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Omri Boehm

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Boehm, Omri.
Kant’s critique of Spinoza / Omri Boehm.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978–0–19–935480–1 (alk. paper)
1. Kant, Immanuel, 1724–1804. 2. Spinoza, Benedictus de, 1632–1677. I. Title.
B2798.B648 2014

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

For my grandmother, Shoshana Boehm
A human language may let the Infinite speak to himself thus,
“I am from eternity to eternity, besides me there is nothing, some-
thing is but only insofar as it is through me.” This thought, the
most sublime of any, is yet much neglected.
Kant, The One Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the Existence of God

[I]f the ideality of space and time is not adopted, nothing remains
but Spinozism.
Kant, Critique of Practical Reason

If the world were not something that, practically expressed, ought

not to be, it would also not be theoretically a problem. On the
contrary, its existence would require no explanation at all.  .  .  .
Therefore, if anyone ventures to raise the question why there is
not nothing at all rather than this world, then the world cannot be
justified from itself.
Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation


1. The One Possible Basis, the Ideal of Pure Reason
and Kant’s Regulative Spinozism 15
2. The First Antinomy and Spinoza 68
3. The Third Antinomy and Spinoza 108
4. The Causa Sui and the Ontological Argument, or
the Principle of Sufficient Reason and the Is-Ought
5. R adical Enlightenment, The Pantheismusstreit, and a
Change of Tone in the Critique of Pure Reason190


The term “nihilism” is most often associated with Nietzsche, but
it dates back to the last days of the Enlightenment. It was coined
by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, who had argued that philosophy
in general—and Enlightenment rationalism in particular—
necessarily culminates in the ethical position prescribed by
Spinoza’s Ethics.1 That this is indeed a necessary outcome of En-
lightenment rationalism is one thesis that the present study will
call into question; that nihilism was its outcome is a fact that
today can hardly be doubted. Spinoza’s seventeenth-century
position is not altogether different from our Nietzschean own:
two hundred years before Nietzsche, it was Spinoza who argued
that it is deluded to think that we ever “desire anything because
we judge it to be good”; in fact, he wrote, “we judge something
to be good” because we “desire it” (E IIIp9s). It should not be
surprising that Nietzsche found in the Jew from Amsterdam a
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kindred spirit. The differences between their philosophies, Ni-

etzsche observed, are due mostly to differences of “time, culture
and science”:

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

that I should have turned to him just now, was inspired by “in-
stinct.” Not only is his overall tendency like mine—making
knowledge the most powerful affect—but in five main points of
his doctrine I recognize myself; this most unusual and loneliest
thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies the
freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world order, the unego-
istic, and evil. Even though the divergencies are admittedly tre-
mendous, they are due more to the difference in time, culture,
and science. In summa: my lonesomeness, which, as on very
high mountains, often made it hard for me to breathe and made
my blood rush out, is now at least a twosomeness. Strange.2

What precisely in Enlightenment rationalism entails Spinozist
nihilism? Determinism or necessitarianism—that is, a denial of
freedom—immediately comes to mind, but this may be too quick.
First, because it is not obvious that determinism or necessitarian-
ism excludes freedom (think of Leibnizian or of Spinozist com-
patibilism); and second, because it is not immediately clear that or
in what way freedom is a necessary condition of value (one could
think, perhaps, of a perfectly determined teleological order). En-
lightenment rationalism entails nihilism to the extent that it deems
appropriate only blind, mechanical conceptions of nature. If what
exists is the result of what precedes it, and what precedes it has no
relation to some separate (“transcendent”) non-accidental good,

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talk of value is relativized to some anchor within the world. How-

ever, if ex hypothesi everything within the world is an accidental
consequence of blind causality, any anchor can only be as good as
any other. Talk of value thus becomes either consciously fictional
(a noble lie, perhaps) or meaningless. The point is this: if all value
is arbitrarily fixed in relation to some anchor, x, there is no reason
not to fix value to non-x. Talk of value then becomes, as Stanley
Rosen writes, “indistinguishable from silence.”3 From a Kantian
point of view, the significant point to notice is that this conclusion
doesn’t seem much affected if one substitutes x by “reason,” “ratio-
nal beings,” or something of the sort.
Arguably, the most consistent mechanistic position, in which
everything is (supposed to be) accounted for by a mechanical-­
naturalistic explanation, is Spinozist. For some form of Spinozism
seems to be required in order to make conceivable by “blind” con-
siderations not merely everything within the world but also the
existence of the world itself.4 This is not to deny, of course, that
one could hold such a position before 1677: Epicurus or Lucre-
tius can be regarded as Spinozists, just as Spinoza can be regarded
as an Epicurean (Kant, who was fond of Lucretius, certainly saw
this continuity—).5 This Spinozist conception of nature was ulti-
mately unrivaled in its influence on the political and ethical con-
sequences of the Enlightenment.6 For a thoroughly mechanistic
conception of nature had to be instilled in order for Enlighten-
ment values as we know them—values fixed in relation to life in
this world—to become the ethical basis of society. An Immanent-
mechanistic conception of nature had to undermine religious and
broadly teleological conceptions in order for individual happiness
in this life—worldly pleasure, even—to become the standard
of value. However, and this is just the point, if life in this world
is a product of blind causality—as most rationalists today still

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believe—individual happiness in this world cannot be regarded a

non-arbitrary anchor of “value that has value.” This is the root of
nihilism in Spinoza: the reason why the Enlightenment is also as-
sociated with the vulgarity of de Sade or of Nietzsche’s “last man”;
the reason why the third Reich is sometimes counted among its
consequences. When in the following I argue that Kant criticizes
Spinoza’s position, I hope to show that he criticizes a position that
has become very much our own.

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

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are cre-

ated equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness.

What grounds the self-evidence of these truths? The answer is

found in the Declaration of Independence’s preceding lines, ap-
pealing to the “station” to which all men are “entitled” by the “Laws
of Nature” and “Nature’s God.” Thus in order to grant as self-
evident the truths announced by the Founding Fathers one must
hold a conception of nature similar to that of Locke. There seems
to be a way in which, as Jeremy Waldron has recently argued, a reli-
gious understanding of the world is not only compatible with—but

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a necessary condition of—modern liberalism.7 Waldron’s argu-

ment, roughly, is a version of the arbitrary anchoring problem pre-
sented above: in order to regard members of a certain group as
sharing equal rights, Waldron says, it is necessary to regard these
members not only as equal among themselves but also as being
“more equal” than what (or who) falls outside the group. However,
without relying on some teleological conception of nature, it is in
principle impossible to draw the boundaries of such a group: for
lack of teleology one must extend the group of equals such that it
ranges over everything, leaving meaningful talk of rights behind.8
Some, perhaps out of politeness, have described Waldron’s argu-
ment a “salutary” indication that there is an “integral relationship”
between liberalism and religious faith.9 But Waldron himself is less
interested in relieving the tension between liberalism and religion
than in exposing liberalism’s grave inconsistency. Anyone claim-
ing to be an atheist liberal, he writes, is in fact “taking advantage
of a tradition that he pretended to repudiate.”10 It seems clear that
what Waldron says about rights is equally true about value, for the
simple reason that the possibility of value inherently depends on
the existence of hierarchies.
Needless to say, if this argument is supposed to convince sec-
ular thinkers to accept faith, it is rather unsatisfactory. Secular
thinkers refuse religious positions like Locke’s not merely because
they are averse to their “religiousness.” Nor do they refuse reli-
gious positions merely because they recognize in them a radically
illiberal potential. Secular liberals refuse Locke’s position or any
other asserting divine intent because they cannot but deem such
positions irrational. This in turn aggravates their—or rather our—
predicament: if one stands in matters of reason and faith closer to
Spinoza than to Locke, one cannot too easily get around Waldron’s
challenge. One must admit that far from being self-evident, those

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truths declared by the Founding Fathers are de facto assumed to be

false. Leo Strauss, in Natural Right and History, writes:

The majority among the learned who still adhere to the prin-
ciples of the Declaration of Independence interpret these prin-
ciples not as expressions of natural right but as an ideal, if not
as an ideology or myth. Present-day American social science,
as far as it is not Roman Catholic social science, is dedicated
to the proposition that all men are endowed by the evolution-
ary process by a mysterious fate with many kinds of urges and
aspirations, but certainly with no natural right.11

The problem more generally is the value/fact distinction. Under a
teleological conception of nature, it could be meaningful, perhaps,
to speak of moral or normative facts. Under a mechanical concep-
tion, talk of values as matters of fact must be doomed from the
start. Wittgenstein presents a clear articulation of this in 6.4–6.5
in the Tractatus. In 6.41, he famously writes:

The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world
everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen:
in it no value exists—and if it did exist, it would have no value.

If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the
whole sphere of what happens and is the case. For all that hap-
pens and is the case is accidental.

What makes it non-accidental cannot lie within the world,

since if it did it would itself be accidental.

It must lie outside the world.12

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Of course, for Wittgenstein it is not merely the case that every-

thing within the world is accidental; he also holds that talk of what
lies outside the world is meaningless. The upshot is that all mean-
ingful propositions are of “equal value,” hence that “ethics cannot
be put into words.”13
When present-day ethicists aspire to go beyond this decree, they
usually insist on fixing value in relation to anchors that could be re-
garded as worldly facts—most often some (basic) human needs and
interests. The motivation behind this approach, I think, is to elimi-
nate reference to what are considered dubious religious or meta-
physical (“transcendent”) ideas. But it must be admitted that the
value of these needs and interests—whether one is a Mill or a Rawls
makes no difference here—must itself be regarded as null. Unless
one has reasons to believe that human beings, or rationality as such,
are purposive to some non-accidental good, any anchor of value is
as good as human needs and desires. Because this is where post- and
anti-metaphysical thinkers turn a deaf ear, their theories are likely
to come out as nihilistic as Nietzsche’s or Spinoza’s. Without justify-
ing the assumption that humanity or rationality is of non-accidental
value—an assumption, again, that most modern rationalists posi-
tively reject—there is nothing less cynical in Rawls’s or Habermas’s
positions than in Spinoza’s conclusion that we judge as good what
we desire. Indeed, their theories become manifestations of doing
just that.14 The problem, for Kantians, is the following. Kant’s Cat-
egorical Imperative relativizes value to what is rationally desired.
To that extent, it is in agreement with Spinoza’s Nietzschean claim
that we judge to be good what we desire (rather than desire what we
judge to be good). The only meaningful difference between Kantian
ethics—insofar as it doesn’t merely pretend to be normative—and
a Nietzschean ethics of the will to power can be in the metaphysical
background of the former. Only the Kantian insistence on dualism

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and transcendence, on positing reason itself outside nature, and on

viewing it as in some sense teleological, that is, the product of non-
accidental good, allow Kantians to claim in good faith that there’s a
meaningful difference between rational will and desire.

The problem of justifying morality is sometimes discussed in the lit-
erature as the problem of “what could be said” to a moral skeptic.
Bernard Williams describes the problem like this: “when an amor-
alist calls ethical considerations into doubt, and suggests that there
is no reason to follow the requirements of morality, what can we say
to him?”15 According to Williams, the problem is in fact that of jus-
tifying rationality itself: when properly understood, the question is
not so much whether there is a rational justification of morality that
could be presented to the moral skeptic; it is rather what we could
tell the moral skeptic, even assuming that there is such a justification.
Why should he listen?16 Suppose, Williams says, that there is an ar-
gument that can count as a justification (or even a proof) of morality:
Does it follow that an amoralist ought to be convinced by it? Can one
show that the amoralist is “being imprudent” in some fundamental
way, or that he is “contradicting himself or going against the rules of
logic?” And if so, “why should he worry about that?” asks Williams.17
Robert Nozick gives a similar articulation of the problem:

Suppose that we show that some X he [the immoral man] holds

or accepts or does commits him to behaving morally. He now
must give up at least one of the following: (a) behaving immor-
ally, (b) maintaining X, (c) being consistent about this matter
in this respect. The immoral man tells us, “To tell you the truth,
if I had to make the choice, I would give up being consistent.”18

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Such an approach to the problem seems to me off the mark. The

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

Weary of simplification, and even more afraid of sounding

sappy, the left tends to reject not only words like true and
noble, but even words like legitimate and progress, which were
meant to replace them. If used at all, such words are subject

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to quotation marks—sometimes called scare quotes—that

express the speaker’s discomfort in the ultimate postmodern
gesture, fingers wiggling beside ears in a little dance that says:
I can use it, but I don’t go so far as to mean it, and it all matters so
little anyway I can make myself look silly to boot. What matters is
putting a distance between you and your beliefs.19

Quotation marks are used not only with true and noble but also
with good. Their function is to relieve moralist speakers from the
(by now almost internalized) inconsistency involved in using nor-
mative vocabulary.

