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Kant's Empiricism

Author(s): Lorne Falkenstein

Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Mar., 1997), pp. 547-589
Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.
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JLt might seem inappropriate to describe Kant as an empiricist. He

believed, contrary to the basic empiricist principle, that there are non
trivial propositions that can be known independently of experience.
He devoted virtually all of his efforts as a researcher to discovering
how it is possible for us to have this "synthetic a priori" knowledge.1
However, Kant also believed that there are some things that we can
know only through sensory experience. Though he did not give these
empirical propositions the attention he lavished on their a priori com
panions, they are both numerous and significant. The purpose of this
article is to examine the role of empirical elements in Kant's thought,
and to expand on some of the implications that a due appreciation of
this empiricism has for the interpretation of his positions on causality,
the systematic unity of laws, and realism. In the process a pair of hith
erto neglected Kantian notions will come up for close scrutiny: those
of affinity and of the exponent of a rule.2

Correspondence to: Department of Philosophy, The University of West

ern Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 3K7.
^hese efforts quickly established Kant's reputation as a foe of empiri
cism. Already in his own lifetime, C. G. Selle labeled Kant's philosophy pur
ist. See Christian Gottlieb Seile, Grunds?tze der reinen Philosophie (Berlin:
Christian Friedrich Himburg, 1788), 3. The theme was taken up by Carl
Christian Erhard Schmid, "Einige Bemerkungen ?ber den Empirismus und
Purismus in der Philosophie; durch die Grunds?tze der reinen Philosophie
von Herrn Seile veranla?t," appended to his W?rterbuch zum leichteren Ge
brauch der Kantischen Schriften, 3d ed. (Jena: Cr?ker, 1798). Schmid pro
posed to defend Kant's "purism" against Selle's empiricist attack.
2In English, I am aware of only five substantial prior treatments of the is
sue of affinity: Henry E. Allison, "Transcendental Affinity," in Proceedings of
the Third International Kant Congress, ed. Lewis White Beck (Dordrecht:
Reidel, 1972), 203-11; Lewis White Beck, "Kant on the Uniformity of Nature,"
Synthese 47 (1981): 449-64; Robert E. Butts, "The Methodological Structure
of Kant's Metaphysics of Science," in Kant's Philosophy of Physical Science,
ed. Robert E. Butts (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1986) 163-99, esp. 179-87; Richard E.
Aquila, Matter in Mind (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989),

The Review of Metaphysics 50 (March 1997): 547-589. Copyright ? 1997 by The Review of

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Kant actually argues that there is empirical knowledge in an ob

scure and little noticed passage at the close of the Transcendental
Aesthetic's conclusions from the metaphysical and transcendental ex
positions concerning space.3 The passage is devoted to proving that
space is the only thing given in outer intuition that can be known a pri
ori. For first, whereas there are synthetic a priori principles concern
ing space (those of geometry), there are no synthetic a priori princi
ples concerning color, sound, warmth, or any of the other components
of our outer intuitions. Even more significantly, none of these other
components can be anticipated in advance of experience.
This second point is backed up by a number of specific examples,
some alluding to themes standardly employed by empiricists when ar
guing for the necessity of some prior reference to experience for
knowledge. We are told that different people can experience colors,
tastes, and so on differently, so that the color of a rose can appear dif
ferently to every eye. If the color of a rose can appear differently to
every eye, then presumably it can appear differently to the same eye at
different times as well, so that this color can only be known a posteri
ori. We are told further that the taste of a wine is a function of the par
ticular constitution of the senses of the subject who tastes it. Presum
ably, it too will therefore change with that subject's diet, state of
health, age, and so forth, so that again it can only be known subse
quent to actually tasting the wine. Finally, and most convincingly, we
are told that the quality of a taste or color is incommunicable in ad
vance of experience, so that those deprived of the particular "organi
zation" involved in producing these sensations cannot have them; for
example, those who have been blind since birth can have no concep
tions of color, and those who have never eaten pineapple can have no
conception of its taste.

82-106, following upon "Matter, Form, and Imaginative Association in Sen

sory Intuition," in New Essays on Kant, ed. Bernard den Ouden (New York:
Peter Lang, 1987), 73-105; and Paul Guyer, "Reason and Reflective Judgment:
Kant on the Significance of Systematicity," Nous 24 (1990): 17-^3. The only
substantial discussion of the notion of the exponent of a rule that I am aware
of is Klaus Reich, The Completeness of Kant's Table of Judgments, trans.
Jane Kheller and Mark Losonsky (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992),
3Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A28?30/B44?5, ed.
Raymund Schmidt (Hamburg: Meiner, 1956); references are to pagination in
the first (A) and second (B) German editions. All translations are my own.

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Of course, Kant did suppose that there is something about sensa

tions like those of color and taste that we can anticipate in advance:
that they will exhibit a degree or intensive magnitude that can be con
tinually diminished toward nothingness.4 Even so, we still need expe
rience to tell us, first, what particular degree or intensive magnitude
any given sensation has, and second, what kind of quality bears this
degree. "The quality of sensation (for example, color, taste, and so
on) is always merely empirical and can never be represented a priori,"
Kant writes.5 Though colors might be known a priori to be such that
they can all be diminished through infinitely fine gradations to black,
or tastes to insipidity, or sounds to silence, what particular degree of
saturation or brightness or vivacity these sensible qualities exhibit is
still something that only experience can tell us.
What holds of the qualities and the intensive magnitudes of sensi
ble qualities also holds of their locations. Space and time may be a pri
ori, but it is only through experience that we know what sensible qual
ity is to be found at any given place or time. After all, to say that the
quality and the particular degree of intensity of a sensation cannot be
anticipated is just to say that what sensible qualities are located at
what future times is something that only experience can reveal to us.
Moreover, to say that no one who has not first tasted pineapple can
know this sensation a priori is to say that the sensible contents of cer
tain regions of space (those occupied by pineapples) can only be
known a posteriori.
Yet while Kant might so far appear to have left experience in
charge of determining most of our knowledge (all that involves sensi
ble qualities), his subsequent treatment of a priori forms and catego
ries appears to severely delimit its role. Kant's treatment of reasoning
from cause to effect is a paradigm example of this. Seeing someone
undermine the foundations of a house, I can anticipate that it will col
lapse. In this case, I only need to rely upon experience to inform me
of certain initial conditions (like the existence of an excavation), and I
can proceed to deduce effects in an apparently a priori fashion, and so
anticipate even the sensible content of a future experience. Empiri
cists have traditionally responded to these sorts of cases by claiming
that it is only through prior experience that one learns causal rules,

4A166-9/B208-ll. The classic study of this topic is Anneliese Maier,

Kants Qualit?tskategorien, vol. 65 o? Kant-Studien Erg?nzungsheft (Berlin:
Pan-Verlag, 1930).

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such as the rule that unsupported heavy bodies fall down, and that as
these rules are discovered only by induction, they are subject to con
tinued confirmation by experience. However, Kant is widely reputed
to have refuted empirical approaches to causal reasoning, and to have
established the a priori validity of certain causal laws, such as the laws
of Newtonian physics.
Despite this reputation, however, Kant did not entirely reject the
empirical approach to causal reasoning, and the scope that he took a
priori laws and principles to play in natural science, at least in his
work in the 1780s, is a carefully restricted and nuanced one. Consider,
for example, the following remark:
We are accustomed to say of many items of knowledge that have been
derived from experiential sources that we are capable of acquiring them
a priori, because we do not derive them immediately from experience,
but from a general rule, even though we have derived this general rule it
self from experience. Thus, one says of a person who has undermined
the foundation of his house that he could have known a priori that it
would collapse, that is, that he did not have to wait for experience to
show that it would actually collapse. But he could not know this com
pletely a priori. For that bodies are heavy, and thus that they must fall
when their support is removed, had to have been taught to him previ
ously by experience.6

This passage comes from the B edition Preface to the Critique of Pure
Reason, written in 1787?two years after Kant had claimed, in his
Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, that universal gravita
tion, including the attraction of undermined foundation stones to the
earth below them, can be assumed a priori. The two texts are not nec
essarily contradictory, for even if gravitation can be assumed a priori,
there might be other forces, about which we can only learn empiri
cally, that mitigate, cancel, or even reverse its effects. Smoke rises,
and undermining the foundations of a house will not cause it to col
lapse if its structure is rigid enough. Yet this passage from the B Pref
ace serves to show that the Kant of the canonical critical text, the B
Critique, took there to be a degree of empirical determination in our
reasoning about some purportedly universal cause and effect rela
tions.7 Just how much of a degree is a question I now turn to address.

7For more on this, see A171-2/B212-13, A206-7/B253, A766/B794.

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Kant's reputation as an opponent of empirical approaches to

causal reasoning is grounded in his own claims to have offered an an
swer to the "attack" (Angriff) on a priori causal inference classically
launched by Hume.8 It is surprisingly difficult, however, to find a pre
cise statement of what it is about Hume's account of causality that
Kant considered himself to have corrected. Hume's name is not even
mentioned in the central Kantian text on causality, the Second Anal
ogy.9 Moreover, Kant's most prominent description of what he refers
to as "Hume's problem" concerning causality, that offered in the Pref
ace to the Prolegomena, contains no contrasting account of his own
"solution" (Aufl?sung) to that problem.10 While the Prolegomena's
later treatment of the concept of causality does go some way toward
applying the "solution" to the "problem,"11 Kant's most detailed and
direct engagement with Hume's position is actually to be found in a
rather obscure and infrequently read corner at the back of the Cri
tique, an appendix to the second section of the first chapter of the
Doctrine of Method.12 In what follows, I will refer to this passage as
the "Polemic," after its section title. As this passage is both important
and little read, its major points are paraphrased here.
Kant begins the Polemic by remarking that Hume was the most
ingenious and effective of all the sceptics, and that it is therefore
worthwhile to examine his arguments and expose his errors. He pro
ceeds to observe that Hume attacked the notion of a synthetic a priori
judgment. It is only through experience, Hume charged, that we can
affirm something of an object that is not analytically contained in its
concept. In making this charge, Hume is supposed to have errone
ously treated the synthetic a priori claims of pure understanding as be
ing of a piece with those of pure reason, even though the procedure
used by the two faculties to arrive at their claims is quite different.

8See Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena zu einer jeden k?nftigen Meta

physik, die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten k?nnen, ed. Benno Erdmann, in
vol. 4 of Kants Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Reimer, 1911), 257:11-262:11,
310:20-313:16, B5, B19-20, A764-8/B792-6. The reference to an "attack" by
Hume on the concept of causality is from Prolegomena, 257:14. All transla
tions from the Prolegomena are my own.
10Prolegomena, 257:11-261:25. The reference to "die Aufl?sung des Hu
mischen Problems" is from 260:35?6.
nProlegomena, 310:20-313:25.

