The Ideal of Pure Reason

circa November 1, 2011 and edited June 7, 2017

Here we have a chapter-by-chapter treatment of the thinking in the dialectic regarding speculative proofs of the existence of God. It entails abbreviations, excerpts and paraphrases of Kant's writing.

Diagram Overview Of Kant's Theological Thinking

Chapter 1. The Ideal in General

We have learned that without the input of the senses the pure understanding concepts are empty, i.e., no corresponding object. But if we have appearances corresponding to them the concepts can be presented in concreto. For example, on its own the categories of substance or causation are just notions, but when applied to appearances they render actual objects.

Ideas are similar concepts except here no corresponding appearance can be found which would be sufficient for representing them. And if the Idea is to denote a single object, that Idea is called an Ideal.

What we would call the perfection of humanity is not limited just to the properties which make up this nature and concur with its purpose, but also one of all contrarily opposed predicates, i.e., the complete determination of the Idea. Thus human wisdom is an Idea, but the sage (of the Stoic) is an Ideal, a human existing only in thought but who is entirely congruent with the Idea of wisdom. The Idea gives us the rule while the Ideal serves as the prototype, a guide for our actions and the means of comparing and improving ourselves, though never reaching this height.

The intention of reason with its Ideals, on the other hand, is the complete determination according to rules a priori. Accordingly it thinks of an object which is to be completely determinable according to principles, even though the sufficing conditions to it are lacking in experience and the concept itself, therefore, is transcendent.

Chapter 2. Transcendental Ideal (Prototypon)

The proposition “every existing thing is completely determined” does not only mean that of each pair of given predicates in opposition to one another, but rather also of all possible predicates, always one befits it. Through this proposition not merely are predicates compared with one another logically, but rather the thing itself with the epitome of all possible predicates transcendentally.

In this way there arises the concept of a single object, which is completely determined through the mere Idea. And this single object must be termed an Ideal of pure reason.

All concepts of negation are derived, and it is the realities alone that contain the data and, as it were, the matter or the transcendental content to the possibility and complete determination of all things.

If, therefore, to the complete determination in our reason a transcendental substratum is laid as foundation, which contains, as it were, the entire stock of the material from which all possible predicates of things can be taken, then this substratum is nothing other than the Idea of an all-of-reality (omnitudo realitas).

Through this total possession of reality the concept of a thing on its own, as completely determined, is also represented, and the concept of an entis realissimi is the concept of a single entity, because of all possible opposed predicates one, namely that which belongs to being utterly, is encountered in its determination.

Related to the Idea, therefore, the Ideal is the original (prototypon) of all things, which all together, as deficient copies (ectypal), take from it the material for their possibility and by more or less approaching that Ideal, still always fail infinitely far in reaching it.

This highest reality would lie as foundation to the possibility of all things and not as epitome to the foundation. And the manifold of the former [all things?] would not rest upon the restriction of the original entity itself, but rather upon its complete consequence, to which then also our entire sensitivity, together with all reality in the appearance, would belong, which cannot belong to the Idea of the highest entity as an ingredient.

We then hypostatize this Idea to determine the original entity via the sheer concept of the highest reality as single, simple, totally sufficient, eternal, etc., i.e., determine it in its unconditioned completion through all predicaments. And this concept is that of God in a transcendental understanding.

For it, being the concept of all reality, was positioned by reason as the foundation to the complete determination of things in general without requiring that all this reality be objectively given and make up a thing.

How is it that reason comes to view all possibility of things as derived from a single one, which lies as the basis, i.e., that of the highest reality? And how is it then that reason presupposes this as contained in a special original entity?

Because that in what makes up the thing itself (in the appearance), namely the real, must be given, without which it could not even be thought at all; and since that, in which the real of all appearances is given, is the united, all-encompassing experience; it follows that the matter to the possibility of all objects of the sense, as given in an epitome (Inbegriff), must be presupposed, upon whose restriction alone all possibility of empirical objects, their distinction from one another, and their complete determination, can rest.

Now in fact no other objects can be given to us except those of the senses, and nowhere else except in the context of a possible experience. Consequently nothing is an object for us if it does not presuppose the epitome of all empirical reality as a condition of its possibility.

