Kant’s Third Antimony and his Fallacy Regarding the First Cause


I. The Old Ontology. There has descended to us from Plato and Aristotle an ontological proof of the existence of God as the first cause. The proof consists in showing the presuppositions of finite, dependent being. The presupposition is of a whole or total when something incomplete is given. The partial, incomplete, or imperfect is understood by Plato only in the sense of dependent being, that which in its very nature implies the existence of something else on which it depends.

Of course, we can speak of a thing as imperfect or incomplete when we regard it as lacking something which we arbitrarily associate with it as a purpose or end. We can speak of a broken nail as an imperfect one or call an unbroken one a perfect one. But a perfect nail is not by any means a complete or perfect being. It owes to outside causes its shape and its substance; it is thoroughly a dependent being.


Whatever derives its being from another is a dependent being and presupposes the existence of that on which it depends. All beings in space are limited in extent and have environments upon which they depend or with which they stand in relation. All beings in time, that is to say, all beings that undergo change, are similarly dependent and have derived their being from antecedent being.


Plato and Aristotle reach this idea of dependence through the idea of motion. Motion in its various forms of locomotion, change, increase, diminution, and the like, is motion through another. Motion in the form of life and mind is self-motion, according to Plato; but, according to Aristotle, life and mind are unmoved producers of movement.


What differences in nature are necessarily implied between dependent and independent beings? It is evident that the independent being contains the explanation of the dependent being: it is its origin, shaper, and mover. It causes it to begin, and to change, and to cease. Fastening the attention of the mind upon these two orders of being, the dependent and the independent, two general characteristics become obvious as essential to describe them. Everything that exists is either determined or made what it is by itself or by some other being. It is clear that the characteristic of dependent being is found in the fact that something else determines or makes it to be what it is. That which determines itself is independent because it possesses existence derived only from itself.


These two orders of being, the self-determined and the determined- through-another, must both exist if dependent being exists.


Independent or self-determined being must be both cause and effect, or causa sui the cause of its own determinations. It must, too, have the power of modifying its determinations. Its nature, then, must be that of a self as pure subject, which is the general possibility of all determinations, and a self as object, which realizes some or all of those determinations. These traits of character are identified by Plato, Aristotle, and their competent disciples as the phases of subject and object in conscious being.


Independent being must have the form of mind; or it must be conscious being. The form of any total or whole being the form of all independent being, is that of intelligent personality.


All ultimate explanation is to be found in independent being, hence in personal being. This great doctrine follows from the insight here described. It is the doctrine of theism, the doctrine explicitly taught in the religions of Judaism and Christianity. It is a doctrine that elevates and ennobles human life, because it makes man to be of the same nature as the Absolute, though not completed in his act of self-determination. The Absolute self-determined has made his object perfectly a subject object; the finite self-determined has not yet made his object perfectly self-active, but partially passive. The explanation of man and of the several ranks of being below him in nature is accessible on this line: there is a harmony between philosophy and religion.


II. The Criticism of Kant. But this ontological proof, after standing criticism for two thousand years and getting translated into varied forms of expression, such, for example, as demonstrations of the existence of God by St. Anselm and Descartes, and the doctrine of the Monad by Leibnitz, was at last attacked by Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, from the standpoint of psychology, and its validity questioned in such a manner that modern philosophy since Kant has furnished few thinkers who have attempted its defence against the new criticism.


It is plain that the old doctrine of independent, self-determined being as the presupposition of dependent, or derivative being, centres in the principle of Causality.


This principle of causality had been so treated by Hume that nothing remained of it except invariable sequence. This amounts to a denial of causality altogether, as ordinarily understood. For a cause should be a being that by its own activity transfers its influence on another being, thereby giving rise to new modifications in it. Cause signifies origination of new determinations, and the root of it is self-determination. Thus, Plato could ask after the source of motion (The Laws, Book X), and assert that the self-moved must be the cause of motion in everything that is moved by something else than itself.