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Pure understanding is able to connect something synthetically, and

yet a priori, to the concept of an object because it proceeds by ground
ing all of its claims in considerations of what is required for any object
to be experienced by beings like us. Pure reason, in contrast, seeks to
describe objects that go beyond the bounds of any possible experi
ence. Hume's ignorance of the special resources pure understanding
has to call upon led him to suppose that all synthetic a priori laws and
principles, whether originating from reason or from the understand
ing, are equally illegitimate, and that they are all in fact only contin
gent claims, masquerading as necessary truths.
Continuing, Kant describes just how this Humean error manifests
itself in the paradigm case of a synthetic a priori principle, that con
cerning the connection of cause and effect. Hume rightly observed,
Kant says, that we are unable, a priori, to connect one thing with an
other entirely distinct thing, and say that because the one exists, the
other must also. It is only experience that teaches us laws of cause
and effect, laws, that is, that tell us that because this particular thing
exists now, that other particular thing must exist subsequently to it.
Kant is doubtless thinking here of Hume's powerful point that no one,
upon witnessing a cause for the first time, can tell a priori what its ef
fect will be, just from contemplating that cause. Adam, on seeing wa
ter for the first time, could not know a priori that it would not support
the weight of a human body were one to stand on it. That bread nour
ishes while grass and earth do not, that fire burns, and countless other
things are learned only from experiencing that such causes do in fact
have such effects. Were we left to try and ascertain these facts a pri
ori, we would have absolutely no basis upon which to proceed, and
could not consider the most prodigious cause-effect correlations to be
any less likely than any other. For all we can tell a priori, the falling of
a pebble might extinguish the sun, or the wish of a human being con
trol the orbits of the planets.
The examples I have just been giving are all Hume's, but Kant of
fers one of his own in the Polemic: That sunlight should melt wax and
yet harden clay, he observes, is not something that anyone could tell
in advance, simply by analyzing the concepts of sunlight, wax, and
clay. "Only experience could teach us such a law," Kant writes.13

13A766/B794. Hume's examples are to be found in his Enquiries Con

cerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals
(hereafter, EHU), 3d ed., ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1978), 27, 28, 164.

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Kant proceeds to observe, however, that just because reason can

not go beyond the bounds of experience to tell us something about
what effect a previously unknown cause will have (or, for that matter,
what cause a previously unknown effect must have had), that does not
mean that the understanding is unable to tell us anything about causes
or effects prior to experience. A highly significant passage is:
We saw in the Transcendental Logic that, though we can never go im
mediately beyond the content of a concept that has been given to us, we
can still know, completely a priori, the law of its connection with other
things. (It is just that we know this in relation to a third thing, namely
possible experience, though nonetheless still a priori.) When, therefore,
previously hard wax melts, I can know a priori that something had to
have preceded (such as the warmth of the sun) upon which this event
follows in accord with a constant law. However, without experience I
certainly could not discover either the cause from the effect or the ef
fect from the cause; I could not, a priori and without learning from expe
rience, know this determinately.14

While Hume was right that I cannot, prior to experience, tell what
the effect of a given cause will be, or what the cause of a given effect
must have been, I can know, prior to experience, that there must be
some cause, and I can know, prior to experience, that whatever this
cause might be, whenever it occurs, it must be followed by the effect.15
Transcendental logic, by examining the conditions for the possibility
of any experience whatsoever, is able to demonstrate that everything
that happens has to have been preceded by some other event, and that
this other event is one upon which the subsequent event "follows in
accord with a constant law." (More precisely put, transcendental
logic is able to demonstrate that it is a law that whatever happens
must belong to a type or class of event, that it must be preceded by
some other event that likewise belongs to a type of class of event, and
that all the members of the latter class must be followed by members
of the former class.) Though I may not be able to determine what this
antecedent event is, I can be assured a priori that it must exist. This is
a point that is seconded in the general proof of the three Analogies,
and again in the Prolegomena, where Kant remarks that it is

15Causes and effects must therefore belong to types or classes of events,
at least in principle. This observation has also been made by Michael Fried
man, "Causal Laws and the Foundations of Natural Science," in The Cam
bridge Companion to Kant, ed. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer
sity Press, 1992), 170-1, who has employed it to powerful effect to attack the
distinction, long popular among Kant commentators, between "every event
some cause" and "same cause same effect" versions of the causal principle.

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characteristic of the Analogies that they do not allow us to determine

anything about what exists, but merely to affirm the necessity of a "re
lation" of some unknown thing to a given thing.16
"From the contingency of our determination in accord with the
law Hume falsely inferred the contingency of the law itself," Kant con
cludes in the Polemic. That is, from the fact that it is only through ex
perience that we can discover what the cause of a given effect is,
Hume falsely inferred that the very existence of a cause, and the "ne
cessity" of the succession of the effect upon every occurrence of this
cause, is likewise empirical. The law, that is, the causal principle, tells
us a priori that any given event must have a cause, and that this cause
must be of a type that is always followed by events like the one we are
considering. When we follow this law, and look for the cause of any
given event, our discovery is made only empirically. However, the law
itself, which promises us that there must be such a thing, is known a
What does the Polemic teach us about Kant's position on Hume's
critique of a priori causal reasoning? There are two major compo
nents to Hume's critique.17 The first is an attack on the notion that it is
possible to infer previously unobserved causes or effects a priori, just
from inspection of their given effects or causes, without even an ap
peal to analogous cases experienced in the past.18 The second is his
attendant attack on the notion that we have knowledge of a force or
power in causes in virtue of which they are enabled to make their ef
fects come about, so that we can infer previously unseen effects from
given causes by a kind of deduction from this force or power, and pre
viously unseen causes from given effects by inferring what kind of
force or power would have been required to bring them about.19 This
brief survey of Kant's Auseinandersetzung with Hume in the Polemic
has shown that he is not concerned to reply to either of these points.
Kant accepts the justice of Hume's charge that it is impossible to
deduce previously unseen effects from their given causes, or previ

16A178/B220-1; Prolegomena, 309:23-310:10.

17Hume's attack on induction is of course not an attack on a prioristic
causal reasoning at all, but an attack on a rival empiricist account of how
causal reasoning takes place.
mEHU, sec. 4, part 1, 27-32.
19EHU, sec. 7, part 1, 63-9.

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ously unseen causes from their given effects. This is a point that is not
just made in the Polemic, but in the Anticipations, the Second Anal
ogy, and the Prolegomena as well.20 And, like Hume, Kant conceives
of causes in terms of succession in time rather than in terms of effica
cious power. This is a point that is also made elsewhere in the Cri
tique, in the definition of the schema of the concept of cause in the
schematism chapter and the phenomena and noumena chapter, in the
statement of the principle of the Second Analogy, and in certain re
marks that Kant makes about the impossibility of knowing fundamen
tal forces in the Anfangsgr?nde.21 The differences Kant takes himself
to have with Hume focus just on the manner in which this succession
in time is conceived. Kant conceives the succession as neces
sary?succession "in accord with a constant law"?though this ne
cessity is not underwritten by the demonstrated existence of any

20A171/B213, A206-7/B252; Prolegomena 257:20-32. In the last named

passage, Kant is admittedly describing Hume's position, but he describes
Hume's proof of that position as "incontestable" (unwidersprechlich,
257:27), and when he later goes on to criticize Hume for drawing a "hasty and
incorrect" conclusion (258:10), it is only because Hume extended this incon
testable point to affirm an inability of the understanding to think necessary
connections in general (258:5). The point being hinted at here is the same
one the Polemic makes explicit: the understanding can at least affirm, on the
basis of certain technicalities of transcendental logic, that, in general, every
event is preceded by some other event upon which it follows in accord with a
rule; it just cannot ascertain a priori what this antecedent event is. The nec
essary connection to some other thing is given a priori, but nothing is learned
thereby about what this other thing is.
21In the schematism chapter Kant writes: "The schema of the effect and
the cause of a thing in general is the real that, whenever it is given is always
followed by some other thing. It consists, therefore, in the succession of the
manifold, insofar as it is subject to a rule" (A144/B183). Note the absence of
any reference to a power in the cause to bring the effect about and the focus
instead on mere constancy of temporal succession. The point about the im
portance of succession in time for rendering the concept of cause intelligible
is nowhere as clearly made as it is in the phenomena and noumena chapter,
where Kant writes: "Were I to leave out of the concept of cause the time, in
which something follows upon something else in accord with a rule, then I
would find nothing more in the pure category than that a "cause" would be
something from which one would be allowed to conclude the existence of
something else, and in that case, not only would cause and effect not be dis
tinct from one another, I would have no idea what the features are in virtue of
which this concept would apply to any object, because the ability to draw
these sorts of conclusions about the existence of something else would de
pend on conditions [that is, knowledge of powers] of which I know nothing"
(A243/B301). The principle of the Second Analogy?the claim that the whole

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discernible force or power in the cause, but by certain considerations

internal to Kant's Transcendental Logic and articulated in the Second
Analogy. Kant charged, however, that Hume took causes to be types
of events that are merely shown to us by experience to be followed by
their effects, so that the connection between causes and their effects
is only inductively warranted and therefore can never be necessary or
strictly universal.22 This is the only respect in which Hume got things

argument is directed to establish?is stated in A as being, "Everything that

happens (begins to be) presupposes something else upon which it follows in
accord with a rule" (A189). Here again, the emphasis is entirely on constant
or rule-governed succession in time, and there is no reference to a notion of
force or power as being in any way part of what is being proved. While the B
principle, "All alterations take place in accord with the law of the connection
of cause and effect" (B232), is not as clear, the "law" that it mentions is argu
ably the law that states that no event is a cause unless, whenever it occurs, it
is followed by its effect. These positive claims about what (schematized)
causes are, are complemented by Kant's negative claims in the Anfangs
gr?nde about the unknowability of fundamental forces. See Metaphysische
Anfangsgr?nde der Naturwissenschaft, ed. Alois H?fler, in vol. 4 of Kants
Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Reimer, 1911), 534:20-6, 513:2-4, (all transla
tions from the Anfangsgr?nde are my own) and compare A206?7/B252,
where the point is made that, insofar as forces are knowable, it is only empir
ically, through reference to regularities in the succession of observed events.
It might be objected that in these passages, Kant is merely concerned to
make a claim about the fundamental forces of dynamics rather than about
the nature of causation in general. However, since, as the Preface to the An
fangsgr?nde shows, Kant was pessimistic about the possibility of raising any
other discipline to the level of a "science," if the fundamental forces of dy
namics prove to be unknowable, those that are studied by other disciplines
are hardly likely to be any more transparent. There is, however, one passage
where Kant appears to say more about causes than just that they are types of
events that are always followed by certain other types of events. This pas
sage is A91/B124, where Kant claims "that the effect does not merely come af
ter its cause, but is posited through it and follows out of it" ("da? die Wirkung
nicht blo? zu der Ursache hinzukomme, sondern durch dieselbe gesetzt sei,
und aus ihr erfolge"). Either this was not intended as it sounds (which is
hard to imagine given the emphasis and nature of the contrast), or Kant was
confused about his own position. There is no way this claim can be main
tained consistently with the passage cited above from the phenomena and
noumena chapter, and there is nowhere in the Second Analogy where Kant
manages to "answer" Hume by proving that causes must be conceived to con
tain forces or powers that make effects come about, as opposed to being an
tecedent events that are always followed in time by a certain other type of
22This is not the place to consider whether this charge against Hume will
really stand up to scrutiny. However, for an outstanding treatment of Hume's
account of causality?and a much-needed corrective to the naive and cari
catured versions of Hume's account propagated by so many Kant schol
ars?see Fred Wilson, "Hume's Defence of Causal Inference," Dialogue 12
(1983): 661-94.

