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Kant's Critique of Spinoza

A Dissertation
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School
of
Yale University
in Candidacy for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy

by
Omri Boehm
Dissertation Directors: Karsten Harries, Michael Delia Rocca

December 2009

UMI Number: 3392507

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To my grandmother, Shoshana Boehm

Acknowledgments

My work has benefited from discussions with many friends, including Joerg Fingerhut,
Alex Kirshner, Dan Avi Landau, Rocco Rubini, Anat Schechtman and Gilad Tanay. My
parents, Eti and Amnon Boehm, have provided invaluable help and support along the
way. My girlfriend, Ulrika, read and commented on every word.
Several professors have read drafts of chapters and offered helpful comments and
criticism, including Karl Ameriks, Abraham Anderson, Andrew Chignell, Gideon
Freudenthal, Hans-Friedrich Fulda, Sebastian Gardner, James Kreines, Peter
McLaughlin, Susan Neiman, Alan Nelson, Ian Proops, Eric Watkins and Reiner Wiehl.
This work on Kant and Spinoza was very much motivated by my interest in the relation
between nihilism and the principle of sufficient reason. This alone attests to my debt to
my teachers, Karsten Harries and Michael Delia Rocca.

Table of Contents

Introduction

1. The One Possible Basis, The Ideal of Pure Reason

and Kant's Regulative Spinozism

31

2. The First Antinomy and Spinoza

79

3. The Third Antinomy and Spinoza

117

4. On Conceivability and Existence

157

5. Radical Enlightenment, the Pantheismusstreit and


a Change of Tone in the Critique of Pure Reason

196

Bibliography

241

Abstract
Kant's Critique of Spinoza
Omri Boehm
2009

It is commonly assumed that Kant did not read Spinoza and did not consider the Ethics
worthy of a philosophical reply. I challenge this assumption, arguing that Kant engaged
with radical, Spinozistic challenges throughout the development of the critical
philosophy. The dissertation's first chapter analyzes the pre-critical Beweisgrund. I argue
that Kant's pre-critical espousal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason [PSR] committed
him to Spinoza's substance monism. The second and the third chapters analyze Kant's
attack on the PSR in the Antinomies and the Ideal of Pure Reason. These texts, I argue,
need to be evaluated in light of Spinozistic challenges (not only Leibnizian, as is often
assumed). Does Kant's attempt to "deny knowledge in order to make room for faith"
succeed against Spinoza's Rationalism? I offer a defense of the Kantian position,
securing it, in the fourth chapter, also from more recent rationalist challenges. I argue that
Kant's critique of rationalism fundamentally depends (even though Kant may not have
seen this in this way) on the refutation of the ontological argument, and offer a defense of
that refutation from recent rationalist threats. I conclude the dissertation in the fifth
chapter with an interpretation of Kant's relation to the Pantheismusstreit, by reading the
Critique's B-Preface. That Preface redefines the goal of the Critique as an answer to
radical, Spinozist metaphysics, which became an explicit threat during the Streit.

Introduction

I
1. The term 'nihilism' is most often associated with Nietzsche but it dates back to the last
days of the Enlightenment. It was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, who had argued
that philosophy in generaland Enlightenment rationalism in particularnecessarily
culminates in the ethical position prescribed by Spinoza's Ethics.1 That this is indeed a
necessary outcome of Enlightenment rationalism is one thesis that the present study will
call into question; that nihilism was its outcome is a fact that today can hardly be
doubted. Spinoza's Seventeenth-Century position is not altogether different from our
Nietzschean own: two hundred years before Nietzsche it was Spinoza who argued that it
is deluded to think that we ever "desire anything because we judge it to be good"; in fact,
he wrote, "we judge something to be good" because we "desire it" (E IIIp9s). It should
not be surprising that Nietzsche found in the Jew from Amsterdam a kindred spirit. The
differences between their philosophies, Nietzsche observed, are due mostly to differences
of "time, culture and science":

I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: that I


should have turned to him just now, was inspired by "instinct." Not only is

'it is sometimes overlooked that Jacobi first used the term only in 1799, referring to Fichte's position. (See
Jacobi's "Brief an Fichte," in Appelation an das Publikum. Dokumente zum Atheismusstreit [Leipzig:
Reclam, 1987] p. 153-67.) There is little room for doubt, however, that Jacobi's conclusion that philosophy
as such is Spinozist (and hence pantheist, fatalist and atheist) is the origin of his use of the term 'nihilism'.

his overall tendency like minemaking knowledge the most powerful


affectbut in five main points of his doctrine I recognize myself; this most
unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he
denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world order, the
unegoistic, and evil. Even though the divergencies are admittedly
tremendous, they are due more to the difference in time, culture and science.
In summa: my lonesomeness, which, as on very high mountains, often made
it hard for me to breathe and made my blood rush out, is now at least a
twosomeness. Strange.2

2. What precisely in Enlightenment rationalism entails Spinozist nihilism? Determinism


or necessitarianismi.e., a denial of freedomimmediately come to mind but this may
be too quick. First, because it is not obvious that determinism or necessitarianism exclude
freedom (think of Leibnizian or of Spinozist compatibilism); and second, because it is not
immediately clear that or in what way freedom is a necessary condition of value (one
could think, perhaps, of a perfectly determined teleological order). Enlightenment
rationalism entails nihilism to the extent that it deems appropriate only blind, mechanical
conceptions of nature. If what exists is the result of what precedes it, and what precedes it
has no relation to some separate ('transcendent') non-accidental good, talk of value is
relativized to some anchor within the world. However, if ex hypothesi everything within

See F. Nietzsche's postcard to Overbeck (July, 1881) in trans., W. Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche
(New York: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 92. The similarities between Nietzsche's position and Spinoza's are
discussed by G. Deleuze in his Spinoza: Philosophiepratique (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 2003). See
also R. Sigad Truth as Tragedy (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1990), p. 13-124 [in Hebrew]. More recently
M. Delia Rocca discusses Nietzsche's conflicted relation to Spinoza in Spinoza (New York: Routledge,
2008), p. 292-303.

the world is an accidental consequence of blind causality, any anchor can only be as good
as any other. Talk of value thus becomes either consciously fictional (a noble lie,
perhaps) or meaningless. (The point is this: if all value is arbitrarily fixed in relation to
some anchor, x, there is no reason not to fix value to non-x. Talk of value then becomes,
as Stanley Rosen writes, "indistinguishable from silence."3)
Arguably, the most consistent mechanistic position, in which everything is
(supposed to be) accounted for by a mechanical-naturalistic explanation, is Spinozist. For
some form of Spinozism seems to be required in order to make conceivable by "blind"
considerations not merely everything within the world but also the existence of the world
itself. This is not to deny, of course, that one could hold such a position before 1677:
Epicurus or Lucretius can be regarded as Spinozists, just as Spinoza can be regarded as
an Epicurean (Kant, who was fond of Lucretius, certainly saw this continuity).5 This
Spinozist conception of nature was ultimately unrivaled in its influence on the political
and ethical consequences of the Enlightenment.6 For a thoroughly mechanistic

S. Rosen, Nihilism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), p. xiii.

Recent Spinoza scholars tend to emphasize that Spinoza does not deny teleologythat he denies only that
nature as a whole is teleological. (See for example M. Lin: "Teleology and Human Action in Spinoza,"
Philosophical Review 2006 115[3], p. 317-54; D. Garrett: "Teleology in Spinoza and Early Modern
Philosophy," in New Essays on the Rationalists, ed. R. Gennaro and C. Huenemann [Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1999], p. 310-35.) In fact, Kant, as far as I can tell, is among the first to insist on this
interpretation of Spinoza (see especially KU AA 5:391-4). For present concerns, however, Spinoza's
acceptance of ("thoughtful"/"unthoughtful") teleology within nature makes no difference. For there is no
doubt that Spinoza denies teleology and goal-directed action in relation to some non-relative good, a source
of value. (In fact, if anything, goal-directed action in Spinoza is a source of negative value insofar as it is
based on inadequate ideas.)
Kant brings a quote from Lucretius as the motto of The One Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the
Existence of God, BDG AA 02:65. He recognizes the continuity (and importantly also the differences)
between Spinoza and Epicurus in KU AA 5:391. In the following I will at least try to distinguish between
Spinoza's position and Spinozist positions. The latter I understand, roughly speaking, as positions that can
be identified as substance monistic or with the consequences of substance monism.
J. Israel in Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001). See also I. O. Wade, The Clandestine Organization and Diffusion of Philosophic

conception of nature had to be instilled in order for Enlightenment values as we know


themvalues fixed in relation to life in this worldto become the ethical basis of
society. A thoroughly mechanistic conception of nature had to undermine religious and
broadly teleological conceptions in order for individual happiness in this lifeworldly
pleasure, evento become the standard of value. However, and this is just the point, if
life in this world is a product of blind causalityas most rationalists today still believe
individual happiness in this world cannot be regarded a non-arbitrary anchor of "value
that has value." This is the root of nihilism in Spinoza: the reason why the Enlightenment
is also associated with the vulgarity of de Sade or of Nietzsche's "last man"; the reason
why the third Reich is sometimes counted among its consequences. When in the
following I argue that Kant criticizes Spinoza's position, I hope to show that he criticizes
a position that has become very much our own.

3. A good example of the problem at hand is the meaninglessness of the term 'natural
right'. When making value judgments we often adduce nature as a measure: women and
men are said to have, by nature, rights to their bodies; human beings are said to have the
right, by nature, to freedom of speech; by nature, it is said, we are all equal. Consider the
following assertion:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Ideas in France from 1700 to 1750 (New York: Octagon Books, 1967); and P. Verniere, Spinoza et la
pensee francaise avant la Revolution (Paris: Presses universitaires de France 1954).

What grounds the self-evidence of these truths? The answer is found in the Declaration of
Independence's preceding lines, appealing to the "station" to which all men are "entitled"
by the "Laws of Nature" and "Nature's God." Thus in order to grant as self-evident the
truths announced by the Founding Fathers one must hold a conception of nature similar to
that of Locke. There seems to be a way in which, as Jeremy Waldron has recently argued,
a religious understanding of the world is not only compatible withbut a necessary
condition ofmodern liberalism. Waldron's argument, roughly, is a version of the
arbitrary-anchoring problem presented above: in order to regard members of a certain
group as sharing equal rights, Waldron says, it is necessary to regard these members not
only as equal among themselves but also as being "more equal" than what (or who) falls
outside the group. However, without relying on some teleological conception of nature it
is in principle impossible to draw the boundaries of such a group: for lack of teleology
one must extend the group of equals such that it ranges over everything, leaving
meaningful talk of rights behind. Some, perhaps out of politeness, have described
Waldron's argument a "salutary" indication that there is an "integral relationship"
between liberalism and religious faith. But Waldron himself is less interested in
relieving the tension between liberalism and religion than in exposing liberalism's grave

J. Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke's Political Thought (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2002).
8

Ibid. Especially chapter three.

N. Stolzenberg and G. Yaffe: "Waldron's Locke and Locke's Waldron: a Review of Jeremy Waldron's
God, Locke, and Equality," Inquiry 2006 49(2), p. 186.

inconsistency. Anyone claiming to be an atheist liberal, he writes, is in fact "taking


advantage of a tradition that he pretended to repudiate." 10
Needless to say, if this argument is used to convince liberals to accept faith it is
unsatisfactory. Secular liberals refuse religious positions like Locke's not merely because
they are averse to their "religiousness." Nor do they refuse religious positions merely
because they recognize in them a radically illiberal potential. Secular liberals refuse
Locke's position or any other asserting divine intent because they cannot but deem such
positions irrational. This in turn aggravates theiror rather ourpredicament: if one
stands in matters of reason and faith closer to Spinoza than to Locke one cannot too
easily get around Waldron's challenge. One must admit that far from being self-evident,
those truths declared by the Founding Fathers are de facto assumed to be false. Leo
Strauss, in, Natural Right and History, writes:

The majority among the learned who still adhere to the principles of the
Declaration of Independence interpret these principles not as expressions of
natural right but as an ideal, if not as an ideology or myth. Present-day
American social science, as far as it is not Roman Catholic social science, is
dedicated to the proposition that all men are endowed by the evolutionary
process by a mysterious fate with many kinds of urges and aspirations, but
certainly with no natural right.

Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality, p. 227


"L. Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), p. 2.

4. The problem more generally is the value/fact distinction. Under a teleological


conception of nature it could be meaningful, perhaps, to speak of moral or normative
facts. Under a mechanical conception talk of values as matters of fact must be doomed
from the start. Wittgenstein presents a clear articulation of this in 6.4-6.5 in the Tractatus.
Consider 6.41:

The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is
as it is, and everything happens as it does happen: in it no value existsand
if it did exist, it would have no value.
If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the
whole sphere of what happens and is the case. For all that happens and is the
case is accidental.
What makes it non-accidental cannot lie within the world, since if it
did it would itself be accidental.
It must lie outside the world.12

Of course, for Wittgenstein it is not merely the case that everything within the world is
accidental; he also holds that talk of what lies outside the world is meaningless. The
upshot is that all meaningful propositions are of "equal value," that "ethics cannot be put
into words."1

12

L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge, 2008), p. 86.

13

Ibid.

When present-day ethicists aspire to go beyond this decree they usually insist on
fixing value in relation to anchors that could be regarded as worldly factsmost often
some (basic) human needs and interests. The motivation behind this approach, I think, is
to eliminate reference to what are considered dubious religious or metaphysical
('transcendent') ideas. But it must be admitted that the value of these needs and
interestswhether one is a Mill or a Rawls makes no difference heremust itself be
regarded as null. Unless one has reasons to believe that human beings, or rationality as
such, is purposive to some non-accidental good, any anchor of value is as good as human
needs and desires. Because this is where post- and anti-metaphysical thinkers turn a deaf
ear, their theories are likely to come out as nihilist as Nietzsche's or Spinoza's. Without
justifying the assumption that humanity or rationality is of non-accidental valueah
assumption, again, that most modern rationalists positively rejectthere is nothing less
cynical in Rawls's or Habermas's positions than in Spinoza's conclusion that we judge as
good what we desire. Indeed their theories become manifestations of doing just that.

5. The problem of justifying morality is sometimes discussed in the literature as the


problem of'what could be said' to a moral skeptic. Bernard Williams describes the
problem like this: "when an amoralist calls ethical considerations into doubt, and
suggests that there is no reason to follow the requirements of morality, what can we say

14

In Rawls, this is clear from his attempt to give legitimacy arguments from such notions as 'primary social
goods' (which are nothing but conditions of human well-being, i.e. reducible to basic human interests); and
more significantly, from his understanding of rationality as a type of prudential decision making,
understood by the lights of decision theory (which itself assumes, one way or another, self-interestedness).
For a discussion of Rawls's position on this, see O. Hoffe, Categorical Principles of Law (University Park:
The Pennsylvania State University Press), p. 215-32.

to him?"

According to Williams, the problem is in fact that of justifying rationality

itself: when properly understood, the question is not so much whether there is a rational
justification of morality that could be presented to the moral skeptic; it is rather what we
could tell the moral skeptic even assuming that there is such a justification. Why should
he listen?16 Suppose, Williams says, that there is an argument that can count as a
justification (or even a proof) of morality: does it follow that an amoralist ought to be
convinced by it? Can one show that the amoralist is "being imprudent" in some
fundamental way, or that he is "contradicting himself or going against the rules of logic?
17

And if so, "why should he worry about that?" asks Williams.


Robert Nozick gives a similar articulation of the problem:

Suppose that we show that some X he [the immoral man] holds or accepts or
does commits him to behaving morally. He now must give up at least one of
the following: (a) behaving immorally, (b) maintaining X, (c) being
consistent about this matter in this respect. The immoral man tells us, "To tell
you the truth, if I had to make the choice, I would give up being
consistent."18

Such an approach to the problem seems to me off the mark. The presumption
standing behind itto wit, that being moral is being rational and that the problem of
15

B. Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), p. 22.

16

Ibid., p. 23.

17

Ibid.

18

R. Nozick, Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 408.

morality therefore has to do with justifying rational consistencyis inadequate to the


current understanding of reason and science. The immoralist's answer to the dilemma
presented to him above would be different from the one Nozick gives in his name. "To
tell you the truth," he would say, "as a rationalist I know that nothing I do or believe
commits me to acting morally." And he would continue: "in fact, justification of rational
consistency is a problem that I, as an amoralist, worry about when talking to you. For
both of us de facto accept rational premises that entail the meaninglessness of morality
but you, somehow, give up consistency and accept morality." The point is this:
justification of morality is not, pace Nozick and Williams, a problem about 'what we can
we say to him'. Nor is it a problem about what he can say to us. The problem rather is
what we moralistsinsofar as we seek to be rationalcan say to ourselves.
Note that this precisely was the problem facing Jacobi upon his discovery that
Enlightenment rationalism leads to Spinozist nihilism. And, as a moralist, he reacted just
as Nozick and Williams predict that an amoralist will react: Jacobi gave up rational
consistency. And wethere are reasons to think that insofar as we consider ourselves
moralists we stand in a position very similar to Jacobi's. Empirical evidence of this is the
frequency with which we use what Susan Neiman recently described as the "ultimate
postmodern gesture":

Weary of simplification, and even more afraid of sounding sappy, the left tends
to reject not only words like true and noble, but even words like legitimate and
progress, which were meant to replace them. If used at all, such words are
subject to quotation markssometimes called scare quotesthat express the

10

speaker's discomfort in the ultimate postmodern gesture, fingers wiggling


beside ears in a little dance that says: / can use it, but I don 7 go so far as to
mean it, and it all matters so little anyway I can make myself look silly to boot.
What matters is putting a distance between you and your beliefs.19

Quotation marks are used not only with true and noble but also with good. Their function
is to relieve moralist speakers from the (by now almost internalized) inconsistency
involved in using normative vocabulary.

6. If nihilism in its postmodern form has roots in Spinozist rationalism, Kant's critical
position can be read as a conscious attempt to answer that challenge. His answer operates
in two main stages, which can be understood in light of the assertion, "I found it
necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith" (Bxxx). This is perhaps
the most famous sentence in Kant's Werke; what exactly does it mean? First, why is it
necessary to deny knowledge? The implication is that Kant does not consider the
metaphysical position of moderate Enlightenment thinkersspecifically, of the LeibnizoWolffian school, which strove to preserve the compatibilism of rationalism and valuea
satisfactory alternative to the radical and Spinozist position.

I will argue that Kant's

critique of reasonwhich to a large part consists in a critique of the Principle of

19

Susan Neiman, Moral Clarity (New York: Harcourt, 2008), p. 18. What Neiman here calls "the left"
should be a group close enough to what I have been referring to as "secular liberals."
20

Note that Kant never makes (this or similar) assertion in the opening lines of the A, 1781 edition. A bold
assertion that saving faith and freedom is one of the Critique's main goals is first made in the postPantheismusstreit B. I discuss this point at length in chapter five. Here suffice it to note that Kant was
certainly of the same opinion already in A (see for example, A536).
2

'For the distinction between radical and moderate Enlightenment see Israel's Radical Enlightenment.

11

Sufficient Reasonis carried out as an attack on a Spinozist, necessitarian position. If


successful, Kant would show that a mechanistic conception of nature cannot be regarded
as a thorough description of everything real: everything in the phenomenal world needs
to be understood by mechanical causalitywhat is articulated by the deconstructed
Principle of Sufficient Reason, i.e., by the Second Analogy of Experiencebut
phenomenal reality is only a part of the picture. This part does not necessarily include all
that there is, and it does not include all that is important. Nor is it the limit of what can
meaningfully be spoken about.
For, as Kant says, the denial of knowledge was necessary to "make room for
faith." What is the meaning of this part of the sentence? I think many Kantians prefer to
read Kant as saying, 'I found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for
freedom'. But while this approach is obviously not mistaken, it does no justice to the fact
that Kant says faith (Glaube). Is he expressing himself in this way only to appease those
readers and critics concerned by the refutation of the ontological argument? Or is faith
inherently important for Kant as a critical philosopheras a rationalist evenwho seeks
to contest nihilism? Arguably, freedom (or autonomy) is not sufficient to establish moral
value. As pointed out above, even if we suppose that one acts on the basis of rational
maxims, there is still little meaning to rationality if autonomous rationality is not destined
to some telos. There are two related problems here, and Kant was conscious of both. The
first was alluded to above: suppose it can be shown that rational-autonomous beings have
to behave in a certain way, which most of us would recognize as moral. Morality here
would still be valueless if the existence of rational beings is meaningless. Under such
circumstance, Kant writes, autonomous beings would behave morally until

12

one vast tomb engulfs them one and all (honest or not, that makes no
difference here) and hurls them, who managed to believe they were the final
purpose of creation, back into the abyss of the purposeless chaos of matter
99

from which they were taken.

Some sort of teleology seems to be required, then, in order to give meaning to Kantian
ethics. However, given that no scientific teleological conception of nature is available to
us as it was available to Aristotle, some form of faith in teleologyone at least
9"3

compatible with non-teleological scienceis required.


There is a second related problem here. Kant famously insists that moral worth
can be evaluated only on the basis of intentions, an insight he articulated in the
Categorical Imperative. It does not follow from this, however, and it is not true, that for
Kant ethics can be done on the basis of this moral law alone. As Kant repeatedly argues,
whereas that law captures only intentions human beings are necessarily interested in the
meaningful outcome of their moral conduct. There is an apparent tension here, but Kant
11

KU AA 5:452.

23

In the most obvious way, this is clear from Kant's talk of persons being ends in themselves (e.g. GMS
4:428f.) and, as such, as the final purpose of creation (KU 5: 435-443). C. Korsgaard, who stresses the
centrality of the 'formula of humanity', certainly notices the indispensable role teleology assumes here (see
for example her Creating the Kingdom of Ends [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], p. 11032.). Our rational action, she arguesgiven that we are the final purpose of creationhas "value
conferring status." However, I am not sure that Korsgaard gives due recognitionlet alone is willing to
defendthe metaphysical picture that is accordingly necessary to take a Kantian position seriously.
Precisely because that picture is metaphysical but cannot be accepted on theoretical grounds, treating
humanity as value conferring requires belief in teleology and faith in what makes such teleology possible.
Korsgaard is aware of this, for in another essay, comparing Aristotle and Kant, she points out that whereas
for the former teleology was a part of science for the latter it is a matter if "religious faith" (Creating the
Kingdom of Ends, p. 245). But when discussing Kant's humanity formula the fact that faith is a necessary
condition of making sense of that formula goes unmentioned. In fact Korsgaard's ultimate conclusion is
that according to Kant, "even the justification of nature is up to us" (p. 131). While this seems, strictly
speaking, right, to the extent that it suggests that we are sufficient to confer value on nature it is inaccurate.

13

is obviously right: one cannot have good intentions without being interested in the
outcome; it is senseless to aspire to act morally without hoping by that intention to bring
about meaningful progress in the world, corresponding to the intention. However,
conceiving such meaningful outcomes as consequences of moral intentions is possible
only under a certain teleological conception of nature. First, because only under such a
conception is it meaningful to talk about value (this is just the point considered above);
and second, because only in such a framework is it possible to imagine a correspondence
between moral intentions and consequences in the world. Therefore, if one accepts as
legitimate only non-teleological explanations of nature (i.e., non-teleological science) one
can only accept teleology on the basis of some kind of faith. One way or another, faith, as
Kant himself recognized, is a necessary condition of Kantian and rational ethics.

7. But in this light, the task of Kantian ethical thought is not so much to articulate
versions of the Categorical Imperative that are, on their own, of little value. Kant will
emerge as an infinitely more significant ethical thinker if he can help us overcome the
meaninglessness of the Categorical Imperativeif he can convince us that it is because
we are rational and not despite our rationality that we can have faith in a type of
framework required for morality.24
Readers of Kant are likely to recognize in this line of reasoning the traces of the
Critique of Practical Reason's Postulatenlehre. It is true that this doctrine is relevant here
but as it stands it is hardly satisfactory and does not represent Kant's mature account of
4

John Hare presents a very relevant discussion in The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and
God's Assistance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). However, Hare's discussion is consciously
written from the perspective of'traditional Christianity' (p. 1). In this sense it does not designed to address
the problem of nihilism from the position of those who, like myself, consider themselves secular
rationalists (in a broad sense of the term).

14

faith.25 Kant's elaborate conception of faith, I will argue, is provided in the Critique of
Judgment, where Kant defends a kind of experience that could support belief in what had
been, in the second Critique, only postulated (more below). It is also in the Critique of
Judgment that Kant considers the consequences of acting on the basis of the moral law
without recognizing the necessity of faith. In a passage, part of which was quoted earlier,
he gives the following example:

Let us consider the case of a righteous man (Spinoza, for example) who
actively reveres the moral law [but] who remains firmly persuaded that there
is no God... how will he judge his own inner destination to a purpose,
[imposed] by the moral law? He does not require that complying with that law
should bring him an advantage, either in this world or in another: rather, he is
unselfish and wants only to bring about the good to which that sacred law
directs all his forces. Yet his effort [encounters] limits: For while he can
expect that nature would now and then cooperate contingently with the
purpose of his that he feels so obligated and impelled to achieve, he can never
expect nature to harmonize with it in a way governed by laws and permanent
rules (such as his inner maxims are and must be). Deceit, violence and envy
will always be rife around him, even though he himself is honest, peaceful,
and benevolent. Moreover, as concerns the other righteous people he meets:
no matter how worthy of happiness they may be, nature, which pays no
attention to that, will still subject them to all the evils of deprivation, disease,

25

See E. Forster: "Die Wandlungen in Kants Gotteslehre," Zeitschrift fiir philosophische Forschung 1998,
52(3), p. 341-62.

15

and untimely death, just like all the other animals on the earth. And they will
stay subjected to these evils always, until one vast tomb engulfs them one and
all (honest or not, that makes no difference here) and hurls them, who
managed to believe they were the final purpose of creation, back into the
abyss of the purposeless chaos of matter from which they were taken. And so
this well-meaning person would indeed have to give up as impossible the
purpose that the moral laws obliged him to have before his eyes, and that in
Oft

compliance with them he did have before his eyes.

We may say that the situation facing most modern ethicistsKantian ethicists
includedis the situation Kant here ascribes to Spinoza. Their theories formulate
versions of the moral law but their position on matters of metaphysics (broadly
conceived) forces them, in the final analysis, to give up the meaning of their theories.
Kant might be equipped to answer that challenge if he can convince us (as he tries) not
only that practical reasoning is not reducible to theoretical, but also that faith can be taken
seriously as a condition of ethics. This in my view is why Kant's thought should be
studied as an answer to Spinoza, for whom practical reasoning collapses into theoretical
and ethics is done on the basis of knowledge. Of course, Kant was not the first or only
philosopher to attempt an answer: most Enlightenment philosophers of ambition
explicitly strived to refute Spinozism (consider Leibniz, Hume, Wolff and
Mendelssohn).27 The question is whether Kant's answer is more successful than theirs.

26

KU AA 5:452.

" Indeed many think that unlike these philosophers Kant was never genuinely interested in Spinoza. I
discuss the reasons for this below.

16

For at least in Kant's own judgment, if his own philosophy is rejected "only Spinozism
remains."

8. This part of Kant's response to the problem of the Enlightenment and modernity often
90

remains overlooked.

Strauss, for example, whose History and Natural Right is an

attempt to understand nihilism's origins (Strauss describes the problem as the 'crisis of
modernity' and equates it with the emptiness of the term 'natural right'), deals neither
with Spinoza nor with Kantcertainly not with Kant's critique of Spinoza. "The
fundamental dilemma in whose grip we are," Strauss writes in the introduction, "is
caused by the victory of [mechanical] natural science. An adequate solution to the
problem of natural right cannot be found before this basic problem has been resolved."
He moves on to discuss the problem as it emerges in the thought of Hobbes, Locke,
Machiavelli and Burke, concluding with a discussion of Rousseau's (for Strauss
ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to resolve it. The fact that there is no serious
confrontation with Spinoza is most likely due to the by now outdated assumption (more
on this below) that his impact on the development of the Enlightenment was insignificant
compared to the philosophers just mentioned. But the fact that Strauss concludes the book

KpV AA 5:102. Note that despite the fact that in this passage Kant seems to have theoretical concerns in
mind (he speaks of transcendental idealism's conception of space and time as opposed to Spinoza's) it is
not a coincidence that it appears in the Critique of Practical Reason. When Kant speaks of Spinozism being
the only alternative to transcendental idealism he certainly has in mind the ethical conclusions of a
Spinozist position.
2

I will not offer here a survey of relevant examples but Alasdair Maclntyre's claim that there are only two
ethical alternativesNietzsche's or Aristotle'shas to be mentioned. Maclntyre's position does not do
justice to Kant's struggle with Spinoza's (Nietzschean) positionhis Hegelian reading of Kant's
Categorical Imperative overlooks the role of teleology in Kant's ethical thought. (Perhaps when brought to
see this Maclntyre would answer that this simply posits Kant on the side of Aristotle.)
30

Strauss, History and Natural Right, p. 8.

17

with a chapter on Rousseau's rethinking of the term 'nature' is harder to make sense of.
For Strauss had correctly realized that the 'crisis of modernity' emerges from the impact
of a mechanical-worldview on ethical thought he fails to see that Kantarguably an
important player in the development of modern philosophyconfronts the
-J 1

Enlightenment precisely on that point.


IT}

Another case in point is Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment.


In an influential chapter on Kant and de Sade, "Juliette or Enlightenment and Morality,"
they argue that Kant's thought represents the climax of Enlightenment morality, in which
formal systematicity replaces, and stands for, the only meaningful value.

Because

Kant's conception of value is merely formal, they argueand because his Enlightenment
rationalism dictates that any "substantial goal" which might be adduced to the mere
formal conception be considered a transcendent-religious "delusion"Kant's concept of
reason in the final analysis can only be put to the service of individual pleasures and
personal interests.34 According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the Marquis de Sade's life
and works embody the consequences of this position: the meaninglessness of sin, the idea
that reason is to serve personal interests and pleasure and, most of all, the elevation of

31

Strauss omission of Spinoza and Kant in this context is all the most puzzling because one could think that
his interest in the 'crisis of modernity' emerged from his occupation with the Pantheismusstreit. As far as 1
know Strauss is the first to have written extensively about the Streit (in a book-length introduction that he
wrote to Mendelssohn's Schriften, of which he was the editor). Strauss also wrote his dissertation on
Jacobi, and his first book was Spinoza's Critique of Religion.
32

M. Horkheimer and T. Adorno, Dialecitc of Enlightenment, (London: Verso, 1979).

33

Ibid., p. 80-119. This interpretation has become commonplace. Jacques Lacan and Salvoy Zizek followed
up with articles on the topic, and David Martin wrote a book about it, Sublime Failures: the Ethics of Kant
and de Sade (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 2003).
34

Horkheimer and Adorno Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 87.

18

systematicity as the greatest value because it is the greatest pleasure. (Indeed, a similar
interpretation of Kant and the Enlightenment was assumed by Adolf Eichman who
claimed in his Jerusalem trial that he had been obeying a mere formal duty, in accordance
'is

with Kant's Categorical Imperative.)


This reading of Kant is founded on a crude understanding of the term
'Enlightenment' and on a partial understanding of Kant's reaction to it. Horkheimer and
Adorno put much effort into showing the continuity between Kant and de Sade but fail to
observe the fact that de Sade, an author of clear philosophical ambitions, was consciously
influenced by Spinoza. His valorization of systematicity, his subjection of reason to
personal pleasures and his bold discounting of sin are arguably consequences of that
influence.37 These elements of de Sade's thought can only be superficially connected to
Kant, who went to great pains to avoid these consequences precisely. In Horkheimer and
Adorno's reading, the difference between Kant's ethical thought and Spinoza's are
blurred.
The reason behind this partial reading is not far to seek. Horkheimer and
Adorno's Marxist perspective is one in which Kant's discussion of faith is bound to be
treated as it was treated by Heinrich Heine. And, of course, one need not be a Marxist
interpreter of Kant in order to overlook or severely downplay this element of Kant's

Recall for example of the mathematical construction of Sade's 120 Days of Sodom.
See H. Arendt's Eichman in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin Books,
1994). A helpful analysis of Horkheimer and Adorno's comparison between de Sade and Kant is given by
Carlo Accetti: "Kant et Sade," Raisons Politiques 2009, 33(1), p. 149-69
37

For an account of the similarities and the differences, see T. Kuhnle: "Une anthropologic de l'ultime
consommateur: Quelques reflexions sur le spinozisme du Marquis de Sade," in French Studies in Southern
Africa 2007, 37, 88-107.

19

thought: it is fair to say that most secular Kantian ethicists have de facto accepted Heine's
approach. Yet, if Heine was rightif Kant's thought is atheist, and Kant introduced faith
only because "Old Lampe had to have a God"the differences between Spinozist and
Kantian ethics become insignificant. If Heine was right then Kant, just like Spinoza,
relativizes the good to the merely desired.
Before turning to study Kant's critique of Spinoza, let me make a few historicalinterpretive clarifications.

II
1.

Scholars commonly assume that Kant never read Spinoza, and that he did not

consider the Ethics worthy of a philosophical replycertainly not before the Spinozarenaissance of the late Seventeen-Eighties, certainly not when conceiving the Critique Of
Pure Reason's attack on metaphysics.

This assumption draws, as far as I know, on three

pieces of historical evidence. First, it is usually thought that in Kant's day Spinoza was
considered passe, a defeated philosopher. The prevalent metaphysics of the time was
Wolffs systematic presentation of Leibnizian principles; Spinoza, as Lessing famously
in

put it, was considered a "dead dog." Second, there is a letter from Hamann to Jacobi
(dated October 1785) in which the former reports that Kant had told him, in a private
conversation, that he had "never been able to understand Spinoza's philosophy."40 This
8

A recent example of this assumption is B. Longuenesse and D. Garber's Kant and the Early Moderns
(Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008). In this collection of essays, encompassing
excellent work on Kant and Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Berkeley and Locke, Spinoza goes completely
unmentioned.
"9F. H. Jacobi, Uber die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn in Jacobi's Werke,
ed. K. Hammacher and W. Jaeschke, vol. 1, Schriften zum Spinozastreit (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag,
1998). For Jacobi and Lessing's conversation, see p. 3-44.

20

report is cited as an indication that Spinoza was irrelevant to Kant.41 Third, Kant never
mentions Spinoza or Spinozism within the Critique of Pure Reason. This fact is
significant, because Kant does mention in his magnum opus almost every other name in
the philosophical canon, including Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Descartes, Locke, Hume,
Newton, Leibniz, Wolff and Mendelssohn.
Before moving to consider Kant's confrontation with Spinoza, then, let us
examine each of these pieces of evidence. As for the first, the once-accepted assumption
that Spinoza was considered a "dead dog" in Kant's day is no longer tenable. This is not
the place to document in detail the abundant historical evidence supporting just the
opposite conclusion (and this has been done by others). Suffice it here to recall the
well-known fact that Spinoza is the subject of the single longest entry in Bayle's
Dictionnaire. It is true that Bayle attempts to refute Spinoza (though some have provided
strong reasons to doubt his intentions) but unlikely that so much space would be
dedicated to refuting a neglected philosopherunlikely, indeed, that Spinoza's relevance
would wane once this high-profile entry had been published about him. J. Zedler's
Grosses Universal Lexikon gives a similar impression, devoting to Spinoza a five-page
discussion. Descartes, by comparison, is discussed over one page. Hume, Locke, Hobbes
and Plato are equally dealt with in one page (or less) each. D. Diderot and J.
d'Alembert's Encyclopedie similarly dedicates to Spinoza five times more space than to
most relevant thinkers in the history of philosophy. While speaking of Spinoza's
40

Hamann to Jacobi, October 1785, in Hamanns Briefwechsel ed. A. Henkel (Wiesbaden/Frankfurt: Insel,
1955-79).

For example, H. Allison: "Kant's Critique of Spinoza" in Philosophy ofBaruch Spinoza, ed. R.
Kennington (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1980), p. 199f. (Allison focuses on
Kant's treatment of teleology in the Critique of Judgment.)
"See especially J. Israel's Radical Enlightenment.

21

metaphysics in extremely hostile terms, the Encyclopedic gives a reliable account of the
Ethics' definitions and axioms and discusses at length its most important demonstrations,
especially lpl-11. The Dictionnaire, the Lexikon and the Encyclopedic were the main
transmitters of Enlightenment thought.43 The attention they devoted to Spinoza ensured
him a place at the heart of Enlightenment debate. It would be impossible for any educated
reader to avoid contact with Spinoza's ideas. It would be easy for every metaphysician to
get a grasp on the system of the Ethics. And it would be tempting, for every
philosophically inclined thinker, to read Spinoza for themselves.44
As for Hamann's report to Jacobi, much caution is required with this report, not
merely because it is second-hand. Consider the context of Hamann's letter. Jacobi's
book, Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, had been published shortly before Hamann's
conversation with Kant, igniting a national-scale scandal about Lessing's Spinozism.
Jacobi sent a copy of the book to Hamann, asking him to deliver it to Kant. In the book,
Jacobi accuses not only Lessing but also Kant of Spinozism, writing, for example, that
Kant's discussion of space in the Critique of Pure Reason was written "ganz im Geiste
des Spinoza"fully in Spinoza's spirit. When later he was pressed by Hamann to

" Whereas Kant quite certainly read all three sources, Bayle's Dictionnaire is probably the one most
relevant for the present discussion. It can be ascertained that Kant read Bayle, and it is extremely likely that
he was influenced by Bayle's method of criticizing reason by antinomial dialectic in his entry on Zeno.
(Indeed Kant discusses Zeno in the context of the Antinomies. More below.) See J. Ferrari's entry on Bayle
in his Les Sources Francoises de la Philosophie de Kant (Paris: Librairie Klincksieck), p. 91-99 (as well as
p. 267-70 for a list of Kant's references to Bayle). See also Ferrari's "Le Dictionnaire historique et critique
de Pierre Bayle et les deux premieres antinomies kantiennes de la Raison pure," Etudesphilosophiques et
litteraires 1967, 1, p. 24-33.
44

Israel comments on philosophers' tendency to overlook Spinoza's impact on the Enlightenment,


"philosophers are... saddled with what are really hopelessly outdated historical accounts of the
Enlightenment and ones which look ever more incomplete, unbalanced, and inaccurate, the more research
into the subject proceeds." (See Israel. "Enlightenment! Which Enlightenment?" Journal of the History of
Ideas 2006, 67(3) p. 528.)

22

disclose his opinion of the book, Kant replied (or so Hamann reports) that he was "very
pleased with the presentation" and that he had "never been able to understand Spinoza's
philosophy."46 There are reasons to think that Kant was not completely frank with
Hamann. And, if one insists on taking Kant's reported words at face value one must also
grant that Kant was "very pleased" with Jacobi's presentation.
As for the observation that Kant never mentions Spinoza in the first Critique, it
should be noted that on at least one occasion the Critique does discuss an unmistakably
Spinozist themethe geometrical methodand does not mention Spinoza still. Over ten
Akademie pages, Kant criticizes the use of "definitions," "axioms" and "demonstrations,"
arguing that, "in philosophy, the mathematician can by his method build only so many
houses of cards" (A727-38/B755-66).47 Kant explains that while in mathematics
definitions, axioms and demonstrations are appropriate, in philosophy they are not;
whereas in mathematics one can successfully begin with definitions, in philosophy
definitions "[ought] to come at the end rather than at the beginning" (A730/B758). That
this is directed at Spinoza's Ethics seems clear.

Other philosophers apply mathematical

methods, of course, but none uses definitions, axioms and demonstrations as Spinoza

45

Jacobi, Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 91.

In Hamanns Briefwechsel, October 1785.

47

Kemp Smith translates, "in philosophy, the geometrician can by his methods build only so many houses
of cards" (my emphasis). This is not a literal rendering of Kant's use of Mathematiker but this is not
necessarily a translation mistake. Kant means by the "mathematical" method what we mean by
"geometrical". Kemp Smith must have been aware that Kant elsewhere refers to Spinoza as a
mathematician because of his method, not a geometer (see below).
48

For a short interpretation of this passage, see F. Heman: "Kant und Spinoza," Kant-Studien 1901, 5. p.
273-339.

23

does. To be sure, Kant repeats the same argument also when explicitly arguing against
Spinoza in his Lectures on Metaphysics:

Spinoza believed that God and the world were one substance... This error
followed from a faulty definition of substance. As a mathematician, he was
accustomed to finding arbitrary definitions and deriving propositions from
them. Now this procedure works quite well in mathematics, but if we try to
apply these methods in philosophy we will be led to an error. For in
philosophy we must first seek out the characteristics themselves and acquaint
ourselves with them before we can construct definitions. But Spinoza did not
do this.50

There is then at least one moment in the Critique where Kant does engage with
Spinozaone moment where it is untenable to conclude that Kant did not think of
Spinoza from the fact that he did not mention his name. Are there other such moments in
the Critique?

2. This question is intriguing, because when Kant mentions Spinoza by name


admittedly late in his careerhis words are remarkable. In Reflection 6050 Kant writes,

Indeed, in the Second Set of Replies also Descartes explores a similar method (in trans. J. Cottingham, R.
Stoothoff, and M. Frederick The Philosophical Writings of Descartes [Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1985], p. 111-20). But of course Descartes did not attempt to build his philosophy on the basis of the
geometrical method, as the philosopher here targeted by Kant. Moreover, if Kant had Descartes' discussion
in mind, he would have known also that Descartes in fact criticizes as impossible the geometrical method in
philosophy.
50

AA 28:1041. As far as I know Kant never makes similar accusations against Descartes, Leibniz or Wolff.

24

"Spinozism is the true consequence of dogmatic metaphysics."51 In the Critique of


Practical Reason he claims that if transcendental idealism is denied, "nothing remains
but Spinozism, in which space and time are essential determinations of the original being
itself."

In Lectures on Metaphysics Kant pronounces: "if space is taken to be a thing in

itself, Spinozism is irrefutablethat is, the parts of the world are parts of the Deity, space
is God."53 And then again: "Those who take space as a thing in itself or as a property of
things are forced to be Spinozists, i.e., they take the world as the embodiment [Inbegriff]
of determinations from one necessary substance."

In short, when Kant mentions

Spinoza by name he recognizes his position as the most consistent form of transcendental
realism.
The relevance of Kant's words to his critical positionespecially to the Critique
of Pure Reasonmust be examined with care. The quotes appear only in Kant's later
writings and only after the Pantheismusstreit had provoked a Spinoza-renaissance in
Germany. Moreover, it is not immediately clear what Kant understands by "Spinozism":
such a term can have a number of different meanings, or denote particular aspects of
Spinoza's system (similar problems arise when interpreting Kant's relation to Leibniz).

5l

Refl.AA 18:436.

52

KpVAA 5:102.

53

ML2 AA 28:567.

54

V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt AA29: 132.

55

A. Jauernig has recently dealt with this complexity in her "Kant's Critique of the Leibnizian Philosophy:
Contra the Leibnizians, but Pro Leibniz," in ed. B. Longuenesse and D. Garber, Kant and the Early
Moderns, p. 41-63; Garber reflects on this problem in "What Leibniz Really Said?" (in the same volume) p.
64-78. Note that, in some respects, tracking what could be known to Kant of Spinoza's philosophy and how
accurate this picture was is less problematic than with Leibniz. Whereas much of Leibniz's thought needs
to be distilled from material unpublished in Kant's day and unknown to Kant, Spinoza's official position
receives definitive articulation in two published works, the Ethics and the Theological Political Treatise. In

25

Nevertheless, it must also be taken into account that the Spinoza-renaissance caused by
the Streit was not a Spinoza rediscovery because Spinoza's ideasas pointed out
abovehad not been forgotten. The Streit does not so much mark the moment in which
Spinoza's thought first became familiar as the moment when one could write about
Spinoza more openly (and even favorably).
To my mind, the above quotes must one way or another be relevant to the
Critique. For even if Kant discovered Spinoza only in the late Seventeen-Eighties, he
(and we) would still have to worry that some parts of his Critique do not argue against
transcendental realism's superior exponent. (This strikes a nerve especially when
considering the Antinomies of Pure Reason: if the Antinomies fail to address and rebut
the most consistent form of transcendental realism, they fall short of sustaining Kant's
aspirations. Spinoza's metaphysical position may escape refutation and, thereby, disarm
the antinomy.)

Ill
1. The present study takes up the first part of Kant's answer to Spinozismthe denial of
knowledge. I interpret Kant's critique of reason as a critique of the Principle of Sufficient
Reason; specifically, of the Spinozist (rather than Leibnizian) consequences of that
principle. The first chapter focuses on Kant's pre-critical essay, "The One Possible Basis
for a Demonstration of the Existence of God." I analyze the argument as drawing on the
Principle of Sufficient Reason and argue that Kant's espousal of that principle commits
him to Spinozist substance monism. Moreover, textual evidence suggests that Kant was

the case of Spinoza, however, the problem is to distinguish his thought from what was taken to be
'Spinozism'. We will see some examples of this below.

26

aware of this commitment. I conclude the chapter by explaining and defending Kant's
transformation of the pre-critical demonstration into a regulative ideal of reason in light
of his critical attack on the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The continuity between the
ideal of pure reason and the pre-critical demonstration, however, suggests that the
regulative ideal of reason has the structure of Spinozist substanceall entities are
conceived through this "All of nature" as its limitations.
In the second chapter I analyze the first Antinomy, which deals with the "age and
size of the world." I argue that the Antithesis, which affirms that the world is infinite and
uncreated, reflects a Spinozist position (rather than Leibnizian, as was influentially
argued by Sadik Al Azm). Such a Spinozist position, however, poses particular problems
in the antinomy, stemming from Spinoza's conception of substance (or the world) as an
infinite totum analyticum, in which an infinite whole is conceived as prior to its parts. I
conclude the chapter with a defense of Kant's position, suggesting that one can have
reasons to accept Spinoza's reliance on the infinite only on the basis of an experience of
one's own freedom (in so doing, I bring Kant's account of the sublime to bear on the
Antinomies). Arguably Spinoza cannot rely on an experience of freedom to ground his
reliance on complete infinity because his monistic-necessitarian position excludes
freedom. (This line of defense, however, will not be completed before the discussion in
the fourth chapter.)
In the third chapter, I interpret the third Antinomy, arguing that its Antithesis, too,
which denies freedom by an argument from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, reflects a
Spinozist rather than a Leibnizian position. Concluding this chapter I continue to defend
Kant's antinomy from the Spinozist reliance on a totum analyticumin the case of the

27

third Antinomy, the conception of the world as an infinite and complete explanatory
whole. Specifically, I consider the Spinozist answer to the Kantian defense of the
antinomy suggested in chapter two (demanding that an experience of freedom ground the
reliance on complete infinity). That Spinozist answer consists in Spinoza's doctrine of
adequate ideas: according to Spinoza, one is free insofar as one conceives an adequate
idea. If this is granted, Spinoza's reliance on the notion of substance may escape the
Kantian challenge presented above. I will argue, however, that this account of adequate
ideas relies beforehandand hence circularlyon the notion of the complete infinite.
This challenge to Spinoza threatened by more recent rationalist approaches if one
can equate, drawing on an argument from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, existence
and conceivability. The fourth chapter departs from the more historical confrontation of
Kant with Spinoza in order to meet that challenge. I argue that the ontological argument
plays a more significant role in the attack on (or defense of) rationalist metaphysics than
is usually acknowledgedby Kantians and rationalists alike. Rationalists sometimes
assume that the rationalist espousal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is independent
of endorsing the traditional ontological argumenti.e., the claim that existence is a
predicate.5 Kantians on their part tend to assume that the refutation of the ontological
argument is but a refutation of a metaphysical doctrinenamely, the doctrine of rational
theologystanding alongside rational psychology and rational cosmology. (This is
certainly the way Kant himself presents the picture.) I argue that the debate over the
ontological argument is more far-reaching for both parties. It isn't a debate over the
philosophical-theological question of God's existence but is the key to the attack on or
56

A good example of this is the belief that Spinoza's proof of God's existencea proof which is
indispensable for the viability of rationalist and Spinozist positionsis immune to Kant's refutation of the
traditional ontological argument.