If nihilism in its postmodern form has roots in Spinozist rational-
ism, Kant’s critical position can be read as a conscious attempt to
answer that challenge. His answer operates in two main stages,
which can be understood in light of the assertion, “I found it neces-
sary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith” (Bxxx).20
This is one of the most famous sentences in Kant’s Werke; what
exactly does it mean? First, why is it necessary to deny knowledge?
The sentence implies that Kant does not consider the metaphysi-
cal position of moderate Enlightenment ­thinkers—specifically,
of the Leibnizo-Wolffian school, which strove to preserve the
compatibilism of rationalism and value—a satisfactory alter-
native to the radical and Spinozist position. 21 I will argue that
Kant’s critique of reason—which to a large part consists in a cri-
tique of the Principle of Sufficient Reason—is carried out as an
attack on a Spinozist, necessitarian position. If successful, Kant
would show that a mechanistic conception of nature cannot be
regarded as a thorough description of everything real: everything

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in the phenomenal world needs to be understood by mechanical

causality—­what is articulated by the deconstructed Principle of
Sufficient Reason, that is, by the Second Analogy of Experience—
but phenomenal reality is only a part of the picture. This part does
not necessarily include all that there is, and it does not include all
that is important. Nor is it the limit of what can meaningfully be
spoken about.
For, as Kant says, the denial of knowledge was necessary to
“make room for faith.” What is the meaning of this part of the
sentence? I think many Kantians prefer to read Kant as saying,
“I found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room
for freedom.” But while this approach is obviously not mistaken,
it does no justice to the fact that Kant says faith (Glaube). Is he
expressing himself in this way only to appease, say, those read-
ers and critics concerned by the refutation of the ontological ar-
gument? Or is faith inherently important for Kant as a critical
­philosopher—as a rationalist even—who seeks to contest nihil-
ism? Arguably, freedom (or autonomy) is not sufficient to estab-
lish moral value. As pointed out above, even if we suppose that one
acts on the basis of rational maxims, there is still little meaning to
this if rationality is itself considered the product of blind causal-
ity. There are two related problems here, and Kant was conscious
of both. The first was alluded to above: suppose it can be shown
that rational-autonomous beings have to behave in a certain way,
which most of us would recognize as moral. Morality here would
still be valueless if the existence of rational beings is meaningless.
Under such circumstance, Kant writes, autonomous beings would
behave morally until

one vast tomb engulfs them one and all (honest or not, that
makes no difference here) and hurls them, who managed to

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believe they were the final purpose of creation, back into the
abyss of the purposeless chaos of matter from which they were

“Who managed to believe they were the final purpose of creation”:

rational beings can’t be regarded as ends in themselves without
some sort of teleology; a teleological order is required to give
meaning to Kantian ethics. However, given that no scientific te-
leological conception of nature is available to us, as it was available
to Aristotle, some form of faith in teleology—one at least compat-
ible with non-teleological science—is required.23
There is a second related problem here. Kant famously insists
that moral worth can be evaluated only on the basis of intentions,
an insight he articulated in the Categorical Imperative. It does not
follow from this, however, and it is not true, that for Kant ethics can
be done on the basis of this moral law alone. As Kant repeatedly
argues, whereas that law captures only intentions, human beings
are necessarily interested in the meaningful outcome of their moral
conduct. There is an apparent tension here, but Kant is obviously
right: one cannot have good intentions without being interested
in the outcome; it is senseless to aspire to act morally without
hoping by that intention to bring about meaningful progress in
the world, corresponding to the intention. However, conceiving
such meaningful outcomes as consequences of moral intentions
is possible only under a certain teleological conception of nature.
First, because only under such a conception is it meaningful to talk
about value (this is just the point considered above); and second,
because only in such a framework is it possible to imagine a cor-
respondence between moral intentions and consequences in the
world. Therefore, if one accepts as legitimate only non-teleological
explanations of nature (i.e., non-teleological science) one can only

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accept teleology on the basis of some kind of faith. One way or an-
other, faith, as Kant himself recognized, is a necessary condition of
Kantian and rational ethics.

But in this light, the task of Kantian ethical thought is not so much
to articulate versions of the Categorical Imperative that are, on
their own, of little value. Kant will emerge as an infinitely more
significant ethical thinker if he can help us overcome the mean-
inglessness of the Categorical Imperative—if he can convince us
that it is because we are rational and not despite our rationality that
we can have faith in a type of framework required for morality.24
Readers of Kant are likely to recognize in this line of reason-
ing the traces of the Critique of Practical Reason’s Postulatenlehre.
It is true that this doctrine is relevant here, but as it stands it is
hardly satisfactory and does not represent Kant’s mature account
of faith.25 Kant’s elaborate conception of faith is provided in the
Critique of Judgment, where he defends a kind of experience that
could support belief in what had been, in the second Critique,
only postulated (more below). It is also in the Critique of Judgment
that Kant considers the consequences of acting on the basis of the
moral law without recognizing the necessity of faith. In a passage,
part of which was quoted earlier, he invites us to consider

the case of a righteous man (Spinoza, for example) who actively

reveres the moral law [but] who remains firmly persuaded that
there is no God . . . how will he judge his own inner destination
to a purpose, [imposed] by the moral law? He does not require
that complying with that law should bring him an advantage,
either in this world or in another: rather, he is unselfish and

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wants only to bring about the good to which that sacred law di-
rects all his forces. Yet his effort [encounters] limits: For while
he can expect that nature would now and then cooperate con-
tingently with the purpose of his that he feels so obligated and
impelled to achieve, he can never expect nature to harmonize
with it in a way governed by laws and permanent rules (such
as his inner maxims are and must be). Deceit, violence and
envy will always be rife around him, even though he himself
is honest, peaceful, and benevolent. Moreover, as concerns the
other righteous people he meets: no matter how worthy of hap-
piness they may be, nature, which pays no attention to that,
will still subject them to all the evils of deprivation, disease,
and untimely death, just like all the other animals on the earth.
And they will stay subjected to these evils always, until one
vast tomb engulfs them one and all (honest or not, that makes
no difference here) and hurls them, who managed to believe
they were the final purpose of creation, back into the abyss of
the purposeless chaos of matter from which they were taken.
And so this well-meaning person would indeed have to give up
as impossible the purpose that the moral laws obliged him to
have before his eyes, and that in compliance with them he did
have before his eyes. 26

We may say that the situation facing most modern ethicists—­

current post-metaphysical Kantian ethicists included—is the
situation that Kant here ascribes to Spinoza. Their theories for-
mulate versions of the moral law, but their position on matters of
metaphysics (in the broadest sense of the term) forces them, in
the final analysis, to give up the meaning of their theories. Kant
might be equipped to answer that challenge if he can convince us
(as he tries) not only that practical reasoning is not reducible to

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theoretical, but also that faith can be taken seriously as a condition

of ethics. This, more than any other reason, is why Kant’s thought
should be studied as an answer to Spinoza: no philosopher strived
like Spinoza to reduce practical reason and faith to theoretical rea-
soning; indeed, this is why his geometrical metaphysics is called
the Ethics, why Substance is dubbed “God.” Kant attempts to put
that Spinozist picture on its head: neither practical reasoning nor
faith are reducible to theoretical reasoning; ultimately, in fact, he
would argue that theoretical reasoning is grounded in practical
reason. Needless to say, Kant was not the first or only thinker of the
time to attempt to answer Spinoza. In fact, most Enlightenment
philosophers of ambition explicitly strived to answer Spinozism—
consider Leibniz, Hume, Wolff, and Mendelssohn (among other
things, this list speaks against the assumption that Spinoza was a
“dead dog”).27 The question is whether Kant’s answer is more suc-
cessful than theirs. For at least in Kant’s own judgment, if his own
philosophy is rejected, “nothing remains but Spinozism.”28
Jonathan Israel recently observed that throughout his “pre-
critical phase as well as in many passages of the Critique” Kant con-
ducted a kind of “silent war against Spinoza (something modern
Kant specialists are often curiously blind to).”29 In a way, this goes
in the right direction. Yet Israel does not substantiate his con-
troversial claim with a detailed discussion of any passages from
the Critique or from Kant’s pre-critical work; and he ultimately
misunderstands, I believe, the significance of Spinozism and of
Kant’s confrontation with it—Kant’s confrontation with the radi-
cal Enlightenment. On Israel’s account, Kant’s career-long war on
Spinoza is exemplary of “moderate” Enlightenment thinking: the
critical project is the ultimate defense of the conservative systems
of value, ones infected with Christian dualism, faith in teleology,
and even racism. 30 (Post-structuralist literature often portrays

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Kant, and his relation to Spinozism, in a similar light.)31 We will

see, however, that the pre-critical Kant did not conduct a war on
Spinozism; on the contrary, it is likely that he himself was a Spi-
nozist, very much within that clandestine radical trend so power-
fully discussed by Israel. The war that Kant indeed conducts on
Spinoza in the Critique of Pure Reason and elsewhere in the critical
writings can, in this light, hardly be regarded a defense of mod-
erate, reactionary Enlightenment ideas. Perhaps one way to see
that Kant’s mature thinking simply doesn’t fit into the “moderate-
Enlightenment” category is simply to recall his 1784 definition of
Enlightenment. “Enlightenment,” he writes, “is man’s emergence
from his self-imposed immaturity”; immaturity, he adds, is “the
inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of
another.”32 The definition seems routine, but it is not. To properly
understand Kant’s point in rejecting “the guidance of another”
we must notice its continuity with Spinoza’s rejection of proph-
ets in the Theological-Political Treatise. Indeed, the Spinozist radi-
cal Enlightenment quite literally begins by defining prophecy and
rejecting prophets—those who, on Spinoza’s definition, interpret
things “to those who cannot themselves achieve certain knowledge
of them.”33 Now perhaps the defining difference between so-called
moderate and so-called radical Enlightenment thinking is that the
former accepts prophecy (revelation) and reason, while the latter
rejects prophecy and accepts reason exclusively. Accordingly,
Kant’s very definition of Enlightenment—which would seem to
consist in rejecting revelation—would seem to place him well
within the radical Enlightenment of the Theological-Political Trea-
tise. But still, Kant certainly was not joking when he said he found
it necessary to deny knowledge to “make room for faith.” This
shows that the radical/moderate categories don’t—or no longer—
fit. Kant, who seems to have been sympathetic to Spinozism in

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his earlier, pre-critical days, is confronting in the critical period

the inherent nihilist potential he detected in radical rationalist
thought. He seems to have realized, much before Jacobi started
a scandal, that Spinozist metaphysics soon leads from radical- to
anti-­Enlightenment thinking.

This part of Kant’s response to the problem of the Enlightenment
and modernity often remains overlooked. 34 Strauss, for example,
whose History and Natural Right is an attempt to understand
nihilism’s origins (Strauss describes the problem as the “crisis
of modernity” and equates it with the emptiness of the term
“natural right”), deals neither with Spinoza nor with Kant—­
certainly not with Kant’s critique of Spinoza. “The fundamental
dilemma in whose grip we are,” Strauss writes in the introduc-
tion, “is caused by the victory of [mechanical] natural science.
An adequate solution to the problem of natural right cannot be
found before this basic problem has been resolved.”35 He moves
on to discuss the problem as it emerges in the thought of Hobbes,
Locke, Machiavelli, and Burke, concluding with a discussion of
Rousseau’s (for Strauss ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to re-
solve it. The fact that there is no serious confrontation with Spi-
noza is most likely due to Strauss’s (by now outdated) assumption
that his impact on the Enlightenment was insignificant compared
to the philosophers just mentioned. But the fact that Strauss con-
cludes the book with a chapter on Rousseau’s rethinking of the
term “nature” is harder to make sense of. For whereas Strauss had
correctly realized that the “crisis of modernity” emerges from the
impact of a mechanical worldview on ethical thought, he fails to
see that Kant—arguably an important player in the development

Pr efac e

of modern philosophy—confronts the Enlightenment precisely

on that issue. 36
Another case in point is Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic
of Enlightenment. 37 In an influential chapter on Kant and de Sade,
“Juliette, or Enlightenment and Morality,” they argue that Kant’s
thought represents the climax of Enlightenment morality, in which
formal systematicity replaces, and stands for, the only meaningful
value. 38 Because Kant’s conception of value is merely formal, they
argue—and because his Enlightenment rationalism dictates that
any “substantial goal” that might be adduced to the mere formal
conception be regarded a transcendent-religious “delusion”—
Kant’s concept of reason in the final analysis can only be put to the
service of individual pleasures and personal interests.39 According
to Horkheimer and Adorno, the Marquis de Sade’s life and works
embody the consequences of this position: the meaninglessness of
sin, the idea that reason is to serve personal interests and pleasure,
and, most of all, the elevation of systematicity as the greatest value
because it is the greatest pleasure.40
This reading of Kant is founded on a crude understanding
of the term “Enlightenment” and on a partial understanding of
Kant’s reaction to it. Horkheimer and Adorno put much effort
into showing the continuity between Kant and de Sade but fail
to observe the fact that de Sade, an author of clear philosophical
ambitions, was consciously influenced by Spinoza. His valoriza-
tion of systematicity, his subjection of reason to personal inter-
est, and his bold discounting of sin are arguably consequences of
that influence.41 These elements of de Sade’s thought can only be
superficially connected to Kant, who went to great pains to avoid
these consequences precisely. In Horkheimer and Adorno’s read-
ing, the difference between Kant’s ethical thought and Spinoza’s
are blurred.