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wrong, as far as the Polemic is concerned. The other major passages

where Kant discusses Hume merely repeat this point.23
There are therefore important respects in which Kant remains an
empiricist about causal reasoning. The discovery of any specific
causal rule, such as the rule that sunshine melts wax, will depend
upon experience, though it will have an a priori component. We are
assured a priori that every event will prove to have a cause and that
this cause will be necessarily connected to the effect, in the sense that
it will be a type of event that, whenever it occurs, will have to be fol
lowed by the effect. Yet because we are merely assured by the techni
calities of Kant's Transcendental Logic that this is the case, without
having any real insight into why (we have no knowledge of the forces
or powers in causes that make their effects come about), we still need
experience to discover what the cause is, and to confirm that we have
correctly identified it. Thus, all our causal rules will be, as Kant puts
it, "impure" a priori rules.24 They will have an empirical component
that has to do with the identification of the type of event that causes
(that is, constantly precedes) an empirically given effect, and an a pri
ori component that promises the necessity of the connection between

23Those passages are B5, where Kant faults Hume for being unable to
preserve necessity in the connection between cause and effect, and a strict
universality of causal rules; B19-20, which again takes the necessity of the
connection between a cause and its effect to be at the crux of Hume's mis
take; A91/B123?4, where Kant charges that appeals to experience can never
establish the true necessity to the connection between cause and effect; the
introduction to the Prolegomena, already discussed in note 20 above; and
??27?30 of the Prolegomena, which focus on "removing Hume's doubt" pre
cisely concerning the principle of the necessity of the connection between
causes and their effects.
24B2-3. Compare with Friedman, "Causal Laws," 174-5, who also main
tains that specific causal rules are mixed and impurely a priori. However,
Friedman seems to take it that particular causal rules are first established by
induction and then have necessity subsequently attached to them by being
subsumed under transcendental principles, so that there is at least a
two-stage process involved (Friedman, 178, 180, 185). This does not fit well
with the argument of the Second Analogy, which claims that necessary con
nection needs to be taken as axiomatic as a condition of localizing events in
time?in effect, that there can be no purely inductive first stage (A196/B241).
See also Henry Allison, "Causality and Causal Laws in Kant," in Kant and
Contemporary Epistemology, ed. Paolo Parrini (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1994),
291^307, esp. 301-302; and Philip Kitcher, "The Unity of Science and the
Unity of Nature," in the same volume, 253?72, esp. 258.

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the true cause, whatever it is, and its effect (but that does not promise
that we have ever correctly identified the true cause).25
Kant occasionally refers to the a priori component of a specific
causal rule as the "exponent" ofthat rule.26 Klaus Reich notes that, as
Kant would have found it explained in the work of K?stner, H?gel, or
Euler, an exponent is not a number indicating the degree of a power,
but a feature of the Euclidean doctrine of proportion.27 The exponent
is the number by which the first member of a proportion must be mul
tiplied in order to yield the second. It is thus not exactly analogous to
the a priori component of a causal rule, since that component does not
allow us to determine the nature of an unknown cause from the nature
of its given effect, but just to determine the necessity of its existence.28
However, like an exponent, the a priori component of a causal rule
holds between two variables, one of which must first be "given" some
how before the other can be determined, and when the one is given, it
allows us to determine something (albeit bare existence) about the


There is another venue in which a priori reasoning threatens to

creep into Kant's philosophy and steal away the prerogatives of expe
rience. The appendix to the Critique's Transcendental Dialectic, enti
tled, "The Regulative Employment of the Ideas of Pure Reason," con
tains a strikingly idealistic argument. Kant there declares that the
parsimony of fundamental natural causes and genera is not merely an

25This is also why Kant claims in the Critique of Judgment that specific
causal rules are contingent, and that we can fail to see their necessity. It is
not contingent that every type of event has some type of cause, but it is a con
tingent matter whether we have correctly identified this cause. While the
true cause is necessarily followed by its effect, we have no a priori insight
into why and so cannot deduce the identity of the true cause but must instead
rely upon experience to inform us. See Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urtheilsk
raft, ed. Wilhelm Windelband, in vol. 5 of Kants Gesammelte Schriften (Ber
lin: Reimer, 1913), 183:14?28. All translations are my own.
26For references to the exponent of a rule, see A159/B198, A216/B263,
A331/B387, and A414/B441.
27Reich, Kant's Table of Judgments, 76; 128, n. 23.

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assumption we should employ as a guide to scientific research, but

something we can know a priori to be a true or objectively valid fea
ture of the world.29 "Reason does not here beg but command," as he
puts it, that the understanding find the greatest unity of causes and
species in its investigations of nature.30 Furthermore, it would be ludi
crous, he claims, to command that the understanding treat the various
causes and genera in nature as systematically unified under more gen
eral ones, if there might be no such unity. For in that case, reason
would be commanding the understanding to produce what it itself rec
ognizes to be a possibly distorted picture of nature. And that would be
contrary to the very essence of reason. In what follows I refer to this
as the wishful-thinking argument.
In the process of giving the wishful-thinking argument, Kant
stresses that we should not imagine that the unity of nature is some
thing that reason merely proposes as a hypothesis, and enjoins the un
derstanding to seek. For if it were a hypothesis, it would permit of dis
confirmation, whereas no degree of failure to discover unity will ever
lead us to abandon the supposition that it does exist. Kant illustrates
this point with a pair of examples, one drawn from psychology, the
other from chemistry.31 He also appeals to the tacit practice of mod
ern scientists and the explicit theses of scholastic ontology.32 The de
mand for the unity of nature is supposed to grow out of the very es
sence of reason, so that it could only be abandoned if reason itself
were abandoned, and along with it, "all coherent use of the under
standing, and any sufficient criterion of empirical truth."33 Since fail
ure to discover unity is not, therefore, countenanceable, Kant writes
that the unity of nature cannot be "merely subjectively and logically
necessary (as method), but must be objectively necessary."34

31A650/B678 and A652-3/B680-1. The example drawn from psychology
is an especially powerful one, given that elsewhere (Anfangsgr?nde
471:11-37) Kant remarks that psychological phenomena can only be studied
"historically," not predictively, since even specific empirical rules cannot be
reliably formulated or tested where psychological phenomena are concerned.
That we should hold there to be unity among the psychic forces in the face of
such clear evidence of our inability to take even the first step toward articu
lating it is a true testament to the fact that "reason does not here beg but com
^648/6677; see also A661/B689.

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Kant himself seems to have been ambivalent about the wishful

thinking argument and to have elsewhere inclined to the more moder
ate conclusion that the principle of parsimony is merely regulative.35
Whatever one might think of his wishful-thinking argument for the a
priori validity of the principle of parsimony, all that that principle tells
us is that nature must be (or ought to be) unified, not how. Finding
the common mark that unifies a variety of empirically given species
under a genus is still left as a problem for the understanding to re
solve, as is finding the general law, of which a variety of empirically
discovered causal rules are all expressions.
Admittedly, there are certain very general principles (such as the
causal principle itself) that are derived completely a priori in the Ana
lytic of Principles. However Kant is pessimistic about our ability to
proceed from the top down, deriving general laws from these princi
ples, and specific causal rules from the general laws:
Pure understanding is not able, through mere categories, to ascribe any
other a priori laws to appearances than those that touch on a nature in
general, as law-likeness of appearances in space and time. Specific
laws, since they concern empirically determined appearances, cannot
be completely derived from those touching on a nature in general, al
though they do all stand under them. Experience is required to get any
sort of knowledge of specific laws, though only those touching on a na
ture in general can give us a priori instruction concerning experience in
general, or what can be known as an object of experience in general.36

This is why, in the very section where Kant argues for an objec
tively valid (or perhaps merely regulative) "transcendental" principle
of parsimony, he also devotes considerable energy to articulating the
operation of a hypothetical or "logical" use of this principle.37 Kant de
scribes how, proceeding from the bottom up, this "logical" use groups

35A305-306/B362-3; A666-8/B694-6; A680/B708; Critique of Judgment,

180:14-17, 184:10-15, 185:35-186:7; Immanuel Kant, "First Introduction to
the Critique of Judgment," ed. Gerhard Lehmann, in vol. 20 of Kants Gesam
melte Schriften (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1942), 214:8-14, 219:9-11. All transla
tions are my own. Nonetheless, a variant on the wishful-thinking argu
ment?which might be called the unlikely accident argument?continues to
be found in the "First Introduction," 210:10-19, and the wishful-thinking argu
ment itself is repeated there at 215:14-17.
36B165. See also A680/B708; Critique of Judgment, 184:10-15; "First In
troduction to the Critique of Judgment," 214:8-14, 219:9-11.

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specific types of event together in a genus and takes a generalized ver

sion of the specific causal rule holding for one of them to be a law
holding analogously for all. If this law in fact proves to hold for all the
species that are seen to fall under the genus, it is used in the predic
tion of further phenomena. As long as the predictions prove correct,
the law is relied upon, but failure requires that we revise either the law
or our choice of the common mark defining the genus. The law is
therefore only inductively valid and open to disconfirmation by subse
quent experience.38
Specific causal rules are inductive and open to disconfirmation
by subsequent experience in much the same sense. We merely sup
pose, based on the experience of constant conjunctions, that a certain
type of event is the true cause of a given event. Should subsequent ex
perience ever reveal the effect to occur without its supposed cause, or
the cause without its effect, we will reject the rule as mistaken and
look elsewhere for the true cause. Yet in the case of causal rules, we
are assured a priori that there must indeed always be a cause of any
given event and that true causes can never fail to be followed by their
effects. We rely on experience just to tell us what this cause is, not to
give us a measure of the likelihood of its existence or of its being fol
lowed by the effect. For Kant the question is whether general laws
have a similar a priori "exponent" or whether we must rely on induc
tion to inform us, not merely of the nature of the general cause, but of
its very existence and of the degree of its reliability.
Kant's problems arise because, if general laws are taken to have
an a priori "exponent" it cannot be for the same reasons that estab
lished the necessary existence and necessary precedence of specific
causes in the Second Analogy. The Second Analogy claims that, as a
matter of transcendental logic, every event must be preceded by some
other event upon which it follows in accord with a rule. While this re
sult needs to hold at a certain level of generality, between types of
events rather than just tokens, the argument of the Second Analogy
does not require that this generality be carried on up to the highest
levels. I can think that sunshine is the cause of the melting of wax
without having to have any beliefs about the effects of the causes of
heat in general on any fusible body whatsoever.


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Kant needs a "transcendental" principle of uniformity to supply

the warrant that the Second Analogy is not suited to establish. The
transcendental principle guarantees that there will in fact be more ge
neric laws under which specific causal rules can be discovered to ?be
unified, just as the Second Analogy guarantees that there will always
be types of cause upon which any given type of event can be found to
regularly follow. In doing so, the principle underwrites our inductive
or "logical" search for such laws, assuring us that, however total our
failure to discover enduringly valid general laws may be, there are in
deed such laws out there to be found. Kant's problems are with how
the principle should be supposed to provide this assurance?by estab
lishing the objective validity of the uniformity of nature and parsi
mony of causes, as the wishful-thinking argument would have it, or by
establishing merely the necessity for researchers with minds like ours
to adopt a certain approach to scientific inquiry. Investigating how (or
whether) Kant resolves this issue is beyond the scope of this article. I
want instead to draw a more immediate conclusion about Kant's em
If what I have said here and in section II above is correct, then
Kant does not need to bring empirically established causal rules under
more general laws and these in turn under the universal causal princi
ple in order to explain, through incorporation in a deductive system
from a priori first principles, how causal rules that are only estab
lished empirically could have the necessity and strict universality that
he claims any rule labeled as "causal" must incorporate. There is no
such need because the Second Analogy's proof that every type of
event is preceded by some other type of event upon which it follows in
accord with a rule is not merely the proof of a universal principle, but
a proof of the presence of an a priori "exponent" in each and every
specific causal rule that may be discovered. What is empirical in these
rules is just the identification of the cause; its existence and its neces
sary precedence, and hence its "dignity" as a cause, are guaranteed a
priori by the exponent.
Insofar as there is a transition problem in Kant's philosophy of
science, therefore, it is not a problem posed by the need to get down
to the specific level in order to provide specific rules with an a priori
warrant they supposedly lack; it is rather a problem posed by Kant's
hankering to get up to the intermediate level, and explain what it is
that allows us to suppose that the a priori warrant carried by specific
rules remains with them after they have been generalized and applied