28

the defense of the rationalist and Spinozist position. The rationalist position, I believe,
presents here a difficult challenge to Kant (exposing deficiencies in his argument to the
extent that existence is not a predicate). I will try to offer Kantian answers to that
challenge, some of which draw on practical considerations. We may have a reason to
believe that existence is not a predicate because we believe that 'ought' is distinguished
from 'is' and implies 'can'.
In the fifth (and in the dissertation, last) chapter, I provide an historical recount of
Kant's relation to the Pantheismusstreit. In recent years the Streit has received growing
attention. Most interpreters assume that it marks the moment when Spinoza's philosophy
was rediscoveredrevived from the grave. This, however, is inconsistent with the betterinformed recent conclusion that Spinoza's thought had never truly been forgotten. I will
argue that the Streit marks not the moment in which Spinoza was rediscovered but the
moment when his radical ideas moved from the "clandestine" background to the
Enlightenment's political fore. We will see that the Critique of Pure Reason provides a
striking example of this transition precisely: Kant had been combating radical
metaphysics before Jacobi ignited a scandal, but this combat was never presented as a
main goal of his work. It is first with the post-Pantheismusstreit B-Preface that Kant
presents the Critique as the (only) answer to atheism, fatalism and Schwarmerei; and as
denying knowledge "in order to make room for faith."
My discussion in the fifth chapter, which ends with an interpretation of the BPreface, also prepares the ground for the next part of this project. That part concerns
Kant's account of rational faith, for which the Critique's attack on rationalism "made
room." The account of faith, I will argue, is elaborated mostly in the Critique of

29

Judgment. For example, Kant's justification of the demand for the universal validity of
judgments of the beautiful and of teleological judgments, I will argue, is an attempt to
defend the universal validity of rational faith. According to the first Critique rationalmoral faith, despite its rationality, cannot pose such a demand. Further, Kant's account of
genius, I will argue, can be read as a reply to Spinoza's attack on prophecy: Kant redeems
the unique role of the imagination in the cognition of ethical-religious ideas which,
without perfected imagination, cannot be represented. The account of the sublime can,
along similar lines, be read as a reply to Spinoza's critique of religion as originating in
mere fear. The sublime is thus a source of a rational 'fear of God'. This discussions,
however, will await a different occasion.

30

1
The One Possible Basis, The Ideal of Pure Reason and Kant's
Regulative Spinozism

"If I deduce the existence of the ens realissimum from its concept, this is the way to
Spinozism" {Lectures on Metaphysics 28:706).

Kant was accused of Spinozism several times throughout his career. Jacobi argued
in his Uber die Lehre des Spinoza that the Critique's account of space and time was
written "wholly in Spinoza's spirit" and Hermann Pistorius claimed to have found in the
Ideal of Pure Reason "a deduction of Spinozism."1 In light of such accusations, Kant's
disciples, too, demanded clarifications. Christian Schiitz wrote Kant from Jena (February
1786), pleading for confirmation that Jacobi had "completely misunderstood" the
transcendental philosophy: "He cites your ideas about space," Schiitz complains, "and
says that they are written wholly in Spinoza's spirit"; "there are some people, not at all
fools in other respects, who take you for an atheist."
Was Kant guilty of Spinozism? To the extent that Spinozism is a sin, in an
important sense, Kant was guilty. His pre-critical essay, The One Possible Basis for a
Demonstration of the Existence ofGod (1763) [henceforth: Beweisgrund], suggests

F. H. Jacobi, Uber die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn, in ed. K. Hammacher,
Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. Werke, vol. 1, Schriften zum Spinozastreit (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1998)
p. 121f. (my translation); H. Pistorius, Erlduterungen uber des Herrn Professor Kant 'Kritik der Reinen
Vernunft von J. Schultze, Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek, 60 (1), May 1786 (my translation).
2

SeeBriefeAA 10:430.

substance monism.3 Arguably, it commits Kant to the thesis that there exists a single
necessary being, God, whose nature excludes other substances' existence. Finite entities
do not enjoy the status of separate substances. Their essences, or what Kant calls internal
possibilities, are conceived as predicates inhering in God. This Spinozist conclusion,
moreover, reaches beyond Kant's pre-critical demonstration. It leaves significant traces in
the Critique of Pure Reason, most notably in the Ideal of Pure Reason.
In the first part of this chapter I analyze Kant's pre-critical demonstration. It does
not rely on the traditional mechanisms of the ontological argument (i.e. the assumption
that existence is a predicate) but, rather, on an application of the Principle of Sufficient
Reason [henceforth: PSR] in the analysis of modality.4 The argument consists of the
following three premises: (1) necessarily, something is possible; (2) possibility
presupposes something actually existing, in virtue of which it is made possible; and (3)
all possibility is grounded by a single being. By relying on these premises in proving
God's existence, I argue, Kant is committed to Spinozist substance monism.
In the second part of the chapter I turn to assess whether Kant was aware of this
commitment. Much textual evidence suggests that he was.
In the third part I consider the significance of Kant's pre-critical demonstration
within his critical philosophy. Was the critical Kant, too, committed to Spinozism?
3

BDG AA 02. Unless noted otherwise, English citations of the BDG are to G. Treash's translation, The
One Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the Existence of God (Lincoln and London: University of
Nebraska Press, 1979).
For present purposes we may describe the PSR as the claim that everything admits of an ultimate,
complete explanation. To borrow a term frequently used, 'there are no brute facts': if a given fact cannot be
explained, its existence is denied. Very little has been written on Kant's stance to the PSR (with at least one
important exception being B. Longuenesse's "Kant's Deconstruction of the Principle of Sufficient Reason,"
Harvard Review of Philosophy 2001 [4], p. 67-87). This neglect is surprising and unfortunate because
Kant's critique of reason is intimately connected to his criticism of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. I will
discuss this point in more detail below, as well as in chapter five. But a thorough analysis of Kant's
reaction to the PSR has to await a separate paper.

32

Whereas Jacobi and Pistorius suggested just this, modern readers of Kanton the
prevalent assumption that Spinoza was irrelevant to the critical philosophermay regard
that question as absurd. I argue that the critical Kant is not committed to Spinozism
proper, but that the danger of Spinozism is far from absurd. The metaphysical structure of
the Critique's Ideal of Pure Reasonas the regulative idea of that entity through which
all possibility is groundedbears the "image and likeness" of the Beweisgrund's deity.
In this sense, Kant's ideal is committed to what can be called regulative Spinozism.
"[OJne comes strongly to suspect," he writes, reflecting back on the ideal, "that this
metaphysical God (the realissimum) is one with the world (despite all protestations
against Spinozism), as the totality of all existing things."
To be sure, I don't think that recognizing the ideal's commitment to regulative
Spinozism infringes on the Kantian defense of freedom, faith and morality. Kant's
defense of practical reason remains just as strong as we are used to thinking (or, as the
case may be, just as weak): a regulative Spinozist conception of the deity is no more
dangerous to Kant than, say, a regulative Leibnizian conception. Within the limits of this
chapter, however, I cannot offer a defense of that claim. Instead, a more pressing issue
will be addressed: is Kant's rejection of the pre-critical demonstrationhis
transformation of the demonstration into a (mere) regulative idealwarranted? Scholars
sometimes deem this an open question.7 But especially in light of the ideal's commitment

On the common assumption that Kant was virtually uninterested in Spinoza. See my discussion in the
introduction.
6

FM AA 20:302. To be on the safe side, note that in this passage the critical Kant makes it clear that he is
opposed to this metaphysical idea of the 'One'. But the passage leaves little room for doubt that he thinks
that if one does thinks metaphysically, this Spinozist idea is necessaryis the only consistent way to
represent the realissimum. Moreover, his wording evokes the terms used in the Beweisgrund: Kant speaks
of the realissimum as the material ground of possibility.

33

to Spinozism, the demand for an answer is even more urgent. Kant explains (albeit in
passing) that he rejects the demonstration on the basis of the Critique's doctrine of
transcendental illusion. I will argue that insofar as this doctrine holds against Spinozism,
the demonstration is successfully rejectedthe ideal's status is secured as regulative.
Before entering into the details of Kant's demonstration, it is worth mentioning a
comment made by Jacobi, in the Introduction to his David Hume (1787). Jacobi is known
today for his thesis that "there is no philosophy but the philosophy of Spinoza." The
rationality of the Enlightenment, he arguedmore specifically the Enlightenment's
endorsement of the PSRleads necessarily to Spinozism.9 In an autobiographical
comment in David Hume Jacobi recalls what philosophical work made him see this
conclusion. It was neither the Ethics nor any other treatise by the Spinoza but, indeed,
Kant's Beweisgrund. That essay shows, writes Jacobi, not only that God's existence can
be demonstrated, but also for what God a demonstration is possible: it is the God of
Spinoza, an infinite substance, devoid of understanding and will.

See for example W. H Walsh, Kant's Criticism of Metaphysics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
1975), p. 218; M. Fisher and E. Watkins: "Kant on the Material Ground of Possibility: From the Only
Possible Argument to the Critique of Pure Reason," The Review of Metaphysics 1998, 52(2), p. 369-397.
This is noticed by D. Henrich in Der Grund im Bewusstsein: Untersuchungen zu Hoelderlins Denken
(1794-1795) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1992), p. 50f. But Henrich doesn't elaborate on this point. Interpreters
sometimes suggest that in the Ideal Kant "passes in silence" over his pre-critical demonstration. See for
example Walsh, Kant's Criticism of Metaphysics, p. 218; Fisher and Watkins, "Kant on the Material
Ground of Possibility: From the Only Possible Argument to the Critique of Pure Reason"; I. Logan:
"Whatever Happened to Kant's Ontological Argument" Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 2007,
LXXXIV (2).
9

For historical analysis of the Streit, see F. Beiser The Fate of Reason, (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1993), p. 44-126. We will see below that Kant unequivocally agrees on this point with Jacobi. But he
believes that his transcendental philosophy suggests an answer to that challenge, saving the
Enlightenment's rationality from Spinozism. Reinhold made the latter thesis public, in his first Briefen iiber
die Kantische Philosophie (published at 1786-7). Kant repeats it in the Preface of the Critique's second
edition, when he writes that only transcendental idealism can answer fatalism atheism and freethinking; and
when he writes that he "had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith" (Bxxiv-xxxi). See chapter
five.

34

Scholars sometimes dismiss Jacobi's reading of Kant as "tendentious." Jacobi,


writes Beiser, "enthusiastically endorsed Kant's new proof of the existence of God... but
he accepted it with one significant qualification, one that would have horrified Kant:
namely, that it was true only for Spinoza's God. Kant, in Jacobi's view, had unwittingly
demonstrated the necessity of pantheism." Jacobi's interpretation of the Beweisgrund,
however, needs to be taken seriously.

Kant himself was aware of his Spinozist

commitment.

I
1.

Kant opens the essay by criticizing the traditional ontological argument. His

argument is well known to modern readers from the Critique: existence is not a (real)
predicate. A subject's essence is "completely determined," Kant argues, regardless of its
existential status: "The actual contains no more than the merely possible, a hundred
actual thalers do not contain the least [coin] more than a hundred possible thalers,"
despite the fact that the actual ones "have more effect on my financial condition than the
mere concept of them (that is, their possibility) does" (A599/B627). The point is that if
existence were a real predicate, the concept of the possible hundred dollars and the
concept of the actual hundred dollars would not be identicalwhich, Kant claims, is
absurd. The above quote is taken from the Critique but Kant had made an equivalent
argument some twenty years earlier, in the Beweisgrund. Here, he uses Julius Caesar as

10

See F. Beiser The Fate of Reason, p. 54f.

' M. Frank is more sympathetic to Jacobi, observing that there is at least a "hint" of truth in Jacobi's
reading ("Unendliche Annaeherung" [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997], p. 666). Frank develops his
discussion in another direction, showing that Kant's analysis of existence as "absolute positing" is pregnant
with Spinozist implications. See below.

35

an example: "Combine in him all his conceivable predicates, not excluding even those of
time and place"; "you will quickly see that with all of these determinations he can exist or
not exist."12
The conclusion is that existence is not a "real predicate" (Bestimmung). In a
thing's concept, or essence, no predicate is missingregardless of its existential or modal
status. Furthermore, because existence is not a predicate, it does not participate in any
essencenot even in God's. God's essence may enclose all predicates and still lack
existence. It follows that there is no contradiction in the thought that God does not exist;
the ontological argument fails. This enables Kant to claim that the alternative "basis of
demonstration" he elaborates is the "only possible one."

2.

Given the conclusion that existence is not a predicate, Kant introduces new

definitions, to be used in the alternative demonstration. He defines existence (Dasein)


as "the absolute position of the thing." A being absolutely posited is one that cannot be
conceived as a predicate or property of another. The meaning of that term is "totally
simple" Kant says, and cannot be explicated further; it is "identical with the notion of
being in general."14 To that absolute notion, he contrasts the "relative positioning of a

l2

BDG AA 2:72f.

This refutation is lacking. Kant assumes that it is possible to have a complete concept of a merely possible
being. A necessitarian like Spinoza could object that in a strictly necessitarian framework this is impossible
and, hence, that there is no reason to think that existence is not a predicate after all. This is argued for by
M. Delia Rocca in "A Rationalist Manifesto: Spinoza and the Principle of Sufficient Reason,"
Philosophical Topics 2003 (31), p. 65-93.1 consider this challenge in detail and offer a Kantian answer in
chapter four.
I4

BDG AA 2:74-6. For more discussion of 'absolute positing', see W. Rod: "Existenz als Absolute
Position. Uberlegungen zu Kants Existenz-Auffassung im Einzig Moglichen Beweisgrund," in ed. G.
Funke and T. Seebohm, Proceedings: The Sixth International Kant Congress (Washington D.C: The
University Press of America, 1989), p. 67-81.

36

thing." A thing thus posited cannot be regarded as properly existing. It is thought


merely as a property of a thing, a predicate of a subject. Kant explains that relative
positioning is identical with "the copulative concept in a judgment." For example, in
the proposition 'a rose is red', the predicate, 'red', is only relatively posited (this is not
Kant's example). It is ascribed to the rose, as a predicate, by 'is'the copula of the
proposition. However, because existence (or absolute positioning) is not a predicate,
the copula expresses no existential claim; the property 'red' is assigned no existential
status by that judgment.'

II
1.

I will analyze Kant's essay in accounting for the following steps:

1. Internal possibility (the essence of a thing) depends on formal and material


possibility.
2. Formal possibility (the logical consistency between a concept's predicates)
depends on material possibility (the predicates themselves).
From this definitional steps Kant continues to elaborate his argument:
3. Material possibility is grounded in something actually existing.
4. Necessarily, something is possible.

I5

BDGAA2:75.

16

To illuminate the difference between absolute positing (existence) and relative positing (predicate) Kant
invokes the following example:
This relational being [expressed by the copula] is quite properly used even for relations that
non-entities [Undinge] have to one another. For example, Spinoza's God is subject to incessant
modifications (BDG AA 2:74).

37

5. Necessarily, something exists. [By 3 and 4]


6. There is a being that exist necessarily.
7. There can be only one necessary being.

The crucial step is from 5 to 6. That step requires additional assumptions; we will see that
these are based on the PSR and carry significant metaphysical implications. Let us
examine the stages of the argument in order.

2.

The first proposition is the claim that a thing's "internal possibility" requires not

only "formal possibility" but also "material possibility." "Internal possibility" is identical
with a thing's essence; "formal possibility" stands for the logical relation between the
predicates that participate in that essence; "material possibility" is that set of participating
predicates, regardless of their formal relation to one another. Kant considers these
predicates to be the "content of thought," the "real element" of a judgment.17
The separation of material from formal possibility relies on the following claim:

A quadrangular triangle is absolutely impossible. Nonetheless, a triangle


is something, and so is a quadrangle. The impossibility is based simply on
the logical relations which exist between one thinkable thing and another,
where the one cannot be a characteristic mark of the other. Likewise, in
every possibility we must first distinguish the something which is thought,

17

BDG AA 2: 77

38

and then we must distinguish the agreement of what is thought in it with


18

the law of contradiction.

Judgments of possibility employing the principle of contradiction determine the relation


between "something" [Etwas] and "something" else (a predicate and a predicate or a
predicate and a thing). Thus, internal possibility consists of a formal element and a
material one: the formal element is the relation posited between the predicates,
determined according to the principle of contradiction; the material element consists of
those things of which the relation is posited.
Another example may help explain Kant's claim. The notion of a right triangle is
internally possible because 'having three sides' and 'having an angle of 90 degrees' are
not contradictory. This judgment does not involve only the formal element of possibility
(lack of contradiction) but also the material element (the given predicates). First, the
given predicates may not be contradictory themselves: had they been contradictory, the
concept involving them would have been inconsistent as well. But more significantly, a
right triangle's possibility also relies on the said predicates: it depends on the predicates
('90 degrees'; 'having three sides' etc.) being in some sense given, or available to
thought.19 Let this be principle Dl:

'*BDG AA2:77
19

1 refer here to the availability or givenness of predicates to thought as their existence, but it is important
to remember that Kant does not consider this as existence in the strict sense of the word. This is only
relative, not absolute positing (see above).

39

[D1 ] The possibility of an essence does not depend merely on the principle of
contradiction. It relies on formal and material elements. The first is
consistency according to the principle of contradiction, the second the
availability, or givenness, of the predicates.

The meaning of "availability" or "giveness" at this stage is somewhat ambiguous. Still,


Dl makes sense. Given that formal consistency is a kind of relation, it is hard to see how
such consistency can be conceived without the material elementthe building blocks of
that relation. The following steps of Kant's demonstration consist in further unpacking
the conditions for something to be given, or available, to thought.
From here, Kant takes a step further. He argues that formal possibility depends on
material possibility, because judgments by the principle of contradiction are possible only
if the material element is given, available to thought, prior to judgment. When
determining formal possibility, one must consider predicates that are already given. Let
this be D2:

[D2] Formal possibility depends on material possibility.

D2 is plausible. The formal relation combines two (or more) separate elements in one
concept. It is hard to see how such a combination would be possible if the separate
elements were not givenavailable to thought prior to the judgment in which they join
into a concept.

BDG AA 2:111

40

3.

Thus presented, the material element of possibility may be regarded as relative or

context-dependent. In the example of a right triangle, the concepts 'triangle' and 'having
an angle of 90 degrees' function as elements of material possibility, but each must be
internally possible as well. This requires, in turn, not only that these notions be formally
consistent but also that the material elements of their essences be provided: 'side',
'angle', 'three', 'extension', etc. Kant argues that the notion of possibility requires that
the material element, at bottom, refer to ontologically stable ground. The most
fundamental building blocks of material possibility, he argues, must exist. Kant explains
this with the example of'extension':

Given that you cannot analyze the concept of extension any further into simpler
data [...] as you must necessarily come anyway in the end to something whose
possibility cannot be analyzed, then the question here is whether space and
extension are empty words or whether they denote something [...] If space does
not exist, or is not at least given as a consequence through something existing,
then the word space means nothing at all.

Let this be principle D3:

[D3] Material possibility is given in something actually existing.

If D2 is accepted, D3 is at least plausible. Given that possibility depends on the priority,


or the givenness of the material element, this element must at bottom be more than a
21

BDG AA 2: 78

41

mere concept: whereas the meaning of concepts is determined by analysis, the meaning
of simple notions cannot be accounted for by analysis. And given that by D2 these
notions must be given as the material elements of possibility, it is hard to see how they
are given if not as existing. Without reference to existence, Kant says, these notions
would be "empty words."22
D3 also relies on the PSR, formulated by Kant in the Critique in the following
way: "if the conditioned is given, the whole series of conditions... which is therefore
itself unconditionedis likewise given [i.e. exists]" (A308/B364). (By the PSR, the
complete explanatory series must itself unconditionally exist, because otherwise its
existence would require further explanation and not everything would be ultimately
explained.) Formulating that principle over modality: if something is possible, the
complete series of the conditions of this possibilitya series which itself exists
unconditionallymust be given as well. Otherwise the fact that something is possible
will not be ultimately explained, which is rejected by the PSR.
Note that Kant claims in the above-quoted passage that the material element of
possibility can be given either as something existing or at least "as a consequence [Folge]
of something existing." Later on he uses more specific terms, writing that material
possibility may be given as a determination (Bestimmung) of something existing (i.e. a
property), or as its "consequence" (Folge). This distinction, between determinations and
consequences, will become crucial. Possibilities grounded in "determinations" are
certainly not ontologically independent substancesthey are properties inhering in the

22

It is interesting to note the similarity between Kant's present claim and his argument in the Aesthetic of
the Critique of Pure Reason. The insight that the most fundamental notions must be more than conceptual
occurs also in the Critique: whereas here these notions are regarded as "actually existing," the Critique
transforms them (space and time) into forms of sensible intuition.

42

being in which they are grounded. The question is whether Kant thinks of
"consequences" (finite entities) as ontologically independent substances or, perhaps,
regards them, too, as properties inhering in the being that grounds them. The answer to
that question will become clear as we move along.

4.

Kant's next step is from D3 to the claim that, necessarily, something exists. This

can be established if it is the case that, necessarily, something is possible. Kant defends
that proposition by arguing that the state of affairs in which nothing is possible is itself
impossible. Of course, he cannot ground that claim with the aid of the principle of
contradiction. He has argued that contradiction is a relation obtaining between pre-given
existing elements (Dl-2) and, therefore, there can be no contradiction where nothing
exists. Kant is well aware of this. "There is no internal contradiction," he writes, in a state
of affairs "involving a complete deprivation of all existence."
The proposition that "it is absolutely impossible that nothing is possible" is
justified by the claim that these terms ("absolutely [schlechterdings] impossible" and
"nothing is possible") are identical, "meaning the same thing."24 Kant seems to think that
he is stating an analytic proposition: if absolutely nothing is possible, then nothing is
possible, including the claim that nothing is possible. ("Absolutely" here is meant to
extend the claim over the state of affairs in which nothing is possible, or over the claim,
"nothing is possible"). If this is so, it is inconsistent to say that absolutely nothing is
possible. Accordingly, necessarily, something is possible.

BDG AA 2: 79
BDG AA 2: 79

43

As some readers have suggested, this argument seems like a trick of words.
However, the claim that it is impossible that nothing is possible can also be supported by
the PSR. Kant does not offer such a justification explicitly but, given that the
Beweisgrund otherwise relies heavily on the PSR, it is reasonable that he would be
content to argue along the following lines. (1) If we demand that modal claims be fully
explained (as Kant certainly does, for example in D3), then there has to be a reason for
nothing being possible just as much as for something being possible. However, (2) if
nothing is possible, nothing exists. But then (3) there can be no reason why nothing is
possible. Therefore (4) something is possible. Thus, whereas the idea that nothing is
possible isn't contradictory, it is rejected by the PSR.
Let that be D4:

[D4] Necessarily, something is possible.

From D4 onwards the argument moves in a familiar Kantian way: it states that
something is possible [by D4] and moves on to inquire about the necessary conditions of
possibility. Moreover, the next step quite immediately follows; from D4 and D3 it is
concluded that, necessarily, something exists. Let that be D5:

[D5] Necessarily, something exists.

25

R. Adams, "God, Possibility, and Kant," Faith and Philosophy 2000, 17(4), p. 431.

26

To be sure, it is not my intention here to show that that argument actually works. Objections can be
raised against the way in which the PSR is applied in this context, as well as to the application of the PSR
in the first place. (Kant himself raises the latter objection in the critical period. More below.)

44

5.

The next step is crucial. From D5, Kant needs to show that there is a being that

exists necessarily. That is, he needs to exclude the possibility that possibility is grounded
in beings that exist contingently. Now, from D4 it follows that if a single being grounds
all possibilities, that being exists necessarily. For the non-existence of that being would
abolish all possibility, which contradicts the claim that necessarily, something is possible.
(To be sure, I mean 'single' in the following strong sense: (1) all possibilities are
grounded in one being; (2) it is not the case that two (or more) entities ground all
possibilities; see more below.) And indeed, Kant assumes in the Beweisgrundan
assumption he repeats throughout his careerthat only a single being can ground all
possibilities. "That whose annulment or negation eradicates all possibility," he writes, "is
absolutely necessary." "The necessary being contains (enthalt) the ultimate ground of
the possibility of all other beings." Let this be D6:

[D6] All possibility is grounded in a single being.

M. Fisher and E. Watkins contend that it is hard to see why Kant thinks that D6 is true.
"One may agree with Kant that each possibility requires a material ground, but reject his
98

claim that there is one being which serves to ground all possibilities," they write. This is
indeed a deficiency of Kant's essay but not in the argument itself. Pace Fisher and
Watkins, the PSR justifies D6 in the following way. First, by the PSR, all possibilities
27

BDGAA2:81f.

28

M. Fisher and E. Watkins: "Kant on the Material Ground of Possibility: From the Only Possible
Argument to the Critique of Pure Reason", p. 375ft.15.

45

must be grounded. For if some possibilities weren't grounded, there would be


inexplicable possibilities, which is rejected by the PSR. Second, by the PSR, only a single
being can ground all possibilities. For if all possibilities must be grounded, then relations
and inter-relations between possibilities must be grounded as well. However, only a
single being can ground all such relations: had certain grounds of possibility been
scattered in two or more beings, the relation(s) between these beings themselves would
have had to be grounded by yet another beingand so regressively ad infinitum. But
then, not all possibilities would be grounded. Now, given that Kant does, as Fisher and
Watkins observe, endorse D6, it is probable that he assumes this (or a similar) argument,
albeit implicitly.

It may be noted that Leibniz uses the same PSR-argument in his

argument for the existence of God from the existence of necessary truths. But more
telling here is the fact that later in his career Kant indeed reasons along analogous lines,
and in some of the most essential doctrines of the Critique. Consider for example Kant's
account of the transcendental unity of apperception: he argues that it must be possible to
ascribe all representations to a single subject of thought, because only a single subject

One may object that the relation between two entities need not be grounded by a third entity, but can be
grounded by both of them, simultaneously. Thus one may try to argue that whatever grounds possibles
say, a plurality of platonic ideascan also ground the relation between the possibles. This seems to me
unsatisfactory, however. The question, from the standpoint of the PSR, will be what grounds the relations
between these ideas.
30

1 take that argument to also exclude the possibility that two (or more) beings may ground all possibilities.
For if two (or more) beings grounded all possibility, the relation between these beings, too, would have to
be grounded. It is hard to see how that relation could be grounded if not by a third entity (see ft. 29). But
then, not all possible relations are grounded in either of the said entities. Kant offers a similar argument,
which I unpack below in more detail.
3

'Leibniz argues that all truths, including relational ones, must be grounded by an existing being (at least by
God thinking these truths); and that grounding all of these requires a single being. By that argument,
Leibniz excludes a 'Platonic' account of grounding of truths, in which grounds can be scattered in different
ideas. (See Leibniz, "Vorausedition zur Reihe VI," Philosophische Schriftenin derAusgabe der
Wissenschaften der DDR, Bearbeitet von der Leibniz-Forschingsstelle der Universitdt Munster. Fascicles
1-9, 1982-90). See Adams' discussion in "God, Possibility and Kant" p. 434f., as well as Adams' Leibniz
Determinist, Theist, Idealist (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 177-191.

46

can account formake possiblethe unity of experience. Which is to say: only a single
subject of thought could ground all relations and inter-relations between all possible
representations.
R. Adams has argued that Kant does not proceed on D6 but on the assumption
that a being is necessary if its non-existence abolishes any possibility (rather than all
possibility, as in D6).32 Call this assumption D6*. Adams acknowledges that D6, not
D6*, is Kant's "usual formula for necessary existence," but he insists that in the
Beweisgrund Kant must have assumed D6*. This line of interpretation runs contrary to
all, or almost all, existing interpretations.34 There is no doubt that Kant reiterates in the
Beweisgrund what Adams himself calls the "usual formula," i.e. D6. (Kant writes, for
example: "That whose negation eradicates all possibility is absolutely necessary"; "the
i f

necessary being contains the ultimate ground of the possibility of all other beings";
"that which contains the ultimate ground of an internal possibility also contains it for all
things in general";36 see also below.) Perhaps one reason behind Adams' interpretation is
the fact that Kant, as pointed out above, doesn't attempt to justify D6. But this is not a
compelling reason: first, because Kant explicitly relies on D6 in the essaynot on D6*

Adams: "God, Possibility and Kant," p. 433.


33

Ibid..

34

As noted above, Fischer and Watkins ascribe D6 to Kant in "Kant on the Material Ground of
Possibility"; see also A. Wood's Kant's Rational Theology (Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press,
1978), p. 67; Logan: "Whatever Happened to Kant's Ontological Argument" p. 353. The only exception
known to me is Andrew Chignell who on this point seems to follow Adams (in "Kant, Real Possibility, and
the Threat of Spinozism" [unpublished manuscript]). I believe that Chignell takes D6* to obviously be
Kant's view (rather than D6) (in any event he doesn't offer a justification for diverging from the common
view).
35

BDGAA2:81

36

BDG AA 2: 83

47

even if he doesn't try to justify it; and second, because Kant does have a Kantian
justification of D6 at his disposal (considered above). Perhaps another motivation for
Adams' insistence on D6* is that he sees D6's metaphysical implications. He points out
that if Kant justified D6 by the PSR-argument that all relations and inter-relations must
be grounded, he would be committed to the view that God "exemplifies" all possibilities.
But whereas Kant may have thought that God thinks all possibilities, Adams holds, he
didn't think that God exemplifies all possibilities. This observation, however, is only
partly accurate. It is true that D6 commits Kant to the view that God exemplifies all
possibilities. To use Kant's own terminology, D6 commits him to the view that all
possibilities are in God (in ihm)that God contains (enthali) all possibility. However, we
will see that this is a commitment that Kant saw and, pace Adams, approved"despite
all protestations against Spinozism," as Kant wrote. We will return to this.

6.

It follows from D5 and D6 that there is a being that exists necessarily. But in what

sense is it the ground of all possibility? How does Kant understand the grounding
relation? The Beweisgrund is somewhat unclear about this. Kant said that all possibility
must be ultimately grounded by something existing, and he pointed out that such
possibilities maybe grounded either in "determinations" (Bestimmungeri) of the existing
thing, or in its "consequences" (Folgeri). By 'determinations' he clearly means properties
of the existing being: possibilities grounded in determinations are thus possibilities that
are grounded because they inhere in the existing being; it is in this sense that the non-

Adams: "God, Possibility and Kant," p. 433.


FM AA 20:302.

48

existence of the said being would abolish them. But how does Kant understand the
grounding relation between possibilities grounded in consequences (finite, complex
beings) and the (necessarily existing) being that grounds them? Are consequences, like
determinations, properties of that being? Or are they ontologically separate beings?
To be sure: we've already established that the necessary being grounds all
possibilities. The question, again, is how Kant understands the grounding relation. There
are two possibilities. First: consequences (finite beings) are ontologically separate from
the necessary being; they ground possibilities by existing (as required by D2); however,
as finite beings, they must be created by a necessary being, and it is in this sense that all
possibility depends on a single being. Second: consequences, like determinations, are
properties of the necessary being; they inhere in it. In this sense all possibility depends
on a single beingit is in this sense that if that being didn't exist, nothing would be
possible.
The first alternative can be ruled out, for it is all too obviously the cosmological
argument. On that alternative, Kant's demonstration boils down to the claim that, in order
to exist, contingent beings must be created by a necessary being. But of course, re-stating
the cosmological argument was not Kant's intention when he set out to provide the new
and "only possible" demonstration of God's existence. More precisely: Kant's
Beweisgrund relies on an analysis of the (necessary) conditions of possibility. It attempts
to show why a being that grounds all possibility necessarily exists. On the first
alternative, however, the necessity of the necessary being would not be accounted for by
an analysis of the conditions of possibility. It would be accounted for by the cosmological
argument, which is to say: by an analysis of the conditions of a contingent being coming

49

into existence. It is hard to believe that Kant could overlook this difference, just as it is
hard to believe that he was interested in merely restating the cosmological argument.
The other way to understand Kant's claim that the necessary being is necessary as
the 'ground of all possibility' is to recognize that he assumes that all possibilities,
including those grounded by what he calls "consequences," inhere in that being. Kant's
language indeed indicates that this is what he has in mind, as he writes that the necessary
being "contains," or "encloses" (enthdlf), all possibility. Furthermore, speaking about the
ideal as the 'ground of all possibility' in the Critique, Kant unequivocally spells out that
he thinks of the grounding-relation as one of inherence:

it is not merely a concept which, as regards its transcendental content,


comprehends all predicates under itself, it also contains them within itself,
and the complete determination of any and every thing rests on this All of
Reality [dieses All der Realitat] (A 577/ B605; emphasis added).39

This passage is by no means spurious. I will have more to say about it and similar
ones below. Let us return to the last stages of the argument.

7.

Kant presents a separate argument to the effect that there can be only a single

being that grounds all possibility. The argument proceeds as the following. (1) "Because
the necessary being contains (enthdlf) the ultimate ground of the possibility of all other
The structural identity between the 'ground of all possibility' described in the Ideal of Pure Reason and
the ground of all possibility described in the Beweisgrund is undisputed (see for example Walsh's Kant's
Criticism of Metaphysics p. 214-19). Of course in the Ideal the status of the said entity is modified; it is
taken to be a regulative ideal, not an existing entity. Here, however, we are not concerned with the Ideal's
existential status but with its conceptual structure, which is the same in both texts.

50

beings, every other being is possible only insofar as it is given through it as a ground"
[D6]. Therefore, (2) possibilities of all other beings "depend on it." However, (3) a being
whose possibility depends on another "does not contain the ultimate ground of all
possibility." (For at least one possibility, namely its own, is contained in another being.)
Therefore, (4) "the necessary being is unitary," which is to say: a 'ground of all
possibility' there can be only one.40
Adams, assuming that Kant relies on D6* rather than on D6, argues that Kant's
demonstration fails at this stage.41 And there is no doubt that, from his perspective,
Adams is right. If Kant were relying on the assumption that a necessary being is one on
which some (but not all) possibilities depend (D6*), there would be no reason for him to
conclude that there can't be several necessary beings. However, as we have seen, Kant
relies on the assumption that all possibilities are grounded in the necessary being. Adams
fails to observe that Kant's words in this context reinforce his commitment to D6 (cf.
"because all possibility is contained in the necessary being..."; "a being whose
possibility depends on another does not contain the ground of all possibility..."). Adams'
reading is thus at odds with the principle of charity, not merely because on that reading
Kant's argument fails but because it obviously fails. And what is more, because it is hard
to see why Kant would think "any" but repeatedly write "all."

4U

BDG AA 2:83f.

41

Adams: "God, Possibility and Kant," p. 434.

42

The same difficulties also confront Chignell's interpretation. Like Adams, he ascribes to Kant D6* rather
than D6. This brings him to claim that Kant's argument that there can be only one necessary being is
"hopeless" (p. 18). However, the argument appears hopeless only if one fails to observe that Kant operates
on the (quite reasonable) assumption that the necessary being is one that grounds all possibility. Note that
already before the Beweisgrund, in the New Elucidation, which contains the Beweisgrund's argument in
nuce, Kant leaves no room for doubt about the way in which he builds his demonstration, "...nothing can be

51

In any case, on the assumption that all possibilities are grounded in a necessary
being, Kant's argument is plausible. A necessary being, a ground of all possibility, there
can be only one.

8.

For convenience, here is an overview of the argument:

1. Dl: Internal possibility (a thing's essence) depends not only on the formal
element of possibility (the consistency of the predicates participating in the
essence) but also on a real or "material element" (the predicates or properties
participating in the essence).
2. D2: Formal possibility depends on material possibility. Contradiction is a relation
posited between given predicates or things. There is no contradictory/consistent
relation where nothing is pre-given that can enter into relations.
3. D3: Possibility is grounded in something actually existing. (By the PSR, if
something is possible, there is something in virtue of which it is possible; further,
by the PSR, ultimate grounds, existing unconditionally, must ground possibility;
otherwise the fact that something is possible would remain inexplicable.)
4. D4: Necessarily, something is possible. Kant considers it impossible that
absolutely nothing is possible. This claim can also be justified by the PSR. If
nothing is possible then nothing exists. But, then, there can be no reason why
nothing is possible. Therefore, something is possible.
5. D5: Necessarily, something exists. [By D3 and D4]
conceived as possible unless whatever is real in every possible concept exists and indeed exists absolutely
necessary...Furthermore, it is necessary that this entire reality should be united together in a single being"
PNDAA 1:395.

52

6. D6: All possibility is grounded in a single being. [By the PSR, all possibilities,
including relations and possible relations, have to be grounded. But this can be the
case if and only if the same being grounds all possibilities; had different
possibilities been grounded in two or more beings, the relations between these
beings would have to be grounded as well by yet another being etc.; by the PSR,
this cannot regress ad infinitum.]
7. There is a being that exists necessarily. [By A6 and D5]
8. There is only one necessary being. [By D6, a necessary being is a being on which
all possibilities depend. Therefore, if two necessary beings existed, the possibility
of each of these would have to be grounded in the other. But then, for each being
there would be at least one possibility whose ground were external to it (namely,
its own possibility). But then, that being would not be necessary].

This argument commits Kant to Spinozism in several ways. First, the claim that
fundamental (non-analyzable) possibilities exist as divine determinations
(Bestimmungeri) invites the conclusion that space is a divine attribute. To be sure, Kant's
term 'determination', implying limitation, may seem inappropriate for describing
something like a Spinozist attribute, which is infinite. However, Kant uses this term also
when explicitly describing Spinoza's conception of attributes. For example, in the
Critique of Practical Reason he writes that if transcendental idealism "is denied, nothing
remains but Spinozism, in which space and time are essential determinations

53

[Bestimmungen] of the original being itself." Note that Kant uses extension as a chief
example of a fundamental property:

"Is a body in itself possible?" Because you must not call upon experience here
you will enumerate for me the data of its possibility; namely extension,
impenetrability, force, and who knows what else, and add that there is no
internal conflict therein. I grant all of this... and yet you must give me some
justification of your right immediately to assume the concept of extension as a
datum: for assuming that it denotes nothing, the possibility of the body for
which it is a datum is an illusion. It would also be quite wrong to appeal to
experience for the sake of this datum, for the question is just whether there is
an internal possibility of a fiery body even if absolutely nothing exists. Granted
that henceforth you cannot analyze the concept of extension into simpler data
in order to show that there is no conflict in it, since you must necessarily
finally come to something whose possibility cannot be analyzed, then the
question here is whether space and extension are only empty words or whether
they denote something...44

AA KpV 5:102. Note that Kant makes a mistake, ascribing to Spinoza the view that space and time are
divine attributes (determinations). In fact, Spinoza regards thought, not time, as a divine attribute alongside
extension (space). Whereas for present purposes it matters only that Kant uses the term 'determinations'
(Bestimmungen) for Spinozistic attributes, his mistake is telling. For it indicates that Kant thinks of
Spinoza's system in the light of his own, in which timenot thoughtis the second fundamental notion,
alongside space (extension). Kant, in other words, seems to think that his own system takes what had been,
for transcendental realism, divine attributes, and transforms them into forms of sensible intuition. To be
sure, 'thought' and 'time' are not equivalent to one another, despite being importantly similar. For Kant,
time, as the form of inner sense, is the medium in which all thought takes place; for Spinoza, by contrast,
thought is prior to time. It is very plausible that as a result of this similarity-with-difference Kant slips and
ascribes to Spinoza the view that space and time are divine attributes. The disagreement between Kant and
Spinoza regarding the priority of time to thought constitutes a key difference between them. I hope to
return to consider that differencewhich seems to lead directly to Hegelon a different occasion.

54

Given that Kant arrives at the conclusion that the most fundamental properties, like
extension, is a divine determination, the Spinozist threat is clear. Every contemporary of
Kant's would have to wonder how, or if, Kant intends to evade the conclusion that
extension just is a divine attribute. Later in his career Kant says something by way of
answering that question. In Lectures on Metaphysics he comments that "if I take space to
be a thing in itself, then Spinozism is inevitable; that is, the parts of the world are parts of
the deity. Space is the deity."

To be sure, in the second Critique Kant argues that a

Leibnizian-idealist conception of space (and time) cannot avoid Spinozism, either. It is


inconsistent, Kant writes, to maintain that space and time are essential determinations of
created entities, but deny that Godwho created these entitieshas these
determinations:

I do not see how those who insist on regarding time and space as
determinations belonging to the existence of things in themselves would avoid
fatalism of actions; or if (like the otherwise acute Mendelssohn) they flatly
allow both of them [time and space] to be conditions necessarily belonging
only to the existence of finite and derived beings but not to that of the infinite
44

BDG AA 2:78.

45

Kant certainly sees the common interest of theologians to deny spatiality from God, for example in B702.
46

ML2 AA 28:567. See also V-MP/Dohna: "If we take space as real, we accept Spinoza's system" (AA
133; my translation). As well as V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt: "Those who take space as a thing in itself or as a
property of things, are forced to be Spinozists, i.e., they take the world as the embodiment [Inbegriefj] of
determinations from one necessary substance... Space as something necessary would have been also an
attribute [Eigenschaft] of God, and all things [would have] existed in space, thus in God." (AA 132). See
also V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt 65f. The crucial question is what argument brings Kant to this view. In chapter
three I argue that this is an argument he presents in the fourth antinomy.

55

original beingI do not see how they would justify themselves in making
such a distinction, whence they get a warrant to do so, or even how they
would avoid the contradiction they encounter when they regard existence in
time as a determination attaching necessarily to finite things in themselves,
while God is said to be the cause of this existence but cannot be the cause of
time.47

This brings Kant to the claim, mentioned in passing above, that if transcendental idealism
is denied "only Spinozism remains, in which space and time are essential determinations
of the original being itself."

Further, Kant's argument comes dangerously closeand arguably even closer


than thatto substance monism. The fundamental premise of the argument is the
assumption, supported by D4, that a being that grounds all possibility necessarily exists.
The argument clearly fails if grounds of possibilities can be scattered in different beings,
or grounded by finite (complex) entitiesand by D6 they cannot be. Thus all
possibilitieswhether grounded in God's determinations or consequences (Folgen)
inhere in the necessary being. This invites comparison to Spinoza's substance monism, in
which one being exists necessarily (substance) and everything else is considered as its
propertiesattributes (determinations) and modes (consequences).

4/

KpVAA 5:102.

48

KpV AA 5:102. In the Critique's Aesthetic, Kant reiterates the same argument, but without mentioning
Spinoza or Spinozism. In a passage inserted into the Critique's second edition, he writes that if space and
time are regarded as properties of things in themselves, one has no right (Recht) to deny that these are
divine attributes. Thus, only transcendental idealism has the right to deny this conclusion (B 7If.).

56

How genuine and unambiguous this association with substance monism is


depends on whether Kant identifies consequences with existing finite things. The
Beweisgrund is committed to full-blown Spinozism only if he does, and the text is
somewhat unclear about it. If Kant does not associate 'consequences' with existing things
(but only with their 'possibility') then the argumentdespite its Spinozistic strands and
dangersmay still look compatible with a Leibnizian version (and I take it this is the
way this argument is usually read). However, in some instances the text seems to talk of
'consequences' interchangeably with existing worldly objects;49 and it appears that
Kant's argument fails if consequences aren't finite existing things.50 What is clear enough
is that elsewhere in his writings Kant unambiguously recognizes that the being that serves
as the material ground of all possibility contains all existing things; and that he explicitly
associates the conception of that being with Spinoza's God. For example, referring back
to the Critique'?, ideal Kant writes:

See BDG AA 2:84. Kant seems to identify consequences (Folgen) with contingent existing particulars.
(To be sure, I find this passage obscure and it is far from my intention to rely on it as significant textual
evidence; see more below.)
50

Whereas Leibniz thought that God grounds possibilities by thinking them, Kant holds that God grounds
possibilities by exemplifying them (see especially Adams' "God, Possibility and Kant" p. 433f.). But then
if I, as a finite being, exist as a substance that doesn't inhere in God, God doesn't seem to exemplify (i.e.
ground) those possibilities that I ground by existing. If this is so, the argument fails, for a being exists
necessarily only if all possibilities are grounded by its existence (and grounded not, as we have seen above,
by a relation of creation, which would render the argument, again, the cosmological argument). Adams
seems to assume just this point when he decides to revise D6 into D6*. He reasons that if Kant operates on
the assumption that a being is necessary iff all possibilities are grounded by it, the argument would fail:
"Your existence or mine," writes Adams, "would surely be enough to give a toehold in reality (though
precariously contingent one) to the possibilities of those properties that we exemplify. So God's
nonexistence would not take away all possibility unless it excluded the existence of beings like us" ("God,
Possibility and Kant," p. 434). As we have seen above, this leads Adams to revise Kant's argument and
claim that it relies on D6* (a being that grounds any possibility is necessary). As we now see, however,
there is no need to render D6 into D6*; Kant's argument doesn't fail with D6 because all possibilities
including those exemplified by finite beings like usare grounded in God. (Of course this argument, too, is
open to interpretation; my interpretation relies on the textual evidence presented below, which I believe
leaves no room to doubt that Kant thinks of finite existing things as inhering in the being that grounds all
possibility.)

57

This One [...] contains the material for production of all other possible things,
as the supply of marble does for an infinite multitude of statues, which are
altogether possible only through limitation (separation of the remainder from a
certain part of the whole, thus only through negation) [...] In a world
fashioned this way one comes strongly to suspect that this metaphysical God
(the realissimum) is one with the world (despite all protestations against
Spinozism), as the totality of all existing things (my emphases).51

In Lectures on Metaphysics he explains:

The conceptus originarius of Being in general, which is supposed to be the


ground of all concepts of things, is a concept of the ens realissimum. All
concepts of negations are derivative, and so we must first have real concepts if
we want to have negative ones. The embodiment [Inbegriff] of all realities is
considered also as the stock [Magazin] from which we take all the matter for
the concepts of all beings. Philosophers name 'evil' the formal, and 'good' the
material. This formal can mean only the limitation [Einschrankung] of all
reality, through which things [Dinge] with realities and negations, i.e. finite
things are produced. All difference between things is thus a difference of form
51

FM AA 20:302. In some reflections made in the Opus postumum, Kant repeats similar claims and goes
even further, writing that "Transcendental idealism is Spinozism," insofar as it "it intuits all objects in
God." But I do not enter here into the problematic of Kant's Opus postumum. For discussion of Kant's
comments on Spinozism in the Opus postumum, see B.Tuschling: "Transzendentaler Idealismus ist
Spinozismus. Reflexionen von und ueber Kant und Spinoza," in: ed. E. Schuermann, N. Waszek and F.
Weinreich, Spinoza im Deutschland. Zur Erinnerung an Hans-Christian Lucas, (Muenchen: FrommannHolzboog, 2002), p. 139-167. Tuschling shows that Kant's identification of transcendental idealism as
Spinozism in the Opus postumum is not the result of senility. My only reservation is that in light of the
evidence brought here, Kant's intention may have been that transcendental idealism is committed to
regulative Spinozism.