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The reason behind this partial reading is not far to seek. Hork-
heimer and Adorno’s Marxist perspective is one in which Kant’s
discussion of faith is bound to be treated as it was treated by Hein-
rich Heine. (As is well-known, Heine suggested that Kant intro-
duced faith and God in his thinking only because he had pity on
his servant, old Lampe, who “had to have a God.”) And, of course,
one need not be a Marxist interpreter of Kant in order to overlook
or severely downplay this element of Kant’s thought: it is fair to say
that most secular Kantian ethicists have de facto accepted Heine’s
approach. However, if Heine was right, the differences between
Kantian ethics and Nietzschean ethics of will to power become in-
significant. If Heine was right, then Kant, just like Spinoza, relativ-
izes the good to the merely desired. To understand Kant’s position
as a genuine alternative to such ethics—and to be able to consider
this Kantian alternative as a genuine possibility for us—we must
be willing to take seriously the project of denying knowledge in
making room for faith. Historically speaking, this means that we
must come to terms with Kant’s answer to Spinoza and Spinozism.


1. It is sometimes overlooked that Jacobi first used the term only in 1799,
referring to Fichte’s position (see Jacobi’s “Brief an Fichte,” in Appelation
an das Publikum. Dokumente zum Atheismusstreit [Leipzig: Reclam, 1987],
pp. 153–167). There is little room for doubt, however, that Jacobi’s conclu-
sion that philosophy as such is Spinozist (and hence pantheist, fatalist, and
atheist) is the origin of his use of the term “nihilism.”
2. See F. Nietzsche’s postcard to Overbeck (July 1881) in The Portable Ni-
etzsche, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 92.
The similarities between Nietzsche’s position and Spinoza’s are discussed
by G.  Deleuze in his Spinoza: Philosophie pratique (Paris: Les Éditions
de Minuit, 2003). See also R. Sigad, Truth as Tragedy (Jerusalem: Bialik
Institute, 1990), pp. 13–124. More recently, M. Della Rocca discusses

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Nietzsche’s conflicted relation to Spinoza in Spinoza (New York: Rout-

ledge, 2008), pp. 292–303.
3. S. Rosen, Nihilism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), p. xiii.
4. Recent Spinoza scholars tend to emphasize that Spinoza does not deny te-
leology—that he denies only that nature as a whole is teleological (see, for
example, M. Lin, “Teleology and Human Action in Spinoza,” Philosophical
Review 115:3 (2006), pp. 317–354; D. Garrett, “Teleology in Spinoza and
Early Modern Philosophy,” in New Essays on the Rationalists, ed. R. Genn-
aro and C. Huenemann [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999], pp. 310–
335). In fact, Kant, as far as I can tell, is among the first to insist on this
interpretation of Spinoza (see especially KU AA 5:391–394). For present
concerns, however, Spinoza’s acceptance of (“thoughtful”/“unthoughtful”)
teleology within nature makes no difference. For there is no doubt that
Spinoza denies teleology and goal-directed action in relation to some non-
relative good, a source of value. (In fact, if anything, goal-directed action
in Spinoza is a source of negative value insofar as it is based on inadequate
5. Kant brings a quote from Lucretius as the motto of The One Possible Basis
for a Demonstration of the Existence of God, BDG AA 02:65. He recognizes
the continuity (and importantly also the differences) between Spinoza and
Epicurus in KU AA 5:391. In the following I will at least try to distinguish
between Spinoza’s position and Spinozist positions. The latter I understand,
roughly speaking, as positions that can be identified as substance monistic
or with the consequences of substance monism.
6. J. Israel in Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity
1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). See also I. O. Wade,
The Clandestine Organization and Diffusion of Philosophic Ideas in France
from 1700 to 1750 (New York: Octagon Books, 1967); and P. Vernière, Spi-
noza et la pensée française avant la Révolution (Paris: Presses universitaires
de France, 1954).
7. J. Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke’s Politi-
cal Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
8. Ibid, esp. chap. 3.
9. N. Stolzenberg and G. Yaffe, “Waldron’s Locke and Locke’s Waldron:
A  Review of Jeremy Waldron’s God, Locke, and Equality,” Inquiry 49:2
(2006), p. 186.
10. Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality, p. 227
11. L. Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1965), p. 2.
12. L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge, 2008),
p. 86.
13. Ibid.

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14. In Rawls, this is clear from his attempt to give legitimacy arguments from
such notions as “primary social goods” (which are nothing but conditions
of human well-being, i.e., reducible to basic human interests); and more
significantly, from his understanding of rationality as a type of prudential
decision making, understood by the lights of decision theory (which itself
assumes, one way or another, self-interestedness). For a discussion of Raw-
ls’s position on this, see O. Höffe, Categorical Principles of Law (University
Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press), p.215–232.
15. B. Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press), p. 22.
16. Ibid., p. 23.
17. Ibid.
18. R. Nozick, Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer-
sity Press, 1981), p. 408.
19. Susan Neiman, Moral Clarity (New York: Harcourt, 2008), p. 18. What
Neiman here calls “the left” should be a group close enough to what I have
been referring to as “secular liberals.”
2 0. Note that Kant never makes this (or a similar) assertion in the opening lines
of the 1781 A-edition. A bold assertion that saving faith and freedom is one
of the Critique’s main goals is first made in the B-edition. I discuss this point
at length in Chapter 5.
21. For the distinction between radical and moderate Enlightenment, see Is-
rael’s Radical Enlightenment.
22. KU AA 5:452.
23. In the most obvious way, this is clear from Kant’s talk of persons being ends
in themselves (e.g., GMS 4:428f.) and, as such, as the final purpose of cre-
ation (KU 5: 435–443). C. Korsgaard, who stresses the centrality of the
“formula of humanity,” certainly notices the indispensable role teleology
assumes here (see, for example, her Creating the Kingdom of Ends [Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], pp. 110–132.). Our rational
action, she argues—given that we are the final purpose of creation—has
“value conferring status.” However, I am not sure that Korsgaard gives due
recognition—let alone is willing to defend—the metaphysical picture that
is accordingly necessary to take a Kantian position seriously. Precisely be-
cause that picture is metaphysical but cannot be accepted on theoretical
grounds, treating humanity as value conferring requires belief in teleol-
ogy and faith in what makes such teleology possible. Korsgaard is aware of
this, for in another essay, comparing Aristotle and Kant, she points out that
whereas for the former teleology was a part of science, for the latter it is a
matter of “religious faith” (Creating the Kingdom of Ends, p. 245). But when
discussing Kant’s humanity formula, the fact that faith is a necessary condi-
tion of making sense of that formula goes unmentioned. In fact, Korsgaard’s

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ultimate conclusion is that according to Kant, “even the justification of

nature is up to us” (p. 131). While this seems, strictly speaking, right, to the
extent that it suggests that we are sufficient to confer value on nature, it is
2 4. John Hare presents a very relevant discussion in The Moral Gap: Kantian
Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1996). However, Hare’s discussion is consciously written from the
perspective of “traditional Christianity” (p. 1). In this sense it is not de-
signed to address the problem of nihilism from the position of those who,
like myself, consider themselves secular rationalists (in a broad sense of the
25. See E. Förster: “Die Wandlungen in Kants Gotteslehre,” Zeitschrift für phi-
losophische Forschung 52:3 (1998), pp. 341–362.
2 6. KU AA 5:452.
27. Indeed, many think that unlike these philosophers, Kant was never genu-
inely interested in Spinoza. I discuss the reasons for this below.
2 8. KpV AA 5:102. Note that despite the fact that in this passage Kant seems to
have theoretical concerns in mind (he speaks of transcendental idealism’s
conception of space and time, as opposed to Spinoza’s) it is not a coinci-
dence that it appears in the Critique of Practical Reason. When Kant speaks
of Spinozism being the only alternative to transcendental idealism he cer-
tainly has in mind the ethical conclusions of a Spinozist position.
29. Jonathan Israel, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and
Human Rights 1750–1790 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 707.
30. Ibid. Several authors hold a similar understanding of Kant’s position. See,
e.g., M. Mack’s Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity (New York: Contin-
uum, 2010).
31. Hippler, T. (2011). “The Politics of Imagination: Spinoza and the Origins of
Critical Theory,” in The Politics of Imagination, pp. 55–72.
32. WA AA 8:35.
33. TTP 3, 15.
3 4. I will not offer here a survey of relevant examples, but Alasdair Ma-
cIntyre’s claim that there are only two ethical alternatives—Nietzsche’s or
Aristotle’s—­has to be mentioned. MacIntyre’s position does not do justice
to Kant’s struggle with Spinoza’s (Nietzschean) position—his Hegelian
reading of Kant’s Categorical Imperative overlooks the role of teleology
in Kant’s ethical thought. (Perhaps when brought to see this, MacIntyre
would answer that this simply posits Kant on the side of Aristotle.)
35. Strauss, History and Natural Right, p. 8.
36. Strauss’s failure to consider Spinoza and Kant in this context is all the more
puzzling because one could think that his interest in the “crisis of moder-
nity” emerged from his occupation with the Pantheismusstreit. As far as

Pr efac e

I know, Strauss is the first to have written extensively about the Streit (in
a book-length introduction that he wrote to Mendelssohn’s Schriften, of
which he was the editor). Strauss also wrote his dissertation on Jacobi, and
his first book was Spinoza’s Critique of Religion.
37. M. Horkheimer and T. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (London: Verso,
38. Ibid., pp. 80–119. This interpretation has become commonplace. Jacques
Lacan and Slavoi Zizek followed up with articles on the topic, and David
Martin wrote a book about it (Sublime Failures: The Ethics of Kant and de
Sade [Detroit: Wayne University Press, 2003].)
39. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 87.
4 0. Recall, for example, the mathematical construction of Sade’s 120 Days of
Sodom. A helpful analysis of Horkheimer and Adorno’s comparison be-
tween de Sade and Kant is given by Carlo Accetti, “Kant et Sade,” Raisons
Politiques 33:1 (2009), pp. 149–169.
41. For an account of the similarities and the differences, see T. Kuhnle:
“Une anthropologie de l’ultime consommateur: Quelques réflexions sur
le spinozisme du Marquis de Sade,” in French Studies in Southern Africa 37
(2007), pp. 88–107.


My work has benefited from the help of many good friends. Jörg
Fingerhut and Alex Kirshner read drafts of chapters; Dan Avi
Landau provided invaluable advice (he was right about every-
thing); Anat Schechtman, John Bengsohn, and Gilad Tanay il-
luminated, each in her or his own way, numerous perspectives of
which I was unaware when first conceiving the project; and Rocco
Rubini constantly inspired me to read in different ways. Ulrika
Carlsson influenced my thinking both personally and philosophi-
cally, among other things by her refusal to recognize a difference
between the two. My parents, Eti and Amnon Boehm, provided
constant ear and support along the way. I was especially fortunate
to have met Inbal Hever just upon completing the manuscript, and
to have spent the last stages of revision in her company.
Several experts have read drafts of chapters and offered help-
ful comments and much criticism, including Karl Ameriks,
Abraham Anderson, Andrew Chignell, Gideon Freudenthal, Hans-
Friedrich Fulda, Sebastian Gardner, Axel Hutter, James Kreines,
Peter McLaughlin, Susan Neiman, Alan Nelson, Ian Proops, Eric
A c k no w l e d g m e nts

Watkins, Reiner Wiehl, and Kenneth Winkler. Lucy Randall and

Peter Ohlin, of Oxford University Press, provided much support
during the publication process. Robin Muller’s and Mark Theunis-
sen’s help in preparing the manuscript was invaluable.
I am especially indebted to Karsten Harries and to Michael
Della Rocca. Both were Doktorväter to me in a very genuine sense
of the term. Focusing as this book does on the connection between
the Principle of Sufficient Reason and the Problem of Nihilism is,
I believe, sufficient evidence of their influence.
A revised version of Chapter 1 has appeared under the title
“Kant’s Regulative Spinozism” in Kant-Studien 103(3) 2012.
Chapter 2 appeared as “The First Antinomy and Spinoza” in Brit-
ish Journal for the History of Philosophy 19(4) 2011. Some materials
in Chapter 4 draw on my discussion in “The Principle of Sufficient
Reason, the Ontological Argument and the Is-Ought Distinc-
tion,” forthcoming in European Journal of Philosophy.
The book is dedicated to my grandmother, Shoshana Boehm.
It was in her library that I first stumbled upon a philosophy book, a
copy of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. She said: “At first,
you can’t understand why this has anything to do with philosophy.
But later you get it.”