Kant's chief inquiry is directed to the explanation of the certainty we have in the use of this category of cause to give us knowledge of what transcends experience. It is evident enough that experience cannot furnish us a knowledge of any universality in the facts of time or space and still less of any necessity of existence as prevailing among such facts. It can only say: "So far as observed this or that prevails."


Kant has done the cause of affirmative philosophy an incalculable service in showing the method of discovering the a priori elements in knowledge. But the use he made of his discoveries in rational psychology was to destroy the very foundations of philosophy and discourage any and all attempts to solve the great problems of human thought. For he held, first, that the considerable store of a priori knowledge which we have in possession is entirely subjective in its character: we do not know things-in-themselves but only phenomena and our own mental forms. We know the forms of our knowing to be the necessary forms for the existence of phenomena because we impose those forms on the data of sensation.


Secondly, he held that our supposed transcendental knowledge, by which we reach the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality, is all an illusion. It is in fact only one side of a twofold argument a conflict or antinomy of ideas either side of which seems to be irrefutably established when regarded by itself alone. For instance, the doctrine of causality seemed to contain the necessary implication of an original source of movement. That which causes, originates. That which receives and transmits causality is not a true cause but only an effect or at best an instrument or agent of the cause. Hence Plato and his school of thinkers could hold that a causality of mind or personality is involved as the ultimate presupposition of the least and most mechanical movement in the world.


Kant shows in his third antinomy that the line of thought which ends in discovering a free personality as the ultimate presupposition (the thesis), although it proceeds by logically necessary steps and is not fallacious, yet stands side by side with another line of thought equally necessary and logical and yet leading to the opposite conclusion (the antithesis). The validity of each argument and their mutual contradiction destroy both.


The thesis states the Platonic insight which has been such a solid comfort to the race for the past twenty centuries. It says: "Causality, according to the laws of nature, is not the only causality from which the phenomena of the world can be deduced. There is besides a causality, that of freedom, which is necessary to account for those phenomena." Kant leads to this insight by showing what is involved in the other theory. Every event presupposes a previous condition, from which, if existent, it must follow as a necessary result. Now, if that state or condition had always been, this event would also have always existed. Hence the causality of a cause that produces an event must be itself an event, or, in other words, it must be something that has just now come to be. Hence, we are compelled to look beyond it for another cause and thus again forever. But, says Kant, " There would be no completeness of the series of causes," at this rate. For he sees that the cause which we reach in our search is never the originator of any determination or effect. It is, in fact, only a transmitter. Hence it belongs to the effect and not to the true cause. We are discovering only agents and passive instruments, and therefore adding only to the effect in our search for the cause. No one of this series of antecedent events can be the first cause: hence the whole series consists of effects that do not originate any new impulse whatever. Let each one of them originate something, and we could soon come to the end of our series and explain the origination of the entire event. But since no previous event originates anything it is clear that the entire series is empty of causality.


This last result, however, Kant does not see; he sees only that "the causality of nature cannot be the only kind of causality," and is willing to admit that the series of events devoid of all origination of new determinations is one kind of causality. He concludes, therefore, that there is a second species of causality. He says, namely, "an absolute spontaneity of causes that of itself begins a series of phenomena that proceeds according to natural laws; hence we must admit transcendental freedom, without which even in the course of nature the succession of phenomena would never be complete as to causes" or, in other words, the series of phenomena in nature would lack causality, if spontaneity or self-activity is denied.


In his remarks on this last demonstration, Kant shows further that he does not see quite fully this need of a spontaneity or pure self-activity in the true cause, because he speaks more explicitly of all successive states and conditions of events as "resulting according to mere laws of nature." The idea of a cause that could set things going and then leave them to go on of themselves, belongs to an inconsistent dualism. But it implies that the spontaneous factor of causality is transmitted to the series of phenomena in nature, so that the things created have become real and true causes and can originate new distinctions. In that case, as already shown, the infinite regress of causes would not be necessary to explain any given event.