58

[...] All conceptus ofentia limitata are conceptus derivativi and the conceptus
originarius for our reason is that of an ens realissimum. If I deduce the
existence of an ens realissimum from its concept, this is the way to
Spinozism.

These passagesspeaking of the stock of all real possibilities, or of the material ground
of possibilityare clearly continuous with the Beweisgrund's conception. Both indicate
that Kant views finite existing things as inhering in God and both associate this
conception with Spinoza.

52

V-MP-K2/Heinze AA 28:706 (my translation). Consider also the following:


Metaphysical bonum is what has reality. God, seen as the metaphysical summum bonum, is
the matter of all possibility. In our conception [of that being] there is always something
anthropomorphic, and it directly approaches Spinozism (V-MP-K2/Heinze AA 28:20 [my
translation]).

53

It is interesting to consider the connection between Kant's position that all possibilities inhere in
God to another Kantian doctrinenamely, the doctrine named by Ameriks "derivative influx" (see
"The Critique of Metaphysics: Kant and Traditional Ontology," The Cambridge Companion to Kant
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], p. 262-274). That doctrine consists in "the idea of a
unifying God who makes things interactive in the very act that makes them what they are" (Ameriks,
p. 262). This conception of Kant's seems connected to and possibly justified by the Beweisgrund's
theory that all possibilities inhere in God. As Ameriks notes, Kant describes the derivative influx
theory such that "there must be a being from which all derive. All substances have their ground in it"
(V-MP/Dohna AA 28: 133), what brings Kant close to Spinozism (see also Ameriks' explanation of
how Kant may have sought to avoid Spinozism by what Ameriks calls the "Restraint Argument." p.
263) It is important to notice that Kant recognizes also that 'derivative influx' is committed to
Spinozism. He writes, for example, "There must be a being from which all derive. All substances have
their ground in it. If we take space as real, we accept Spinoza's system. He believed that only in one
substance and all substances in the world he held asdivine inhering determinations: he named space
the phenomenon of the divine omnipresence" {V-MP/Dohna AA 28:133; translation mine). To be sure,
Ameriks notes that (the critical) Kant may claim that 'derivative influx' leads to Spinozism by means
of reducing this position ad absurdum. I believe, however, that putting this in this way may be too
quick. For we know from other passages that Kant regards Spinozism as the "most consistent form of
dogmatic metaphysics." Therefore, while this remark may well be a normative "threat" posed by Kant
to transcendental realists, it does not seem that Kant thinks of it as a theoretical reductio.

59

The same view is also expressed in the Critique's Ideal of Pure Reason. Here Kant
speaks of all possibilities as inhering in the most real being, the 'All' of reality, as
limitations:

If, therefore, reason employs in the complete determination of things a


transcendental substrate that contains, as it were, the whole store of material
from which all possible predicates of things must be taken, this substrate
cannot be anything else than the idea of an All of reality {omnitudo realitatis).
All true negations are nothing but limitations [Einschrankungen]a title
which would be inapplicable, were they not thus based upon the unlimited,
that is, upon "the All" (A575/B603).

Kant's recognition in the passages above that finite things are conceived as mere
("nothing but") limitations of the 'All' is telling. A prevailing objection to Spinozism
which was famous in Kant's time and put forward by both Wolff and Mendelssohn
unfairly ridiculed Spinoza's conception of substance as an unconditioned totality which is
produced as a suman aggregate of separate finite parts. They mistakenly argued, to use
Wolffs language, that Spinoza thinks of modes as Theile in dem Ganzemparts in the
whole.54 Of course, Spinoza doesn't make this mistake: he holds that substance is
ontologically prior to its 'parts', which are nothing but mere limitations (substance is

Mendelssohn writes:
[Wolff] proved that Spinoza believed that it is possible to produce, by combining together
an infinite stock of finite qualities, an infinite [thing]; and then he proved the falsity of this
belief so clearly, that I'm quite convinced that Spinoza himself would have applauded him.
(M. Mendelssohn: "Dialogues," in trans. D. Dahlstrom Philosophical Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997) especially p. 96-105.)

60

ontologically simple). Thus, by insisting that the ideal's parts are contained within it as
mere limitations Kant closes off the possible Wolffian objection, remaining thereby
faithful to a genuine Spinozist conception. He repeats the same point later, as he
emphasizes that the 'All' contains all possibilities "as their ground, not as their sum"
(A579/B607).
Allison comments on this passage that Kant's "prime concern was to avoid the
Spinozistic implications of the identification of God with the sum total of reality."
Ward similarly argues that Kant's claim that the ideal is the ground but not the sum of all
possibilities reflects an attempt to dissociate himself from Spinoza. More recently,
Franks writes: "it is true that Kant talks at first of the omnitudo realitatis as if it were
identical with the ens realissimum, which might suggest a Spinozist construal. But Kant
explicitly revises his formulation, indicating that the omnitudo realitatis is grounded in
God, so that God is not to be identified with the sum-total of all reality." As evidence that
Kant revises his formulation Franks brings the same passage discussed by Allison and
Ward: "the supreme reality must condition the possibility of all things as their ground,
not of their sum" (A579/B607).57 Now while all three and especially Franks correctly
sense Spinoza's relevant here, they seem to me to misinterpret Kant's 'All' andin this
context perhaps not less significantlySpinoza's. Far from dissociating himself (or
"revising his formulation") Kant makes sure to remain faithful to a genuine Spinozist
conception. (Certainly, had Kant written that the 'All' is the sum of reality he wouldn't

'Kant's Transcendental Idealism, p. 403f.


"'Spinozism and Kant's Transcendental Ideal," Idealistic Studies 2002, 32, p. 229.
'Franks, All or Nothing, 96f.

61

have been a Spinozistnot a good one.)

Significantly, when Kant classifies the kinds

of Pantheism in the Lectures on Metaphysics he marks Spinozism precisely as that kind


in which God is the ground rather than the 'aggregate' of all things:

Pantheism still has Spinozism as a special kind... I can say, everything is


God, and this is the system of Spinozism, or I can say the 'All' is God, like
Xenophanes said, and this is Pantheism. Pantheism is either one of inherence,
and this is Spinozism, or one of the aggregates... Spinoza says: the world is
inhering in God as accidents, and so worldly substances are his consequences
[ Wirkungen], and in itself exist only one substance... In Spinozism God is the
ground [Urgrund] of everything that is in the world. In Pantheism he is an
aggregate of everything that is in the world (my emphasis).59

8.

Kant argues in the Beweisgrund that the necessary being whose existence he has

demonstrated has understanding and will. The argument relies on the claim that God, as
the being that possesses all possibilities, also has "the highest reality." The "maximum
possible" realities are inherent in it, Kant writes, and "both understanding and will" are
realities. Therefore, God has these properties.60
At first glance, this line of argument seems to contradict the Spinozist
interpretation I have given. A Spinozistic necessary being (substance) does not seem to
58

This is something that Franks knows well, for he comments on this point precisely when in the very next
pages he points out that Spinoza's God is not a collection of finite beings but a totum analyticumthe
ground of all beings.
59

V-MP-K2/Heinze AA 28:713.

60

BDGAA2:87.

62

be the kind of entity to which the attributes of understanding and will can be conveniently
ascribed. Yet Kant's argument actually supports the Spinozist interpretation of the
Beweisgrund. For Kant is quick to raise doubts regarding the way in which the necessary
being is said to have understanding and will: it must "remain undecided," he writes,
whether "understanding and will" are in fact "determinations" of the necessary being or
are ascribed to it merely as "consequences [Folgen] of it in other things."61 Given the
argument just provided (God has all realities; "understanding and will" are realities;
therefore, God has "understanding and will"), Kant's reservations are telling. They show,
first, that he realizes that the necessary being whose existence he has proven is not easily
considered a person. And more importantly: Kant's reservations indicate once more that
he views consequences as divine properties, inhering in God. Otherwise his claim is
false: it is possible that God has a property x (understanding or will) in virtue of his
consequences having them only if consequences are themselves properties of God.
(Properties of God's "consequences" are transitive to God only if consequences are
themselves God's properties.) Thus, Kant's reservation indicates, once more, that he
views "consequences" as properties of God. The position whose possibility he suggests,
to be sure, is just the Spinozist position, in which God does not have understanding and
will as defining attributes (determinations)and yet God has them in virtue of finite
beings (modes) having them.

IV

61

BDG AA 2:89f..

63

1.

I have argued that Kant's demonstration is committed to Spinozism. Was Kant

aware of this?
Charity makes it difficult to hold that he wasn't. And much textual evidence
supports the impression that indeed he waspassages in which Kant claims that
Spinozism is the "true consequence of dogmatic metaphysics," passages in which he says
that "if transcendental idealism is not adopted, only Spinozism remains"; and passages in
which Kant identifies the Ideal's ens realissimum with Spinoza's substance.
However, the relevance of these passages to Kant's pre-critical writings needs to
be examined, for they were written much later in Kant's career. Kant doesn't explicitly
endorse Spinozism in the Beweisgrund; and he doesn't write that Spinozism is inevitable
in the pre-critical writings or in the Critique of Pure Reason. The first text in which such
a view is expressed is the Critique of Practical Reason (1788). Some scholars, I believe,
would cling to the hypothesis that Kant never took Spinoza seriously before the outbreak
of the Pantheismusstreit in 1785. On that view, Kant's comments on the inevitability of
Spinozism during the late 1780's are spurious, made in the context of the Streit. They
indicate nothing about Kant's thoughts in the pre-critical period or in the first edition of
the Critique of Pure Reason. The upshot of this view would be that even if Kant came to
agree with Jacobi's thesis that "the only philosophy is the philosophy of Spinoza," this
came to him as a genuine discovery. On this account, even if Kant's 1763 demonstration
and 1781 Ideal of Pure Reason are committed to Spinozism, he recognized that this was
the case only much later. From this perspective, given that Kant doesn't explicitly
endorse Spinozism in the Beweisgrund it would be hermeneutically irresponsibleor,
what is worse, Straussianto suggest that he was aware of his Spinozist commitment.

64

My first response is that I think we should care less about Kant's conscious
commitments in 1763. The Beweisgrund is committed to Spinozism, and the Ideal of
Pure Reason to regulative Spinozism. As we have seen, this is something that Kantat
least later in his careerconcedes. And, even if today one may tend to think that the
"inevitability of Spinozism" thesis is something that Kant learned from Jacobi, it is
intriguing that Jacobi actually reports that he learned it from Kant.
Further, it is reasonable to assume that //"Kant was aware of his Spinozist
commitments in 1763, he would remain silent about themeven deny them. And it is
less reasonable to assume that if Kant was aware of his Spinozist commitments, he would
say so out loud. Failing to recognize that some views couldn't be expressed in 1763
Prussia would be historically insensitive. Moreover, even today not many of us
academicsliving in liberal democracieswould publish views that may get us into
trouble with our universities' ethics committees. For Kant the price of explicitly
discussing Spinozism would have been higher.
The fact that Kant speaks of Spinozism only later in his career isn't due to a new
and surprising discovery, learned from Jacobi, that he had been committed to Spinozism
all along (together with, one way or another, all philosophers). It is due to the fact that
now this commitment is no longer as dangerous as it had been. In the critical period, Kant
isn't committed to Spinozism proper but to regulative Spinozism. (Moreover he now
presents his philosophy as the only reply to Spinozism.) And, after the outbreak of the
Pantheismusstreit, Spinozism had become something that could be more openly
discussed. It is worthy of notice that Kant chooses as motto of the Beweisgrund a line
from Lucretius' On the Nature of Things. While that line contains little that is

65

philosophically informative, contemporaneous readers would certainly have asked


themselves why this well-known pantheist poetfamously a favorite of Spinozists like J.
Tolandshould have been Kant's choice.
I mentioned above Kant's claim, in the second Critique, that if transcendental
idealism is denied, "nothing remains but Spinozism, in which space and time are essential
determinations of the original being itself, while the things dependent upon it, ourselves,
therefore, included, are merely accidents inhering in it..." Kant adds to this:

One may say that the dogmatic teachers of metaphysics have shown more
shrewdness than sincerity in keeping this difficult point out of sight as much
as possible, in the hope that if they said nothing about it no one would be
likely to think of it.63

Kant believes that Spinozism's inevitability is a detail that every competent


metaphysician must have seen, nayhas seen but actively concealed. He claims that the
"dogmatic teachers of metaphysics"Leibnizian philosophers like Wolff, Baumgarten
and Mendelssohnhave recognized Spinoza's inevitability but remained silent about it.
Surely Kant didn't fail to remember that he, too, before announcing a philosophical
revolution, was a member of the same club. This comment sheds light on the fact that

Indeed there is at least one passage in the Beweisgrund that seems more poetic, more in the spirit of a
Lucretius: "God is all-sufficient. What exists, whether it be possible or actual, is only something insofar as
it is given by Him. A human language may let the Infinite speak to himself thus, 'I am from eternity to
eternity, besides me there is nothing, something is but only insofar as it is through me.'' This thought, the
most sublime of any, is yet much neglected" (BDG AA 2:151; my emphases).
63
KpVAA 5:103

66

Kant doesn't mention Spinozism in 1763, despite being committed to it. It also sheds
light on the fact that Spinoza's name doesn't appear in the Critique of Pure Reason.

V
1.

Whatever Kant's conscious commitments in 1763 might have been, it is his 1781

commitments that are of interest when it comes to the critical philosophy. Is the critical
Kant committed to Spinozism? What is the nature of this commitment? The Critique, it is
well known, excludes demonstrative knowledge of God's existence. In the Ideal of Pure
Reason Kant systematically rejects all demonstrations prevalent in his time: he refutes the
ontological argument by claiming that existence is not a real predicate and, building on
that refutation, rejects the cosmological and the physico-theological arguments. This is
puzzling, however. The proof that Kant himself had presented in 1763 as the "only
possible" one goes unmentioned in the Critiqueunmentioned even as he now discusses
and refutes the three and, he claims, only, possible demonstrations. One would think that
Kant should first and foremost refute his own demonstration, but such a refutation is
never providedat least not directly.

2.

In fact, the Ideal of Pure Reason does not merely fail to address the 1763

demonstration. Albeit with some changes, it adopts its main argument. The regulative
ideal of reason, which provides and contains the "supreme and complete material

64

This puzzlement is repeatedly expressed in the literature. Wood presents an exception to this. He finds
Kant's demonstration weak to begin with and, accordingly, doesn't think it surprising that Kant doesn't
confront it in the Critique. This relies on Wood's claim that Kant irresponsibly moves from the proposition
that 'necessarily, something exists' to 'there is a being that exists necessarily.' However, I suggested above
a defense of that move, consisting of a defense of D6. We will see below that whereas D6 is defensible, it is
indeed the premise that Kant came to criticize and, accordingly, to reject the proof.

67

condition of the possibility of all that exists," bears the metaphysical structure of the deity
whose existence Kant pledged to prove in 1763. This fact, which has been noted by a
number of scholars, comes forth most clearly in Kant's account of "complete
determination":65

This principle [of complete determination] does not rest merely on the law
of contradiction; for, besides considering each thing in its relation to the two
contradictory predicates, it also considers it in its relation to the totality of
all possibilities, that is, to the totality of all predicates of a thing.
Presupposing this sum as being an a-priori condition, it proceeds to
represent everything as deriving its own possibility from the share which it
possesses in the sum of all possibilities. The principle of complete
determination concerns, therefore, the content, and not merely the logical
form. It is the principle of the synthesis of all predicates which are intended
to constitute the complete concept of a thing, and not simply a principle of
analytic representation in reference merely to one of two contradictory
predicates. It contains a transcendental presupposition, namely, that of the
material of all possibility, which in turn is regarded as containing a-priori
the data for the particular possibility of each and every thing (A5723/B600-1; emphasis added; translation slightly modified).

65

See for example Fisher and Watkins, "Kant on the Material Ground of Possibility: From the Only
Possible Argument to the Critique of Pure Reason," p. 369-397; as well as Adams and Wood (above).

68

Kant is still committed to Dl, granting that possibility depends on a material element (the
predicates, the data, which participate in an essence). He is still committed to D6: the
ideal contains the material data of all possibility. Lastly, Kant is still committed to D6's
implications which, here, in the Critique, he states more clearly than in the Beweisgrund.
The ideal contains (enthdlt) "a-priori the data for the particular possibility of each and
every thing."
These principles, together with D4 ('necessarily, something is possible'),
sustained in 1763 the conclusion that the 'ground of all possibility' necessarily exists.
The Critique accepts the same principles but rejects the proof-status of the conclusion: it
grants the notion of a necessary being that provides the "material data" of all possibilities;
and it identifies that being as a metaphysical God, the ens realissimum; but it considers
that being as a mere thought entity, a regulative ideal:

The concept of what thus possesses all reality is just the concept of a thing in
itself as completely determined; and since in all possible [pairs of]
contradictory predicates one predicate, namely, that which belongs to being
absolutely, is to be found in its determination, the concept of an ens
realissimum is the concept of an individual being. It is therefore a
transcendental ideal which serves as the basis for the complete determination
that necessarily belongs to all that exists. This ideal is the supreme and
complete material condition of the possibility of all that exists - the condition
to which all thought of objects, so far as their content is concerned, has to be
traced back (A576/B604).

69

3.

Two questions come to mind. First, if Kant still accepts the principles

demonstrating God's existence, on what grounds does he reject their conclusion? Why
does the Critique recognize the "ultimate ground of possibility" as a regulative notion,
not a constitutive principle? Second, assuming that Kant's demonstration is legitimately
transformed into a regulative ideal, how significant is the difference between Kant's precritical Spinozism and his critical regulative Spinozism? Is Kant's defense of freedom,
faith and morality affected by this commitment to Spinozism? I do not think it is, but I
will have occasion to address this question elsewhere. Let us consider the first question.
Kant's rejection of the demonstrative knowledge achieved in the Beweisgrund
could rely on his new, critical perspective: the critical Kant no longer thinks that what
human beings can or cannot conceive generates existential claims. The analysis of the
"possibility of possibility," on which he relies in the pre-critical demonstration, may
determine only what finite discursive thinkers must assume as existing, not what actually
exists. As W. Rod points out, the critical Kant views the modal notions of'possibility',
'actuality' and 'necessity' as subjective categories. They describe the relation of objects
to the faculties of the mind, and do not correspond to independently existing relations.
Therefore, such principles as D4 ('necessarily, something is possible') must undergo a
subjective interpretation, rendering the ideal a regulative principle, not an existing
entity.66
Fisher and Watkins have argued against this solution. They point out that the
notions of possibility, actuality and necessity employed in the Critique are not restricted
to the critical subjective meaning; they are used also in their broader, traditional sense.
66

R6d: "Existenz als Absolute Position," pp. 67-81

70

For example, Kant famously conceives of the "possibility of an object in general," which
would seem to imply a wider notion of possibility than the merely subjective one. Indeed,
if Kant is committed to such general notions, he has no reason for rejecting his precritical demonstration. Fisher and Watkins conclude that the early demonstration may
still commit Kant, also in the critical period, to a constitutive principle. It should be
noted that, if this is so, Kant is committed not merely to theoretical knowledge of God's
existence but to Spinozism.
However, Kant does provide, if only in passing, his reason for rejecting his precritical demonstration. He writes that reason has come to "regard all possibility of things
as derived from one single fundamental possibility" because of an "illusion" which is,
nevertheless, "natural" to reason (A581/B609). Hence, Kant's reason for rejecting the
proof-status of the pre-critical demonstration has to do with his doctrine of transcendental
CO

illusion. More specifically, Kant has come to regard D6the claim that all possibility is
grounded in a single beingas a result of transcendental illusion. It is the giving up of
D6 that justifies the transformation of the proof into a regulative ideal. Let us examine the
doctrine of transcendental illusion in more detail.

"' Fisher and Watkins: "Kant on the Material Ground of Possibility," p. 388-395
Kant's reliance on the Critique's doctrine of illusion also clarifies his claim, in his lectures on religion,
that "[the demonstration] can in no way be refuted, because it has its basis in the nature of human reason.
For my reason makes it absolutely necessary for me to accept a being which is the ground of everything
possible, because otherwise I would be unable to conceive what in general the possibility of something
consists in" (28:1034). The Critique's doctrine of illusion, considered below, shows how a demonstration
that cannot be refuteda demonstration which is "absolutely necessary" due to the "nature of human
reason"is, nevertheless, rejected. For a detailed discussion of the inevitability of the illusion, see M.
Grier's discussion in Kant's Doctrine of Illusion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 10130.

71

4.

Kant's doctrine of illusion consists of his analysis of two rational principles

principles that, he argues, cause the illusions and misunderstandings that entrap
metaphysical thought. Recent Kant literature sometimes refers to these principles as PI
and P2.69 I retain these signs here but add that it is often overlooked that PI and P2 are
but formulations of the PSRa subjective and an objective formulation, respectively:

P1:

Find for the conditioned knowledge given through the understanding the
unconditioned whereby its unity is brought to completion. (A308/B364)

P2:

If the conditioned is given, the whole series of conditions, subordinated to one


anothera series which is therefore itself unconditionedis likewise given,
that is, is contained in the object and its connection. (A307/B 364)

PI prescribes a task: to look for the unconditioned element of knowledge that


grounds conditioned elements of knowledge. The conditioned elements are conceived
as parts of a regressive seriesa series such as that of past events in time, causes of
change in the world, or grounds of existence. That principle describes reason's
instinctive theoretical endeavor to search for ultimate knowledge. (Kantians
commonly refer to it as reason's effort to secure a "systematic unity of thought"
[A305-6/B364], i.e., to unify concepts of the understanding [e.g. natural laws] under
ultimate universal principles.) Kant stresses that PI is subjective: it implies an
interest of reason but does not entail synthetic propositions regarding the existence of

This is following M. Grier's analysis in Kant's Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion.

72

objects (specifically, it does not make a claim about the existence of an


unconditioned object). In a less Kantian fashion we may say that PI is subjective
because it asserts a fact about reason (its aspiration to arrive at ultimate knowledge)
but doesn't assert a positive fact about the world.
PI is the PSR formulated subjectively because it describes reason's desire to
find an ultimate explanation for everything (to eliminate brute facts).
P2 has the same content as PI but it asserts that content objectively rather than
subjectively. It does not state a fact about reason but about the world. If a conditioned
element of knowledge is given, the entire series of its conditions is likewise given
(exists). Moreover, it states that that series of conditions itself exists unconditionally. Had
its existence depended on some further condition, the said ultimate knowledge would not
be genuinely ultimate but would require further explanation.
P2 is the PSR formulated objectively because the claim that there are no brute
factsthat everything has a full explanationasserts that there is an explanation for
everything. This amounts to asserting that an unconditioned being exists: if such a being
didn't exist there would be at least one inexplicable fact (namely, the fact that anything
exists at all; arguably, this would render all facts inexplicable). P2 thus represents the
move from reason's operative task, expressed in PI ('eliminate brute facts, find ultimate
explanation') to an existential claim ('there are no brute facts; reason's effort is not in
vain').
According to Kant, metaphysicians affirm and assume the truth of P2 because
they are naturally (and legitimately) driven by PL Given PI, P2 appears to be inevitable
and justified: if reason naturally impels us to search for an unconditioned element of

73

knowledge, it is rational to think that such an entity is there to be found, that it exists. In
fact, Kant would grant even more: he would agree that P2 is a necessary working
assumption for anybody engaging in theoretical philosophy; for it wouldn't make sense to
strive to find the ultimate explanation for everything without believing that everything
can be, at least in principle, ultimately explained.
However, appealing (and psychologically necessary) as that working hypothesis
may be, metaphysicians fall prey to an illusion if they are tempted to believe that they
know that there is an ultimate explanation (i.e. that P2 is true). For the transition from PI
to P2 is unjustified and in principle, or so Kant argues, cannot be justified. First, this
transition cannot be accounted for analytically, because the concept 'conditioned'
conceptually contains only 'having a condition'not 'depending on an unconditioned'
(we may analyze as much as we can the concept 'conditioned', it will never turn out to
have 'unconditioned' entity as one of its components; it is only a tautology that it has one
or more 'conditions'). Moreover, P2 is an existential claim and, as such, at least
according to Kant, must be justified syntheticallyit needs to be verified by experience.
Experiencing an unconditioned entity, however, is impossible. An unconditioned entity
cannot be experienced through the mediating conditions of experience which depend on
space, time and causality.

Take the principle, that the series of conditions (whether in the synthesis of
appearances, or even in the thinking of things in general) extends to the
unconditioned. Does it or does it not have objective applicability? What are its

"Again, see Grier's discussion of the inevitability and the necessity of transcendental illusion in Kant's
Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion, p. 101-30.

74

implications as regards the empirical employment of the understanding? Or is


there no such objectively valid principle of reason, but only a logical precept, to
advance toward completeness by an ascent to ever higher conditions and so to
give to our knowledge the greatest possible unity of reason? Can it be that this
requirement of reason has been wrongly treated in being viewed as a
transcendental principle of pure reason, and that we have been overhasty in
postulating such an unbounded completeness in the series of conditions in the
objects themselves? (A309/B366)

One way to understand P2's illusory nature is to compare Kant's doctrine of


illusion to Descartes' reliance, in the Meditations, on the claim that God is not a deceiver.
If reason naturally commands me to search for an unconditioned element of knowledge
(PI) but that element doesn't exist (so that P2 is false) God would be (for Descartes) a
deceiver. Thus, Kant's claim that we may operate on the basis of PI but may not assume
that P2 is true is equivalent to refusing to assert, with Descartes, that we know that God is
not a deceiver. (In fact, insofar as the illusion that P2 is known to be true is itself natural
to reason, Kant comes close to affirming that God is.a deceiver. Moreover, other and
related arguments in the Critique's Dialectic bring Kant even closer to blasphemy; he
claims that reason generates, by means of the P2, clear and distinct illusions. The
Cogitoi.e., the perception of the I as a thinking substanceis itself one of them.)
Still, Kant leaves room for God's benevolenceand in a true Cartesian fashion
by arguing that reason is capable of detecting its own illusions. And, despite the fact that
detecting these illusions doesn't make them disappearfor they are natural and

75

necessary (see A297f/B354f)it does prevent the erroneous metaphysical judgments that
they cause. Indeed, the Critique'' s Dialectic is supposed to have just this curative
function: by "exposing the illusion ... [it] takes precautions that we be not deceived by it"
(A298/B355).
In the Antinomies, Kant tries to show that P2 is not only unjustified but also false,
by arguing that it forces reason into proven contradictions. That part of his argument is
less relevant here; for present purposes, Kant's insistence that P2's (or the PSR's) status
is problematic is sufficient: given that that principle has grounded the pre-critical
demonstration all along (in D3-6), the demonstration loses its force if the principle cannot
be known to be valid. Let us spell out the ways in which the pre-critical demonstration
assumes P2 (i.e. the PSR).
Consider first D3 ('possibility is grounded in something existing'; i.e. if
something is possible, something exists). Assume that something is possible (say, the
concept 'man'). That possibility depends (i.e. is conditioned) on further conditionsthe
material conditions of that possibility, predicates that participate in that concept's
definition (say, 'rational', 'animal'). These predicates, in turn, depend on other
predicatesfurther material conditions of their possibility (say, 'animal' depends on
'body', which in turn depends on 'extension'). So far along the argument, we are at D2
('essences depend on the material conditions of their possibility') and operate on PI: we
persistently search for the conditions of conditioned possibilities. However, once we
move from D2 to D3from assuming that each conditioned possibility has its conditions
to assuming that its ultimate condition (hence an unconditioned condition) existswe
slip from PI to P2. For we don't assume merely that we can always search for further

76

conditions, but that once the conditioned is given, an unconditioned exists. But that
assumption, Kant had argued, can be accepted only dogmatically. It can be justified
neither by conceptual analysis (analytically) nor by experience.71
Kant does not seem to have exactly that analysis in mind when dismissing the precritical demonstration (or, what is the same, when he grants the ideal regulative but not
constitutive status). He writes that reason, "regards all possibility of things as derived
from one single fundamental possibility" because of a "natural illusion"thus, he refers
to D6 as the demonstration's illusory element. In order to see why D6 results from P2, the
analysis provided above for D3 needs to be applied to relations. Given any relation
between two possibilities (or concepts), the condition of that relation must be given,
tooa third entity (or concept) capable of grounding the relation. Moreover, driven by
the PSR, one would demand that all relations and inter-relations have their conditions.
Furthermore, one may claim that (/"all relations and inter-relations are grounded, a single
entity must be the ground of them all. (Again: if two or more entities grounded these
relations, the relations between these entities would have to be grounded, too, by another

It is fortunate that Kant has a tenable rejection of his own Spinozist argument, for at least at one instance
in which he criticizes Spinoza's conception of substance he is clearly unsuccessful. In Lectures on
Philosophical Theology he writes that "If only a single substance exists, then either I must be this
substance, and consequently I must be God (but this contradicts my dependency); or else I am an accident
(but this contradicts the concept of my ego, in which I think myself as an ultimate subject which is not the
predicate of any other being)." (A. Wood's translation, Lectures on Philosophical Theology [Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1978] p. 86 [28: 1052].) And similarly: "when I think, I am conscious of that my
ego thinks in me, and not inhere in another thing external to me, but inheres in myself. Consequently I
conclude that I am a substance, that is, that I exist for myself and am not a predicate of any other thing...
But if I myself am a substance, then I must be God himself or God is a substance different from me, and
consequently different from the world" (Wood's translation, p. 75. [28:1041-2]). The main problem with
this line of argument is that it is inconsistent with Kant's critical position about the nature of (and our
knowledge of) the soul. The above claims, made well into the critical period, are inconsistent with the
conclusion of the Paralogisms that show precisely that the soul cannot be recognized as a substance. (Noted
also by Ameriks, see "The Critique of Metaphysics," p. 269.) In chapter two I begin to elaborate what I
take to be a version of this criticism of Spinoza which could be consistent with the Paralogisms. I will
suggest to draw on the experience of the sublime as an experience of our own independence and freedom.

77

entity and so on ad infinitum. But then, not all relations would be grounded.) So far along
the argument we proceed on PI. However, once we move from the demand that all
relations be groundedand from determining the necessary conditions under which all
relations can be groundedto the claim that all relations are grounded, we operate under
the spell of P2. For we do not claim merely that all relations need to be grounded
according to our rational principles, or that if all relations are grounded then they are
grounded by a single entity. Rather, we assert that all relations are so grounded. But this,
Kant argues, we haven't justified, and cannot know.
Understanding Kant's rejection of the demonstration in terms of the doctrine of
transcendental illusion sheds much light on his position. That doctrine ensures that Kant
has defensible grounds for denying the pre-critical demonstration; and it explains why,
despite the fact that the demonstration is rejected, it is not given up altogether. Whereas
P2 illegitimately compels us to assert the existence of an unconditioned being, PI shows
why we cannot but assume the existence of such a being. It also shows how we must
conceive of its metaphysical structure.
Kant, in other words, is committed to regulative Spinozism. The Critique's ideal,
which isn't taken anymore as an entity whose existence has been proven but as an idea
that can direct our theoretical reasoning, has a structure resembling Spinoza's substance.
It must be conceived as the stock of material possibility, in which all existing things
inhere: "it is not merely a concept which, as regards its transcendental content,
comprehends all predicates under itself, it also contains them within itself, and the
complete determination of any and every thing rests on this All of Reality [dieses All der
Realitat]" (A577- B605; emphasis added). All finite beings are conceived as "nothing but

78

limitations" of the 'All' (A575/B603). As Kant wrote in 1793, this metaphysical God is
conceived as "one with the world (despite all protestations against Spinozism), as the
79

totality of all existing things." The difference between Spinozism, which the critical
Kant certainly rejects, and regulative Spinozism, to which the critical Kant seems to be
committed, is that the latter doesn't pretend to know or be able to prove that the
metaphysical Godthe realissimumexists. The critical Kant seems to think of the
mistake involved in concluding the realissimum's actual existence from its concept as
one of anthropomorphism:
Metaphysical bonum is what has reality. God, seen as the metaphysical
summum bonum, is the matter of all possibility. In our imagination [of that
being] there is always something anthropomorphic, and it directly approaches
-71

Spinozism.

We have seen that passages like this do not introduce a genuinely novel conception.
The view that possibilities inhere in the deity, as limitations, was present just as much in
the Ideal and in the Beweisgrund (albeit in a constitutive, what Kant calls
'anthropomorphic' manner, in the latter). It may be that Kant can be more explicit about
the Spinozist structure of the most real being only now because now he isn't committed
to Spinozism but to regulative Spinozism; because he is now presenting his view as a
responsethe only oneto Spinozism; and because what has been politically dangerous
72

M M 20:302

73

V-MP-K2/Heinze AA 28:20 (my translation). By anthropomorphic Kant seems to think not of imagining
God in human body, but of dogmatically assuming that our conceptions are veridical regarding things-inthemselves.

79

in 1763 and 1781 has become by 1793eight years after Jacobi's Uber die Lehre des
Spinozaalmost Kosher.

5.

Scholars commonly assume that Kant was virtually uninterested in Spinoza. For

that reason, reflection on the connection between Kant's thought and Spinoza's has been
almost completely neglected. In 1901, F. Heman wrote: "Kant's relation to Spinoza has
never been clarified. Neither has it been determined what Kant thought of Spinoza's
philosophy, nor how their systems relate to one another. Not even once was it decided
how far and how precisely Kant was familiar and acquainted with Spinoza's writings. All
these questions still demand definitive treatment."74
More than a hundred years later, it is safe to say that the same questions still call
for an answer. Perhaps we now see an answer's beginning. Let us move to examine the
Antinomies of Pure Reason.

74

F. Heman: "Kant und Spinoza," Kant-Studien 1901, 5, p. 273-339 (my translation).

80

The First Antinomy and Spinoza

Kant argues in Refl 6050 that "Spinozism is the true consequence of dogmatic
metaphysics." In the Critique of Practical Reason he similarly claims that if transcendental
idealism is denied, "nothing remains but Spinozism, in which space and time are essential
determinations of the original being itself." In Lectures on Metaphysics Kant pronounces:
"if space is taken to be a thing in itself, Spinozism is irrefutablethat is, the parts of the
world are parts of the Deity, space is God."3 And yet again: "Those who take space as a thing
in itself or as a property of things are forced to be Spinozists, i.e., they take the world as the
embodiment [Inbegrijf] of determinations from one necessary substance." Scholars may
quarrel over whether Kant held that Spinozism is the most consistent form of transcendental
realism also when constructing the Antinomies, in the Critique of Pure Reason. Most
certainly assume that he did not. The fact remains that if the Antinomies fail to address and
rebut the most consistent form of transcendental realism, they fall short of sustaining Kant's
aspirations. That is, Spinoza's position may escape refutation and, thereby, resolve the
antinomial conflict.

Refl. AA 18:436.

KpVAA5:102.

ML2 AA 28:567.

V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt AA 29: 132.

This chapter has three parts. In the first, I consider Kant's first antinomy, arguing that it
does not fail to address a Spinozist position. The metaphysical stance articulated by the
Antithesis reflects a Spinozistic position regarding the world's infinity and eternitynot a
Leibnizian position, as is often assumed. In the second part, I raise what I take to be the chief
Spinozist challenge to the antinomy, namely Spinoza's reliance on a cosmological totum
analyticum, in which an infinite whole is conceived as ontologically prior to its 'parts'. We
will see that Kant and Spinoza's disagreement on the cosmological totum analyticum leads
directly to the fundamental clash between their positions; and that, if granted, Spinoza's
position may endanger the antinomy's (specifically, the Thesis') refutation.5 In the
concluding part of the chapter I suggest a beginning of an answer to Spinoza's challenge.
This defense, however, cannot be concluded before we discuss Kant's refutation of the
ontological argument, in chapter four.

I
1.

Several attempts have been made in the literature to identify the Antinomies'

historical sources. S. Al Azm's The Historical Origins of Kant's Antinomies, which traces
the antinomial debate back to the Leibniz-Clark controversy, remains highly influential.6 On

A similar challenge has been raised by P. Franks but to the third antinomy. (See P. Franks and S. Gardner:
"From Kant to Post-Kantian Idealism," in Aristotelian Society Supplementary, 2002 [76], p. 229^16.)
Franks does not sugest, however, that Kant had Spinoza's position in mind; and he does not undertake an
attempt to defend Kant's position with Spinoza's. I interact with Franks regarding the third antinomy in
chapter three.
6

S. Al Azm, The Origins of Kant's Arguments in the Antinomies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).
Interpreters in the English-speaking tradition sometimes overlook that Al Azm is not the first to draw on the
Leibniz-Clark connection. E. Cassirer and G. Martin did so earlier, among others. (For a thorough discussion,
see L. Kreimendahl, KantDer Durchbruch von 1769 (Koln: Dinter, 1990), p. 156-85. Nevertheless, Al Azm's
interpretation is the most comprehensive in this respect. H. Heimsoeth provides a much more general account
of the historical influences on Kant's Antinomies, drawing extensively on Ancient and Medieval sources as
well. (For the first antinomy see especially H. Heimsoeth: "Zeitliche Weltunendlichkeit und das Problem des
Anfangs," Kantstudien ergdmzungshefte 1961, 82, p. 269-92.

80

that reading, whereas the Thesis corresponds to Clark's Newtonian positionassuming


space and time as 'empty containers'the Antithesis corresponds to Leibniz's position,
which denies empty containers with an argument from the PSR.7 Other attempts to trace the
Antinomies' historical origins sometimes associate the Platonic-theistic Leibniz-Tradition
not with the Antithesis, but with the Thesis. Indeed similarly to the Thesis Leibniz grants a
theory of creation (as well as freedom, which is relevant in the case of the third antinomy)
the very position that the Antithesis denies.
Such discrepancy in the secondary literature is puzzling. Given the Antinomies'
unequivocal cosmological statements, one could expect to meet a consensus. How can
contradictory metaphysical positions ("there is a beginning of the world"; "there is none") be
ascribed to Leibniz?9 Confusion is increased by the fact that both lines of interpretation
seem, at first glance, persuasive. In view of Leibniz's PSR-based critique of Newtonian
empty containers, Al Azm's identification of the Antithesis as Leibnizian seems conclusive.
Yet just as conclusive is the observation that Leibniz does not deny, but affirms, the creation
of the world. Moreover, he rejects the world's infinitywhich is affirmed by the

Al Azm, The Origins of Kant's Arguments in the Antinomies, p. 1-42.


See for example W. Walsh, Kant's Criticism of Metaphysics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 1975)
p. 198; Grier comments on this more recently in M. Grier, Kant's Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 182.
One could perhaps doubt the relevance of any actual historical positionwhy need the Antinomies
correspond to actual historical sources at all? The answer is that Kant has a somewhat historicalalbeit
pre-Hegelianconception of Reason's development (for a recent discussion of that position, see
Longuenesse, B. and D. Garber, Kant and the Early Moderns [Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2007], p. 1-3). In order to argue that Reason necessarily leads to contradictions, Kant needs to be able to
show that the Antinomies, which he constructs abstractly, can be mapped onto actual (historical)
positionsi.e., have actually confused metaphysical thought. Note in any event that Kant does identify the
theses and antitheses with originating historical fathersPlato and Epicurus, respectively. (It will become
clear below that Kant sees Spinoza's metaphysical position as the more-recent and more-consistent
embodiment of Epicurus' position.)

81

Antithesisand reserves infinity exclusively for God. Here I shall argue that this confusion
is due to the questionable supposition that the Antithesis reconstructs a Leibnizian position.
Despite the fact that the Antithesis' PSR-argument is reminiscent of Leibnizian principles,
the position derived from it is not Leibnizian but Spinozist. Let us consider the first antinomy
in more detail.

2.

The first antinomy debates the world's beginning in space and time. The Thesis states

that the world has a beginning in time and space: "The world has a beginning in time, and is
also limited as regards space" (A427/B455). Its proof can be outlined as follows:11

Thesis: Prove: The world has a beginning.


1. Assume (for the sake of a reductio) the Antithesis: the world has no beginning; it is
infinite.
2. It follows that up to any given moment, an eternity has elapsed.
3. This means that an infinite number of successive changes (successive events) has
actually taken place. That is, an infinite series has been completed.
4. However, the concept of infinity ("Unendlichkeit") is just that which cannot be
completed through a successive synthesis ("sukzessive Synthesis").
5. The notion that an infinite number of worldly events has passed, therefore, is
contradictory.

10

The infinite/indefinite distinction is more often associated with Descartes than with Leibniz. Moreover,
Leibniz is remembered as affirming an infinity (not an indefinite number) of monads. However, while he uses
the infinite/indefinite terminological distinction less carefully than Descartes, Leibniz, too, explicitly rejects the
world's infinity and reserves it exclusively for die absolutethat is, for God. Leibniz's understanding of the
infinite/indefinite distinction is discussed in detail below.
" Here I focus on Kant's argument regarding time, which can be applied almost interchangeably to space.

82

6. Therefore, there is a beginning of the world in time, a first event.

The third and fourth steps establish the core of the argument. Step three states that if the
world has no beginning, then an infinite number of eventshappenings in the worldhas
taken place, i.e. that an infinite series of events has been completed. Step four argues that this
is impossible since an infinite series is just that which cannot be completed. The Thesis'
proof, then, relies on the claim that the notion of complete infinity is inconsistent.
Al Azm associates the Thesis with Newton's position, as expressed in Clark's
controversy with Leibniz. "The ideas expressed in the thesis," he writes, "are straightforward
statements of the Newtonian position as it was expounded and defended in his letters to
Leibniz. In fact, the observation on the first antinomy leaves little doubt that the thesis is
meant to state the Newtonian point of view."12 As Al Azm points out, Kant observes that the
Thesis is committed to viewing space and time as pre-given, 'empty containers'that is, to
the idea of time existing prior to the world and space extending beyond it (A430-34/B45863). This is indeed Newton's conception of which Kant, of course, is well aware. Al Azm's
claim seems conclusive.

3.

The Antithesis states that the world has no beginning and is infinite: "The world has

no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space"
(A427/B455). Its proof can be outlined as follows:

Antithesis: Prove: The world is infinite

Al Azm, The Origins of Kant's Arguments in the Antinomies, p. 9.

83

1.

Assume (for the sake of a reductid) the Thesis: the world has a beginning in
time.

2.

The concept of beginning presupposes a preceding time in which the thing


that comes into being does not yet exist.

3.

Therefore, the concept of beginning presupposes an empty, pre-given time.

4.

However, it is impossible for anything to come into being in empty time. For
no part of such a time (empty) has any distinguishing condition
("unterscheidende Bedingung") of its existence rather than its non-existence.

5.

Therefore, the world itself cannot have a beginning in time.

6.

Therefore, the world is infinite with respect to time.

The fourth step establishes the Antithesis' argument. It states the impossibility of coming
into being in empty time (or space), on the grounds that "no part of such a [empty] time [or
space]... has any distinguishing condition of its existence rather than its non-existence." As
mentioned, Al Azm claims that this argument is best understood as Leibniz's refutation of
Newton's empty containers by the PSR. In such empty containers, there would be no reason
for God to position an event in a specific place, or create it as the world's first. Consider the
following passage, quoted by Al Azm from Leibniz:
(supposing space to be something in itself, besides the order of bodies among
themselves): 'tis impossible that there should be a reason, why God,
preserving the same situations of bodies among themselves, should have
placed them in space after one certain particular manner, and not otherwise;

84

why everything was not placed the quite contrary way, for instance, by
changing East into West.13

Leibniz does not speak of the creation of the world in this passage, but he draws on the PSR
in rejecting the possibility of empty containers. Precisely the same logic is applied in the
Antithesis' fourth, crucial step.

4. Note, however, that the Antithesis is committed to two propositions, not only one. It
denies a beginning of the world in (empty) time and space, and it states that the world is
infinite. The two propositions are not equivalent. A rejection of the world's beginning does
not necessarily entail its infinity. Descartes, for example, distinguished between the
"indefinite" and the "infinite", ascribing the first to the world and reserving the second
exclusively for God. Crucially, Leibniz, too, preserves the infinite/indefinite distinction:
despite rejecting Newtonian empty containers he does not affirm, but denies, that the world
is positively infinite. According to Leibniz, the existence of infinite wholes contradicts the
whole-part axiom, which states that a whole must be larger than its part. If it existed, an
infinite whole would admit to having an infinite part that were just as large as the whole
itself (both being infinite). "It would be a mistake", writes Leibniz in the New Essays, "to try
to suppose an absolute space which is an infinite whole made up of parts. There is no such
thing: it is a notion which implies a contradiction." And he continues: "the true infinite,
strictly speaking, is only in the absolute [God], which precedes all composition."14

The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1956), Third Letter.
G. W. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1981), p.
157f.

14

85

This line of reasoning brings Leibniz to maintain the Cartesian infinite/indefinite


distinction also regarding the 'size' of the world:

Descartes and his followers, in making the world out to be indefinite so that we
cannot conceive of any end to it, have said that matter has no limits. They have
some reason for replacing the term 'infinite' by 'indefinite', for there is never
an infinite whole in the world, though there are always wholes greater than
others ad infinitum. As I have shown elsewhere, the universe itself cannot be
considered to be a whole.15

Modern readers are sometimes unfamiliar with the Early Modern infinite/indefinite
distinction, so let us introduce it as the following:

1. The indefinite: conceived as the negation of the finite. This conception consists in the
unceasing potential to add, for any given magnitude, an additional unit. This
conception therefore has no actual size and is not a conception of an actual infinite
measure.
2. The infinite: conceived as an actual infinity, the absolute, or the biggest possible
actual measure.

l5

Leibniz, New Essays, p. 151. Indeed Leibniz is not as consistent as Descartes in distinguishing between the
terms infinite and indefinite; yet he does not consider the universe to be a completed wholethat is, he
considers it to be indefinite and not infinite. Hence, even when speaking of an 'infinity' of monads, the
implication is an endless number of monads (hence, indefinite number) but not a completed infinity, which, as
the passages above make clear, Leibniz strictly denies. On Leibniz's infinite/indefinite distinction see O.
Bradley-Bassler, "Leibniz on the Indefinite as Infinite," The Review of Metaphysics 1998 (51)4, p. 849-74; M.
Futch: "Leibniz on the Plenitude, Infinity, and the Eternity of the World," British Journal for the History of
Philosophy 2002 (10) 4, p. 541-60; R. Arthur: "Leibniz on Infinite Number, Infinite Wholes and the Whole
World: a Reply to Brown," The Leibniz Review 11 2001.

