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4. [Implied] Thus I could never succeed in asserting the existence of
an object C.
According to Wood, this argument works for any real predicate:
1 . Suppose I conceive of something under the concept C having
every reality except F.
2 . Suppose I predicate F of this C.
3 . If F were a real predicate, then my assertion would change the
concept of the thing by adding F to it, and thus the concept of
the thing would become C = {C, F}.
4 . Thus I could never predicate anything outside the concept of C
to the C.
This criticism raises the thorny issues of the nature of predication,
and the meaning of singular terms and de¬nite descriptions. Despite
lacking a theory of language, Kant™s analysis of analytic and synthetic
judgments implies a distinction between what is essentially contained
in the subject-concept, and what is predicated of it synthetically (or
contingently). It is apparent that informative contingent predications
cannot add a property to a thing™s essence. But then Wood™s point
is just that in distinguishing existence from other predicates, this
argument also begs the question.
When all these points are taken together, the question comes down
to whether Kant is right that existential judgments “posit” the object
of the concept rather than predicating a property of it. Modern logic
formalizes this view in analyzing the existential quanti¬er as a second-
order rather than ¬rst-order predicate of things. Here I follow Colin

7 See Wood, Kant™s Rational Theology, 112.
Transcendental illusion III 273
McGinn™s admirably clear summary of the contemporary view and its
weaknesses.8 While disagreeing with Kant™s claim that existence is not
a real or ¬rst-order predicate, McGinn himself rejects the ontological
argument on distinctly Kantian grounds.
The “orthodox” view of existence, championed by Russell and
Frege, consists of three theses. The ontological thesis has two sub-
theses: negatively, that existence is not a property that individuals
instantiate; and positively, that it is a property instantiated by proper-
ties of individuals. The semantic thesis maintains that “statements of
existence are really higher-order statements involving reference to a
property or . . . propositional function. The subject of the statement
is never a term for an individual but always a term for a property.”9
Thus the assertion “Tigers exist” predicates existence of the property
or predicate ˜being a tiger™ rather than of individual tigers.10 This leads
to the de¬nitional thesis that ˜exists™ can always be de¬ned in terms
of the notions of a ¬rst-order predicate or property of individuals and
˜sometimes true™ or ˜possible.™11
McGinn claims that despite its general acceptance, this orthodox
view is riddled with dif¬culties. He outlines four serious problems.
First is what it means for a property F to have instances. He argues
that de¬ning existence in terms of instantiating a property ends up
in circularity, since “it must be existent things that instantiate the
property.”12 Thus the orthodox view gives an inadequate account of
existence. The second objection is stronger, namely that the view is
not coherent. Consider statements attributing existence to properties:
they would themselves have to be interpreted as referring to a prop-
erty instantiated by the property said to exist. Thus this account of
assertions that properties exist presupposes a vicious in¬nite regress of
properties. The third problem concerns existence claims whose sub-
jects are proper names or demonstratives, such as “Venus exists,” as
well as the general claim, “Something exists.” For singular sentences,
the orthodox view pushes one toward a problematic description the-
ory of singular reference. The latter case is worse, since there is no good
candidate for a property to be instantiated. Finally, McGinn claims
that the orthodox view requires every object to have some unique
property, and entails as analytic the substantive claim that there are
8 9 Logical Properties, 20.
See McGinn, Logical Properties, chapter 2.
10 11 Logical Properties, 20. 12 Logical Properties, 22.
Logical Properties, 19.
Transcendental illusion III
274
no bare existents. For these reasons he prefers the analysis of existence
as a property of objects, universal to existing things. Semantically
the term operates like standard predicates ˜blue™ and ˜man,™ although
he also maintains that the existential quanti¬er can be retained for
general existence claims.13
Although McGinn rejects Kant™s logical criticism of the ontological
argument, he ends up agreeing on the idea of the ens realissimum. First
he points out that even if existence were a second-order predicate,
one could reformulate the argument to claim that the concept of
the supremely perfect being contains the property of (necessarily)
having an instance. The real problem, however, lies in the notion of
the most perfect conceivable being of any type: “We just don™t know
what it would be to be the most perfect conceivable meal or piece of
music. Similarly, the notion of, say, the most powerful conceivable
mouse makes little sense.” The problem is that the argument “trades
on notions of the maximal forms of certain attributes, particularly
perfection, that are inherently ill-de¬ned.”14 This agrees with Kant
that the concept of the ens realissimum is an idea of reason rather than
a determinate concept of the understanding.
We have seen, then, that although Kant may not conclusively refute
the ontological argument, his criticisms pinpoint two key issues that
philosophers continue to debate today: ¬rst, whether existence is a
¬rst-order property, and second, whether the concepts of a necessary
being and an ens realissimum are objectively meaningful. Both issues
touch on complex questions in logic and philosophy of language, and
thus cannot be easily resolved. Like modern logicians, and unlike tra-
ditional defenders of the ontological argument, Kant ¬rmly believes
that logic must have a uni¬ed account of existence: it will not do to
say that the concept of the ens realissimum differs from all others in
containing existence in its essence. Whatever one™s position on the
issues, one has to appreciate the signi¬cance of Kant™s contribution.