But the defect in Kant's conception of true cause will be apparent in the proof of the antithesis, which reads as follows: "There is no freedom, but everything in the world takes place solely according to the laws of nature." The proof of this antithesis is not so satisfactory. For it points out merely the fact that a first beginning of action, i. e. t the spontaneity of a true cause, breaks the continuity of the natural law of cause and effect and " is opposed to the law of causality" and, therefore, destructive of the unity of experience.


"If we admit that there is freedom, in the transcendental meaning of the term, as a particular species of causality producing occurrences in the world, that is to say, a capacity to begin a new condition of things and a new series of results that flow from it, it would follow that not only the new condition but even the determination of the spontaneity to the production of the series, that is to say, the causality, would have an absolute beginning, such that nothing precedes it to determine this action according to constant laws. But every beginning of an action presupposes a preceding state of inaction in the cause, and a dynamically first beginning of action presupposes a state or condition that has no causal relation with the preceding state of that cause and in no wise results from it. Transcendental freedom, therefore, is opposed to the law of causality, and it is such a combination of successive states or conditions of acting causes that no unity of experience is possible with it, and consequently it is not found in experience, and hence is an empty fiction of the mind."


The alternative here is either fixed laws of nature everything predetermined necessarily or transcendental freedom, which means, as he informs us further on, lawlessness, without the guidance of rules. But the thesis had not rested on the question of preference for law or lawlessness, but on a deeper necessity underlying the principle of causality itself, namely, the necessity that an adequate (and not a confessedly incomplete) cause should be posited as existing for each effect. If it shall be found that an adequate cause is necessarily a personal cause, and hence one not under necessity but under freedom, then we must accept the causality of freedom or else deny causality altogether.

This will appear, if we recall the thesis, which showed the following points:


III. Solution of the Antinomy.


I) The series of phenomena in nature do not originate new determinations; they are not true causes, but they merely transmit causality.


2) Hence, unless the whole series receives causality from a "transcendental freedom" (or from a cause that originates new determinations), there is only an effect and no cause.


3) But an effect without a cause is no effect. Herewith the entire series falls asunder into independent members, and each member becomes a causa sui. For if the change in each member of the series is not derived from a true cause outside it is self-originated.


4) Hence, too, the conformity to law which is admired in nature would vanish unless there exists a transcendental freedom.


5) Because the "unity of experience" is secured through the law of causality and according to it, the mind always seeks an adequate cause. But, according to Kant, it destroys experience to find an adequate cause; experience must always seek and never find, else its unity will be destroyed.


6) The thesis asserts that self-activity or self-determination is the basis of all causality, and that without it causality or the origination of new determinations cannot be. The antithesis, on the other hand, sets up the law of causality and proceeds to seek a cause for any event that is not self-originated. Thus, it affirms the thesis in so far as it asks for an adequate cause. The impulse that leads us to look for a cause certainly demands an adequate cause, since it is aroused only by the sight of dependence or incompleteness in a phenomenon.


7) But a self-active or self-determined being is not a phenomenon; it is not a thing or an event, but a living being. Although it can manifest itself in things and events it is not either of them. It can organize matter into a body and can perform deeds. It can have an internal life of consciousness perceiving internally feelings, ideas, and volitions three forms of self-activity. The form of the object of our external senses is thing and environment everything is made what it is by its environment no freedom in that realm, but only necessity.


8) Hence, we see that experience has two phases, outer and inner, or sense-perception and consciousness, and consequently two orders of objects of experience. We perceive things in space as mechanical aggregates and moved by external influences. We perceive internally feelings, ideas, and volitions, each one of these being a determination of a self-active subject, our own ego. The form of the external object of the senses is fate outside necessity; the form of the internal object of sense is subject object of self-determination.