By Kant’s understanding of the term, Spinoza is the dogmatic

metaphysician par excellence. His thought marks the height of the
attempt to determine philosophical truths by sheer conceptual
speculation. His geometrical method reveals extravagant ratio-
nalist ambitions: using definitions and axioms, Spinoza claims to
prove metaphysical theorems such as substance monism and ne-
cessitarianism. It is fair to say that Kant, who took upon himself
to undermine dogmatic metaphysical reasoning—who wanted to
deny knowledge in order to make room for freedom and faith—
should have taken Spinoza very seriously.
Scholars commonly assume, however, that Kant never read
Spinoza, and that he did not consider the Ethics worthy of a philo-
sophical reply—certainly not before the Spinoza renaissance of
the late 1780s, certainly not when conceiving the Critique of Pure
Reason.1 This wide-ranging consensus draws, as far as I know, on
three main pieces of historical evidence. First, it is usually thought
that in Kant’s day Spinoza was considered passé, a defeated phi-
losopher. The prevalent metaphysics of the time was Wolff’s sys-
tematic presentation of Leibnizian principles; Spinoza, as Lessing
famously put it, was considered a “dead dog.”2 Cassirer still works


in that vein when he comments that Spinoza “seems hardly to have

had any direct influence on eighteenth century thought.”3 Second,
there is a letter from Hamann to Jacobi (October 1785) in which
the former reports that Kant had told him, in a private conversa-
tion, that he had “never been able to understand Spinoza’s philoso-
phy.”4 This report has been taken for a rather conclusive indication
that Spinoza was irrelevant to Kant—in any case, irrelevant to his
earlier work. 5 Third, Kant never mentions Spinoza or Spinozism
by name within the Critique of Pure Reason. This fact is telling
(though telling what remains to be seen), especially because Kant
does mention in his magnum opus virtually every other name in
the philosophical canon, including Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Des-
cartes, Locke, Hume, Newton, Leibniz, Wolff, and Mendelssohn.
Before moving to consider Kant’s confrontation with Spinoza,
then, let us examine each of these pieces of evidence. As for the
first, the once-accepted assumption that Spinoza was considered a
“dead dog” in Kant’s day is no longer tenable. This is not the place
to document in detail the abundant historical evidence support-
ing just the opposite conclusion (and this has been exhaustively
done by others).6 One should recall, however, the well-known fact
that Spinoza is the subject of the single longest entry in Bayle’s
Dictionnaire (1697). It is true that Bayle attempts to refute Spinoza
(though some have provided strong reasons to doubt his actual
intentions), but it is unlikely that so much space would be dedi-
cated to rebutting a neglected philosopher—unlikely, indeed, that
Spinoza’s relevance would wane once this high-profile entry had
been published about him. J. Zedler’s Grosses Universal Lexikon
(1731–1754) gives a similar impression, devoting to Spinoza a five-
page discussion. Descartes, by comparison, is discussed over one
page (Hume, Locke, Hobbes, and Plato are equally dealt with in
one page or less each). D. Diderot and J. d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie

I nt r o d u c tion

(1751–1772) similarly dedicates to Spinoza five times more space

than to most relevant thinkers in the history of philosophy. While
speaking of Spinoza’s metaphysics in extremely hostile terms, the
Encyclopédie gives a reliable account of the Ethics’ definitions and
axioms and discusses at length its most important demonstrations
(especially E Ip1–11). The Dictionnaire, the Lexikon, and the En-
cyclopédie were the main transmitters of Enlightenment thought.7
The attention they devoted to Spinoza ensured him a place at the
heart of Enlightenment debates. It would be impossible for any
educated reader to avoid contact with Spinoza’s ideas. It would
be easy for every metaphysician to get a grasp on the system of
the Ethics. And it would be tempting, for every philosophically in-
clined thinker, to read Spinoza for themselves.8
As for Hamann’s report to Jacobi, much caution is required
with this report—not merely because it is secondhand. Consider
the context of Hamann’s letter. Jacobi’s book, Über die Lehre des
Spinoza (1785), had been published shortly before Hamann’s con-
versation with Kant, igniting (this is well-known) a national-scale
scandal about Lessing’s Spinozism. Jacobi sent a copy of the book
to Hamann, asking him to deliver it to Kant. In the book, Jacobi
accuses of Spinozism not only Lessing: he also accuses Kant (this
isn’t as frequently noticed), writing, for example, that Kant’s dis-
cussion of space in the Critique of Pure Reason was written “ganz
im Geiste des Spinoza [completely in Spinoza’s spirit].”9 Given
Kant’s Spinozist spirit, Jacobi finds it useful, in the same passage,
to quote long passages from the Critique only to “help explain” Spi-
noza’s conception of substance’s infinity, and the nature of this in-
finite’s relation to its parts.10 When later pressed by Hamann about
his opinion of the book, Kant replied (according to Hamann’s
report) that he was “very pleased with the presentation” and that
he had “never been able to understand Spinoza’s philosophy.”11


There are reasons to think that Kant was not completely frank with
Hamann. And, if one insists on taking Kant’s reported words at
face value, one must also grant that Kant was for some reason “very
pleased” with Jacobi’s presentation. Hermeneutically, it seems ir-
responsible to conclude much from Hamann’s report: if anything
at all can be learned from his letter, it is that Kant—contrary to
common opinion—had a sense of humor.
As for the observation that Kant never mentions Spinoza in the
first Critique, it should be noted that at least on one occasion the
Critique unmistakably discusses Spinoza’s philosophy—his geo-
metrical method—but does not mention his name still. Over ten
Akademie pages, Kant criticizes the use of “definitions,” “axioms,”
and “demonstrations,” arguing that, “in philosophy, the math-
ematician can by his method build only so many houses of cards”
(A727–38/B755–66).12 Kant explains that while in mathematics,
definitions, axioms, and demonstrations are appropriate, in phi-
losophy they are not; whereas in mathematics one can successfully
begin with definitions, in philosophy definitions “[ought] to come
at the end rather than at the beginning” (A730/B758; my emphasis).
That this is directed at Spinoza’s Ethics is clear.13 Other philoso-
phers apply mathematical methods, of course, but none uses defi-
nitions, axioms, and demonstrations as Spinoza does. To be on the
safe side, Kant repeats the very same argument in his Lectures on
Metaphysics, this time explicitly mentioning Spinoza:

Spinoza believed that God and the world were one sub-
stance. . . . This error followed from a faulty definition of sub-
stance. As a mathematician, he was accustomed to finding
arbitrary definitions and deriving propositions from them.
Now this procedure works quite well in mathematics, but if we
try to apply these methods in philosophy we will be led to an

I nt r o d u c tion

error. For in philosophy we must first seek out the character-

istics themselves and acquaint ourselves with them before we
can construct definitions. But Spinoza did not do this.14

There is then at least one moment in the Critique where Kant does
engage with Spinoza—one moment where it makes little sense to con-
clude that Kant doesn’t aim at Spinoza from the fact that he doesn’t
mention the name. Are there other such moments in the Critique?


The question is crucial, because when Kant does begin mentioning

Spinoza by name—admittedly late in his career—his words are
remarkable. In Reflection 6050, Kant writes, “Spinozism is the true
consequence of dogmatic metaphysics.”15 In the Critique of Prac-
tical Reason, he claims that if transcendental idealism is denied,
“nothing remains but Spinozism, in which space and time are es-
sential determinations of the original being itself.”16 In Lectures
on Metaphysics, Kant pronounces: “if space is taken to be a thing
in itself, Spinozism is irrefutable—that is, the parts of the world
are parts of the Deity, space is God.”17 And then again: “Those
who take space as a thing in itself or as a property of things are
forced to be Spinozists, i.e., they take the world as the embodiment
[Inbegriff] of determinations from one necessary substance.”18 In
short, when Kant mentions Spinoza by name, he recognizes his po-
sition as the most consistent form of transcendental realism. Is this
something he learned only late, as a result of Jacobi’s provocation?
The relevance of quotes such as the above to the Critique of Pure
Reason must be examined with care. They appear only in Kant’s
later writings and only after the Pantheismusstreit had began.


Moreover, it is not immediately clear what Kant understands by

“Spinozism”: the term may have a number of different meanings,
or denote particular aspects of Spinoza’s system (similar problems
arise when interpreting Kant’s relation to Leibniz).19 Neverthe-
less, it must also be taken into account that the Spinoza renais-
sance caused by the Streit was not a Spinoza rediscovery because
Spinoza’s ideas—as pointed out above—had not been forgotten.
The Streit does not so much mark the moment in which Spinoza’s
thought first became familiar, as the moment when one could write
about Spinoza more openly (and even favorably). And one must
consider also the following: if these quotes reflect Kant’s late dis-
covery, then Jacobi taught Kant the greatest lesson (possibly, the
greatest failure) of his life. Kant wrote a masterpiece attempting
to refute transcendental realism but, before Jacobi, he didn’t grasp
what transcendental realism was. If we recall that Kant’s refutation
of transcendental realism sometimes proceeds immanently—that
is, by pitting it against itself—this realization becomes troubling:
the ultimate proof of transcendental idealism may be founded on
a crude understanding of transcendental realism. More specifi-
cally, if the Antinomies fail to address and rebut the most consis-
tent form of transcendental realism—Spinoza’s—they fall short of
sustaining Kant’s aspirations. Spinoza’s metaphysical position may
escape refutation and, thereby, disarm the Antinomy. Ultimately,
then, one will have to consider whether in attacking transcendental
realism Kant had Spinoza clearly in mind. I will argue that he did.


The book takes up the first part of Kant’s answer to Spinozism—

the denial of knowledge. I interpret Kant’s critique of reason as a

I nt r o d u c tion

critique of the Principle of Sufficient Reason; specifically, of the

Spinozist (rather than Leibnizian) application and the Spinozist
consequences of that principle. Chapter 1 focuses on Kant’s pre-
critical essay, “The One Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the
Existence of God.” I analyze the argument as drawing on the Prin-
ciple of Sufficient Reason and argue that Kant’s espousal of that
principle commits him to Spinozist substance monism. Moreover,
textual evidence suggests that Kant was aware of this commit-
ment. I conclude the chapter by explaining and defending Kant’s
transformation of the pre-critical demonstration into a regulative
ideal of reason in light of his doctrine of transcendental illusion.
The continuity between the ideal of pure reason and the pre-­
critical demonstration, however, suggests that the regulative ideal
of reason has the structure of Spinozist substance—all entities
are conceived through this “all of nature” as its limitations. Kant’s
critical position entails what I call “regulative Spinozism.”
Of course, given Kant’s practical aspirations, the difference
between regulative Spinozism and Spinozism is very significant.
Regulative Spinozism would allow just as much room (or, as the
case may be, just as little room) for Kantian ethics as we’re used
to thinking—but Spinozism would not. Hence the success of
Kant’s doctrine of illusion in answering a Spinozist position must
be examined carefully. In Chapter 2, I analyze the first Antinomy,
which deals with the “age and size of the world.” I argue that the
Antithesis, which affirms that the world is infinite and uncreated,
reflects a Spinozist position (rather than Leibnizian, as commonly
assumed). Such a Spinozist position, however, poses particular
problems to the Antinomy, stemming from Spinoza’s concep-
tion of substance (or the world) as an infinite totum analyticum, in
which an infinite whole is conceived as prior to its parts. I conclude
the chapter with a defense of Kant’s position, drawing on the claim


that one can have reasons to accept Spinoza’s reliance on the infi-
nite only on the basis of an experience of one’s own freedom (in
this light, it turns out that Kant’s third Critique account of the sub-
lime is crucial to interpreting and defending the Antinomies). Ar-
guably Spinoza cannot rely on an experience of freedom to ground
the notion of complete infinity because his monistic-necessitarian
position excludes freedom. This line of defense, however, will not
be completed before the discussion of the causa sui in Chapter 4.
In Chapter 3, I interpret the third Antinomy, arguing that its
Antithesis, too, which denies freedom by an argument from the
Principle of Sufficient Reason, is best understood as a Spinozist
rather than a Leibnizian position. Concluding this chapter, I con-
tinue to defend Kant’s Antinomy from the Spinozist reliance on a
totum analyticum—in the case of the third Antinomy, the concep-
tion of the world as an infinite and complete explanatory whole.
I consider the Spinozist answer to the defense of the Antinomy
suggested in Chapter 2 (demanding that an experience of freedom
ground the notion of complete infinity). The Spinozist answer
consists in Spinoza’s doctrine of adequate ideas. According to Spi-
noza, one is free insofar as one conceives an adequate idea. If this is
granted, Spinoza’s reliance on the notion of substance may escape
the Kantian challenge presented above. I will argue, however,
that this account of adequate ideas relies beforehand—and hence
­circularly—on the notion of the complete infinite.
I do not offer separate chapters dealing with the second and
the fourth Antinomies. As for the latter, I treat the relevance of
Spinozism to its subject matter within Chapter 3. As it turns
out, the echoes of Spinozism in this Antinomy may be the loud-
est throughout the Dialectic—and very illuminating to the
other Antinomies as well. As for the second Antinomy, while its
subject matter could be extremely relevant insofar as Spinozism