86

The world is composed of distinct partsit is a collection of objectsand cannot be


genuinely infinite. (Again, otherwise it would contradict the whole-part axiom.) Hence,
despite rejecting empty containers (similarly to the Antithesis), Leibniz denies the world's
infinity (contrary to the Antithesis). Rather, he affirms its indefiniteness: the world is larger
than any given magnitude but not absolute, or positively infinite. As we have seen, Leibniz,
not unlike Descartes, reserves true infinity exclusively for God, the "absolute", which
"precedes all composition and is not formed by the addition of parts." Because God is
simple, he may be an infinite whole without contradicting the whole-part axiom.
A reader of Leibniz and Wolff, Kant is well aware of the infinite/indefinite
distinction. In the first Critique he explains that whereas in mathematics and geometry the
distinction is an empty "Subtilitat", in metaphysics, when the question concerns the length of
a series ("Fortgange") from something given as "conditioned" to its "conditions", the
distinction has crucial implications (A511-515/B539-543). Of course, the Antinomies debate
a metaphysical matterof the very same character referred to by Kant when speaking of a
series moving from the "conditioned" to its "conditioned". Hence, the fact that the first
antinomy states the world's infinity rather than its indefiniteness is crucial. It indicates that
despite the strong Leibnizian PSR echo in the Antithesis, one ought not too quickly to
identify it as Leibnizian: whereas Leibniz's denial of empty containers leads him to assert the
world's indefiniteness, the Antithesis' denial of such 'containers' leads straight to an
affirmation of the world's infinity.
Here is a fundamental difficulty with Al Azm's otherwise elegant reading and, in a
sense, with Kant's formulation of the first antinomy in general. The antinomy's insistence on

87

the world's infinity seems at first glance anomalous, differing from most acknowledged
metaphysical positions. This is a good moment also to recall the puzzle I alluded to earlier:
due to Leibniz's PSR-rejection of absolute space and time, Al Azm convincingly identifies
the Antithesis as Leibnizian; however, due to Leibniz's acceptance of creation (as well as
freedom), it seems reasonable to identify the Thesisnot the Antithesisas Leibnizian. We
may now have a better understanding of that puzzle: it arises because the Antithesis, despite
providing a Leibnizian argument from the PSR, does not arrive at a Leibnizian position. It
denies the possibility of the world's creation and affirms its infinity and eternity.

5.

This invites a closer consideration of the metaphysical positions articulated in the

Antinomies, especially by the Antithesis. Kant provides important information in the setting
out of the Antinomies:

The unconditioned may be conceived in either of two ways. It may be viewed


as consisting of the entire series in which all the members [Glieder] without
exception are conditioned and only the totality of them is absolutely
unconditioned. This regress is to be entitled infinite. Or alternatively, the
absolutely unconditioned is only a part [Teil\ of the series - a part to which
the other members are subordinated, and which does not itself stand under
any other condition (A 417/B 445).16

Let us call the first conception of the unconditioned Al and the second A2. The former is an
infinitistic conception and the latter a finitistic one. The clash between them generates the
I thank James Kreines for pointing out this passage to me.

88

Antinomies. Al thus maps onto the Antithesis: it consists of an infinite existing series which,
taken in its totality, constitutes an unconditioned whole. Kant explains that it eliminates the
possibility of a transcendent unconditioned (hence the Judeo-Christian deity), creation and
freedom. A2 maps onto the Thesis: it relies on a transcendent unconditioned entity to which
the series is subordinated, and it allows room for creation ("Weltanfang") and freedom
("absolute Selbsttatigkeit") (A 418/B 445-6).
Al strongly suggests Spinozistic substance monism. The infinite series itself,
considered as a totality, may be conceived as Spinoza's unconditioned substance, whereas
the series' conditioned members may be conceived as its modes. Kant's passage makes it
clear that the relation obtaining between the unconditioned entity and the conditioned items
of the series is that of a whole and its 'parts'. (An important qualification to this quasi wholepart relation is that these parts are not true parts but only as limitations of the whole. This is
so because the unconditioned whole cannot possibly be conceived as constituted by its
conditioned partsit is ontologically prior to them. Kant's passage implies this point by
referring to the unconditioned as members [Glieder] of the series but not as parts [Theile] of
the whole; and by suggesting that the members of the whole are in it [in ihr)). Moreover, the
unconditioned series, taken as a whole, is infinite and complete: unlike in Leibniz and
Descartes, substance monism in Spinoza has no need, or room, to deny the unconditioned's
infinity. Spinoza explains his position thus:

[I]t is nonsense, bordering on madness, to hold that extended Substance is


composed of parts or bodies really distinct from one another... Therefore the
whole conglomeration of arguments whereby philosophers commonly strive to

89

prove that extended Substance is finite collapses of its own accord. All such
arguments assume that corporeal Substance is made up of parts.

It is hard to think of any philosopher other than Spinoza who holds a conception so
similar to that portrayed by Kant's conception of the unconditioned. G. Bruno may have
held an analogous pantheistic conception, but Leibniz and Wolff certainly did not. It can be
safely assumed that Kant either has Spinoza in mind, or invents Spinozistic substance
monism independentlyconstruing it as the Antithesis' cosmological conception.
The impression that Kant has Spinoza in mind is strengthened when considering the
structure of the ideal of pure reason. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the latter is a
(regulative) idea of an unconditioned being, conceived in the form of Al: it is the "All of
Reality," encompassing all other conditioned beings as "nothing but limitations (nichts als
Schrankeriy (A575/B603). Kant elsewhere associates this conception of the ideal with
Spinoza's substance:

[This One] contains the material for production of all other possible things, as
the supply of marble does for an infinite multitude of statues, which are
altogether possible only through limitation... In a world fashioned this way
one comes strongly to suspect that this metaphysical God (the realissimum) is

l7

B. Spinoza: "Letter 12," in The Correspondence of Spinoza (London: Allen & Unwin 1966), p. 103. In the
same letter, Spinoza explicitly explains the difference between the absolutely infinite, which 'cannot be
conceived' in any other way, and the merely 'indefinite'.
l8

Heimsoeth suggests Bruno as one source, among others (see Heimsoeth, "Zeitliche Weltunendlichkeit
und das Problem des Anfangs," p. 286.)

90

one with the world (despite all protestations against Spinozism), as the totality
of all existing thing.19

6.

Spinoza's conception of God, as an unconditioned entity expressed by the totality of

its infinite 'parts', was well known to German academics throughout the Eighteenth Century.
This conception was often presented and contrasted with the 'true', transcendent, conception
of the deity, which was pictured along Leibnizian lines and resembles the second
unconditioned conception (i.e. the one mapping onto the Thesis). That contrast is clearly
portrayed by C. Wolffs 'refutation of Spinozism' in the Theologia Naturalis. The book
offers not only a 'refutation' of Spinoza, but also an extremely methodological analysis of
the Ethics. Wolff argues that unlike other metaphysical standpoints, Spinozism is committed
to the world's infinity (since attributes and modes express God's infinite essence), as well as
to a whole-part relation between God and the world (so that the infinite whole is constituted
as the totality of its infinite parts). Granted these two claims, Wolff refutes Spinoza by
adducing the argument that an infinite whole cannot be constructed of an infinite number of
parts. We shall come to evaluate the success (or failure) of that argument below, when
considering some Spinozist objections to the antinomy. For present purposes suffice it to
notice that Wolff presents the contrast between the two conceptions of the unconditioned
(God)the immanent and the transcendent one:

[Spinoza maintained], that bodies and souls, as well as any other conceivable
things, are found in God as parts in the whole (Note to 708): accordingly he
19
FM AA 20:302. Note that Kant later associates the thesis with Plato and the Antithesis with Epicurus
(A471/B499). This is significant, because he elsewhere associates Epicurus and Spinoza's positions and
argues that the latter is more consistent than the former (KU AA 5: 393). More on this below.

91

invents a God that is different from the true God, which has the highest wisdom
and freedom of the willa God who rules this world by his wisdoma God,
finally, to which bodies and souls are real and external, and are not included in
him as parts in the whole
90

(716 emphasis added).

M. Mendelssohn gives the following summary of Wolff s Spinoza-critique in the Dialogues:


[Wolff] proved that Spinoza believed that it is possible to produce, by combining
together an infinite stock of finite qualities, an infinite [thing]; and then he proved
the falsity of this belief so clearly, that I am quite convinced that Spinoza himself
would have applauded him.

7.

Mendelssohn's words provide a good occasion to return to consider the first

antinomy. The Thesis argues that the world is not infinite and, therefore, that it has
beginnings in time and space. Al Azm's interpretation of that position as Newton's
argumentation against a Leibnizian position needs to be rejected for two reasons. First, the
view that the world is not infinite and has a beginning is common to most dogmatic rational
thinkers, including Descartes, Newton and Leibniz. Newton and Leibniz may disagree
regarding the characterization of the world's beginnings, and they certainly disagree
regarding the possibility of empty containers. But they ultimately agree that the world has
20

Translation mine. It is hard to doubt that Kant was familiar with Wolffs Theologia Naturalis before 1781.
(In fact, he may be referring to it, in connection with Spinoza, in the Nachtrage Metaphysik Herder, dated
1762-4 [MNHerder AA 28: 41].)
21

M. Mendelssohn: "Dialogues," in trans. D. Dahlstrom Philosophical Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge


University Press, 1997) especially p. 96-105.

92

beginnings and that it is not infinite. There is only one relevant rationalist thinker who has a
good reason to insist, as does the Antithesis, that the world is positively infinite. Secondly,
Newton's actual line of argumentation against the world's infinity appeals to the definition
of matter in Newtonian physics and, as such, has nothing to do with the argument invoked by
the Thesis. As we have seen, the Thesis' argument relies on the claim that an "infinite
successive synthesis" cannot be completed (see above). This reflects (in fact, relies on)
Wolff and Mendelssohn's reading of Spinoza's infinite as an infinitenot indefinite
whole, which is composed as a collection of parts; and more importantly, it invokes the same
reasoning in refuting that conception: an infinite entity cannot be composed by combining
("zusammensetzen") an infinite number of finite entities. In other words, the Thesis does not
only criticize a Spinozist infinitistic position, as understood by Wolff and Mendelssohn: it
also invokes a characteristically Wolffian argument against Spinoza.
We will see below that a sophisticated Spinozist may be able to answer this argument
rather effectively, for it relies on an inaccurate reading of Spinoza's position. Spinoza
conceives the world (substance) as infinite but does not think it is composed of an infinite
number of parts: substance for Spinoza is ontologically simple. The first Thesis, therefore,
like Wolff and Mendelssohn, needs further argumentation in order to answer this argument.
We will address this in detail below.
The Antithesis states that the world has no beginnings (by the rejection of empty
containers) and, therefore, that it is infinite. We have seen above that only Spinozistic
substance monism, collapsing the distinction between God and the world, generates such an
infinitistic conception. Moreover, that position corresponds to the first conception of the

93

unconditioned, presented by Kant at the setting of the Antinomies, which corresponds, in


turn, to Spinozistic substance monism.
To be sure, there is no need to deny the clear Leibnizian echo in the Antithesis'
argument, which invokes the PSR against the world's beginnings (empty containers). This
Leibnizian strand, it seems to me, cannot and need not be disputed. But it creates a
discrepancy, a confusion, whose solution is the key to understanding the Antithesis. Unlike
the Antithesis, Leibniz does not infer from this argument the world's eternity and infinity.
Instead, he relativizes space and time to worldly objectsviewing them as properties of
thingsa move that enables him to claim that space and time are not positively infinite,
since they began with the world's creation. Hence, Kant's Antithesis employs a truly
Leibnizian argument, but infers from it a conclusion that is not Leibnizian; it infers the
Spinozist conclusion that the world is infinite and eternal.
Kant's move, in turn, requires an argument: what excludes the Leibnizian strategy, of
relativizing space and time and viewing the world as indefinite rather than infinite? In other
words, what legitimizes the Antithesis' direct inference that, because the world is not finite,
it is infinite?

8.

Kant offers such an argument later in his career, in the second Critique. Towards the

book's conclusion, he addresses the Leibnizian-Wolffian denial of the world's infinity and
eternityin fact, he refers to the Leibnizian denial of Spinozismand rejects it as
inadequate. Whoever relativizes space and time by viewing them as properties of things
(monads), Kant argues, cannot genuinely avoid affirming the world's infinity and eternity:

94

I do not see how those who insist on regarding time and space as
determinations belonging to the existence of things in themselves [Leibniz,
Wolff, Mendelssohn, considering space and time to be relativistic, i.e.
properties of monads] would avoid fatalism of actions; or if (like the otherwise
acute Mendelssohn) they flatly allow both of them [time and space] to be
conditions necessarily belonging only to the existence of finite and derived
beings but not to that of the infinite original beingI do not see how they
would justify themselves in making such a distinction, whence they get a
warrant to do so, or even how they would avoid the contradiction they
encounter when they regard existence in time as a determination attaching
necessarily to finite things in themselves, while God is said to be the cause of
this existence but cannot be the cause of time (or space) itself.22

Kant's point is that if one is committed to viewing space and time as divine attributes, one is
committed to viewing them as infinite and eternal. Hence, Leibniz's denial of Spinozism,
relying on the indefinite alternative, holds only by denying the claim that space and time,
which are properties of things, are also as attributes of God. Kant dismisses this denial as
arbitrary and inconsistent. It is arbitrary because if one considers space and time as
properties of things-in-themselves (monads), why not also consider them as properties of
God (Spinozistic attributes)? It is inconsistent because if time and space are essential
properties of created beingsand God is conceived as the cause of these beingsGod must

22

KpVAA 5:102

95

have these properties as well.

That is, space and time must be divine attributes or, as Kant

says, "essential determinations of the original being itself [des unendlichen Urwesens]". It
follows that Leibniz's position is not, in fact, different from Spinoza's, that is, that from the
denial of empty containers Spinozism necessarily follows. Kant explicitly draws this
conclusion:

Hence, if the ideality of space and time is not adopted [i.e. Kant's transcendental
idealism rather than Leibniz's], nothing remains but Spinozism, in which space
and time are essential determinations of the original being itself, while the things
dependent upon it... are merely accidents inhering in it... Thus Spinozism...
argues more consistently than the creation theory can, when beings assumed to be
substances and in themselves existing in time are regarded as effects of a supreme
cause and yet not belonging to him and his action as substances themselves.

I emphasize the sentence "things that inhere in it as merely accidents" to highlight the link
between this passage and the passage in the first Critique that discusses the two alternative
conceptions of the unconditioned. I argued above that the first conception described in that
passage, which underlies the Antithesis' infinitistic position, corresponds to Spinozistic
substance monism: it conceives the unconditioned as "an infinite series in which all the
members are conditioned, only their totality unconditioned." In the second Critique, then,
Kant explicitly names it Spinozist. Note also the term Schopfungstheorie ("creation theory"),

23

In fact, Kant does argue for this already in the Antinomiesnamely in the fourth thesis. I will consider that
argument in chapter three.
24

KPVAA 5:102

96

emphasized above. Referring to the Platonic Leibnizian-Wolffian theories, it indicates that


Kant has in mind not only the problem of freedom (which occupies the third antinomy) but
also that of the world's beginning, which applies directly to the first antinomy.25
Kant's comment in the second Critique is not spurious. In his Lectures on
Metaphysics it becomes clear that Kant considers Spinozism the most consistent form of
transcendental realisman unavoidable conclusion of dogmatic metaphysics. "If we take
space as real", Kant writes, "we accept Spinoza's system". Or elsewhere:

Those who take space as a thing in itself or as a property of things are forced to
be Spinozists, i.e., they take the world as the embodiment [Inbegriff] of
determinations from one necessary substance... Space as something necessary
would have been also an attribute [Eigenschaft] of God, and all things [would
have] existed in space, thus in God.

It is important to emphasize that these texts, from the second Critique and from the
Lectures on Metaphysics, appear only after the first edition of the Critique. Indeed,
they appear only after the break of the Pantheismusstreit (1785). Kant does not
explicitly name Spinozism as the most consistent form of metaphysics before the break
25

The case of the third antinomy I discuss in chapter three.

25

V-MP/Dohna (AA 28:103).

27

V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt AA 29: 132. As well as AA 29: 65f. More passages were cited in the beginning of
the chapter. Kant reiterates the same argument also in the second edition of the Critique. He does not
mention Spinoza or Leibniz by name, but stresses the very same point: if space and time are regarded as
properties of things (monads), one has no 'Recht' to deny that they are also divine attributes; therefore,
only transcendental idealism can rightfully deny the world's infinity and eternity (see B 7If.)
28

For a detailed analysis of the Streit see F. Beiser, The Fate of Reason (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1993), p. 44-126.

97

of the Streit. The question is whether this is due to Kant's ignorance of Spinoza, or to
his political prudence. What is clear is that soon after the break of the Streit
Spinozism became, if not completely acceptable, then certainly something that could be
written and spoken about in public. Perhaps a clue to Kant's opinion about Spinozism
before the Streit can be found in the remark he adds in the second Critique,
immediately after claiming that Spinozism is the only consistent form of traditional
metaphysics:

One might rather say that the dogmatic teachers of metaphysics have shown
more shrewdness than sincerity in keeping this difficult point [the collapse of
Leibniz's position into Spinozism] out of sight as much as possible, in the
hope that if they said nothing about it no one would be likely to think about
it.30

Kant thinks that any competent metaphysical thinker must recognize that Leibniz and Wolff
could not genuinely avoid Spinozism: he does not regard their "indefinite alternative",
allowing room for creation and freedom, as sincere. This explains the position Kant
constructs in the Antithesis: if one denies the possibility of empty containersthat is, if one
denies that the world is finitethe world's infinity and eternity necessarily follow.

Recall Kant's discussion of the geometrical method, made without mentioning Spinoza's name. F.
Heman sees this as an indication that Kant was avoiding Spinoza's name for political reasons only ('Kant
und Spinoza' Kant-Studien 273-295).
30

KpV AA 5:102.1 will return to comment on this passage in chapter three.

98

9. Note that Kant writes that the Antithesis position is that of "pure empiricism":

In the assertions of the antithesis we observe a perfect uniformity in manner of


thinking and complete unity of maxims, namely a principle of pure empiricism,
applied not only in explanation of the appearances within the world, but also in
the solution of the transcendental ideas of the world itself, in its totality (A
465f./B 493f).

At first glance, this passage seems to complicate the association of the Antithesis with
Spinoza. Does Spinoza explain everythingworldly phenomena and the world itselfby
what Kant call an empiricist principle?
To see that he does, one has to get clearer on what Kant means by "empiricist". What
is the empiricist explanatory principle, characterizing the Antithesis position, through which
everythingworldly phenomena and the world itself-is explained? This principle, Kant
writes, is that of granting only philosophical knowledge acquired by naturalistic principles,
i.e., by the standard of "possible experience" (A 468/B496). More specifically, that principle
consists in an overriding acceptance of a mechanism of nature: on the Antithesis position
only mechanistic-natural explanations are legitimate. Now, whereas Spinoza is not what we
call an empiricist, he fits rather well with Kant's notion of "pure empiricism". Spinoza
pledges to explain worldly phenomena and the idea of the world itself, substance, by solely

31

That such a mechanism of nature is what Kant has in mind is, I think, fairly clear. It is strongly supported
by the 2nd analogy's dominant role in the 'possibility of experience'; by the principle of causality adhered
to in the third Antithesis; and, importantly, by Kant's identification of the Antithesis' empiricism with
Epicurus [A 471/B499]) (more below)

99

mechanistic (and in this sense, empiricist) principles. To be sure, Spinoza's use of these
principles eventually transcends the limits of experience, by adhering to the dogmaticmetaphysical notion of substance. However, and this is just the point, so does the Antithesis:
it derives from empiricist principles the metaphysical notion of the 'World'.

II
The Thesis' argument against the Antithesis' has been extensively discussed in the
literaturecriticized as well as defended. Identifying that position as Spinozist, however,
introduces some new challenges to Kant. Let us consider these challenges in detail; they lead
directly to the fundamental metaphysical antagonism between Kant and Spinoza's positions.

1.

The Thesis' argument against the world's infinity relies on the claim that completing

an "infinite successive synthesis" is impossible. The most common objection against that
argument is that of a psychologistic fallacy. Kant, it is argued, draws on a finite human
epistemological perspective in deriving an illegitimate metaphysical conclusion. Kemp
Smith famously writes that "from a subjective impossibility of apprehension... [Kant] infers
an objective impossibility of existence." 4 B. Russell similarly contends that Kant's appeal to
a synthesis is infected with "that reference to mind by which all of Kant's philosophy is
32

Note that Leibniz does not fit Kant's conception of pure empiricism at all. He does not claim to explain
the existence of the world itself by exclusively (what Leibniz would have called 'blind') mechanistic
principles. This speaks strongly against Al Azm's commonly accepted interpretation.
33

Kant writes in the same passage that the Antithesis 'deprives us of the practical interests, or at least seems to
deprive us of them' because it excludes the existence of a 'primordial being distinct from the world [von der
Welt unterschiedenes Urwesen]' (A 468/B 496; translation mine). This again suggests the association of the
Antithesis with Spinozism. As said, Kant associates the Antithesis' empiricism with Epicurus (A 471/B499).
This is significant because Kant elsewhere associates Epicurus' mechanistic conception with Spinoza's. In fact,
Kant maintains that Spinoza's mechanistic conception is superior to Epicurus' (KU AA 5:391).
34
N. Kemp-Smith, N. A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (New York: Humanities Press, 1950),
p. 485.

100

infected."

Infinite classes, Russell argues, are not generated by a successive synthesis. They

are given instantly by the defining property of their members.


The charge of psychologism is ineffective, however. It oversimplifies Kant's appeal
to the notion of synthesis in this passage, which is not epistemological or psychologistic. As
H. Allison points out, Kant's argument relies on a conceptual, not psychologistic, distinction
between an analytic whole (totum analyticum) and a synthetic one {totum syntheticum). A
totum analyticum is a whole whose parts are not independently conceived: they cannot be
regarded as existing, pre-given entities but must be thought of as mere qualities, or
limitations, of the whole. A totum syntheticum, by contrast, is a whole whose parts are pregiven entities: they may be separated, at least in thought, from the whole, which is conceived
as the product of its parts. An infinite and complete totum analyticum is possible, since its
'parts' are mere limitations of the whole, whose infinity is given as prior. (Such would be
also Russell's infinite, instantly given sets; they are tota analytica precisely because they are
produced by the 'defining property' of their members). An infinite and complete totum
syntheticum, however, is impossible: the whole is produced by its parts, whose enumeration
proceeds ad infinitum. The world is a totum syntheticum, since it is metaphysically
constituted of pre-given parts (such as material bodies, minds, etc.). Therefore, if completed,
it is not infinite. This is the reasoning applied by the Thesis' claim that 'completing an
infinite successive synthesis' is impossible. The conclusion is that the world has beginnings.

B. Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World (London: Routledge, 1914), p.l60f..
36

For a full discussion, see H. Allison, Kant's Transcendental Idealism (New Haven: Yale University Press,
2004) p. 369f.

101

2.

Allison points out that the Thesis' argument leaves two alternatives open, not just

one: (1) to allow the world's infinity by denying its existence as a given, complete whole; or
(2) to grant that it is finite and has beginnings.37 The first alternative cannot be ruled out but
it does not effectively criticize Kant's antinomy. On the contrary, it grants the conclusion
that Kant is trying to establish by the Antinomiesnamely, that conceiving the world as a
completed given entity is a cosmological misconception, indeed, an illusion. Thus, if one
clings to the assumption that the world is a given whole, one is committed to the second
alternative, which is equivalent to granting the Thesis' proof (i.e. that the world is finite).
Yet a third alternative, not considered by Allison, is Spinoza's. Since this alternative
specifically is the "true conclusion of dogmatic metaphysics", it requires careful
consideration. The challenge is the following: according to Spinoza, worldly objects are
nothing but divine modes. They 'exist in' and are 'conceived through' substance {E Id4) and
cannot be regarded as separate subsisting entities. Hence, the unconditioned whole, God, is
given prior to its parts, whose separate existence is denied. (That is, substance is
ontologically simple [E Ipl2]). Spinoza's cosmological infinity is thus a totum analyticum,
not a totum syntheticum. (Recall Spinoza's argument, quoted above, that conceiving
substance as a complex entity is "bordering on madness". The whole "conglomeration" of
argument, he writes, by which "philosophers commonly strive to prove that extended
Substance is finite, collapses [...] All such arguments assume that corporeal Substance is
made up of parts".)

Indeed, Spinoza's position may seem to escape the Thesis' proof and

Allison, Kant's Transcendental Idealism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 369f..
Refl. AA 18:436.
Spinoza, "Letter 12."

102

constitutes a consistent metaphysical position in which God, who is identical to the world, is
infinite and complete.40

3.

Kant observes a similar challenge and attempts to respond to it. In the Observation on

the Thesis he writes:

.. .if we are to think the totality of such a multiplicity, and yet cannot appeal to
limits that of themselves constitute a totality in intuition, we have to account for
a concept which in this case cannot proceed from the whole to the determinate
multiplicity of the parts, but which must demonstrate the possibility of a whole
by means of the successive synthesis of the parts. Now since this synthesis must
constitute a never to be completed series, I cannot think a totality either prior to
the synthesis or by means of the synthesis. For the concept of totality is in this
case itself the representation of a completed synthesis of the parts. And since
this completion is impossible, so likewise is the concept of it (A431/B459A433/B461).

The core of the argument is found in the first lines of the passage. A complete totality,
if pre-existing as such, hardly accounts for the fact that it is not experienced as a totality but
as a manifold of discrete parts. An analogy to Kant's notion of space can perhaps help see
the force of the argument. Kant views space as an infinite totum analyticum, whose parts do
not exist as separate entities: the Aesthetic of the Critique argues that spatial parts (regions)

40

As said, a similar problem is raised by P. Franks regarding the third antinomy. (See Franks: "From Kant to
Post-Kantian Idealism.") See also chapter three.

103

are mere limitations of a singular, infinite space (A24-25/B39-40). Crucially, however, the
first antinomy does not concern space (or time), but the world. In contrast to space, the world
in space is not given as a totum analyticumin fact, it is not at all given as a world. Rather,
it is assumed as the object unifying an immense number (problematically, an infinity) of
separate entities. Hence, conceiving the world as a complete object requires apprehending in
thought (not in the Kantian sense of apprehension) a manifold of pre-given objectsuniting
them under reciprocal participation in a single entity. Therefore, an appeal to a totum
analyticum seems unjustified: the notion of the world is composed as a totum syntheticum;
therefore, the world is either incomplete or finite; and, therefore, if we take the world in the
traditional cosmological sense (to be complete), it must be finite.

4.

A Spinozist would object. The fact that the world is experienced as discrete is beside

the point. The appropriate order of metaphysical reasoning is directed by the intellect, not by
the senses. (In fact, the senses reverse the appropriate order). According to the intellect, the
unconditioned whole is metaphysically prior to its conditioned 'parts'. Therefore, it must
also be methodologically and epistemologically prior; therefore, a consistent notion of an
infinite totum analyticum remains justified and, therefore, the world may be infinite and
complete.
The crucial point is that Spinoza does not generate the notion of an unconditionedinfinite entity by looking at finite worldly objects and, subsequently, deducing the
cosmological unconditioned idea. Rather, he relies on the claim that an innate, adequate
cosmological idea of the unconditioned is available to him, prior to sensual experience of
finite worldly objects. A clear articulation of such a perspective is offered by Spinoza's

104

predecessor, Descartes, who claims in the third Meditation that the concept of an
unconditioned infinite is not the product of 'merely negating the finite'. Rather, it is a true
idea: "I clearly understand that there is more reality in an infinite substance than in a finite
one, and hence that my perception of the infinite, that is, God, is in some way prior to my
perception of the finite, that is myself (my emphasis).41 Spinoza pursues that Cartesian
insight to the extreme. In a sense, it becomes the fundamental premise of his thought.
Whereas Descartes does begin to philosophize from the perception of the conditioned
individualhimself, via the Cogitoand only subsequently states that the unconditioned
notion, God, must have been prior within him, Spinoza begins to philosophize from the
unconditioned notion itself. He does not generate that unconditioned notion from finite
(conditioned) experience but claims to have it. The entire Spinozist system thus unfolds from
the definition of the unconditioned, the causa sui. "By that which is self-caused", writes
Spinoza, "I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is
only conceivable as existent" {E Idl). 42 The self-caused entity is God, or nature, "a being
absolutely infinitethat is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each
expresses eternal and infinite essentiality" {E Id6). Since the entities expressing Spinoza's
substance are not numerically distinct from it, substance is simplean infinite totum
analyticum. Crucially, that notion is not only ontologically but also epistemologically prior:
the unconditioned substance is conceived through itself, whereas finite modes are conceived
through substance, as participating in it. Hence, Spinoza's position is not liable to Kant's
4I

R. Descartes, "Third Meditation" in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes I/II [CSM] (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 31.
42

It is here that Kant's criticism of the geometrical method becomes relevant. Kant criticizes the use of
definitions as illegitimate in philosophy because definitions can be given only in the end of the
philosophical process and notlike in Spinozain the beginning. Elswhere Kant ascribes to Spinoza
precisely the fault that, "as a mathematician," he started with an arbitrary definition of substance." I discuss
this point in detail in 'Kant on the Geometrical Method' (unpublished manuscript).

105

argument in the Observation on the Thesis that the world is perceived as discrete. In the
Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, moreover, Spinoza argues that the unconditioned
idea can be conceived only clearly and distinctly (since it is simple) and, therefore, that its
adequacy is infallible and certain:
Since the first principle of nature cannot... be conceived abstractly or universally,
and cannot extend further in the understanding than it does in reality, and has no
likeness to mutable things, no confusion need to be feared in respect to the idea of
it.. .This is, in fact, a being single and infinite; in other words, it is the sum total
of being, beyond which there is no being found (TdlE 29).

5.

At this point, we seem to face an impasse between two philosophical perspectives.

The first, shared by Spinoza and Descartes, admits a notion of the genuinely (i.e., complete
or actual) infinite, which is epistemologically and ontologically prior to finite entities. When
appropriated by Spinoza, it generates a forceful cosmological position in which nature is
conceived as an infinite and complete totum analyticum. That position is immune to Kant's
antinomy, which relies on the claim that an infinite totum syntheticum is impossible. The
other perspective is that assumed by Kant, in which an innate notion of an infinite whole is
denied. Kant would insist that an adequate notion must conform to the conditions of
experience, space and time, to which an infinite unconditioned notion cannot possibly
complyhence, that the cosmological idea is not given as a totum analyticum but generated
by apprehending a multiplicity of worldly objects. The cosmological notion is therefore a
totum syntheticum, which cannot be infinite and complete. The point is that Kant has to have
at his disposal an argument against Spinoza's initial perspective. Otherwise, a consistent

106

Spinozist would remain unaffected by the first Antinomy's Thesis and, thereby, resolve the
Antinomy. (Note that similar problems would occur with the other Antinomies as well, most
clearly the third, which concerns freedom and the PSR. In the present context that discussion
needs to be omitted). What would be Kant's answer to this challenge? What is the Kantian
stance towards the innate infinite unconditioned notion assumed by Spinoza?

6.

Kantians will have to insist, and quite justly, I think, that relying on an infinite totum

analyticum the Spinozist makes it too easy for herself. That Spinozist conception requires
that substance (the World) be conceived as an absolutely unlimited infinite wholea
determinable (measurable) maximum necessarily greater than any other. Whereas Kant
grants that that conception is commonsensical, he deems it incoherent: given any measurable
totality (or magnitude), it is possible for a greater magnitude to exist (cf. A527/B555). This
position is supported by standard set theory. Measurable totalities accounted for by set theory
are all sets and, given any set, a greater set exists. Therefore, every setinfinite ones
includedis only relatively large; no set can be conceived as the genuinely unlimited, which
is the way Spinoza claims to conceive of substance.4 The truly unlimitedthe Absolute
Infinite44can be perhaps thought of as the class of all sets rather than as the set of all sets.
But then, such Absolute cannot be regarded an actually measured totality, like Spinoza's

For a thorough discussion of Kant's conception of infinity, see A. Moore: "Aspects of the Infinite in
Kant," Mind 1988, 97, p. 205-23. (See also Erratum 1988 [98] 501.)
**G. Cantor: "Letter to Dedekind," in ed. J. van Heijenoort, From Frege to Godel: A Source Book in
Mathematical Logic, 1879-1931 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967) p. 114.
45

Moore shows nicely how the problem of the universal set can be treated as an antinomy. (See Moore
"Aspects of the Infinite in Kant," p. 217.) See also Ulrich's treatment in M. Ulrich: "Das Unendlicheeine
blosse Idee?," Revue Internationale de Philosophie 1993, 47, p. 319-41.

107

This places a heavy burden of proof on the Spinozist. If wishing to rely on a notion of
complete infinity that's prior to its parts, one will have to show explain why this notion
should be accepted as coherent, legitimate notion: certainly we do not know the existence of
such entity through ordinary empirical experience. Why should we grant it as legitimate?
It is important to point out that Kant himself does not altogether reject actual
infinity.

In fact he grants something of its metaphysical significance, and in a way that

eventually brings him close to Spinoza. However, we will see that Kant's reasons for
accepting this notion are ones that the Spinozist will have to reject. Consider first the
following passage from the Dissertation:

Those who reject the actual mathematical infinite do so in a very casual manner.
For they so construct their definition of the infinite that they are able to extract a
contradiction from it. The infinite is described by them as a quantity than which
none greater is possible, and the mathematical infinite as a multiplicityof an
assignable unitthan which none greater is possible. Since they thus substitute
maximum for infinitum, and a greatest multiplicity is impossible, they easily
conclude against this infinite which they have themselves invented. Or, it may be,
they entitle an infinite multiplicity an infinite number, and point out that such a
phrase is meaningless, as is, indeed, perfectly evident. But again they have fought
and overthrown only the figments of their own minds. If, however, they had
conceived the mathematical infinite as a quantity which, when related to measure,
as its unit, is a multiplicity greater than all number; and if furthermore, they had

46

See also Kemp Smith's discussion in A Commentary To Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason' (New York:
Humanities Press, 1962), p. 486f.

108

observed that measurability here denotes only the relation [of the infinite] to the
standards of the human intellect, which is not permitted to attain to a definite
conception of multiplicity save by the successive addition of unit to unit, nor to
the sum-total (which is called number) save by completing this progress in a
finite time; they would have perceived clearly that what does not conform to the
established law of some subject need not on that account exceed all intellection.
An intellect may exist, though not indeed a human intellect, which perceives a
multiplicity distinctly in one intuition [uno obtutu] without the successive
application of a measure.

Especially the concluding lines indicate that Kant's approach to the infinite is subtle. On the
one hand, he allows room for its possibility: he thinks that rejecting the notion of the infinite
on the grounds that "the greatest multiplicity is impossible" is too quick, because actual
infinity need not be constituted as a multiplicity. (On that score, Kant agrees with Spinoza;
as we have seen above Spinoza argues that it is ineffective to refute the possibility of an
infinite whole on the presupposition that it is "made out of parts.") On the other hand, Kant
maintains that even if actual infinity may be possible, this infinite cannot be grasped by the
human intellect. (On this point, Kant completely disagrees with Spinoza; as we have seen
above Spinoza holds that if anything at all can be known adequately, without "fear" or
"uncertainty", this is substance.) In the Critique Kant explicates the same point when he
writes that even if the infinite "whole of nature" is "spread before us," no experience can
sustain knowledge "in concreto" of this unconditioned whole; for it would be impossible to
have "consciousness of its absolute totality" (A482f/B510f). In the Critique of Judgment
47

MSI AA 2: 388n (Kemp Smith's translation).

109

Kant remains faithful to a similar position but changes the points of emphasis. This change
sheds light also on his stance to Spinozism. Let us consider, by means of conclusion, Kant's
account of infinity in the Analytics of the Sublime. The connection between the third
Critique's account of the sublime and the first Critique's Antinomies deserves more attention
than it usually receives.

Ill
1.

Kant's discussion of the sublime begins by introducing the notion of mathematical

infinity, which consists in the potential to add, for any given magnitude, an additional unit
thus enlarging it without hindrance ad infinitum ("ungehindert ins Unendliche"). This
mathematical notion Kant explains does not sustain the notion of actual infinity: first,
because the mathematical notion consists merely in negating the finite (the possibility of
enlarging any given series); and second, because the mathematical procedure is abstract,
consisting in successive addition of units regardless of their size (for all that matters, the
units added could be mathematical points). An estimation of magnitude (GroBenschatzung)
cannot be purely mathematical: actually estimating a magnitude requires an aesthetic
measure, a criterion of judgment, which provides, through the senses or the imagination, the
basic unit's actual size.
Now, to the successively generated mathematical infinity, so Kant, Reason adds a
further demand, namely that the infinite succession be completed:

The mind listens to the voice of reason within itself, which demands totality for
all given magnitudes, even those that we can never apprehend in their entirety
48

KUAA 5:251-2.

110

[...] and it exempts from this demand not even the infinite (space and time).
Rather, reason makes us unavoidably think of the infinite (in common reason's
judgment) as given in its entirety (in its totality).49

By granting such an inner voice of reason (Stimme der Vernunff) Kant admits the presence of
a notion of actual infinity. Moreover, that notion is the cosmological notion of the complete
world:

If the human mind is nonetheless to be able to think the given infinite without
contradiction, it must have within itself a power that is supersensible, whose
idea of a noumenon cannot be intuited but can yet be regarded as the substrate
underlying what is mere appearance, namely, our intuition of the world.50

This cosmological notion is similar but not identical to the transcendentally real notion
assaulted in the first Thesis. It is rather a noumenal substrate of nature, the "supersensible":
The proper unchangeable basic measure of nature is the absolute whole of
nature, which, in the case of nature as appearance, is infinity comprehended.
This basic measure, however, is a self-contradictory concept (because an
absolute totality of an endless progression is impossible). Hence that magnitude
of a natural object to which the imagination fruitlessly applies its entire ability
to comprehend must lead the concept of nature to a supersensible substrate

49

KU AA 5:254

50

KU AA 5: 254f.

Ill

(which underlies both nature and our ability to think), a substrate that is large
beyond any standard of sense.51

This text is condensed, and it is outside my scope to suggest that Kant present a defensible
argument.

Suffice it here to observe that Kant recognizes a notion of actual infinity, and

grants that that notion "leads to" a cosmological notion of the "substrate of all nature". Two
questions call for an answer in the present context. How does the notion of actual infinity
lead to a substrate of "all nature"? And why does Kant consider that notion legitimate?
(Clearly, no possible experience in the traditional Kantian sense can vouch for that notion.)
The answer to these questions is roughly the following. First, Kant considers it
significant that the notion of actual infinity cannot be mathematical because the latter is
abstract whereas the former is not. Actual infinity involves a determination of magnitude
(namely of the absolutely large) and, as mentioned, this requires an aesthetic measure of
judgment, which provides the basic unit's actual size. Kant maintains that in order to
produce the 'absolutely large' that basic measure itself must be the largest conceivable
thus, it must be the notion of'everything', or of the 'world'. However, if this measure is
generated by relying on concrete experience with finite worldly objects, it is inconsistent
(Kant's argument here seems to draw on the same argument invoked in the first Thesis [see
especially step four of the Thesis' argument].) Therefore, the need for an aesthetic measure
of the largest possible unit "must lead", from the "concept of complete nature" to the concept

5I

KUAA5:255

52

For a more comprehensive discussion see P. Guyer: "Kant's Distinction Between the Beautiful and the
Sublime," Review of Metaphysics 1982, 35, p. 767f. For an analysis of infinity and the sublime, see Moore's
"Aspects of the Infinite in Kant," p. 218-20; L. Roy: "Kant's Reflections on the Sublime and the Infinite,"
Kant-Studien 1997, 88(1), p. 44-59. See also Kant's MNHerder AA 28:568f.

112

of a "supersensible substrate"some substrate that is large beyond any standard of sense


and underlies the complete phenomenal reality. The latter just is the notion of the infinite
wholethe "voice of reason" inducing us to think infinity in its totality.
Still, why does Kant grant that that infinite unconditioned notion is meaningful? In
order to justify accepting this notion, it has to be, for Kant, illustrated or exemplified in
experience. Yet, clearly, there isn't possible experience, in the traditional Kantian sense (nor
for that matter, on other accounts of experience) that illustrates that notion. Kant thinks that
the experience of the sublime, which is an experience of spontaneity and freedom, is what
justifies that notion: through this experience we are presented and become conscious of a
measure that is absolutely large: in relation to this measure everything in nature is small:

[We find] in our power of reason a different and nonsensible standard that has
this infinity itself under it as a unit; and since in contrast to this standard
everything in nature is small, we found in our mind a superiority over nature itself
in its immensity... [It reveals in us] an ability to judge ourselves independent of
nature, and reveals in us superiority over nature.

Kant formulates the same point in the conclusion of the second Critique, which describes the
experience of the sublime:

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and respect
[Ehrfurcht], the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry
heavens above me and the moral law within me... The first begins from the
53

KU AA 5: 261 (emphasis mine).

113

place I occupy in the external world of sense and extends the connection in
which I stand into an unbounded magnitude with worlds upon worlds and
systems upon systems... The second begins from my invisible self... and
presents me in a world which has true infinity but which can be discovered only
by the understanding... The first view of countless multitudes of worlds
annihilates, as it were, my importance as an animal creature... The second, on
the contrary, infinitely raises my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in
which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of
the whole sensible world.54

2.

There are some significant similarities between Kant's conception of the infinite and

Spinoza's. Like Spinoza, Kant views the infinite "supersensible" as an all-encompassing


cosmological substrate: "[an] idea of a noumenon [that] cannot be intuited but can yet be
regarded as the substrate underlying what is mere appearance, namely, our intuition of the
world". Moreover:"[a] supersensible substrate (which underlies both nature and our ability to
think)." This all-encompassing notion is not foreign to Kant's thought. Most importantly, it
echoes Kant's understanding of the (regulative) notion of the ideal of pure reason:

The transcendental major premise which is presupposed in the complete


determination of all things is therefore no other than the representation of the sum
of all reality; it is not merely a concept which, as regards its transcendental
content, comprehends all predicates under itself, it also contains them within

54

KpV AA 5:161 f. (emphases mine).

114

itself; and the complete determination of any and every thing rests on this All of
Reality [dieses All der Realitat] (A 577- B605).55

Yet Kant's reasoning is far from being truly Spinozist. The all-encompassing "substrate of
nature" cannot be known as a substance; it is a noumenal entity. There cannot be
philosophical determinative knowledge of that entitythis "severs the root" of Spinoza's
speculative ambitions and makes room for freedom and faith.
Kant himself suggests at some point the following brisk argument against Spinoza's
substance monism:

If only a single substance exists, then either I must be this substance, and
consequently I must be God (but this contradicts my dependency); or else I am an
accident (but this contradicts the concept of my ego, in which I think myself as an
ultimate subject which is not the predicate of any other being). 56

And elsewhere:

When I think, I am conscious that my ego thinks in me, and not inhere in another
thing external to me, but inheres in myself. Consequently I conclude that I am a
substance, that is, that I exist for myself and am not a predicate of any other

55

As argued in chapter one, Kant himself understands the ideal as a Spinozist (albeit regulative) conception.

56

V-Phil-Th/P61itz AA 28: 1052.

115

thing... But if I myself am a substance, then I must be God himself or God is a


substance different from me, and consequently different from the world.57

However, this attempt to rely on the doctrine of'rational psychology' in refuting substance
monism is not promising. An obvious objection is that Kant's argument won't survive Kant's
own criticisms of rational psychology in the Paralogisms, which excludes knowledge of the
self (or the 'ego') as a substance. Worse, we have seen above that Kant affirms that the all
encompassing 'noumenal substrate' underlies "both nature and our ability to think." This
makes it hard to see why Kant should suggest that thought or self-refection proves our
existence as separate substances, or entities numerically distinct from the "substrate of
nature."
It may be more effective for a Kantian to insist, as suggested above, that the notion of
actual infinity has not been justified by the Spinozistmoreover, that justification has to rely
on the basis of one's consciousness of freedom, like the sublime. If not for that
consciousness, actual infinity remains an empty (mis)use of wordscertainly not a notion on
which one can successfully base metaphysical demonstrations. As we have seen above it is
reasonable to argue that if an unconditioned infinity can be grounded in experience, this must
be an experience of freedom: any sensory experience remains essentially bound and limited,
conditioned upon space, time and causality.58 Also the opposite holds: if an individual claims
to conceive an unconditioned notion, that individual must grasp that notion independently of

51

V-Phil-Th/P61itz AA 28: 28: 1041

58

This is clearly Kant's position in the first Critique and, to be sure, not because of the argument of the
Antinomies. It is fairly uncontroversial that regardless whether we accept transcendental idealism, or
Kant's antinomial argument, our experience of the world is as a matter of fact limited.

116

such limiting conditions as space, time and causality. In this sense, she becomes aware of the
unconditioned insofar as she is genuinely free. Here lies a problem for Spinoza's position,
with respect to the first antinomy but also more generally. The Spinozist cannot rely on an
experience of spontaneity and freedom, as this would be inconsistent with Spinoza's
necessitarianism. Spinoza's totum analyticum excludes an experience of freedom because it
excludes the substantiality (or independence) of finite entities. Thus, deriving necessitarian
substance monism from the notion of actual infinity, Spinozism threatens to undercut its very
foundations.
Now Spinoza may have a way of answering this challenge, drawing on his own
theory of freedom. We will consider this in the following chapter.

117

The Third Antinomy and Spinoza

We saw in chapter two that Spinoza's challenge to Kant's antinomy stems from his
reliance on a cosmological notion of a totum analyticuman infinite whole which is
conceived as prior to its parts. That notion, if granted, may resolve the antinomial
conflict. The Kantian answer to this is epistemological: in virtue of what, a Kantian will
ask, does the Spinozist accept the totum analyticum as legitimate? That notion may be
accepted, I argued, only on the basis of an experience of freedom (in Kant, the sublime;
in Descartes, the Cogito), what this threatens Spinoza's metaphysical aspirations: by
deriving necessitarianism from the notion of a totum analyticum Spinoza renders freedom
a human illusion, thereby undercutting his own position.
In this chapter I consider the possible Spinozist reply to that challenge by bringing
Spinoza's theory of adequacy and freedom into dialogue with Kant's third Antinomy. If
one can become, in virtue of acquiring an adequate idea, free, Spinoza's notion of
complete cosmological infinity may be granted, as well as the Spinozist resolution of the
third and the first antinomies (see chapter two). Along the lines of the third Antinomy,
however, one may argue that the task of acquiring an adequate idea is impossible. If that
is the case, the Spinozist challenge to the antinomies has to be given upas does
Spinoza's more general rational-metaphysical aspirations. I will argue for the latter
position.

In the first part of the chapter, I offer an interpretation of the third Antinomy. In
line with the previous chapter, it will become clear that the antithesis' argument against
freedom is best understood as a Spinozist application of the PSRnot as a Leibnizian
application, as is often assumed. In the second part of the chapter I raise the chief
Spinozist challenge to the antinomy, stemming from Spinoza's cosmological totum
analyticumin the case of the third Antinomy an infinite explanatory whole. If that
notion is granted, the Antinomy's thesiswhich argues for the necessity of freedom by
presupposing the incompleteness of infinityfails.1 In the third and concluding part of
the chapter I continue to defend Kant's position along the lines initiated in the previous
chapter. We will see that Spinoza's reliance on a totum analyticum, which has to be
accepted on the basis of an adequate idea (or an experience of freedom), cannot be noncircularly justified.

