itself therefore a mere illusion; instead of which, its incontestable validity in respect of all objects of the sense-world, owing to these being simply phenomena, has been able to be demonstrated by us.

Secondly, so far from my principles, because they reduce the presentations of the senses to phenomena, turning the truth of experience into illusion, they are rather the only means of guarding against the transcendental illusion, where- by metaphysics has always been deceived and misled into childish endeavours to grasp at soap-bubbles, by taking phe- nomena, which are mere presentations, for things in themselves; whence have resulted the remarkable assumptions of the antinomy of Reason, of which I shall make mention farther on, and which are abolished by the single observation that appearance, as long as it is used simply in experience, produces truth, but as soon as it passes beyond the bounds of the latter and becomes transcendent, nothing but pure illusion.

Inasmuch, then, as I leave their reality to the things we intuit to ourselves through the senses, and only limit our sensuous intuition of those things in that they in no particular, not even in the pure intuitions of space and time, rep- resent more than the appearance of the above things, and never their constitution as they are in themselves; this is no thorough-going illusion of my own invention [applied to] Nature. My protestation against all supposition of an ideal- ism is so decisive and clear, that it might seem superfluous were it not for incompetent judges, who like to have an old name for every departure from their distorted although common opinion, and who never judge of the spirit of philo- sophical terminology, but cling simply to the letter, being ready to put their own delusion in the place of well-defined perceptions, and so to distort and deform them. For the fact of my having myself given my theory the name of transcen- dental idealism, can justify no one in confounding it with the idealism of Descartes (though this was only a problem, on account of whose insolubility every one was free, in the opinion of Descartes, to deny the existence of the bodily world, because it could never be satisfactorily solved), or with the mystical and visionary idealism of Berkeley, against which and other similar cobwebs of the brain our Critiquerather contains the best specific. For what is by me termed idealism, does not touch the existence of things (the doubt of the same being what properly constitutes idealism in the oppo- site sense), for to doubt them has never entered my head, but simply concerns the sensuous presentation of things, to which space and time chiefly belong; and of these and of all phenomena I have only shown that they are neither things (but only modes of presentation), nor determinations belonging to things in themselves. But the word ‘transcendental’, which with me never implies a reference to our knowledgeof things, but only to our faculty of knowledge(Erkenntnissver- mogen) should guard against this misconception. Rather, however, than occasion its further continuance, I prefer to withdraw the expression, and let it be known as critical (idealism). If it be indeed an objectionable idealism, to change into mere presentations real things (not phenomena), what name shall be applied to that which conversely turns mere presentations into things? I think we may term it the dreamingidealism, in contradistinction to the foregoing, that may be termed the visionary, but both of which ought to have been obviated by my elsewhere so-called transcendental, but better, critical, idealism.

  1. One way previous philosophers (like Locke and Descartes) made sense of the appearance/reality distinction was in terms of those representations that correspond to things in themselves and those that don’t. Why isn’t Kant entitled to make the distinction in this way?
  2. How, then, does he propose to make the distinction?