I nt r o d u c tion

is concerned—especially given Spinoza’s commitment to simple

bodies and ideas—interpreting exactly what this subject matter is
has proved an elusive task.20 At first, I believed that the relevance
of Spinozism would help solve some interpretive questions; I later
became less convinced of that fact.21
Kant’s challenge to Spinoza is problematized by the notion of
the causa sui, which, if accepted, entails the collapse of “thought”
and “being”—conceivability and existence. Chapter 4 departs
from the more historical confrontation of Kant with Spinoza in
order to meet that challenge. I argue that the ontological argument
plays a role much more significant in the attack on (or defense of)
rationalist metaphysics than is usually acknowledged—by Kan-
tians and rationalists alike. Rationalists sometimes assume that
the rationalist espousal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is
independent of endorsing the traditional ontological argument—
that is, of the claim that existence is a predicate.22 Kantians on their
part tend to assume that the refutation of the ontological argu-
ment is but a refutation of a metaphysical doctrine—namely, the
doctrine of Rational Theology—standing alongside Rational Psy-
chology and Rational Cosmology. (This is certainly the way Kant
himself presents the picture.) We will see that the debate over the
ontological argument is more far-reaching for both parties. It isn’t
a debate over the philosophical-theological question of God’s ex-
istence but the key to the attack on or the defense of the Spinozist
position. Moreover, despite the fact that the ontological argument
is extremely unfashionable today, the rationalist position presents
here a difficult challenge to Kant. I will offer Kantian answers to
that challenge, some of which draw on practical considerations.
We may have a reason to believe that existence is not a predicate
because we believe that “ought,” which implies “can,” is distin-
guished from “is.” Here lies the essence of the rivalry between


Kant and Spinoza. For Kant, ultimately, theoretical thinking is

grounded in the practical, and it is for that reason that dogmatic
metaphysics—overriding the ought—must be false. Spinoza, on
the contrary, hopes to override practical by theoretical reason:
this is why he produces a geometrical metaphysics and calls it the
In Chapter 5, I provide a historical recount of Kant’s relation
to the Pantheismusstreit. Often, the Streit is believed to constitute
the first chapter, so to speak, of Kant’s relation to Spinoza. I believe
that, insofar as the Critique of Pure Reason is concerned, it is the last.
Most interpreters assume that the debate marks the moment when
Spinoza’s philosophy was rediscovered—revived from the grave.
This, however, is inconsistent with the recent realization that Spi-
noza’s thought had never truly been forgotten. I will argue that the
Streit marks not the moment in which Spinoza was rediscovered
but the moment when his radical ideas moved from the “clandes-
tine” background to the Enlightenment’s political fore.23 We will
see that the Critique of Pure Reason provides a striking example of
this transition precisely: Kant had been combating radical meta-
physics before Jacobi ignited a scandal, but this combat was never
presented as a main goal of his work. It is first with the B ­ -Preface,
written in the context of the Pantheismusstreit, that Kant presents
the Critique as the (only) answer to atheism, fatalism, and Schwär-
merei (all terms that by 1787 have become the distinctive marks of
Spinozism and of the Streit); and it is first here that he pledges to
deny knowledge, “in order to make room for faith.”
My discussion in Chapter 5, which ends with an interpretation
of the B-Preface, also prepares the ground for the next part of this
project, a next book, dealing with the rational faith for which the
Critique’s attack on rationalism had “made room.” This account of
faith, I shall argue, is elaborated mostly in the Critique of Judgment.

I nt r o d u c tion

For example, Kant’s defense of the universal validity of subjective

aesthetic and teleological judgments can be read as his defense of
rational faith—one that complements his practical project. An-
other example is Kant’s account of genius, which, one could argue,
constitutes a reply to the Spinozist attack on prophecy in the Trac-
tatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP): Kant redeems the unique role of
the imagination in the cognition of ethical-religious ideas which,
without perfected imagination, cannot be represented.24 One last
promissory example is Kant’s analysis of the sublime: Along simi-
lar lines, it can be read as reply to Spinoza’s critique of religion as
originating in mere fear. For Kant, the sublime is a rational “fear of
God,” a type of religious experience not reducible to a psycholo-
gistic explanation. These notions, however, demand a separate
In 1901, F. Heman wrote: “Kant’s relation to Spinoza has never
been clarified. Neither has it been determined what Kant thought
of Spinoza’s philosophy, nor how their systems relate to one an-
other. Not even once was it decided how far and how precisely
Kant was familiar and acquainted with Spinoza’s writings. All
these questions still demand definitive treatment.”25 More than a
hundred years later, it is safe to say that the same questions still
demand definitive answers. Hopefully, this study can provide an
answer’s beginning.


1. One example of this prevalent assumption is B. Longuenesse and D. Gar-

ber’s Kant and the Early Moderns (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2008). In this collection of essays, encompassing excellent work on Kant
and Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Berkeley, and Locke, Spinoza goes com-
pletely unmentioned. Recent literature has given more attention to Kant’s


relation to Spinoza and Spinozism after the Pantheismusstreit (cf., F. Beiser,

The Fate of Reason [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987];
J. Zammito, The Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment [Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1992]; Eckart Förster, The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy:
A Systematic Reconstruction [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
2012]). In that vein, Beth Lord has produced an important book-length
discussion, Kant and Spinozism (New York: Palgrave, 2011). This trend is
welcome, but in a way it is in this literature that the consensus that Spinoza
was irrelevant to Kant’s early Critique of Pure Reason becomes most vivid.
Even these scholars hardly if ever venture to treat the theme of Spinozism
in the production of the first Critique.
2. F. H. Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Men-
delssohn in Jacobi’s Werke, ed. K. Hammacher and W. Jaeschke, vol.  1,
Schriften zum Spinozastreit (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1998). For
Jacobi and Lessing’s conversation, see pp. 3–44.
3. E. Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton Uni-
versity Press, 1951), p. 187.
4. Hamann to Jacobi, October 1785, in Hamanns Briefwechsel, ed. A. Henkel
(Wiesbaden/Frankfurt: Insel, 1955–1979).
5. See H. Allison, “Kant’s Critique of Spinoza,” in Philosophy of Baruch Spi-
noza, ed. R. Kennington (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America
Press, 1980), pp. 199f. (Allison focuses on Kant’s treatment of teleology
in the Critique of Judgment.) Beiser and Zammito treat Hamann’s letter
6. See especially J. Israel’s Radical Enlightenment and his Democratic Enlighten-
ment: Philosophy, Revolution and Human Rights 1750–1790 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2011).
7. Whereas Kant quite certainly read all three sources, Bayle’s Dictionnaire is
probably the one most relevant for the present discussion. It can be ascer-
tained that Kant read Bayle, and it is extremely likely that he was influenced
by Bayle’s method of criticizing reason by antinomial dialectic in his entry
on Zeno. (Indeed Kant discusses Zeno in the context of the Antinomies;
more below.) See J. Ferrari’s entry on Bayle in his Les Sources Françaises de
la Philosophie de Kant (Paris: Librairie Klincksieck), pp. 91–99; as well as
“Le Dictionnaire historique et critique de Pierre Bayle et les deux premières
antinomies kantiennes de la Raison pure,” Études philosophiques et littéraires
1 (1967), pp. 24–33.
8. Israel comments on philosophers’ tendency to overlook Spinoza’s impact on
the Enlightenment, “philosophers are . . . saddled with what are really hope-
lessly outdated historical accounts of the Enlightenment and ones which
look ever more incomplete, unbalanced, and inaccurate, the more research
into the subject proceeds” (see Israel, “Enlightenment! Which Enlighten-
ment?,” Journal of the History of Ideas 67:3 [2006], p. 528).

I nt r o d u c tion

9. Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 91.

10 Ibid.
11. In Hamanns Briefwechsel, October 1785.
12. Kemp Smith translates, “in philosophy, the geometrician can by his methods
build only so many houses of cards” (my emphasis). This is not a literal ren-
dering of Kant’s use of Mathematiker but this is not necessarily a translation
mistake. Kant means by the “mathematical” method what we mean by “geo-
metrical.” Kemp Smith must have been aware that Kant elsewhere refers
to Spinoza as a mathematician because of his method, not a geometer (see
13. For a short interpretation of this passage, see F. Heman: “Kant und Spi-
noza,” Kant-Studien 5 (1901), pp. 273–339.
14. AA 28:1041. As far as I know, Kant never makes similar accusations against
Descartes, Leibniz, or Wolff
15. Refl. AA 18:436.
16. KpV AA 5:102.
17. ML2 AA 28:567.
18. V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt AA 29: 132.
19. A. Jauernig has recently dealt with this complexity in her “Kant’s Critique
of the Leibnizian Philosophy: Contra the Leibnizians, but Pro Leibniz,” in
ed. B. Longuenesse and D. Garber, Kant and the Early Moderns, pp. 41–63;
Garber reflects on this problem in “What Leibniz Really Said?” (in the same
volume), pp. 64–78. Note that, in some respects, tracking what could be
known to Kant of Spinoza’s philosophy and how accurate this picture was
is less problematic than with Leibniz. Whereas much of Leibniz’s thought
needs to be distilled from material unpublished in Kant’s day and unknown
to Kant, Spinoza’s official position receives definitive articulation in two
published works, the Ethics and the Theological Political Treatise. In the case
of Spinoza, however, the problem is to distinguish his thought from what
was taken to be “Spinozism.” We will see some examples of this below.
2 0. For a detailed discussion of the second Antinomy’s subject matter, see, e.g.,
O. Schmiege, “What is Kant’s Second Antinomy About?,” Kant-Studien
97:3 (2006), pp. 272–300. For a recent treatment of individuation in Spi-
noza, see A. Murray, “Spinoza on Essence and Ideal Individuation,” Cana-
dian Journal of Philosophy 2013 (published online), pp. 1–16.
21. To be sure, I do take all four Antinomies to be systematically connected and
hence maintain that all first three antitheses would have to correspond to
Spinoza’s position. (The fourth introduces, as is well-known, an inversion
of roles.) Hence I will be at the very least committed to denying S. Al Azm’s
thesis that the second Antithesis is Leibnizian (The Origins of Kant’s Argu-
ments in the Antinomies [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972], pp. 46–85). Luck-
ily, here at least Al Azm’s thesis seems clearly false, since Kant himself refers
to the thesis rather than the antithesis as a “monadology” (A442/B470).


22. A good example of this is the belief that Spinoza’s proof of God’s existence—
a proof which is indispensable for the viability of rationalist and Spinozist
positions—is immune to Kant’s refutation of the traditional ontological
23. Recent literature is beginning to recognize this. See Zammito, “The Most
Hidden Conditions of Men of the First Rank: The Pantheist Current in
Eighteenth-Century Germany ‘Uncovered’ by the Spinoza Controversy,”
Eighteenth-Century Thought 1 (2003), pp. 335ff.; and more significantly,
Jonathan Israel, Democratic Enlightenment (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2011) p. 688.
2 4. On this, see my “Enlightenment, Prophecy, and Genius: Kant’s Critique of
Judgment versus Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus,” Graduate Faculty
Philosophy Journal 34:1 (2013), pp. 149–178.
25. F. Heman, “Kant und Spinoza,” Kant-Studien 5 (1901), pp. 273–339 (my

C ha pt e r 1

The One Possible Basis, the Ideal

of Pure Reason and Kant’s
Regulative Spinozism

[R]eason’s subjective conditions of conceivability start to be

taken as objective conditions of things in themselves, and, be-
cause [reason] is not content before she has grasped the whole,
she starts making acquisitions in the supersensible world. Now,
because there are no given limits where one could stop here, even-
tually it is necessary, once all things have lost their unique and
separate possibility, to take away also their separate existence,
and leave them only the inherence in one subject. Spinozism is
the true consequence of dogmatic metaphysics.
Kant, Lectures on Metaphysics 28:706

Kant was accused of Spinozism several times throughout his

career. Jacobi argued in his Über die Lehre des Spinoza that the
first Critique’s account of space and time was written “wholly in
Spinoza’s spirit”; and Hermann Pistorius claimed to have found
in the Ideal of Pure Reason “a deduction of Spinozism.”1 In light
of such accusations, Kant’s disciples, too, demanded clarifications.
Christian Schütz wrote Kant from Jena in February 1786, plead-
ing for confirmation that Jacobi had “completely misunderstood”


the transcendental philosophy: “He cites your ideas about space,”