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to a range of merely analogous phenomena. Depending on how anx

ious Kant is to get up to this level, he takes the principle of uniformity
to be either objectively true and established by "transcendental" con
siderations (such as the wishful-thinking argument), or a merely meth
odological or heuristic principle that might guide research, but cannot
actually dictate the form of the world.39
It might nonetheless be objected that Kant does not always ap
proach this transition problem from the bottom up, as he does in the
appendix, when he enjoins the discovery of laws by generalization
from specific rules. Some general laws, such as the laws of Newto
nian mechanics considered in the Anfangsgr?nde, are derived from
the top down, by being shown to be instances of pure a priori princi
ples. These laws do not need an exponent in order to underwrite their
claims to describe a necessary and strictly universal connection be
tween generic causes and their effects; their pure a priori origins do
that job.40 Moreover, it might be thought that Kant took even laws that
are originally discovered inductively, such as Kepler's laws of plane
tary motion, to obtain their authority, not from an exponent estab
lished by such dubious means as the wishful-thinking argument, but
by being subsequently shown to be special cases of pure a priori prin
ciples or by being systematized in some other way.41
However, these objections would only challenge the account I
have presented here if it were supposed that Kant envisioned the pos
sibility of a purely "top down" science.42 If he took induction to be
even as little as an essential first step to the discovery of general laws,
then he granted that experience is required for the discovery of spe
cific uniformities in nature. And if he took some general laws to be de
ducible purely a priori, but took the deduction to be possible only at a
high level of generality, and to fail before specific causal rules could
be derived, or if he took it to be possible only in a special and limited
field (such as cosmology) but not in all, then again he granted that

39For a third version of the nature of the transition problem in Kant, see
Michael Friedman, Kant and the Exact Sciences (Cambridge: Harvard, 1992),
256?7. While Kant may well have come to perceive this third sort of gap in
his system in his later years, I question whether it is serious or whether he
should have been bothered by it. For more on this, see section VI, below.
40See Friedman, "Causal Laws," 181-6, for more detail.
41For an example of an argument along the former line see Friedman,
"Causal Laws," 175?80. For one along the latter line, see Kitcher, "Unity of
Science," 259-62.
42This is suggested by Friedman, "Causal Laws," 186.

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there are uniformities in nature that can only be discovered empiri

cally. I take it that, whatever he may have thought in his final years,
the Kant of the 1780's took the general laws of the Anfangsgr?nde to
be limited in all of the ways I have just mentioned.43 Kant says as
much in the Anfangsgr?nde and at the end of the Deduction,44 and it is
an inevitable consequence of his scientific methodology in the An
fangsgr?nde. Further demonstration of this point, however, would be
too much of a digression here and therefore has been put off until the
last section (VI).


In the previous section, I remarked that Kant's position on the

role of induction in formulating general laws poses a problem for him.
We can call this the general-law problem: Given that particular causal
rules must be inferred from empirical investigation of what events reg
ularly precede what other events, how is it that these rules should
have turned out to be as systematically analogous as they in fact are?
Why is it that the set of "common marks" defining a species should so
often turn out to share some marks in common with other species,
permitting us to define a genus? Even more surprisingly, why is it that
the causal rules holding for each species should so often be analogous
to one another, so that they can all be seen to be applications of a
common, general law to the individuals in that genus?
There is another, more primitive and fundamental version of this
question that is already posed by the degree to which induction is in
volved just in the formulation of specific causal rules. We can call this
the causal-rule problem: Given that particular causal rules must be in
ferred from empirical investigation of what events regularly precede
what other events, how is it that these events should have turned out
to be as regular as they need to be in order for us to discover any

43See Butts, "Kant's Metaphysics of Science," 171, 175-6, and compare

Friedman, "Causal Laws," 185?6, who presents a much more optimistic pic
ture of the possibilities for the progress of a prioristic science following the
methodology of the Anfangsgr?nde. (Since he does not recognize expo
nents, but rather takes the a priori component of specific causal laws to arise
from their being subsumed under general ones, Friedman has no choice if he
wishes to preserve Kant's claims that all causal laws are indeed necessary.)
^Anfangsgr?nde, 470-1, 473, 518:25-31, 534:15-30; B165.

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causes in nature? Why should it not have turned out that our experi
ence is in such disorder that no one thing could ever be found to regu
larly precede any other, and no casual rules ever be formulated?
Kant was sensitive to both of these questions.45 Yet he devoted
most of his attention?the two introductions to and the teleology of
the Critique of Judgment, following upon the Appendix to the Dialec
tic?to responding to the first of them. In contrast, he barely touched
on the second question in his published work?and did so only in a
single text?the A Deduction?that was subsequently withdrawn. In
this he has been followed by the majority of commentators, who have
focused almost exclusively on his worries about the unification of spe
cific rules under general laws, rather than the conformity of particular
types of events to specific rules.
I propose instead to concentrate on the second question, both be
cause I consider Kant's answer to the first to have been well worked
out,46 but also because I consider it to be less of a problem. As has al
ready been shown, the Critique of Pure Reason does not just demon
strate the existence of general, synthetic a priori principles, such as
the principles of the necessary existence of causes and the conserva
tion of matter, but also provides an a priori "exponent" for each and
every specific causal rule?something that warrants our belief in the
necessity of the connection between that specific cause and its effect.
While Kant consistently maintained that the very possibility of experi
ence depends, not just on this, but on bridging the gap between gen
eral and specific levels with a systematic account of the laws of na
ture, it is hard to follow him at all sympathetically in this view.47
Kant's own account in the Second Analogy would appear to entail

45For the first, see Critique of Judgment, 185:23-34, and "First Introduc
tion," 203:4-12, 209:8-19, 213:8-15. For the second, see A89-91/B122-3.
46Butts, "Kant's Metaphysics of Science," 180-7.
47The claim is made most notoriously by the wishful-thinking argument,
A650^/B678-82, but see also Critique of Judgment, 179:31-180:5,
183:28-184:2, 185:19-22; "First Introduction," 203:12-21, 209:20-30. Guyer,
"Reason and Reflective Judgment," 19, implicitly suggests that Kant might
have been worried that a failure to discover systematic unity in nature would
break the unity of apperception, in effect inducing a kind of multiple person
ality disorder in those who are unable to fit all of their experiences under a
single law and a single genus. Kant may have had this worry at the back of
his mind, and his occasional retreats from a merely regulative understanding
of the principle of uniformity may have been due to it. However, if this was
so, his worry was misplaced. At its most extreme, the unity of apperception

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that, in the words of Philip Kitcher, "Those who are quite ignorant of
Newtonian mechanics, to say nothing of Kant's foundational deriva
tions of its principles, can, nonetheless, be justified in claiming that
the boat has moved downstream."48 The inquiry into the ground and
extent of systematic unity in nature is an "add-on"?an entirely extra
neous worry that does not have to be solved as a part of the explana
tion of the critical account of knowledge. The inquiry into the ground
and extent of the conformity of the intuited manifold to rules, in con
trast, goes to its very heart.
Let us review the nature of the latter, causal-rule problem. Ac
cording to Kant, every event must be of a type that is preceded by
some other event in accord with a rule. Yet while this is something I
must assume a priori, only experience can reveal what this other event
is. In accord with the schema of the concept of cause, I look for this
other event by trying to identify something that can be supposed to al
ways be followed by the effect I am considering, and I take this (provi
sionally on continued confirmation by subsequent experience) to be
the cause.49 However, since the sensible quality and the intensive
magnitude of experience is precisely what cannot be anticipated in ad
vance,50 it is at least possible that my experience might reveal no such
thing to me. I might find all sorts of types of antecedent events, but
none that appear to regularly precede the type I am considering.51
In fact, however, our experience does reveal regular antecedents
to us?moreover, it does so in all the cases we can describe. Appear

might be taken to demand that all experiences be fitted together in a single

representation, but this single representation is the representation of a world,
not a system. The form of the world, insofar as it is known by us, is not ge
neric subsumption (that is really a purely intellectual form that might apply
to a noumenal world but that could only be demanded of the sensible world
we experience through an "amphiboly"), but spatiotemporal arrangement.
An aggregate of individuals is still an aggregate, and not a world, even if those
individuals can be grouped into species, the species into genera, and so on up
to a highest genus. The aggregate, whether hierarchically organized or not,
only becomes a world for us when the individuals it contains are located rela
tive to one another in space and time. As the Third Analogy teaches, this hap
pens through their being seen to stand in relations of thoroughgoing recipro
cal causal interaction to one another. For this purpose, however, a plethora
of specific causal rules, linking all the events and objects in the world with
one another in a tangled web of criss-crossing, multifarious reciprocal causal
relations, will serve just as well as a hierarchical system of laws.
48Kitcher, "Unity of Science," 258.
50See section I above.
51Kant is explicit in recognizing this possibility at A89?91/B122-3, Alll,

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anees do not simply "crowd in upon the soul" but exhibit a rule-gov
erned order in their manner of occurrence. At first sight, this ought to
appear extraordinary. Why should things that are as distinct and ap
parently unrelated to one another as the variety of events we discover
in nature always proceed in a certain order? There is, after all, no ob
vious contradiction in these events occurring independently of one an
Kant refers to this extraordinary phenomenon as the affinity (Af
finit?t) of nature.52 This is a term that has been widely misunder
stood, so two explanatory comments are in order.
First, the term is employed by Kant in two senses, whether he is
using the Latin (Affinit?t) or the Teutonic (Verwandschaft) form. In
its more frequent, colloquial usage, "affinity" means family resem
blance or similarity.53 However, in the chemistry of Kant's day, the
term had a special sense. "Affinity" was the name for the selective

52A113, A122. At least it is plausible to read him in this way. Kant also
makes certain remarks that indicate that he might have taken there to be two
kinds of affinity, "empirical" affinity, which consists in the fact that different
appearances are associable in virtue of resemblance, contiguity, and regular
succession (the sort of phenomenon I have been discussing), and a higher,
"transcendental" affinity that makes the empirical possible by ensuring that
all events, however disparate, will belong to the unity of apperception and so
will be such that we can compare them with one another (A113?14, A123).
The question I am worried about here, however, is that of how it is that the
manifold exhibits such a high degree of so-called empirical affinity. If Kant
was not in fact concerned with this question in the A Deduction, but was in
stead aiming to exhibit the role of "productive imagination" in effecting some
dark, "transcendental" affinity that serves to bring appearances together so
that we can associate them, then what follows is that he nowhere discussed
what I have referred to as the causal-rule problem. In that case, the conclu
sion that I will go on to draw in this section?that Kant takes so-called empir
ical affinity to be a brute fact that has no transcendental ground and that is
rather a "favor" that nature does for us?will be even more inevitable. Be
fore leaping to that conclusion, however, it is proper to consider whether the
A Deduction might not in fact have been designed to explain "empirical" af
finity. That is what I proceed to do.
53Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches W?rterbuch (Leipzig: S. Horzel,
1956), s.v. Verwandschaft, includes "gemeinsame Abstammung, Zuge
h?rigkeit zu einer Familie im ethnologischen und naturwissenschaftlichen
Sinn, ?hnlichkeit, ?bereinstimmung im Eigenschaften und Wesenart, Wech
selwirkung." The use of Affinit?t to stand for relation through marriage
(Heiratsverwandschaft, Schw?gerschaft; compare Theodor Heinsius, Volk
th?mliches W?rterbuch der Deutschen Sprache [Hanover: Hanschen Hof
buchhandlung, 1818]), also mentioned by Grimm as a sense of Verwand
schaft, is probably derivative. Kant himself defines Verwandschaft as "die
Vereinigung aus der Abstammung des Mannigfaltigen von einem Grunde" in

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tendency of certain materials to combine with certain other materials.