I.
1.

The third Antinomy deals with the problem of causality and freedom. The Thesis

maintains that there are two types of causalitythat of "nature," whereby worldly events
follow necessarily from antecedent states; and that of "freedom," whereby events occur
through a power "of generating a state spontaneously." The Antithesis argues in
opposition to this that there is only one type of causality, and that this is causality "in
accordance with the laws of nature" (A444/B472). On the Antithesis' view, every
worldly event necessarily follows from the cosmos' preceding state. The idea of freedom
is therefore an illusion, an "empty thought entity" (A445/B473). The third Antinomy is
1

Franks has raised a similar challenge to the third Antinomy in P. Franks, and S. Gardner: "From Kant to
Post-Kantian Idealism II," in Aristotelian Society Supplementary 76 (1), p. 229-246. I discuss Franks'
account below.

118

systematically related to the first, which deals with the problem of the world's beginning.
Kant explains that "ifyou do not, as regards time, admit anything as being
mathematically first in the world, then there is no necessity as regards causality, to seek
for something that is dynamically [causally] first" (A449/B477). Thus whoever sides with
the first Thesis (arguing that the world is finite in space and time) will also side with the
thesis of the third (arguing that there is freedom); while those who side with the first
Antithesis (arguing for the world's infinity) will also side with the Antithesis of the third
(arguing against freedom). The third Antinomy is also systematically connected to the
fourth, which deals with the (non-) existence of a necessary being. This is due to the fact
that they draw on similar cosmological (first cause) arguments. In interpreting the third
Antinomy I will at times be assuming these connections.
As pointed out in chapter two, the prevalent historical account of the Antinomies
follows Al Azm's interpretation, mapping the Antinomies' arguments onto the LeibnizClark correspondence.3 On that view, the theses correspond to Clark's Newtonian
position, while the antitheses correspond to Leibniz's. In the case of the first Antinomy,
for example, whereas the thesis assumes space and time to be Newtonian "empty
containers," the antithesis represents Leibniz's rejection of empty containers by an
argument from the PSR. In the case of the third Antinomy, it is assumed, the Thesis
reflects Newton's occasionalist positionin which the "world machine" requires God's
intervention in order "to keep running properly"whereas the antithesis reflects
2

Kemp Smith writes, "Kant's proof of freedom in the thesis of the third Antinomy is merely a corollary
from his proof of the existence of a cosmological or theological unconditioned..." (A Commentary To
Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason' [New York: Humanities Press, 1962], p. 497.)
3

S. Al Azm, The Origins of Kant's Arguments in the Antinomies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).
For a through bibliographical survey, see L. Kreimendahl, KantDer Durchbruch von 1769 (Koln: Dinter,
1990), p. 156-85.

119

Leibniz's determinist position, in which freedom is excluded by an argument from the


PSR.4
This reading has become deeply entrenched but it suffers from some immediate
problems. Some of these were considered in chapter two. For example, it must be noted
that despite rejecting Newtonian empty containers by an argument from the PSR Leibniz
does not affirm the world's infinity: he affirms rather that the world is indefinitely large,
and reserves infinity exclusively for God. (This is significant, because Kant was well
aware of the infinite/indefinite distinction [A511-515/B539-543] and does use the term
"infinite" in articulating the first Antithesis.) Moreover, contrary to the Antithesis Leibniz
does not deny, but affirms, that the world is created. As for the third Antinomy, Leibniz
does not offer an argument from the PSR against freedom: in contrast to the third
antithesis he argues that freedom and the PSR are compatible, even complementary. Al
Azm deals with this fact by commenting briefly that Leibniz is "couched in the language
of freedom" when articulating a determinist position.6 This is unsatisfactory. Leibniz is
not merely "couched" in the language of freedom: contrary to the Antithesis, Leibniz is a
compatibilist. Let us examine the case of the third Antinomy in more detail.

2. The thesis states that causality in accordance with the laws of nature is not the only
causality from which "appearances of the world" can be sufficiently explained. To
explain the world's appearances, "it is necessary to assume that there is also another
causality, that of freedom" (A445/B473).
4

Al Azm, The Historical Origins p. 87-90.

See my discussion of Leibniz's position in chapter two.

Al Azm The Historical Origins p. 87.

120

Thesis: Prove: to sufficiently explain all worldly phenomena it is necessary to assume


both natural causality and causality of freedom.
1. Assume (for the sake of a reductio) the antithesis: there is no freedom; all worldly
phenomena take place solely in accordance with laws of nature.
2. It follows that every worldly event (E3) "presupposes a preceding state" (E2),
from which it necessarily {unausbleiblich) follows.
3. Further, it follows that the preceding state (E2) also came into being "in time." [If
E2 always existed, E3 would also have always existed. But this contradicts the
assumption that E3 came into existence subsequently to E2].
4. Thus every worldly cause (such as E2) presupposes a preceding worldly cause,
which itself follows "according to the law of nature," and so forth, ad infinitum.
5. Therefore, on the assumption that "everything happens according to the laws of
nature," there will always be a "deeper" {subaltemeri) cause but never an ultimate
one. Because the regress continues ad infinitum, the series of causes remains
incomplete.
6.

However, the "law of nature" consists in the claim that nothing happens without
a cause "sufficiently determined a-priori."

7. Therefore, when taken in an "unlimited universality," the claim that all causality
takes place only in accordance with the laws of nature is contradictory.
8. Therefore, causality in accordance with the law of nature is not the only kind of
causality. There is also causality of freedom.

121

At first glance, the argument only licenses the negative claim that "causality of nature" is
not the only kind of causality. No positive argument is provided for the affirmation (in
proposition 8) of a causality of freedom. However, as often noted in the literature, Kant
considers natural causality and causality of freedom (spontaneity) contradictories
(A533/B561). If freedom just is liberty from natural causality then, on the assumption
that the thesis' argument goes through, the conclusion is warranted.
The core of the argument is the move from the fifth proposition to the seventh by
the mediation of the sixththe claim that "the law of nature consists just in this, that
nothing happens without a cause sufficiently (hinreichend) determined a-priori." As has
been noted by several interpreters, "determined a-priori" does not carry the ordinary
Kantian sense (of independence of experience) but rather the traditional sense, of 'in
advance of or 'priori to.' 7 On that reading, the Thesis' argument is the following:

(a) A thing is understood by natural causality (henceforth: naturalistically), if and only if


it is understood mechanically, i.e. by an antecedent event.
(b) Had there only been natural causality, no explanation would be ultimate or complete
(i.e. some facts would remain unexplained) [by Prop.6]. However,
(c) This violates the demand that "nothing happens without being sufficiently
antecedently determined."

Despite the textual plausibility of that reading, J. Bennett rejects it. He points out that
this interpretation commits the Thesis' targetthat is, the Antithesisto a position more
7

For example H Allison, Transcendental Idealism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 378f..

122

sweeping than that in which "there is only causality of nature." Indeed, given (b) and (c)
the Antithesis is refuted by the thesis only if the former assumes, first, that there is only
natural causality; and second, that every event admits of an ultimate explanation. Bennett
argues that the latter position cannot be the thesis' target because it renders the
Antithesis' proponent "such an obvious straw man that Kant cannot have taken it
seriously or supposed that the thesis-arguer would do so."9
Bennett's position is puzzling. It seems clear that the thesis argues against a
position committed to (a)-(c) but it is less clear why that position is that of an obvious
straw man. In fact, thus understood, the antithesis articulates nothing but a thoroughgoing commitment to the PSR. In this light, the metaphysical dispute that constitutes the
third Antinomy is no longer understood as a dispute over freedom and causality in
general but, rather, as a dispute over freedom and the PSR. This interpretation is endorsed
by H. Allison (among others) who is similarly puzzled by Bennett's position. The
Antithesis' fully universalized version of the PSR is not that of a straw man, says Allison,
but the Leibnizian version. "Leibniz," Allison adds, "is one of Bennett's favorite
philosophers."10
Contra Bennett, then, it seems reasonable to read the thesis as debating the PSR.
The argument assumes, for the sake of a reductio, (a) that there is only naturalistic
causality and (b) the PSR: every event has an ultimate explanation. This position is then
challenged by showing that (a) and (b) pull in opposite directions: the PSR's demand for
explanatory completeness is inconsistent with the claim that all causality is naturalistic.
8

J Bennett, Kant's Dialectic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), p. 184-6.

Ibid.

10

Allison, Transcendental Idealism, p. 380

123

For if the latter were the case, the explanatory (causal) regress would have continued ad
infinitum and, therefore, there would be no explanatory completeness.
Note that in understanding the antithesis as Leibnizian Allison is following Al Azm. Yet
Leibniz does not argue from the PSR against freedom. On the contrary, he holds that
freedom and the PSR are compatible and complementary. For Leibniz, despite the fact
that every worldly event is determined (or explained) by its causes, no such event is
genuinely necessary precisely because an ultimate naturalistic explanation is
impossible.11 A thing's or an event's existence does not follow directly ('blindly', as
Leibniz would put it) from its possibility (or nature). Every worldly event is contingent
and requires an act of choice in order to occur, because the causal series determining it
regresses ad infinitum.
Consider Leibniz's doctrine of infinite analysis. According to Leibniz, fact x is
necessary if and only if its existence can be proven by an analysis of its reasons. (For
only in that case can x's existence be shown to obtain by identity propositions; thus only
in that case does x's contrary imply a contradiction.) It follows that fact x is contingent if
the analysis of its reasons consists of an infinite series. (For in that case it cannot be
proven that x exists; x's contrary is not a contradiction.)

Given that the existence of the

"indeed this might be the reason why Bennett does not ascribe the Antithesis to Leibniz as other
commentators do. Moreover his view that the antithesis cannot convey a necessitarian position because
necessitarianism is (so he thinks) a straw man's position is at least continuous with his belief that also
Spinoza did not hold a necessitarian position.
12

Cf. Leibniz, The Monadology, in ed. C. Gerhardt, Die philosophischen Schriften von G. W Leibniz
(Berlin: Weidman, 1875-90) [Gerhardt] 6:612. For more detailed accounts of Leibniz's doctrine of infinite
analysis see B. Russell, A Critical Presentation of the Philosophy of Leibniz, (London: Routledge, 1997) p.
25-35; L. Couturat: "On Leibniz's Metaphysics," in ed. H. Frankfurt, Leibniz: A Collection of Critical
Essays (Garden City/N.Y: Doublenday Anchor, 1972), p. 30-35; R. Adams, Leibniz Determinist, Theist,
Idealist (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) p. 25-30. The success of this doctrine is
controversial, of course. See D. Blumenfeld: "Leibniz on Contingency and Infinite Analysis," Philosophy

124

world as a whole, as well as the existence of worldly entities, depends on an infinitely


regressing series of causes, their existence cannot be proven. It is contingent.
Leibniz invokes the doctrine of infinite analysis in defending divine and human freedom
alike. God must have chosen freely to create the present world because it cannot be
proven that this world is the best. The same doctrine is also applied to human freedom:
the series of causes that determines a given human action is contained in the notion of its
agent but, because that series regresses ad infinitum, each action is contingent. No action
or decision is fully accountable (provable) by an analysis of the said series. Consider the
following claim from the Discourse on Metaphysics:

As the individual concept of each person includes once for all everything which
can ever happen to him, in it can be seen a priori the evidences or the reasons
for the reality of each event... But these events, however certain, are
nevertheless contingent, being based on the free choice of God and of his
creatures. It is true that their choices always have their reasons, but they incline
to the choices under no compulsion of necessity. (DM 13)

This claim is supported by the following example, which invokes Caesar's successful
crossing of the Rubicon:

If anyone were capable of carrying out a complete demonstration by virtue of


which he could prove [the] connection of the subject, which is Caesar, with the

and Phenomenological Research 1985, 45(4), p. 483-514; as well as M. Lin: "Rationalism and
Necessitarianism" (unpublished manuscript).

125

predicate, which is his successful enterprise, he would bring us to see in fact


that the future dictatorship of Caesar had its basis in his concept or nature...
but one would not [thereby] prove that it was necessary in itself, nor that the
contrary implied a contradiction... [For] this demonstration of this predicate as
belonging to Caesar is not as absolute as are those of numbers or of geometry,
but this predicate presupposes a sequence of things which God has shown by
his free will. This sequence is based on the first free decree of God. (DM 13;
emphasis added)

By claiming that the demonstration of the connection between 'Caesar' and 'crossed the
Rubicon' is "not as absolute as those of numbers or of geometry," Leibniz implies that
his doctrine of infinite analysis relies on the infinite/indefinite distinction. Leibniz accepts
complete infinity (which he terms the 'Absolute') in geometry and mathematics but
rejects it in metaphysics. Accordingly, every causal series (like the "sequence" he alludes
to above) is indefinite: its conclusions cannot be demonstrated. Therefore, the contrary of
its conclusion is not contradictory. Without the further assumption of divine will, choice
and freedom, no explanation can be complete. This invites Leibniz's claim that the
sequence is "based first on the first free decree of God."

3. If anything, Leibniz's understanding of freedom and the PSR bears interesting


similarities to the argument presented in the Thesis (especially to proposition 5).
Certainly it is not related to the argument of the Antithesis. The crucial point, I think, is
Leibniz's strategy of argumentation: despite arguing that every event is determined,

126

Leibniz doesn't argue from the PSR against freedom. On the contrary, invoking the PSR
in combination with the doctrine of infinite analysis, Leibniz argues for freedom. This is
also the strategy of the Thesis.
An objection often raised against Leibniz's doctrine of infinite analysis is worth
repeating here. That doctrine, it is argued, renders freedom an illusory human fancy: if
everything is determined by a series of causes, the fact that that series regresses ad
infinitum is immaterial. Due to the limitations of our finite intellects, we cannot complete
an infinite series of analysis. God, whose intellect is infinite, can complete an infinite
analysisthere is no place for assuming genuine contingency and no need for a causality
of freedom.13 As A. Lovejoy puts it, despite the fact that we are "unable to apprehend the
necessity," we can still "be sure that the necessity is there, and is recognized by the mind
of God."14
The Leibnizian reply to this objection needs to be understood in terms of the
infinite/indefinite distinction. Leibniz denies cosmological-metaphysical infinity; he
maintains that every cosmological series of causes can be only indefinite (i.e. proceed ad
infinitum). God cannot completely analyze an indefinite series because it is essentially
incomplete. If this is so, no event is necessary; there is room left for contingency and
freedom.15

Cf. Russell: "Recent Work on the Philosophy of Leibniz," reprinted in ed. Frankfurt, Leibniz: A
Collection of Critical Essays, p. 378.
14

A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936), p.175.

This Leibnizian reply is well known. See for example N. Rescher, The Philosophy of Leibniz (Englewood
Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1967), p.44; Adams, Leibniz, p. 28. However, while much work has been done on
Leibniz's doctrine of infinite analysis, and some work has been done on Leibniz's infinite/indefinite
distinction, I do not know of any work that combines the two.

127

We will see below that the Spinozist challenge to the antinomy comes from a
similar direction. Unlike Leibniz, Spinoza denies that the infinite/indefinite distinction
applies in this case, what threatens to render freedom illusory after all.

4. The Antithesis states that "there is no freedom. Everything in the world takes place
solely in accordance with laws of nature" (A445/B473).

Antithesis: Prove: there is no freedom, all events happen according to the laws of nature.

1. Assume (for the sake of a reductio) the thesis: there is freedom in the
"transcendental sense" i.e. a power of "absolutely beginning a state."
2. It follows that there is "a series of consequences" of the state that was freely
initiated.
3. It follows (a) that a series of events have their absolute beginning in a
spontaneous cause and (b) that that spontaneous cause has an absolute beginning,
i.e. it does not take place as a state in any preceding series.
4. However, every beginning of an action presupposes a state of the "not yet acting
cause."
5. Moreover if the beginning of action is not only the beginning of a causal sequence
but also a first beginning, it presupposes a state that has no causal connection at
all with the preceding state of the cause, i.e. there is no sense in which the event
follows from the cause.

128

6. Therefore, transcendental freedom is contrary to the causal law, and is a


connection of the successive states of effective causes in accordance with which
no unity of experience is possible, which thus cannot be encountered in any
experience.
7. The idea of such freedom is, therefore, "an empty thought entity," that is, there
can be no transcendental freedom.

The heart of the argument is the fourth proposition, stating that every change must be
connected to the antecedent state of the changing agent. The fifth proposition extends that
proposition to the notion of "absolute beginning" and the sixth concludes (by the second
and the third propositions) that causality of freedom violates the fourth and the fifth
propositions, because it posits that a state can begin without connection to the agent's
antecedent state. The sixth proposition claims, further, that causality of freedom violates
the "unity of experience" and, therefore, cannot be met with in experience. It is an
"empty thought entity."
The third Antithesis is less controversial than other antinomial arguments. This
may be due to the commonsensical conclusion that freedom and naturalistic causality are
mutually exclusive. Schopenhauer, for example, who is otherwise hostile to the
antinomies, accepts the third antithesis as an adequate proof, consistent with Kant's
transcendental idealism.16 Strawson similarly approves of the antithesis as a "simple
denial of freedom," which can be deduced from Kant's Second Analogy of Experience.17

16

A. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation I, trans. E.F.J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1969),
p. 498.
17

.F .PStrawson, The Bounds of Sense (London: Methuen, 1966), p. 208-10.

129

Indeed the fifth proposition ("every beginning presupposes a state of the yet not acting
cause") could be interpreted as a disguised statement of Kant's Second Analogy, which
argues that every causal change must be connected to the antecedent state of the agent of
change (A189/B232). On that reading, which is widely adopted in the literature, the sixth
proposition (i.e. the conclusion) is derived from the fourth and fifth, which are
understood as the Second Analogy: because freedom violates the "unity of experience"
(contradicting the second Analogy) it cannot be met with in experience. Therefore, it is
i o

"an empty thought entity."


There is something inaccurate about that reading, which, indeed, raises a
suspicion of circularity.

It would be inappropriate for Kant to assume transcendental

idealism in the fourth and the fifth propositions (by bringing in the Second Analogy)
because the position to be assumed and refuted in the antinomy is that of transcendental
realism. From the latter perspective, what can or cannot be met with in experience does
not license conclusions about what there is. Accordingly, the claim that freedom destroys
"the unity of experience," which is raised in the sixth proposition, does not license the
desired conclusion: the fact that freedom cannot be met with in experience does not show
that there is no freedom.
There is no doubt that Kant's terminology of'experience' evokes transcendental
idealism and, to that extent, is unfortunate. However, the argument itself is carried out
from the position of transcendental realism and is not circular. To see this, let us recall
18

For example Allison, Kant's Transcendental Idealism, 282f; P. Guyer, Kant and the Claims of Knowledge
(Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 41 If.; H. Hudson, Kant's Compatibilism
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994); W. Malzkorn, Kants Kosmologie-Kritik (Berlin: De Gruyter,
1999), p. 214.
l9

See E. H. Rottges: "Kants Auflosung der Freiheitsantinomie," Kant-Studien 1974, 65, p.45-48; B.
Ortwein, Kants Problematische Freiheitslehre (Bonn: Bouvier, 1983), p. 24-26.

130

the argument of the Thesis. We saw that the Thesis is effective only if its targetthe
Antithesisrelies on the PSR. The Thesis argues against the position that (a) there is
only naturalistic causality and (b) every event has an ultimate explanation (if you'd like,
'there are no brute facts'). Now because the Thesis and the Antithesis are constructed as
mutual refutations it is appropriatein fact, necessaryto use the one in the
interpretation of the other. Therefore, the Antithesis' fourth proposition is not Kant's
Second Analogy of Experience (which would be the PSR's transcendentally ideal
version) but the PSR. The claim that "every beginning of action presupposes a state of the
not yet acting cause" is identical to the claim that there are no brute facts: the abrupt
emergence of an event, a sudden beginning which is not connected to the previous state
of the "not yet acting cause," is just such a brute fact. On the reading proposed here, the
fifth proposition universalizes the PSR, which is announced in the fourth proposition, to
causality of 'absolute beginning'. Such a beginning cannot occur because it violates the
PSR by the emergence of a state that bears no causal (explanatory) connection "with the
preceding state of the cause"ex nihilo nihil fit. (Put simply, the Antithesis' denial of
freedom does not depend on the claim that freedom violates the "unity of experience". It
depends rather on freedom violating the PSR.)20

5. Once more we see that the Antithesis cannot be understood as a Leibnizian application
of the PSR. It is Spinoza who, in contrast to Leibniz, excludes freedom by an argument
from the PSR. Now it is clear that Kant recognizes the relevance of Spinoza's position to
the Antithesis's fatalistic position. In the Critique of Practical Reason he writes that the
20

Eric Watkins advocates a similar reading, relying on the Antithesis' text rather than on comparing it to the
Thesis. See his Kant and the Metaphysics of Causality (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2005), p. 309f.

131

Leibnizians pretend to preserve room for freedom by taking space and time as properties
of finite beings but not of God. Their position, however, collapses into fatalism:

I do not see how those who insist on regarding time and space as determinations
belonging to the existence of things in themselves would avoid fatalism of
actions; or if (like the otherwise acute Mendelssohn) they flatly allow both of
them [time and space] to be conditions necessarily belonging only to the
existence of finite and derived beings but not to that of the infinite original
beingI do not see how they would justify themselves in making such a
distinction, whence they get a warrant to do so, or even how they would avoid
the contradiction they encounter when they regard existence in time as a
determination attaching necessarily to finite things in themselves, while God is
said to be the cause of this existence but cannot be the cause of time (or space)
itself.21

The shortcomings of this position bring Kant to conclude that if transcendental idealism
is not adopted,

only Spinozism remains, in which space and time are essential determinations
of the original being itself, while the things dependent upon it (ourselves,
therefore, included) are not substances but merely accidents inhering in it; for if
these things exist merely as its effects in time, which would be the condition of

21

KpVAA5:101f.

132

their existence itself, then the actions of these beings would have to be merely
its actions that it [God] performs in any place and at any time... [Thus
Spinozism] argues more consistently than the creation theory can when beings
assumed to be substances and in themselves existing in time are regarded as
effects of a supreme cause and yet as not belonging to him and his action.22

Without transcendental idealism "freedom could not be saved," Kant writes:

A human being would be a marionette or an automaton... built and wound up


by the supreme artist; self-consciousness would indeed make him a thinking
automaton, but the consciousness of his own spontaneity, if taken for freedom,
would be mere delusion.

It is true that this passage was written after the Pantheismusstreit had begun. Yet
for that reason precisely the most surprising element about it is the fact that it contains
little which should be surprising or new. Kant's words are consistent with his
characterization of transcendental realism in the first Critique''?, Antinomies and in some
pre-critical texts, the only novelty being the mention of Spinoza's name. Kant's claim
that transcendental realism leads to viewing space and time as "divine determinations" is
continuous with the infinitistic position articulated in the first Antithesis (with its denial
of the world's creation); it is consistent with Kant's claim that the Antithesis deprives us
of a "primordial being distinct from the world" (A468/B496). The claim that
22

Ibid.

23

Ibid.

133

transcendental realism cannot but regard freedom a "delusion" is continuous with the
argument presented in the third Antithesis that freedom is a "mere thought entity"
(A447/B475). It should be at least noted that already in the pre-critical period Kant had
little taste for Leibnizian compatibilism. In the New Elucidation he comments on
Leibniz's position on freedom and the PSR:

I readily admit that here some of the adherents of the Wolffian philosophy
deviate somewhat from the truth of the matter. They are convinced that that
which is posited by the chain of grounds which hypothetically determine each
other still falls a little short of complete necessity, because it lacks absolute
necessity. But in this matter I agree with their illustrious opponent: the
distinction, which everyone recites parrot-fashion, does little to diminish the
force of the necessity of the certainty of the determination. For just as nothing
can be conceived which is more true than true, and nothing more certain than
certain, so nothing can be conceived which is more determined than determined.
The events which occur in the world have been determined with such certainty
that divine foreknowledge, which is incapable of being mistaken, apprehends,
both their futurition and the impossibility of their opposites.

Some of Kant's most distinguished interpreters hold that in the New Elucidation Kant is
faithful to Leibnizian compatibilism.

24

In light of the above passage, however, this view

PNDAA 01:400.

134

is untenable. Kant is clearly mocking Leibnizian compatibilism and complains that


everybody recites it "parrot-fashion" despite the fact that it is futile. It is worth noticing
what is probably the source of the confusion surrounding Kant's position. In the New
Elucidation, Kant rejects Crusius' conception of freedom as action without a reason and
grants compatibilism instead. He insists moreover that freedom worthy of that name is
nothing but one's determination to action according to inner reasons. This has suggested
to interpreters that Kant was a Leibnizian. Longuenesse, for example, reasons: "To the
question: 'is this principle of reason [PSR] applied to human action compatible with
freedom of the will and freedom of action?' Kant answersagain against Crusiusthat
being free is not acting without a reason, but on the contrary acting from an internal
reason... Kant, here, is faithfully Leibnizian." However, Kant's rejection of Crusius'
positionhis acceptance of compatibilismdoes not entail that he has granted
Leibnizian compatibilism. For in the same passage Kant had also sided with Crusius
against Leibnizian compatibilism in embracing Crusius' accusation that the PSRwhich
the Leibnizians and he, Kant, positentails necessitarianism. Thus Kant's compatibilism
consists in the view that every action (God's action included) is completely necessitated
(for there is nothing "more determined than determined") and that we are free
nevertheless. "The question hinges," he writes, "not upon to what extent" things are
necessary but "whence" the necessity derives: even though necessitarianism obtains one

See for example Longuenesse's important paper on the PSR: "Kant's Deconstruction of the Principle of
Sufficient Reason" The Harvard Review of Philosophy 2001, 9, p. 74; H. Heimsoeth: "Zum
kosmologischen Ursprang der Kantischen Freiheitsantinomie," Kant-Studien 1966, 57, p. 215.
26

This is argued also by J. Byrd: "Kant's Compatibilism in the New Elucidation of the First Principles of
Metaphysical Cognition," Kant-Studien 2008, 99, p. 68-79.
"Kant's Deconstruction of the Principle of Sufficient Reason," p. 74. Heimsoeth reasons along similar
lines (p. 215)

135

is free if the reasons of one's action (again, God's actions included) are internal.

Kant's

compatibilism in the New Elucidation best resembles the compatibilism of the Stoics.
Returning to the second Critique passage, the crucial question is what argument
brings Kant to conclude that those who regard space and time as properties of things-inthemselves are committed to regarding them as properties of God. This assertion draws
on the proposition that it is arbitrary to regard space and time as "necessary properties
belonging to the existence of finite beings" but not to the existence of the "infinite
original being itself; as well as that it is less consistent to maintain that finite beings "in
themselves existing in time" are "effects of a supreme cause and yet not belonging to him
and his action." There is not much of an argument here but Kant is assuming a position
he already defended in the first Critique. The fourth Antinomy's connection to Spinoza
deserves a separate study but here consider the Observation on the Thesis. Kant writes
that after invoking the cosmological argument in establishing the existence of a necessary
being one must decide "whether that being is the world itself ox a thing distinct from it"
(A456/B484; my emphasis). This formulation is intriguing but slightly inaccurate, or
careless, because Kant in fact holds that even if the unconditioned is not distinct from the
world, two possibilities still remain. The unconditioned can belong to the world as "the
highest member of the cosmological series"; or as the whole series taken in its totality
(and hence as "the world itself). There are three possibilities, then. God is either (1)
distinct from the world (not spatiotemporal); or (2) the highest member of the
cosmological series (spatiotemporal); or (3) the "world itself," i.e., the whole
cosmological series taken in its totality (spatiotemporal). Kant's position in the fourth

PNDAA 01:400.

136

Antinomy is that if appearances are taken to be things-in-themselveswhat is equivalent


to saying: if transcendental realism is trueone cannot uphold (1). God must be
spatiotemporal:

If we begin our proof cosmologically, resting it upon the series of appearances


and the regress therein according to empirical laws of causality, we must not
afterwards suddenly deviate from this mode of argument, passing over to
something that is not a member of the series. Anything taken as condition must
be viewed precisely in the same manner in which we viewed the relation of the
conditioned to its condition in the series which is supposed to carry us by
continuous advance to the supreme condition. If, then, this relation is sensible
and falls within the province of the possible empirical employment of the
understanding, the highest condition or cause can bring the regress to a close
only in accordance with the laws of sensibility, and therefore only in so far as it
itself belongs to the temporal series. (A458/B486)

The explanatory dependence relation obtaining between conditioned and condition


asserted of appearances (or of things viewed by transcendental realists) is causaltemporal: the condition exists in a time prior to the conditioned (the latter comes into
existence by necessity following the former). Moreover, every condition (or at least any
condition of a conditioned in the world) is itself conditionedi.e., it came into existence
in a moment of time following another condition. (Kant does not defend this claim here;
he is silently relying on proposition 3 of the third Thesis [above].) This forms a series

137

which is "supposed to carry us by continuous advance to the supreme condition." Now


because it is the explanatory power of causal (temporal) dependence relations that
establishes the existence of a necessary being, it would be illegitimate to appeal to a
different dependence relation between the unconditioned and the world. (Otherwise the
argument will not go through.) This means that if one uses this argument to establish the
existence of God, it is legitimate to assume only that the explanatory dependence relation
between phenomenal conditioned things (i.e., conditioned things viewed by
transcendental realists) and the supreme condition of their existence is also causaltemporal. This means that the unconditioned condition exists in time prior to the
existence of the (first) conditioned being. (For Kant it follows from the definition of a
temporal cause that it itself comes into existence in time; see for example proposition 3 of
the third Thesis.) Therefore, the unconditioned being exists in time. Therefore, if time is
viewed as a property of things, time is a property of the unconditioned being.
This argument rules out the first view of the unconditioned (i.e., 1): the
unconditioned is not distinct from the world; it is temporal. This excludes the Wolffianon

Leibnizian position.

In other words, it establishes Kant's claim in the second Critique

that it is illegitimate to view space and time as essential properties of things but not of the
unconditioned being that created them. Now, note that we are still left with two
Regarding the fourth Antinomy, some have already noted the relevance of Spinoza to the argument of the
Thesis. See Heimsoeth's "Le Continu metaphysique de la Quatrieme Antinomie de Kant," in L 'histoire de
la philosophic: ses problemes, ses methodes [Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1964] p. 89-91. Heimsoeth
comments that Spinoza's doctrine, "telle que Kant la connaissait ou l'imaginait, a ete, pour lui toujours,
plus qu'on ne le remarque ordinairement, l'objet de meditations critiques, et cela precisement au cours de
l'itineraire qui le menait vers sa position definitive." While I agree with every word of this extremely
controversial remark, Heimsoeth does not offer much historical or philosophical support for it. More
recently, Grier offers some discussion of Spinoza as a possible historical source of the argument (see her
Kant's Doctrine of Illusion, 224f). In fact, also Al Azm concedes that the Newtonian position (which he
assumes is represented in the Thesis) is pushed to Spinozism, and that Clarke came close to conceding as
much (see his The Historical Origins p. 117f.).

138

alternatives. God can be conceived as a part of the cosmological series (i.e., 2) or as the
"world itself (i.e., 3). At first glance the former perhaps seems less damaging or less
'Spinozisf than the latter. However, (2) cannot sustain the theistic practical aspirations of
those who, like the Leibnizians, cling to (1). For if the unconditioned exists in time (on
that view, it does) then it always so existed; but then, so did the cosmological series
following from itwhich therefore always exists as a whole. (If a temporal
unconditioned cause always existed, Kant writes, "its consequence would have also
always existed" [A444/B472].) Hence, once (1) is ruled out the spatiotemporal view of
the unconditioned sooner or later collapses into (some sort of) Spinozism. This
precisely licenses Kant's conclusion in the second Critique that transcendental realism is
committed to Spinozism. Thus the same considerations that bring Kant to say that he
cannot "see" how transcendental realists would "justify themselves" in allowing that
space and time are "conditions necessarily belonging only to the existence of finite and
derived beings but not to that of the infinite original being"the same considerations that
lead him to think that Leibnizians fall back to Spinozismare already at work in the first
Critique. In other words, the Pantheismusstreit did not change Kant's mind about the

Heimsoeth remarks that the conception conveyed by (2) expresses the Stoics' fatalist and Spinozist
conception of the world soul (see his "Le Continu metaphysique de la Quatrieme Antinomie de Kant," p.
90f.; as well as his "Zum kosmologischen Ursprung der Kantischen Freiheitsantinomie," p. 209.)
Heimsoeth does not offer much argumentation for this claim. But it is strongly supported by the fact that
Kant discusses Zeno's paradoxes in connection with the Antinomies. While I cannot discuss this point in
detail here, it is highly relevant for the present discussion. As we have seen above, Kant's pre-critical
conception of freedom arguably resembles Stoic/Spinozist compatibilism. Moreover, Kant's position in the
Antinomies was certainly influenced by Bayle's use of antinomial dialectic in connection with Zeno in the
Dictionnaire (indeed Kant discusses Zeno in the Antinomies [A502f/B530f]). Surprisingly little attention
has been paid to Bayle and the Antinomies, an exception being J. Ferrari's entry on Bayle in his Les
sources francaises de la philosophie de Kant p. 91-99. See also his "Le Dictionnaire historique et critique
de Pierre Bayle et les deux premieres antinomies kantiennes de la Raisonpure" p. 24-33.
31

One advantage of reading the second Critique passage in light of the fourth Antinomy's thesis is that it
provides a possible explanation for a mistake Kant makes about Spinoza. Kant writes that if transcendental
idealism is denied, "only Spinozism remains, in which space and time are essential determinations of the

139

Leibnizian position. He had seen their collapse into Spinozism all along. In this
connection, note a comment Kant makes in the second Critique immediately after
arguing that transcendental realism is committed to Spinozism:

One might rather say that the dogmatic teachers of metaphysics have shown
more shrewdness than sincerity in keeping this difficult point out of sight as
much as possible, in the hope that if they said nothing about it no one would be
likely to think about it.32

II
After the break of the Pantheismusstreit, Kant repeatedly claims that only transcendental
idealism can prevent Spinozismthat only his philosophical revolution can prevent the
threats posed by radical metaphysical rationalism. In the Preface to the second edition of
the Critique of Pure Reason (published at the height of the Streit) he writes that only
transcendental philosophy can answer the injury of such doctrines as materialism,
fatalism and atheism (Bxxxiv); that he had "found it necessary to deny knowledge, in
order to make room for faith" (Bxxx). This promise to have saved the practical interests
of reason depends to a large part on the success of the Antinomies. Kant's promise is
fulfilled only if he has shown that transcendental realismwhich he thinks necessitates

original being itself..." But of course Spinoza does not regard time, but thought, as an "essential
determination" (attribute) of substance alongside space. This mistake could be the result of the fourth
Antinomy argument because that argument proceeds by showing that the unconditioned being must be
temporali.e. that time must be an "essential determination of the original being itself." Kant's mistake
shows that what Kant understands by Spinozism may not correspond exactly to Spinoza's own system.
32

KpVAA 5:102.

140

Spinozismleads to contradictions. Yet does Kant challenge Spinozist transcendental


realism as successfully as he pledges?

1.

The third Antinomy (as well as the first) draws heavily on the infinite/indefinite

distinction. It relies on the assumption that a series regressing ad infinitumthat is, an


indefinite, not an infinite regresscannot be completed. The first Thesis relies on this
assumption in claiming that the "infinity of a series consists in the fact that it can never
be completed through successive synthesis" (A426/B454). The third Thesis relies on this
assumption in claiming that in order for a regressing series to be complete, causality of
freedom (i.e., a first beginning) must be postulated (A444/B472). As we have seen in
chapter two, this type of argument, which trades on the incompleteness of indefinite
regresses, was a commonplace challenge to Spinoza and his fatalism in Kant's day.
Mendelssohn, for example, summarizes Wolffs (alleged) refutation of Spinozism in the
following way: "[Wolff] proved that Spinoza believed that it is possible to produce, by
combining together an infinite stock of finite qualities, an infinite [thing]; and then he
proved the falsity of this belief so clearly, that I am quite convinced that Spinoza himself
would have applauded him." These words apply more readily to the first Antinomy's
Thesis but a similar idea is also found in the Thesis of the third. Moreover we have seen
that Leibniz's doctrine of infinite analysis (conceptualized not without an eye on
Spinozist fatalism) gives another relevant historical example: Leibniz's position requires
(among other things) that an analysis of reasons be indefinite rather than infinitethat
the regress of the analysis be incomplete.

33

M. Mendelssohn: "Dialogues," in trans. D. Dahlstrom Philosophical Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge


University Press, 1997) especially p. 96-105.

141

As we have seen in chapter two, however, Spinoza has a ready answer to this
challenge. His monism collapses the distinction between God and world, what enables
him to view substance as a positively infinite whole. Recall Spinoza's words to in his
letter to L. Meyer:

[I]t is nonsense, bordering on madness, to hold that extended Substance is


composed of parts or bodies really distinct from one another... Therefore the
whole conglomeration of arguments whereby philosophers commonly strive
to prove that extended Substance is finite collapses of its own accord. All such
arguments assume that corporeal Substance is made up of parts.34

In Kantian terms, Spinoza views the world as an infinite totum analyticuma simple
infinite whole whose parts are conceived as the whole's limitations, not its proper parts.
This enables Spinoza to view the world as an infinite existing entity (targeted in the first
Antinomy) as well as a complete explanatory whole (targeted in the third Antinomy). If
this is granted, Spinoza's position escapes refutation by the Thesis. It threatens thereby to
disarm the antinomy.

2.

Franks has brought up a similar challenge to the antinomy, developed from

Jacobi's account of Spinoza as it was presented during the Pantheismusstreit.

Franks

observes that Jacobi deduces from the PSR a consistent position in which an infinite
34

B. Spinoza: "Letter 12," in The Correspondence of Spinoza. (London: Allen & Unwin 1966), p. 103. It is
clear from the letter that Spinoza is well aware of the infinite/indefinite distinction.
35

P. Franks in P. Franks and S. Gardner "From Kant to Post-Kantian Idealism II," Aristotelian Society
Supplementary p. 229-46; All or Nothing, p. 98-108.

142

whole is affirmed and every event is sufficiently explainedwithout requiring an


assumption of freedom. "The finite is in the infinite," Jacobi writes, "so that the sum of
all finite things, equally containing within itself the whole of eternity.. .is one and the
same as the infinite being itself." Jacobi points out, moreover, that such an infinite sum
of all things is a coherent conception because it is conceived as a totum analyticum: "this
sum is not an absurd combination of finite things, together constituting an infinite, but a
whole in the strictest sense, whose parts can only be thought within it and according to
it." 37 Jacobi thus anticipates and checks the anti-Spinozist challenge raised by Wolff,
Mendelssohn and Kant's Antitheses.
This brings Franks to conclude that Kant's transcendental idealism is not the only
resolution of the antinomy. Transcendental idealism and Spinoza's substance monism, he
writes, offer the "hope" of a solution: Spinozism may "outflank" the Critique "because it
provides a solution to the Third Antinomy that competes with Kant's transcendental
idealism, a solution unsuspected by Kant.
In fact, Kant's problem is more severe. Transcendental idealism and Spinozism
cannot be concurrent resolutions to the antinomy because the Spinozist position is
transcendentally real. If Spinozism constitutes a possible solution, there is no antinomy at
all, for transcendental realism does not conflict with itself. Moreover, we have seen that
this (alleged) Spinozist challenge to the third Antinomy concerns the first Antinomy just
the same. Unlike the third Antinomy, the first is supposed to provide a proof of

Jacobi, Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, 95. See Franks' "From Kant to Post-Kantian Idealism II" p. 239f.
Ibid.
Ibid p. 241-44

143

transcendental idealism (A506f./B534f.). Therefore, if Spinoza's cosmological totum


analyticum is granted, transcendental idealism loses force.

Ill
1.1 began to develop a Kantian answer to that challenge at the conclusion of the previous
chapter. Let us briefly reiterate that beginning-of-an-answer in order to continue it here.
in

The notion of complete infinity, on which Spinoza crucially relies, is highly


problematic. Why should we grant that notion as consistent and coherent? Why should
we grant that, besides our ability to add to any determinate magnitude an additional
unitan ability that generates the notion of the indefinite but not of the infinitethere is
also a notion of an all encompassing, absolute entity? Concluding the previous chapter I
argued that if such a notion can be granted (a possibility that Kant does not rule out), it
must be verified through an experience of freedom. (In Kant this would be the sublime, in
Descartes, the Cogito).40 Without such a primary experience of freedom the notion of an
infinite unconditioned whole remains an unverified, unwarranted conceptan "empty
thought entity."
This challenge to Spinoza strikes a nerve especially when considering the
Spinozist assault on the third Antinomy. Here, more than anywhere else, Spinoza's
position seems problematic. Spinoza needs an experience of freedom in order to account
for his innermost assumptionan absolute, infinite whole.41 At the same time, however,
39

This notion, it seems to me, is Spinoza's most fundamental assumption. Without that assumption none of
his other assumptions and definitions, explicit and implicit, fail.
40

For a discussion of the Cogito's reliance of an experience of freedom, see my "Descartes' Cogito and
Kant's Sublime: Paralogisms, Self-Knowledge and the Experience of Freedom" (unpublished manuscript).

144

precisely by granting that notion he is forced to dismiss freedom as illusory. Spinoza thus
seems to undercut his own position: by denying freedom, his reliance on complete
infinity undermines the grounds on which he needs to ground his own philosophy. This is
where the discussion was left off in the previous chapter, and it is time to pick it up again.

2. The Spinozist would argue that he denies neither freedom nor its experience. He would
answer that he only denies freedom in the Kantian sense, of independence of naturalistic
(mechanical, efficient) causality. According to Spinoza's own definition, one is free
insofar as one acts from within one's nature, unaffected by external causes. Moreover,
human agents are so acting (freely) precisely when conceiving the notion of an infinite
unconditioned entity. This point is significant. Spinoza in fact agrees with Kant and
Descartes that the infinite-unconditioned notion can be genuinely thought only by a free
thinker; he seems to agree, in this sense, that one has reason to accept his infinite and
complete cosmological conception only if this conception enables the thinker, acting
from within nature, to verify it by acquiring freedom. Spinoza claims, further, that his
system enables this: by doing Spinozist philosophy one can become, in virtue of having
adequate ideas, freeacting (thinking) solely from within one's nature. If this is so, by
doing Spinozist philosophy we can gain freedom and come to justify the basic Spinozist
notionan infinite unconditioned whole.
This suggestion is extremely tempting. It gives philosophersthese passionate
lovers of knowledgea hope of consummating their love. But is the hope warranted, or
is this a false temptation? Can Spinoza provide an account of freedom and adequate ideas
41

The notion of complete infinity is Spinoza's innermost assumption since his notion of substance is
inconceivable without it. (Also the PSR requires the prior assumption of complete infinity, since without it
that principle cannot be coherently applied.)

145

that will justify the notion of complete infinity? Let us consider Spinoza's theory of
adequacy and freedom in more detail.

3. "That being is called free," Spinoza writes, "which exists from the necessity of its
nature alone, and is determined to act by itself alone" (E Id7). Because only God exists
solely from the necessity of his own nature, it follows from that definition that only God
is genuinely free. However, it seems reasonable to grant that man, too, is free, if man is
"determined to act by himself alone." Let us say that insofar as man can be determined to
act solely by his own nature, man partakes in, or has a "taste" of (experience of),
freedom. Moreover, let us grant that such partaking in freedom, if possible, is what is
required to justify accepting the notion of an infinite unconditioned whole.
On the assumption that man is a rational being, man acts from his own nature
when man thinks, i.e. when he has ideas in the mind. According to Spinoza, having an
idea of x in the mind consists of having ideas of the series of x's causes (E Ia4).42
However, some ideas are said to be fully contained in the mind, whereas others only
partially contained. If an idea is only partially contained (that is, if the series of the ideas
of its causes is not completely enclosed in the mind) then that idea is inadequate. We may
say that idea x is inadequate in mind y (itself an idea in God's mind) iff one idea or more
of the causes of x is not a part of y. (In other words, idea x is inadequately conceived in
mind y iff God's idea of x is not given solely in virtue of having idea y.) Whenever this is

For discussion of Spinoza's theory of adequate ideas, see M. Wilson: "Spinoza's Theory of Knowledge"
in ed. D. Garrett, The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),
p. 111-116; M. Delia Rocca, Representation and the Mind Body Problem in Spinoza (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1996), p. 55-57

146

the case, y is compelled into thinking by external forces (ideas) that act upon it and is not
genuinely free.
The opposite holds in the case of adequate ideas. An idea x is adequately
conceived in mind y (itself an idea in God's mind) iff x is a proper part of y. Put another
way: idea x is adequate in mind y iff God's idea x is given in virtue of having y. When
this is the case, mind y is not compelled into thinking by any external forces: it thinks
only ideas that are contained within it and, in that sense, it is genuinely free. Let us grant
that if the human mind can satisfy this criterion, man is free when conceiving an adequate
idea. It follows that in virtue of having an adequate ideaparticularly, in virtue of having
an adequate idea of the infinite unconditioned substancewe have a justified notion of
such substance.
Spinoza says that we can have adequate ideas of finite modes, common notions
(infinite modes) and God's nature. Let us consider each of these claims.

4. Finite modes are created individual entities (people, stones, tables). Spinoza maintains
that such entities are caused by God's infinite and eternal essence by an infinite series of
causes:

The idea of a singular thing which actually exists has God for a cause not
insofar as he is infinite, but insofar as he is considered to be affected by
another idea of a singular thing which actually exists; and of this [idea] God is
also the cause, insofar as he is affected by another third [idea], and so on, to
infinity (E IIp9).

147

In this light, Spinoza's claim that the human mind can acquire adequate ideas of finite
entities is doubtful. First, if human mind y is a finite idea in the infinite mind of God,
and x is an idea of an individual thing, it is impossible for y, which is finite, completely
to contain the infinite series of the ideas of x's causes. In other words, whereas God's
infinite mind has an adequate idea of x, that idea cannot be adequate solely in virtue of
God having y.43 Hence, y cannot have an adequate idea of a finite entity and cannot be
regarded free in virtue of having such an idea.
The latter difficulty is internal to Spinoza's system. It faces anyone who has
already bought into Spinoza's presuppositions (including the premise of an infinite
whole) and tries to work out, from within the system, adequate knowledge of individual
entities. The following difficulty is external to Spinoza's system. It is a difficulty that
must concern anyone who wishes to justify the notion of complete infinity by the doctrine
of adequacy and freedom in order to do so. Mind y cannot completely contain an infinite
series of ideas of causes not merely because it is finite. It cannot completely contain such
a series of causes because we do not, yet, have a reason to think that an infinite series can
be completed at all. We may put that problem in terms of Kant's third Antinomy: as
claimed by the thesis, an infinite series of naturalistic causes will always have a relative
[subalternen] but not a "first beginning." Or we can put it in terms of Leibniz's doctrine
of infinite analysis: a given event cannot be fully explained by an analysis of its causes;
for such analysis is indefinite and, as such, incomplete. To put this in slightly more

This problem is raised by Delia Rocca in Representation and the Mind Body Problem in Spinoza, p. 183
(n. 29). See also "The Power of an Idea: Spinoza's Critique of Pure Will," Nous 2003 37(2), p. 205. That
problem is discussed in E. Marshall: "Adequacy and Innateness in Spinoza," Oxford Studies in Early
Modern Philosophy (forthcoming).