3 . t h e cosm olog i ca l a rgu m en t
Kant opens his discussion of the cosmological argument by contrast-
ing it with the ontological argument. The latter, he thinks, “contrives”
an arbitrary concept of an object “ the ens realissimum “ and then pro-
ceeds a priori by extracting existence from this concept. The strategy
13 14
Logical Properties, 50“1. Logical Properties, 50.
Transcendental illusion III 275
of the cosmological proof works in the opposite direction. First it
infers the existence of an absolutely necessary being from the exis-
tence of a contingent world. Then, in a second step, it argues that this
necessary being must be the ens realissimum. This second step, Kant
claims, implicitly assumes the validity of the ontological argument.
The classic versions of the cosmological argument were formulated
by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225“74), the Dominican theologian cred-
ited with synthesizing Aristotelianism with Christian doctrine. In the
Summa Theologiae, Aquinas details “¬ve ways” to prove the existence
of God, the ¬rst three of which are cosmological. The proofs argue
for the existence of God, ¬rst, as a “¬rst mover” at the source of
all motion (change); second, as the “¬rst cause” at the origin of all
ef¬cient causality; and ¬nally, as the necessary being underlying all
contingent existence. This third argument proceeds as follows:
We ¬nd in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are
found to be generated, and to be corrupted . . . But it is impossible for these
always to exist, for that which can not-be at some time is not. Therefore, if
everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. Now
if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that
which does not exist begins to exist only through something already existing.
Now it is impossible to go on to in¬nity in necessary things which have their
necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to ef¬cient
causes. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist
something the existence of which is necessary . . . Therefore we cannot but
admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not
receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This
all men speak of as God.15
Although the ¬rst two proofs proceed somewhat differently, all three
arguments conclude that God exists as the necessary being at the
source of the contingent world.
As with most arguments, Kant™s own characterization is highly
abstract: “If something exists, then an absolutely necessary being also
has to exist. Now I myself, at least, exist; therefore, an absolutely nec-
essary being exists” (A604/B632). The argument is a posteriori because
it is based on the contingent existence of something; Kant says the
proof is called “cosmological” because “the object of all possible expe-
rience is called ˜world™” (A605/B633). But unlike the argument from

15 Aquinas, The Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, 25“7.
Transcendental illusion III
276
design, the particular nature of the world is irrelevant to this proof.
What makes the cosmological proof an argument for the existence
of God, according to Kant, is a second inference, that this absolutely
necessary being is the ens realissimum, or God. Although he later
details several objections to the ¬rst stage, Kant primarily attacks the
second stage. His main point, often misunderstood, is that this step,
if valid, would imply the validity of the ontological proof. Since he
previously rejected that proof, it follows that the second stage of the
cosmological proof must also be invalid.
In an obscure argument at A605/B633 Kant explains the second
stage thus:
The necessary being can be determined only in one single way, i.e., in regard
to all possible predicates, it can be determined by only one of them, so
consequently it must be thoroughly determined through its concept. Now
only one single concept of a thing is possible that thoroughly determines the
thing a priori, namely that of an ens realissimum.