This usage, unlike the colloquial one, does not imply membership in a
common genus or similarity.54 The chemical elements with an "affin
ity" for one another can be quite distinct. The chemical use of "affin
ity" was widely current in Kant's day?so much so that it is even to be
found in the title of a dreadfully saccharine romance by Goethe (Die
Kant introduces the term "affinity" into his discussions of the gen
eral-law problem as well as into his discussion of the causal-rule prob
lem. Though the term is the same, its sense is not in the two different
contexts. When he speaks in connection with systematic unity in na
ture, Kant's references to "affinity" are meant in the colloquial sense.
The "affinity" of the Critique of Judgment and the Appendix to the Di
alectic has to do with family resemblance or similarity of species and
of specific rules insofar as they fall under a genus or general law.
When he speaks in connection with the question of the conformity of
the manifold to rules, however, Kant's references to "affinity" are
meant in the chemical sense.55 As noted in section II above, Kant fol

Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht, ed. Oswald Kulpe, in vol. 7 of

Kants Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Reimer, 1917), 177:26-7. All transla
tions are my own. The major German dictionary of Kant's day, Adelung's
Grammatisch-Kritisches W?rterbuch, does not contain entries for either Af
finit?t or Verwandschaft.
^Grimm, s.v. Verwandschaft, cites Liebig, ehem. Briefe 35 as remarking
"ganz dem gew?hnlichen Sprachgebrauch und der Bedeutung des Wortes en
tgegen, hat man die chemische Kraft V[erwandschaft], Affinit?t gennant."
Among the "chemical forces" in question are affinitas aggregationis, affini
tas compositionis, and (most relevant for the topic of this paper) attractio
electiva. Kant discusses this chemical use of Verwandschaft in Anthropol
ogy, 177:19-29 and n., instancing sensibility and understanding as two pow
ers of the soul that have this special sort of affinity for one another, and that
produce entirely new compounds that combine their two features. This is
not the same sense of Verwandschaft discussed in the Anthropology's previ
ous paragraph.
55Even though this is in no way conclusive, some further evidence that
Kant used the term "affinity" in the two distinct senses I have identified can
be gleaned from the Kant dictionary authored by Kant's disciple, Schmid
(Carl Christian Erhard Schmid, W?rterbuch zum leichteren Gebrauch der
Kantischen Schriften [Jena: Cr?ker, 1798]). The entry for "affinity" ex
pounds the two senses in the reverse order to that I have just given, and with
a decidedly idealistic gloss: "Affinit?t. Verwandschaft der Erscheinungen be
deutet (1) den durchg?ngigen, regelm??igen Zusammenhang derselben, als
den objectiven Grund, wodurch eine regelm??ige Begleitung und Folge (As
sociation) ihrer Vorstellungen m?glich wird, da? z.B. der Zinober immer roth
und specifisch schwer erscheinet. Da die Erscheinungen selbst nur Vorstel
lungen sind, und der Grund ihrer Verkn?pfung nur im Gem?the liegen kann:

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lows Hume in claiming that we have no knowledge of causes as things

with a faculty or power in virtue of which they are enabled to bring
about their effects. A cause is just what regularly (that is, "in accord
with a rule") happens before the effect, not what makes the effect hap
pen. In principle, anything may regularly precede anything else. Thus,
a cause and its effect are analogous to chemical substances that regu
larly combine with one another and never with anything else. In both
cases we are dealing with two distinct things that have a prima facie
inexplicable "affinity" that leads them to go together?in the latter
case to combine, in the former to follow regularly.
This leads to a second point about the proper interpretation of
the term "affinity": As used by Kant, "affinity" (in either sense) refers
to a relation between things at the same ontological level: different
events, different chemical elements, different cognitive faculties, dif
ferent species, and different causal rules are all spoken of as having an
affinity?with one another. Affinity does not hold between lev
els?the empirically given manifold does not have an affinity for the
exponent of the causal rule, and specific causal rules do not have an
affinity for general laws. The elements of the manifold have an affinity
for (tendency to regularly precede or follow) one another, and specific
causal rules have an affinity with (similarity to) one another?albeit
under a law. Affinity is not, therefore, the solution to the problem of
why the manifold conforms to our need to discover causes in nature.
It is simply another name for the problem. Given that events do have
affinities for one another, that is, are regular in the ways they need to
be in order for us to identify causes, what is the ground of this extraor
dinary fact?
I remarked above that Kant waffles between conflicting positions
when discussing the general-law problem. On the one hand, he wants
to take parsimony to be an objective feature that reason (or, in the

so ist jene Affinit?t eine Folge theils der Einbildungskraft, die alle Erschei
nungen so apprehendirt, da? Einheit des mannigfaltigen empirischen Be
wu?tseyns in einem einzigen entspringen kann, worinnen alles zusammen
h?ngt, theils der Categorien, als verschiedener Aeusserungen und Formen
unsres Selbstbewu?tseyns. Sie hei?t a) empirisch, sofern sie wahrgenom
men wird; b) transcendental sofern man ihr eine Notwendigkeit a priori
beylegt. Diese macht jene m?glich und ist ein notwendiges Erforderni?
einer Natur. Crit. I. 100. 113. ff. 122. der ersten Ausg. (2) soviel als Continu
it?t, St?tigkeit z.B. da? alle Dinge, ihre Eigenschaften und Kr?fte stufenweise
von einer Species zur anderen ?bergehen, als h?chst mannigfaltig und zugle
ich als h?chst gleichartig von der Vernunft gedacht werden m?ssen. Crit. I.
685. 688."

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Critique of Judgment, reflective judgment) imposes on nature; on the

other he wants to take it to be a merely regulative maxim that must be
assumed as a guide to scientific investigation, but that cannot be taken
to be necessarily true of nature. A similar conflict surfaces in his ac
count of the ground of the affinity of the manifold. On the one hand,
he regards this affinity as too extraordinary to be a product of mere
chance, and too important to be grounded in the nature of the objects
that affect us and thereby revealed only through experience.56 He
therefore tries to give it an a priori foundation by explaining it as a
consequence of the unity of apperception.57 This line of thinking leads
him to go on to make certain strongly idealist claims about the role of
understanding in legislating laws to nature, claims that are reminis
cent of his comments about a similar role for reason in the Appendix
to the Dialectic.58
However, there are also powerful considerations inducing Kant to
retreat from these claims. If we impose affinity on the manifold, then
we ought to be able to know in advance what form it will take, just as,
if we impose spatiotemporal order on the manifold, we ought to be
able to know the structural features of space, and hence the axioms of
geometry, in advance. Thus, upon having a given sensation, we ought
to be able to tell, even in advance of experience, what other sensa
tions must have an affinity (in the quasi-chemical rather than the fam
ily-resemblance sense) with it and so must succeed or must have pre
ceded it. In that case, however, inferences from causes to effects or
effects to causes would not be a posteriori. Given a single event, we
ought to be able to deduce all its causal ancestors and the entire chain
of its effects a priori, without having to consult experience, and this is
not something Kant accepted, even in the A Deduction.59
Kant had a second, more general reason to refrain from explain
ing how affinity is made possible?one that applies not just to idealist
accounts that seek to ground affinity in the cognitive constitution of
the subject, but to realist ones that would seek to ground it in the na
ture of affecting objects such as God or things in themselves. This rea
son arises from his position on causality. According to Kant, we have
no coherent concept of faculties, powers, or forces that make things
happen. All that it can mean for one thing to cause another is that

58A114, A125-7. Compare A650-4/B678-82, A656/B684, A660/B688.

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things of that type precede those of the other type in accord with a
constant law. Thus, to explain the phenomenon of affinity by saying
that there must be something?be it the action of affecting objects or
the will of God or the activity of the subject?that makes events hap
pen in a regular sequence reduces to saying that there must be some
thing that precedes our experiences of affinity in accord with a con
stant law. The only way we can know that affecting objects or God or
we ourselves cause affinity, therefore, is by discovering through expe
rience that one or other of these things always precedes the occur
rence of cases of affinity. Yet, even supposing that an experience of
such objects were possible, far from explaining how affinity is possi
ble, such experience would merely constitute another instance of it.
These considerations should have been no less present for Kant
when he wrote the first edition of the Critique, in apparent innocence
of the charges of unqualified idealism that his work later raised, than
when he wrote the second, and was deeply concerned to distance him
self from those charges.60 In light of both considerations, we ought to
wonder just how idealistically Kant intended his remarks on affinity
and the laws of nature in the A Deduction to be taken.
Unfortunately, this is a very difficult question to answer, because
the central texts are ambiguous. Kant argues for the necessity of affin
ity by means of a reductio ad absurdum that makes a crucial appeal
to the notion that we could not be conscious of appearances unless
they are in affinity with one another.

Were it the case that perceptions were not associable, there would be a
collection of perceptions, and even an entire form of sensory experi
ence, in which much empirical consciousness was to be found in my
mind, but in separation and without belonging to a consciousness of my
self. But that is impossible. For only insofar as I count all perceptions
as belonging to one consciousness (of original apperception) is it possi
ble for me to say of any of them that I am conscious of them.61

From this it immediately follows that, insofar as we are con

scious of it, the parts of the manifold must have an affinity with one

We can find [the ground of] this affinity nowhere other than in the prin
ciple of the unity of apperception concerning all cognition that might
pertain to me. According to this, all appearances, must so come to be in

60Indeed, his sensitivity to the first of the two considerations I have men
tioned is made explicit in the last lines of A127.

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the mind, or so be apprehended as to accord with the unity of appercep


How is it, exactly, that we should take this necessary conformity

of appearances with the demands of apperception to be effected? Is
productive imagination supposed to impose affinity on the manifold?
Or is Kant's point just that we are so constituted as to be unable to no
tice matters that have no affinity with the rest of our experience, so
that even though these matters may have occurred in inner or outer
sense, they cannot ever make it into consciousness?63 Or again?a
sort of medium between the two extremes just considered?is the
idea rather that any item that we are conscious of must be imagined to
have some form of affinity with the causal nexus, provided merely that
this hypothesis is consistent with experience and subject to revision
should experience prove contrary to it?
In all of these cases we end up being able to say that affinity is a
necessary feature of the events of our experience, but in the third case
it is necessary only that affinity be hypothesized, not that it be demon
strated, and in both the second and third cases the necessity is some
thing of a sham. In the second case it is not necessary that the ele
ments of the manifold have an affinity for one another, but just that
those events of which we are conscious have such an affinity, and it
remains a fortuitous circumstance that our consciousness should be
as rich and extensive as it is (that is, that there should be as much af
finity between elements of the manifold of inner and outer sense, and
hence as much content to our consciousness as there in fact is). In the
third case it is fortuitous that our hypotheses should be as successful
as they are?that we should by and large be able to identify certain
types of events as regular antecedents of other types of events, and
not be forced to continually revise our hypotheses in light of recalci
trant experience or have recourse to occult and empirically unverifi
able antecedents like fate or the will of God in order to give some sem
blance of regularity to events. In the first case, however, it is
empirical experience that ends up being a sham, since it is hard to see
how specific causal rules would need to be empirically discovered, as
the A Deduction does still claim that they do, if affinity were imposed
by the mind.64

62A122; see also A113.

^This appears to be implied by B156n.