148

Spinozist terms, we are still doubting whether God, too, can have an adequate idea of a
finite entity. For we have not granted the notion of complete infinity and, indeed, require
an adequate idea in order to do so. Therefore, disregarding the problem that the human
mind cannot contain an infinite series of ideas of causes, it would be circular to assume
that an infinite series of ideas of causes can be contained at all.

5. Let us see if Spinoza is more successful at generating adequate ideas of common


notionssuch notions, or ideas, that are "common to all, and which are equally in the
part and in the whole" (E IIp38). An example of such a notion is the property of
movability: it is common to all bodies in virtue of participating in the same attribute
(Extension), that they are capable, to the same degree, of motion and rest. "All bodies,"
writes Spinoza, "agree in that they can move now more slowly, now more quickly, and
absolutely, that they now move, now they are at rest" (EII L2). Spinoza considers
common notions as movability as infinite modes, i.e. fundamental properties of a divine
attribute (in that case, Extension). As such, they are equally present in the part as in the
whole and are not generated through an infinite series of causes; rather, they follow
directly from the nature of the attribute.
This invites Spinoza's conclusion that common notions can be conceived only
adequately:

P38 Dem.: Let A be something which is common to all bodies, and which is
equally in the part and in the whole. I say that A can only be conceived
adequately. For its idea (by P7C) will necessarily be adequate in God, both

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insofar as he has the idea of the human body and insofar as he has ideas of its
affections, which (by PI 6, P25 and P27) involve in part both the nature of the
human body and that of external bodies, That is (by P12 and PI 3), this idea
will necessarily be adequate in God insofar as he constitutes the human mind,
or insofar as he has ideas that are in the human mind. The mind, therefore (by
PI 1C), necessarily perceives A adequately, and does so both insofar as it
perceives itself and insofar as it perceives its own or any external body. Nor
can A be conceived in another way, q.e.d (EII P38 Dem.).

Assume that x is an idea of a part of a body and that y is a human mind conceiving that
body. By having an idea of xand regardless of how partial y's idea of x actually isthe
notion of movability is fully contained in y. For movability is found in its entirety in
every part as in the whole.
Such an account of adequacy is internally sufficient and may satisfy someone who
has already granted Spinoza's system. However, it does not give a good reason to buy
into the notion of complete infinity, because it already assumes that notion. The premise
that common notions are "equally in the part and the whole" presupposes that the
(infinite) attribute of which these notions are fundamental properties (in this case,
Extension) is given as a whole and is simple. For if the attribute had been a complex
entityor if it had not been given as a totalitythen arbitrarily and partially conceiving
any of its parts would not have been identical to conceiving the whole of it. This point
can be conveniently understood in terms of the first Antinomy: the claim that movability

44

That strategy is developed by Marshall as reply to Delia Rocca's "problem of adequate ideas" (see his
"Adequacy and Innateness").

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is contained in the whole attribute of Extension as in each of its parts presupposes that
Extension is a given as an infinite totum analyticum. However, as we have seen in the
previous chapter, the legitimacy of an infinite totum analyticum is just what needs to be
established by the doctrine of freedom and adequate ideas. Here, too, therefore, it would
be circular to appeal to adequate ideas of common notions in order to justify complete
infinity.

6. We now turn to see if one can plausibly acquire an adequate idea of the
unconditionally-existing infinite substance. For the Spinozist, this task is crucial. In
possession of such an adequate idea there would be a good reason to grant the notion of
complete infinity and, with it, Spinoza's resolution of the antinomies. Without that
notion, howeverand given that God is the efficient cause of everything that exists
none of our ideas can be adequate to begin with. If this is the case, the Spinozist will have
to moderate his rational-metaphysical aspirations.
Roughly speaking, there are three ways in which a Spinozist may ground his
claim to posses an adequate idea of God. He may ground it through his claim to posses
adequate ideas of divine attributes; through the Spinozist version of the ontological
argument; or through a direct grasp of the meaning of the notion of substance. Let us
consider each of these.
(a) Having an adequate idea of God is grounded through an adequate idea of an
attribute in the following way. In virtue of having an idea (cf., of our body), we have an
adequate idea of a common notion (such as movability in space)such notion which is
found in the part as in the whole. Common notions are fundamental properties of an

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attributein the case of movability, as we have seen, of Extension. Thus, in virtue of


having an idea of a common notion, we have an idea of an attribute. However, an
attribute, too, is found in the part as in the whole. Hence, in virtue of having an idea (cf.
of our body), we have an adequate idea of a common notion (as movability), as well as of
its attribute (as Extension). However, an attribute just is God's essence [EI D4].
Therefore, in virtue of having an adequate idea of an attribute we have an adequate idea
of God's essence.45
Clearly, this account of adequacy cannot validate Spinoza's notion of an infinite
whole. It assumes that notion in two crucial steps of the argument: first, in relying on the
claim that common notions are equally found "in the part as in the whole" (see above);
and, then, by making the same presupposition regarding attributes. Hence, whereas it may
give a coherent Spinozist account of freedom, it may not, via that account of freedom,
give an argument for accepting complete infinity.
(b) Spinoza's version of the ontological argument can be briefly outlined as
follows.46 For every thing, there must be sufficient reason that determines its existence or
its non-existence. Therefore, if there can be no reason for the non-existence of an entity,
that entity necessarily exists. A reason for a thing's existence or non-existence can be
either external to its nature or internal to it. An external reason for the non existence of
substance is impossible: that reason will have to be in a substance* that shares no
attribute with substance (otherwise they will be identical; [E lp5]); however, if substance

See for a detailed discussion, D. Garrett: "Spinoza's Ontological Argument," The Philosophical Review
1979, 88(2), p. 198-223; M. Lin: "Spinoza's Ontological Arguments," Philosophy andPhenomenological
Research 2007 75(2), p. 269-97. Spinoza offers several arguments for God's existence. Here I refer only to
the truly Spinozist one, which relies on the PSR and not on the assumption that existence is a predicate.

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and substance* share no attribute, they can have no causal interaction (E la5; p3). Hence,
substance* cannot cause the non-existence of substance. Further, an internal reason for
the non-existence of substance is also impossible. An internal reason for a thing's nonexistence is a contradiction in its notion and, Spinoza argues, it is "absurd to affirm this
[contradiction] of a Being absolutely infinite and supremely perfect" (E lpl 1). Thus,
because there can be neither external nor internal reason for substance's non-existence, it
necessarily exists.
That argument, too, draws on the assumption that the notion of an infinite whole
is coherent. Spinoza's claim that a being "absolutely infinite" and "supremely perfect"
cannot be contradictory relies, albeit implicitly, on a further premisenamely, that the
notion of an absolutely infinite entity is a notion of a simple entity. Only that assumption
makes it absurd, as Spinoza claims that it is, to consider its notion as contradictory. (A
simple entity has no separate elements that can contradict one another; all elements are at
the first place conceived through that entity). However, if we do not begin by assuming
the notion of complete infinity, there's nothing absurd in thinking that the notion of an
infinite whole may be incoherent. In fact, for all that we know it is incoherent (for the
most reasonable account of infinity that we have been given so far consists of our ability
to add, for every determinate measure, an additional unit. Actually completing such
infinity is impossible). Therefore, whereas Spinoza's ontological argument may satisfy
someone who has already granted his cosmological totum analyticum, it would be
circular to invoke that argument in support of that cosmological conception.47

47

Garrett and Lin claim that Spinoza's argument is not liable to Kant's refutation in the Critique, which is
based on the claim that existence is not a predicate. For Spinoza's argument is based on the PSR and on an
analysis of possibility; not on existence being a predicate. Garrett, however, seems to suggest that that
argument, too, has to fail, if only for the reason that God's existence cannot be proven. (In other words,

153

(c) The last strategy for Spinoza to take is, I suspect, the truly Spinozist one. It
consist of directly grasping the force of the claim that substance is the causa sui, the
cause of itself. Spinoza argues that because a thing is conceived through its cause, the
causa sui is conceived through itself. No external idea is required to understand that the
causa sui existsneither an infinite series of ideas of causes nor a further assumption
regarding complete infinity. By simply and directly grasping the meaning of the claim
that substance is its own cause, we obtain adequate certainty that substance is. This must
be Spinoza's intention when he writes, in his Letter on the Infinite, that he has proven the
existence of substance "without the help of any further propositions."
The notion of the causa sui is unsatisfactory, however, not only for a Kantian's
perspective but also from a Spinozist's. Let us put it first in Kantian terms. The third
Antinomy's antithesis states not merely that everything admits of an ultimate
explanationit states that everything has an ultimate explanation in terms of naturalistic
causality ("in accordance with the law of nature"). In Kant, naturalistic causality is
understood as mechanical, or efficient causality. We naturalistically understand an event
if and only if we see how it necessarily follows from another event that precedes it.
Arguably, Spinoza favors a similar conception: A thing A is said to be the cause of
another, B, if B necessarily follows from A (e.g. E Ipl6cl; Ip25; Hp5); this mechanistic
conception the hallmark of 17th century scientific naturalism, of which Spinoza was a
Garrett seems to view the conclusion that "God exists" as a reductiol) This seems to me mistaken, for
God's existence is probably not a greater absurdity than his non-existence (nor is knowing that God exists a
greater absurdity, in my opinion, than being in principle incapable of knowing God's existence.) At all
events, we will see in chapter four that Spinoza's reliance of the PSR in fact assumes the traditional
ontological argument, i.e. the assumption that existence is a predicate. If this is so, even if Spinoza's PSRargument for god existence does not directly relie on existence being a predicate, it fails together with the
traditional ontological argument.
48

Spinoza: "Letter 12" in ed. and trans. A. Wolf, The Correspondence of Spinoza (London: Frank Cass,
1966), p. 102.

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champion. Now, if one clings to this efficient-naturalistic conception, as, I believe, the
Spinozist should, the notion of a 'self-caused entity' is rendered into the notion of an
entity that is 'not caused at all'. For the causal conception that's assumed in the notion of
a self-caused entity is entirely different fromin fact, it excludesthe naturalisticefficient conception.
To be sure, Spinoza does not define causality exclusively in naturalistic or
efficient terms. He writes that "[w]hat cannot be conceived through another, must be
conceived through itself (E Ia2). That is, a thing is conceived through anotheri.e. by
naturalistic, efficient termsor through itself. Yet, for anyone aspiring in good faith to
understand everything naturalistically, that position is unsatisfactory. For whereas the
human intellect genuinely grasps how one thing can cause another, it has no handle on
the claim that an entity is its own cause.
Let us consider this point more carefully. Spinoza seems to assume the following
line of reasoning: (a) a thing is understood through a thing's cause; therefore (b) a selfcaused entity is understood through itself. (That this is Spinoza's position is suggested by
the fact that he defines substance as the 'cause-of-itself rather than as 'un-causedcause'.) To the extent that this is indeed Spinoza's line of reasoning it is flawed, because
the conception of'cause' assumed at (a) is of naturalistic-efficient causality, whereas the
conception of'cause' assumed at (b) excludes naturalistic-efficient causality. In (a),

49

In my opinion Kant is implicitly giving a similar argument against Spinoza in the New Elucidation, when
he argues against the notion of the cause of itself. "Whatever contains within itself the ground of the
existence of something is the cause of that thing," he writes. "Suppose, therefore, that there is something
which has within itself the ground of its own existence, then it will be the cause of itself. Since, however,
the concept of a cause is by nature prior to the concept of that which is caused, the latter being later than the
former, it would follow that the same thing would be simultaneously both earlier and later than itself, which
is absurd" (PND AA 1:394). Longuenesse claims that Kant here "expressly" opposes Spinoza ("Kant's
Deconstruction of the Principle of Sufficient Reason," p. 72) and, while I find this plausible, it must be
admitted that he does not mention Spinoza or refer to the ethics.

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causality is understood as a relation between non-identical entities, whereas in (b) it is a


reflexive relation. It is mistaken to assume that because we understand everything in
virtue of an (a) kind of relation (everything is understood through its cause), we
understand something in virtue of a (b) kind of relation. The term causa sui, a self-caused
entityallegedly understood though itselfis unaccountable in naturalistic terms.
Existential knowledge of that entity cannot be gained by consideration of causes that
conforms to our ordinary naturalistic-scientific standards. Contrary to Spinoza's claim,
we have no adequate knowledge of God's essencei.e. of God's existence. Affirming
God's existence we find ourselves affirming a bigif you'd like, an infinitebrute fact.

This is not the end of the story. The Spinozist will be able to maintain his position
a while longer, by giving primacy to the notion of 'conceivability' over 'causality' and
'existence'. Considering that strategy, however, will take us away from discussing Kant
and Spinoza themselvesmore recent rationalist challenges to Kant will have to be
debated.

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4
On Conceivability and Existence

If the world were not something that, practically expressed, ought not to be, it would also
not be theoretically a problem. On the contrary, its existence would require no
explanation at all, since it would be so entirely self-evident. (Schopenhauer, The World as
Will and Representation II)

In order not to lose the thread of the argument, let us begin with a brief overview. The
Spinozist challenge to Kant's Antinomies, like Spinoza's challenge to the critique of
reason in general, stands and falls with the notion of complete infinity. Substance
monism's (the most relevant being Leibniz's) are embedded in Spinoza's promise to have
provided a metaphysical-cosmological totum analyticum, in which the world is accounted
for as an infinite and complete explanatory whole. In order for that position to hold
ground, however, the cogency of its key notion (namely complete infinity) has to be
justified.
In the previous chapter I argued that such a justification, if possible, has to be
provided by an account of freedom. In Spinozist terms this means that complete infinity
needs to be accounted for by a theory of adequate ideas. (According to Spinoza, we are
free and are aware of that freedom insofar as we are capable of acquiring adequate ideas.)

This, however, presents a problem to the Spinozist, for within a Spinozist framework it is
difficult to account for adequate ideas without assuming beforehand (and thus circularly)
complete infinity. We have seen that the possibility of acquiring adequate ideas of
concrete entities relies on complete infinity, as does the possibility of acquiring adequate
ideas of infinite modes, of divine attributes and of God. Indeed, Spinoza's PSR-version of
the ontological argument assumes complete infinity as well.
The last Spinozist resort is the notion 'cause-of-itself. Because that notion is
(supposedly) simple, one conceives it adequately merely in virtue of conceiving it,
without appealing to further notions. In concluding the previous chapter, however, I
argued that the term 'cause-of-itself is inexplicable: whereas we understand mechanical
causal relations in which one entity causes another, we have no handle on the claim that a
thing causes itself. Our scientific understanding of causes is restricted to naturalistic
relations, which obtain between two non-identical entities one of which is prior to the
other. Hence, if we assume that a thing is understood through its causes, the notion
'cause-of-itself becomes meaningless.
A Spinozist answer to this challenge was suggested to me by Michael Delia
Rocca. That answer consists in a radical (and, I believe, attractive) rationalist train of
thought, which equates existence and conceivability.1 If sustainable, this position may
enable the rationalist to account for the notion of a self-caused entitythus to answer the
problem of adequate ideas. The aim of the present chapter is to confront Kant with this
rationalist position (one which need not be historically identical to Spinoza's) and

Delia Rocca answered this in our personal correspondence. However, his reply draws on a position he
articulates in two papers especially: "A Rationalist Manifesto: Spinoza and the Principle of Sufficient
Reason" Philosophical Topics 2003, 31, p. 75-95; and "PSR" (unpublished manuscript). I will refer to the
arguments presented in these papers whenever possible.

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introduce the Kantian counter-argument (which just as much needn't be identical with
what is actually found in Kant).
Perhaps the most interesting lesson learnt form this confrontation is that the
ontological argument plays a much more important role in the justification of rationalist
metaphysics than is usually acknowledgedby rationalists and Kantians alike.
Rationalists sometimes think that a rationalist argument for the existence of God like
Spinoza's PSR-based proof of God's existencea proof that is indispensable for the
viability of both Rationalism and Spinozismis immune to Kant's refutation of the
traditional ontological argument. They assume that Spinoza's PSR-proofin
contradistinction to the proof in the tradition of Anselm and Descartesdoes not rely on
the assumption that existence is a predicate. Kantians on their part tend to assume that
the ontological argument's refutation is but another refutation of another metaphysical
doctrinenamely, the doctrine of rational theologywhich stands alongside rational
psychology and rational cosmology. We will see that the debate over the (traditional)
ontological argument is more far-reaching for both parties. It isn't a debate over the
philosophical-theological question of God's existence but is the key to the attack on or
defense of rationalist metaphysics.
That the ontological argument plays a chief role is in a way obvious, but it may be
helpful to flag at the outset the way in which it plays this role. Rationalism is (arguably)
committed to the following two claims. (1) If x is true, there is (exists) a reason why it is
true; (2) all truths are conceptual. (1) and (2) seem to pull in opposite directionsI will
argue that they doand threatens to tear the rationalist position apart. Bringing (1) and
2

This is D. Garrett's interpretation in "Spinoza's Ontological Argument," The Philosophical Review 1979
(88) p. 198-223; see more recently M. Lin's "Spinoza's Ontological Arguments," Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research 2007, 75(2), p. 269-97.

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(2) back together depends on justifying the claim that existence is a predicate or a
property of a thing. If that rationalist recovery enterprise proves successful, the rationalist
may be in a good position to tackle Kant's critique of rationalist metaphysics. For the
same reason, reinforcing Kant's critique of reason consists in ensuring that (1) and (2)
remain apart by defending the claim that existence is not a predicateor what is the
same, that the ontological argument fails. That Kant himself did not appreciate the
ontological argument's centrality on that score is attested among other things by the fact
that he did not attempt to secure his refutation from some significant rationalist
objections. I will argue, however, that there are powerful Kantian reasons for insisting
that one cannot know that the ontological argument goes through (which will be
sufficient for what the Kantian critique of metaphysics aims to establish). I will also
suggest that there is pregnant in Kant a more positive argument, showing that we have a
reason to believe that existence is not a predicate. This argument stems from the Kantian
claim that 'ought' and 'is' are distinct, and that 'ought' implies 'can'. But there is a long
way to go before we can see how such an arguments, brought from the realm of practical
reason, come to bear on the critique of rationalism.

I
1. We get a handle on the notion of a self-caused entity, argues the rationalist, as
soon as we come to affirm the following two propositions. (1) 'Existence' is coextensive
with and follows from 'conceivability': a thing's conceivability does not depend on
representing the causes of its existence, for 'conceivability' is prior to both 'causality'
and 'existence'. A thing exists if and only if it is conceivable. (We will consider the

160

argument for that proposition presently.) (2) Concepts are conceived through themselves:
we do not conceive a concept in virtue of something over and above that concept; we
conceive it simply in virtue of having that concept. Take the concept 'bachelor' for
example: it is inappropriate to ask, argues a rationalist like Delia Rocca, 'in virtue of
what bachelors are conceived as unmarried men', because answering that question is a
matter of merely explicating the concept ('bachelor'). The question thus merely discloses
the ignorance of the person asking about the concept's definition: a bachelor is unmarried
and is a man in virtue of the fact that he is what he is.
If granted, (1) and (2) present a model with which we understand the notion
of a self-caused entitywe get a handle on the kind of thing that is the cause of itself.
For conceivability implies existence and concepts, which we undeniably have (e.g.,
'bachelor'), are conceived through themselves.

2.1 find this rationalist stance unsatisfactory for several reasons. Before we approach (1)
let us briefly consider (2). The claim that concepts are conceived through nothing but
themselves is somewhat inaccurate. Most concepts (in fact all but one) are not conceived
through themselves but through other concepts. Consider 'bachelor' once more: it is
conceived through a long, possibly infinite, list of conceptsstarting precisely with
'man', 'married' and the operator 'un'. Neither of these is identical to 'bachelor' yet each
is individually required for conceiving that concept. Moreover each of these concepts
requires in turn its own set of concepts, in virtue of which it is conceived: 'man' requires
'animal' and 'rational' (let's say), 'animal' requires 'body' (among others), 'body'
'extension'up to 'substance', defined as that thing which is conceived through itself.
3

Delia Rocca: "A Rationalist Manifesto," p. 77-90.

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The latter is the only concept that is conceivedor so the rationalist needs to argue
through itself.4 Therefore, the rationalist claim that concepts are conceived through
themselves, insofar as it is invoked in defense of the conceivability of substance, is
viciously circular. One cannot defend the conceivability of the self-conceived being by
the claim that concepts are conceived through themselves and rely on the concept of a
self-conceived being as the exclusive example of a concept that's conceived through
itself. That this concept is conceivableto say nothing of'through itselfis what needs
to be shown.
To avoid circularity, the rationalist may attempt to rely generally on the
notion of conceivability, instead of relying on the example of'self-conceived being' (or
any example at all). He may claim that we should believe (2) (i.e., that concepts are
conceived through themselves) because we are committed to the initially plausible view
that conceptual truths are true (and known as such) in virtue of nothing over and above
the concepts involved. Thus, 'triangles have three sides' is true and known to be true in
virtue of concepts alone, without the aid of anything that is not conceptual. On this view,
even if we will eventually discover (and according to the rationalist, we will) that strictly
speaking there is only one truth and that that truth is conceptualnamely, 'substance
exists'the argument was not premised on the concept 'substance'; it was premised,
again, only on the plausible assumption that conceptual truths require nothing but
concepts to be true (and known as such).
However, is this view as initially plausible as the rationalist
suggests? Conceptual truths are always hypothetical. This complicates the rationalist's

To be sure, this account is presented from Spinoza's perspective. Spinoza maintains that all concepts are
conceived through the causa sui, which is itself conceived through none but itself.

162

stance because it indicates that conceptual truths and their knowledge depend on
existence, which isunless one starts out on the assumption that existence is a
predicatesomething over and above the concepts themselves. Consider again the
example, 'triangles have three sides'. It isn't conceptually true that triangles have three
sides; it is only conceptually trueor is it?that if a triangle exists, it has three sides. A
triangle's existence is thus a necessary condition of a triangle having three sidesa
necessary condition that's not included in the definition of the triangle. (Knowing that a
triangle exists is therefore necessary for knowing that a triangle has three sides.) To be
sure, the same holds for the hypothetical claim itself: insofar as modal truths are
themselves true, their truth is ultimately grounded in something that actually exists. For
example, if it is true regardless of the actual existence of any triangle that triangles have
three sides, then that truth, too, depends on something that exists but isn't a triangle
probably an existing mind conceiving the said modality, be it mine or God's. 5
Thus, the rationalist claim that conceptual truths are true in virtue of
concepts alone has to be turned down. Ironically, the reason for this is the PSR: if
anything at all is true then there is something in virtue of which that truth obtains. The
only way to do justice to this latter claimwhich the rationalist obviously mustand
maintain that conceptual truths are true in virtue of nothing but concepts is to assume that
existence is a predicate or a property, included in a thing's concept. However, the need
for that assumption is a red flag: it indicates that contrary to what the rationalist claimed
we are anything but committed to an 'initially plausible' view that conceptual truths are
true (and known to be so) in virtue of concepts alone. Most of us believe just the

This insight constitutes the heart of the Leibnizian argument for the existence of God; and more relevant
in our context, Kant's Beweisgrund relies on the same type of argument. (See chapter one.)

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contrary, and while some rationalist argument may invite us to change our mind, we
shouldn't be expected to operate on the assumption that conceptual truths are true in
virtue of concepts alone. (We will consider the rationalist argument for existence being a
predicate below.)

3. Let us move on to consider (1), the claim that conceivability implies existence.
The rationalist argument for this is the following.6 Assume the PSR:7 (a) It follows that a
thing, x, is conceivable if and only if its existence involves no brute facts. Thus if x's
existence involves brute facts, it is inconceivable. [This is just the meaning of the fully
universalized version of the PSR]. (b) It follows that if x is conceivable, x exists. To see
that this is the case assume, for the sake of a reductio (c) that x is conceivable and that the
existence of non-x is conceivable, too. (d) State of affairs (c) implies that the existence of
both x and non-x involves no brute facts. [By (a)]. If this state of affairs were possible,
x's conceivability would not entail its existence (it would entail its possibility). However,
this state of affairs is impossible. For (e) if both x and non-x are conceivable (hence by
[a] involve no brute facts) and, say, x exists rather than non-x, there can be no reason
why x exists and non-x does not. [By (c) non-x is equally conceivable as x]. (f) However,
this implies that x's existence contradicts (c). [For its existence involves, contrary to what
(c) states, a brute fact], (g) Therefore, if x is conceivable, non-x is inconceivable, (h)
Therefore, if x is conceivable, x exists. [By (g)].8

Della Rocca lays out that argument in more detail in "Rationalist Manifesto," p. 82-90.

Of course assuming the PSR requires separate justification. Delia Rocca's justification, suggested in
"PSR", is considered in detail below.

164

The moral of this argument is that, given the PSR, x and non-x cannot be
simultaneously conceivable: if x is conceivable, x exists. Note that also the opposite
holds: if x exists, x is conceivable (by the PSR, there are no brute facts). It follows that if
we assume the PSR, a thing's existence is (at least) coextensive with its conceivability.
As Delia Rocca points out, this also implies a strong necessatarian conclusion. The
distinction between a thing's conceivability (or its possibility) and its existence (or
actuality) collapses: everything we take to be merely possible in fact exists, and
everything that doesn't exist is impossible. This necessatarian conclusion is significant,
as will soon become clear.

4. That argument, too, is unsatisfactory, especially if invoked to support the


conceivability of'substance'. Let us embrace the rationalist claim that everything needs
to be ultimately explained. We then have to ask: in virtue of what is a thing conceivable?
What does it mean to conceive or understand something? If x's existence is accounted for
in terms of x's conceivability, a rationalist cannot but ask how x's conceivability is
accounted for. (We will see below that Delia Rocca is aware of that question, and
considers it "inevitable and inevitably annoying.")10 Here is one attractive answer that a
rationalist cannot give: we conceive a thing, or understand it, by representing the causes
of its existence. The rationalist must reject this answer because he aspires to account for

A more exhaustive argumentation is offered also in Delia Rocca's "Rationalism Run Amok:
Representation and the Reality of Emotions in Spinoza," Interpreting Spinoza, ed. Charles Huenemann
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
9

Delia Rocca "A Rationalist Manifesto," p. 90.

10

Delia Rocca: "A Rationalist Manifesto," p. 90f.

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both 'existence' and 'causality' in terms o f conceivability'. It would be circular to go


back to these concepts in order to account for 'conceivability'.
Delia Rocca advances a different account of conceivability. It is in fact
identical to proposition (2) which I considered above, namely the claim that concepts are
conceived through themselves. Delia Rocca explicitly considers that challenge. "What is
it in virtue of which a is conceivable?" he asks,

And, more specifically, what is it in virtue of which a is conceivable in terms


of such-and-such? The answer is this: a is conceivable in a certain way because
otherwise it would not be a. That's what it is to be a. Asking why a is
conceivable as such-and-such a way is analogous to asking why bachelors are
unmarried. In each case, the question betrays a misunderstanding of the very
concepts at work.

On this account, 'conceivability' is a primitive notion, bringing to a halt the regressing


'in-virtue-of-what' questions fueled by the PSR. Whereas most notions (e.g. 'existence',
'causality') require an accountand are given one in terms of 'conceivability'
'conceivability' itself is conceived (or accounted for) through itself.

5.1 pointed out above that the 'bachelor' example is somewhat inaccurate. The
question in virtue of what bachelors are conceived as unmarried men is, in fact,
appropriate; the answer is that bachelors are conceived through more basic concepts such
as 'marriage' and 'man'. The only concept that is not conceived through other concepts
11

Delia Rocca: "A Rationalist Manifesto," p. 91.

166

and can be conceived through itself (if it can) is 'substance'. Thus, Delia Rocca's only
valid case in point is the question 'in virtue of what is "substance" conceived as
existing?' and, to that question, he can answer (again, ifhe can) by denying the validity
of the question: 'Substance', he will say, 'is conceived to exist because it is what it is'.
Only in the latter case may the PSR's 'in-virtue-of-what' question be a bad question,
reducible to a genuine misunderstanding.
Thus, as pointed out above, it turns out that rationalism ultimately assumes
the validity of the traditional ontological argument. The question in virtue of what
substance is conceived to exist can be dismissed as a mere misunderstanding of the
concept only if existence is a predicate, participating in substance's essence. What needs
to be underlined is that at stake is not merely a rationalist argument concerning the
theological question of God's existence. At stake is the viability of the rationalist position
itself: without the ontological argument, the edifice of conceivability and of the PSR falls
apart. If God's existence is not primitively conceived through itselfif God's existence
(or his conceivability) is not conceptually self-explanatorynothing has been sufficiently
accounted for by the rationalist. Everything remains a brute fact.
Let us spell out why this is so. The rationalist is committed to the claim
that everything needs to be accounted for (we may say that this is the subjective version
of the PSR, prescribing to explain everything; Kantians call this PI. See chapter one); as
well as that everything can be accounted for (i.e., that there is an ultimate explanation of
everything; Kantians call this P2). The mechanism doing this work, the device serving to

As said, by 'traditional' I mean the one in the tradition of Anselm and Descartes, in which existence is
regarded a predicate or a property. I emphasize this because it is sometimes suggested that a rationalist like
Spinoza can do away with this form of argument, and rely more fundamentally on the PSR in order to
achieve his rationalistic aims. (See note 2 above.)

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explain as much as possible, is the notion o f conceivability'. That notion, however,


which like everything else requires some account, is given one by the ontological
argument. To see this, consider again the 'bachelor' example. That concept is not
conceived through itself but through other concepts, for instance 'man'. The latter in turn
is conceived through further concepts: 'animal', body', 'extension' and, finally,
'substance'. Whereas up to 'substance' each concept was conceived through other
concepts, 'substance', in virtue of which all concepts down to 'bachelor' are conceived,
cannot be conceived through further concepts. And so we ask, 'In virtue of what is
substance conceived?', and receive the ontological argument as an answer: 'this is not a
good question; substance is conceived as existing because it is what it is'. If the latter
argument, the ontological argument, fails, or loses credibility, so does the rationalist
position. The rationalist remains without an account of'conceivability' and, in this sense,
without anything at all.

6. Given this situation, the natural Kantian response is to insist on the well-known
slogan that existence isn't a predicate or a property of a thingbring in Kant's refutation
of the ontological argument. For present purposes let me focus only on what I take to be
the core of Kant's argument, and exclude one interpretation that has gained much
currency but doesn't survive a closer reading of the text.
Kant's views on existence and predication are pronounced most clearly in
the Critique's Dialectic and in the pre-critical Beweisgrund. In the Critique Kant writes:

168

By whatever and by however many predicates we may think a thingeven if


we completely determine itwe do not make the least addition to the thing
when we further declare that this thing is. Otherwise, it would not be exactly
the same thing that exists, but something more than we had thought in the
concept; and we could not, therefore, say that the exact object of my concept
exists (A600/B628).

And in the Beweisgrund:

Take anything you like, for example Julius Caesar. Combine in it all its
conceivable predicates (not excepting those of time and place). You will then
see that, with all these determinations, it may or may not exist. The being that
gave existence to the world and to this hero was able to recognize all these
predicatesnot a single one excludedand could still regard him as a merely
possible thing which, save for His decree, did not exist. Who can deny that
millions of things that really do not exist are, with all the predicates they would
contain if they existed, merely possible; that in the conception which the
highest being has of them, not one of these determinations is lacking, although
existence is not among them. For He knows them only as possible things.
Therefore, it cannot occur that if they exist they contain one more predicate;
for in the possibility of a thing according to its complete determination, no
predicate whatsoever can be missing. And if it had so pleased God to create

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another world, then it would have existed with all the determinations, and
nothing more, that He discerned in it, although it is only merely possible.13

Kant's argument in the latter passage is the following.14 (1) God has concepts of merely
possible things (the "highest being" has "millions" of complete concepts of things that
don't exist; reference to the highest being here is a mere rhetorical device). (2) Although
these concepts are complete, existence isn't one of their predicates ("existence isn't
among them"). The reason for this seems to be (3) that God knows these things as merely
possible, not as actual ("for he knows them only as possible things"): had existence been
among their predicates, God would have known them as actual, not as merely possible.
However (4) given that existence isn't a predicate of a merely possible being, if such a
being comes into existence then 'existence' will not be added to its predicates ("therefore,
it cannot occur that if they exist they contain one more predicate"). The reason for this,
stated more clearly at A600/B628, is that if existence would be added to the concept of
what had been a merely possible thing, as soon as it comes into existence the concept of
the merely possible and the concept of the actual wouldn't be of the same thing. However
(5) this contradicts the assumption that the merely possible could come into existence ("if
it had so pleased God to create another world, then it would have existed with all the
determinations").
The skeleton of the argument is roughly this:

13

BDG AA 02:72

For a recent analysis see W. Forgie: "Kant and Existence: Critique of Pure Reason A600/B623," KantStudien

170

(Al) It is possible to have a complete concept of a merely possible thing, z.


[Assumption]
(A2) The merely possible can become actual. [Assumption]
(A3) Existence isn't a predicate of a merely possible thing, z. [If existence were a
predicate of the merely possible z, z wouldn't be merely possible but actual.]
(A4) Therefore, if z would come into existence, existence won't be among its
predicates. [If it would be, the existing thing wouldn't be identical to z; the concept of
z would be altered by the addition of a further predicate, namely 'existence']

Because existence isn't a property of a thingexisting or non-existingit isn't included


in the concept of God. There is no contradiction involved in the thought 'God, the being
possessing all properties, doesn't exist'. The ontological argument fails.
One challenge facing Kant interpreters is that of understanding how
Kant views A3, and why he thinks it is true. Indeed, on a prevailing interpretation of the
argument A3 is false.'5 For let us say that property <p is included in the concept of a thing,
z, iff cp is a necessary condition for anything being an instance of z (thus 'having three
sides' is a property of triangles because having three sides is a necessary condition for
anything being an instance of a triangle): there is no reason why existence cannot be a
property of a merely possible z. Assume that existence is included in z's concept: it

15

J. Shaffer: "Existence, Predication and the Ontological Argument," Mind LXXI, p. 309-11. Schaffer's
position has become standard. See for example J. Barnes The Ontological Argument (London: The
Macmillan Press, 1972), p. 48; J. Bennett, Kant's Dialectic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1974), p. 230; G. Oppy: Ontological Arguments and Belief in God (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1995), p. 230.

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follows that existing is a necessary condition for anything being an instance of z, not that
z actually exists. On this interpretation, A3 is false.1
Of course, it doesn't follow from this analysis that the ontological
argument goes throughit doesn't follow that existence is, or can be, a property of a
thing in the relevant sense. Existence can be a property of a merely possible thing
precisely because even if it is, in the relevant sense it still isn'tin the relevant sense
existence can only be a property of a concept of a thing (i.e., the second-order property,
'being instantiated'). Thus even if a concept of a thing is completeincluding within it
'existence', if you'd likeit does not follow that that thing exists. What follows is that if
it exists, it has all the relevant properties. The ontological argument fails: define God as
that being possessing all predicates, and allow existence to be one of them; it follows that
if there exists a being possessing all predicates, that being is God.
If only for the purpose of historical precision, however, it should be noted
that this analysis, which is sometimes presented as part of a criticism of Kant's refutation,
seems to be what Kant himself is groping for. A couple of passages should make this
clear:

l6

Indeed such analysis renders all positive existential propositions tautological, and all negative existential
propositions contradictory. Some have used this very fact to carry out a reductio ad absurdum, i.e. to argue
that for diat reason existence is not a predicate. A. J. Ayer states, for example that, "Existence is not an
attribute. For, when we ascribe an attribute to a thing, we covertly assert that it exists; so that if existence
were itself an attribute, it would follow that all positive existential propositions were tautologies, and all
negative existential propositions self-contradictory; and this is not the case. So that those who raise
questions about Being which are based on the assumption that existence is an attribute are guilty of
following grammar beyond the boundaries of sense" (Language, Truth, and Logic [New York: Dover
Publications, 1952], p. 43). A similar reductio is given by J. Wisdom, Interpretation and Analysis (London:
Regan Paul, 1931), p. 62. G. Nakhnikian and W. Salmon suggest to embrace the claim that all existential
claims are tautologicali.e. to reject the reductio. See their "Exists as a Predicate," The Philosophical
Review 1957, 66(4), p. 535-542.

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In whatever mariner the understanding may have arrived at a concept, the


existence of its object is never, by any process of analysis, discoverable within
it; for the knowledge of the existence of the object consists precisely in the fact
that the object is posited in itself, beyond the [mere] thought of it (B667).

[existence] appears in common usage as a predicate, not so much as a predicate


of the thing itself, as it is of the thought one has of it. E.g. existence belongs to
the sea-unicorn but not to the land-unicorn. This is to say nothing more than:
the conception of the sea-unicorn is a concept of experience, that is, the
conception of an existing thing... Not: regular hexagons exist in nature, but:
the predicates which are thought together in a hexagon belong to certain things
in nature.

Lastly:

If I say, 'God is an existing thing', it appears that I express the relation of a


predicate to a subject. But there is an incorrectness in this expression.
Expressed exactly, it should say: something existing is God, that is, those
predicates that we designate collectively by the expression 'God' belong to an
1R

existing thing.

17

BDGAA02:72f.

18

BDG AA 02:74.

173

Thus, A3 needs to be interpreted as a claim about existence not being a predicate in the
relevant sense:

(A3*) Existence in the relevant sense cannot be a property of a merely possible thing,
z. [Existence in the relevant sense isn't a property of a concept of a thing but a
property of a concepta second-level property, 'being instantiated'. Moreover: had
the property 'being instantiated' been a property of the concept of z, z wouldn't have
been merely possible; it would have existed.]

It is important for Kant to insist not only that existence (in the relevant sense) isn't a
predicate of a thing but also that from a thing's concept one cannot know whether in the
relevant sense existence applies. "In the mere concept of a thing," he famously writes,
"no mark [Charakter] of its existence is to be found" (B 272).
Now, if existence in the relevant sense isn't a property of a thing, then
existence is something over and above the concept of a thing. It is neither true nor known
to be true from the mere concept of substance that it exists. From definitions like the
Ethics' firstthat the causa sui is "that whose essence involves existence, or that whose
nature cannot be conceived except as existing"follows nothing existentially
informative.19 Accordingly, the rationalist remains without a genuine answer to the

This criticism of the ontological argument is implicitly assumed in Kant's critique of Spinoza's
geometrical method in the Critique of Pure Reason. "In philosophy," Kant writes "the geometrician can by
his method build only so many houses of cards." Kant dismisses the use of "definitions," "axioms" and
"demonstrations" in obtaining metaphysical truths as impossible. His chief argument is that no
philosophical definition can generate non-empirical metaphysical-existential knowledge. In this light,
Kant's critique of the geometrical method depends on the refutation of the ontological argument. If
existence is a predicate, geometrical methods in philosophy might be appropriate. I will return to consider
Kant's critique of Spinoza's geometrical method elsewhere.

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question 'In virtue of what is substance conceived as existing?' He remains short of an


9ft

account of conceivability and, for all that matters, of anything at all.

7. This Kantian refutation doesn't successfully debunk the rationalist's position


not without further argument. One implication of the rationalist insistence that
conceivability is coextensive with existence is its necessatarian conclusion (if x is
conceivable, non-x is inconceivable). This conclusion indicates that there is something
fundamentally lacking in Kant's claim that existence isn't a predicate. Delia Rocca
writes:

This argument shows that a standard and Kantian criticism of the ontological
argument fails to address what are, perhaps, the most powerful reasons in
defense of that argument. In that famous section of the Critique of Pure
Reason, Kant claims, in effect, that conceivability is separate from existence.
But a rationalist who has his wits about him (as Spinoza does) will simply
deny this by sayingand plausibly so, as I have arguedthat conceivability
is identical to existence. Kant's criticism of the ontological argument fails to
confront the reasons that be marshaled for the claim that conceivability is not
separate from existence. These reasons depend, of course, on the PSR, and
this shows that the defense of the ontological argument may, in the end,

Schopenhauer gives an intriguing description of the situation faced by the rationalist attempt to rely on
self explanatory devices: "The right emblem for causa sui is Baron Munchhausen, sinking on horseback
into the water, clinging by the legs to his horse and pulling both himself and the animal out by his own
pigtail, with the motto underneath: causa suC (On the Principle of Sufficient Reason in trans. K. Hillebrand
[Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2006]). As we will see presently, Schopenhauer is too quick to ridicule this
position. Much more Kantian sweat is required to obtain the claim that existence is not a predicate.

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surprisingly rest on a defense of the PSR. This is surprising because the PSR
is generally associated with the cosmological argument which Kant claimed
was dependent on the ontological argument. But now it may seem that the
explanatory considerations at the heart of the cosmological argument may be
more fundamental.

The rationalist denies Kant's opening assumption, A1. It is impossible to have a complete
concept of a merely possible z, a rationalist maintains, because, by the PSR, a complete
concept of z shows that non-z is inconceivable, hence that z exists. Therefore, A2 is false
as well: obviously, the merely possible z cannot come into existence if there isn't a
conceivable concept of a merely possible z. Therefore, and this is just the point, A3* is
false: we can know from z's concept whether it is instantiated or not, for z's complete
concept shows that non-z is inconceivable. Kant's claim that in the mere concept of a
thing "no mark of its existence" can be found is thereby rejected.
From the rationalist's perspective, Kant, in assuming Al, is begging the
question. He assumes that there is a genuine distinction between existence and
possibilitythat necessitarianism is falsein arguing that existence isn't a property of a
thing, but assuming that existence is not a predicate is a necessary condition of making
that very assumption. (We believe that it is possible to have a complete concept of a
merely possible thing only if we believe that existence isn't a predicate; for if existence is
a predicate, the rationalist can show that necessitarianism is true and thereby deny A1-3.)
While this does not mean that Kant's argument is formally invalid, it does show that the
argument isn't known to be sound. It is ineffective against someone who denies the
21

Delia Rocca: "A Rationalist Manifesto," p. 90.

176

premises altogether. Therefore, the argument licenses a weaker conclusion than the one
proclaimed by Kant: if we believe that there is a distinction between the merely possible
and the actually existing (if we assume that necessitarianism is false), we are committed
to believing that existence isn 't a predicate. But this doesn't show why or that we should
believe that this circumstance actually obtains. Given that Kant's critique of rationalism
depends on the refutation of the ontological argument, the weaker statement above is
unsatisfactory. And more problematically still: at this point the rationalist will surely
invoke the PSR to argue that necessitarianism is truei.e., that Al is false and that the
Kantian refutation fails. (This is just what Delia Rocca suggests in the above-quoted
passage.)

8. This latter step, however, is one that the rationalist cannot legitimately take. In
arguing from the PSR that necessitarianism and the ontological argument are true he is
begging the question just as much as Kant. We have seen above that believing that
necessitarianism is true is necessary for believing the ontological argument (for if
necessitarianism is false, Kant's refutation goes through). We have also seen that
believing the ontological argument is necessary for believing the PSR (for if we don't
believe the ontological argument, we cannot maintain that all truths are conceptual).
Therefore, believing necessitarianism is necessary for believing the PSR. Therefore, it is
circular to assume the PSR in showing that necessitarianism obtains in order to redeem
the ontological argument. To be sure, here too circularity need not imply a formal
fallacy.22 Let us grant that the argument is validlet us grant that arguing from the PSR

For present purposes I'm assuming a quasi-pragmatic conception of question begging. D. Sanford
formulates this so: "Question begging is not a purely formal matter. An argument formulated for Smith's

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we establish that necessitarianism obtains. The problem is that the rationalist is trying to
use an argument in order to show not merely that the conclusion validly follows but also
that the argument's own premises are themselves true (i.e., that the argument is sound).
But of course even if the argument itself isn't viciously circular, the attempt to use it to
show that its premises are true is. Just like Kant, a rationalist has to rest satisfied with a
weaker claim: if we believe necessitarianism, we have a good reason to believe that
existence is a predicateand to believe in the PSR. But the PSR shouldn't be anybody's
reason for granting necessitarianism in the first place.

9. As so often, the dispute between the Kantian and the rationalist has to be settled
by debating the legitimacy of each side's initial positionnot by arguing over what
follows thereafter. Let us take a moment to articulate each of these positions.
Significantly, both begin by admitting a rationalist commitment to the PSR: both agree
that rationality demands that we strive to explain everything (in Kant, this is PI); as well
as assume that everything can be explained (in Kant, this is P2). They part company,
however, when it comes to the status of the latter rational assumption (P2). Kant
maintains that PI must remain essentially unsatisfiedthat the task prescribed by PI is
benefit, whether by Smith himself or by another, begs the question either if Smith believes one of the
premises only because he already believes the conclusion or if Smith would believe one of the premises
only if he already believed the conclusion." {Analysis 1972 32[6], p. 198.) F. Jackson holds a similar
conception, which he understands as 'egocentric reasoning' (in which the premises selected are consistent
with the beliefs of the arguer and not the target audience) (see his Conditionals [New York: Blackwell,
1987], Chapter 6).
23

Some refuse to take that step. Relying on Leibniz's conception ofper se possibilities, Martin Lin
advances an argument for the claim that the PSR does not necessitate necessitarianism. (See "Rationalism
and Necessitarianism," [unpublished manuscript]). Lin argues that that Spinoza's reasons for rejecting
Leibniz's defense of contingency from per se possibilities is not motivated by the PSR. Here I cannot
discuss Lin's position in detail but will assume for the sake of argument that the PSR does necessitate
necessitarianism. However, it is important to keep in mind that if the PSR does not entail necessitarianism,
this would have further consequences for rationalism. As I argued, rationalism depends on the success of
the ontological argument, and the latter is rejected if necessitarianism is rejected.

178

Sisypheanbecause the assumption that everything can be explained (P2) isn't known to
be true. He thinks that the rational belief that we know that everything can be ultimately
explained is illusory: it is unjustifiable at best (given that the existence of a necessary
being has to be known as a conceptual truth for the ultimate completeness of
explanation); and arguably known to be false (given the Antinomies). However, both
claims turn on the assumption that there is a modal distinction between existence and
possibility: only on the assumption that necessitarianism is false does Kant successfully
reject the ontological argument and, thereby, the rationalist 'edifice of conceivability'.
The rationalist, however, takes just the opposite stance. Assuming that there are no mere
possibilities he recovers the ontological argument. The edifice of conceivability and of
the PSR is thereby sustainedis more stable than a "geometrical house of cards."
Moreover, as we have seen in the previous chapters such a position enables him in turn to
outflank the other anti-rationalist arguments, like those presented in the Antinomies. Is
there a reason to favor one initial position over the other?

II.
One way to answer that question is to examine the modal intuitions that drive the PSR. I
will argue that these intuitions give a reason to favor one initial position over the other,
and that that position is Kant's.

