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KANT’S SYNTHESIS ON RATIONALISM AND EMPIRICISM

____________________

A Term Paper
Presented to the Faculty
of the Department of Philosophy
College of Arts and Sciences
University of San Carlos
Cebu City, Philippines

______________________

In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
Epistemology
_________________

by
GLENN REY ANINO
October 2010
Introduction

This paper endeavored to present the three methods in approaching the problems of

modern philosophy most especially in the field of epistemology. These methods are rationalism,

empiricism, and criticism. First, the researcher tried his best to provide an exposition on the

theories of knowledge in both rationalism and empiricism and also on its valuable points and

weak points. Each philosopher who belongs in a particular method has been discussed including

their theories and criticisms. Rationalism and empiricism have contributed to the demystification

of knowledge through their insightful philosophies. However, each method has its lacuna to

which each of them is criticizing each other. This dispute leads to the third method. The third

method is called criticism which aims to resolve the conflict between rationalism and

empiricism.
Method of Rationalism

Rationalism is a philosophical outlook on knowledge that considers the perfectibility of

human reason. As a school of thought, rationalism argues that the substantial claims about the

world can be grasped by the capacity of a priori reason without the need or reliance on sense-

experience. Reason is the only source of truth on matters of knowing the nature of man and of

the reality. A rationalist, a person who adheres the tenets1 of rationalism, is very optimistic on the

power of reason and has a great regard on its fate due to his assumption that what he “thinks

clearly and distinctly”2 in his mind did really exist in the reality outside of his mind. Although

rationalism appeared in different period, this system has its best representatives in its highest

achievement during the 17th to 18th century. In this way, the epistemological standpoint of

Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Christian Wolff must be elucidated in this paper.

1
Tenets are the doctrines being embraced, followed, and held to be true. In Harper Collins Dictionary of
Philosophy, it provides ten tenets or principles hold by the school of rationalism as follows: (1) by the process of
abstraction and reasoning we can arrive at fundamental undeniable truths, (2) reality is knowable independently of
observation, (3) the mind is capable of knowing some truths about reality that are prior to any experience but are not
analytic truths, (4) reason is the principal origin of knowledge, (5) truth is not tested by sense- verification
procedures, (6) there is a rational (deductive, logicomathematical, inferential) method that can be applied to any
subject matter whatsoever and can provide us with adequate explanations, (7) absolute certainty about things is the
ideal of knowledge and is attainable to some extent by finite minds, (8) only those necessary and self- evident truths
derived from reason alone can be known as true, real, and certain; all else are subject to falsification, illusion and
certainty, (9) the universe ( reality) follows the laws and rationality of logic, and lastly (10) once this logic is
mastered, all things in the universe can be seen to be deducible from its principles or laws. [Angeles, Peter. The
Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy. Edited by Eugene Ehrlich. (New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1992),
252- 253.]
2

So precise and different from all other objects that it contains within itself nothing but what is clear. The
complete text is found in First Part, Principle 43 & 45 of Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy. [Descartes, Rene.
Key Philosophical Writings. (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Edition Limited, 1997), 292-293.]
Rationalism in Descartes’ Innate Idea

Rene Descartes was situated on the period of great cloud of doubts3 and for this condition

his major problem was concerned on how we can arrive at certitude. He searched for a method

and he was successful to find one and he called it a methodic doubt. It is stated: “Universal doubt

is meant to lead to “perfect knowledge” of truth and it is for this reason that he calls it

methodical.”4 Descartes doubts knowledge of everything whether it is based from the senses5 or

even the demonstration of mathematics as an exact science. 6 All objects of our knowledge have

been put into doubt except for one thing that there is the one that doubts. The event of doubting

cannot be doubted and the more one doubts the more it is certain that he doubts. The first

certitude is, in the words of Descartes, “Cogito ergo sum,” which is known as “I think, therefore

I am.”7 This certitude concludes that there exists a res cogitans which can be named in different

ways such as the thinking I, the thinking being, the thinking self, or the thinking substance that

will serve as the foundation of Descartes’ philosophy as the father of the modern period.

In his time, there was a great cloud of doubts because everything was put into the canopy of doubt. Nicolas
of Cusa doubted the logic of Aristotle as a tool for knowing the infinite. The logic of Aristotle is only capable of
knowing the finite but as for the matter of God it is not capable because there is no link or middle term between the
finite and infinite. Finite et infinite nulla proportio.
Francis Bacon goes beyond the criticism of Cusa by totally rejecting the deductive logic of Aristotle
because it is full with assumptions and will lead as a source of the idols of the mind. He proposes a Novum
Organon, an inductive logic to replace the deductive of Aristotle. Bacon only abolished the four idols of the mind
namely the idol of the cave, tribe, marketplace and theatre. There is still subject matter to be doubted not for the sake
of doubt itself but to arrive at certitude. Here, No doubt that Descartes was motivated to pursue his search for
epistemological certitude.
4

Nelson, Alan (editor). A Companion to Rationalism. (Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005), 5.
5

Descartes, Rene. Key Philosophical Writings. (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Edition Limited, 1997),
Principle 4, p. 277.
6

Ibid.,[ Principle 5], 278.


7

Ibid., [Principle 7], 279.


He arrived at this certitude not on the reliance and verification of the senses or from

experience but only on the activity of the mind. This method presupposes that there is an idea in

the mind in which the mind is not totally conscious of that idea. To an extent, Descartes was

saying implicitly that we are born with ideas; a rationalist conclusion which we can trace back

from the philosophy of Plato.8 From this innatism, Descartes used the ontological argument as a

causal argument on knowing the existence of God which arises from the cogito alone that means

that the idea of God is innate in the “I.” His implicit innatism can be found in his argument as follows:

“We come to know them [innate truths] by the power of our own native intelligence,
without any sensory experience. All geometrical truths are of this sort- not just the most obvious
ones, but all the others, however abstruse they may appear. Hence, according to Plato, Socrates
asks a slave-boy about the elements of geometry and thereby makes the boy able to dig out
certain truths from his own mind which he had not previously recognized were there, thus
attempting to establish the doctrine of reminiscence. Our knowledge of God is of this sort.” 9
Descartes is sure that he cannot err about his conclusion on the basis that he knows

clearly and distinctly.10 To see clearly and distinctly is to have a conclusion which is “present and

apparent to the attentive mind.”11 Given this argument, Descartes was trying to convince that

reality is knowable independent of observation and any other empirical methods.

The rationalism of Plato is illustrated in his famous allegory of the cave and the idea of innatism or innate
mental content in Meno. In the allegory, the real and true knowledge is not found on the lower level symbolized by
the cave but on the ascent to the upper world. The level of knowledge in the World of the Senses is lower and it is
only an opinion while the level of knowledge in the World of Forms is the true episteme because it is unchanging
and eternal. To reach the real knowledge is done through the process of education or the laborious training of the
mind.
In Plato’s Meno, knowledge is reminiscence because we are born with innate idea. The dialogue goes when
an uneducated and slave boy of Meno was asked by Socrates with mathematical questions. Socrates found out that
the slave boy was able to come up with an exact answer which boy did not learn before. Here, Socrates argues that
the boy must have an innate idea and the way to know them is to remember what we have known before our birth
through knowledge as midwifery.
9

Descartes, Rene. Philosophical Writings. 2 vols. Trans. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, D. Murdoch, and A.
Kenny. ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 222-3.
10

After the first certitude, the “I” is certain about its knowledge because of a benevolent and non-deceiving
God. In this case, the theories of sciences and the knowledge of the physical things follow.
11

Descartes, Key Philosophical Writings, [Principle 45], 293.


Rationalism in Leibniz’ Monadology

The first thing that we need to know about Leibniz is his conception of monads. Monads

are derived from Greek which means a unit or one. He defined monad merely as “a simple

substance, which enters into composites; simple, that is to say without parts.”12 The monads have

some qualities which makes one monad possibly distinguishable from the other. To Leibniz,

monads are the “true atoms of nature”13 because they are self- contained, self- sufficient, and

self- propelling. He supported this conception by describing the windowlessness of monads. The

monads have no windows through which anything can enter or depart. 14 This means that each

monad has a capacity of internal dynamism which all changes come from within without

affecting each other. Everything that happens to a monad comes from its inherent nature or

program and nothing outside the monad can cause its own activities. But although there are

different independent monads, all are reducible to one supreme Monad, the Monad of all monads

which Leibniz would mean as God.

We can label Leibniz in the rationalist tradition on account of his epistemology because

he argued that the true level of reality is the monadic level by which the fundamental substratum

is the immaterial monads that have no parts, extension, and divisibility but an indivisible mental

entities. What we perceived by our senses as a body that has a shape are just composites of the

mere result of aggregate soul-like monads. Though his metaphysics is a kind of immaterialist, he

12

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. The Monadology in Modern Classical Philosophers by Benjamin Rand.
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1908), [Principle 1], 199.
13

Ibid., Principle 3. The atoms mentioned here is not the same with the material atoms of Democritus.
14

Ibid., Principle 7.
considers also that things that are outside of the mind are real. But this material reality only made

possible if we are well- grounded on the monadic reality which cannot be known through sense-

experience. If this would be the case, then we could make a sense of recognizing the substantial

form of our body through the method of contemplation.

Not only on the concept of monad which we can consider Leibniz as a rationalist. He is

also well- known for his three principles fundamentally referring to the principles of logic. The

principle of identity which suggests “Whatever is, is” or “A thing is identical with itself.” 15The

second is the principle of non-contradiction which is an important tool in the validity of logic’s

search for the necessary truth. This principle argues that a thing cannot be and not be at the same

time16 or it is impossible for the same thing to be true and false at one time. This would suggest

that we can reason out as long as we can upon in the condition that we are not contradicting

ourselves. The third principle, an argument which will give credit to the optimism of Leibniz but

not to all philosophers who followed him, is the principle of sufficient reason.17 This principle

asserts that everything happens in the world happens for a certain reason and it is reasonable to

reason out why things happen or behave in this particular way and not otherwise. If one says of

something then he must have sufficient reason to say so. Synthesizing these three principles,

Leibniz arrives at the logical use of reason as a sole source of knowledge. Given that a thing is
15

Jaime, Virginia. An Introduction to Logic. 2nd edition. (Cebu City: ABC Publications, 2002), 51. One
common example that I can give is my experience with an ant. No matter what I do in order that an ant will not bite
me is still a useless passion because it is already part of ant’s nature to bite.
16

Ibid.
17

Reason in the time of Leibniz was so dear because of its capacity to know the truth but the case was not
anymore the same at the coming of the 19th to early 20th century. Some thinkers at this age did not contented on
reason alone but emphasize the uniqueness of human experience including its passion, will, and feeling. The
existentialists are the major proponent of this position because of their emphasis on the irrational side of man. Most
of them if not all are deeply rooted in metaphysics. Irrationalism, here, does not mean unreasonableness in a literal
sense of interpretation but it goes beyond reason. Albert Camus used to call this dilemma as absurd, a conclusion of
the unintelligibility of the world. Also, Sartre argues that there is no sufficient reason to explain the existence of the
world because the world is just what it is or in his term he calls it as a being in itself.
identical with itself (principle of identity) because a thing cannot be and not be at the same time

(principle of non- contradiction), there must be a necessary reason to account why a thing is at it

is and not otherwise. Reason must necessarily exist in the very nature of things. This conclusion

may seem echoing Descartes’ implicit concept of innatism. In the end, the ultimate sufficient

reason that explains everything is the immaterial Monad (God) as a source of rational internal

dynamism of the whole universe.

