Kant’s Dialectic and the Logic of Illusion

  • Graham Solomon
Part of the The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 65)


In September 21, 1798, Immanuel Kant wrote the following in a letter to Christian Garve: “It was not the investigation of the existence of God, immortality, and so on, but rather the antinomy of pure reason —‘the world has a begiming; it has no begiming, and so on,’ right up to the 4th: ‘There is freedom in man, versus there is no freedom, but only the necessity of nature’ — that is what first aroused me from my dogmatic slumber and drove me to the critique of reason itself, in order to resolve the scandal of apparent contradiction of reason with itself’.2


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  1. 2.
    Kant: Philosophical Correspondence 1759–99, edited and translated by Arnulf Zweig, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967, p. 252.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    I follow the convention of referring to the first and second editions of Critique of Pure Reason as A and B. Immanuel Kant ’s Critique of Pure Reason, translation by Norman Kemp Smith, London: Macmillan, 1950.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Kant had a low opinion of the use of indirect reasoning in philosophy. He thought that, strictly speaking, apagogic reasoning is only legitimately employable in mathematics.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    For the lectures on logic I employ the translations ofJ. Michael Young, Lectures on Logic: The Cambridge Edition ofthe Works ofImmanuel Kant, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. The references are to the marginal numbers of the Academy Edition of Kant’s works, the texts used for translation, and not to page numbers in Young. I think it is highly unlikely that Kant said exactly what is reported in the quoted passage. Consistently with what he says in the first Critique and elsewhere, he more probably held that the ball moves crosswise because of the conjoining of the two forces, gunpowder and wind. I am grateful to Rolf George for suggesting this line of interpretation, although I do not hold him responsible for my way of developing it. Certainly Kant did not believe that dialectical illusion introduces the action of occult causes.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    In The Blomberg Logic [87], we have: “All errors are, so to speak, crooked lines, which we determine while being driven from the one side by the understanding, from the other side by sensibility”.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    In discussion of the short form of this paper Phillip Cummins suggested that the parallelogram of forces seems better to fit Kant’s idea of normal cognition, with sensibility and understanding as the two ‘forces’ which, when they act conjointly, produce knowable objects ofpossible experience.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    In the Transcendental Dialectic of the first Critique Kant teaches us that the central task of reason is to seek logically simple concepts (he calls them ‘conditions’) from which less simple concepts may be deductively derived. The ultimate task of pure reason is to find ’the unconditioned’, that most simple of all concepts from which the entire aggregate of known laws of nature can be deduced, and hence unified and systematized. It is subjectively necessary for reason to seek “to find for the unconditioned knowledge given through the understanding the unconditioned whereby its unity is brought to completion” [A307/B364]. However, “this logical maxim can only become a principle of pure reason through our assuming that if the conditioned is given, the whole series of conditions, subordinated to one another — a series which is therefore itself unconditioned — is likewise given, that is, is contained in the object and its comection” [A307/B364]. This (apparently objective) principle is, however, transcendent (see below) in Kant’s sense of this term, and can have no empirical employment. To think that it can have such an employment is to be deluded — once again, by the irresistible energy and charm of deductive logic. Note that although Kant says that the strong form of the principle must be assumed, and although his central doctrine appears to be that the assumption is justified in practice, with the principle employed regulatively as a methodological rule, he also at some places suggests that in this form the principle is objective. See A661/B689, where he says that principles of parsimony are “not merely methodological devices”. But compare this strange admission with the entire discussion of maxims (methodological rules) in the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic, a discussion that surely contradicts the slip at A661 B689. Margaret Morrison, “Methodological Rules in Kant’s Philosophy of Science”, Kant-Studien, Heft 2, 1989, pp. 155–172, contains a useful, well-crafted, discussion of the tensions generated by Kant’s perhaps inadvertent slides from the subjective to the objective.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Those present-day prophets who at the end of the day trumpet the demise of the usefulness of epistemology might do well to ponder this Kantian observation.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    See note 8 above, and Robert E. Butts, Kant and the Double Government Methodology: Supersensibility and Method in Kant’s Philosophy of Science, 2nd edition, Pallas Paperbacks (Dordrecht: Reidel), 1986.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization (New York: Vintage, 1988), pp. 27–28.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Nicholas Malebranche, The search after truth, translated by Thomas M. Lemon and Paul J. Olscamp (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980), p. 349.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Madness and Civilization, pp. 134–135.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    It is interesting to note that Sauvage contended that diseases of the soul require philosophical persuasion to effect cures. Error must be replaced by truth. Kantss thought holds a mirror to this therapeutic strategy: sound understanding must replace illusion. See Butts, Kant and the Double Government Methodology, pp. 298–318, for discussion of Kant’s own attempt to develop a psychiatric nosology and his views on philosophy as curative and preventative medicine.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    There are many indications that Kant was well-versed in the contemporary literature on psychological and physiological matters. He had read Sauvage, and Cullen, and perhaps Willis. See Butts, Kant and the Double Government Methodology, pp. 282–318, for a full discussion of this background to Kant’s thought.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Kant and the Double Government Methodology. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Solomon
    • 1
  1. 1.Wilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

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