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A similar obscurity infects Kant's remarks concerning laws of na

ture. When he says, in the A Deduction, that "nature regulates itself
according to our subjective ground of apperception, and even depends
on it for its law-governed features," that "the order and regularity in
appearances that we call nature we ourselves introduce, and we
would not have been able to find them there had we not, or had the na
ture of our minds not originally put them there," and that "the under
standing is the source of the laws of nature," it is unclear whether he
means to imply that the understanding legislates specific causal regu
larities, like the regular precedence of sunshine to the melting of wax,
or whether he only means to say that it dictates certain universal prin
ciples, such as "every event some cause" and "same cause same ef
fect," and thereby supplies the a priori exponents for specific causal
In the light of all of this obscurity, it is imperative that we turn to
Kant's own, considered restatement of these issues in the B Deduction
for illumination. Admittedly, the question of the ground of the affinity
of the manifold is not mentioned in B, and the term "affinity" does not
even occur in the B Deduction, though there is a corresponding,
briefer, and much more rigorously empiricist discussion of the laws of
nature.66 This very absence of attention to the issue is illuminating. If
you do not have an answer to a question you will not ask it, but will
rather talk about other issues that you can resolve. The fact that
Kant's preferred approach to the problem of affinity in the B Deduc
tion seems to have been to drop the whole issue implies that he had no
answer to give. This in turn implies that he had rejected any attempt
to ground affinity in the activity of the subject and developed a certain
willingness to consider affinity to be merely a brute fact that cannot
be further explained. If not purely fortuitous, it is grounded on noth
ing more than our inability to be conscious of what lacks affinity (in
which case it is the extent of our consciousness that is fortuitous). In
terestingly, in his later work Kant expresses a parallel willingness to
answer the general-law problem by claiming that, objectively consid
ered, the affinity of specific causal rules is also fortuitous?a "favor"
that nature does for us?and something that we can only be regula
tively enjoined to seek.67

65A114, A125, A127. Here, however, there is at least one text, the last
few lines of A127, that clearly rejects the first alternative.
66B165, cited above.
67Critique of Judgment, 184:16?21.

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Writing about Kant's views on affinity, Henry Allison once

claimed that "whereas Hume regards [the orderliness in experience]
as a fact to be wondered at, Kant treats it as a necessity to be ex
plained."68 If what I have said here is correct, however, there is no dif
ference between Hume and Kant on this issue. Kant has no coherent,
nontrivial explanation for the necessity of affinity, and in the end he,
like Hume, appears to have reconciled himself to simply wondering at
the brute fact that it exists.

In the second of the three remarks appended to Part I of th

legomena, Kant compared himself to Locke, who had denied
know the secondary or tertiary qualities (that is, the forces an
ers) of things, but had never been charged with being an idealis
that. Then he went on to complain bitterly that he himself shou
been charged with being an unqualified idealist even though he
went one step further and took the primary qualities of object
belong only to their appearances. He had no more denied that t
in themselves exist than had Locke, he protested. What sh
have done, he wondered, in order to successfully avoid all ch
idealism? Should he have taken space and time to be featur
things in themselves and have given the palm to the true idealis
could then appeal to the antinomies to demonstrate the inco
of the notion of an external world?
One can imagine a ready empiricist answer to this compla
strict space and time to appearances, if you must, but get rid of
paratus of a priori forms and categories, in virtue of which the
constitutes reality, and admit that what we know is not determ
us, but by something that exists independently of us. If you wa
considered a representational realist, like Locke, then be an
cist, like Locke, and do not take the subject to be the engineer
Though Kant never abandoned his views on the existence of a pri
ori forms and categories, he nonetheless had strong empiricist creden
tials. Rather than take experience to be engineered by the subject, he
took the qualities, the intensive magnitudes, the causal relations,69 and

^Allison, "Transcendental Affinity," 204.

69Though not the necessity of these relations.

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the general laws of objects all to be determined by experience, which

will not be imposed upon by the subject in these matters, but rather
legislates to it. On occasion, when dealing with the quasi-chemical
"affinity" of the elements of the manifold in the A Deduction, or the
family resemblance of causal rules and species in the Dialectic and the
"First Introduction," Kant said things that might have threatened to de
prive experience of its authority, and vest that authority instead in the
productive imagination, the reason, or the reflective judgment of the
subject. The A Deduction, however, is too obscure for us really to be
sure about this (and was in any case withdrawn), and the other re
marks contradict positions Kant took within a few lines or pages of
having made them.
Is this empiricism enough to absolve Kant of the charge of un
qualified idealism? In one sense, it might be objected that the one is
sue has no bearing on the other. The notion that a posteriori experi
ence implies realism and that a priori experience implies idealism is
based on a tacit causal argument: that effects that we cannot antici
pate in advance must have external causes, whereas effects that can
be known a priori must be due to our own nature. This causal argu
ment is one that Kant, were he consistent, would have to reject as a
piece of nonsense, for it turns on a notion of causes as things that
make their effects happen or bring them about, rather than as things
that regularly precede them in time. (This must be the case since
things in themselves are not in space or time, and so cannot intelligi
bly be supposed to regularly precede our a posteriori experiences, and
insofar as we have any experience of ourselves, this self is known as a
subset of our experiences?those of "inner" sense?and not as some
thing that regularly precedes the a priori component of all of our expe
riences in time.70)
Nonetheless, Kant was unable to resist the temptation to at least
think of the a priori component of experience as due to the subject.
This was something that he could quite consistently do, since he
claimed that, though we can only know causes insofar as we schema
tize them as regular antecedents in time, there is a notion of tunelessly
exercised power contained in the unschematized intellectual category
of cause that we can nonetheless think as a matter of sheer

70That I should be only a subset of my experiences is what lies behind

Kant's description of self consciousness as "paradoxical" at B152?3.

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speculation.71 By similar argument, we ought to be able to at least

think the a posteriori component of experience to be due to the
agency of mind-independent, external objects. Particularly in an ad
hominem context, where Kant is responding to those who assume a li
cense to infer the existence of such external objects from the a poste
riori character of experience, he is entitled to claim that, by their very
argument, he is no more of an idealist than they, for he, too, supposes
that what appears is a posteriori.72


Appendix. Here I argue that Kant's method of top-down deriva

tion of a priori laws in the Anfangsgr?nde is limited in its power and
its scope. While some general laws can be discovered by the method,
iterated applications cannot uncover more and more specific causal
rules. What is more, those laws that can be discovered can only be
used to explain phenomena in the near-ideal science of cosmology,
the only science that treats bodies moving just under the influence of
those forces that can be demonstrated a priori.
To substantiate these charges, I want to first summarize Kant's
methodology in the Anfangsgr?nde and then to look at how it is exe
The most general metaphysical principles, for Kant, are those es
tablished by the Critique's Analytic of Principles. They specify the
conditions for the possibility of an experience of an object in general.
Yet precisely because they tell us what holds for any object of sensory
experience in general, they cannot tell us anything about what exists
in particular. Consequently, more specific a priori laws?even laws
that are more specific just in the sense that they tell us about a certain,
general kind of object?cannot be directly deduced from these princi

71A240-1, 242-3/B300-1. It is this sense of "intelligible causality" that

lies at the basis of freedom and Kant's ethics, and, though it has not been per
tinent to consider it in this article, it plays a huge role in Kant's philosophy as
a whole.
72I am indebted to Brigitte Sassen for critical comments on earlier ver
sions of this paper, and for instruction on the early reception of Kant's philos

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Kant adopts an elaborate procedure in order to establish more

specific a priori laws. He first considers the concept of a specific kind
of object, and then he proceeds to try to isolate the conditions of the
possibility of the experience of an object satisfying that concept.73 In
effect, therefore, he repeats the kind of project he carried out in the
Analytic of Principles in order to demonstrate general metaphysical
principles like the principles of the endurance of substances and the
necessity of causes. It is just that whereas the earlier project was car
ried out by considering what conditions space, time, and the catego
ries place on the possibility of our experience of any sort of object
whatsoever, the later considers what conditions must be satisfied in
order for our experience of an object of a certain kind to be possible.
Kant's method in the Anfangsgr?nde, however, has a further
wrinkle. If the project that has been articulated so far is to tell us
something that is not merely analytically contained in the general
metaphysical principles already established by the Analytic, then
everything will turn on the added information supplied by the more
specific concept. What justifies us, then, in introducing this further
When Kant first remarks on the necessity of appeal to a specific
concept, he notes that the specific concept is obtained from experi
ence.74 Yet that will hardly do. If we must rely on experience to teach
us about the specific details on which the derivation turns, then the
conclusions of the derivation cannot be a priori. They will be subject
to verification by future experience and will hold only so long as the
world continues to appear as it does now.
We might try to get around this consequence by saying that our
investigation is just into what an object satisfying a more specific con
cept would have to be like (what principles it would have to satisfy)
were it to exist. This would seem to be something we could say a pri
ori. However, Kant regards the arbitrary postulation of specific con
cepts as totally illegitimate. His general position is that the real possi
bility of an object cannot be inferred from the fact that its concept can
be thought without contradiction.75 Accordingly, before a specific
concept can be admitted, even hypothetically, it must be proven that

73Anfangsgr?nde, 469-70.
^Anfangsgr?nde, 470:2-3.
75This general position is repeated in this context at Anfangsgr?nde,

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an object satisfying that concept could possibly be experienced. This

is why, after first noting that specific concepts are obtained from ex
perience, Kant goes on to remark that this empirical origin is incom
patible with an a priori enterprise, and that we must rather show that
an object satisfying the specific concept can be constructed (that is,
that the features specified in the concept permit of being presented in
pure intuition and in accord with the conditions of the possibility of
It is this aspect of Kant's method in the Anfangsgr?nde that even
tually limits its power and scope. He takes it that the only way to pro
ceed to formulate more specific a priori principles is to represent ob
jects, not as they in fact are, but as they would have to be, through the
conditions of their possibility, were they to exist. Accordingly, spe
cific metaphysical principles, no matter how specific they may be
come, will never be able to do more than describe conditions of the
possibility of objects, and hence a range of possible worlds. As the
method is iterated for more and more specific concepts, the realm of
possibility becomes broader and broader, and worlds increasingly un
like our own in their specific detail are constructed as possibilities.
Already at a very early stage, the existence of certain kinds of motion
(such as that due to so-called absolute repulsion) and certain kinds of
matter (such as the ether) are shown to be in principle indemonstra
ble of our world. At this point the chances of deducing more and
more specific laws of motion in our world crash. Let us turn to con
sider exactly how this happens.
Kant opens the Anfangsgr?nde by considering a pair of empiri
cal concepts that effectively divide the world of possible objects be
tween them: the concepts of an object of inner sense and an object of
outer sense in general. However, as he proceeds, the twin demands of
his metaphysics and his methodology?specifically the demand,
grounded in the First Analogy, that objects must be reidentifiable over
time,77 and his demand that the features in virtue of which objects are
thought be constructible in a priori intuition?quickly work to ensure
that only a subset of the objects falling under these concepts will be
tractable. Kant realized that there can be no objects of inner sense;
whatever exists in time can only be a state of some spatial object, and

^Anfangsgr?nde, 470:2-3,470:23-6.
77The role of this demand is most evident at Anfangsgr?nde, 509?10,
but this argument is implicit throughout.