Rationalism in Spinoza’s Geometry in Philosophy

Spinoza’s contribution to the Continental rationalism is of great importance partly

because of his conception of seeing things in the perspective of eternity. By this perspective, we

mean to have a conception of the whole reality at one time. This kind of “seeing” is more than

the empirical seeing and ordinary use of lenses. What Spinoza wanted to express is to see things

in the perspective of God. This seems impossible to us humans. In order to make clear on this

method of knowing reality, it is necessary to know first what he means by God. To this,

Spinoza’s metaphysics which include the idea of substance, attributes, thought, extension, and

mode must be made also into a clear and thorough explanation.

He offered a monistic metaphysics by arguing that there is only one substance which is

infinite and he calls it as God or Nature. He anticipated the view of pantheism in his conception

of God being identified with the whole cosmos.18 Since it is pantheistic, we can use either God or

Nature to refer to a substance. He defined Substance and God in the following passages:

18

Stumpf Samuel Enoch & Fieser James. Socrates to Sartre and Beyond: A History of Philosophy. Eight ed.
(New York: McGraw- Hill, 2008), 216.
“By substance I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself, i.e.,
that whose concept does not require the concept of another thing, from which it must be
formed.”19
“By God I understand a being absolutely infinite-that is, a substance consisting in
infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.”20

This means that a substance is that which we can think as existing without relating it to

any external reason to account its existence. Substance can exist in itself and this

substance is God. Spinoza agreed with Anselm’s ontological argument because the very

conception of the substance necessitates that God exists.

In the case of man as finite being, he cannot exist on its own because they are not

substance as Spinoza defined the term substance. “Finite things cannot be understood or

explained apart from God’s causal activity.”21 This argument means that the existence of humans

and other finite entities are dependent on God and also presuppose that God is present in all of

these entities. Spinoza explicitly said, “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can exist or

conceived without God.”22 In this pantheistic view, Spinoza meant here that finite entities are the

modification of the self-cause substance which is God. As for the mode, he says, it is the

affection of substance, that which is in somewhat else, through which also it is conceived.23

Given the argument above that God is a “substance consisting of infinite attributes,” God

possesses unlimited qualities. “By attribute I understand that which intellect perceives
19

Spinoza, Baruch. Ethics. Trans. Edwin Curley. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), Part 1, def.
3.
20
Ethics, Part 1, def. 6.
21
Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy. Volume IV. (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publishing Group, Inc, 1994), 217.
22

Ethics, Part 1, prop. 15.


23

Ibid., Part 1, def. 5.


concerning substance, as consisting the essence thereof.”24 According to Spinoza, humans can

only know two attributes out of the infinite attributes of God because of its limit as a finite being.

These attributes that are known to human are the attributes of thought and extension. Everything

that human beings can say about the nature is either a finite mind as a mode of God under the

category of the attribute of thought and a finite body as a mode of God under the category of the

attribute of extension.

Concerning Spinoza’s epistemology, he classified knowledge in general into two:

adequate idea and inadequate idea. By adequate, Spinoza means that “it is an idea which, in so

far as it is considered without regard to the object, has all the properties or intrinsic marks of a

true idea.”25 To arrive at an adequate idea does not need the support of the senses for the truth of

an idea justifies itself. “He who has a true idea knows at the same time that he has a true idea,

nor can he doubt concerning the truth of the thing.”26 On the other hand, inadequate ideas are the

ideas that come to us through sense- perception. We come to know as long as our senses are

affected by the external objects or by the stimulus. Further, his Ethics gives three ascending

levels of knowledge from (1) opinion or imagination, to (2) reason, and most importantly to (3)

intuition.

The first level and the lowest kind is the knowledge on the level of opinion or

imagination. A person has knowledge of something as long as his body is being affected by

external objects through his senses. This kind of knowledge is sense- dependent. The mind at this

level is not active but passive because it is only capable of receiving impressions from the

24
Ibid., Part 1, def. 6
25

Ibid., Part 2, def. 4.


26

Ibid., prop. 43.


outside. A person conceives things only in a particular way and so his knowledge of a thing is

specific and concrete because he can ostensibly define. Knowledge of this kind is inadequate.

But although this knowledge is inadequate it does not mean that it should be rejected because

this knowledge has a practical utility to us. “And thus I know nearly all things that are useful to

life.”27 The second level of knowledge is reason which is characterized as an adequate idea and

scientific knowledge. Reason is both an adequate idea and scientific knowledge because it

abandons its source of validity from the sense-perception and reason arises when “we have

common notions (common notions) and adequate ideas of the property of things”28 due to the

activity of the mind in dealing with abstract ideas which are common and perceived by all.

Reason deals with common characteristic and universal laws, and formulates its knowledge in

general and abstract terms.29 This is done through the process of abstraction by which a common

characteristic is abstracted from the characteristics of particular things. We see particular things

in the first level of knowledge and from these particularities come out the universal and abstract

idea because reason perceives them only as one. Spinoza further stated that reason is an adequate

idea of the formal essence of a certain attributes of God. The essences of thins being abstracted

are put into the context of modification of God’s two attributes known to man which are the

modes of the attribute of thought and extension. Reason as such has knowledge of God only as

the primary cause of all existence in terms of necessary laws of the universe but not on God as

actually existing unique Substance. In the logical process of deduction from infinite substance to

finite modes, reason cannot perfectly know the infinite substance. What reason can only know is

27

Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 233.


28

Ethics, Part 2, prop. 40, corollary 2.


29
Terrenal, Quintin. Causa Sui And The Object of Intuition in Spinoza. (Cebu City: San Carlos Publication,
1976), 79.
the God through its creation as His manifestation on nature as a Natura naturata. Hence, reason

can only know God in two attributes out of His infinity of attributes. Spinoza introduces the third

level of knowledge because he sees the limitation of reason when it comes to the knowledge of

God as He is Himself or Natura naturans. This level of knowledge is called intuition. Intuition

neither arises from imagination nor from just a leap of a mystic but it arises from reason. From

reason as an adequate idea of the formal essence of a certain attributes of God, it arises to

intuition as an adequate idea of the essence of things. This level goes back to the conception of

the individual objects being perceived by the first level of knowledge but at this time intuition

nullifies the role of the senses. Intuition sees things in the perspective of God because it cannot

conceive of a thing without the conception of God as a Causa Sui or self-cause that necessarily

causes everything to exist.

The second and the third level of knowledge are the true and adequate knowledge. In

these two levels, Spinoza speaks of the possibility of knowledge in the perspective of eternity. “It

is the nature of reason to perceive things under a certain aspect of eternity.”30For him, this is

possible because our reason has a criterion of judging a thing which is based on necessity but not

on contingency. To regard a thing in relation to necessity does not need experience because it

can only teach the particular.31We only regard things as contingent when we conceived the

particular things through the senses as a lowest kind of cognition. This happens when we

perceived things in relation to time such as a thing existed in the past, exists in the present and

will exist in the future. Problem may arise in this way because the imagination wavers and comes

up with confused expectations and ambiguities which is the result of the inconsistency of

30
Ethics, Part 2, prop. 44, cor. 2.
31

We see a particular table, for example, that its color is brown but it does not necessarily follow that its
color must be brown in order to consider other tables as a table.
sensation in connecting one particular thing to the other. To conceive things as necessary, reason

and intuition must regard things as they are in themselves as a mode of God and God Himself as

a necessarily cause respectively. This necessity characterizes the very necessity of God’s eternal

nature. “From the very necessity of the divine nature must follow an infinite number of things in

infinite ways- that is, all things can full within the sphere of Infinite Intellect.”32 Our reason has

the ability to have this perspective because our human mind is a finite version of the infinite

mind of God. “All our ideas, insofar as it is related to God, are true.” Whatever ideas we have as

long as it is in the perspective of God or in eternity cannot err because the truth of an idea

validates itself.

Spinoza’s rationalism is to have a coherent view of the whole nature by providing canons

of unquestionable principles that are based from geometry. This whole nature is identified with

God. Since God is infinite, He must be present in all its modification and hence He unites

everything whether it is a thought or extension. The whole of reality then is reducible to one

absolutely infinite Substance which is God. Thus in his Ethics he concludes that “the mind’s

highest good is the knowledge of God, and the mind’s highest virtue it to know God.”33 Only by

nullifying the role of sensation, this Spinozistic bliss is possible.

Rationalism in Wolff’s Coupling of Mathematics and Logic

Wolff divides knowledge into two: namely, history and mathematics. The former is the

knowledge of the facts of the existent finite beings that are based from observation while the

latter is the knowledge of the quantity of thing. Wolff gives the following definition of
32

Ethics, Part 1, prop. 16.


33

Ethics, Part 4, prop. 28.


philosophy as “the science of all possible things insofar as they are possible” 34 and by possible he

means that which does not entail contradiction, or which is impossible (Ontologica, 85).35 The

existent finite beings as the completion of possibility are no longer the concern of philosophy as

science of something to be possible. As a science of the possible, philosophy being aided by the

principles of logic must consider the clearness of the identity of the world of possible and at the

same time with reason why these possible become true. The first is determined by the principle

of identity or non- contradiction and as for the reason why this possible must be is determined by

the principle of sufficient reason. Let us consider his argument regarding the principle of non-

contradiction as follows36:

1.) While we are judging something to be, it is impossible at the same time to judge it not to be.
2.) It cannot happen that one and the same thing be and at the same time not be.
3.) If A is B, it is false that A is not B

From the principle of non- contradiction, knowledge of all the essence will come out as the

principle of identity. Wolff seems to follow the innatism of Descartes because he regarded the

principle of non- contradiction as something innate in the human mind. It is also noticeable that

Wolff’s rationalism is echoing Leibniz’s three principles of logic but he reduces them into two

for the reason that the principle of non- contradiction and principle of identity are taken as one.

Further, the principle of sufficient reason explains why something is and this becomes the basis

of science. This principle argues that everything that is or is possible must have reason or causes

sufficient to produce it precisely as it is.37 These principles are used by reason as tools for
34
Tonelli, Giorgo. Christian Wolff, in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 8. (New York: The McMillan
Company and Free Press, 1967), 341.
35

Sullivan, Emmanuel. Christian Wolff’s Concept of the Possible. (USA: The Catholic University of
America, 1971), 27.
36

Corazzon, Raul. “Twin Pillars of Philosophy.” Available [online]<http://www.ontology.co/christian-wolff-


ontology.htm> 08 August 2010.
37
knowledge. For Wolff, philosophy must be coupled with mathematics because it deals not on the

knowledge of facts. “Mathematics employs a method of extraordinary power which is applicable

to philosophy; insofar as philosophy shares in the values of mathematical method, it attains to

complete certitude.38 If mathematics is used systematically in philosophy, it will lead to a further

knowledge. The combination of mathematics and the principles of logic can claim the absolutely

knowable world in a clear and distinct way. As for the principles of logic, the mind is active and

as it does in mathematics. In the words of Wolff he once said:

“We can present to ourselves what we have never sensed before. We experience this in
geometry, when we present to ourselves the drawing of the curved line of a kind we have never
before seen, also when following this we draw the same line on a paper and thereby bring it to
sensation for the first time.”39

Christian Wolff's Classification of Sciences in the Preliminary Discourse to Philosophy in


General

Nelson, A Companion to Rationalism, 337. One example is the triangle. The three- sidedness of the three
angles is a sufficient reason that suffices us to think of a triangle that has three angles.
38

Corazzon, Raul. “Preliminary Discourse on the Philosophy in General.”


