Preliminary Reflections on the Third Antinomy

By Philip McPherson Rudisill

7/5/2010 and edited 10/7/2017

This antinomy involves pure reason in a conflict between nature and freedom, such that only one of these can express the truth ... or so it would seem at first glance.

We conceive of the thing on its own via our Transcendental Object = X = a single nature (to which all our appearances/Erscheinungen are subject), and by means of that conception discover the most important aspect and foundation of all experience, namely that what we see is an impression on the retina, i.e., a sheer appearance. We provide conceptually the “real thing”, the thing on its own, in order to establish this fundamental and profound and first truth.

We conceive of the thing on its own in order to conceive of the object of experience, i.e., that reality which lies apart from the brainarium* and by means of which the brainarium projections (appearances) are merely expressions. We immediately ascribe the categories of understanding as a proxy for this thing on its own. The result is that object of experience, e.g., the real rain, which we then see from some distance, along with a rainbow perhaps (which is only in the brainarium). We ascribe to this object of experience an existence independent of the brainarium and according to laws of nature.

* With "brainarium" we shall mean the point in the brain where the optic nerves and other sense conveyances join in the brain and where a panorama unfolds which we call the visible and sensible universe.

Now what else can we say about this thing on its own? One thing we can say is that things on their own cannot exist in space and time, for these are merely the form of our own looking within the brainarium. Hence we cannot presume to assert that the predicates we apply to the object of experience (out in the real space and time beyond the brainarium, or so we say) completely describe the thing on its own. We know only that we see objects of experience as fully determined and described by these laws of a single nature.

Accordingly, if we felt so moved, we could ascribe to the thing on its own not only an empirical character (thinking of the human now as an object of experience), but also then an intelligible character (as a thing on its own), such that the empirical character could be viewed as the appearance of this intelligible character in the domain of space and time (within the brainarium). And in that case we could ascribe all actions of the human to laws of nature as reflected by and summed up in the empirical character (which is revealed through time and experience), such that all his actions can be derived from these laws. And at the same time we would assert that every single action was a free act by a being who is able to act independently the laws of nature, an intelligible being as a component of the thing on its own.

So then: we start with appearances in the brainarium and recognize them as such upon conceiving of the thing on its own and calling it the TO = X = a single nature, and are able to explain all actions as events according to an unflinching necessity of cause and effect. And at the same time this same thing on its own enables us to find a source of freedom of will such that the actions of the individual are seen as his choice and responsibility.

Accordingly then the antinomy of nature versus freedom ends up in a draw, where both claim validity independently of each other, and where there is no conflict, but only the illusion of a conflict, and due to a confusion of the object of experience with the thing on its own, where the scientist speaks of the object of experience as the thing on its own and Kant simply adds that this is true in common parlance, but is not true in a transcendental sense, but is also never anything that science would be interested in (for it belongs just to transcendental philosophy.


Now in the earlier, mathematical antinomies we will have found that both sides in the dialectic argument are equally wrong because we are talking about the illusion of thinking that because the appearance is conditioned, that all the conditions of that appearance are also given (which would be true of things on their own), and so it is like an argument of “that smells good versus that smells bad” revealed to be “that smells good versus that does not smell good” or "has no odor." When we come upon a small particle of matter in the giant brainarium we call the world, we must seek out its conditions and never suppose this to be simple (for if it can occupy space it is divisible). And so it is not true that if something is given in experience (via the brainarium) all its conditions are given, for these must be ferreted out. The illusion lies in taking the spectral world of appearances for a given thing on its own. If a thing on its own is given, then all of its conditions are also given; but if it is only an appearance that is given, then the conditions are not given but have to be searched out. Therein lies then the illusion, mistaking the world as an appearance for the world as thing on its own.

In contrast to the situation of both arguments being incorrect in the first two antinomies (concerning extension in space and time), in the third antinomy (and also in the fourth) we find that both arguments can be correct by considering them in two different ways: once as an object of experience and then also as a thing on its own. And so, as stated above, while the object of experience will operate as a function of the single nature assumed in the Transcendental Analytic and thus be under the causation laws of that nature, we can consider it also as a thing on its own and assert that it has a causality which is free and independent of the laws of that nature.

See English translation of the Third Antinomy, i.e., Dialectic, 2nd Chapter, 2nd Section, Third Conflict of the Transcendental Ideas.

Return to exposition of Kant. Or to the Webblog on the Third Antinomy and the Empirical and Intelligible Characters.