1. The most natural, pre-reflective moments in which we apply the PSR occur
when we raise simple why-questions. We encounter concrete worldly states of affairs and
instinctively demand an explanation: 'Why did this thing happen?', 'Why did this happen

179

as it did?' or even 'Why didn't this happen?' One can fill into these formulas the most
basic content there is: 'Why is the table here?' 'Why is the table here rather than there?'
'Why is there something rather than nothing?' Most philosophers would agree with Kant
and Spinoza that we raise these questions instinctively, and that once we start raising
them it is difficult to stop. 'Why is this table here?' 'Because the waitress put it here.'
'Why then did she put it here?' 'Because her boss told her to do so.' 'But why did he tell
her to do so?' This regress is motivated by a familiar instinct: we ask why something
happened because we instinctively assume it happened for some reason, and the moment
we learn about the reason we assume that that reason, too, is conditioned on another. And
so, we ask again.
Behind this instinctive demand for reasons are two basic intuitions, which
can be viewed as necessary conditions of why-questions being raised. (1) Everything that
happens happens for a reason. And (2) everything that happens could have happened
otherwise (it is contingent).
Delia Rocca elegantly accounts for the first intuition but only at the
expense of the second. This is not a welcome sacrifice; the relation between (1) and (2) is
such that (1) depends on (2): the modal intuition that what happens is contingent is
essential for the application (and, we shall see, the justification) of the PSR. That is, our
rational insistence that what happens happens for a reason (i.e., 1) is fueled by the
intuition that things could have been otherwise (i.e., 2). It is because we think that things
could have occurred otherwise that we think that there has to be a reason why they
occurred. Effectively, we never ask why something happened but what made it happen
despite the fact that it didn't have to happen.

180

Take two examples. 'Why is this table here?' This is a good question, but
only because we think that the table could have been elsewhere, or that it could have
failed to exist. Had we 'seen' that the table were here necessarily we wouldn't have asked
whywould have had no reason to question its location. This modal intuition becomes
clearer with the following question. 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' Had
we thought that something's existence is necessary we would never raise that question.
But we do naturally wonder why anything at all exists, and we do so because we assume
that something's existence is contingent. Only on the assumption that the world exists
contingently do we demand to know why it exists. (Some think that it makes sense to ask
why the world exists only because the world is unjust. I will get to this.)
At the heart of the cosmological argument, so intimately connected to the
PSR, lies a strong belief in contingencyan anti-necessatarian conviction. The argument
begins with the claim that the 'world of becoming' exists contingently and, hence,
requires a reason to come into existence. Moving up from that contingency premise,
Ancient and Early-Modern philosophers would proceed to derive the existence of an
ultimate 'world of being'an 'uncaused-cause'. The latter, being necessary, requires no
explanation. Now, to be sure, the validity of the cosmological argument does not concern
us here in the least; of interest is only the insight it provides into the modal intuitions
driving the PSR. The cosmological argument illustrates, first, that we naturally demand
reasons for things we take to be contingent; and second, that we don't demand reasons for
things we take to be necessary.
Thus, our motivation to apply the PSR is based on the assumption that there
is a distinction between existence and possibility. Therefore, in applying the PSR we are

181

led to reject the claim that existence is a predicatereject the ontological argument. But
as we have seen, if the ontological argument fails, so does the rationalist edifice of
conceivability.
Let us be more specific. If we assumed or had the intuition that the table's
existence here or something's existence in general were a matter of conceptual necessity,
asking why they exist as they do would be in vain. Our questions wouldn't be genuinely
good questions but misunderstandings of the concepts at work (as in the case of asking
why bachelors are unmarried men).24 Let us say that only on the assumption that things
are not conceptually necessary is there a genuine reason to ask why they happened as
they did. This means that when we employ the PSR we assume a genuine distinction
between existence and possibility.
At first glance, the rationalist seems to have an obvious reply. He may claim
that it is not the case that we apply the PSR because we think that things are contingent,

One could suggest that a rationalist like Spinoza maintains, in fact, an important distinction between the
necessity o f substance exists' and that of 'the table is here'the former but not the latter is completely
conceived through itself. EHaxl for example states, "the essence of man does not involve necessary
existence", what could suggest that the existence of particular modes is not necessary. This doesn't seem an
acceptable answer. Even if the source of the necessity of a finite modes' existence is not the (finite) modes'
essence, the degree of its necessity is no lesser than anything else's. Spinoza's EIp33sl makes it clear that
despite the distinction between these sources of contingency, any appearance of contingency is a mere
appearance, an illusion due to a "defect of our knowledge." (See also D. Garrett's "Spinoza's
Necessitarianism" ined. Y. Yovel, God and Nature: Spinoza's Metaphysics [Leiden: Brill, 1991], p. 199f.)
25

In a way, Delia Rocca concedes this intuition. This is so to the extent that that intuition constitutes his
account of 'conceivability'. As we recall, Delia Rocca argues that everything needs to be accounted for,
and suggests that this can be done in terms of 'conceivability'. When faced with the "inevitably annoying"
question 'In virtue of what is conceivability accounted for?' however, he dismisses the questionthe
answer being a matter of conceptual necessityas a misunderstanding of the concepts at work. Important
for our purposes at this point is only Delia Rocca's assumption that if x is conceptually trueas in the case
of 'the cause-of-itself exists' (or of 'bachelors are unmarried')there is no point in asking in virtue of what
this is the case. Bachelors are unmarried because they are what they are; the cause-of-itself exists because it
is what it is. This challenges Delia Rocca's position because his necessatarian conclusionitself a
necessary condition for universalizing the PSRrenders all truths conceptual. Asking 'Why is the table
here?' on this account would be just as hollow as asking 'Why are bachelors unmarried?'. The appropriate
answer is that 'the table is here because it is what it is'. (Or rather because substance is what it is.)

182

but because we don't see how they are necessary. The point is this: asking why
bachelors are unmarried is vain because the conceptual truth that they are unmarried is
something that we instantly seethe conceptual containment is "more or less on the
97

sleeve of the relevant concept." We have a reason to raise why-questions about


conceptual truths when those truths are not, to us, obviously conceptual. On this view, the
purpose of asking 'why' is to further inquire into and articulate our concepts. The
rationalist would argue that whereas it makes no sense to ask why bachelors are
unmarried, it makes sense to ask why there is something rather than nothing. The answer
to the latter question, unlike that of the first, isn't something that's readily seen. It has to
be articulated out of the concepts 'something', 'nothing' and so forth.
I don't think that this rationalist claim can be deniedand it need not be.
Indeed even if all truths are conceptual, we, creatures of finite intellects, don't see all of
them as such. Philosophy's task from this point of view would be none other than the
Socratic aspiration to further articulate and inquire into the meaning of our concepts.
However, the present philosophical debate is of a different nature. We're asking whether
all truths are in fact conceptual, and whether a rationalist may claim to know that they
are. By granting that we ask why because we don't see how truths are conceptual, the
rationalist has granted the only point that we sought to establish: we raise why-questions
because it seems to us that things are not necessary. It doesn't follow from this, of course,
that things are not necessary; but then, the PSR cannot be used to show that they are.

See Delia Rocca: "The Identity of Indiscernible and the Articulability of Concepts," Linguistics and
Philosophical Investigations 2008 (7). This in reply to a challenge raised R. Jeshion's "The Identity of
Indiscemibles and the Co-Location Problem," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 2007, (87), p. 163-76.
27

M. Delia Rocca: "The Identity of Indiscernible and the Articulability of Concepts"

183

Thus, when we apply the PSR we initially (though not necessarily) believe in
contingency, and there is no reason why we should change our mind.
Here is another way of putting the same point. Let us ask, if some
conceptual truths are easily seen as such, why aren't others? The rationalist answers: (1)
because our mind is finite; and, moreover, he would say: (2) from God's perspective all
truths are conceptual and are intuited as such. However, (1) is equivalent to granting that
we ask 'why' because a state of affairs seems to us contingent; and there will be a reason
to believe (2) only if there is an argument justifying the existence of such a divine
perspective in the first place. We have seen above that the PSR cannot provide that
justification because believing that that perspective existsbelieving the ontological
argumentis necessary for believing that the PSR is true. Thus, we turned to inquire into
the reasons that drive the PSR in order to see if they give an independent clue into our
initial modal intuitions, and they do. In fact we found that the rationalist has to agree with
us that we apply the PSR because we believe in contingency.

Ill
I pointed out earlier that Delia Rocca attempts to provide a separate justification of the
PSR. This justification proceeds bottom up: Delia Rocca points out that basic theoretical
procedures are initially committed to the PSR; from this fact, he generates a commitment
to a fully universalized version of the PSRa commitment to the claim that everything
that exists is fully explicable. If successful, such a justification could give an independent
reason for accepting the PSR and the conclusions it entails (necessitarianism, the
ontological argument, etc.). I will suggest that even if successful this justification does

184

not provide a genuine commitment to the fully blown version of the PSR, as sought by
the rationalist. It generates a commitment to a subjective version of the PSR, which Kant
in fact grants and which is consistent with his critical position. Let us begin by briefly
examining Delia Rocca's argument.

1. Consider a state of affairs in which two equal weights are hung at the ends of a
balance. We make the judgment that the balance will not move; it will not tend in either
direction. Why? What is the basis of that judgment? Leibniz, quoted by Delia Rocca,
gives the following explanation:

[Archimedes] takes it for granted that if there is a balance in which everything


is alike on both sides, and if equal weights are hung on the two ends of that
balance, the whole will be at rest. That is because no reason can be given why
one side should weigh down rather than the other.

Delia Rocca points out that "Leibniz (or Archimedes) here rejects a certain possibility
on

viz. that the balance is not at restbecause this possibility would be inexplicable."
Such a procedure Delia Rocca defines as an 'explicability argument'an argument in
which a certain possibility is rejected because its existence cannot be explained. He
explains that, in explicability arguments, "a certain state of affairs is said not to obtain

In ed. R. Ariew, G. W Leibniz and Samuel Clarke: Correspondence (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing,
2000), p. 7.
29

Delia Rocca: "PSR" (unpublished)

185

simply because the existence of that state of affairs would be inexplicable, a so-called
brute fact."30
Delia Rocca does not try to justify his reliance on explicability arguments.
And, at least at first glance, this seems unproblematic. Indeed anybody who is even
minimally rational would be reluctant to deny such arguments, which are as intuitive and
necessary as a theoretical argument can be (just consider the Leibniz-Archimedes case
above). Delia Rocca claims that invoking explicability arguments like the one above
creates a serious pressure to accept the PSR itself. This pressure is generated by what we
may call the rationalist 'principle of inertia' (this is not Delia Rocca's term). A body,
once moved, will move in the same direction and speed unless acted upon by external
force. Similarly, if we accept explicability arguments, we have an initial, if minimal,
commitment to go on using the PSR. (One can deny that commitment only at the price of
giving up the buonafida of arguments such as the Leibniz-Archimedes argument
mentioned above, what seems unattractive.) But given this initial commitment, we cannot
but keep on going in the same directiondemand that existence itself be explicable. It
would be inconsistent to refrain from going on and appealing to explicability arguments,
unless we have a reason to do so. Hence, for lack of a reason to stop using explicability
arguments, we cannot but raise them continually and eventually to demand an account of
existence itself. But as soon as we demand this, argues Delia Rocca, we have conceded
our commitment to the PSR itself:

186

the explicability argument concerning existence does [commit one to the fullblown PSR], for to insist that there be an explanation for the existence of each
existing thing is simply to insist on the PSR itself, as I stated it at the outset of
this paper. So the explicability argument concerning existence, unlike the
other explicability arguments, is an argument for the PSR itself, and it is our
willingness to accept explicability arguments in other, similar cases that puts
pressure on us to accept the explicability argument in the case of existence,
i.e. puts pressure on us to accept the PSR itself.31

With one important qualification, most Kantians would probably accept this argument.
Kant himself, though admittedly without elaborate argument, grants that human beings
are as a matter of fact committed to striving to explain absolutely everything. The
qualification is this: the commitment generated by Delia Rocca is in fact more limited
than rationalists are tempted to believe. From a Kantian point of view (a point of view
Kant names 'critical-rationalist') an argument like Delia Rocca's only seems to justify the
full-blown PSR. Let us distinguish between two different claims:

(1) For every p that exists, we demand a reason why p exists.


(2) For every p that exists, (we know that) there is a reason why it exists.

Note first that (1) and (2) correspond exactly to PI and P2, respectively. The Kantian
objection to Delia Rocca's justification of the PSR is thus none other than the Kantian
objection to the slip from PI to P2. Delia Rocca's argument puts pressure on accepting
31

Delia Rocca: "PSR"

187

(1): he shows that the most obvious theoretical explanations commit us to demanding
("insist") that everything be fully explicable. However, in the above-quoted passage
Delia Rocca argues that in virtue of accepting (1) we accept the fully blown PSR; i.e., (2).
This move from (1) to (2) was not argued for and is suspicious; Kant suggests that it
occurs because of that "necessary and natural illusion of reason," tempting us to slip from
subjective claims about our commitments to objective claims about the way the world is.
The point is this: Delia Rocca seems to suggest that in virtue of accepting that we are
committed to ''''insist that there be an explanation for the existence of each existing thing,"
we are committed to accepting "the PSR itself,"i.e., that there is an explanation for
everything. But what justifies that claim? Is it not legitimate to affirm our commitment to
explaining everything without affirming what we do not knowthat everything is or can
be explained?
Rationalists, speculative or critical, are committed to the view that one
ought not claim to know that a given metaphysical proposition is true unless one has
sufficient grounds for making that claim. What, then, justifies the claim that there are no
brute facts? Is the fact that we are committed to demanding explanations for everything
a fact about reason, as Kantians call itsufficient to establish that we know that
everything is explicable? What justifies this optimism?
I suggested in chapter one that there could be a Cartesian assumption
doing the work in the background: if we assume that a benevolent God created us, we
have grounds to believe that our reason's natural inclinations do not deceive us.
Accordingly, if we grant (that we know) God's existence and goodness, we may claim
that if we know that we are committed to eliminating brute facts, we know that there are

188

none. Cold-blooded rationalists like Kant and Spinoza, however, would be reluctant to
perform such a Cartesian salto mortale. What then, could justify the rationalist's leap of
faith? Kant is only true to rationalist principles when he refuses to take that step.
Let me translate this point into the set-up of Delia Rocca's own argument.
Faced with the pressure to appeal to explicability arguments about existence, Delia Rocca
claims, a "non-rationalist" may embrace one of the following three options:

(1) Claim that some but not all explicability arguments are legitimate
(particularly, that explicability arguments about existence are not legitimate).
(2) Claim that no explicability arguments are legitimate.
(3) Claim that all explicability arguments are legitimate.

Strictly speaking Kant, who does not understand himself as a non-rationalist but as a
critical rationalist and thus as rationalism's true keeper, embraces (2). This sounds
somewhat harsh; a more positive way of putting this is to say that a critical rationalist like
Kant embraces something like (2) as well as something like (3). Kant would argue, first,
that no explicability argument is known to be truecall this (2*). The reason behind this
(very costly) claim is that in order for any explicability argument to be known to be true,
existence itself must be (known to be) explicable. (If existence isn't explicable, nothing is
explicable. And in order for us to believe that existence is explicable, we need to believe
the ontological argument, etc.) However, the Kantian will at the same time accept that we
are rationally committed to striving to explain everything, eliminate all brute factscall
this (3*). Thus, insofar as Delia Rocca is arguing that we are committed to explaining

189

everythinginsofar as he insists that the commitment to eliminate brute facts ought not
be given uphe has found in the Kantian an ally. However, as soon as the rationalist
moves from speaking about our commitments to speaking about the way the world is, the
Kantian disapproves. In fact, at that moment he becomes a powerful foe and would argue
that the dogmatic rationalist has betrayed the most basic rationalist principle. Despite
what many assume, this is not, I believe, adherence to the claim everything is
explicablethat there are no brute facts.

It is rather the maxim never to believe

anything without reason.33


The rationalist, then, hasn't grounded the claim that there are no brute facts.
He has justified the claim that we are committed to striving to explain everything; but we
still don't know that everything can be ultimately explained. Therefore, we have no good
reason to revise our modal intuition that necessitarianism is false. Accordingly, we do
have a reason to believe that the PSR cannot be known to be true. The truth of the PSR
requires the ontological argument, and that argument collapses if necessitarianism is
false. A Kantian maintains the commitment to explaining everything without knowing
that everything can be explained, that the PSR is true. Depending on personal taste this
will be regarded as the beauty or the folly of Kant's position.

I believe that this is Delia Rocca's position; Lin defines "metaphysical rationalism" as the doctrine which
proclaims the truths of the PSR ("Rationalism and Necessitarianism," p.l); perhaps this reflects an attempt
on this part to recognize that accepting the truth of the PSR need not be the defining feature of rationalism
as such.
33

0ne could ask which principle comes first. Perhaps it is possible to argue that without believing that there
are no brute facts there is no point in refusing to believe something without sufficient reason. If this is so,
the rationalist may be able to suggest that the foremost code of rationalism is the belief that there are no
brute facts. To me this does not seem to be the case. The justification of the 'code' of not believing
anything without sufficient grounds, a code embraced by both Spinoza and Kantas well as by most
philosophers in general and certainly most Enlightenment thinkersdraws on a normative decree rather
than on theoretical justification: 'think freely!'refuse to believe what you cannot yourself understand. In
my reading of Spinoza, this is also his primary motivation.

190

Keeping this in mind, I would like to make another comment on Delia Rocca's
justification of the PS

2. It is telling that the PSR's justification proceeds by stressing our need for
explicability arguments, because these arguments reaffirm the modal intuition that
necessitarianism is false. In the Leibniz-Archimedes case considered above, an
explicability argument is employed to reject a certain possibility (namely, the possibility
that the balance would move in a certain direction) by the claim that the actual existence
of that possibility would be a brute fact. Leibniz has a genuine reason to invoke an
explicability argument to reject a certain state of affairs only if that state of affairs is
genuinely possible: rejecting it requires an argument. If Leibniz or Archimedes had
deemed it conceptually impossible that the balance would move in a certain direction,
rejecting its motion by an explicability argument would be in vain. If the balance's
motion were taken to be inconceivable, the only genuinely good argument rejecting the
"possibility" of its motion wouldn't be an explicability argument but the claim that it is
impossible (contradictory) that the balance would move.
We may say that what is true of simple why-questions is true of explicability
arguments: we demand to be given an account of or a reason for p because it seems to us
that p is not necessaryit seems to us that non-p is conceivable. Similarly, we go to the
trouble of accounting for the non-actuality of certain states of affairs by means of
explicability arguments because we think that these non-actual states of affairs constitute
genuine possibilities. We would not have a reason to reject a possible pwould not have
a reason to appeal to explicability argumentsif we assumed that p were impossible.

191

Delia Rocca's justification of the PSR indicates once more that the PSR is applied with
an intuitive belief in contingency.
Of course, this does not show that things are in fact contingent. I already
conceded above that even if necessitarianism obtains, finite mind like ours would not see
how they are necessary; this would constitute a reason to ask why and exploit
explicability arguments and the PSR. However, if this is the rationalist's eventual defense
of the PSRif he maintains that this not-seeing-how is the reason to accept the PSRhe
has come to concede the core of the Kantian position: the PSR is invoked from an
essentially limited human perspective. For he has granted that we do know that we
invoke the PSR because things (at least) seem contingent; that we would not have asked
why had we seen that and how things are necessary. He has granted, in short, that if there
is a divine perspective from which everything is intuited as necessary, from that
perspectivewhich is the only genuine oneno explicability argument is truly required.
For if such a perspective exists there are no possibilities whose non-actuality needs to be
explained. But then, why should we believe that a principle that is known to be used
because and insofar as our perspective is limited could show that an ultimate perspective
exists?
Let me press that point a bit further. The PSR's justification consists in
what I called a principle of inertia: if we initially apply this principle in good faith, we
cannot stop applying it without a reason to do so. For lack of a reason to stop we must
carry on all the way. This argument is appealing, but there's no reason why the same
doesn't hold for starting to apply the PSR. If we initially apply the PSR in good faith, we
need to have a reason to start to apply it just as much as we later need a reason to stop.

192

Delia Rocca would probably agree to this, for he accepts that the PSR requires
justification: he grants that because the PSR is the PSR, using that principle for a reason
is essential to using it. However, this justificationthe reason to get going with the
PSRis couched in the need for explicability arguments, and those are truly needed if
and only insofar as we don't see that or how things are conceptually necessary. This can
be seen by considering the following situation. Let us grant for the sake of argument that
all truths are necessary. It follows that nothing that is non-actual is possible. No
explicability argument is required. No mere possibility is denied actuality because its
actuality would involve a brute fact. So the PSR, if it is used, is essentially used from a
limited perspective: we reject a possibility because it seems to us that its existence will be
a brute fact, but this is not the reason why this possibility doesn't exist. There is in fact no
possibility to reject. But then, there is no genuine reason to apply the PSR: the reason to
use that principle would consist merely in, to put it in Spinoza's own language, "a defect
of our knowledge" (EIp33sl). In this light, it would be irresponsible (dogmatic) to use the
PSR to draw metaphysical conclusions. Worse, it would be self-defeating: how can a
principle whose justification loses its status if all truths are necessary be used to show
that all truths are necessary? Are we expected to use the PSR as a Wittgensteinian
laddera tool you dispense with as soon as it has taken you to the top? It would be more
reasonable to concede that that ladder simply doesn't take us to the topand precisely
for that reason that there is no reason to dispense with it.

3. Let me conclude this chapter by saying something about the more positive
Kantian reasons for applying the PSR. Why does Kant think we apply this principle in the

193

first place and why are we justified in doing so? Why, according to Kant, do we strive to
explain the world?
I have so far operated on the minimal claim that we strive to explain the
world because it seems to us contingent. My strategy was to show that the rationalist
cannot give us a reason to modify that modal intuition; accordingly, we insist on our
rejection of the ontological argument. However, whereas the seeming contingency of
things may be regarded a necessary condition for demanding to know why, it is not a
sufficient condition. It is entirely conceivable (in fact, it is evidently true) that even when
we view the world as contingent we don't always ask to explain it. There is no necessary
causal connection between experiencing the world as contingent (or not seeing how it is
necessary) and asking why. Why, then, do we ask? What is the more positive reason, or
motivation, for demanding an explanation?
The Kantian explanation, which Kant himself, as far as I can see, never
articulated, is that we believe that things could have been different because we know that
they ought to have been different. Our modal intuition that necessitarianism is false is
grounded in a moral conviction, which is also a positive cause for demanding an
explanation of the world. In the most authentic manifestations of the PSR we do not ask
'why' but cryin moral outrage. Outrage against an earthquake taking thousands of
innocent lives, the premature death of a loved one; or the course of history, teaching us
about the political evils generated by human society. 4 We ask why the world is as it is
because we demand justice from God; we strive to theoretically understand the world

34

Susan Neiman gives a detailed account of the history of philosophy as the problem of theodicy, showing
beautifully that the theoretical strife to explain the world is motivated by the moral objection to the way the
world is. See Evil in Modern Thought: an Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2002).

194

with a commitment to changing it, bringing about justice. (Kant himself took the story
of Job to be a model of such a relation to God. I will examine Kant's discussion of this
story when examining Kant's account of the sublime.)
Of course, a rationalist like Spinoza believes that everything is just the way
it ought (or "ought") to be. This follows from his belief that necessitarianism is true.
Moreover, building on that belief, the rationalist will prescribe some powerful rationalpsychological methods for remedying our outragemethods for "curing" our rebellion
against nature, or God, a rebellion whose grounds the rationalist takes to be illusory and
anthropomorphic. However, the moral-metaphysical proposition that everything is the
way it ought to be, as well as the success of rationalistic prescriptions for remedying
anthropomorphic moral rebellion, depend on the PSR legitimately showing that we know
that things are necessary. This is an assumption that we cannot make. In the final
analysis, then, if deciding whether our moral outrage against nature is unfounded and
illusoryor whether illusory is the thought that everything is known to be explicable
there is good reason to think it is the latter.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that Schopenhauer, who wrote a dissertation
on the Principle pf Sufficient Reason and who was fascinated not only by Kant but also
by Spinoza, articulates this Kantian stance most lucidly:

Allison once named PI (i.e., reason's command to strive to explain everything) as the Categorical
Imperative of theoretical reason. I think he meant this metaphorically, but it seems that the relation between
PI and the categorical imperative is such that the later grounds the former. Kant as far as I know never says
so explicitly, but his talk of the fact that there is only one reasonand, indeed, the fact that an image of
Rousseau was hanging in his studysuggests that he was thinking along similar lines.

195

If the world were not something that, practically expressed, ought not to be, it
would also not be theoretically a problem. On the contrary, its existence would
either require no explanation at all, since it would be so entirely self-evident
that astonishment at it and enquiry about it could not arise in any mind; or its
purpose would present itself unmistakably. But instead of this it is indeed an
insoluble problem, since even the most perfect philosophy will always contain
an unexplained element, like an insoluble precipitate or the remainder that is
always left behind... Therefore, if anyone ventures to raise the question why
there is not nothing at all rather than this world, then the world cannot be
justified from itself.

36

A. Schopenhauer, The World As Will and As Representation II, trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover,
1958), p. 579.

196

5
Radical Enlightenment, the Pantheismusstreit, and a Change of Tone in the
Critique of Pure Reason

Kant claims in the B-Preface of the Critique of Pure Reason that the book's
second edition does not differ significantly from its first. "In the propositions
themselves," he writes, "I found nothing to alter." Changes were made only in the "mode
of exposition," intending to prevent misunderstandings regarding some of the arguments.
In a footnote Kant adds that the only change, "strictly so called," is the insertion of the
Refutation of Idealism (Bxxxvii). This is indeed the only part that was neither revised nor
rewritten but added anew to the body of the text. Still, it does not seem that the
Refutation, either, reflects a major change made in the Critique.
Yet one modification inserted in the second edition goes unmentioned in the
Preface. This is the rewriting of the Preface itself, which, arguably, constitutes the most
significant change made in the book. To be sure, the Preface does not alter the content of
any of the Critiqued philosophical arguments. But by announcing at the outset a new

philosophical problem it redefines the meaning, or the function, of the critical


philosophy.
The task announced in the A-Preface is to recover philosophy from its degraded
status among the sciences (Avii-xxii). This status, Kant writes, is historically rooted in
two philosophical positions: dogmatism, an irresponsible speculation with metaphysical
concepts; and skepticism, a counter-reaction to dogmatism, which denies the possibility
of knowledge altogether. Three years after the publication of the A-edition Kant would
recall how Hume's skepticism woke him up from a "dogmatic slumber," inducing him to
write a "critique of reason."1 These are the words of the Prolegomena (1783); in the
Critique Kant never expressed himself in this way. Still, this later reflection is faithful to
the motivation announced at the first edition: by assaulting the metaphysical status of
causality, Hume's skepticism subverted metaphysical knowledge; by introducing
transcendental idealism, and by checking dogmatic rationalism by the test-stone of
experience, Kant undertakes to answer that threat.
The Preface to the second edition of the Critique (1787) introduces a noteworthy
change of tone. Appearing seven years after the first edition and four after the
Prolegomena, the B-Preface no longer designates Hume as Kant's chief opponent or
skepticism as his foremost philosophical threat. What in the Critique's first edition was
presented as the exclusive goal of the book is in the second edition only one of its goals
and, indeed, only the "negative" one (Bxxiv). The second edition redefines the goals of

'ProlAA:4:10
2

In fact, Kant's relation to Hume may be not so easy to define; but the present purposes, this seems
accurate enough. (One question that has to be asked is whether Kant was disturbed by Hume's attack on
causality or on his attack on dogmatic metaphysics. To the extent that the answer is, contrary to common
opinion, the latter, this might become relevant to my purposes here. For Hume's attack on the Principle of
Sufficient Reason has to do with his attack on Spinoza.)

197

the Critique as the ones we today take for granted: not only to protect philosophy from
skepticism but alsoand foremostto offer a final defense of freedom, faith and
morality. To be sure, in the A-edition Kant already maintains that transcendental realism
leaves no room for freedom. He writes in the Antinomies, "if appearances are things in
themselves, freedom cannot be upheld" (A536). Moreover, the Antinomies and the Ideal
of Pure Reason provide strong instrumentarium in defending practical reason. These
chapters, however, come late in the book. A-readers would have had no reason to think
that this practical enterprise was the, or even a, major aim of the book. (We will see
below that they in fact did not think that.) In the B-Preface Kant moves the practical
interest in destroying metaphysics to the fore and announces it as the Critiqued main
motivation: transcendental idealism is now prescribed as the only rational defense against
"fatalism, materialism, atheism and Schwarmerei," as "denying knowledge in order to
make room for faith" and as the last defense against a pending political scandal, a result
of theoretical controversies (Streitigkeiten) made public (Bxxxi-xxxv). This is now the
"positive use" of the Critique of Pure Reason, which was not mentioned in the original
Preface of the book.
This change of tone is not surprising. The philosophical discussion in 1787 was
dominated by the worries Kant now highlights. Does philosophy necessarily lead to
materialism, atheism and fatalism? In the language of the time, does rationality, as such,
lead to Spinozism? And if so, can the authority of reason, so dear to the Enlightenment,
be trusted? Jacobi's book on Spinoza was the first to attract public attention to these
questions. The echo they received in Mendelssohn's Morgenstunden (1785),
Wizenmann's Resultate (1786), Kant's "Was hei!3t" (1786) and Reinhold's Briefe uber

198

die Kantische Philosophic (1786) made them the burning issue of the time. As Beiser
writes, this discussion engaged most of the "celebrities" of the time, almost "all the best
minds of the late eighteenth-century Germany." It is hard to imagine, he adds, a
discussion whose "effects were so great."4 In such an atmosphere it is hardly surprising
that Kant should invoke the Critique in defense of rational faith and morality. He brings
his attack on metaphysics from the Critique's background to its fore because answering
Spinozism's metaphysical threat has become the need of the time.
Note that Kant redefines the Critique's official goal without introducing a change
in the Antinomies or in the Ideal of Pure Reason. Changes were made throughout the
Aesthetic, the Analytic and the Paralogisms but, apparently, no change was required in
those parts of the book that answer to its newly announced philosophical goal. Given that
one of the central arguments of the Pantheismusstreit was that Spinoza's rationalism was
superior to any other (specifically, to Leibniz's)an argument, we have seen, that Kant
empathically endorsedthis fact is telling.
My aim in the following chapter is to examine in detail the historical development
of the Pantheismusstreitthe well-known controversy that sent Germany's intellectual
scene reeling in the late Eighteenth Century. In recent years the Streit has received
growing attention but it deserves still more.5 Two aspects of the event require specific
F. H. Jacobi, Uber die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn in Friedrich
Heinrich Jacobi. Werke, ed. K. Hammacher, vol. 1, Schriften zum Spinozastreit (Hamburg: Felix Meiner
Verlag, 1998) (Unless noted otherwise, translations are mine); M. Mendelssohn, Morgenstunden in Moses
Mendelssohn: Gesammelte Schriften III.2, ed. L. Strauss (Stuttgart: Holzboog, 1974) (unless otherwise
noted, translations are mine); Kant: "Was Heifit" WDO AA: 08; K. Reinhold, Letters on the Kantian
Philosophy, trans. J. Hebbeler, ed. K. Ameriks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
4

F. Beiser, The Fate of Reason (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 44-6

For detailed accounts of the Streit see Beiser's The Fate of Reason (especially p. 44-126); L. Strauss'
book-long introduction to Mendelssohn's Morgenstunden; J. Zammito, The Genesis of Kant's Critique of

199

attention here. First, it is sometimes thought that the debate between Jacobi and
Mendelssohn led to the rediscovery of Spinoza in Germany. This is based on the
assumption that Spinoza was regarded a "dead dog" whose philosophy had been
forgotten.6 This assumption, however, is outdated. Spinoza's radical writings and ideas
were well known before the Streit and never lost relevance. Second, Kant's reaction to
the Streit is commonly underestimated or misunderstood. A prevailing assumption is that
Kant, who in his pre- and early critical days was uninterested in Spinozism, strived as
much as he could to stay out of the Spinoza-debateshort essays like "Was heilit" or
side passages in the Critique of Judgment notwithstanding. However, we have seen in
previous chapters that Kant was occupied with Spinoza already before the break of the
Streit. In considering the historical development of the Streit and interpreting the
Critique's B-Preface we will see that Kant's reaction to the controversy culminates in
redefining the main function of the Critique of Pure Reason.

Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 228-262. Despite the fact that in the following I
significantly differ from these interpreters, my discussion is indebted to them.
6

This assumption was expressed for example by E. Cassirer's The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans.
F. Koelln and J. Pettegrove (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951). "Spinoza seems hardly to have
had any direct influence on eighteenth century thought," Cassirer writes (p. 187).
7

Below I offer a brief discussion of relevant historical evidence but for a thorough and recent discussion
see J. Israel's Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001). Israel stops at 1750, however, and therefore does not come to discuss the
Pantheismusstreit in light of this position. (I understand that a manuscript dealing with later years and with
the Streit is underway.)
8

Zammito provides a helpful discussion of the Pantheismusstreit's impact on the third Critique in his The
Genesis of Kant's Critique of Judgment, p. 228-262. However, he too operates on the assumption that Kant
first became interested in Spinoza because of the Streit. I hope in the future to account for the third
Critique's relation to the Streit (see my introduction above for more detail).

200

1.

On March 25, 1783 Elise Reimarus, mutual friend of Jacobi, Mendelssohn and

Lessing, wrote to Jacobi from Berlin, informing him of Mendelssohn's intention to write
a book on Lessing's character. The latter had died two years earlier and was not only a
close friend of Mendelssohn's but an ideal of the Enlightenment, a modern, tolerant
Aufkldrer. Jacobi did not answer Reimarus' report for several months. But his delayed
reply, dated July 21, 1783, would fire the first shot of the Pantheismusstreit. In his letter,
Jacobi confidentially inquired whether Mendelssohn was aware of his deceased friend's
"later religious convictions." For Lessing, reports Jacobi to Reimarus, "was a Spinozist!"9
According to Jacobi, Lessing had confessed his Spinozism in a private
conversation, held in Wolffenbuttel in 1780, a few months before his death. Upon
Mendelssohn's distrust of Jacobi's reportReimarus had communicated Jacobi's inquiry
to him, as Jacobi certainly expectedJacobi decided to put his conversation with Lessing
in writing and publish it in a book. This is Jacobi's Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, which
saw light in 1785. Mendelssohn's Morgenstunden was published a few months thereafter.
The Wolffenbuttel conversation conveys not only the historical background of the
Streit but also, in a nut-shell, the philosophical challenges that occupy Kant in his attack
on metaphysics. Jacobi reports that the first part of the conversation took place in his
room in Wolffenbuttel, as he handed over to Lessing "Prometheus"a poem by the
young Goethe. The poem articulates strong Spinozistic inclinations and Jacobi hoped that
it would provoke Lessing. "You have offended a few people [in your writing]," he says to
Lessing upon giving him the poem, "so you too may once be offended."
9

See Jacobi's report in the introduction to his Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, 1 f.

See Jacobi's recount of the conversation in Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 22-36.1 use Beiser's
translation in The Fate of Reason, p. 65-68 (though at times differ from it or translate parts that Beiser
skips.)

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Lessing: [Having read the poem and given it back to Jacobi] I find the poem good. I
already have it in first hand.
Jacobi: You know the poem [then]?
Lessing: I have never read the poem; but I find it good.
Jacobi: In its own way, I too, otherwise I wouldn't have presented it to you.
Lessing: I mean this differently... The point of view from which the poem is written is
also my point of view... the orthodox concepts of the divinity are no longer for me; I cannot
enjoy them; 'One and All'! I know no other. This is also where the poem is going and, I must
confess, this pleases me.
Jacobi: Then you would be pretty much in agreement with Spinoza.
Lessing: If I were to name myself after anyone, then I know no one other.
Jacobi: Spinoza is good enough for me: but what a mixed blessing we find in his
name!
Lessing: Yes, if that's the way you look at it... and still... do you know something
better?

The conversation was interrupted by the director of the famous Wolffenbuttel


Library, which Jacobi and Lessing were scheduled to visit. It was continued the next
morning, as Lessing came back to Jacobi's room, eager to clarify his expressions
regarding Spinozism.

Lessing: I came to talk to you about my 'One and All'. You were shocked yesterday.
Jacobi: You surprised me... but [I] was not shocked. It surely wasn't my expectation to
find you a Spinozist or Pantheist; and you revealed this so directly. I had come for the most part
in order to receive your help against Spinoza.
Lessing: You know Spinoza then?
Jacobi: I believe that I know him like very few others.
Lessing: Then one cannot help you. It is better for you to become his friend. There is no
philosophy other than the philosophy of Spinoza.

202

Jacobi: This might be true. For a determinist, if he wants to be consistent, must become a
fatalist: the rest follows from there.
Lessing: I see that we understand each other. I am therefore eager to hear from you, what
you consider to be the spirit of Spinozism; I mean that, which was working through Spinoza. [Ich
meine den, der in Spinoza selbst gefahren war]
Jacobi: This was surely nothing else, but the old [saying]: ex nihilo nihil fit...

Lessing: ... So we will not be parting company over our credo.


Jacobi: We don't want this on any account. But my credo is not in Spinoza.
Lessing: I would hope that it is found in no book.
Jacobi: Not only that. I believe in an intellectual, personal origin of the world.
Lessing: Oh, all the better -1 will be getting something new to hear!
Jacobi: I wouldn't be so excited about it. I help myself out of this business by a salto
mortale, and [I take it] you find no special pleasure in standing on your head.
Lessing: Don't say that; as long as I don't have to imitate it. And you will stand on your
feet again. So - if it's not a secret - I'd like to see what's in it for me.
Jacobi: ... The whole issue [of salto mortale] is that, from fatalism, I directly conclude
against fatalism, and [against] everything else that is connected with it...

At this point, Jacobi turns to explain in more detail his rejection of fatalism, based
on an unconditional acceptance of teleology and final causes: if one accepts, with
Spinoza, only mechanical causes, one must conclude that our thoughts never determine
our actions but only accompany them: "we do not do what we think, but think about what
we do." As Lessing recognizes, Jacobi's chief concern is with the problem of freedom;
yet, somewhat surprisingly, he is indifferent to it. "I notice you would like to have your
will free" he tells Jacobi "I desire no free will." Faithful to the Ethics he dismisses this
notion as a dispensable human fancy, and continues to challenge Jacobi:

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Lessing: .. .Ok. How do you imagine your personal Deity then? Something like the way
Leibniz imagined it? I'm afraid that he himself was at heart [im Herzen] a Spinozist.
Jacobi: Do you speak seriously?
Lessing: Do you truly doubt that? - Leibniz understood the concepts of truth so, that he
could not tolerate them being limited. From this way of thinking flow many of his thoughts, and it
is often very difficult, also for the best thinkers, to discover his actual opinion... exactly because
of that I find him so valuable; I mean, because of this big way of thinking and not because that
opinion or another that he only seemingly had, or in fact did.
Jacobi: Completely true. Leibniz wanted to "make fire of every match." But you speak of
some specific position, namely Spinozism, which Leibniz was essentially fond of...

Lessing and Jacobi agree that Leibniz's metaphysical concepts, most crucially the
pre-established harmony, force him into Spinozism. "The two have basically the same
theory of freedom," concludes Jacobi: "only a work of deception [Blendwerk]
distinguishes them" (my emphasis). Yet, despite all that, Jacobi clings to faith in
freedom, teleology and a personal Deity, which brings Lessing to argue:

... With your philosophy, you will have to turn your back on all philosophy.
Jacobi: Why all philosophy?
Lessing: Because you are a complete skeptic.
Jacobi: On the contrary. I withdraw myself from a philosophy that makes skepticism
necessary.
Lessing: And withdraw yourself- where?
Jacobi: To the light, the light Spinoza speaks about when he says that it illuminates itself
and the darkness. I love Spinoza since, more than any other philosopher, he has convinced me
that certain things cannot be explained, and that one must not close one's eyes in front of them
but simply accept them as one finds them... even the greatest mind will hit upon absurd things
when he tries to explain everything and make sense of it according to clear concepts. Whoever
does not want to explain what is inconceivable but only wants to know the borderline where it
begins: he will gain the largest space for human truth.

204

Lessing: Words, Jacobi, mere words! The borderline you want to fix cannot be
determined. And on the other side of it you give free rein to dreaming, nonsense and blindness.
Jacobi: I believe that the borderline can be determined. I want not to draw it, but only to
recognize what is already there. And as far as dreaming, nonsense and blindness are concerned...
Lessing: They prevail wherever confused ideas are found...
Jacobi: More where false ones are found... As I see it, the first task of a philosopher is to
disclose existence. Explanation is only a means, a way to this goal: it is the first task, but it is
never the last. The last task is what cannot be explained: irresolvable, immediate and simple.

Lessing: Good, very good. I can use all that; but I cannot follow it in the same way. In
general, your salto mortale does not displease me; and I can see how a man with a head on his
shoulders will want to stand on his head to get somewhere. Take me along with you if it works.
Jacobi: If you will only step on the elastic spot from which I leap, everything else will
follow from there.
Lessing: Even that would demand a leap which I cannot ask of my old legs and heavy
head.

2.

Was Lessing a Spinozist? This was the initial question of the Pantheismusstreit

but one irrelevant for Kant. In fact, also Mendelssohn and Jacobi eventually moved on
from it. Lessing was certainly not an enemy of Spinoza. This is evident from his personal
conversation with Jacobi, as well as from his published writings. Together with Spinoza
and the Spinozists, Lessing believed in liberalism, biblical criticism and natural religion.
This is indeed a political taste, in the spirit of Spinoza's Tractatus, not an atheisticpantheistic metaphysical position in the spirit of the Ethics. Yet there is a strong sense in
which metaphysics and political philosophy are connected, especially in Spinoza, and all
the more so in such matters as biblical criticism and natural religion.

For fall discussion of Lessing's theology see T. Yasukata, Lessing's Philosophy of Religion and the
German Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). Cassirer discusses Lessing's debt and
divergence from Spinoza in The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, p. 190-196.

205

A more important question raised by the Streit concerns Lessing's philosophical


taste, not as a personal figure but as a symbolan ideal of the Enlightenment. His
character and lifestyle personified the qualities of tolerance, broadmindedness and
liberalism. In sharp contrast to Lessing, the Jew from Amsterdam was associated with
abomination and danger. He was conceived as a symbol of atheism, dubbed by many as
the Euclides atheisticus or theprincipus atheorum. By bringing Lessing's and Spinoza's
names together, Jacobi was seeking a reductio ad absurdum of the Enlightenment: if this
is where rationality leads, the argument goes, one should reconsider rationality.

3.

The most significant challenge raised by the Streit concerns neither Lessing's

philosophical taste nor the reductio of the Enlightenment by his character. There is a
philosophical question at stake. Does rationalism, as such, lead to Spinoza's atheistic
necessitarianism? Must rational philosophy override faith, freedom and morality?
This question is pregnant already in Jacobi and Lessing's conversation. Lessing
tells Jacobi that he cannot help him against Spinoza, implying that such help is in fact
impossible: if one truly grasps Spinoza one better "become his friend," for "there is no
philosophy but the philosophy of Spinoza." Jacobi embraced Lessing's statement and
would make it the slogan of the Streit. Moreover, he agreed with Lessing that Leibniz's
position, toowhich was commonly acknowledged as the more acceptable, moderate
alternative to Spinozaonly proves Spinoza's indispensability. If one truly enters the
matter, claims Jacobi, one finds that Leibniz was a Spinozist "at heart." We already know
that Kant agreed on this point.

206

Jacobi's claim that Spinoza's philosophy is the only possible one relies on his
understanding of the PSR; first, as the normative criterion of rationality; and second, as
the "spirit of Spinozism." Ex nihilo nihil fitJacobi argues that this principle necessitates
not only necessitarianism but also pantheism because it implies that all contingent entities
depend on an absolute being, whose properties they are. Interestingly, Jacobi claimsnot
without reasonto have learnt this lesson from Kant's Beweisgrund (see chapter one).
Of course, Jacobi recognizes that other metaphysicians, most characteristically those of
the Leibnizo-Wollfian school, have employed the PSR in their writings without deriving
pantheism. But he maintains that only Spinoza had the philosophical integrity to draw the
logical conclusions that follow from that principle. Accordingly, he thinks it would be
vain to try to give a rational defense of freedom, morality or faith, because such a
defense is beforehand committed to the PSRhence necessitating fatalistic pantheism.12
There are only two philosophical alternatives, then. One can submit to Spinoza's
philosophy or turn one's back on philosophy altogether.13
In previous chapters we have seen that whereas Kant endorses much of Jacobi's
argument, he denies this twofold alternative. Kant rejects the claim that the PSR, as
understood by Spinoza and Jacobi, is a genuine standard of rationality. The subjective
formulation of the PSR (PI) may be such a standard but the objective formulation (P2)
certainly is not (see chapter four). Accordingly, whereas Kant agrees with Jacobi that
dogmatic rationalism leads, by the PSR (P2), to Spinoza's position, he rejects the claim
that the only other alternative is to turn one's back on rationality altogether. After the
12

Jacobi, Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 172.

For a detailed discussion of Jacobi's salto mortale, see B. Sandkaulen, Grund und Ursache: Die
Vernunftkritik Jacobis (Munich: Fink, 2000), especially p. 11-64 ("Uberlegungen zur Topographie des
Sprungs").

207

break of the Pantheismusstreit, Kant's writings are saturated with the claim that there are
only two philosophical alternatives: transcendental realism, which is Spinozist and
dogmatic; or transcendental idealism, that is, his own philosophy.
Jacobi, who before the publication of the Critique's second edition completely
overlooked Kant's challenge to the PSR and to Spinoza, claimed that one can overcome
philosophy's Spinozist destiny only but performing a salto mortale. That is, he confesses
that he cannot avoid rationally conceiving of God in terms of Spinoza's substancea
notion leaving no room for faith in a personal deitybut, at the same time, he accepts the
existence of a personal, good deity. His religious conviction thus depends on a simple
acceptance of the Christian doctrines and does not require validation by rational proofs or
theoretical arguments. His faith therefore remainscontrary to everything believed by
the Enlightenmentirrational and subjective. This is something that Jacobi openly
admits: religious conviction is based on "feelings," he writes, which not everybody must
share. These feelings and religious convictions cannot be rationally supported or
universally communicated (mitgeteilet werderi).14 Mendelssohn, in opposition to this,
wanted to preserve at all costs reason's sovereignty in matters of morality and religion.
His Morgenstunden therefore takes up two major opponents which Mendelssohn thought
endangered reason's roleJacobi and Kant. Against the former, Mendelssohn wanted to
show that philosophy as such need not culminate in Spinozism (or, at the very least, that
Spinozism need not entail the injurious implications normally associated with it)thus
that a salto mortale is note required. Against the laterwhom in the Morgenstunden" s
introduction Mendelssohn famously dubs the alles zermalendeMendelssohn wanted to
14

Jacobi Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 109.

15

Mendelssohn, Morgenstunden, especially p. 104-114.