Available [online]<http://www.ontology.co/christian-wolff-ontology.htm> 08 August 2010.
39

Nelson, A Companion to Rationalism, 336.


Source: Richard J. Blackwell - Introduction to: Christian Wolff - Preliminary discourse on philosophy in general -
Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1963, pp. IX-XI. Available online at:
http://www.ontology.co/christian-wolff-ontology.htm
Mathematics in general is a refined reason because of its character as productive and has the

power of invention separated from the senses. His philosophy is optimistic when it regards to the

capacity of the human reason to reach the truth through an insistence of a method. Perhaps this

optimism made him influential in his time and this Wolffian system experienced no successful

and critical development until Kant rose from his dogmatic slumber.

The Method of Empiricism

Empiricism is a philosophical outlook on knowledge that acknowledges experience as the only

source of knowledge. The primary method that is used is observation, experiments, and other

empirical evidences by the aid of sense- perception. Generally, empiricism follows Aristotle’s

dictum, “There is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses.”40 By this argument we

can only have truth-claims about reality if it can be established and verified though sense-

experience. The major proponents of this system of thought were the British empiricists: Locke,

Berkeley and Hume. Each philosophy arises as a direct attack to the three areas left undoubted

by Descartes namely: innate ideas, substance, causality which are attacked by Locke, Berkeley,

and Hume respectively. Besides, they also attacked the dogmatic claims of some rationalists.

Locke on His Attack of Innate Idea

The epistemological goal of Locke is to know the origin, certitude, and extent of human

knowledge so that human can establish a firm ground for belief, opinion and assent. He feels the

necessity of self-knowledge as the basis of drawing a dichotomy between what human can know

and what he cannot know. In his Essay41, he begins with an analysis whether there is or there is
40
Turner, W. “Aristotle” in The Catholic Encyclopedia.
Available [online]<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01713a.htm> 12 August 2010.
41
no innate idea. There was an opinion generally accepted by his predecessors that at birth there is

already an idea “stamped upon the mind of man”42 Locke defines idea in the following words:

“I must here in the entrance beg pardon of my reader, for the frequent use of the word
Idea, which he will find in the following treatise. It being that term, which, I think, serves best to
stand for whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks… or whatsoever it is,
which the mind can be employed about in thinking.”43
“Whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of perception,
thought, or understanding, that I call idea.”44

The criterion of something to be innate is that there must certain principles where all men agreed

and in Locke’s term he calls it a “universal assent.” Locke commented that if there are innate

ideas agreed by all mankind then, those ideas must have been known to all of us now. Yet, there

are still contradictions among intellectuals.45 By all this inconsistencies, he scrutinizes the idea of

innatism which may either be innate speculative principle or innate practical principle.

As for the innate theoretical principle, he mentioned the principle of identity and non-

contradiction.46 These two principles which argued Locke are actually an abstraction formed by

combining and recombining of what is experienced. There is priority in sensation and we

primarily see things as they are for that is how the way we see them and they appear to us. By

our habit we conclude that they are identical with their own identity. Locke did not question the
Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Peter H. Nidditch. Oxford:
Clarendon, 1975.
42

Ibid., Book I, chapter 1, paragraph 1.


43
Ibid., para. 8
44
Ibid., Bk. III, ch. 8, para 8.
45
There was one event in the life of Locke where group of intellectuals were gathered at the chamber of his
house. There, they had their usual conversation and it always end up in dispute. Their opinions always disagree with
each other which cannot be settled in simple way. Perhaps the topic cannot just simply verified by empirical
investigation. It is my conjecture that their topic maybe on God, eternity, belief and so on. This agreement among
them leads Locke to in his attempt to examine the nature of understanding or reason.
46
These principle are still the same principles being discussed in rationalism and hence, Locke is attacking
the same principle but not on its validity but as innate in us.
certainty of these principles but what he denied was that when we considered these principles as

innate in us. They are true not because they are innate but once we perceive external objects as

they are our mind will not allow us to think otherwise. Given that all of us had agreed for

something, it does not necessarily mean that it is innate. Therefore, he concluded, there is no

innate theoretical principle.

As for the innate practical principle, he attacks the idea of synderesis that suggests “do

good and avoid evil.” If this is true, then there is no need to teach moral values and to reason

why certain moral rules are valuable. Locke does not only consider innate idea as not true but

also they are dangerous. For example, if a saintly priest or a gifted leader could convince the

people that there is an innate idea of doing good and avoiding evil, then, they will not bother to

make some laws, teach moral values, and explain the ethics of living and they will just let the

people do what is innate in them. Locke aims not to put morality as relative but “to presuppose

that morality entails the right use of individual reasoning power, rather than draws upon an

innate reservoir.”47 So, Locke concludes there is no innate practical principle. Furthermore,

Locke employs empirical evidence to test the universal assent which may be either in the area of

universal acceptance or scientific value. By universal acceptance of the innate principle, he

doubts the presence of innatism in the minds of children and idiots.48 By scientific values,

innatism is not beneficial for scientific investigations.

In general, his counter-thesis to the present knowledge that is due to innate ideas ends up

in a conclusion that there are no innate ideas. The mind was empty at birth as like as a

chalkboard was empty before the teacher came to class. This is synonymous with the tabula rasa
47
Collins, James. A History of Modern European Philosophy. (Maryland: University Press of America,
1990), 321.
48

Locke comments: If therefore children and idiots have souls, have minds, with those impressions upon
them, they must unavoidably perceive them, and necessarily know and assent to these truths; which they do not; it is
evident that there are no such impressions.” Locke, Essay, Bk. I, ch. 1, para. 5.
or an empty tablet of Aristotle. Though our minds are empty at birth or there is no inborn idea,

the minds have only inborn power which will later on be capable of intellectual acts. It would be

an exaggeration of every interpretation to say that the mind is totally empty at birth according to

Locke. What he only denies is the innate idea but not on the innate faculty. He argues:

“God… hath furnished man with those faculties, which will serve for the sufficient
discovery of all things requisite to the end of such a being; and I doubt not but to show, that a
man by a right use of his natural abilities may without any innate principles, attain the
knowledge of God, and other things that concern him.”49
“For we cannot act anything, but by our faculties; nor talk of knowledge itself, but by the
help of those faculties, which are fitted to apprehend even what knowledge.”50

Because the mind has its innate power, it is possible that man can attain knowledge. But how

come we know of anything? Locke wholly answers, “let us then suppose the mind to be, as we

say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas :- How comes it to be furnished?.... To

this I answer, in one word, from experience.”51 This conclusion makes him an empiricist and it is

necessary to know what he means by experience as a source of knowledge. According to Locke,

experience as a source of knowledge is in two way which is either external or internal. We come

up with an idea through external experience when a stimulus affects the senses and from the

senses the mind receives various and distinct perception from the outside. There is a recognition

of particular receptivity in every external senses e.g., color, sound, flavor, etc. or a cooperation in

them and comes up with an idea of figure, motion and rest. This external experience as one

source of ideas is called sensation.52 Here, the mind is passive because it is receptive. The other

49

Locke, Essay, Bk. I, ch. 6, para. 12.


50
Ibid., Bk. IV, ch. 1, para. 2.
51
Ibid.,, Bk. II, ch. 1, para. 2.
52
Locke argues: “This great source of most of the ideas we have, depending wholly upon our senses, and
derived by them to the understanding, I call sensation (Essay Bk. II, ch. 1, para. 3).
source is internal experience which draws ideas from the internal act of the mind through

memory and comparison by involving the ideas which are formed in sensation. The activities

belong here are “perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing, and all

different acting’s of our mind.”53 This source of ideas is called reflection. The mind functions as

active because it takes of its own operation. Ideas arise from experience which can be classified

either to sensation or to reflection, and still Locke has another distinction between simple and

complex ideas.

In History of Modern European Philosophy,54 Collins differentiates simple and complex

ideas into two ways which are objective content and cognitive operation. In the basis of objective

content, the ground for this classification is the objects that are outside of us. Simple ideas in our

mind come in specific, distinct, and unmixed appearances, while complex ideas are the

combination of several simple ideas. These ideas are caused by the external objects when it

affects the sense organs and we can only have knowledge if those senses of ours are affected.

There is an impossibility of the mind at the moment of its existence to form an idea from its own

ideational content without depending to the objects. Locke argues:

“It is not in the power of the most exalted wit, or enlarged understanding, by any
quickness or variety of thought, to invent or frame one new simple idea in the mind…nor can
any force of understanding, destroy those that at there. The dominion of man, in this little world
of his own understanding…reaches no farther, than to compound and divide the materials, that
are made to his hand.”55
“As simple ideas are observed to exist in several combinations united together; so the
mind has a power to consider several of them united together, as one idea, and that not only as
they are united in external objects, but as itself has joined them. Ideas thus made up of several
simple ones put together, I call complex…which though complicated of various simple ideas, or

53

Locke, Essay, Bk. II, ch. 1, para. 4.


54
Collins, James. A History of Modern European Philosophy. Maryland: University Press of America,
1990.
55

Locke, Essay, Bk. II, ch. 2, para. 2.


complex ideas made up of simple ones, yet are, when the mind pleases, considered by itself, as
one entire thing, and signified by one name.”56

In the basis of cognitive operation, simple and complex ideas are differentiated according to the

function of the mind. The mind is passive as it receives ideas from the outside source; the ideas

produce are simple. The mind is active when it forms an idea in the act of the mind as it

furnishes ideas that are coming from sensation. The ideas that are formed are complex idea.

Locke advances another distinction concerning the relation between ideas formed in the

mind and the objects that affect the sense organ of the human body. He needs to know and

answer the question whether the external objects really are the way we think of them. He argues

that the object has quality. By quality, he means, a power in a real thing to produce any ideas in

our mind.57 He acknowledges two distinct qualities which are primary and secondary quality.

Every object has qualities which are able to produce ideas in our mind. Primary qualities are

qualities that are “really do exist in the bodies themselves.” 58 They are independent of any

condition whether the mind has perceived them or not. Our ideas caused by these qualities

correspond to those qualities that are inseparable and inherent in the things themselves.

Examples of these qualities are weight, motion, rest, number, etc. On the other hand, secondary

qualities do not belong to the object but they have the power to produce an idea in us. They

reproduce only on the effect of the outer reality on our senses.59 The qualities belong here are

sound, color, smell, taste and so on. Since these qualities are not really part in the things

themselves, they must be in somewhere else. For Locke, they are not the qualities that “exist

56
Ibid.,, ch. 7, para. 1.
57
Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy, 328.
58

Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre and Beyon, 233.