Kant apparently assumes that the necessary being can be determined
only through one a priori concept, because all limited concepts of
reality are logically contingent. This reading is also suggested by Kant™s
gloss at A606“7/B634“5: “What this being might have in the way of
properties, the empirical ground of proof cannot teach; rather here
reason . . . turns its inquiry back to mere concepts: namely, to what
kinds of properties in general an absolutely necessary being would
have to have.” In any case, the only candidate for an a priori concept
determining the absolutely necessary being is the rational ideal of the
ens realissimum. Whether proponents of the cosmological argument
actually reason this way, Kant is certainly correct that the last step of
the argument must connect the absolutely necessary ¬rst cause with a
supremely perfect being. (In fact, Aquinas offers no reason for taking
the absolutely necessary being as God.) Without this inference the
argument would differ from the Fourth Antinomy argument only in
locating the necessary being outside the world.
Kant then argues that this inference implies the validity of the
ontological argument. The conclusion, “Every absolutely necessary
being is at the same time the most real being,” can be converted per
accidens to the claim, “Some most real beings are at the same time
absolutely necessary beings” (A608/B636). But since it is not possible
for more than one ens realissimum to exist, the conversion proceeds to
Transcendental illusion III 277
the universal, “Every most real being is a necessary being.” In other
words, the above reasoning entails that the concept of the most real
being contains the concept of existence, which is the crux of the
ontological argument.
Because Kant concentrates his criticism on this second stage, some
commentators mistakenly assume he considers the ¬rst stage to be
valid. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the ¬rst
three of four objections detailed at A609“10/B637“8 are aimed at
the ¬rst stage. First he objects to the attempt to prove an intelligible
cause outside the world in general, since “the principle of causality
has no signi¬cance at all and no mark of its use except in the world
of sense.” Similarly, he rejects the reasoning to a “¬rst” cause to avoid
an in¬nite series of causes, both within and without experience. As
he argued in the Antinomies, an uncaused cause is neither a possible
object of experience nor a justi¬able postulation of reason. Third,
Kant reiterates the false satisfaction of reason in trying to explain the
conditioned (the contingent) by reference to an absolutely necessary
unconditioned, an idea having no determinate content. And ¬nally,
he attacks the second stage for confusing “the logical possibility of a
concept of all reality . . . with its transcendental possibility.” As we saw
earlier, the idea of all possible reality represents only the “transcen-
dental substratum” for the process of forming determinate concepts
of individuals.
Considered more traditionally, then, Kant rejects the cosmologi-
cal argument for misapplying the principle of causality beyond the
legitimate ¬eld of experience, for illegitimately assuming that an in¬-
nite series of causes is impossible, for mistakenly thinking that the
(unde¬ned) idea of an absolutely necessary being can “explain” the
existence of the contingent universe, and for hypostatizing the logical
idea of a collection of all real properties as an individual, the ens realis-
simum. Clearly Kant accepts no part of the cosmological argument.
As he puts it near the end of this section:

The ideal of the highest being is, according to these considerations, nothing
other than a regulative principle of reason, to regard all combination in the
world as if it arose from an all-suf¬cient necessary cause, so as to ground on
that cause the rule of a unity that is systematic and necessary according to
universal laws; but it is not an assertion of an existence that is necessary in
itself. (A619/B647)
Transcendental illusion III
278
In the next chapter we shall see how this ideal regulates the search for
empirical knowledge.


