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are effective only insofar as agents subsume them under rules they
endorse. The intelligible character of free action consists in this act of
incorporation.38
Kant uses the example of the malicious liar to illustrate his view.
An explanation in terms of the person™s empirical character seeks its
sources in upbringing and environment as well as natural temper-
ament, that is, “the occasioning causes” (A554/B582). Nevertheless,
we hold the agent responsible: “This blame is grounded on the law
of reason, which regards reason as a cause” that, independently of
conditions, ought to have determined the person to act otherwise
(A555/B583). This is possible because “one regards the causality of
reason not as a mere concurrence with other causes, but as complete
in itself . . . [R]eason, regardless of all empirical conditions of the
deed, is fully free, and this deed is to be attributed entirely to its fail-
ure to act” (A555/B583, emphasis added). On this model, the empirical
and intelligible accounts of action do not con¬‚ict, since the former
is incomplete and subject to temporal conditions. Reason is atem-
poral because the “act of incorporation” is timeless. Kant says, “In
regard to the intelligible character . . . no before or after applies”
(A553/B581). That is, although the imperatives under which one acts
apply to temporal events, one™s adherence to them is not part of the
causal series.
It follows that in judging free actions, “we can get only as far as the
intelligible cause, but we cannot get beyond it . . . But why the intel-
ligible character gives us exactly these appearances and this empirical
character” cannot be explained (A557/B585). In keeping with tran-
scendental idealism, Kant claims that this resolution proves only the
possibility of practical or transcendental freedom in the noumenal
realm. He ends the section by noting that his resolution demonstrates
that freedom and causal necessity are compatible: “since in freedom
a relation is possible to conditions of a kind entirely different from
those in natural necessity, the law of the latter does not affect the
former; hence each is independent of the other” (A557/B585).

38 For a discussion of this view, see Allison, Kant™s Theory of Freedom, part I: “Freedom and
rational agency in the Critique of Pure Reason,” 11“82.
Transcendental illusion II
262
Compared to this discussion, Kant™s resolution of the Fourth Anti-
nomy is mercifully short, following the pattern of the above resolu-
tion. First he points out that because every member in the series of
appearances is contingent, there is no unconditioned or absolutely
necessary member anywhere (A559/B587). So if appearances were
things in themselves, then there could be no absolutely necessary
being as their condition. But because the dynamic regress can postu-
late a heterogeneous condition, one outside the spatiotemporal order,
it is possible for contingent appearances to be grounded in an abso-
lutely necessary intelligible being. This “both true” resolution differs
from that of the previous Antinomy since “in the case of freedom,
the thing itself as cause (substantia phaenomenon) would nevertheless
belong to the series of conditions, and only its causality would be
thought as intelligible” (A561/B589). An absolutely necessary being,
however, could not exist in the sensible world, although it could be
“the ground of the possibility of all these appearances” (A562/B590).
In his concluding remark Kant notes that this transcendental idea of
an absolutely necessary intelligible ground of all existence is the basis
of rational theology, the subject of the next chapter.

4 . su mm a ry
In the Antinomies Kant examines the arguments of rational cosmol-
ogy, those concerning the nature of the world considered as the sum
total of appearances. The four metaphysical disputes, following the
four categorical heads, debate whether the world is in¬nite in space
and time, whether matter is in¬nitely divisible, whether all events
are causally determined, and whether there is an absolutely necessary
existence. Kant™s analysis shows how each thesis position endorses the
demand of reason for the unconditioned, while its antithesis presup-
poses the principles of the understanding. Kant offers a “skeptical”
resolution of the disputes, arguing that in no case are the conclusions
true contradictories. These disputes are signi¬cant for providing indi-
rect support for transcendental idealism. This applies most clearly to
the ¬rst two, mathematical, Antinomies. If appearances were things in
themselves, either the thesis or antithesis would have to be true. Since
in the mathematical Antinomies both conclusions are false of appear-
ances, appearances cannot be things in themselves. For the last two,
Transcendental illusion II 263
dynamical, Antinomies, Kant offers a “both true” resolution, which
presupposes the truth of transcendental idealism. In these cases the
thesis is possibly true of things in themselves, with the antithesis true
of appearances. This analysis of the metaphysical disputes reinforces
the critical theory that the synthetic a priori principles of the under-
standing apply only to appearances, and not to things in themselves,
and thus exposes the illusion in attempting to take the regulative
demand of reason for constitutive concepts of objects.
ch a p t e r 10