59

Gaardner, Jostein. Sophie’s World. Translated by Paulette Moller. (London: Phoenix House, 1994), 204.
there” but they are just mental effects of power, and this power to produce an idea depends from

the primary qualities.60

What is essential in his epistemology is that our experience of the objects that are outside

of us is necessary for both the ground and the application of our ideas. Experience provides us

two sources of ideas which are sensation and reflection and the ideas formed are either simple or

complex ideas. These ideas are produced by an object that has quality which may be either

primary or secondary qualities.

“Thus the first capacity of the human intellect, is, that the mind is fitted to receive the
impressions made on it; either, through the senses, by outward objects; or by its own operations,
when it reflects on them. This is the first step a man makes towards the discovery of any thing,
and the groundwork, whereon to build all those notions, which ever he shall have naturally in
this world. All those sublime thought, which tower above the clouds, and reach as high as heaven
itself, take their rise and footing here: In all that great extent wherein the mind wanders, in those
remote speculations, it may seem to be elevated with, it stirs not one jot beyond those ideas,
which sense or reflection, have offered for its contemplation.”61

Though he was influenced by Aristotle, Locke rejects the abstraction of Aristotle because ideas

are formed when the intellect denudes the phantasm of its individuating notes and thereby

grasping only the essence of the thing. The ideas being formed are abstract ideas. For Locke,

ideas are not formed by abstraction but by association. This means that ideas can be linked in the

mind. Whenever a person has an idea it will immediately lead him to form another idea even

though those ideas are not necessarily connected with each other.

60

We can all agree to our judgments of primary qualities that a particular object such as a ball is at rest or in
motion, that it is circular in shape and it weights one kilogram. But with regards to secondary qualities, every
individual has its own opinion and is entitled to his own opinion. For example, a mango may taste sweet for one but
it is sour on the other and yet they are talking of one and the same fruit which is mango.
61

Locke, Essay, Bk. II, ch. 1, para. 24.


Empiricism in Berkeley’s Notion of “No Mind? No Matter”

After Locke’s Essay influenced the modern thought, there were materialist, skeptical

tendencies and seemingly all too radical empiricistic epistemology. Later on, empiricism was

applied in the field of ethics and politics. The mind’s capacity, complexity, and creative power

seemed underestimated by some materialists. Berkeley refuses to accept their claims. It is

without doubt about the sincerity of Berkeley’ religious conviction62but with regard to his

scientific63 and philosophical writings, they stand on their own.64 Berkeley’s main thesis is to

counteract materialism and skepticism. Materialism, for him, is simply untenable as metaphysics

and ontology and its conclusion that all things are material is an inconsistent proposition.

Let us begin his criticism against materialism by asking one of the most commonly ask

questions both in science and in philosophy: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to

hear it, does it make a sound?”65 Following John Locke, Berkeley begins with his introduction of

Principles of Human Knowledge saying:

“It is evident to anyone who takes a survey of the objects of human knowledge, that they
are either ideas actually imprinted on the senses, or else such as are perceived by attending to the
passions and operations of the mind, or lastly ideas formed by help of memory and imagination,
either compounding, dividing, or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid
ways.”66

62

He was appointed Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland.


63

He is expert in the field of optics and one of those intellectuals to formulate the basic principles of
monocular and binocular depth perception.
64

This is like the case of Hume in raising his skeptical doubts of knowledge without relating it to his
personal life and his position concerning religion.
65

This question is a paraphrase from Berkeley’s proposal. He suggests: “The objects of sense exist only
when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden, or the chairs in the parlour, no longer than while there
is somebody by to perceive them.” Section 45.
66
Berkeley, George. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues.
Translated by Howard Robinson. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), §1.
He agrees with Locke that the object of knowledge is perceived either by sense or by reflection

but what he denies is the philosophic distinction between primary and secondary qualities. It is as

if the object exists on its own and independent of any condition because it has qualities which are

able to produce an idea in the mind. For Berkeley, though, we have ideas through sense or

through the operation of the mind, “there is likewise something which knows or perceives them,

and exercises divers operations, as willing, imagining, remembering, about them. This

perceiving, active being is what I call mind, spirit, soul, or myself. By which words I do not

denote any one of my ideas, but a thing entirely distinct from them.” 67 In this case, Berkeley is

making a distinction between the knower and the known or between the contents of knower’s

mental life and himself, that is, he knows objects to be in his mind and he is distinguishable from

the things that he happens to be thinking about. Given this proposition, we can say that the other

person’s ideas are his ideas and my ideas are mine and there are personalized ideas. Every idea is

in some mind, spirit, or some self. Because something is needed to account the existent of a

thing, Berkeley criticizes the materialist view of metaphysics. “It is indeed an opinion strangely

prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a world all sensible objects have

an existence natural or real, distinct from being perceived” is inconsistent, “a manifest

contradiction”68 How can a thing then exist without perceived by the mind. This is impossible for

him. It would be unintelligible to think of any existent body independent of any perceiver.

Thereby he concludes triumphantly:

“Some truths there are so near and obvious to the mind that a man need only open his
eyes to see them. Such I take this important one to be, viz., that all the choir of heaven and
furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world,
have not any subsistence without a mind, that their being (esse) is to be perceived or known; that
consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that
67
Ibid., §2.
68

Ibid., §4.
of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of
some eternal spirit.”69

Against Locke’s division of qualities, we can assume that the distinction is empty. The so

called primary qualities of extension, figure, motion, rest, solidity, and number no less than the

secondary qualities of color, sound, sound, etc. are just an idea. As an idea, it can be like nothing

but a collection of ideas. The distinction seems not to thrive in Berkeley’s thought. Moreover,

even if in some way there could be independently existing material objects or entities needing no

mind as a condition of their existence, Berkeley asks,

“How is it possible for us to know this? Either we must know it by sense or by reason. As
for our senses, by them we have the knowledge only of our sensations, ideas, or those things that
are immediately perceived by sense….It remains therefore that if we have any knowledge at all
of external things, it must be by reason, inferring their existence from what is immediately
perceived by sense. But what reason can induce us to believe the existence of bodies without the
mind?”70

Berkeley leaves no doubt that once his thesis is accepted; the world remains as it has always

been. The existent world is not a fiction or a pigment of imagination but it is filled with all the

properties and qualities that are being experienced. The ideas that we have in mind include those

of our own manufacture e.g., daydream and imaginations. However, these ideas are weaker and

more faint that arises from perception.

“The ideas of sense are more strong, lively, and distinct than those of the imagination;
they have likewise a steadiness, order, and coherence, and are not excited at random, as those
which are the effects of human wills often are.”
“There are spiritual substances, minds, or human souls, which will or excite ideas in
themselves at pleasure; but these, are faint, weak, and unsteady in respect of others they perceive
by sense.”71

69
Ibid., §6.
70

Ibid., §8.
71

Ibid., §36.
Thus, our perceptions of the external world are “not fictions of the mind.” 72 To defend his claim

against his critics who argue that his metaphysics is a challenge to Newtonian physics, Berkeley

argues that his claim does not “destroy the whole corpuscular philosophy, and undermine those

mechanical principles which have been applied with so much success to account for the

phenomena.”73 These phenomena remain unchanged. He is arguing that to explain phenomena is

being able to give an account of the sequence of perceptual or mental events. The rest is

hypothesis. Furthermore he argues:

“The connexion of ideas does not imply the relation of cause and effect, but only of a mark or
sign with the thing signified. The fire which I see is not the cause of the pain I suffer upon my
approaching it, but the mark that forewarns me of it….That a few original ideas may be made to
signify a great number of effects and actions, it is necessary they be variously combined
together. And, to the end their use be permanent and universal, these combinations must be made
by rule, and with wise contrivance.”74

This is now his view as an empiricist that the laws of science are really summaries of experience.

The reduction to a set of rules does not make the discovery of some real unperceived cause. But

he never said that there is no material world. The world consists of perceived attributes and the

absence of perception there could be no attributes. In this case then, nothing is long or short, blue

or yellow, sweet or sour except insofar as it is thus sensed. For a thing to be, it has to be the

actual or potential object of perception. This is now his most notable maxim: “Esse est percip- to

72

Ibid., §36. He gives an example like that of a sun. He says: “The sun that I see by day is the real sun, and
that which I imagine by night is the idea of the former” (§36).
73
Ibid., §50.
74

Ibid., §65.
be is to be perceived.”75 A thing is what one perceived as it is there because there is a mind that

perceives them.

But what about the dark side of the moon, the top of the highest mountain yet to be

climbed, or to the core of the planet that will never be known, do they exist? These are to be

understood either as imaginary or as real. As for the latter, they must subsist in experience or as

the idea of some mind for the absence of the realm of idea and the mind there can be nothing

else. For there to be anything else requires a mind to perceive it. Thus, everything that exists is in

some mind as a condition of its existence. Thus everything having real existence must be the

subject or the object of some perception. However, human mind is not enough to establish the

existence of all things; there must be a mind other than a human mind. In this way, there must an

existent ultimate percipient or a divine Mind in which all reality can be eternally perceive. This

divine mind that perceives all reality is the mind of God who made it all. The material universe

then subsists in the mind of God who made it and also in its parts and particulars (man) in the

perception and understanding of those who have experienced the world.

Hume’s Skepticism

As an empiricist, Hume was influenced by Bacon, Locke and Berkeley. Of the three,

Berkeley offers the most persuasive argument that we cannot find a place external to perception

from which we are able to establish our epistemic claims of the world. Hume is not caught in this

dilemma whether an object exists or not when it is outside in the realm of what is perceived but

rather he develops Locke’s concept of association. He argues that the mind is formed out of

sensory experience and this is where everything begins. The object of the world impresses itself

75

Ibid., §3.
on the sense organs. In this case, knowledge begins on the level of perception which is either

impression or ideas.

“All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which
I shall call impressions and ideas. The difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force
and liveliness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into our thought or
consciousness. Those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name
impressions: and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions, as
they make their first appearance in the soul. By ideas I mean the faint images of these in thinking
and reasoning.”76

The content of the mind is nothing when the organs of sensation are not stimulated by external

physical objects. Out of these sensory impressions, the perceiver has either current sensation as

he actually perceive in the present or the recollection of the past sensations by the revival of

earlier perception being furnish in the past. In this activity, the mind is capable of the act of

reflection which is to remember the things that previously happened.

Impression is the primary basis which the mind makes representation of the external

world. As he was influenced by Locke, Hume also argues that there is some external physical

world capable of stimulating man’s sense organs but he added that the minds are just copies or

simulacra of what is occurring at the level of sensation. This argument implies his position as a

consistent empiricist which is supported by his claim saying: “The most lively thought is still

inferior to the dullest sensation.”77 Since the senses are needed to constitute the mind’s act of

representation, Hume’s epistemology is always mediate. This means that we never have

immediate knowledge of the external world but only the mediated knowledge that comes by way

of a mediator or an agent which is our perceptual or sensory capabilities. In other words, Hume’s

empiricism is implying that we cannot know the external world as in itself it really is and we can
76
Hume, David. A Treatise on Human Nature. Volume 1. (Maryland: Wildside Press, 2007), [Part 1,
Section 1], 11.
77

___________. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. (Chicago: Court Publishing Company,


1912), [Section II, Part 1, §1], 14.
know the external world by way of perceptual mediation. This implication may be given its full

flesh by Kant.

