You are here

Section Thirteen: The First Part, Continued

25 September, 2015 - 16:30

Those who are unable to free themselves from the notion, that space and time are real qualities (Beschaffenheiten) apper- taining to the things in themselves, may exercise their wits on the following paradoxes, and when they have in vain attempted their solution, may suppose, being freed from their prejudices at least for a few moments, that perhaps the degradation of space and time to the position of mere forms of our sensible intuition, may have some foundation.

When two things are exactly alike [equal] in all points that can be cognised in each by itself (i.e., in all respecting quantity or quality), it must follow, that one can in all cases and relations be put in the place of the other, without this substitution occasioning the least cognisable difference. This indeed applies to plane figures in geometry; but there are many spherical figures, which in spite of this complete internal agreement exhibit in their external relations an agree- ment falling short of admitting one to be put in the place of the other.

For instance, two spherical triangles on opposite hemispheres, having an arc of the equator as a common base, are perfectly equal both in respect of their sides and their angles, so that in neither of them, if separately and at the same time completely described, would anything be found which was not equally present in the other; and yet notwithstand- ing this, one cannot be put in the place of the other, i.e., on the opposite hemisphere, and herein consists the internal difference of both triangles, that no understanding can indicate as internal, but which reveals itself only by means of the external relation in space. I will now adduce some more ordinary cases taken from common life.

What can more resemble my hand or my ear, and be in all points more like, than its image in the looking-glass? And yet I cannot put such a hand as I see in the glass in the place of its original; for when the latter is a right hand, the one in the glass is a left hand, and the image of the right ear is a left one, which can never take the place of the former. Now, here there are no internal differences that could be imagined by any understanding. And yet the differences are internal, so far as the senses teach us, for the left hand cannot, despite all equality and similarity, be enclosed within the same bounds as the right (they are not congruent); the glove of one hand cannot be used for the other. What then is the solution? These objects are not presentations of things as they are in themselves, and as the pure understanding would cognise them, but they are sensuous intuitions, i.e., phenomena, the possibility of which rests on the relations of cer- tain unknown thingsinthemselvesto something else, namely, to our sensibility. Now, space is the form of the outward intuition of these, and the inward determination of every space is only possible through the determination of outward relations to the whole space, of which each [separate] space is a part (i.e., by its relation to the outward sense); in other words, the part is only possible through the whole, which though it could never be the case with things in themselves, namely, with objects of the mere understanding, can very well be so with mere phenomena. Hence we can render the difference of similar and equal, though incongruent things (e.g., spirals winding opposite ways) intelligible by no single conception, but only by the relation of the right and left hands, which refers immediately to intuition.

  1. Kant here appeals to ‘incongruent counterparts’—objects that are qualitatively identical in all their internal relations (in the case of the hands, the relation between thumb and forefinger, say) and yet cannot be substituted one for another. Can you think of other pairs of incongruent counterparts?

Kant goes on in the Prolegomena to answer some objections (see his three ‘Remarks’ below). But before turning to objections, we should look at Kant’s arguments for his position from the Critique. In this selection, from the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’ of the CPR, Kant lays out four arguments about space.