According to a natural illusion we now look upon that, which actually holds only of things which are given as objects of our senses, as a foundation proposition, which would also have to hold of things in general.

Chapter 3. Concerning the Basis of Proof of Speculative Reason for Inferring the Existence of a Supreme Entity

Here we seek to add impetus to the conception of the entity of all realities by considering the natural advance of reason from the recognition of a contingent existence to what is implied by that, namely: a necessary existence. We are unable to recognize this existence with respect to any condition, but musing about it, we realize that this entity of all realities would best fit this necessity, for it possesses all reality and thus possesses the condition for all contingent conditions.

However we must keep in mind that it is possible that a conditioned existence be also necessary and so we cannot take the perfect entity (all realities) for that reason as alone necessary.

Thus we look for the highest causality and consider it the supreme causality and utilize the entity of all realities as that supreme causality.

All ways which we may take in this pursuit start either from the determined experience and the particular constitution of our sense world recognized by that and ascend according to laws of causality up to the highest cause apart from the world; or empirically it places as foundation only undetermined experience, i.e., any sort of existence; or finally it abstracts from all experience and concludes entirely a priori out of mere concepts to the existence of a highest cause.

The first proof is the physico-theological, the second the cosmological and the third the ontological proof. However we will treat them in the reverse order, for this is the common approach by all musers of this matter.

Chapter 4 Impossibility of an Ontological Proof of the Existence of God

The problem here is how does one think a necessary entity? The only way is to show that it is a contradiction to deny it. If there is a triangle, for example, then three angles exist necessarily; but if I deny the existence of the triangle, then with it I deny also the three angles and then there is no contradiction in denying three angles.

For the sake of this proof some will include the predicate of existence in the concept of an object. If you admit that such an object is a possibility, regardless of what it be, you will be accused of a contradiction if you then seek to deny the existence, for this existence as been artificially included in the concept as a predicate.

But existence is a determination which comes additively to the concept as a predicate, and is something beyond the predicates which are contained within the concept. If I conceive of an object which has all perfection except one, and if I then assert that this object exists, then it will exist with just the same perfections (and limitations, i.e., one excepted) as the concept, for otherwise it is not this object that will be thought, but a different one.

The analytical, identifying mark of the possibility, which consists in the absence of contradiction in the mere positing (of realities), can indeed not be contested with it, but that is not sufficient by far to assert the reality of the thing. But since the connection of all real properties in one thing is a synthesis, concerning the possibility of which we cannot a priori judge because the realities are not given to us specifically; and even if they were, no judgment at all takes place anywhere in that because the identifying mark of the possibility of synthetic recognitions must always be counted only in experience, but to which the object of an Idea ipso facto cannot belong.

Therefore, all exertion and work are lost on that famous, ontological (cartesian) proof of the existence of a highest entity out of concepts, and a human might just as easily become richer in insight out of mere Ideas as a merchant in assets if, in order to improve his state, he wanted to add some zeros to his checkbook balance.

Chapter 5 Impossibility of a Cosmological Proof of the Existence of God

“If something exist, then an utterly necessary entity must also exist.
“Now I at least exist myself.
“Therefore an utterly necessary entity exists.
“The necessary entity can be determined only in a single manner, i.e., with respect to all possible, opposed predicates, only through one of each of them. Consequently it must be completely determined through its concept.
“Now only a single concept of a thing is possible which completely determines this a priori, namely that of the entis realissimi.
“Therefore the concept of the most all real entity is the only one, through which a necessary entity can be thought, i.e., a highest entity exists in a necessary way.”

If the proposition “every utterly necessary entity is simultaneously the most all real entity (which is the nervus probandi of the cosmological proof)”, is proper, then it, as all affirming judgments, must permit of reversal at least per accidens. Therefore some most all real entities are simultaneously utterly necessary entities. But now an ens realissimum is distinguished from another in no piece, and therefore what holds for some contained under this concept, holds also for all. Thus I will also be able (in this case) to utterly reverse it, i.e., every most all real entity is a necessary entity. Now because this proposition is a priori determined merely out of its concepts, the mere concept of the most real entity must also entail its absolute necessity; which is precisely what the ontological proof asserted and the cosmological did not want to acknowledge, but nonetheless underlay to its conclusions, though in a concealed way.