No doubts in Hume that our idea derives from impressions, but how can we explain that

we come up with a unified idea in our minds that are not coming from present impressions?

Hume uses and develops the very law of association which has been started earlier by Locke in

order to go away with the abstraction of Aristotle that received much criticism in the modern

time. Hume gives an explanation on how the mind comes to work on the evidence brought

together by the senses.

“It is evident that there is a principle of connexion between the different thoughts or ideas
of the mind, and that, in their appearance to the memory or imagination; they introduce each
other with a certain degree of method and regularity… I do not find that any philosopher has
attempted to enumerate or class all the principles of association; a subject, however, that seems
worthy of curiosity. To me, there appear to be only three principles of connexion among ideas,
namely, resemblance, contiguity in time or place, and cause and effect.”78

By resemblance, there is a connection of ideas because we relate or get the likeness of the things

we perceive at present to the other idea as the imagination moves effortlessly from one idea to

the other. Hume gives an example like this: “A picture naturally leads our thoughts to the

original.”79 To illustrate further the example given by him, an artist may draw a book with its full

real color and by seeing it or when other people see the drawing they may resemble it to the real

book. By contiguity in time and place, anytime two events have been constantly conjoined by

experience then, anyone of them in the future will excite the idea of the other. “The mention of

one apartment in a building naturally introduces an enquiry or discourse concerning the others,” 80

is Hume’s example of contiguity. Through the principle of resemblance and contiguity in time
78

Ibid., [Section 3, Part 1, §1], 21.


79
Ibid., [Section 3, Part 1, §2], 22.
80

Ibid.
and place, events that share greater resemblance and events that are temporally and physically

contiguous are firmly and strongly associated respectively. Even in these principles of

resemblance and contiguity, the mind has a certain habitual tendencies to connect ideas. The

mind does have certain operating principle and our judgments are going to be shaped by this

operating principle of the mind as such.

Hume argues that there are two objects of human reason which are relations of ideas and

matters of fact. He considers no difficulty in relations of ideas because it deals with the realm of

mathematical statements that can be established by “the mere operation of thought, without

dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe.” 81 In the terminology of Kant, this is

called the analytical truth for its verification does not depend on experience. However, Hume

sees that there is a problem when it concerns on the matters of fact in a sense that the case is not

the same as in the first object of human reason. There is no certitude about our judgment because

the position of one fact presupposes the possibility of another position opposite to it. Quoting

from Hume, “the contrary of every matter of fact is still possible.” 82 As an empiricist, Hume

argues that we can still doubt the proposition “the sun will rise tomorrow” because there is no

certainty that it is always the case given that the opposite is still possible. Many people may

answer that the sun will rise by explaining one fact of the present experience by inferring another

fact beyond experience. Hume sees that our judgment on the matters of fact are founded on

cause-effect relationship by drawing a connection calling one as a cause and the other as an

effect. “All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and

81

Ibid., [Section IV, Part 1, §1], 23.


82
Ibid., §2.
effect.” We usually do this judgment but Hume’s problem is how come we arrive at this

principle.

For Hume, the concept of cause is coming from experience but not on a priori reasoning

for how can we consider one event as a cause if one does not even experience it. Hume cites

some examples and one of them is this:83

“Adam, though his rational faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, could
not have inferred from the fluidity and transparency of water that it would suffocate him, or from
the light and warmth of fire that it would consume him.”84

To say that water can drown must have been experienced by someone earlier from us and that

realization is not given by just merely looking the water and inferring about its qualities.

Applying the two abovementioned principles of association, the concept of causality as a third

principle of association will be clearly understood. Now, considering all other things being equal,

X becomes associated with Y when the latter have been present frequently in experience. So

whenever one thinks of X, then Y necessarily follows. The more X and Y occur together, the

more they become strongly associated. In this case, Hume concludes that repetition is the ground

for calling a certain event as a cause to the other event which has not been experienced. “All

inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning.”85

Causation then is simply what the mind assigns to constantly conjoined experiences.

Anytime X and Y are constantly conjoined and X reliably precedes Y, it is by virtue of the habit

of thought that Y must follow X. Let us have some other thought experiment. Supposing that I

83
Hume also gives an example of a two magnets. A person without any experience of holding two magnets
in each of his hand could not know that they will attract if they become near to each other. The conclusion that a
magnet attracts and repels other magnet is done only after the experience.
84
Ibid., [§5], 25-26.
85

Ibid., [Section V, Part 1, §5], 44.


watch a soccer ball play, I see some players for a second and I closed my eyes for five seconds.

Then I come back for a second and see one player kicking the ball and closed again for five

seconds. Lastly, I open my eyes and I see all of them running for the ball. One might conclude

that whenever one kicks the ball, the player will run around. Here, the concept of causation is not

a recording of something observed in the external world just like what happened in the soccer

ball play example where the observer gets different observable event and calls one event as a

cause to another. Rather causation is a habitual mental process. The concept is inherent in the

mental operation itself. In the billiard ball example, billiard ball A moves and strikes billiard ball

B. I see ball A moves, there is an observable period; ball B moves, there is a period. But we

don’t see causality therein. So where is it? Causality then is a habit of mind that renders

fundamental any reliable anteceding and succeeding events or any constantly conjoined pair of

event or multiplicity of events that is being done in experience.

As a thorough-going empiricist, Hume’s epistemology leads him to skepticism. The

statement of his skepticism in the passage from the Treatise on Human Nature is very clear:

“By all that has been said the reader will easily perceive, that the philosophy contained in this
book is very skeptical, and tends to give us a notion of the imperfections and narrow limits of
human understanding. Almost all reasoning is there reduced to experience; and the belief, which
attends experience, is explained to be nothing but a peculiar sentiment, or lively conception
produced by habit. Nor is this all, when we believe anything of external existence, or suppose an
object to exist a moment after it is no longer perceived, this belief is nothing but a sentiment of
the same kind. Our author insists upon several other skeptical topics; and upon the whole
concludes, that we assent to our faculties, and employ our reason only because we cannot help it.
Philosophy would render us entirely Pynhonian, were not nature too strong for it.”86
The above passage carries the skepticism of Hume regarding induction, the external world, and

most importantly to reason. The method of empiricism is the reduction of all reasoning to

86

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by L.A. Selby- Bigge and P.H. Nidditch. 2nd ed.
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 657.
experience. Knowledge of this kind only gives us the knowledge of the immediate experience

and not on the empirical claims that go beyond the immediate experience. The claims about the

world result to uncertainty for when it concerns on the matters of fact there is no reasoning

required and its opposite is still possible as Hume would say. His inductive skepticism is based

on the concept of causality. Given that both a priori reasoning and immediate experience cannot

establish the necessary connection between the cause and its effect, we arrived at the problem of

induction the moment we ask the following matter: How can we be certain of our inference of

the experience of multiple events in the past that are constantly conjoined will still continue to be

associated in the future? Hume once asked: “But if we still carry on our sifting humour, and ask,

What is the foundation of all conclusions from experience! This implies a new question, which

may be of more difficult solution and explication.” 87 The problem of induction arises in

empiricism because no argument can offer a justification by just connecting the past to the

future. All judgments of this kind are only the byproduct of habit or custom. As a result, Hume

also doubted reason itself or the faculties of the mind as it is mentioned above that there is an

“imperfection and the narrow limits of understanding.

To make clear of his skepticism we may ask this necessary question: To what extent was

Hume a skeptic? To describe him as a skeptic may mean to a vast interpretations of his thought

but to assess his skepticism may vary. Skepticism is closely associated with the suspension of

beliefs. Hume did not advocate an absolute skepticism like the Pyrrhonists but what he

recommends is mitigated skepticism.

“A species of mitigated scepticism which may be of advantage to mankind, and which


may be the natural result of the Pyrrhonian doubts and scruples, is the limitation of our enquiries
to such subjects as are best adapted to the narrow capacity of human understanding.”88
87

Hume, Enquiry, [Section IV, Part II, §1], 31.


88
Ibid., [Section XII, Part 1, §1], 171.
This solution is to take the middle way between naïve acceptance of any truth claims and

Pyrrhonism. His skepticism is to be understood as a scrutiny or a critique to the capacities of our

intellectual faculty.

THE METHOD OF KANT’S CRITICISM

The Problem of Metaphysics

There was once a German philosopher named Immanuel Kant whose magnum opus

entitled Critique of Pure Reason received much refutation as a first- rated essay in metaphysics.

His business was metaphysics.89 This field called metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that

deals about the questions concerning the ultimate reality. It is a philosophical quest for what

reality is in the last analysis.90 Why did Kant put a matter of importance to metaphysics or why

we need to bother metaphysics at all? Animals may play but only man asks. We always discover

something new about ourselves by asking who we are. How much more if we are going to raise

the question being geared in metaphysics, that is, the question about God, freedom and

immortality? This issue becomes the concern of man as a questioner of something. In the words

of St. Augustine, “My soul is restless until it rests in You.” 91 In this case, we are always

bewildered with something that is always hunkering after us and to take this seriously

metaphysics is of utmost importance to life. This activity is the pursuit of philosophy no matter

89
Blakney, Raymond Bernard. An Immanuel Kant Reader. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1960),
xi.

90
Jaime, An Introduction to Logic, 3.
91
St. Augustine. Confession. Trans. Henry Chadwick. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.
how we find ourselves in difficulties and even in some debates. But the activity is worth its time

and effort for “the only calm philosophy is dead philosophy.”92

In the first endeavor of every new reader of Kant in knowing the term metaphysics being

used in the Critique, he may find himself in deep ambiguity. Kant does not directly define his

new kind of metaphysics in the sense that he does not use the term exactly in the same way but in

a contrasting sense. In the Preface to the first edition, Kant defines metaphysics as “the

battlefield of endless controversies”93 because it raises questions that cannot be rejected and at

the same time it cannot be solved.

“Human reason has the peculiar fate in one species of its cognitions that it is burdened
with questions which it cannot dismiss, since they are given to it as problems by the nature of
reason itself, but which it also cannot answer, since they transcend every capacity of human
reason.”94

On the other hand, metaphysics is defined in the later part as a new promising fruitful discipline.

In the words of Kant, metaphysics is “the only one of all the sciences that may promise that little

but unified effort, and that indeed in a short time, will complete it.”95 There are also some writers

and commentators that expressed their varied positions about Kant’s metaphysics. Moses

Mendelssohn described it in a negative sense as a “destroyer of traditional metaphysics on the

one hand and Karl Reinhold consider the Critique positively as the beginning for a new and

92

Blakney, An Immanuel Kant Reader, 2.


93
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and Edited by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood. (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), A viii.
94

Ibid., A vii.
95

Ibid., A xx. The effort mentioned it the critical philosophy itself.


completely scientific metaphysics.96 In these two positions, Kant’s metaphysics may be found

out as we go on.