Transcendental illusion III: rational theology




Kant has a complex attitude toward religion. One one hand he con-
sistently rejects religious belief based on superstition, fanaticism, and
anthropomorphism. He especially opposes faith that appeals to emo-
tion at the expense of reason. As Allen Wood explains, “Kant is will-
ing to condone a faith which bases itself on special divine revelation
only insofar as the content of its revelation accords with the precepts
revealed naturally to every human being through the faculty of rea-
son.”1 And in keeping with transcendental idealism, Kant rejects the
possibility of metaphysical knowledge of God. As he famously puts it
in the 1787 Preface: “Thus I had to deny knowledge in order to make
room for faith” (Bxxx). On the other hand, although rational theol-
ogy is a pseudoscience, the idea of God serves two legitimate purposes.
First, it is necessary for moral faith. As rational moral agents, we recog-
nize the moral law to pursue the highest good. But we can realize our
purposes only within the world of nature. Thus moral action makes
sense only on the assumption that nature is in harmony with morality.
For Kant, this implies that nature is governed by a supremely perfect
being. Kant elaborates on this point in the Lectures on the Philosophical
Doctrine of Religion as well as his ethical writings. In its second role,
the idea of God has a regulative function promoting the inquiry into
natural purposive systems in empirical science. The Critique of the
Power of Judgment contains the detailed explanation of this role. Here
his main purpose is to critique the assumptions of rational theology.
The ¬rst part of the chapter presents a rather dense account of the ori-
gin of the idea of God. In the remainder Kant makes his penetrating
analyses of the three traditional proofs of the existence of God.