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not an object in its own right.78 This is because there can be no way to
reidentify things that exist only in time?no way to distinguish a re
peated encounter with the same temporal object from a successive en
counter with a number of distinct, but resembling objects. In effect,
therefore, nothing endures in time, and everything in inner sense is in
constant flux.79 It is only spatial experiences that can satisfy the First
Analogy, and thus the study of purely temporal experiences (psychol
ogy) can never be more than a history of empirical occurrences, not a
study of objects that have any a priori features beyond those already
accounted for in the Analytic.80
Granting, however, that spatial objects are reidentifiable, these
objects must now, insofar as they are the subject matter for a priori
principles, be thought in virtue of features that can be represented or
constructed in pure intuition (that is, in virtue of spatial or spatiotem
poral features). For this purpose, bare location in space is not
enough. An object that has no other feature than location in space
(for example, a mathematical point) cannot be reidentified from one
moment to the next, unless we make the further, empirically false sup
position that the universe is static. In a universe of moving point-ob
jects, there is nothing to distinguish between one object and another,
especially when one seeks to establish which point has followed
which trajectory after a collision.
Point-objects that have sensible qualities in addition to location,
like minima visibilia with contrasting colors or stars with differing
spectral profiles, would have some marks that (assuming they are rel
atively constant for individual minima and sufficiently various for dif
ferent ones) might allow some degree of individuation and reidentifi
cation. Yet since sensible qualities cannot be constructed a priori in
pure intuition, sensible point-objects could only be the subject matter
for specific a priori principles with reference to their motions. The lat
ter can be represented or "constructed" as points traveling with a cer
tain speed along lines in space. Though even here the points and lines
in question have to be tacitly ascribed contrasting sensible qualities in

78Kant later made this explicit in B: "All our inner perceptions are such
that we must determine the time over which they last, or the time at which
they occur, by taking it from that which is presented to us as altering in [en
during] outer things" (B156). See also B291-4.
Anfangsgr?nde, All.

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order to be individuated and identified over time, the nature of these

sensible qualities has no bearing on the motion, and so the empirical
element can be disregarded.
A wider scope for the possibility of specific a priori principles
(though at the same time a narrower field of possible objects of those
principles) is gained if the spatial objects we consider are supposed to
have extension, namely, shape and size, as well as location, that is, if
they are taken to be bodies rather than just points. (In what follows, I
will use the term "body" to refer just to objects that are taken to have
some extension in space.) If the shapes and sizes of individual bodies
are sufficiently permanent, and those of different ones sufficiently var
ious, then they, too, can provide for the possibility of at least some de
gree of individuation and reidentification. Of course, the varying
shapes and sizes of bodies cannot be perceived by us unless they also
exhibit contrasting sensible qualities. Again, as long as these sensible
qualities contrast, it does not matter what they are, so this empirical
element, while it must be present, plays no further role and can be
dropped out of consideration.
There is one further thing that cannot be dropped out of consider
ation, however, and it is revealed by further examination of the condi
tions of the possibility of the experience of bodies. If bodies were to
possess sensible qualities, but not resist the motion of other bodies, so
that their sensible qualities could be compressed into nothingness by
surrounding bodies?in effect, penetrated and annihilated?then
bodies would not be permanent, and the First Analogy would be vio
lated. Accordingly, any bodies conceived as the ultimate subjects in
an a priori science must be conceived to prevent the motion of other
bodies into the space they occupy.81 This is a much more essential
feature of the possibility of the experience of bodies than the posses
sion of sensible qualities, and moreover, it is mathematically con

81This is contested by Gordon Brittan, "Kant's Two Grand Hypotheses,"

in Kant's Philosophy of Physical Science, ed. Robert E. Butts (Dordrecht:
Reidel, 1986), 61-94, esp. 84. Brittan claims that Kant regarded repulsive
force as a merely possible predicate of body. Yet while it may be merely pos
sible that a body exert an absolute as opposed to some sort of relative repul
sive force (that is, a repulsive force that stops approach in an instant, as op
posed to slowing it over a distance, and that will not allow the least
compression of the body to occur), that a body exert some sort of repulsive
force or other is entailed by the application of the First Analogy to the con
struction of the concept of a spatially extended object.

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structible (by representing an approaching body as having its motion

slowed and stopped, or abruptly stopped, or turned back).
Another way to put this point is to say that bodies must exert a re
pulsive force, but all that this expression means is that, as a matter of
constant law, the motion of other bodies into the space occupied by a
given body is impeded and prevented. The words "resistance," "im
penetrability," or "repulsive force" do not describe any power whose
workings we have come to understand but merely name certain regu
larities that we can assume a priori to take place in the motions we
Once repulsive forces are postulated, attractive ones must be as
well?otherwise there would be nothing to prevent the matter in the

^Anfangsgr?nde, 513?14, esp. 514:2?7. Repulsive force therefore al

lows of being constructed and Kant never says otherwise, despite an opinion
currently popular among a number of commentators (see Brittan, "Kant's
Two Grand Hypotheses," 84-90, and the sources cited there). To construct a
repulsive force is just to represent the motion of a second body as a compos
ite of two opposed motions in accord with the procedure set out in Kant's
phoronomy. The one motion is the motion of the body considered on its
own; the other is the motion due to the repulsive force of the repelling body.
Since there is nothing else to repulsive force than this regular effect on mo
tion, there is no mystery to its construction.
The contrary view seems to be based on four texts (all of which actually
say different things): Anfangsgr?nde, 534:20?36 and related texts such as
513:2-4, 502:25?6, and 524:29-36; Anfangsgr?nde, 521-2; Anfangsgr?nde
517-18; and Anfangsgr?nde 525:7-12.
In the first set of texts, Kant's point is not that the activity of repulsive
forces does not admit of being constructed, but that how a body is able to re
tard or repel another, and change its motion in ways we can construct, does
not in turn admit of being constructed. All that we know is that bodies repel,
not why.
The second text addresses a problem with the representation of the op
eration of repulsive forces within the volume of a body. This problem is cre
ated, not because of any difficulty with constructing repulsive forces, but be
cause of Kant's extraneous commitment to the infinite divisibility of matter
(Anfangsgr?nde, 503-505). We tend to think of the repulsive force as radiat
ing outwards from a point to the surface of the body, and acting there on con
tact. Yet Kant's position on infinite divisibility led him to want to claim that
every point within the volume is in fact a center of repulsive force. This is a
feature of matter that does not easily lend itself to construction when one
considers cases of rarefaction and condensation (we tend to want to con
ceive of the number of centers of repulsive force as staying constant and ei
ther moving away from one another in a void, or being more tightly com
pacted to squeeze out a void, and this is not true if repulsive force always
operates from every point within a body, even after rarefaction or prior to
condensation). Kant's proposed solution to this problem is to represent the
repulsive force as acting over an infinitesimally small sphere around each
point within the volume of a body (see Anfangsgr?nde, 520-1 as well as

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universe from expanding to infinity, and, if the strength of a repulsive

force can be supposed to diminish as it extends over a larger and

521-2). Thus, there is not a single point where the body is within a larger
sphere where it acts, but body is rather taken to be at every point within the
sphere of its repulsive force. When rarefaction or condensation occurs, we
are not to represent the infinitesimally small spheres of force around each
point as increasing or decreasing in size, but to simply attribute a proportion
ally lesser or greater quantity of repulsive force to all of the points within the
increased or diminished volume of the body. Here, far from saying that the
activity of repulsive force cannot be constructed, Kant is saying that it can
be?his point is just that the construction is awkward and unnatural and is
not as easy to conceive as the expansion or contraction of spheres around
The third text does not say that repulsive (or attractive) forces cannot
be constructed, but that Kant himself felt unable to provide a general formula
or procedure for calculating how the repulsive and attractive forces can com
bine in a given body to determine its size and shape. Kant had given an ac
count of how two different motions are to be represented as combined in a
single body in the phoronomy chapter, and he was to go on to apply this ac
count to represent how the motions of two different bodies will be combined
and distributed after collision in the mechanics chapter. However, when it
came to the task of providing a general formula for calculating the point
where a given attractive force, continuously diminishing in strength with the
square of the distance, cancels the influence of a given repulsive force, con
tinuously diminishing in strength with the volume (that is, the place where
the surface of a body is located), he felt simply unable to manage the mathe
matics involved. This was a problem that he (quite rightly) felt could be as
signed to someone with more training in mathematics, and it certainly has no
bearing on his claim that we can construct the concept of a repulsive force or
an attractive force in isolation. (For what it is worth, the problem might be
resolved by representing the attractive force as a field emanating from the
center of mass of the body, at every point of which vectors representing the
strength and direction of the force at that point could be drawn. Note that
Kant may have been precluded from even starting this story if he lacked an
appropriate vector concept, as Brittan, "Kant's Two Grand Hypotheses," 86n.,
has suggested. The repulsive force would have to be represented as a series
of potential vector fields, varying with volume in the way discussed in the
previous paragraph. [It would be simpler, though less true to what Kant
takes to be the necessary facts of the case, to also represent the repulsive
force as a field of vectors, diminishing in intensity with distance from a cen
tral point.] Since the attractive force decreases with the square of the dis
tance whereas the repulsive force decreases with the volume, there is only
one distance at which the vectors describing the attractive force are of the
same length as the vectors describing the repulsive force would be, were the
body compressed within that volume. The surface of the body must enclose
that volume.)
The final text mentions a further problem: that the coefficient of repul
sion?the specific degree of repulsive force characterizing any given kind of
material?needs to be determined empirically and cannot be anticipated a
priori. This is a profound point that will be explored in more detail below,
but it has no bearing on the issue of whether or not repulsive forces can be
constructed. The forces can well be constructed. What is more, each differ

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larger volume,83 at infinity the force would evaporate, and matter

would again be annihilated, contrary to the First Analogy.84
By this point, Kant has established two fundamental a priori prin
ciples governing all motions of bodies: that any body that moves in
such a way as to compress another body will have its motion impeded,
and that all bodies will move toward one another, so far as is consis
tent with the first principle. Now let us turn to look at what having to
rely on the mathematical construction of merely possible objects does
to the possibility of going on to derive any more specific laws. These
merely possible objects are all motions or changes of motion. Repul
sive and attractive forces are represented by the deceleration and ac
celeration of motions,85 and bodies are just volumes at the surface of
which the motions of other bodies begin to be impeded.
While motion is constructible in pure intuition, it is also an empir
ical concept.86 Motion is empirical because it involves the notion of
one and the same body being in adjacent places at successive times.
Hence it presupposes some way of establishing that the body that is
now here is the same one that was there earlier, and this once again
drives us back to having to appeal to empirically observable marks,
like sensible qualities, as the only evident resource for making judg
ments of identity over time. Sensible qualities, however, cannot be an
ticipated in advance, as was noted in section I above.
Of course, because motion is mathematically constructible, we
know that it is really possible. We can therefore take it for granted
that there can be moving objects, that are individuated somehow, and
we can proceed to consider how these possible objects can or must be
represented without having to rely on anything learned only empiri
cally about what it is that in fact allows us to reidentify moving bodies

ent coefficient of repulsion can be constructed simply by representing the

compressing body as being turned back sooner in its approach. Thus, it is
possible to construct repulsive forces that would allow huge quantities of
matter to be compressed to very small volumes before exerting the smallest
resistance; it is possible to construct repulsive forces that would allow very
small quantities of matter to exercise great resistance to the smallest com
pression, and it is possible to construct all the infinitely many variants in be
tween. The problem is just that there is no way to construct which of these
infinitely many different kinds of possible force must people the actual
^Anfangsgr?nde, 501.
^Anfangsgr?nde, 508-509.
^Anfangsgr?nde, 514:2-7.
86A41/B58, B155n.