Kant recognizes the subject matter of which metaphysics deals with and with its

peculiarity and importance, it has received a privileged and unquestionable refutation. “There

was a time when metaphysics was called the queen of all the sciences, and if the will be taken for

the deed, it deserved this title of honor, on account of the preeminent importance of its objects.”97

At this time, metaphysics was despotic. But later on, metaphysics is put into questioned and to a

further ill repute by what Kant describe as “a kind of nomads who abhor all permanent

cultivation of the soil, shattered civil unity from time to time.”98 Thus, metaphysics is fallen and

no longer considered as queen and its revival needs a great man to rescue it. The sad fate of

metaphysics being described above is the history of its rise during the time of the rationalists’

tradition and its fall at the time of the empiricists’ tradition.

Kant agreed with the rationalist that there are a priori concepts which the source is not

taken from experience but from reason itself. However, the rationalists take this opportunity to

make these a priori concepts and principles to know the realities that goes beyond the realm of

human experience. They insist that the supersensible realities or the things-in-themselves can be

known without any criticism of its tool which is reason itself. Wolff seemed to be the

culmination of rationalism because of his technically refined, all-inclusive, and academically

96
Mendelssohn and Reinhold were Kant’s contemporaries. The former have written On Evidence in
Metaphysical Sciences to answer the question of whether metaphysical truths are able to have the same sort of
evidence as mathematical truths. The essay garnered first prize in the contest sponsored by the Royal Prussian
Academy of Sciences whereas Kant got the second prize. At the later part of his life, he was influenced by Kant and
he became less confident that metaphysical precepts could be subjected to rational proof.
Reinhold, on the other hand, wrote Letters on the Kantian Philosophy that enabled Kant’s philosophy to
spread widely and gathered many audiences from different places in Europe. See: Dahlstrom, Daniel. “Moses
Mendelssohn.” Available [online]< http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mendelssohn/> 15 August 2010.
97
Kant, Critique, A viii.
98

Ibid., A ix.
excellent textbooks that are available in both German and Latin that for a long time dominated

the universities of Germany. And so Kant remarks his method in the Preface of the Critique of

Pure Reason: “….the regular ascertainment of the principles, clear determination of concepts,

and the attempt at strictness in the proofs, and the prevention of audacious leaps in inferences.” 99

The rationalists have started the primary step by asserting reason as the grounds of metaphysics

but later on they have failed because of their pretentions that reason can know the realities

“independently of all experience.”100 In this case, a consistent rationalist ends up in dogmatism

because their use of reason “without an antecedent critique of its own capacity.”101

The dogmatism of the rationalist was first attacked by the empiricism of Locke by

arguing that there are no “innate ideas” and there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in

the senses. Then this argument is agreed by Berkeley saying: “It is evident to anyone who takes a

survey of the objects of human knowledge, that they are either ideas actually imprinted on the

senses, or else such as are perceived by attending to the passions and operations of the mind, or

lastly ideas formed by help of memory and imagination, either compounding, dividing, or barely

representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways.”102 Hume also said that all our

ideas are just derived from impressions. It seems that the empiricists undermine reason and its

possibility of thought. In this way, Kant defends against the empiricist because of the reduction

of all knowledge to experience. As he agrees with the rationalist that there are a priori cognitions,

99
Ibid., B xxxvii.
100

Ibid., A xii.
101

Ibid., B xxxv.
102

Berkeley, George. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues.
Translated by Howard Robinson. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), §1.
empiricism may end up in skepticism because of the impossibility of a universal and necessary

judgment.

Having both tried and dissatisfied the methods of rationalism and empiricism, Kant

therefore had to find a way out of these vain hopes. The problem of metaphysics which is

considered to be important is not yet resolved. By this, Kant once and for all tries another

method hoping to aid the problem. In so doing, he establishes a court of justice and brings

metaphysics into this court so that “reason may secure its rightful claims while dismissing all its

groundless pretension…this court is none other than the critique of pure reason itself- a critique

of the faculty of reason in general.”103 Thus, the question to be answered is: “What and how

much can understanding and reason cognize free of all experience? 104 This method is called the

method criticism. The method of criticism is neither to be understood negatively as being

argumentative or being critical of other people nor an attempt to scrutinize reason thereby

making it a perfect tool to know the ideas of reason namely God, freedom and immortality.

There is humility in Kant for even how important metaphysics is; it is only a preamble to the

sciences as to show the limits and possibility of knowledge.

In the equally famous sentences that open the first and the second paragraph of the

introduction, Kant writes: “That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt.

But although all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from

experience.”105 Kant is never contradicting himself with these two propositional claims because

he distinguishes between being grounded in something else and arising necessarily from

something else. There is a sharp distinction between the word “begins” and “arises.” Aristotle

103
Ibid., A xii.
104

Ibid., A xvii.
105

Ibid., B 1.
and the empiricists were correct to the extent that “all our knowledge begins with experience”

but they were wrong if they mean that knowledge arises from experience. We need experience

“for how should the faculty of knowledge be called into activity, if not by objects which affect

our senses.”106 It is through experience that our senses are affected by the stimulus outside of us

and these impressions are taken as raw materials to stimulate our mind into thinking. We need

stimulation and experience is what stimulates us into further inquiry. This claim is the

recognition of Kant’s debt to the empiricists particularly to Hume. Indeed, the Critique is a work

that comes about because of his awakening in a dogmatic slumber by the skepticism of Hume.

So what is the dogma to which in his slumber, Kant was more or less attached to or controlled

by? The whole of Europe was educated by Leibniz-Wolffian traditions which produce

pedagogical textbooks and manuals that every student including Kant must learn by heart. Kant

must have acquired his learning from this school and upon his reading with the works of the

British empiricists he found out that their writings were different from his orientation. Instead

that the writings of the empiricists would turn him off but Hume woke him up from his dogmatic

slumber. “I openly confess my recollection of David Hume was the very thing which many years

ago first interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative

philosophy a quite new direction.”107 What it is in Hume that awakens him? For Hume,

everything we know is the product of our experience and in every matters of fact our judgment is

base on cause-effect relationship. Hume rejects the concept of causality or the necessary

connection between events as something we get from experience. Experience can never give us

the necessity. In this case, the concept of causation only comes from the psychological account

of our mind by means of the association of our ideas. Kant agrees with Hume that experience is a
106
Ibid., B 1.
107

Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena: To Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able To Come Forward as
Science. Translated by Paul Carus. (USA: Hackket Publishing, Co., 1977), 260.
source of our cognition but it can never provide the necessary connection of events to account

the concept of causality. What he does not agree with Hume is his account that some concepts

are just the results of the association of ideas. There must be another source which is aside from

experience. Kant does not limit the source of knowledge only to experience for he says, “But

although all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from

experience.”108 It is argued that we are stimulated to think but then thinking continues even if we

are no longer provided by sensuous impressions. The mind is not a receptive container passively

receiving those raw materials provided by sensations but rather it actively constitutes knowledge.

Experience is not just coming from the outside sources but also something contributed by the

faculty of every individual. For example, two people experiencing the same thing have different

perceptions. The experience of one person in seeing the same object will differ from the other.

How much more if they think of it? Experience is always a human experience and it is not only

from there which is external to us but every individual has the contribution in the formation of it.

It cannot be possible for an experience to be without human contributions that must be present

for there to be experience at all. In this way, even in experience there is already an a priori

element of knowledge which is not coming from the empirical objects outside but from the

human faculty itself. These elements are also called as the kinds of knowledge according to

source or origin. There are two kinds of knowledge according to source namely a posteriori

knowledge which the source is from experience and a priori knowledge which is held

independently of all experience and the source is from reason itself. Kant writes:

“We shall therefore, in what follows, understand by knowledge a priori knowledge which
is absolutely independent of all experience, and not of this or that experience only. Opposed to
this is empirical knowledge, or such as is possible a posteriori only, that is by experience.”109

108
Ibid., B 1.
109
Ibid., B 2-3.
Now, how is it possible to have knowledge a priori? Kant provided two conditions that must be

considered in knowing whether our judgment is a priori or not. First, our judgment is a priori if it

is based on necessity. Like Hume, Kant agrees that experience can never give us the concept of

necessity because it can only tell us that a thing is such and such but not necessarily so. For

example, one sees a white paper in the table. His experience of seeing the white paper cannot

convince him that a paper must be white. In this way, experience is only contingent but not

necessary. The concept of necessity therefore is independent of experience but it is coming from

the human faculty itself. Second, the moment that our judgment is universal then, it is a priori

knowledge. We can only experience some particular cases but we can never experience all cases

such as universal. For example, all men are mortal is a universal judgment. In this case, there are

a priori judgments that are characterized by necessary and universal judgments. Though these

judgments cannot be ascertained empirically, they begin with experience and only later on that it

becomes necessary and universal. Since it is possible to have a priori knowledge, Kant provided

two examples. “If we want a scientific example, we have only to look to any of the propositions

of the mathematics; if we want one from the sphere of the ordinary understanding, such

proposition as that each change must have a cause, will answer the purpose.”110 In the case of

scientific example, mathematical proposition does not come directly to us without beginning

from experience. At first, we learned that 7 pesos plus 5 pesos is equal to twelve pesos or 7 cars

when added to 5 cars will result to twelve cars. But our answers such as twelve pesos and twelve

cars are still talking of money and of cars which are from experience. The moment we come up

to the realization that whenever we add number 7 to number 5 and the result is always twelve,

the judgment is already universal because it does not matter what particular material is being

110

Ibid., B 4-5.
added and necessary because the answer must always be twelve. These necessary and universal

conditions are coming only from us. In sphere of common understanding, the proposition “each

change must have a cause” is an a priori judgment. The word “every” signifies universality and

the word “must” signifies necessity. However, Kant never considers this judgment as pure a

priori knowledge (nevertheless they are a priori) because change is “a concept which can only be

derived from experience and by pure a priori knowledge it is mixed up with nothing

empirical.”111Therefore, a priori judgment is a fact.

Kant offers another distinction of knowledge or judgment according to the relation

between the subject and the predicate. Judgment in which the predicate is taken from the subject

or the “predicate B belongs to the subject A as something contained (though covertly) in the

concept A”112 is called analytic or analytical judgment. Kant also calls this as “judgments of

clarification”113 because it only illustrates the parts that are confined in the concept of the subject

and at the same time there is no need to go out of the concepts for justification. To analyze is to

break the parts or concepts found in the subject and study each one by one. In this case, the

predicable of the subject is contained in the concept of the subject, then for every subject there is

necessarily a complete concept possessing all the predicables of it. For example, a triangle has

three angles. The predicable which is three angles is already in the concept of a triangle.

Analytical propositions add nothing to the concept of the subject and if we only remain here

nothing very remarkable in this kind. However, judgment that affirms or denies the concept of

the subject and its predicate is not found in the subject or “B lies outside the sphere of the

concept A, though somehow connected with it”114 is called synthetic or synthetical judgment.
111
Ibid., B 3.
112

Ibid., A 7=B 10.