9) But Kant's antinomy assumes that there is but one phase of experience, namely, the outer or external, whose object takes the form of mechanism. Since mechanism is devoid of self-activity all changes and arrangements have to be explained by outside causes, and hence Kant is correct in affirming that experience in this field must find every event conditioned by another event, ad infinitum. Moreover, such search for a mechanical cause is and must be forever futile because no mechanism can originate a new determination in anything else. This is, of course, implied in Kant's statement that the regressive series of causes, or rather links of transmittal, is infinite.


10) But it is singular that Kant did not call attention to the appearance of the second phase, that of internal observation, as a factor of actual experience. He must have admitted that this factor is constantly borrowed to interpret the phenomena of the outer world. Within ourselves we are conscious of originating determinations in the acts of thinking and feeling, and especially of willing. These determinations presuppose "a preceding state of inaction in their cause," that is to say, they are not mechanically caused by previous events, but are originated by the self-activity of the ego. Now, as far as mechanical causes go, we do not seek, nor does the "unity of experience" ever prompt us to seek, for a thing or event that constrains an idea or volition. We rest contented when we have discovered a living being as the cause, and at once transfer our inquiry from the realm of efficient causes to that of final causes or motives. A motive exists only for a self-determined being or living being. By a stretch of meaning, we may regard action from motives, or teleological action, as common to all living beings conscious motives in men and some animals, unconscious in other animals, except in the dim form of desire, unconscious in plants, but guiding only as life-principle or instinct.


11) We observe in the external world only forms of matter and motion, merely mechanical things, and events. But to certain of these things we add, by inference from analogy with our inward experience, the concept of life or soul, and call such things endowed with soul, organisms say, plants, animals, men. These objects are acknowledged to be a part of our experience, but it is clear that objects to which we attribute internal self-activity, namely, all living beings, are partly perceived externally and partly known by inference based on the analogy of our inward consciousness. We can never perceive by external sense either a feeling or a thought or a volition; we can only infer these by external signs interpreted by analogy.


12) But here we come to the fact that overthrows Kant's antithesis, which rests for its validity on a question of fact: so soon as we trace a series of mechanical causes back to a vital cause, whether of plant, animal, or man, then the "unity of our experience" is completed ; we are satisfied and do not seek further mechanical causes. We change our ground now and inquire into motives or purposes and search for the ideal end and aim which the self-activity of the living being seeks to attain.


13) A motive is an ideal and not a real. It is the thought of a possible determination opposed to some real determination. Even if we say that a conscious being is always controlled by the strongest motive, we are as far as possible from asserting external necessity or what Kant calls the "natural law of causality." For to be constrained by a motive is to be constrained not by a real but by an ideal, not by a previous event but by a future event, a mere possible event. This ideal or possibility arises in the conscious soul as a product of abstraction and constructive imagination; it is created in place of the remembered reality. In the unconscious soul it arises not by abstraction, but by the simplest form of self-seeking and self-reproduction, using its environment as means of self-reproduction.


14) Kant in this antinomy apparently assumes only one kind of search for causes in experience that for mechanical causes; elsewhere, as in the Critiques of Judgment and the Practical Reason, he notes with special attention the idea of teleological causes. But here he seems to assume that motives and purposes, the causes which are precisely in accordance with transcendental freedom, are identical with mechanical causes or agencies which are in conflict with transcendental freedom. In this he is inconsistent and undermines the whole antinomy. For he in effect identifies transcendental freedom, which moves to achieve purposes, motives, or final causes, with passive things and events caused by other things or events. According to this, there would be no collision or antinomy, of course. But the alternative open to him or to us is to admit transcendental freedom as a settled fact of experience; but not of external experience pure and simple, and this too would solve his antinomy. It is an immediate fact of internal experience and an inferred or mediated fact of external experience. We know first the ego, with the maximum of certainty; secondly, we know by, inference from analogy, selfhood, or self-determination, in plants, animals, and our fellowmen, interpreting their movements and changes by aid of our inward experience.