1 Wood, Kant™s Rational Theology, 16.

264
Transcendental illusion III 265

1. th e idea l of pure re a s o n
In sections 1“3 Kant explains how the idea of God arises as an ideal of
reason. His account distinguishes two transcendental ideas: ¬rst, the
idea of the sum total of all reality, as all possible predicates of things,
and second, the idea of the ens realissimum, the individual having
the highest degree of reality. Kant calls the latter the ideal of reason.
Both ideas represent the unconditioned, in this case that underlying
all objects in general.
In section 1 Kant compares these ideas to Plato™s Forms. The idea
of “Humanity in its entire perfection” (A568/B596), for example,
is the idea of the properties essential to human nature as well as
contingent properties consistent with this idea. Like Plato™s Form of
humanity, this idea is a perfect exemplar of its type and the ground of
all (imperfect) copies in appearance. Now the idea of the individual
embodying all these perfections would be the idea of a divine human
being, such as the sage of the Stoics. Because no appearance satis¬es
either the idea or the ideal of reason, neither has objective reality.
Nonetheless, like Plato™s Forms, they have regulative signi¬cance as
standards of action and evaluation.
Section 2 explains how these ideas arise in the logical processes
involved in thinking determinate objects. Kant discusses two princi-
ples of determination, one concerning concepts, and the other existing
things. All concepts are subject to the Principle of Determinability
(PD): to determine the content of a concept is to apply one of a
pair of opposing predicates to it. This procedure is governed by the
principle of contradiction, according to which at most one of two
opposed predicates can be contained in a concept. The logical princi-
ple makes consistency a necessary condition for the form of concepts.
The second principle, that of “thoroughgoing determination” (Prin-
ciple of Thoroughgoing Determinability or PTD), applies to existing
things. This is the traditional view that every existing thing is com-
pletely determined with respect to “every pair of possible predicates”
(A573/B601). More formally, for every possible existent and for every
pair of possible predicates, one (and only one) predicate must apply to
the thing. This principle underlies the idea of the complete cognition
of a thing. But since a complete cognition is not attainable, the PTD
can never be exhibited in concreto, and thus is a transcendental idea
Transcendental illusion III
266
of reason. Rather than representing an object, it actually represents a
procedure for cognizing an object.
This procedure can be carried out only against the backdrop of
“the idea of an All of reality (omnitudo realitatis)” (A575“6/B604). To
af¬rm a predicate of something requires conceiving the predicate as
a kind of reality. Conceiving the absence of a reality logically presup-
poses the positive concept of the reality. Thus the idea of the sum
total of possible predicates constitutes “a transcendental substratum”
grounding all concepts of existing things. From here it is a short step
to the transcendental ideal of an individual having the highest reality.
This occurs by thinking the collective unity of all possible realities
as an individual. All concepts of individuals presuppose this ideal “
the ens realissimum “ as the ground of “thoroughgoing determination
that is necessarily encountered in everything existing.” Kant explains
this process in terms of the disjunctive syllogism, in which reason
presupposes only the idea of the being answering to the ideal, not its
existence.2
Under the in¬‚uence of transcendental illusion, reason hypostatizes
the ens realissimum as an actual being having all possible reality, the ens
originarium, ens summum, ens entium (original being, highest being,
being of all beings) (A579/B607). When personalized “as a being that
is singular, simple, all-suf¬cient, eternal,” a divine intelligence and
will, this becomes the theological idea of God. Like the ideas of the
world as a whole and the soul, however, the idea of God oversteps
all bounds of experience, and thus does not represent an object of
knowledge. Kant says, “we dialectically transform the distributive
unity of the use of the understanding in experience, into the collective
unity of a whole of experience” (A583/B661). In other words, the
legitimate thought of the totality of predicates distributed among
possible objects of experience becomes the idea of the collection of
properties to be predicated of a single individual.
In section 3 Kant explains how reason then hypostatizes this ideal
by means of the transcendental illusion underlying the Paralogisms
and the Antinomies. In seeking the unconditioned, reason applies the
2 In the New Elucidation (1755) and The Only Possible Argument (1763) Kant made this argument
for the existence of God (Theoretical Philosophy, 1755“1770, 1“45 and 107“201). Wood calls it
the “possibility proof” and discusses both its pre-critical and critical uses at Kant™s Rational
Theology, 64“71.
Transcendental illusion III 267
illusory principle P2 , “If the conditioned is given, the entire series of
conditions is given,” to objects in general. Here reason searches for
an absolutely necessary being underlying all contingency: “For the
contingent exists only under the condition of something else as its
cause . . . necessarily without condition” (A584/B612). As opposed
to the Fourth Antinomy cosmological idea of a necessary being in
appearances, the theological idea represents a necessary thing in itself
underlying objects in general. Because this latter idea represents only
something whose non-being is impossible (A592/B620), it is inde-
terminate with respect to perfection, and is equally applicable to a
limited being. Nonetheless, reason naturally takes the ens realissimum
as the best candidate for an absolutely necessary being since “it satis-
¬es the concept of unconditioned necessity on at least one point . . .
since every other concept is defective and in need of completion”
(A585“6/B613“14). A reinforcing motive resides in the demands of
practical reason, since the existence of a highest being would provide
a subjective basis for obeying the moral law. In this way the natural
demand of reason for closure in the series of conditions leads humans
to argue for the necessary existence of God as the ens realissimum.
At A590“1/B618“9 Kant classi¬es the three traditional proofs for the
existence of God in terms of their evidence. The physico-theological
proof, better known as the argument from design, is based on obser-
vations of “the special constitution of our world,” and argues that
God must exist as the author of the order experienced in nature. The
cosmological argument that God exists as the creator of the world
is also empirically based, but on an “indeterminate” experience of
existence. The ontological proof differs in inferring “the existence of
a highest cause entirely a priori from mere concepts.” Because Kant
believes the two empirical arguments covertly presuppose the onto-
logical proof, he begins his criticism with that argument. In all three
cases, he argues that the proofs fail to demonstrate that God exists as
an absolutely necessary being.