113

Ibid., A 7 =B 11.
114
Ibid., A 7= B 10.
This is also called as “judgments of amplification”115in a sense that the predicate expands or

increases the understanding of the subject. By merely looking at the concept of the subject the

predicate is not contained or drawn from it. Synthetic judgments add the sphere of our

knowledge and offer the possibility of knowing more because the judgments are no longer

limited to the identity of the subject.

Therefore, there are two kinds of knowledge according to its source which are either a

posteriori by which the source is from experience or a priori by which the source is reason. There

are two kinds of knowledge according to the relation of the subject and predicate which is either

analytic or synthetic judgment. Before Kant or prior to the Critique, both rationalists and

empiricists agreed that analytic and synthetic judgments are always a priori and a posteriori

respectively by combining the two distinctions. Furthermore, Hume has no problem when he

deals with relation of ideas but he has problem when the concern is on the matters of fact. He

experienced such problem because he failed to acknowledge that matters of fact are either actual

experience or scientific knowledge. With careful combination and analysis on every four terms,

Kant abandons the notions accepted by the philosophers before him and comes out to the

formulation of another kind of judgment which claims to be necessary and universal. Now,

synthetic judgment in the abovementioned is not something that illustrates the subject but it is an

addition and has a connection to the concept of the subject. If the connection of the predicate to

the subject is characterized by contingency or it could come from experience, the judgment is

synthetic a posteriori. Consider the proposition, “A triangle is small.” This is synthetic judgment

because we cannot draw the idea of smallness just by mere looking or a simple analysis of the

concept triangle and at the same time the judgment is a posteriori because the conclusion is done

115

Ibid., A 7= B 11.
through an observation. We arrive at the concept of a small triangle when we draw a bigger one

and compare them. Let us have another example, “All Filipinos are short,” and let us presume

that this is true. It is a synthetic judgment because shortness does not belong to the concept of a

Filipino but it is also a posteriori even if we use the word “all” which is universal. This is a

posteriori because we can have a concept of shortness only when we experience and compare it

with others. The connection between shortness and Filipino will only be known through

experience and does not contain a strict universality. Even if we do not observe a tall Filipino

today, there might be one in the future but then again this a purely factual but not necessary.

Thus, synthetic a posteriori judgment is not yet necessary and universal. But, according to Kant,

there is another kind judgment which is very essential for it gives us new knowledge that is

necessarily true and scientific. The predicate is not drawn from the concept of the subject and at

the same time there is no need of experience to determine its truth for its source could come from

reason. This kind of judgment is called synthetic a priori judgment and its judgments are

scientific judgments. It is a priori because its judgment is necessary and strictly universal. Take

the proposition, “A triangle has 180°.” The idea of 180° is not drawn from the concept triangle

but the predicate claims to be universal and necessary in every triangle. Another example of a

synthetic a priori judgment by which the rationalists commonly accepted as knowledge but failed

to recognize it as synthetic is the proposition: “Everything that happens has its cause.”116 This is

also synthetic because the predicate, cause, is not found or contained in the concept of an event

and it is a priori because it leaps to the universal judgment by considering every event. The said

proposition begins with experience for in the first place we need experience to know the events

but later on it becomes necessary that every event has its cause not just by the method of

induction but from reason.


116
Ibid., A 9=B 13.
Now, if we summarize all the kinds of judgments in the Critique, there is three kinds’

namely: analytic a priori judgment, synthetic a posteriori judgment and synthetic a priori

judgment. Analytic judgment is always a priori and it can never be a posteriori because we do

not need experience to determine the truth of the proposition but only in examining the term

itself. Synthetic is either a posteriori judgment which its source could come from experience or a

priori judgment which its source could come from reason. But for Kant, both analytic a priori

judgment and synthetic a posteriori judgment are not problematical. His main concern is on the

third judgment because they are not analytical and at the same time they are scientific judgments

claiming a strict universality and necessity. The question arises whether there are synthetic a

priori judgments. In other words, are there synthetic a priori judgments? Kant is so convinced

that there are synthetic a priori judgments in the field of mathematics, physics and even in

metaphysics. In the field of mathematics, Kant says, “It must first be remarked that properly

mathematical propositions are always a priori judgments and are never empirical, because they

carry necessity with them, which cannot be derived from experience.” 117 The example he gives is

the proposition 7+5=12. The proposition seven plus five has five or has seven or has a plus

symbol or even the combination of the three as the result would be the answer if one uses

analytical judgment. But the proposition 7+5= 12 is synthetic because the concept of twelve is

not obtained in the union between seven and five. They are also a priori because 7+5=12 must

always be the case. Similarly, there are also a priori judgments in physics. For example, “in all

alterations of the corporeal world the quantity of the matter remains unaltered,” or “in all

communication of motion effect and counter-effect must always be equal. For Kant, these

propositions are necessary and so it must be a priori and it is clear that they are synthetic because

117
Ibid., B 14.
it “contains within itself synthetic a priori judgments as principles.” 118 Finally, metaphysics is

also claiming to have synthetic a priori judgments. It has a priori judgments because it cannot be

provided by any empirical evidences and it is synthetic because it tries to expand knowledge of

reality. Take, for instance, “the world must have a beginning.” The concept of a beginning is not

obtained from the concept of the world and hence, synthetic. At the same time, the beginning of

the world is something beyond all experience for no one has ever been born before the world

begins and so a priori. Since it is all beyond experience, metaphysics consists of “purely

synthetic a priori propositions.”119

Since there are synthetic a priori judgments in the sphere of mathematics, physics and

metaphysics, is no longer whether there are such judgments. “The real problem of pure reason is

now contained in the question: How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?”120 This problem

was long started from Descartes until to Kant himself. The general problem is divided into three

sub-problems: How is pure mathematics possible? How is pure natural science possible? How is

metaphysics possible as science?

Throughout the whole history of philosophy, Kant observes that the common debates and

problems in metaphysics have not yet been resolved. Other sciences such as mathematics and

physics have already reached the secure course of a science. 121 By secure course of a science,

Kant means the exact foundation of a certain method in order for particular field to be

established. Mathematics arrived at this secure course of science by a certain revolution of

118
Ibid., B 17.
119

Ibid., B 18.
120

Ibid. ,B 19.
121

Ibid., B vii.
thought. This revolution was done by the ancient Greeks. The following insight may be helpful

to account how the revolution of the way of thinking in mathematics was.

“A new light broke upon the first person who demonstrated the isosceles triangle
(whether he was called “Thales” or had some other name). For he found out that what he has to
so was not to trace what he saw in this figure or even trace its mere concept, and read off, as it
were, from the properties of the figure; but rather that he had to produce the latter form what he
himself thought into the object and presented (through construction) according to a priori
concepts, and that in order to know something securely a priori he had to ascribe to the thing
nothing except what followed necessarily from what he himself had put into it in accordance
with its concept.122

The above quotation is the story of the revolution in mathematics. Thales would not discover the

properties of isosceles triangle just by mere looking at the object and let the object tell him what

it is. He must have to do something which has in his mind and demonstrate it. Mathematics

became a science only when it became constructional in accordance with a priori concepts.

The same also in physics when,

“Galileo rolled balls of a weight chosen by himself down an inclined plane, or when
Torricelli made the air bear a weight that he had previously thought to be equal to that of a
known column of water, and Stahl changed metal into calx and then changed the latter back into
metal by first removing something and then putting it back again, a light dawned on all those
who study nature.”123

They did not let the nature reveals herself to them but approach it with a preconceived designs

and purpose in a spirit of a man with mature reason and not just do the inquiry simply like a

pupil. “They comprehend that reason has insight only into which it itself produces according to

its own design.”124 There is already a thought or hypothesis such as the principles in approaching

122
Ibid., B xi-xii.
123

Ibid., B xii-xiii.
124

Ibid., B xiii.
nature which is manifested in designing the experiment before coming into the actual one. It is

only after the experiment that those preconceived designs are correct or not.

These two revolutions of the way of thinking lead both mathematics and physics to the secure

course of a science. But on the other hand, metaphysics as “a wholly speculative cognition of

reason”125 has not found the secure course of a science. Reason is constantly brought to a

standstill. If other sciences have its kind of revolution then, this event leads him to a certain

revolution for philosophy. If we go back to the general problem of pure reason, how are synthetic

a priori judgments possible, and if at the same time we consider his agreement with Hume that

we cannot derived necessity and strict universality from experience, it would not be easy for

Kant to maintain his theory of knowledge as simply as the conformity of the mind to the objects.

If knowledge is just simply the conformity of the mind to the objects, then to know an object the

mind must conform itself to it. Problems may arise in this way because the mind cannot find a

necessary connection between objects that are empirically given and therefore cannot provide the

account of how to make necessary and strictly universal judgments. Kant proposes the reverse

position.

“Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but all
attempts to find out something about them a priori through concepts that would extend our
cognition have, on this presupposition, come to nothing. Hence let us once try whether we do not
get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the object must conform to our
cognition, which would agree better with the requested possibility of an a priori cognition, which
is to establish something about objects before they are given to us.”126

125

Ibid., B xiv. Metaphysics is completely isolated because there is no possibility of experience needed. It is
beyond all experience.
126

Ibid., B xvi.
Kant’s Copernican revolution is a reminiscent of the astronomical revolution of Copernicus but

now it is a revolution of the way of thinking particularly in philosophy. Before Copernicus, it has

commonly accepted that the earth was the center of the solar system and all bodies including the

sun revolves around it. This period was geocentric by which the proponent was Ptolemy. The

case was not the same when Copernicus tried the other way by postulating that the earth is the

one that revolves among other planets around the sun as the center of the whole solar system.

Kant’s Copernican revolution as the conformity of the object to our mind is suggesting that the

mind is active in imposing its own cognitive forms which can be determined by the structure of

human sensibility and understanding.

Central to Kant’s epistemology is that for human beings, all intuitions are given to the

mind, rather than the mind creates them by thinking. In the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant

mentions the two sources of knowledge namely sensibility and understanding. The capacity

(receptivity) to acquire representations through the way in which we are affected by objects is

called sensibility.”127 This is needed in order for the mind to be supplied with intuitions. Through

sensibility, objects are given to us. Concepts, which are products of the understanding, are the

ways in which the objects are thought. Thought can only work on objects when they are given to

sense. Sensations are considered to be subjective perceptions. Kant describes sensations as “the

effect of an object on the capacity for representation, insofar as we are affected by the object.” 128

So an object may be represented as an intuition through sensation and that intuition is called

empirical for they are through sense- experience. Considered simply as that to which an intuition

refers through sensation and not with respect to any of its specific features, the object is called

“an appearance,” or “the undetermined object of an empirical intuition.” 129 Having defined
127
Ibid., A 19=B 33.
128

Ibid., A 20=B 34.


129
Ibid.
appearance, Kant distinguishes between its matter and its form. That in the appearance which

corresponds to sensation is called matter. Generally, the matter of appearance consists of what in

the object corresponds to a “manifold” consisting of a number of sensations given to sensibility.

That which allows the manifold of appearance to be intuited as ordered in certain relations is

called the form of appearance.”130The matter of appearance must be distinct from its form for the

former is only given to us by sensation or a posteriori while the latter is some kind of thing in

which sensations are place into order.