So then this second way which speculative reason takes in order to prove the existence of the highest entity, is not only equally deceptive with the first, but rather has yet this fault on its own, that it commits an ignoratio elenchi by promising to conduct us on a new path, but, after a little digression, brings us back in turn to the old way which we had abandoned for the sake of this one.

The entire task of the transcendental Ideal depends upon finding either a concept for the absolute necessity, or the absolute necessity for the concept of some sort of a thing. If we can do the one, then we must also be able to do the other; for reason recognizes as utterly necessary only that which is necessary from its concept. But both step entirely beyond all extreme endeavors for satisfying our understanding about this point, but also beyond all attempts to soothe it concerning its incapacity.

Discovery and Explanation of the Dialectic Semblance in All Transcendental Proofs of the Existence of a Necessary Entity

If I must think some necessity to existing things, but am authorized to think no thing as necessary on its own, it follows unavoidable from this that that necessity and contingency would have to concern and touch not things themselves, because otherwise a contradiction would take place. Thus neither of these two foundation propositions are objective. Instead they can only be subjective principles of reason in every case, namely on the one hand to seek something which is necessary for everything which is given as existing, i.e., never to cease anywhere else except with an a priori completed explanation. But then on the other hand also never to hope for this completion, i.e., to assume nothing empirical as unconditioned, and to presume thereby a more remote derivation. In such meaning both foundation propositions, which provide nothing except the formal interest of reason, can exist quite well with one another merely as heuristically and regulatively. For the one says, “you should so philosophize about nature as though there were a necessary, first foundation to everything which belongs to existence, solely in order to bring systematic unity into your recognition by following such an Idea, namely: an imagined supreme foundation.” But the other warns you to “assume no single condition which concerns the existence of things as such a foundation, i.e., as absolutely necessary, but rather to hold yourselves always yet open to further derivation and hence to treat them always as yet conditioned.” But if everything which is perceived on things must be considered by us as conditionally necessary, then also no thing (which may be empirically given) can be viewed as absolutely necessary.

The Ideal of the highest entity according to this consideration, is nothing other than a regulative principle of reason to view all connection in the world as though it arose out of an all-sufficient, necessary cause in order to base on that the rule of a systematic and, according to universal laws, necessary unity in the explanation of them, and is not an assertion of an existence necessary on its own. But it is simultaneously unavoidable to represent this formal principle to one's self by means of a transcendental subreption as constitutive and to think this unity hypostatically. For, as with space, because it originally makes possible all shapes which are solely diverse limitations of that, even though it is only a principle of sensitivity, still just for that reason is held for a something existing utterly necessarily for itself and an object given a priori on its own. And it also happens quite naturally that since the systematic unity of nature can in no way be set up as a principle of the empirical usage of our reason, except to the extent we place as foundation the Idea of the most all real entity as the highest cause, this Idea is represented in this way as an actual object, and in turn this as necessary because it is the supreme condition. Accordingly a regulative principle is converted into a constitutive one. This interpolation reveals in that way that if I now consider this supreme entity, which with respect to the world was utterly (unconditionally) necessary as a thing on its own, this necessity is competent of no concept, and therefore would have to have been encountered in my reason as a formal condition of the thinking, but not as a material and hypostatical condition of the existence.

Chapter Six The Impossibility of the Physico-theological Proof

The primary moments of the physical-theological proof are as follows:

1. Everywhere in the world are found clear indicators of an order according to a determined intention, executed with great wisdom, and in a whole of indescribable manifold of contents as well also as unlimited magnitude of scope.

2. To the things of the world, this purposeful order is entirely foreign and adheres only contingently to them, i.e., the nature of diverse things could not accord together of their own to the determined final intention through such diverse means, uniting themselves, if they had not been quite especially chosen and applied to that through an arranging, rational principle.

3. There exists therefore a sublime and wise cause (or several), which must be the cause of the world not merely as a blindly effecting, all-empowered nature through fertility, but rather, as intelligence, through freedom.

4. The unity of such allows of conclusion from the unity of a reciprocal reference of the parts of the world, as members of an artificial construction, to where our observation reaches, with certitude, but further, with regard to all basic propositions of analogy, with probability.