4. t he a rg um ent f rom d e si g n
The physico-theological proof, better known as the argument from
design, also makes an a posteriori argument for the existence of God.
Whereas the cosmological proof argues from the fact that something
exists contingently, this argument depends on a “determinate expe-
rience,” namely of order in nature. It concludes that God must exist
as the in¬nite intelligence responsible for such order. This argument
also enjoys a long history: Aquinas™s ¬fth proof represents one ver-
sion. In the modern period, a more familiar version appeared in the
Natural Theology (1802) of William Paley (1743“1805), Archdeacon of
Carlisle. Even before Paley™s work appeared, however, David Hume
presented a concise formulation in his Dialogues Concerning Natural
Religion, published posthumously in 1779. Of course Hume™s pur-
pose was the opposite of Paley™s; rather than accepting the proof, he
set out to refute it. Not only are his criticisms devastating, they are
among the most humorous in the history of philosophy. As we shall
see, although Kant raises many of the same objections he made to the
cosmological argument, he shares Hume™s view of other weaknesses
in the argument.
Hume™s Dialogues concern the possibility of natural theology,
that is, defending the existence of God on grounds available to
humans. They take place between three characters, representing dif-
ferent positions: Cleanthes, who advocates the argument from design,
Demea, an “orthodox” believer who defends the ontological proof,
and Philo, the skeptic. Cleanthes states the argument from design as
follows:

Look round the world, contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will
¬nd it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an in¬nite
number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree
beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain . . . The curious
adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though
it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance “ of human design,
thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since therefore the effects resemble each
Transcendental illusion III 279
other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also
resemble, and that the Author of nature is somewhat similar to the mind
of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the
grandeur of the work which he has executed.16
The argument compares the order exhibited in nature with that pos-
sessed by machines designed by humans. In standard form it proceeds
this way:
1. Machines created by humans are things whose parts are ordered so
as to produce a result; the whole serves a purpose, and each part is
related to achieve this purpose.
2. The universe as a whole is composed of parts that ¬t together to
achieve results.
3. Therefore, the universe resembles machines.
4. Rule of analogy: whenever two effects resemble each other, their
causes also resemble each other.
5. Therefore, the cause of the universe resembles the cause of
machines.
6. Machines are produced by (human) design and intelligence.
7. Therefore, the universe was produced by design or intelligence.
8. This cause is proportionately greater as the effect is proportionately
greater, so that the cause of the universe is much more intelligent
than the cause of machines.
9. Therefore, God exists as the intelligent cause of the universe.
Kant™s version at A625“6/B653“4 consists of four statements, com-
bining the analogy from steps 2 through 6 above into the premise:
“This purposive order is quite foreign to the things of the world, and
pertains to them only contingently, i.e., . . . through a principle of
rational order grounded on ideas” (A625/B653). Although this proof
is “the oldest, clearest and most appropriate to common human rea-
son” (A623/B651), Kant nevertheless rejects it as no more successful
than the other two arguments for the existence of God.
Like the cosmological argument, Kant divides this proof into two
parts: the ¬rst concluding that the cause of the universe is an intelli-
gent being (line 7), and the second identifying this cause with God
or the ens realissimum (line 9). Here too he objects that the second
16 Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part II.
Transcendental illusion III
280
inference assumes the validity of the ontological argument. Thus
neither a posteriori proof succeeds in avoiding the transcendental
argument.
But this is not Kant™s only criticism; like Hume, he raises several
objections to the analogy. Despite their different theories of knowl-
edge, both attack the argument for making indefensible empirical
claims, and question the comparison between human machines and
the universe. In part II of the Dialogues, Philo points out that we have
no experience of the universe as a whole, so in fact premise 2 is ques-
tionable, since we cannot say whether the order we observe in nature
is typical of the whole. Kant echoes this point at A622“3/B650“1: “We
are not acquainted with the world in its whole content, still less do we
know how to estimate its magnitude by comparison with everything
possible.” In other words, we have no basis for making empirical
claims about the degree of order in the universe or its degree of per-
fection, since we have no standard of comparison. He also criticizes
the idea of an ens realissimum for lacking determinate content. At
A628/B656 he rejects the inference to a divine intelligence, since “the
predicates very great, or ˜astonishing™ or ˜immeasurable power™ and
˜excellence™ do not give any determinate concept at all, and really say
nothing about what the thing in itself is, but are rather only relative
representations” based on a comparison to human attributes.
Both philosophers also formulate a dilemma involved in attempt-
ing to use God™s existence or design as an explanation of the universe.
In part IV of the Dialogues, Hume points out that, for any explana-
tory item (in this case God™s design), either that item requires an
explanation or it does not. If it needs an explanation, then something
else must be the cause of it. On the other hand, if it is permissible
to stop the explanation at that item, then it seems just as permis-
sible to stop it at a prior step, for example, postulating an inherent
order in matter. Thus from the explanatory standpoint, the argu-
ment only adds steps to the series, but does not offer an ultimate
explanation. At A621“2/B649“50 Kant constructs a similar dilemma
for attempts to explain the causal series by an intelligible being. As
he puts it, if one stays within the series of natural causes, then one
cannot cut off the explanation at any point. On the other hand, if
one jumps to the intelligible order, then we are outside the realm of
Transcendental illusion III 281
cognition, which is the only domain in which causal connections
have any signi¬cance.
Moreover, both Hume and Kant point out that it is logically possi-
ble that order could arise from the nature of matter itself, so design is
not the only possible explanation. Hume says in fact that experience
shows that there are other sources of order, such as gravitation, mag-
netism, heat, and so on, which all produce effects in a lawlike fashion.
Kant also cites the failure of the analogy to support the view that God
created the world, certainly a principle of natural theology. As he says
at A626“7/B654“5, “the purposiveness and well-adaptedness of so
many natural arrangements would have to prove merely the contin-
gency of the form, but not of the matter.” That is, the best the proof
can show is that God is “the highest architect of the world . . . but
not a creator of the world, to whose idea everything is subject, which
is far from suf¬cient for . . . proving an all-suf¬cient original being.”
The analogy with human creation, then, can establish at best that the
order in nature is caused by a divine plan, but not that God created
the matter so ordered.
Although Kant questions the inference to a divine architect, he
does not push the analogical reasoning as Hume does. In fact, Hume™s
arguments in part V of the Dialogues are among the most entertaining
in the history of philosophy. Since the success of analogical reasoning
is a matter of degree, depending on how similar the compared items
are, any dissimilarity is a weakness in the reasoning. Hume points out
that, based on our experience of the manner in which humans design
and create machines, the conclusion to a single, in¬nitely perfect
architect of the universe is not warranted. First, as we saw above,
our limited experience gives us no basis for judging the perfection of
the order in the universe. Moreover, since human creation proceeds
by trial and error, this universe could be one in a series of universes
that were discarded as failures. It is also true that human machines
generally result from collaborative efforts. Analogical reasoning, then,
gives better support for the conclusion that the universe was planned
by a committee of imperfect, bumbling designers rather than the ens
realissimum of traditional theology.
Kant ends the chapter by brie¬‚y contrasting two types of theology
based on the idea of the absolutely necessary being. Deism conceives
Transcendental illusion III
282
of this being only as an impersonal cause of the world; Kant calls this
a mere “transcendental theology” (A631/B659). By contrast, the theist
personalizes this original being as a divine intelligence, the author of
the world. This is the basis of natural theology. Although he rejects
both forms of theology as fruitless speculation, Kant foreshadows
his argument in the Canon of Pure Reason and in the Critique of
Practical Reason that the idea of God as the author of nature is a
necessary postulate of practical reason: “In the future we will show
about the moral laws that they not only presuppose the existence of
a highest being, but also . . . they postulate this existence rightfully
but, of course, only practically” (A634/B662). We shall see how he
develops this point in chapter 11.

5 . su mm a ry
In this chapter, Kant completes his discussion of the transcendental
illusion motivating reason™s search for the unconditioned. In rational
theology, reason attempts to prove the existence of God as the abso-
lutely necessary being conditioning all objects in general. As Kant
sees it, the attempt begins with the logical idea of the collection of
all possible predicates. This “transcendental substratum” for thinking
the real becomes hypostatized as an ens realissimum, a being having
the highest degree of reality. The illusion is completed when this abso-
lutely necessary being is identi¬ed with the ens realissimum, or God.
The proofs mistakenly treat the regulative idea of the ens realissimum

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