If there is to be something in which the sensations are ordered, and it is not found in the

sensations themselves, then it must be present in the mind for there to be an experience at all.

Kant calls it pure forms of sensibility or pure intuitions.131 In this process, sensibility imposes an

a priori form upon the material object sensed – that is, a form supplied by the knower. Since the

form of sensibility is a priori, its treatment is “transcendental” rather than empirical. In this way,

the Transcendental Aesthetic is the treatment of the two a priori forms which give order to what

corresponds to our sensations in empirical intuition namely: space and time.

Both space and time are not empirical concepts.132 To argue with this claim, let us take

Hume’s theory of causation or causal concepts. According to Hume, we come to regard A as the

cause of B when A and B have been constantly conjoined in experience by the principle of

repetition, contiguity, and cause and effect. At that point the mind is so constituted that the

inevitable conclusion that reaches is that A is the cause of B. This is not the conclusion of the

given argument but only the habit of the mind. The same also with the billiard balls when ball 1

hits ball 2, the former moves and as it hits ball 2, ball 2 moves. Hume does not see the third term
130

Ibid.
131

Ibid.
132

Ibid., A 23=B 38; A 30=B 46.


between them. Causation cannot be seen in the billiard table rather it is an idea formed as a result

of constant conjunction. However, Kant recognizes in this account a fundamental and necessary

condition not addressed by Hume. Billiard ball one moves, then, billiard ball two moves. This is

what succession all about. At first, there is one even then another event. At this time, the third

term is the word “then” and it is also not on the billiard table. We cannot look at the table and see

temporality. We cannot see and feel time. That is to say, there cannot be succession and constant

conjunction unless time is present as a categorical framework for all experience. Time then is

one of the necessary preconditions for the temporal ordering of events in time itself and it is not

given in any empirical experience. It is not a stimulus that works on the sense organs. It is not

something out there that stimulates us. “Time is a necessary representation that grounds all

intuitions…therefore it is given a priori.133

Going back to Hume’s billiard table, aside from time what else is not given in

experience? If Hume refers to something as seen before him or as something presented to the

senses, the empirical claim “I see that a billiard ball is “on” the table” is acceptable. The word

“on the table” indicates that something is attached or place on a surface. The question that will

arise is: What faculty or sense do we come to experience space itself? We can agree that objects

are in space and even without those objects it is still possible to have a concept of space. But, it

would be impossible to think of objects that are not in space. Space as such is not given in

experience and it is not an object that stimulates us. Space is not empirical concept that has been

drawn from outer experiences.134 This is a definition is in a negative way or it is way of knowing

what space is not. If this is the case, what is it then? The way Kant defines space is something

“necessary representation, a priori, which the ground of all intuitions.” 135 Space then is
133
Ibid., A31=B 46.
134

Ibid., A 23=B 38.


135
something to be present for there to be experience at all. All experience presupposes spatial-

temporal framework that cannot be experienced except by way of space and time. This is also

called as the pure intuitions of space and time which becomes a necessary precondition for

something else to come about or a necessary requirement for the possibility of experience. If

space and time are the necessary preconditions for there to be any and all possible experience,

what about our understanding of the world or to any understanding at all.

When there is already a data provided by sense intuition, understanding synthesizes them.

Kant defines understanding as “the faculty for thinking of objects of sensible intuition.” 136 If

there is a pure form of sensibility by way of pure intuitions of space and time for there to be

experience, there is also a form of all understanding by way of pure categories of understanding.

In one part of the Analytic Concepts, Kant provides the framework for all understanding. He

says, “We can, however, trace all actions of the understanding back to judgments, so that the

understanding in general can be represented as a faculty for judging.”137 He asserts that in all

instances understanding involves judgments. Further, these judgments are formed within a

universal categorical framework. He also added: If we abstract from all content of a judgment in

general, and attend only to the mere form of the understanding in it, we find that the function of

thinking in that can be brought under four titles, each of which contains under itself three

moments. Here, Kant is presenting his table of the four pure categories of the understanding

namely: quantity, quality, relation, and modality. 138 In this paper, the researcher would only like

to discuss on the category of quantity and modality.

Ibid., A 24=B 38.


136

Ibid., A 51=B 75.


137

Ibid., A 69=B 94.


138
Kindly refer to the table found in A70=B95.
All qualitative judgments are based on the concept of unity, plurality, and totality. Our

judgment is singular, plural, and universal respectively. Let us take an example in an empirical

way. We can never have any trouble with our judgment based on the concept of unity, plurality,

and totality if all we have to quantify are only the fingers that we have. We can say that it is up to

ten as we count them. But we cannot get infinite series by counting for nothing about the

experience that can give us the number infinity and convey totality. Nobody can get infinite

series just by counting empirically. The understanding has this category within it which all

empirical data are ordered within the category of unity, plurality, and totality. The other category

is the modality. Kant provides three moments which are the judgments in which one regards the

assertion or denial as merely possible (problematic judgment), the judgments in which it is

considered actual (assertoric judgment), and judgments it is seen as necessary (Apodictic

judgment).139 In this three, something is either possibly the case, or it is actually the case, or it is

necessarily the case respectively. Let us consider the certainty of mathematics and logic as

generative necessary truth as what has been implied by the rationalists. In mathematics, if A is

greater than B and B is greater than C, it is necessary that A is greater than C. In the sphere of

logic, granted that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, necessarily Socrates is mortal. By

this certitude, we can infer that nothing in the world of sensible matter is what it is necessarily

for we cannot get the concept of necessity from sense-experience. The concept of a necessity is

not empirical but a pure category of the understanding. In this scheme, all judgment requires a

categorical framework necessarily. This framework is for all understanding. It would not matter

whether one is a Filipino or not. Therefore, quantity, quality, relation, and modality constitute the

necessary epistemic framework within which there can be understanding.

139

Ibid., A74-75=B 100.


We have established how Kant provides us the form of all sensibility by way of pure

intuitions of space and time and at the same time the form of all understanding by pure

categories of the understanding as the ground for his apodictic certitude in the theory of

knowledge. We have noticed of the two most important terminologies above which are

sensibility and understanding. Through sensibility, the objects which are the results of the

synthesis between what is external to us and the pure intuitions of space and time are given to the

mind as sense intuitions. Through understanding, sense intuitions are thought and when thought

works on an object it further synthesizes the date of sensation under its four categories of

understanding and the products are called concepts. For there to be knowledge at all both

sensibility and understanding must go hand in hand and without the other it is impossible to

claim that we know of something. Each is necessary in constituting knowledge for “without

sensibility objects would not be given to us, without the understanding they would not be thought

by us.”140 In this union between sensibility and understanding as a necessary requirement for

knowledge to be possible, Kant arrives at his most famous conclusion. “Thoughts without

contents are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”

After connecting some of Kant’s theory of knowledge, so now we can begin our

treatment with the highest principle of all analytical judgments. The highest principle of all

analytical judgments is the principle of non-contradiction. But this is only a conditio sine qua

non or it is only a “negative criterion of all truth”141 according to Kant. Analytic judgment is only

thinking by mean of concepts only and it is only the logic of validity. If the argument is logically

valid it does not follow that it is logically true. There is a distinction between the logic of validity

and the logic of truth. No new knowledge. Knowledge is not something analytic but synthetic.

140
Ibid., A 51=B 75.
141

Ibid., A 151=B 190.


This is Kant’s attack to rationalism. So if truth is something synthetic or which something

expands, then, what is the highest principle of all synthetical judgments? “The highest principle

of all synthetical judgment is therefore this, that every object is subject to the necessary

conditions of a synthetical unity of the manifold of intuition in a possible experience.”142 By

possible experience it could also mean the possibility of experience. Possibility of experience

means that there is an a priori condition on which the possibility of experience depends on.

Thinking alone by mean of concepts at best is valid but it is empty and therefore intuitions are

necessary for the possibility of experience. The pure intuition of space and time in sense-

experience has the possibility of experience by imposing a priori form upon the material object

sensed, that is, a form supplied by the knower. No matter how lofty our thinking when it is not

provided by intuition, it is not possible.

Going back to the original question of Kant, how is pure mathematics possible and how is pure

natural science possible, and how is metaphysics possible as science, answers have been

provided by certain revolutions. But only mathematics and physics are successful because there

is a possibility of experience. When we talk of figures such as triangles, rectangles, circles etc,

these are the sphere of mathematics. There is the possibility of experience for these figures are in

space. Also when we deal with numbers such as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, these numbers are in succession and

hence we can think of them in the framework categorical framework of time. But metaphysics

which is a “certain kind of knowledge leave the field of all possible experience, and seem to

enlarge sphere of our judgments beyond the limits of experience by means of concepts to which

experience can never supply any corresponding objects.”143 We must take note that in sensibility,

the sense only synthesizes the matter or objects of experience and certain forms in the mind. At

142
Ibid., A 158=B 197.
143
Ibid., A 2-3=B 6.
the same time in understanding as the mind continues to think, the four pure categories of

understanding only synthesize the intuitions provided by sensibility. In this case, the pure or a

priori categories of understanding cannot be applied to realities that are not given by sense-

experience. Thus, reason cannot transcend sense-experienced which in turn means that

metaphysics is impossible as a science. Metaphysics transcends space and time and so we cannot

have any knowledge of the supersensible reality for its concepts such as God, freedom and

immortality do not carry any possibility of experience. Kant therefore is criticizing the very lofty

ideas of metaphysics dogmatic rationalists because reason can never provide us any theoretical

knowledge of the supersensible reality. To insist that reason can do so will just end up in the

antinomy of pure reason. An antinomy arises when each of two contradictory propositions can be

proved.144

Since we can only have knowledge in so far as there is cooperation and union between

sensibility and understanding, Kant distinguishes between phenomena and noumena.

Appearances, in so far as they are thought of as objects according to the unity of the categories,

are called phenomena.145 Our knowledge is only limited because our senses do not perceive

things-in-selves but only the objects that appear to us. We can know only the phenomena but not

in the case of the noumena. So no matter how deeply we tried to know the things in themselves

we can only know the things as it appears to us. All knowledge is always the knowledge of the

phenomena which are both intuitively and conceptually. But this does not mean that the topics of

metaphysics which can be considered as noumena are unthinkable. There can be thought and

there is no wrong in thinking them but the point is we cannot have an exact and objective

knowledge about them. In this case, Kant elevated the topics of metaphysics such as God,
144

Copleston, A History of Philosophy. Volume VI, 286.


145

Ibid., A 248.
freedom and immortality into not just a mere concepts like the rests but they are Ideas which is

reserved to the mind not ours. But even the reservation of the noumena to the mind which is not

ours is still not a determined conclusion. Thus, for Kant questions of God, freedom, and

immortality are left as a matter of faith. He concludes, “Thus I had to deny knowledge in order to

make room for faith.”146

What does reason achieves is only the act of critical examination of the very forms of

rationality that could not possibly be provided by experience and in so doing it opens the

condition of the possibility of scientific knowledge. By the critical examination of reason itself,

the researcher concludes that Kant was able to complete the problems of knowledge in modern

philosophy which had been started by Descartes and at the same time Kant was able to finish the

very original project of Locke which was to know the origin, certitude and extent of human

knowledge.

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