Schütz complains, “and says that they are written wholly in Spino-
za’s spirit”; “there are some people, not at all fools in other respects,
who take you for an atheist.”2
Was Kant guilty of Spinozism? To the extent that Spinozism is
a sin, Kant was, in an important sense, guilty. His pre-critical essay
The One Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the Existence of God
(1763) (henceforth: Beweisgrund) suggests substance monism. 3
Arguably, it commits Kant to the thesis that there exists a single
necessary being, God, whose nature excludes other substances’
existence. Finite entities do not enjoy the status of separate sub-
stances. Their essences, or what Kant calls internal possibilities,
are conceived as predicates inhering in God. This Spinozist con-
clusion, moreover, reaches beyond Kant’s pre-critical demonstra-
tion. It leaves significant traces in the Critique of Pure Reason, most
notably in the Ideal of Pure Reason.
In the first part of this chapter I analyze Kant’s pre-critical
demonstration. It does not rely on the traditional mechanisms of
the ontological argument (i.e., the assumption that existence is a
predicate), but on a “possibility argument”; specifically, on an ap-
plication of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (henceforth: PSR)
in the analysis of modality.4 The argument consists of the following
three premises: (1) necessarily, something is possible; (2) possibil-
ity presupposes something actually existing, in virtue of which it is
made possible; and (3) all possibility is grounded by a single being.
By relying on these premises in proving God’s existence, I argue,
Kant is committed to Spinozist substance monism. 5 In the second
part of the chapter I turn to assess whether Kant was aware of this
commitment. Much textual evidence suggests that he was.
In the third part I consider the significance of Kant’s pre-­
critical demonstration within his critical philosophy. Was the

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

critical Kant also committed to Spinozism? Whereas Jacobi and

Pistorius suggested just this, modern readers of Kant—on the
prevalent assumption that Spinoza was irrelevant to the critical
philosopher—may regard the question as absurd.6 I argue that the
critical Kant is not committed to Spinozism proper, but that the
danger of Spinozism is far from absurd. The metaphysical structure
of the first Critique’s Ideal of Pure Reason—as the regulative idea
of that entity through which all possibility is grounded—bears
the “image and likeness” of the Beweisgrund’s deity. In this sense,
Kant’s ideal is committed to what can be called “regulative Spi-
nozism.” “[O]ne comes strongly to suspect,” he writes, reflecting
back on the ideal, “that this metaphysical God (the realissimum) is
one with the world (despite all protestations against Spinozism),
as the totality of all existing things.” 7
To be sure, I don’t think that recognizing the ideal’s commit-
ment to regulative Spinozism infringes on the Kantian defense of
freedom, faith, and morality. Kant’s defense of practical reason
remains just as strong (or, as the case may be, just as weak) as we
are used to thinking: a regulative Spinozist conception of the deity
is no more dangerous to Kant than, say, a regulative Leibnizian
conception. Within the limits of this chapter, however, I cannot
offer a defense of that claim. Instead, a more pressing issue will be
addressed: Is Kant’s rejection of the pre-critical demonstration—­
his transformation of the demonstration into a (mere) regula-
tive ideal—warranted? Scholars sometimes deem this an open
question.8 But especially in light of the ideal’s commitment to
Spinozism, the demand for an answer is even more urgent. Kant
explains (albeit in passing) that he rejects the demonstration on
the basis of the first Critique’s doctrine of transcendental illusion.9
I will argue that, insofar as this doctrine holds against Spinozism,
the demonstration is successfully rejected—the ideal’s status is


secured as regulative. Following chapters will be concerned with

the question of whether this doctrine hold against Spinozism.
Before entering into the details of Kant’s demonstration, it is
worth mentioning a comment made by Jacobi in the introduction
to his David Hume (1787). Jacobi is known today for his thesis that
there is “no philosophy but the philosophy of Spinoza.” The ratio-
nality of the Enlightenment, he argued—more specifically the
Enlightenment’s espousal of the PSR—leads necessarily to Spi-
nozism.10 In an autobiographical comment in David Hume, Jacobi
recalls what philosophical work made him recognize this conclu-
sion. It was neither the Ethics nor any other treatise by Spinoza but,
rather, Kant’s Beweisgrund. That essay shows, Jacobi writes, not
only that God’s existence can be demonstrated but also for what
God a demonstration is possible: it is the God of Spinoza, an infi-
nite substance, devoid of understanding and will.
Scholars sometimes dismiss Jacobi’s reading of Kant as ten-
dentious. Beiser surely speaks for many when he writes: “Jacobi
enthusiastically endorsed Kant’s new proof of the existence of
God . . . but he accepted it with one significant qualification, one
that would have horrified Kant: namely, that it was true only for
Spinoza’s God. Kant, in Jacobi’s view, had unwittingly demon-
strated the necessity of pantheism.”11 It is intriguing, however,
to see how quick Kant was to become completely smitten with
Jacobi’s claim that the PSR leads by necessity to Spinozism. Im-
mediately after the break of the Pantheismusstreit, he would have
absolutely no doubt or quarrel about Jacobi’s less-than-obvious
philosophical thesis. This is at least one (though admittedly still
very circumstantial) piece of evidence that Jacobi’s understand-
ing of the Beweisgrund can be taken more seriously.12 In fact, Kant
himself may have well been aware of his Spinozist commitments.

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

Kant opens the Beweisgrund by criticizing the traditional ontologi-
cal argument. His argument is well-known to modern readers from
the first Critique: existence is not a (real) predicate. A subject’s es-
sence is “completely determined,” Kant argued in the Critique,
regardless of its existential status: “The actual contains no more
than the merely possible, a hundred actual thalers do not contain
the least [coin] more than a hundred possible thalers,” despite the
fact that the actual ones “have more effect on my financial condi-
tion than the mere concept of them (that is, their possibility) does”
(A599/B627). The point is that if existence were a real predicate,
the concept of the possible hundred dollars and the concept of the
actual hundred dollars would not be identical: this is absurd, Kant
claims, because it contradicts the assumption that the merely pos-
sible can become actual.
Kant had rejected the view that existence is a first-order predi-
cate by a similar argument as early as the New Elucidation.13 In
the Beweisgrund, he uses Julius Caesar as an example: “Combine
in him all his conceivable predicates, not excluding even those of
time and place”; “you will quickly see that with all of these deter-
minations he can exist or not exist” (BDG AA 2:72f.). Because ex-
istence is not a “real,” first-order predicate (Bestimmung), it does
not participate in any essence—not even in God’s. God’s essence
may enclose all predicates but still lack existence. It follows that
there is no contradiction in the thought that God does not exist;
that the ontological argument fails. This enables Kant to claim that
the alternative “basis of demonstration” he elaborates is “the only
possible one.”14


Given the conclusion that existence is not a predicate, Kant intro-
duces new definitions, to be used in the alternative demonstration.
He defines existence (Dasein) as “the absolute position of the thing.”
A being absolutely posited is one that cannot be conceived as a predi-
cate or property of another. The meaning of that term is “totally
simple,” Kant says, and cannot be explicated further; it is “identical
with the notion of being in general.”15 To that absolute notion he con-
trasts the “relative positioning of a thing.” A thing thus posited cannot
be regarded as properly existing. It is thought merely as a property of
a thing, a predicate of a subject. Kant explains that relative position-
ing is identical with “the copulative concept in a judgment” (BDG
AA 2:75). For example, in the proposition “a rose is red,” the predi-
cate “red” is only relatively posited (this is not Kant’s example). It is
ascribed to the rose, as a predicate, by “is”—the copula of the propo-
sition. However, because existence (or absolute positioning) is not
a predicate, the copula expresses no existential claim; the property
“red” is assigned no existential status by that judgment.16

The outline of the alternative and “only possible” demonstration
strategy can be described in the following seven steps:

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

formal and material possibility.
2. Formal possibility (the logical consistency between a con-
cept’s predicates) depends on material possibility (the pred-
icates themselves).

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

From these definitional steps Kant continues to elaborate

his argument:
3. Material possibility is grounded in something actually
4. Necessarily, something is possible.
5. Necessarily, something exists. [From 3 and 4]
6. There is a being that exists necessarily.
7. There can be only one necessary being.

The crucial step is from 5 to 6. That step requires additional as-

sumptions; we will see that these are based on the PSR and carry
significant metaphysical implications. Let us examine the stages of
the argument in order.

The first proposition is the claim that a thing’s “internal possibility”
requires not only “formal possibility” but also “material possibil-
ity.” “Internal possibility” is identical with a thing’s essence; “formal
possibility” stands for the logical relation between the predicates
that participate in that essence; and “material possibility” is that
set of participating predicates, regardless of their formal relation to
one another. Kant considers these predicates to be the “content of
thought,” the “real element” of a judgment (BDG AA 2:77).
The separation of material from formal possibility relies on the
following claim:

A quadrangular triangle is absolutely impossible. Nonetheless,

a triangle is something, and so is a quadrangle. The impossibil-
ity is based simply on the logical relations which exist between
one thinkable thing and another, where the one cannot be a
characteristic mark of the other. Likewise, in every possibility


we must first distinguish the something which is thought, and

then we must distinguish the agreement of what is thought in it
with the law of contradiction. (BDG AA 2:77)

Judgments of possibility employing the principle of contradic-

tion determine the relation between “something [Etwas]” and
“something else” (a predicate and a predicate, or a predicate and a
thing). Thus, internal possibility consists of a formal element and
a material one: the formal element is the relation posited between
the predicates, determined according to the principle of contra-
diction; the material element consists of those things of which the
relation is posited.
Another example may help explain Kant’s claim. The notion of a
right triangle is internally possible because “having three sides” and
“having an angle of 90 degrees” are not contradictory. This judg-
ment involves not only the formal element of possibility (lack of
contradiction) but also the material element (the given predicates).
First, the given predicates may not be contradictory themselves;
had they been contradictory, the concept involving them would
have been inconsistent as well. But more significant, a right trian-
gle’s possibility also relies on the said predicates: it depends on the
predicates (“90 degrees,” “having three sides,” etc.) being in some
sense given, or available to thought.17 Let this be principle D1:

[D1] The possibility of an essence does not depend merely on the

principle of contradiction. It relies on formal and material ele-
ments. The first is consistency according to the principle of contra-
diction, the second the availability, or givenness, of the predicates.

The meaning of “availability” or “givenness” at this stage is

somewhat ambiguous. Still, D1 makes sense. Given that formal

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

consistency is a kind of relation, it is hard to see how such con-

sistency can be conceived without the material element—the
building blocks of that relation. The following steps of Kant’s dem-
onstration consist in further unpacking the conditions for some-
thing to be given, or available, to thought.
From here, Kant goes a step further. He argues that formal pos-
sibility depends on material possibility, because judgments by the
principle of contradiction are possible only if the material element
is given, available to thought, prior to judgment. When determin-
ing formal possibility, one must consider predicates that are al-
ready given (BDG AA 2:77f.). Let this be D2:

[D2] Formal possibility depends on material possibility.

D2 is plausible. The formal relation combines two (or more) sepa-

rate elements in one concept. It is hard to see how such a combi-
nation would be possible if the separate elements were not given,
available to thought, prior to the judgment in which they join into
a concept.

Thus presented, the material element of possibility may be re-
garded as relative or context-dependent. In the example of a right
triangle, the concepts “triangle” and “having an angle of 90 de-
grees” function as elements of material possibility, but each must
be internally possible as well. This requires, in turn, not only that
these notions be formally consistent, but also that the material ele-
ments of their essences be provided: “side,” “angle,” “three,” “exten-
sion,” and so on. Kant argues that the notion of possibility requires
that the material element, at bottom, refer to ontologically stable


ground. The most fundamental building blocks of material pos-

sibility, he argues, must exist. Kant explains this with the example
of “extension”:

Given that you cannot analyze the concept of extension any

further into simpler data .  .  . as you must necessarily come
anyway in the end to something whose possibility cannot be
analyzed, then the question here is whether space and exten-
sion are empty words or whether they denote something. . . . If
space does not exist, or is not at least given as a consequence
through something existing, then the word space means noth-
ing at all. (BDG AA 2:78)

Let this be principle D3:

[D3] Material possibility is given in something actually


If D2 is accepted, D3 is plausible as well. Given that possibility de-

pends on the priority, or the givenness of the material element, this
element must at bottom be more than a mere concept: Whereas
the meaning of concepts is determined by analysis, the meaning
of simple notions cannot be accounted for by analysis. And given
that, from D2, these notions must be given as the material ele-
ments of possibility, it is hard to see how they are given if not as
existing. Without reference to existence, Kant says, these notions
would be “empty words.”18
D3 also relies on the PSR, formulated by Kant in the first Cri-
tique in the following way: “If the conditioned is given, the whole
series of conditions . . . which is therefore itself unconditioned—
is likewise given” [i.e., exists] (A308/B364). (By the PSR, the

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

complete explanatory series must itself unconditionally exist, be-

cause otherwise its existence would require further explanation
and not everything would be ultimately explained.19) Formulating
that principle over modality: if something is possible, the complete
series of the conditions of this possibility—a series that itself exists
unconditionally—must be given as well. Otherwise the fact that
something is possible will not be ultimately explained, which is re-
jected by the PSR. Hence, possibility depends on something actu-
ally existing.
Note that Kant claims in the above-quoted passage that
the material element of possibility can be given either as some-
thing existing, or at least “as a consequence [Folge] of some-
thing existing.” Later he uses more specific terms, writing that
material possibility may be given as a determination (Bestim-
mung) of something existing (i.e., a property), or as its “conse-
quence [Folge].” This distinction—between determinations and
­consequences—will become crucial. Possibilities grounded in
“determinations” are certainly not ontologically independent
substances—they are properties inhering in the being in which
they are grounded. The question is whether Kant thinks of “con-
sequences” (finite entities) as ontologically independent sub-
stances or, perhaps, regards them, too, as properties inhering in
the being that grounds them. The answer to that question will
become clear as we move along.