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from one moment to the next. We can draw lines on paper to repre
sent possible motions without having to worry about whether the ac
tually moving objects, like the lines, are black or whether their exten
sions, like the paper, are white, or whether the sensible qualities of the
actually moving objects will have any bearing on our results.
However, this method of generating the specific a priori result
that all bodies must exercise repulsive and attractive forces is not
without consequences. Since "the movable" can only be identified em
pirically, the speed and direction of motion of any actually existing
body can only be known empirically. This is why Kant's phoronomy
does not allow us to determine the existence of a single motion in na
ture, but has as its "sole principle" a thesis concerning the manner in
which the (empirically given) motion of a body may be represented as
a composite of two or more motions.87 (In effect, the Phoronomy is
devoted to defining an exponent.)
The implications of the empirical status of motion reach beyond
the phoronomy chapter. Because the speed and direction of motion
can only be determined empirically, we can only know a priori that
the motion of compressing bodies will be impeded, not how it will be
impeded?whether it will be stopped dead at the point of contact by
an overwhelming (in effect, infinite or, as Kant puts it, "absolute") re
pulsive force, or whether the repulsive force will only gradually ap
proach infinity as the body is compressed to a point?and if the latter,
with what rate the force will approach infinity per unit of decrease in
volume.88 The coefficient of resistance (the strength of the repulsive
force field) of any given body can therefore only be determined by ex
perience.89 Because different bodies might be found to have different
coefficients of resistance, it becomes an empirical question whether
there might not be specifically different kinds of matter, varying in

^Anfangsgr?nde, 495:5-10.
^Anfangsgr?nde, 524:3-4, 533:36-534:5.
89There are two quite distinct notions of the strength of a repulsive force
in Kant. According to one, the strength of a repulsive force is a function of
the volume of a body and increases as a body's volume is decreased. How
ever, Kant also takes it that the rate at which a repulsive force increases with
decreases in volume could vary for different kinds of body, so that some bod
ies might have stronger repulsive forces, not because they have been com
pressed, but because similar quantities of those bodies contained in similar
volumes exert a greater resistance to compression than do other kinds of
body. I will use the expression "field strength" to distinguish this second
kind of strength from the first, but I do not mean anything more by the term
"field" than what has just been said. The modern concept of a field is one
that is only dimly present in Kant's work (as, for example, at Anfangsgr?nde,
520-1 and 521-2).

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their characteristic repulsive force, and if so how many such kinds

there might be.90 Thus, not only must the speed and direction of mo
tion be an empirical matter for Kant, so must the number of kinds of
The necessity hereby created for recourse to experience to re
solve physical questions rises to the most fundamental levels. If it is
an empirical question whether there are specifically different kinds of
matter, and if so how many, then the corpuscularian hypothesis that
matter is uniform, and varies only in shape and size, cannot be af
firmed or denied a priori.92 Moreover, since an empty space is indistin
guishable from a space occupied by a body with a repulsive force that
only begins to become noticeable as the body is compressed to a
point,93 and an absolutely hard atom is indistinguishable from a body
with a force that very quickly approaches infinity after the least com
pression occurs, it follows that the corpuscularian hypotheses of ab
solutely hard atoms and absolutely empty space must be no more than
possibilities?and empirically unverifiable (though not thereby inco
herent) ones at that. However, what is hypothetical in one direction is
hypothetical in the other as well. It is equally the case that the whole
question of whether a physics of bodies with varying degrees of repul
sive force is to be preferred to atomistic physics ends up being an em
pirical one.94
There is, however, another direction in which the Anfangsgr?nde
seeks to go to establish a priori laws: by means of an account of mass,
inertia, and collision, leading to a deterministic account of motion. To
see what success might be achieved by this account, a preliminary

^Anfangsgr?nde, 525:7-10, 525:20-1. It may, however, be a regulative
principle (that of affinity or continuity of species) that we must assume there
to be, somewhere in nature, a kind of body with each and every kind of repul
sive force. See A658-61/B686-9.
^Anfangsgr?nde, 524:10-17.
^Anfangsgr?nde, 535:7-10.
94This last point is explicitly acknowledged by Kant at Anfangsgr?nde,
524:40-525:7, though he nonetheless regarded the hypothesis of atoms and
void as one to be shunned?chiefly because it involves the concept of void,
which he regarded as empty and fictitious ("der absoluten Undurchdringlich
keit" at Anfangsgr?nde 525:14 should probably read "des leeren Raumes,"
but see also 524:13-14 and 532:11-13), but also because absolute hardness is
an "occult quality" that cannot be described by a law of the approach and re
treat of bodies (See Anfangsgr?nde, 533:21?4: motion resulting from the
collision of absolutely hard bodies would not be continuous, but abrupt and,
in effect, magical, as there would be no reason why collision should result in
one kind of motion of the colliding bodies rather than another.).

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consideration of the attractive force is required. On this score, the

same point that has just been made about repulsive force can be made
about attractive force: because the speed and direction of motion can
only be determined by experience, the strength of an attractive force
field can only be measured by experience (by, say, measuring how a
standard mass, placed at a point in the field of operation of an attrac
tive force, is accelerated?in effect, putting it on a balance95). Admit
tedly, since he has already identified variations in the field strength of
repulsive force with variations in the kind of matter, Kant must take it
to be true by definition that every kind of matter exerts the same at
tractive force.96 However, it remains open to him to take empirically
observed variations in the strength of the attractive force field pos
sessed by various bodies to be due to the quantity of that kind of mat
ter contained within the volume of the body.97 He then proceeds, in
his mechanics chapter, to set up rules for how to represent the combi
nation of motions resulting from collision that depend crucially on
this notion of quantity of matter. This chapter almost seems to hold
out the promise that, if only we could ascertain the masses and trajec
tories of all the bodies in the universe, we could proceed to deduce all
motions a priori, from the laws of inertia and collision.
Kant's mechanics, however, cannot sustain such a result. The
problem is not just that his mechanics is not incorporated with his dy
namics, and so fails to take account of phenomena such as retardation
of motion due to the drag of gravitational forces or collisions with
bodies that are not "absolutely" impenetrable. Even on its own terms,
the picture that has so far been presented of forces and their opera
tion is an idealized one: of single bodies in empty space having their

^Anfangsgr?nde, 541:11?26 suggests this.

^Anfangsgr?nde, 509:7?11. Since the attractive force is inferred as nec
essary to prevent the unlimited extension of bodies under the influence of the
repulsive force, if the field strength of the repulsive force is to be said to vary
for different kinds of body, what it is said to vary with reference to must be
the attractive force, which for that reason must be supposed to be the same
in all bodies.
97This is merely a matter of definition. "Kind" of matter, for Kant, just
means "field strength of the repulsive force of a given body," and "quantity"
just means "field strength of the attractive force of a given body." Kant could
just as well have taken the attractive force to vary with reference to the repul
sive, hence taken different kinds of bodies to be characterized by different
specific gravities, and variations in the repulsive force exercised by different
samples of the "same" body to be due to the quantity of that kind of matter
compressed into that volume. The facts are not thereby changed, merely the
labels attached to them.

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volumes fixed solely by the balance of their attractive and repulsive

forces (under such conditions all bodies would tend to be spherical),
and of pairs of bodies moving through empty space and colliding. On
earth, however, bodies exhibit other mathematically constructible
characteristics in addition to volume, motion, and quantity of matter:
varying shapes, cohesion (resistance of parts to separation), rigidity
(resistance to relative motions of parts), brittleness (rigidity combined
with a tendency for parts that have once been moved relatively to one
another to lose all cohesion), resiliency, pliability and "spring" (ten
dency of parts to return to their original positions after deformation or
to hold their new positions, and tendency of masses to resume their
original volume after compression), fluidity and viscosity (cohesion
with low or intermediate rigidity), adhesion or friction (resistance of
adjacent, but distinct kinds of material to separation or relative mo
tion), and chemical "affinities" (tendencies of distinct kinds of mate
rial to intermix).
All of these phenomena can be considered to be various manifes
tations of cohesion, and Kant sometimes speaks as if cohesion can be
taken to be merely a "derivative" (abgeleitet) force.98 His chief reason
for assuming this is that cohesion is not sufficiently universal. Though
all bodies cohere (or adhere), they do not adhere to all other bodies
and, as the case of brittleness shows, may not even cohere to them
selves in certain circumstances.99 However, Kant is only able to offer
conjectures about how cohesion might be explained. Sometimes, he
speculates that its various effects might be due to the way bodies are
compressed and deformed, and the way their motions are affected in
the real world, by the repulsive and attractive forces of surrounding
bodies. To this end, however, he feels compelled to postulate the ex
istence of a special kind of material, the ether, the repulsive force of
which greatly outweighs its attraction, and which can pervade all the
space in the universe and produce the effects of cohesion in regions
where gravitational forces are strong.100 However, the actual exist
ence of any kind of material can only be known by experience, and
thus, Kant is constrained to admit that the existence of the ether is a

^Anfangsgr?nde, 526:33-5.
"Anfangsgr?nde, 526:20-5, 526:27-33. This is not a very persuasive
reason, unless, like Kant, one is antecedently convinced of the transcendental
objectivity of the principle of the parsimony of forces.
^Anfangsgr?nde, 563:39-564:5, 534:5-11.

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mere hypothesis and that nothing can be known a priori about the
causes of cohesion.101
It is for this reason that Kant maintains that chemistry is merely
an empirical study102?and thereby that the lion's share of the forces
responsible for physical phenomena on earth are intractable by the a
prioristic methods of the Anfangsgr?nde. While Kant might have
changed his mind about this in his last years, his final attempts to es
cape the need to rely on experience in order to do chemistry were not
crowned with success, and it is hard to see how they could have been.
The specific forces of cohesion cannot be known without first deter
mining the specific motions of specific bodies. Yet to determine the
specific motion of a specific body requires that that body be reidenti
fied over time. The only way to reidentify a body over time is by refer
ence to its sensible qualities. And sensible qualities are a posteriori.
The only way Kant could provide an a priori foundation for chemistry
is by giving up his position on the essentially empirical status of mo
tion, and with that the a posteriori status of sensible qualities.
To sum up, the general laws of the Anfangsgr?nde define only
the broadest features of nature, and the method of the Anfangsgr?nde
does not hold out the hope for much progress in deriving yet more
specific ones. The Phoronomy and the Mechanics do not determine
the existence of a single motion in nature but only provide rules for
the mathematical construction of motions, in the first case, and the
(idealized) deduction of consequent motions from antecedent (empiri
cally given) motions, in the second.103 The Dynamics only tells us that
all bodies must exert repulsive and attractive forces; it does not tell us
how strong these forces are, whether the proportion of the one to the
other can vary in different kinds of body, and if so, how many such dif
ferent kinds of body there might actually be in nature. These dynami
cal results turn back and infect the purportedly a priori mechanical
deductions as well: Since the actual motions of bodies will be influ
enced by the gravitational forces of all the other bodies in the uni
verse, and the actual collisions of bodies will be influenced by repul

^Anfangsgr?nde, 534:12-13, 518:25-31.

102Anfangsgr?nde, 470?1.
103I pass over comment on the phenomenology chapter, which was writ
ten merely to provide an explanation of how it could be possible to accept
the results of Newton's bucket experiment without having to invoke absolute
space, that is, to explain how it is possible to have true motions that are nev
ertheless not absolute motions.

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sive forces (leading to rebound), by repulsive forces in combination

with attractive (leading to vibration and heating),104 and by derivative
(though possibly original) forces such as viscosity and brittleness
(leading to loss of quantity of motion and shattering), and since none
of these forces can be known, in their particular degrees, a priori, the
deductive rules of the mechanics chapter are mere idealizations,
which might be more or less approximated by massive bodies moving
in relatively empty spaces at vast distances from one another (as in
the heavens), but which are of limited application on earth.
The locations, the motions, the field strengths of the fundamental
forces and with them the kinds and quantities of matter, the very exist
ence, number and activity of derivative forces, and even the manner of
interaction of different force fields are for Kant all empirical matters,
and that means that the scope for a priori principles in the study of na
ture is going to be a very small and, more importantly, a very sketchy

The University of Western Ontario

^^Anfangsgr?nde, 522:24-38.

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