IV. Sir William Hamilton s Law of the Conditioned. Better known in England and America than Kant's Antinomy is Sir William Hamilton's Law of the Conditioned. It is enounced by him in the form of an antinomy. We can know only the conditioned. Our attempt to know the unconditioned leads us into two contradictory theses, both of which seem necessary. Space is the example given. Space is not bounded, because its bounds would require space to exist in and thus posit space beyond the bounds, thus continue or affirm space instead of negate or limit it. On the other hand, try to realize, comprehend, or, better, imagine space as a whole, and we are completely baffled, inasmuch as we always find space beyond the frame of our mental picture, and our imagination finally sinks exhausted in the attempt.


Here we have a more easily solved antinomy than those of Kant. For it is evident at first glance that the thesis to Hamilton's antinomy, namely, the proposition that space is infinite, is proved, while the antithesis, namely, the proposition that space is finite, is not sustained. Space is infinite, because all boundaries or limits would require space to exist in and hence affirm instead of negate space; space is therefore only continued by its environment, and thus infinite. But imagination or mental representation cannot picture what is infinite; the infinite always escapes from its grasp. This is precisely what happens in Hamilton's antithesis. If he showed that the imagination could grasp the whole of space, it would then establish the antithesis and there would be a real contradiction. As it is, the failure of the imagination to grasp space as a whole is a negative proof of the thesis, which therefore is left with two proofs and no refutation.


The best proof of the truth is always drawn from the attempted refutation. Hamilton's thesis is presupposed as true even by the argument in the antithesis, for we could never affirm that the attempt to imagine space would in all cases fail unless we knew that it (space) extended beyond all possible limits and always is "its own other or beyond."


So, too, Kant's thesis is in reality presupposed and thus indirectly proved by the argument of the antithesis. The unity of experience demands the search for causes of events. This happens, because events are seen to be incomplete and derivative, thus presupposing a complementary being that originates them. To find this complementary being that originates them is the purpose of the further inquiry which prompts observation and leads to further experience. Were the mind convinced at start that it is impossible to find the cause, it would not give further attention to the phenomenon. The Brahman knows by his doctrine of the Absolute that the world is an illusion, and hence he abstains from investigation and never discovers the relations of facts and events to each other. The Christian European, being convinced that the world is a revelation of Divine Wisdom seeks the traces of Personal Reason in the concatenation of things and events. It asks for the relations of natural things and forces to each other and inquires into personal motives of the beings that possess transcendental freedom.


V. The Truth of Kant's Doctrine. We are prepared now to say that the main purpose of Kant, namely, to show a necessary contradiction in the mind in its thought of a first cause, is not fulfilled, inasmuch as all causality has to do with the origination of movements or changes, and hence with transcendental freedom. There are not two kinds of search for causes, but only one. But Kant has done great service in showing by this antinomy in the clearest manner that true causes are all transcendental and not to be met with in the realm of mechanically related things and events. Freedom is not phenomenal but noumenal. His failure to take account of the transcendental factors of our experience is the source of his errors. These transcendental factors include, first, the self or ego, and secondly, the inferred selfhoods of organic beings, including plants, animals, men, and the First Cause; and to understand how Kant failed to recognize them, one must study the Paralogisms of Pure Reason, in connection with these antinomies. Internal experience, he thinks, does not transcend the category of time, and relates only to events. All mental facts are events. This, too, was the doctrine of Hume. The self-identity of the ego must be denied on this hypothesis. By its admission we are led to the absurd conclusion of the antithesis to the third antinomy, namely, that in experience we find no case of transcendental freedom, but only of mechanical causation. Hence we must deny that we know our own identity and that we know any such beings as plants, animals, and our fellow-men; we know only mechanical combinations and relations and must not suppose that we know any spontaneity or transcendental freedom in connection with such organisms, for the recognition of such spontaneity would destroy the unity of our experience. We seek for causes, it is true, but we must be careful not to find any real causes, because we should then cease to inquire further in the line of experience, and that would be a great calamity. The supposed calamity would consist in a change from the study of a mechanical series for the study of motives, purposes, or final causes. In other words, we should here change from the study of matter to the study of mind.


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