Empirical and Intelligible Character in the Critique of Pure Reason

  • Henry E. Allison
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 128)


Kant’s conception of free agency has been much criticized and little understood. Since one of the basic criticisms is that it is incoherent, this combination is quite understandable. At the heart of the problem lies the connection between free agency and some of the more problematic and mysterious aspects of transcendental idealism. This connection leads to a familiar dilemma from which there seems to be no escape: either freedom is located in some timeless noumenal realm, in which case it is perhaps conceivable but also irrelevant to the understanding of human agency, or, alternatively, the exercise of free agency is thought to make a difference in the spatio-temporal world in which we live and act, in which case it comes into an irreconcilable conflict with the “causality of nature.”1


Rational Agent Pure Reason Free Agency Causal Determinism Phenomenal World 
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  1. 1.
    Perhaps the most relentless advocate of this standard line of criticism in the recent literature is Jonathan Bennett, Kant’s Dialectic (Cambridge University Press, 1974), pp. 187–227, and “Kant’s Theory of Freedom,” a commentary on an essay by Allen Wood, in Self and Nature in Kant’ s Philosophy, ed. Allen W. Wood (Cornell University Press, 1984 ), pp. 102–2.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Citations from the Critique of Pure Reason are, with some modification, from the Kemp Smith translation and references are to the first and second edition pagination.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This denial might seem to contradict Kant’s affirmative claims about empirical psychology in the Critique. Thus, within the context of his introduction to the Paralogisms, Kant characterizes it as “a kind of physiology of inner sense, capable perhaps of explaining the appearances of inner sense” (A347/B405), and, again, in the Architectonic of Pure Reason, after denying that it belongs in metaphysics, he suggests that it will find its home in “a complete anthropology, the pendant to the empirical doctrine of nature” (A849/B877). In reality, however, there is no contradiction because in neither case is it assumed that the “science” is capable of providing anything more than a “natural description.”Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Anthropology 7: 161, and Reflexion 1502, 15: 802. For a brief but helpful discussion of the procedure and scientific status of anthropology vis-à-vis both psychology and physiology see Mary J. Gregor’s introduction to her translation of Anthropology, pp. xii-xv.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For an account of the distinct ways in which Kant construes the relation between empirical and intelligible character and of some of the problems which this creates, see Bernard Carnois, La Cohérence de la doctrine kantienne de la liberté (Paris: Seuil, 1973), and Jürgen Henrichs, Das Problem der Zeit in der praktischen Philosophie Kants (Bonn: Bouvier, 1968), esp. pp. 38–42.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See A546/B579, A551/B579, A556/B589.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See A541/B569, A546/B574, A553/B581, and Reflexion 5611, 18: 253.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Although he does not focus on Kant’s denial of psychological laws, an essentially Davidsonian-compatibilist interpretation of Kant’s conception of freedom has been developed by Ralf Meerbote. See his “Wille and Willkür in Kant’s Theory of Action,” Interpreting Kant, ed. S. Gram Moltke (University of Iowa Press, 1982), pp. 69–89; “Kant on the Nondeterminate Character of Human Actions,” Kant on Causality, Freedom, and Objectivity, ed. William A. Harper and Ralf Meerbote (University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 138–63; and “Kant on Freedom and the Rational and Morally Good Will,” a commentary on an essay by Terence Irwin, in Self and Nature in Kant’s Philosophy, pp. 57–72.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    On this issue see Karl Ameriks, Kant’s Theory of Mind ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982 ), pp. 33–47.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See my Kant’s Transcendental Idealism (Yale University Press, 1983 ), Chap. 10.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Admittedly, Kant himself is not very clear on this point and there are many passages that suggest the contrary. See in particular A536/B569. This does not affect the present claim, however, which is concerned with what Kant is entitled to assume about the lawfulness of nature, given his own arguments, not with what he in fact assumes.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    For Kant’s views on the scientific status of the chemistry of his day see, MN 4: 470–71.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See B152–56, Anth. 7: 140–42, 161. I discuss this issue in detail in Kant’s Transcen¬dental Idealism, Chaps. 12 and 13.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See A547/B575 and Groundwork, 4:452.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See Ingeborg Heidemann, Spontaneität and Zeitlichkeit (KölnerUniversitäts¬Verlag, 1958), pp. 226–27, and my Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, pp. 274–75.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    The theme of a practical spontaneity (and intentionality) in Kant has been treated at length, and with considerable subtlety by Gerold Prauss, Kant über Freiheit als Autonomie (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1983 ). Although I differ from Prauss on a number of significant points, most of them not directly germane to the specific concerns of this paper, I have certainly been influenced by many aspects of his analysis.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    For an account of the development of Kant’s thought on this issue see Ameriks, Kant’s Theory of Mind, pp. 189–203. The virtual identification occurs in the Metaphysik L1, 28: 226–69. The key text in evidence of a rejection of this identification is Reflexion 5442, 18: 183, where Kant distinguishes between “logical freedom,” which pertains to acts of reason, and “transcendental freedom,” which supposedly pertains to acts of will.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See A546/B574, Groundwork, 4:447–448 and the review of Johannes Schulz’s Sittenlehre, 8: 13–14.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Much of what follows in the paragraph, although not the precise formulation, was suggested to me by my colleague, Robert PippinGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    The key text here is Reflexion 5661, 18: 318–19. For my discussion of this topic see Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, pp. 275–78.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Jonathan Bennett has argued that one of the many problems with Kant’s account of freedom is that he fails to distinguish clearly between the problem of agency and the problem of accountability (Kants Dialectic, p. 219). Moreover, although he criticizes all aspects of Kant’s position, the sharpest criticisms seem to be directed against his views on accountability or imputation, particularly insofar as they are expressed in passages such as the one currently under consideration. In response to this, it must be insisted that, although agency and imputability are certainly distinct, they are also closely related. In fact, as Bennett himself acknowledges, accountability involves agency in that “an action for which a person is responsible is essentially one in respect of which the question arose, for that person, of whether to perform it” (p. 211). This is in accord with the Kantian position. Kant would also insist, however, that in order to conceive of an agent as concerned with the question of whether or not to perform a certain action one must attribute practical spontaneity to that agent. In short, agency, as Kant conceives it, is a necessary condition of imputability.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, pp. 328–29.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Morality and Personality: Kant and Green,“ Self and Nature in Kant’s Philosophy, p. 38.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    See Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, pp. 10–13, 65, 86–87, 109.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Lewis White Beck, A Commentary on Kant’ s Critique of Practical Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1960), pp. 191–94 and The Actor and the Spectator (Yale University Press, 1975), esp. pp. 123–25.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    For similar analyses see Stephen Körner, “Kant’s Conception of Freedom,” Proceedings of the British Academy 53 (1967): 193–217 and John Silber, “The Ethical Significance of Kant’s Religion,” in the introduction to the English translation of Religion, esp. pp. xcvii-ciii.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry E. Allison
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

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