208

defend knowledge of the traditional metaphysical ideasespecially knowledge of the


soul (rational psychology) and of the existence of God (the ontological argument).16
Lastly, Mendelssohn was trying to invoke intuitive common sense to check the dangers
involved by theoretical (speculative) rationality.17 The clearest example of this move is
Mendelssohn's adherence to physico-theology as reply to the overriding mechanistic
consequences of Spinozism. Beholding natural beauty, writes Mendelssohn, and
considering even the simplest natural organisms, make it impossible to deny nature's
creation by a wise author. The conviction produced by such observations is as strong as
that of a "geometrical proof," he writes.1 If conceptual reasoning like Spinoza's comes
to contradict that conviction, says Mendelssohn, one must assume that fault is on the side
of speculation. In the second part of my project I will read the Critique of Judgment as
defending a similar insight (albeit with allowing the compatibility of speculation and
physico-theology by modifying the status of both).

4.

As said, authors writing on the Pantheismusstreit often assume that the debate

ignited by Jacobi eventually lead to Spinoza's rediscovery. This relies on the assumption
that before Jacobi's 1785 publication Spinoza was a neglected, defeated philosopher. (His
system was allegedly crushed by Wolffs comprehensive critique, among others.) On that
assumption, Lessing and Jacobi's agreement that Spinoza's philosophy is not only
relevant but is "the only possible one" would have to be a coincidencea genuine

16

Ibid., p. 3; it is not always noted that in the same introduction, Mendelssohn also speaks very fondly of
Kant, expressing his belief that the business of defending rational morality will be better served in Kant's
hand than in his own. "Hopefully [Kant] will rebuild with the same spirit with which he destroyed" (p. 5).
17

Ibid., especially 76-81.

18

Mendelssohn, An die Freunde Lessings, p. 198.

209

surprise not only for Jacobi's readers but for Lessing and Jacobi themselves. It is
doubtful, however, that Lessing's confession of Spinozism to Jacobi was a matter of a
surprising coincidence. Just as doubtful is it that Spinoza ever had to be "rediscovered."
First, Jacobi's decision to provoke Lessing, of all things by a Spinozist poem like
"Prometheus," was not arbitrary. Jacobi knew that Lessing would be neither shocked nor
offended by Goethe's Spinozist poem. As mentioned above, Lessing was fond of
liberalism and biblical criticism, a tendency associated with Spinoza's TTP. Lessing was
also a close friend of Mendelssohn, who famously argued that Leibniz plagiarized the
doctrine of established harmony from Spinoza. A well-known manipulator,

Jacobi

probably expected Lessing to react just in the way that he did.


More significantly, the still prevalent assumption that the Streit led to Spinoza's
rediscovery is inaccurate. The first indication that Spinoza had not been forgotten is the
fact that he reached to the hearts of such diverse intellectuals as Lessing, Jacobi and the
young Goethe. This suggests that his writings were available and read, and that his ideas
exercised significant force. Was the ban on Spinoza's ideas and the censorship of his
writings ineffective? Were the philosophical attacks on Spinoza's metaphysics
culminating in Wolffs refutation of Spinozistereynot quite convincing? Jacobi and
Lessing agreed that Wolffs refutation of Spinoza was "hardly useful." They agreed that
Leibnizo-Wollfian rationalism was, "at heart," Spinozist. Kant, we have seen, agreed on
this point. Yet matters cannot be quite so simple: Wolff was the critic of Spinoza and the
systematizer of Leibniz. Did he fail to see the consequences of his own work? Or did he,

19

For example, in 1783 Jacobi fabricated an anonymous critical reply to his own article, Etwas, das Lessing
gesagt hat, basing it on personal remarks he had received from Mendelssohn. He then published a reply to
the "reply"dragging Mendelssohn to a public debate and promoting by means of promoting his work. On
this affair see Beiser, The Fate of Reason, p. 63.

210

too, like possibly Leibniz, conceal Spinoza's inevitability? "Only a work of deception
[Blendwerk]," Jacobi tells Lessing, separates the Leibnizian position from Spinoza's. As
we have seen, on this point, too, Kant agreed.20
The impression that Spinoza was forgotten may have been caused, among other
things, by the fact that his philosophy was never taught in the university seminars of the
time; his books were forbidden and his ideas passed over in the classroomof course, he
was not surveyed seriously in philosophy textbooks. However, one can learn more about
Spinoza's reception and influence outside of the official pedagogy of the schools by
studying his prevalence in the Enlightenment's lexicons, encyclopedias and dictionaries.
(For a modern reader, the equivalent is something like running a Google search on a
name: the number of hits yielded is at least a rough indication of how widely known the
subject is.) It is well known, for example, that Bayle provided an extensive discussion of
Spinoza and Spinozism in his philosophical dictionary. In fact, Bayle's Spinoza entry was
the single longest article dedicated to any subject in the Dictionnaire. There is no need in
this context to address the question of Bayle's own philosophical stance towards Spinoza
(some think he was a clandestine supporter of Spinoza, some think a harsh critic). Suffice
it here to call to attention the significance of the entry's length: it is hard to see why the
longest entry in one of the most important philosophical media of the Enlightenment
should be dedicated to a forgotten, defeated philosopher. Deliberately or not Bayle
supplies in his entry abundant information about Spinoza's metaphysics: lesser readers

Wolff himself was accused of Spinozism several times in his lifetime. These accusations were often
unfair and politically motivated, but this does not mean that they were altogether off mark. Wolff certainly
differed from Spinoza on many a doctrine but his sober, thorough discussion of Spinoza was intentionally
or not a major engaging source with Spinozism. In 1744, J. Schmidt's German translation of Wolff s
refutation of Spinoza saw light and, in the same binding, the first German translation of the Ethics. (See U.
Goldenbaum: "Die erste deutsche Ubersetzung der Spinozachen 'Ethik'," in eds. H. Delf, J. Schoeps and
M. Wanther, Spinoza in der europaischcen Geistesgeschichte [Berlin: Hentrich, 1994].)

211

than Kant would gain from the entry a good grasp of Spinoza's position. This entry
certainly attracted much attention to Spinoza and insured that many would think about
Spinoza on their own. It is difficult to see how once such high-exposure entry is
published Spinoza's relevance could fade.
Searching in Zedler's Grosses Universal Lexicon reinforces this impression.
Zedler dedicates separate entries to 'Spinoza' and 'Spinozisterey': the first is accorded a
five-page discussion, the latter a three-page discussion. The entry 'Descartes', by
comparison, is discussed in one page. Plato, Aristotle, Thomas, Augustine, Luther, Locke
and Hume are similarly accorded one-page discussions. To be sure, Zedler, like Bayle,
presents Spinoza in a denouncing and critical tone. But his extensive discussion, too,
provides abundant information about Spinoza's thought. Given that Zedler dedicates to
Spinoza five times more attention to many of the most prominent thinkers in the history
of philosophy, the assumption that Spinoza was forgotten or neglected is untenable. J.
Israel comments on the common assumption among philosophers that Spinoza was
overlooked by Enlightenment thinkers: "philosophers are... saddled with what are really
hopelessly outdated historical accounts of the Enlightenment and ones which look ever
more incomplete, unbalanced, and inaccurate, the more research into the subject
proceeds."
On Israel's account, Spinoza's influence on the Enlightenment has to be
understood as constituting a radical, clandestine strand of the European movement, acting
behind the scenes of the moderate, official movement.22 Whereas the moderate

21

J. Israel: "Enlightenment! Which Enlightenment?" Journal of the History of Ideas 67:3 528.

212

Enlightenment was (more or less) consistent with conservative political and religious
idealsits thinkers defending theistic metaphysics and conformist political rulesthe
radical Enlightenment was characterized by Spinozist metaphysics, Spinozist rejection of
biblical theology and Spinozist support of democratic egalitarianism. Although officially
banned, radical thought exercised severe philosophical and political force throughout
Europe. In Germany, it was spread through the works of such authors as Leenhof,
Kuyper, Lucas, Boulainvilliers, Lau, Stosch and Toland. While many of these are today
almost forgotten, their writings served at the time a vehicle for Spinoza's ideas. Indeed
most of these authors are surveyed in Zedler's Lexicon.
Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopedic is another relevant example. Like Bayle
and Zedler before them, the Encyclopediests denounce Spinoza in a harsh tone. But like
Bayle and Zedler also they dedicate to Spinoza significantly greater attention than to
almost every other prominent thinker in the history of philosophy. (Spinoza receives
about five times more space than Descartes, Locke, Hume, Plato or Hobbes.) The entry
gives an overview not only of Spinoza's life, character, political philosophy and
metaphysics, but also a systematic discussion of the Ethics'' definitions, axioms and
foremost propositions. Together with laconic denunciations of Spinoza's view (examples
will follow) the Encyclopedic provides in-depth discussions of Spinoza's accounts of the
finite and the infinite, substance-mode relation, his argument for substance monism and
more. For example, it is claimed that the source of Spinoza's "errors" is his definition of
substance. Spinoza's Id3 is then quoted in full. The definition is denounced as
"meretricious" but discussed in some detail. A similar procedure follows in the

22

See for present purposes especially J. Israel's Radical Enlightenment, "Germany: The Radical
Aufkldrung."

213

discussion of Spinoza's conception of "essence." The next passage then opens with the
claim that "The definition [Spinoza] gives of the finite and the infinite is no less
unhappy," followed by (almost) full quotes of Td2 and ld6, and moving to a survey of
Spinoza's conception of the finite as that "which can be limited by the same nature" and
of that "which includes all formal realities in itself (i.e., the infinite). By the end of this
part of the entry, much of Spinoza's most important definitions had been laid out. The
next passage then opens, "Spinoza's axioms are no less alluring and false than his
definitions." Ela4 and Ela5 are quoted in full. These axioms are denounced and discussed
in two long passages. The new passage then proceeds to examine "the main propositions
that form Spinoza's system." The author discusses lpl-7 almost exhaustively. The entry
ends by denouncing Spinoza's system more generally as "irrational," "absurd" and
"fallacious." The author claims that there is no need to survey the other propositions
found in the Ethics because "once the foundations have been destroyed, it is a waste of
time to demolish the building." Indeed the opposite holds too: once the foundations of the
system have been so systematically laid out, there is little need to reconstruct the Ethics
much further. At the very least, every discerning reader would have to wonder, as Israel
put it, "Why on earth so much attention was being lavished on a thinker whose doctrines
are absurd and irrational" why this absurd system, which according to the entry "so
few people follow," would be discussed at significantly greater length than Locke or
Descartes. (We know that Kant was acquainted with the encyclopedia by 1759 [in letters
dating that year he recommends some of its entries to his friends].)
The general impression received from the dictionary, the encyclopedia and the
lexicon is not that Spinoza was not ignored but that he could not be. The space he
Israel, Radical Enlightenment, p. 712

214

received in the canonical vehicles of the Enlightenment ensured that philosophers and
intellectuals would be aware of and worried about Spinoza's metaphysics; they ensured
that some, perhaps many, would gain first-hand knowledge with Spinoza's writing; and
they ensured that sometimes, despite the fact that very few would actually name
themselves Spinozists, Spinoza's position was actually embraced. It is worthy of mention
that the Encyclopedicwhich was edited by Diderot, 4 who had been imprisoned for
publishing Lettre sur les aveugles, a rather Spinozist essaycontradicts itself in this
regard. At one point in the Spinoza entry it is claimed that "very few people are suspected
of adhering to [Spinoza's] doctrine" but shortly thereafter such lines as the following are
repeated: "what is surprising is that Spinoza, who had so little respect for proof and
reason, would have so many partisans and supporters of his system."
This brings us back to the conversation between Jacobi and Lessing. Their
agreement that "Spinoza's philosophy is the only possible one" is yet another expression
of Spinoza's lasting relevance: Lessing, Jacobi and the author of Prometheus were all
independently influenced by Spinoza's radical thought. (It is hard to doubt that all three
had read the Dictionnaire, the Encyclopedic and the Lexicon.) In this light the break of
the Pantheismusstreit does not represent Spinoza's rediscovery. It represents the moment
in which his radical thinking moved from the clandestine underground to the center of the
public debate. The Streit marked the moment in which Spinoza's impact on
Enlightenment thinking was made public. The Streit's technical philosophical question
Does the PSR lead to Spinozist metaphysics?was politically and publicly interpreted
as: Is there room for a genuine moderate version of enlightened rationality? If Leibniz

24

For Diderot's relation to Spinoza see P. Verniere, Spinoza et la pensee frangaise avant la Revolution,
(Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954), p. 555-611.

215

himself was (consciously or not) committed to Spinozismand before Kant went


criticalEnlightenment thinking could only be radical.
This was just Jacobi's conclusion, and it led him to reject the rationality of the
Enlightenmentmoderate and radical alike. Mendelssohn, until his death, was trying to
show that Spinoza himself was a moderate thinker (or at least could be rendered one).
What is important to see is that much (though of course not all) of the theoretical
argument raised for and against Spinoza can be traced back to arguments from Wolff,
Bayle, Diderot and Zedler. The one new thing about the Streit was that, for the first time,
Spinoza's challenge had to be dealt with: whereas questions asked on the philosopher's
armchair can remain theoretical disagreements, questions asked in publicpolitical
questionsdemand definitive answers. For the first time, it was not the destiny of
Spinoza's metaphysics that was debated but the destiny of the Enlightenment's scientific
and political project. For the first time, radical metaphysics had to be discussed in the
open.
No book represents this political-philosophical transition better than the Critique
of Pure Reason. We have seen in previous chapters that in the pre-critical period Kant
was committed substance monism and that, with the Critique, Spinoza's foremost
philosophical principle, the PSR (P2), undergoes a severe attack, leading Kant to modify
the (Spinozist) proof of God's existence into a regulative ideal. Despite all that, in 1781
the Critique still announces itself as an answer to Hume (or skepticism). It is only with
the publication of B, two years after the break of the Streit, that Kant's attack on radical
metaphysics is emphasized. Leaving the Antinomies and the Ideal virtually unattached,
Kant opens the book by referring the reader to these chapters, and claiming that these

216

constitute the only response to the challenge of the Streiti.e., the only response to
radical, Spinozist thought. We will return to a closer reading of the Preface after the Streit
has been considered in more detail.

II
1.

Jacobi sent his book to Hamman, who was supposed to hand it over to Kant. His

intention, it would seem, was to force Kant to respond publicly, thereby attracting
attention and promoting the book. This is the only explanation for Jacobi's move: his
book contains two unnecessary provocations of Kant, presenting him as a Spinozist.
The first of these occurs in Jacobi's explanation of Spinoza's conception of the
infinite as a whole that is prior to its parts. "[The parts] exist only in him [the whole] and
after him," writes Jacobi, "only in and after him can they be conceived." In a footnote, he
brings a quotation from the Critique which, he says, can "serve to clarify" Spinoza.25
This quotation is from 2 of the Aesthetic, Kant's famous claim that only one infinite
space is conceivableone space whose parts are merely limitations of the whole:

We can represent to ourselves only one space; and if we speak of diverse


spaces, we mean thereby only parts of one and the same unique space.
Secondly, these parts cannot precede the one all embracing space as being, as
it were, constituents out of which it can be composed; on the contrary, they
can be thought only as in it. Space is essentially one; the manifold in it, and
therefore the general concept of space, depends solely on the introduction of
limitations (A 25).
25

Jacobi, liber die Lehre des Spinoza, 121-3.

217

Jacobi proceeds to quote also from Kant's account of time. A determined


measure of time, Kant argued, can be thought of only as a limitation of time as an infinite
whole:

The infinitude of time signifies nothing more than that every determinate
magnitude of time is possible only thought limitation of one single time that
underlies it. The original representation, time, must therefore be given as
unlimited. But when an object is so given that its parts, and every quantity of
it, can be determinately represented only thought limitation, the whole
representation cannot be given though concepts, since they contain only
partial representation; on the contrary, such concepts must themselves rest on
immediate intuition (A 32).

Jacobi does not explicitly say so but his words suggest that Kant's space and time, the
forms of intuition, correspond to Spinoza's attributes: space corresponds to the attribute
of extension; time, the medium of inner sense, to the attribute of thought.
The second mention of Kant in association with Spinoza, again a clarifying
remark, brings together the heart of Kant's philosophy with the heart of Spinoza's. Jacobi
clarifies Spinoza's notion of substance as an "absolute thought," an "immediate absolute
consciousness of general existence." In order to explain this he invokes Kant's
transcendental unity of apperception:

Kant had argued that the unity of experience is

possible only by the unity of consciousness, actively apprehending a manifold passively


26

Jacobi Uber die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 140.

218

given in the forms of intuition. Thus the numerical unity of consciousness, in Kant, is an
a-priori condition of all thought:

There can be in us no modes of knowledge, no connection or unity of one


mode of knowledge with another, without that unity of consciousness which
precedes all data of intuitions, and by relation to which representation of
objects is alone possible. This pure original unchangeable consciousness I
shall name transcendental apperception. That it deserves this name is clear
from the fact that even the purest objective unity, namely, that of the a priori
concepts (space and time), is only possible through relation of the intuitions to
such unity of consciousness. The numerical unity of this apperception is thus
the a priori ground of all concepts, just as the manifold of space and time is
the a priori ground of the intuitions of sensibility (A 107).

The similarity between Kant's unity of apperception and Spinoza's substance is


suggestive. Jacobi seems to think of Kant's theory of knowledge along the lines of
Spinoza's metaphysics: the unity of apperception parallels Spinoza's substance; the forms
of intuition are the attributes. (We have seen in chapter one that Kant makes the same
comparison, in which Spinoza's attributes correspond to the forms of intuition.)
What was the motive behind Jacobi's comparison of Kant and Spinoza? As a
clarification of Spinoza the passages quoted from the Critique are not particularly
helpful: there is something awkward about explaining one philosophical thesis, which
had originally been put in more or less familiar early modern terms'substance',

219

'attribute', etcby the neologisms of the latest philosophical revolution ('transcendental


apperception' etc). Besides, Jacobi was well aware of the danger he was bringing to
Kant's door. He had just started a scandal over Lessing's Spinozism and knew that his
words could, at the very least, harm the reputation of the Konigsberg professor. Jacobi
writes in a footnote that Kant's passage was written "fully [ganz] in the spirit of
97

Spinoza." He then sends a copy to Hamann and waits for Kant to react.
Hamann wrote back to Jacobi on November 30th 1785, informing him that Kant
9R

had received the book, read it, and liked it. Zammito suggests that in those early days of
99

the Streit, "Kant simply had nothing more to say." However, given that Jacobi's book
accuses Kant of Spinozism, there are reasons to suspect that Kant may not have been
completely frank with Hamann. (Certainly he did not like Jacobi's claim that the Critique
is written fully in Spinoza's spirit.) Moreover we know from Kant's correspondence how
he saw Jacobi's intention: in reply to Marcus Herz's request that he join Mendelssohn
against Jacobi, Kant writes (April 7l ): "The Jacobian farce is no serious matter... [it is
only] designed to make a name for himself and therefore hardly worthy of an earnest
refutation. Maybe I will do something to the Berlinische Monatsschrift to expose this
hocus-pocus."30 In the above-mentioned letter to Jacobi, Hamann also relates that Kant
had told him that "he never read Spinoza and could never understand his philosophy."

"Jacobi, Briefe p. 121.


28

Hamann to Jacobi, October/November 1785, in Hamanns Briefwechsel ed. A. Henkel


(Wiesbaden/Frankfort: Insel, 1955-79).
Zammito The Genesis of Kant's Critique of Judgment p. 233.
30

April 1786 in e.d E. Cassirer, Immanuel Kants Werke IX (Briefe von und an Kant) (Berlin: Bruno
Cassirer, 1922) p. 295 (this and the following translations from the correspondence are mine.)

220

Kant interpreters sometimes quote this line as evidence that Kant was unfamiliar with
Spinoza. The context is not often taken into account.

V
There is no need here to examine in detail the Pantheismusstreit's recognized writings,
most of which have been studied by others. Let me go on with just a brief survey of the
relevant publications and correspondence, culminating in the publication of the second
edition of the Critique of Pure Reason.

1. By 1786, all sides of the debate had made much effort to draw Kant into battle. Jacobi
had Hamann deliver to Kant the Spinoza-Buchlein, containing, as we have seen, a threat
to the transcendental philosopher. In the introduction to the Morgenstunden Mendelssohn
dubbed Kant an "alles zermalmende" an all-destroyer, accusing him of subverting the
rational basis of religion and morality. Immediately after Mendelssohn's death in 1786
his colleagues and friends of the Berlin Aufklarung continued to put pressure. Biester, the
editor of the Berlinische-Monatsschrift, wrote to Kant early in 1786 asking him "not to
forget to write a word concerning J acobV s philosophische Schwdrmerei."

It is clear

from the letter that Kant had contacted Biester earlier, expressing his concern about
Jacobi's book. Schiitz, another ally of the Berlin Aufklarung, wrote Kant shortly after
Biester, urging him to publicly reject Jacobi's association of the Critique with Spinoza.
"He names your notion of space and argues that it was 'written fully in the spirit of
Spinoza." "It is fully inconceivable," he writes, "how often you are being misunderstood;

31

See Kant 5rze/e p. 276f.

221

there are mennot at all stupid oneswho take you for an atheist." Biester wrote again
two weeks later, informing him from Berlin that the "Jacobian-Mendelssohnian" Streit
had escalated:

No doubt, the Schwarmerei is growing too much in the writings of the


modischen Philosophen. Demonstration is dismissed and tradition (the lowest
kind of faith) is recommended instead of rational faith. It is truly the time that
you, the noble designer of thorough and consistent thought, would rise up and
put an end to this mischief [Unwesen]. Do this soon, in a short essay in the
journal, until you find the time to do it in a complete book.33

Two factors are known to have had a decisive influence on Kant's decision to get
explicitly involved: Thomas Wizenmann's essay, Resultate der Jacobisher und
Mendelssohnischer Philosophic (published in May 1786); and another letter Kant
received from Biester (June 1786). Both uncover the philosophical and political threat
pregnant in the Streit; and both expose the danger awaiting Kant himself should he not
reject the charges raised against him.
The Resultate appeared at first anonymously, identifying the author as a
"Freiwilligen" a "volunteer." A few months after the essay's publication the author was
identified as Thomas Wizenmann, a young philosopher, at the time unknown.34

"Ibid., p. 287.
33

Ibid., 289-90

T. Wizenmann, Die Resultate der Jacobischen und Mendelssohnischen Philosophic von einem
Freywilligen (Leipzig: Goeschen, 1786).

222

Wizenmann's main point was that there was, in fact, no significant difference between
Mendelssohn's and Jacobi's positions. For by subjecting speculative reason to common
sense, the former, like the latter, subjects rationality to an irrational facultyallowing
belief even where belief is contradicted by reason.35 Wizenmann concludes his essay with
an argument for positive religion; an argument, perhaps oddly, with a clear Kantian ring.
Religious conviction, Wizenmann writes, requires an existential premise, namely belief
in the existence of God. Reason, however, is incapable of proving existencenot even in
the special case of the "most perfect being." What kind of experience, then, could
rationally substantiate God's existence? Surely not an empirical experience of the sort
mediated by space and time; God cannot be objectified and apprehended by the senses.
No room is left for rational religion: if any religion is possible, one must accept it on the
grounds of revelation. "Man of Germany!" writes Wizenmann,

Either religion of revelation or no religion at all... I challenge you to find a


more correct and impartial judgment of reason. Is from my side another
relationship to God possible other than through faith, trust and obedience? And
can from God's side another relationship to me be possible other than through
revelation, command and promise?36

Kant certainly welcomed Wizenmann's claim that we cannot know God's


existence by conceptual analysis. The dramatic conclusion of the essay, howeverits
elevated tone and the "Kantian call" to positive religionmust have made him uneasy.

'Ibid., p. 196f.

223

For Kant, excluding theoretical existential knowledge as basis of faith does not mean a
return to a religion of revelationfar from it. Wizenmann's position indicates once more
what was bound to be overlooked in the Critique's A-edition: the destruction of
metaphysics was supposed to make room for rational faith.

2. Then came Biester's third letter from Berlin (June 11, 1786). Zammito refers to that
letter as a "masterpiece of a small scale." Indeed Biester made Kant see, perhaps for the
first time, the necessity of explicitly taking a stand. Biester opens his letter by pointing
out that the "unfortunate Streif between Mendelssohn and Jacobi involves "two issues."
First, the "Factum" of the debate: the questions whether "Lessing was really an atheist"
and whether Mendelssohn would be able to concede this if it was in fact the case. These
questions however are "beside the point," writes Biester, a Nebending. "Let us suppose
that it is fully proven that Lessing was an atheist and that Mendelssohn was somewhat of
a weak personis there anything more to it?" "The second point is more important,"
Biester continues, "and concerns the reason why the philosophical Schwarmerei is at the
moment heating up." This is the tendency, growing in intellectual circles in Berlin, to
dismiss "rational cognition of God" and accept instead "positive religion" as the only
alternative to Spinoza. Jacobi is promoting, writes Biester,

[an] undermining mockery of every rational theory of God, the celebration and
virtual idolatry of Spinoza's incomprehensible chimeras, and the intolerant

Zammito The Genesis of Kant's Critique of Judgment, p. 237


'Kant, Briefe, p. 304-9

224

directive to take up positive religion as the only necessary and at the same time
the only available way out for any rational man; atheism and Schwdrmerei: it is
a miraculously strange occurrence that both confusions of the human
understanding should be so unified in these dizzy-heads of our time.

The matter is more severe in Berlin, Biester continues:

Perhaps in no other place in the world are the scholars (Gelehrten) less united
than here, contradicting one another so candidly; perhaps in no other place in
the world are scholarly disputes (gelehrte Streitigkeiten) more light-headed than
here and are undertaken with a less serious approach... Only from you, dear
man, can one expect a serious reprimand; only [a Kant] can stop this dangerous
philosophical Schwdrmerei.

At this point, Biester moves to remind Kant of the "highly indiscreet" manner in
which Jacobi had tried to pull him into the Streit, by associating the Critique with
Spinoza. "You now owe to your contemporaries a clarification of your good intentions, in
order to calm them down," he writes. As Schiitz before him Biester warns Kant that
Jacobi's Spinoza-5wc/i/em made many people think that he, too, was an atheist:

39

lbid.

40

Ibid.

225

When readers find that a writer in every sphere defiant of truth and innocence
[Jacobi] has taken you as a supporting witness, they don't know what to think,
and in the end come to believe his claims. I can assure you that this is already
the case with many very respectable people, who have been misled in this
manner. No accusation that an enlightened philosopher can endure is more
odious than that his principles foster overt dogmatic atheism, and thereby
Schwarmerei. Schwarmerei via atheism! That is Jacobi's doctrine, and he does
not shrink from trying to delude the world into thinking you agree with him....
You must at least teach the public {Publikum) and emphasize: that Mr. Jacobi
has misunderstood you, and that you could never teach and promote atheism
and fatalism... moreover: we will soon experience a change, of which one (as
with all future things) cannot know if it will favor free thought or not? It must
disturb any good person when someone, with a few pretences, accuses the first
philosopher of our land and philosophy in general, of favoring and encouraging
dogmatic atheism. These spiteful accusations would perhaps be able to have an
effect; but this effect would be fully weakened if you already beforehand break
apart from those fanatic atheists. '

Biester's latter, political argument, proved crucial. The days were the last days of
Fredrick Wilhelm H's rule over Prussiaa relatively liberal, open-minded king. As the
Aufklarer feared, his successor would prove much more conservative, exercising strict
control and censorship over universities. The Pantheismusstreit was thus heating up at a
bad time: the achievements of the Enlightenment in Berlin could be easily jeopardized;
41

Ibid.

226

Jacobi had put reason, their philosophical vehicle, under a radical, un-orthodox suspicion.
Now is the time for Kant to engage says Biester, if not for the sake of the Enlightenment
than for his ownas a philosopher who aspires to establish a school.
Biester concludes his letter by dissuading Kant from writing a reply to Feder and
Tittel. The two, it is well known, had argued that Kant's idealism was equivalent to
Berkeley's, an accusation Kant was planning to systematically refute. (Indeed it is
sometimes thought that the major changes in the Critique's B-edition were implemented
to refute this claim.) "I cannot convince myself," writes Biester, "that Feder constitutes a
real threat... I believe that defending yourself [against him] cannot be at the moment as
important as clarifying yourself [against Jacobi's accusations], as I ask you to do... the
danger impending from Jacobi and the author of the Resultate is much more urgent."42

3.

Kant responded by sending Biester "Was Heifit, sich im Denken orientieren." The

essay was published in October 1786 at the Berlinische Monatsschrift. A few months
thereafter Kant received from Biester a letter of gratitude: "hearty thanks, dear man, for
your excellent essay on the Jand M-ian Streitigkeit !"43
The essay makes clear that Kant's stance to the Streit is complexhe approaches
the debate as an outsider. On the one hand, Kant agrees with Jacobi: metaphysics
culminates in Spinoza's position; strictly speaking, there is no rationalist answer to
atheism and fatalism, at least not by traditional terms. Kant endorses, moreover,
Wizenmann's claim that Mendelssohn's subjection of reason to common sense arrives at

Ibid., p. 312

a position very similar to Jacobi's. Such an unfortunate position, Kant writes, is


unavoidable when one begins to doubt that

reason has the right to speak first concerning supersensible objects like the
existence of God... a wide gate is opened to all Schwarmerei, superstition and
even atheism. And yet in this controversy [Streitigkeii] between Jacobi and
Mendelssohn, everything appears to overturn reason in just this way.

Still, Kant's sympathies and motivations certainly lay with Mendelssohn. Despite the
radical consequences of metaphysics, the Enlightenment's trust in reason's sovereignty
must be defended at all costs. This allows Kant to present his own philosophy as the only
answer to Spinoza; and, from this perspective, to answer Jacobi's claim that the Critique
was written in fully in Spinoza's spirit. "It is hard to comprehend," Kant writes,

how the scholars just mentioned could find support for Spinozism in the
Critique of Pure Reason. The Critique completely clips dogmatism's wings in
respect to the cognition of supersensible objects, and Spinozism is so
dogmatic in this respect that it even competes with the mathematicians in
respect to the strictness of its proofs. Spinozism leads directly to
Schwarmerei... Against this there is not a single means more certain to
eliminate Schwarmerei in its roots \Wurzel\, than that determination of the
bounds of pure faculty of understanding.

44

Ibid.

228

Kant concludes the essay by addressing the public, political worry concerning the
Streit. This worry has three levels. First, a plainly political one: as Biester warns in his
letter, a change of rule was going to take place. The public debate over Spinozism,
atheism and fatalism was thus developing at a difficult moment. Second, there is a socialhistorical worry: Kant thinks that free thought would be lost if unconstrained speculation
or irrational Schwarmerei would govern intellectual discourse. Third, Kant also expresses
a moral-political worry, namely that the debate over atheism will not remain confined to
academic circles. The Streit may influence the moral-religious worldview of the public
{Publikum), which accepts received opinions without subjecting them to critical
examination. Kant therefore urges the quarreling parties to show more responsibility
when attacking reason in public:

Men of intellectual ability and broadminded disposition! I honor your talents


and love your feeling for humanity. But have you thought about what you are
doing, and where your attacks on reason will lead? Without doubt you want to
preserve inviolate freedom to think; for without that even your free flights of
genius would soon come to an end. Let us see what would naturally become of
this freedom of thought if a procedure such as you are adopting should get the
upper hand.45

WDO AA 08:146. (English translation taken from ed. A. Wood and G. di Giovanni, Kant: Religion
within the Boundaries of Mere Reason and Other Writings [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1998], 13f.) p. 6.)

229

Friends of the human race and what is holiest to it! Accept what appears to you
most worthy of belief after careful and sincere examination, whether of facts or
rational grounds; only do not dispute that prerogative of reason which makes it
the highest good on earth, the prerogative of being the final touchstone of truth.
Failing here, you will become unworthy of this freedom, and you will surely
forfeit it too; and besides that you will bring the same misfortune down on the
heads of other, innocent parties who would otherwise have been well disposed
and would have used their freedom lawfully and hence in a way which is
conducive to what is best to the world.

4.

Karl Reinhold's Briefe iiber die Kantische Philosophie is mostly known for

popularizing Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. This was achieved by pointing out, for the
first time explicitly, that the Critique constitutes an answer to Spinoza's challenge as
formulated in the "disputes [Streitigkeiten] between Jacobi and Mendelssohn."47
Reinhold's book was published in 1790. The first four letters, however, had been published
in 1786-7. In a letter to Reinhold Kant confirms that he has read the letters and found them
"completely in agreement" with his own thinking.48
The pivotal concept in Reinhold's Briefe is the "need" of the time, which, he
claims, is embodied in the debate between Jacobi and Mendelssohn. That need is
reducible to two questions, corresponding to the Spinozistic challenge that Jacobi had
46

Ibid. To be sure, when Kant refers to "innocent parties" he refers to the public realm, as opposed to the
metaphysicians; for he is emphasizing their lawful usage of freedom, being conductive to the best of the
world.
47

Reinhold, Briefe, p. 34.

48

Kant, Briefe, p. 343f.

230

raised. First, "does reason contain apodictic proofs for God's existenceproofs that
make all faith dispensable?" Second, can there be "conviction in God's existence that
requires no grounds of reason?"49 Reinhold informs his reader that Kant's Critique
answers both questions negatively. It demonstrates "from the essence of speculative
reason" the impossibility of rational theologythe vanity of "apodictic proofs" of God's
existence; and, at the same time, the necessity of rational "moral faith." Kant thus
"shuttered the weapons" of the debate over atheism, making future dispute (Streitigkeit)
impossible:

He displayed as a chimera the atheism that today more than ever haunts the
moral world in the forms of fatalism, materialism and pantheism, and he did so
with a vivacity that our modern theologians cannot claim in their unmasking of
the devil. So if there should still be fatalists, etc... in the present or future, they
will be people who have either not read or not understood the Critique of Pure
Reason.

How does the Critique constitute such an effective instrument against "atheism,
fatalism, materialism and pantheism"? Reinhold asks the question somewhat differently.
What does religion gain from the destruction of speculative theological knowledge,
which in "traditional metaphysics" had sustained all rational religion and morality?

.p ,Letters ,Reinhold 20 (translation slightly modified).


50

Ibid.

51

Ibid., p, 21.

231

As

we recall, Mendelssohn had accused Kant that by destroying metaphysical knowledge he


subverted also the foundations of rational faith and morality. Reinhold most certainly has
an eye on Mendelssohn when he explains that just the contrary is true: Kant had to
destroy theoretical-theological knowledge in order to save rational religion; for it is only
by the "clearing" of rational theology "in the manner accomplished by the by the Critique
of Pure Reason, [that] religion gains nothing less than a single, unshakable and
universally valid ground of cognition, one which completes by means of reason the
unification of religion and morality."
Reinhold's claim turns on the argument that in view of the Spinozistic-Atheistic
threat to rational religion, the possibility of dogmatic theology must be refuted, not only
silenced or weakened by counter-argumentation. Again, it is helpful to recall of
Mendelssohn in order to see what Reinhold has in mind: Mendelssohn had attacked
Spinoza's substance-monism in the Morgenstunden, hoping, thereby, to secure the
rational path to theologyand indeed moderate thinkers, followers of Leibniz and Wolff,
had for years engaged in similar enterprises. According to Reinhold such attempts are
bound to fail: they leave the Spinozist radical threat unsettled, leaving an atheistic
temptation, one that can only irrationally answered. Rational faith becomes possible,
then, not by ad-hoc arguments against Spinoza (again, like those raised by Bayle,
Leibniz, Wolff or Mendelssohn) but by decidedly terminating Spinoza's appeal:

If the moral ground of cognition is to be forever guaranteed its singular


preeminence, and reason is to be forever suspended from its endless striving

"Ibid.

for new proofs (a striving that would otherwise be sustained by the mere
doubt regarding the undecided impossibility of such proofs), then the
arguments that uncover the emptiness of metaphysical proofs for and against
God's existence must count not only against previous proofs that have been
brought forward but also against all possible proofs of this kind - or rather,
against their very possibility. Such state of affairs cannot be conceived until it
is apodictically proven that reason does not posses any faculty for recognizing
the existence or non-existence of objects that lie outside the sphere of the
world of sense.54

Modern readers of Kant are already familiar with such line of argument. Areaders, however, had not yet come across them in the Critique as clearly. Reinhold's
main contribution then is in formulating clearly, for the first time, what Kant had already
thought in A but never clearly pronounced: the moderate metaphysical options cannot
satisfactorily defend practical reason from the radical threats. Reinhold writes:

The Critique of Pure Reason has carried out [an] investigation of the faculty
of reason, and one of its preeminent results is 'that the impossibility of all
apodictic proofs for or against the existence of God follows from the nature of
speculative reason, and the necessity of moral faith in the existence of God
follows from the nature of practical reason.' Thus, with this result, the

54

Ibid., p. 38

233

Critique has fulfilled the conditions by which alone, as we have seen, our
philosophy... [can] ground the first basic truth of religion and morality.55

Now there is no doubt that the Critique provides a serious argument to the extent
that theoretical proofs of the existence of God (and metaphysical knowledge in more
general) must be given up. It thereby fulfils a necessary condition for developing rational
faith drawing on practical reasoning. The Critique, however, does not provide much of an
argument in defense of rational practical faiththat task, despite Reinhold's positive
words, still await Kant. Nor will Kant provide a satisfactory defense of such faith in the
Critique of Practical Reason. Here, Kant's Critique of Judgment, I will argue (though not
in this dissertation), constitutes the major text.

VI
1.

The Preface to the second edition of the Critique can be divided, somewhat

roughly, into two parts. The first (Bvii-xxiv) reiterates the aim and function of the
Critique that had been announced by the A-Preface: by subjecting the flights of reason to
the criterion of experience, the book is designed to turn philosophy into a rational
science, matching the model of the mathematical Naturwissenschaften. In the B-edition
this goal is dubbed a "Copernican Revolution"a term never mentioned in 1781. The
introduction of a new term, however, does not add much to the understanding of the
critical philosophy; this revolution was, in fact, already announced in the A-Preface.

234

The second part of the B-Preface (B xxiv-xliv) adds a new dimension. It defines
the function of the Critique discussed thus far as the "negative" function of the book; and
it relativizes this negative function to a higher, "positive" one:

So far, therefore, as our Critique limits speculative reason, it is indeed negative;


but since it thereby removes an obstacle which stands in the way of the
employment of practical reason, nay threatens to destroy it, it has in reality a
positive and very important sense (B xxv).

The A-Preface did not mention this function of the Critique, not because the book
did not fulfill that function but because there was no point in mentioning it as a (or the)
goal of the book. In fact, there was no room to mention this goal: claiming that
metaphysics has to be destroyed in order to defend practical reasoning would have
amounted to expressing publicly a feeling that, before Jacobi, was never publicly
expressed: moderate metaphysics does not satisfactorily answers radical metaphysics.
Indeed, claims that rigorous metaphysics necessitates fatalism, atheism or pantheism
were occasionally mademost famously against Christian Wolff. But this was not a
current view and, when these charges were raised, they were raised together with the
accusation of Spinozism. In 1781 any talk of the need to refute metaphysics in order to
refute radical thought would have been a problematic admission that rational metaphysics
yields Spinozism. And, in 1787, when Kant did come to write explicitly about the need to

235

destroy metaphysics, that claim could not be seen as anything other than an answer to
Spinozaa reaction to the Pantheismusstreit.
"There will always be some kind of metaphysics," Kant continues, that threatens
to destroy religion and morality. The "inestimable benefit" of the Critique is therefore

that all objections to morality and religion will be forever silenced, and this in
Socratic fashion, namely, by the clearest proof of the ignorance of the objectors.
There has always existed in the world, and there will always continue to exist,
some kind of metaphysics... It is therefore the first and most important task of
philosophy to deprive metaphysics, once and for all, of its injurious influence,
by attacking its errors at their very source.

This is the first time that Kant expresses himself so strongly in the Critique itself, but
not the first time that he articulates such an argument. He had already done so in the
context of the Pantheismusstreit, in Was Heifit and in reply to Mendelssohn's
Morgenstunden. As we have seen, this was also the central thesis of Reinhold's Briefe.

Commentators writing on Kant's involvement in the Streit often overlook the fact that the B-Preface,
more than texts like "Was HeiBt," constitutes the Kantian answer to the hitting debate. As far as I can see,
George di Giovanni is the only to notice in writing that despite the fact that "the most important changes
and additions" that were made in the Critique were intended to answer charges of "psychological
subjectivism" raised in the "Feder-Garve review," in the "new Preface one can also hear echoes of the
Jacobi-Mendelssohn dispute" ("The First Twenty Years of Critique: The Spinoza Connection," in ed. P.
Guyer, The Cambridge Companion to Kant [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], p. 426.) But
even this seems to me an understatement. First, because the "echoes" of the Streit are in the Preface very
loud, and include its most significant parts (examples will follow); and more importantly, because the very
writing of the new Preface, as pointed out above, redefines the function of the critical philosophy in a way
that was not even mentioned in the first Prefacenamely as an answer to those Spinozist challenges raised
by the Streit.

236

2.

At this stage of the Preface Kant turns to address the "most rigid" of dogmatic

philosophers. He contends that theoretical proofs of God's existence, freedom and


immortality, never exercised the "slightest influence" on the moral-religious convictions
of the public; and therefore that the Critique subverts only the dogmatic demonstrations
of the "schools"not the practical faith of the public. "The change affects only the
arrogant pretensions of the Schools, which would fain be counted the sole authors and
possessors of such truths... reserving the key to themselves" (B xxxiii).
Kant's writing in this passage is highly polemical. It seems plausible to read it as
a reply to Mendelssohn's accusation that by destroying metaphysics the Critique subverts
the rational basis of religion and morality. In his private correspondence, Kant had
referred to Mendelssohn's Morgenstunden as a "perfect work of dogmatism."57 His
answer to the "most rigid of dogmatists" seems clear, then: the Critique subverts only the
phony, dogmatic convictions of the schools. Not the genuine conviction of the general
public.

3.

The Preface next addresses the philosophical "schools," urging them to stop their

metaphysical "controversies" (Streitigkeiten). These controversies, Kant warns, would


sooner or later cause a public "scandal":

It is the duty of the schools, by means of thorough investigation of the rights of


speculative reason, once and for all to prevent the scandal which, sooner or
later, is sure to break out even among the masses, as the result of the disputes

Kant Briefe 174.

237

[Streitigkeiten] in which metaphysicians... inevitably become involved to the


consequent of perversion of their teaching (Bxxxiv).

It is clear what Streitigkeiten Kant has in mind, who the "intellectuals" he refers
to are and what "scandal" threatens the public. The "metaphysicians" are Jacobi,
Mendelssohn and Wizenmann. The public "scandal" Kant worries about is the loss of
freedom of thoughta "misfortune" (Ungliick) he first became aware of through
Biester's letter and already warned about in Was Heifit. This scandal (or "misfortune") is
advanced, first, by Jacobi and Wizenmann's attack on rationalityendorsing intellectual
Schwarmerei instead of serious philosophical practice; and second, by the political
change that is about to take place, threatening to censure the Enlightenment's intellectual
freedom. Kant also feared, as we have seen, that through the Pantheismusstreit the
general public would embrace a distorted metaphysical world-view. Kant moves at this
point to address directly also the government:

If governments think proper to interfere with the affairs of the learned, it would
be more consistent with a wise regard of science as well as for mankind, to
favor the freedom of such criticism, by which alone the labors of reason can be
established on a firm basis, than to support the ridiculous despotism of the
schools, which raise a loud cry of public danger over the destruction of cobwebs
to which the public has never paid any attention, and the loss of which it can
therefore never feel (Bxxxv).

238

4.

In passing, Kant also makes a metaphysical claim in the above passage: only

criticism, he says, can establish the "labors of reason." Any other philosophy, that is, falls
short of answering the radical challenge. Later in the Preface this argument is repeated.
"Only the critical philosophy," Kant writes, can "eliminate" the threat posed by
speculative reason at its root:

Criticism alone can sever the root [Wurzel] of materialism, fatalism, atheism,
Schwdrmerei and superstition, which can be injurious universally; as well as of
idealism and skepticism, which are dangerous chiefly to the schools, and hardly
allow being handed over to the public (B xxxiv).

This passage refers directly to the Pantheismusstreit. Not only because atheism,
fatalism, materialism and Schwarmerei are the designating marks of Spinozism in the
writings of the Streit but because all terms used in it have been referred to in Was Heifit,
Blester's last letter and Reinhold's Briefe. No contemporaneous reader of Kant
somebody like Jacobi, Biester, Reinhold or Hertzwould have failed to see the
connection.
Kant's claim that there is no answer to atheism, fatalism and Schwarmerei other
than his own was not self-evident. Moderate thinkers such as Leibniz, Wolff and
Mendelssohn generally thought otherwise. We know from previous chapters that Kant
completely agreed with Jacobi that traditional metaphysics leads by necessity to Spinoza:
he consistently presents the thesis that if transcendental idealism is denied, "only

239

Spinozism remains," that "Spinozism is the true consequence of dogmatic


metaphysics."59 Without mentioning Spinoza, the same arguments had been presented in
the A-edition: already in 1781 Kant claims that freedom cannot be upheld if phenomena
are taken to be things in themselves.
In the Critique of Practical Reason Kant claims that unlike the "dogmatic
teachers of metaphysics," he proposes a genuine answer to Spinozism. Unlike the
"shrewd" metaphysicians he admits in the open that deterministic mechanism of nature
cannot be denied but, by opening a gulf between phenomena and noumena, he allows
mechanism and practical reason to co-exist. "Of such great importance," concludes Kant,
"was the separation of time (as well as space) from the existence of things in themselves
that was accomplished in the Critique of pure Speculative Reason".
Constituting the only answer to Spinozism, which in the Critique of Practical
Reason is characterized as the "great importance" of the Critique of Pure Reason, is
precisely the "positive function" of the Critique of Pure Reason, which is announced in
the B-Preface:

[since the Critique] removes an obstacle which stands in the way of the
employment of practical reason, nay threatens to destroy it, it has in reality a
positive and very important sense (B xxv).

KpVAA 5:102
Refl. AA 18:436
Ibid

240

5.

"I had to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith." Kant never wrote this

sentence in the A-edition. It conveys a multi-layered answer to Spinoza's thinking, as


now comes to the fore through the Pantheismusstreit. No contemporaneous reader of
Kant's would have failed to read Kant's sentence in this light. First, as an answer to
Jacobi: rational philosophy does not lead to atheism; a salto mortale is not necessary if
Spinoza's radical position is severed from its root by the transcendental philosophy.
Second, it is an answer to Mendelssohn: Kant is not an "all-destroyer." The theoretical
basis of religion had to be destroyed in order to save religion from radical thinking.
Lastly, it approves officially a point so far stressed mainly by Reinhold: in order to secure
religion and morality, the threat imposed by metaphysics cannot merely be argued
against. It must be eliminated, destroyed in its root. Only the Critique of Pure Reason,
thinks Kant, can prevent the scandal that will emerge as soon as irrational or Spinozistradical metaphysics becomesthrough the Pantheismusstreitthe world-view of the
public. Jacobi would later coin a term for that world-view.

241

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