Kant’s next step is from D3 to the claim that, necessarily, some-
thing exists. This can be established if it is the case that, neces-
sarily, something is possible. Kant defends that proposition by
arguing that the state of affairs in which nothing is possible is itself


impossible. Of course, he cannot ground that claim with the aid

of the principle of contradiction. He has argued that contradic-
tion is a relation obtaining between pre-given existing elements
(D1–D2) and, therefore, there can be no contradiction where
nothing exists. Kant is well aware of this. “There is no internal
contradiction,” he writes, in a state of affairs “involving a complete
deprivation of all existence” (BDG AA 2:79).
The proposition that “it is absolutely impossible that nothing
is possible” is justified by the claim that these terms (“absolutely
[schlechterdings] impossible” and “nothing is possible”) are identi-
cal, “meaning the same thing” (ibid.). Kant seems to think that he
is stating an analytic proposition: if absolutely nothing is possible,
then nothing is possible, including the state of affairs that nothing
is possible. (“Absolutely” here is meant to extend the claim over
the state of affairs in which nothing is possible, or over the claim
“nothing is possible.”) If this is so, it is inconsistent to say that ab-
solutely nothing is possible. Accordingly, necessarily, something
is possible.
As some readers have suggested, this argument seems like a
trick of words.20 However, the claim that it is impossible that noth-
ing is possible can also be supported by the PSR. Kant does not
offer such a justification explicitly, but, given that the Beweisgr-
und otherwise heavily relies on this principle, it is reasonable that
he would be content to argue along the following lines: (1) If we
demand that modal claims be fully explained (as Kant certainly
does, for example in D3), then there has to be a reason for nothing
being possible, just as much as for something being possible; how-
ever, (2) if nothing is possible, nothing exists; but then (3) there
can be no reason that nothing is possible; therefore (4) something
is possible. Thus, whereas the idea that nothing is possible isn’t
contradictory, it is rejected by the PSR.21

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

Let that be D4:

[D4] Necessarily, something is possible.

From D4 onward the argument moves in a familiar Kantian way:

it states that something is possible [D4] and moves on to inquire
about the necessary conditions of possibility. Moreover, the next
step immediately follows; from D4 and D3 it is concluded that,
necessarily, something exists. Let that be D5:

[D5] Necessarily, something exists.

The next step is crucial. From D5, Kant needs to show that there
is a being that exists necessarily. That is, he needs to exclude the
possibility that possibility is grounded in beings that exist contin-
gently. Now, from D4 it follows that if a single being grounds all
possibilities, that being exists necessarily. For the nonexistence
of that being would abolish all possibility, which contradicts the
claim that, necessarily, something is possible. (To be sure, I mean
“single” in the following strong sense: [1] all possibilities are
grounded in one being; [2] it is not the case that two [or more] en-
tities ground all possibilities; see more below.) And indeed, Kant
assumes in the Beweisgrund—an assumption he repeats through-
out his career—that only a single being can ground all possibili-
ties. “That whose annulment or negation eradicates all possibility,”
he writes, “is absolutely necessary” (BDG AA 2:81f.). “The neces-
sary being contains [enthält] the ultimate ground of the possibility
of all other beings.” Let this be D6:

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


M. Fisher and E. Watkins contend that it is hard to see why Kant

thinks that D6 is true. “One may agree with Kant that each
possibility requires a material ground, but reject his claim that
there is one being which serves to ground all possibilities,” they
write. 22 This is indeed a deficiency of Kant’s essay but not in the
argument itself. Pace Fisher and Watkins, the PSR justifies D6
in the following way. First, by the PSR, all possibilities must
be grounded. For if some possibilities weren’t grounded, there
would be inexplicable possibilities, which is rejected by the PSR.
Second, by the PSR, only a single being can ground all possibili-
ties. For if all possibilities must be grounded, then relations and
inter-relations between possibilities must be grounded as well.
However, only a single being can ground all such relations: had
certain grounds of possibility been scattered in two or more
beings, the relation(s) between these beings themselves would
have had to be grounded by yet another being—and so on, re-
gressively, ad infinitum. But then, not all possibilities would be
grounded. 23 Now, given that Kant does, as Fisher and Watkins
observe, endorse D6, it is probable that he assumes this (or a sim-
ilar) argument, albeit implicitly. 24 It may be noted that Leibniz
uses the same PSR argument in his argument for the existence
of God from the existence of necessary truths. 25 But more tell-
ing here is the fact that, later in his career, Kant indeed reasons
along analogous lines—and in some of the most essential doc-
trines of the first Critique. Consider, for example, Kant’s account
of the transcendental unity of apperception: he argues that it
must be possible to ascribe all representations to a single subject
of thought, because only a single subject can account for—make
possible—the unity of experience; which is to say, only a single
subject of thought could ground all relations and inter-relations
between all possible representations.

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

Robert Adams has argued that Kant does not proceed on D6

but on the assumption that a being is necessary if its nonexistence
abolishes any possibility (rather than all possibility, as in D6). 26
Call this assumption D6*. Adams acknowledges that D6, not D6*,
is Kant’s “usual formula for necessary existence”—moreover, he
grants that Kant was committed to this formula throughout his
career—but insists that in the Beweisgrund Kant must have as-
sumed D6*.27 This line of interpretation runs contrary to all, or
almost all, existing interpretations.28 There is no doubt that Kant
reiterates in the Beweisgrund what Adams himself calls the “usual
formula,” that is, D6. He writes, for example: “That whose negation
eradicates all possibility is absolutely necessary”; “the necessary
being contains the ultimate ground of the possibility of all other
beings” (BDG AA 2:81); “that which contains the ultimate ground
of an internal possibility also contains it for all things in general”
(BDG AA 2:83). Indeed, Kant had used the same assumptions
also in the possibility argument provided in paragraph  7 of the
New Elucidation. There, he writes: “[N]othing can be conceived
as possible unless whatever is real in every possible concept exists
and indeed exists absolutely necessary. . . . Furthermore, it is nec-
essary that this entire reality should be united together in a single
being” (PND AA 1:395).
Perhaps one reason behind Adams’s interpretation is the fact
that Kant, as pointed out by Fisher and Watkins, doesn’t attempt
to justify D6. But this wouldn’t be a compelling reason, first, be-
cause Kant explicitly relies on D6 in the essay—not on D6*—even
if he doesn’t try to justify it; and second, because Kant does have
a Kantian justification of D6 at his disposal (considered above).
Perhaps another motivation for Adams’s insistence on D6* is
that he sees D6’s metaphysical implications. He points out that,
if Kant justified D6 by the PSR argument that all relations and


inter-relations must be grounded by the necessary being, he would

be committed to the view that God “exemplifies” all possibilities.
(As Adams emphasizes, by contrast to Leibniz, Kant thinks the
grounding relation consists in actually exemplifying, not think-
ing, possibilities.) But, Adams argues, whereas Kant may have
held that God thinks all possibilities, he certainly didn’t hold that
God exemplifies all possibilities.29 This observation, however, is
only partly accurate. It is true that D6 commits Kant to the view
that God exemplifies all possibilities. To use Kant’s own terminol-
ogy, D6 commits him to the view that all possibilities are in God
(in ihm)—that God contains (enthält) all possibility. However, we
will see that this is a commitment that Kant saw and, pace Adams,
approved—“despite all protestations against Spinozism,” as Kant
wrote. 30 We will return to this.

It follows from D5 and D6 that there is a being that exists neces-
sarily. But in what sense is it the ground of all possibility? How
does Kant understand the grounding relation? The Beweisgrund is
somewhat unclear about this. Kant said that all possibility must
be ultimately grounded by something existing, and he pointed out
that such possibilities may be grounded either in “determinations
[Bestimmungen]” of the existing thing, or in its “consequences
[Folgen].” By “determinations” he clearly means properties of the
existing being: possibilities grounded in determinations are thus
possibilities that are grounded because they inhere in the exist-
ing being; it is in this sense that the nonexistence of the said being
would abolish them. But how does Kant understand the grounding
relation between possibilities grounded in consequences (finite,
complex beings) and the (necessarily existing) being that grounds

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

them? Are consequences, like determinations, properties of that

being? Or are they ontologically separate beings?
To be sure, we’ve already established that the necessary being
grounds all possibilities. The question, again, is how Kant under-
stands the grounding relation. There are two possibilities. First,
consequences (finite beings) are ontologically separate from the
necessary being; they ground possibilities by existing (as required
by D2); however, as finite beings, they must be created by a neces-
sary being, and it is in this sense that all possibility depends on
a single being. Second, consequences, like determinations, are
properties of the necessary being; they inhere in it. In this sense all
possibility depends on a single being—it is in this sense that if that
being didn’t exist, nothing would be possible.
The first alternative can be ruled out, for it is all too obviously
the cosmological argument. On that alternative, Kant’s demon-
stration boils down to the claim that, in order to exist, contingent
beings must be created by a necessary being. But of course, restat-
ing the cosmological argument was not Kant’s intention when he
set out to provide the new and “only possible” demonstration of
God’s existence. More precisely, Kant’s Beweisgrund relies on an
analysis of the (necessary) conditions of possibility. It attempts to
show why a being that grounds all possibility necessarily exists. On
the first alternative, however, the necessity of the necessary being
would not be explained by an analysis of the conditions of pos-
sibility. It would be accounted for by the cosmological argument,
which is to say: by an analysis of the conditions of a contingent
being coming into existence. It is hard to believe that Kant could
overlook this difference, just as it is hard to believe that he was in-
terested in merely restating the cosmological argument.
The other way to understand Kant’s claim that the necessary
being is necessary as the “ground of all possibility” is to recognize


that he assumes that all possibilities, including those grounded by

what he calls “consequences,” inhere in that being. Kant’s language
indeed indicates that this is what he has in mind, as he writes that
the necessary being “contains” or “encloses [enthält]” all possibil-
ity. Furthermore, speaking about the ideal as the “ground of all
possibility” in the first Critique, Kant unequivocally spells out that
he thinks of the grounding relation as one of inherence:

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

content, comprehends all predicates under itself; it also contains
them within itself; and the complete determination of any and
every thing rests on this All of Reality [dieses All der Realität].
(A 577/ B605—emphasis added)31

Passages of this sort come up repeatedly in Kant. I will have the

occasion to say more about them below.

Kant presents a separate argument to the effect that there can
be only a single being that grounds all possibility. The argument
proceeds as follows: (1) “Because the necessary being contains
­[enthält] the ultimate ground of the possibility of all other beings,
every other being is possible only insofar as it is given through it
as a ground” [D6]; therefore, (2) possibilities of all other beings
“depend on it”; however, (3) a being whose possibility depends
on another “does not contain the ultimate ground of all possibil-
ity” (for at least one possibility, namely its own, is contained in
another being); therefore, (4) “the necessary being is unitary,”
which is to say, a “ground of all possibility” there can be only one.
(BDG AA 2:83f.).

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

Adams, assuming that Kant relies on D6* rather than on D6,

argues that Kant’s demonstration fails at this stage. 32 And there is
no doubt that, if Kant indeed relied on D6*, that would have been
the case: If Kant were relying on the assumption that a necessary
being is one on which some but not all possibilities depend (D6*), it
would be false—in fact, silly of him—to conclude that there can’t
be several necessary beings. However, as we have seen, Kant relies
on the assumption that all possibilities are grounded in the neces-
sary being. Adams fails to observe that Kant’s words in the thick
of this very argument reinforce his commitment to D6 rather than
D6*. 33 His reading is thus at odds with the principle of charity—
not, to be sure, merely because on that reading Kant’s argument
fails, but because it obviously does. And what is more, because it is
hard to see why Kant would think “any” but repeatedly write “all.”
In any case, on the assumption that all possibilities are
grounded in a necessary being, Kant’s argument is plausible. A
necessary being, a ground of all possibility—there can be only one.

For convenience, here is an overview of the argument:

1. D1: Internal possibility (a thing’s essence) depends not only

on the formal element of possibility (the consistency of the
predicates participating in the essence), but also on a real or
“material element” (the predicates or properties participat-
ing in the essence).
2. D2: Formal possibility depends on material possibility.
Contradiction is a relation posited between given predi-
cates or things. There is no contradictory/consistent rela-
tion where nothing is pre-given that can enter into relations.