2. th e ontolog i ca l a rgu me nt
Oddly enough, Kant™s discussion lacks a detailed account of the onto-
logical argument, beginning abruptly with his criticisms of it. (He
only brie¬‚y sketches the other two proofs.) So it may be helpful
Transcendental illusion III
268
to present the most famous versions. The argument was originally
formulated by St. Anselm (1033“1109), Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anselm bases the existence of God on the idea of God as that than
which nothing greater can be conceived. The argument as it appears
in the Proslogion is this:
For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to
exist, and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist. Hence,
if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not
to exist, it is not that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. But this
is an irreconcilable contradiction. There is, then, so truly a being than which
nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived
not to exist; and this being thou art, O Lord, our God.3
In his Fifth Meditation, Descartes offers a similar proof for the exis-
tence of God as a supremely perfect being:
it is quite evident that existence can no more be separated from the essence of
God than the fact that its three angles equal two right angles can be separated
from the essence of a triangle, or than the idea of a mountain can be separated
from the idea of a valley. Hence it is just as much of a contradiction to think
of God (that is, a supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking
a perfection), as it is to think of a mountain without a valley.4
Both versions argue by reductio ad absurdum that there is a contra-
diction in conceiving the nonexistence of the ens realissimum; the
argument can be schematized as follows:5
1. It is possible to conceive of an ens realissimum (that than which
nothing greater can be conceived or the supremely perfect being).
2. Assume that this being can be conceived not to exist (that the idea
of existence can be separated from its essence).
3. A being that cannot be conceived not to exist is greater than one
that can be conceived not to exist. (Existence is a perfection.)
4. By 3, if the ens realissimum can be conceived not to exist, then
one can conceive of something greater than it. (If existence can be
separated from its essence, then it is possible to conceive a being
more perfect than it.)
3 4 Descartes, Philosophical Writings, 2:46.
Anselm™s Basic Writings, 6“9.
5 As Van Cleve points out, Kant is probably responding directly to Descartes™s version; cf.
A602/B603. Van Cleve also discusses both modal and non-modal versions of the argument,
in Problems from Kant, chapter 12.
Transcendental illusion III 269
5. The concept of something greater than the ens realissimum is self-
contradictory.
6. Therefore, the assumption in 2 is false: the ens realissimum cannot
be conceived not to exist. (Existence cannot be separated from its
essence.)
7. Therefore, the ens realissimum exists necessarily.

Because both arguments claim that existence is contained in the mere
concept of the ens realissimum, the necessity attributed to God™s being
is absolute or logical necessity.
Kant raises two main objections to the proof: ¬rst, that the idea of
an absolutely or logically necessary being is not a determinate concept
of an object; and second, that the proof errs by treating existence as
a real property or determination of objects. Most of the discussion
focuses on the second point, which Kant defends in a variety of ways.
This criticism has traditionally been taken more seriously, both for
its independence of transcendental idealism, and for anticipating the
analysis of existence in modern logic.
Kant ¬rst attacks the notion of an absolutely necessary being.
Beyond the nominal de¬nition as “something whose non-being is
impossible” (A592/B620), we have no determinate concept of such
a thing. The idea of unconditional or absolute necessity is an idea
of reason and not a concept of the understanding. Moreover, logical
necessity properly applies only to analytic judgments, which presup-
pose the conditional or possible existence of things. For example, from
the logical necessity of the judgment “a triangle has three angles,” one
cannot infer the existence of triangles, but only that if triangles exist,
then they must have three angles. The power of transcendental illu-
sion leads us to think that one is entitled to infer that something exists
necessarily whose concept is arbitrarily de¬ned to include existence
(A594/B622). From this criticism it follows that attempts to prove
that such a being is an ens realissimum are doubly suspect, since the
latter idea is also devoid of objective meaning.
The more fundamental error is treating existence as a real property
of things. Kant argues that although in existential judgments (i.e., “x
exists”), existence functions as a grammatical or “logical” predicate, it
nevertheless is not a real predicate representing a property of objects.
He develops this point in three interrelated arguments: ¬rst, that all
Transcendental illusion III
270
existential judgments are synthetic, so existence claims can never be
analytic; second, that concepts of objects can contain only possible
existence and never actual existence; and third, that existence claims
“posit” an object rather than determining its concept. As we shall see,
commentators disagree on the success of Kant™s attack.
First Kant claims that although judgments that predicate real prop-
erties of objects are analytic when the property is essential, existential
judgments are always synthetic: “is the proposition, This or that
thing . . . exists . . . an analytic or a synthetic proposition? If it is the
former, then with existence you add nothing to your thought of the
thing” (A597/B625). His point is that whereas analytic judgments are
only ampliative, existential judgments must be synthetic because they
are informative. If one concedes this point, then negative existential
judgments (e.g., “God does not exist”) can never be self-contradictory,
ruling out an a priori proof for the existence of any being.
At A598/B626 Kant says that rather than representing a real pred-
icate, “a concept of something that could add to the concept of a
thing,” the concept of existence “posits” the object represented by
the concept. The (coherent) concept of a thing implies possible but
not actual existence. In general, Kant says, “if I cancel the predicate
in an identical [i.e., analytic] judgment and keep the subject, then a
contradiction arises . . . But if I cancel the subject together with the
predicate, then no contradiction arises” (A594/B622). Thus a con-
tradiction arises if one “posits” God (asserts his existence) but denies
omnipotence, but there is no contradiction in failing to “posit” God.
The judgments “God is omnipotent” and “God exists” have the same
subject concept, but only the latter judgment “posits” the object satis-
fying the concept. Kant reinforces this point with his famous example
of the concept of a hundred dollars:

A hundred actual dollars do not contain the least bit more than a hundred
possible ones. For since the latter signi¬es the concept and the former its
object and its positing in itself, then, in case the former contained more than
the latter, my concept would not express the entire object and thus would
not be the suitable concept of it. But in my ¬nancial condition there is more
with a hundred actual dollars than with the mere concept of them (i.e., their
possibility). (A599/B627)

In other words, the concept of the hundred dollars is the same whether
I judge that I actually have a hundred dollars or merely think that I
Transcendental illusion III 271
might have a hundred dollars. But the two judgments make different
assertions: the world in which I own a hundred dollars is objectively
different from one in which I do not. Therefore, the actual existence
attributed to the hundred dollars cannot be included as a property in
its concept. If it were, then I could improve my ¬nancial condition
simply by including the concept of existence in the concept of large
sums of money.
This echoes a criticism made of both Anselm™s and Descartes™s argu-
ments. In replying to Anselm, Gaunilo argues that one could equally
claim that because one has a concept of a perfect island, such an island
necessarily exists. And in the First Objections to the Meditations, the
Dutch theologian Caterus similarly answers Descartes that although
“the complex ˜existing lion™ includes both ˜lion™ and ˜existence,™ and
it includes them essentially,” it is absurd to conclude that some lion
necessarily exists. These counter-examples illustrate Kant™s point at
A594/B622 that if existence were a real property or determination
of things, it could be arbitrarily added to any concept, with absurd
results.6
In the next paragraph Kant makes the stronger claim that existence
cannot be a property of an object. He says,
[a] Even if I think in a thing every reality except one, then the missing reality
does not get added when I say the thing exists, but it exists encumbered
with just the same defect as I have thought in it; otherwise something other
than what I thought would exist. [b] Now if I think of a being as the highest
reality (without defect), the question still remains whether it exists or not.
For although nothing at all is missing in my concept of the possible real
content of a thing in general, something is still missing in the relation to my
entire state of thinking, namely that the cognition should also be possible a
posteriori. (A600/B628; [a] and [b] designations added)

I have divided the passage into two parts, because critics make two
distinct objections to it. The standard response to part [b] is just that
it begs the question. Kant merely presupposes that (actual) existence
is not contained in the concept of the ens realissimum. While it may
be true of all other beings that their essence is distinct from existence,
the question is whether the ens realissimum is an exception to this
rule.
6 For Gaunilo see Anselm™s Basic Writings, 149“51. For Caterus see Descartes, Philosophical
Writings, 2:72.
Transcendental illusion III
272
The criticism of part [a] is more complex. Commentators such as
Allen Wood claim that if this argument were valid, then it would prove
that nothing could be a real predicate.7 They apparently interpret the
argument this way:
1. Suppose I conceive of something having every reality (real predi-
cate) except one under the (complex) concept C.
2. Suppose I predicate existence of this object, “C exists.”
3. If existence were a real predicate, then my assertion would change
the concept of the thing [i.e., to “the existing C”].

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