According to this conclusion, the purposefulness and the synchronization of so many natural institutions would have to prove merely the contingency of the form, but not of the material, i.e., the substance, in the world. For to the latter would be yet required that it could be proven that the things of the world were unsuitable on their own to such order and accord, according to universal laws, if they, even with respect to their substance, were not the product of a highest wisdom. But for this conclusion entirely different foundations of proof than those of the analogy with human art would be required.

Therefore the proof could at most establish a master world builder, who would always be very much limited by the fitness of the material which he worked. And it would not be sufficient by far to the great intention which we have in mind, namely to prove an all-sufficient originator.

If we want to prove the contingency of the material itself, then we would have to take refuge with a transcendental argument, but which is precisely what was to be avoided here.

After we have achieved to the admiration of the magnitude of the wisdom, power, etc., of the world originator and cannot come further, then we suddenly abandon this argument, conducted through empirical bases of proof, and go to the contingency of all that, concluded right at the beginning from the order and purposefulness of the world.

Now from this contingency alone we go, solely through transcendental concepts, to the existence of an utterly necessary something and from the concept of the absolute necessity of the first cause to the completely determined or determining concept of that, namely to an all encompassing reality.

Therefore the physical-theological proof, remaining stuck in its undertaking, suddenly jumped in this embarrassment to the cosmological proof, and since this is only a camouflaged ontological proof, it actually completed its intention merely through pure reason, even though at first it had denied all kinship with this, and had staked everything upon an illuminating proof from experience.

Chapter 7. Critique of Every Theology
from Speculative Principles of Reason

If we conclude from the existence of the things in the world to their cause, this does not belong to the natural usage of reason, but rather to the speculative. The reason for this is that the former does not refer the things themselves (substances) to some sort of cause, but rather refers only that which happens, therefore their states, as empirically contingent. That the substance itself (the material) were contingent relative to its existence would have to be a merely speculative recognition of reason. But if the discussion were only of the form of the world, the manner of its connection and its alternation, I would want to conclude from that to a cause which were entirely differentiated from the world. In that case this would be a judgment of merely speculative reason, because the object here is not at all an object of a possible experience. But then the foundation of the causality--which is valid only within the field of experience, and apart from that of no use at all, indeed not even of any meaning--would be entirely disassociated from its determination.

Now I assert that all attempts of a merely speculative employment of reason with respect to theology are entirely fruitless and null and inane with respect to their internal constitution. Furthermore I assert that the principles of its employment regarding nature lead to no theology whatsoever. Consequently, unless we do lay moral laws as foundation or use them as guides, there can be no theology of reason at all. For all synthetic foundational propositions of the understanding are of immanent employment. But to the recognition of a highest entity a transcendent use of those is required, to which end our understanding is not equipped at all. If the empirically valid law of causality is supposed to lead to the original entity, then this would have to belong simultaneously in the chain of the objects of experience. But then it, as all appearances, would itself in turn be conditioned. But if we also permitted the jump out beyond the limit of experience by means of the dynamic law of the reference of the effects to their causes, what concept can this procedure provide us? Certainly not with the concept of a highest entity, because experience never offers us the greatest of all possible effects (except which is supposed to bear witness of its cause). In order to leave nothing empty remaining in our reason, are we to be allowed to fill up this deficiency of the complete determination through a mere Idea of the highest perfection and original necessity? Then indeed this can be admitted as a favor, but not required from the propriety of an irresistible proof. Therefore the physico-theological proof could well provide perhaps emphasis to other proofs (if such are to be had) by connecting speculation with the viewing; but for itself, it prepares the understanding more for the theoretical recognition, giving it in that way a straight and natural direction, than being able alone to complete the transaction.

Therefore we easily see from this that transcendental questions permit only transcendental answers, i.e., out of sheer concepts a priori without the least empirical admixture. But the question here is obviously synthetic and demands an expansion of our recognition out beyond all limits of experience, namely to the existence of an entity which is supposed to correspond to our mere Idea, which can never be equivalent to any sort of an experience. Now according to our above proofs, every synthetic recognition a priori is only possibly by expressing the formal conditions of a possible experience, and all foundations therefore are only of immanent validity, i.e., they refer solely to objects of empirical reality, i.e., appearances. Therefore, also, through transcendental procure with an intention to the theology of a merely speculative reason nothing is provided.

Return to Exposition .