3. D3: Possibility is grounded in something actually existing.

[By the PSR, if something is possible, there is something in
virtue of which it is possible; further, by the PSR, ultimate
grounds, existing unconditionally, must ground possibility;
otherwise the fact that something is possible would remain
4. D4: Necessarily, something is possible. Kant considers it
impossible that absolutely nothing is possible. This claim
can also be justified by the PSR. If nothing is possible, then
nothing exists. But, then, there can be no reason why noth-
ing is possible. Therefore, something is possible.
5. D5: Necessarily, something exists. [From D3 and D4]
6. D6: All possibility is grounded in a single being. [By the
PSR, all possibilities, including relations and possible rela-
tions, have to be grounded. But this can be the case if and
only if the same being grounds all possibilities; had differ-
ent possibilities been grounded in two or more beings, the
relations between these beings would have to be grounded
as well by yet another being, and so on; by the PSR, this
cannot regress ad infinitum.]
7. There is a being that exists necessarily. [From A6 and D5]
8. There is only one necessary being. [From D6, a necessary
being is a being on which all possibilities depend. There-
fore, if two necessary beings existed, the possibility of each
of these would have to be grounded in the other. But then,
for each being there would be at least one possibility whose
ground is external to it, namely its own possibility. But then,
that being would not be necessary.]

This argument commits Kant to Spinozism in several ways. First,

the claim that fundamental (non-analyzable) possibilities exist as

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

divine determinations, Bestimmungen, invites the conclusion that

space is a divine attribute. It is important to notice that Kant’s term
Bestimmung, implying limitation, may seem at first inappropriate
for describing something like a Spinozist attribute, which is infi-
nite. However, Kant uses this term also when explicitly describing
Spinoza’s own attributes. For example, in the Critique of Practical
Reason Kant writes that if his own philosophy, transcendental
idealism, “is denied, only Spinozism remains, in which space and
time are essential determinations [Bestimmungen] of the original
being itself.”34
This comment is telling, among other reasons because, in the
Beweisgrund, Kant uses extension as the chief example of a funda-
mental property:

“Is a body in itself possible?” Because you must not call upon
experience here you will enumerate for me the data of its pos-
sibility; namely extension, impenetrability, force, and who
knows what else, and add that there is no internal conflict
therein. I grant all of this . . . and yet you must give me some jus-
tification of your right immediately to assume the concept of
extension as a datum: for assuming that it denotes nothing, the
possibility of the body for which it is a datum is an illusion. It
would also be quite wrong to appeal to experience for the sake
of this datum, for the question is just whether there is an inter-
nal possibility of a fiery body even if absolutely nothing exists.
Granted that henceforth you cannot analyze the concept of ex-
tension into simpler data in order to show that there is no con-
flict in it, since you must necessarily finally come to something
whose possibility cannot be analyzed, then the question here is
whether space and extension are only empty words or whether
they denote something. (BDG AA 2:78)


Given that Kant arrives at the conclusion that the most fundamen-
tal properties, like extension, are a divine determination (attri-
bute), the Spinozist threat is clear. Every contemporary of Kant’s
would have to wonder how, or whether, Kant intends to evade the
conclusion that extension just is a divine attribute. 35 Later in his
career Kant says something by way of answering that question. In
Lectures on Metaphysics he comments, “if I take space to be a thing
in itself, then Spinozism is inevitable; that is, the parts of the world
are parts of the deity. Space is the deity.”36 And then again, “Those
who take space as a thing in itself or as a property of things, are
forced to be Spinozists, i.e., they take the world as the embodiment
[Inbegrieff] of determinations from one necessary substance. . . .
Space as something necessary would have been also an attribute
[Eigenschaft] of God, and all things [would have] existed in space,
thus in God.”37 To be sure, in the second Critique Kant argues
that a Leibnizian-idealist conception of space (and time) cannot
avoid Spinozism, either. It is inconsistent, Kant writes, to maintain
that space and time are essential determinations of created enti-
ties, but to deny that God—who created these entities—has these

I do not see how those who insist on regarding time and space
as determinations belonging to the existence of things in them-
selves would avoid fatalism of actions; or if (like the otherwise
acute Mendelssohn) they flatly allow both of them [time and
space] to be conditions necessarily belonging only to the exis-
tence of finite and derived beings but not to that of the infinite
original being—I do not see how they would justify themselves
in making such a distinction, whence they get a warrant to do
so, or even how they would avoid the contradiction they en-
counter when they regard existence in time as a determination

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

attaching necessarily to finite things in themselves, while God

is said to be the cause of this existence but cannot be the cause
of time. 38

This brings Kant to the claim, mentioned in passing above, that

if transcendental idealism is denied, “only Spinozism remains, in
which space and time are essential determinations of the original
being itself.”39 The mature Kant certainly did think that his pre-
critical position was committed to Spinozism—not merely be-
cause the mature Kant thought that all transcendental realism is
committed to Spinozism, but because he knew he had made exten-
sion an attribute of God.
This suggests the possibility that one crucial motivation behind
Kant’s turn to transcendental idealism was the fact that it enabled
him to avoid Spinozism. Chignell acknowledges this possibility,
although in passing, when analyzing the “threat of Spinoza,” with
which Kant’s pre-critical Beweisgrund is pregnant: “Note that I am
not making,” he writes, “the (scandalously attractive) revisionist
claim that Kant self-consciously became a transcendental idealist
in order to avoid Spinozism.”40 I agree with Chignell that this re-
visionist claim is very attractive, but cannot argue for it directly
in this chapter. Hopefully, subsequent chapters will establish this
claim exactly, by showing that Kant’s maneuver in the Antinomies
is fully conscious of the realization that transcendental realism is
committed to Spinozism. As Kant expresses this in his Remark on
the Fourth Antinomy, transcendental realists cannot but regard
the unconditioned ground of the world—of course, this includes
Kant’s own pre-critical ground of all possibility—as an immanent
ground. He consciously claims they cannot but regard this im-
manent unconditioned ground as “just the world itself [die Welt
selbst]” rather than a thing “distinct from it” (A456/B484).


More relevant here, Kant’s argument strongly suggests sub-

stance monism. The fundamental premise of the argument is the
assumption, supported by D4, that a being that grounds all pos-
sibility necessarily exists. The argument clearly fails if grounds
of possibilities can be scattered in different beings, or grounded
by finite (complex) entities—and by D6 they cannot be. Thus all
possibilities—whether grounded in God’s determinations or con-
sequences (Folgen)—inhere in the necessary being. This invites
comparison to Spinoza’s substance monism, in which one being
exists necessarily (substance) and everything else is considered as
its properties—attributes (Bestimmungen) and modes (Folgen).
How genuine and unambiguous this association with substance
monism is depends on whether Kant identifies consequences with
existing finite things. The Beweisgrund is committed to full-blown
Spinozism only if he does, and the text is somewhat unclear about
it. If Kant does not associate “consequences” with existing things
(but only with their “possibility”), then the argument—despite its
Spinozistic strands and dangers—may still look compatible with a
Leibnizian version (and this is how this argument usually has been
read). However, in some instances the text seems to talk of “con-
sequences” interchangeably with existing worldly objects;41 and
it appears that Kant’s argument fails if consequences aren’t finite
existing things.42 What is clear enough is that whenever Kant later
reflects on this argument, he unambiguously recognizes that the
being that serves as the material ground of all possibility contains
all existing things; moreover, that he explicitly associates this con-
ception—his own conception—with Spinoza’s God. For example,
referring back to the first Critique’s ideal, Kant writes:

This One . . . contains the material for production of all other pos-
sible things, as the supply of marble does for an infinite multitude

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

of statues, which are altogether possible only through limita-

tion (separation of the remainder from a certain part of the
whole, thus only through negation). . . . In a world fashioned
this way one comes strongly to suspect that this metaphysi-
cal God (the realissimum) is one with the world (despite all
protestations against Spinozism), as the totality of all existing

In Lectures on Metaphysics he explains:

The conceptus originarius of Being in general, which is supposed

to be the ground of all concepts of things, is a concept of the ens
realissimum. All concepts of negations are derivative, and so we
must first have real concepts if we want to have negative ones.
The embodiment [Inbegriff] of all realities is considered also as
the stock [Magazin] from which we take all the matter for the
concepts of all beings. Philosophers name ‘evil’ the formal, and
‘good’ the material. This formal can mean only the limitation
[Einschränkung] of all reality, through which things [Dinge]
with realities and negations, i.e. finite things are produced. All
difference between things is thus a difference of form . . . All
conceptus of entia limitata are conceptus derivativi and the con-
ceptus originarius for our reason is that of an ens realissimum. If
I deduce the existence of an ens realissimum from its concept,
this is the way to Spinozism.44

These passages—speaking of the stock of all real possibilities, or

of the material ground of possibility—are clearly continuous with
the Beweisgrund’s conception. Both indicate that Kant thinks this
notion entails that finite existing things inhere in God, and both
associate this conception with Spinoza.45


The same view is also expressed in the first Critique’s Ideal of

Pure Reason.46 Here Kant speaks of all possibilities as inhering in
the most real being, the “All” of reality, as limitations:

If, therefore, reason employs in the complete determination of

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

Kant’s recognition in the passages above that finite things are con-
ceived as mere (“nothing but”) limitations of the “All” is telling.
A prevailing objection to Spinozism—which was well-known in
Kant’s time and put forward by both Wolff and Mendelssohn—
unfairly ridiculed Spinoza’s conception of substance as an uncon-
ditioned totality that is produced as a sum, an aggregate of separate
finite parts. They mistakenly argued, to use Wolff’s language, that
Spinoza thinks of modes as Theile in dem Ganzem—parts in the
whole.47 Of course, Spinoza doesn’t make this mistake: he holds
that substance is ontologically prior to its “parts,” which are noth-
ing but mere limitations (substance is ontologically simple). Thus,
by insisting that the ideal’s parts are contained within it as mere
limitations, Kant closes off the possible Wolffian objection, re-
maining thereby faithful to a genuine Spinozist conception. He re-
peats the same point later, as he emphasizes that the “All” contains
all possibilities “as their ground, not as their sum” (A579/B607).
Allison comments on this passage that Kant’s “prime concern
was to avoid the Spinozistic implications of the identification of

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

God with the sum total of reality.”48 Ward similarly argues that
Kant’s claim that the ideal is the ground but not the sum of all pos-
sibilities reflects an attempt to dissociate himself from Spinoza.49
Franks similarly comments: “It is true that Kant talks at first of
the omnitudo realitatis as if it were identical with the ens realissi-
mum, which might suggest a Spinozist construal. But Kant explic-
itly revises his formulation, indicating that the omnitudo ­realitatis
is grounded in God, so that God is not to be identified with the
sum-total of all reality.”50 As evidence that Kant revises his for-
mulation, Franks brings the same passage discussed by ­A llison
and Ward: “the supreme reality must condition the possibility of
all things as their ground, not of their sum” (A579/B607). 51 Re-
ferring to the same lines in the first Critique, Lord clarifies that
Kant’s insistence that God isn’t the “sum-total” of reality denies
“any immanent relation between God and the world, wherein the
world can be said to be ‘in’ God.”52 While all four correctly ap-
preciate Spinoza’s relevance here, they seem to me to misinterpret
Kant’s “All” and (in this context perhaps not less significantly)
Spinoza’s. Far from dissociating himself from Spinozism (or “re-
vising his formulation” to avoid Spinozism), Kant remains faith-
ful to a genuine Spinozist conception. Certainly, had he written
that the “All” is the sum-total of reality he wouldn’t have been a
Spinozist. 53 Significantly, when Kant classifies the kinds of Pan-
theism in the Lectures on Metaphysics, he marks Spinozism pre-
cisely as that kind in which God is the ground rather than the
“aggregate” of all things:

Pantheism still has Spinozism as a special kind . . . I can say, ev-
erything is God, and this is the system of Spinozism, or I can say
the “All” is God, like Xenophanes said, and this is Pantheism.
Pantheism is either one of inherence, and this is Spinozism, or


one of the aggregates. . . . Spinoza says: the world is inhering

in God as accidents, and so worldly substances are his conse-
quences [Wirkungen], and in itself exist only one substance. . . .
In Spinozism God is the ground [Urgrund] of everything that is in
the world. In Pantheism he is an aggregate of everything that is in
the world. 54

Wirkungen, in this passage, is clearly interchangeable with the

term Folgen, which Kant employs in the Beweisgrund. Kant consid-
ers Spinoza’s modes, too, as “consequences” inhering in the uncon-
ditioned “All.”

Kant argues in the Beweisgrund that the necessary being whose ex-
istence he has demonstrated has understanding and will. The ar-
gument relies on the claim that God, as the being that possesses all
possibilities, also has “the highest reality.” The “maximum possi-
ble” realities are inherent in it, Kant writes, and “both understand-
ing and will” are realities. Therefore, God has these properties
(BDG AA 2:87).
At first glance, this line of argument seems to contradict the
Spinozist interpretation I have given. 55 A Spinozistic necessary
being (substance) does not seem to be the kind of entity to which
the attributes of understanding and will can be conveniently as-
cribed. Yet Kant’s argument actually supports the Spinozist in-
terpretation of the Beweisgrund. For Kant is quick to raise doubts
regarding the way in which the necessary being is said to have
understanding and will: It must “remain undecided,” he writes,
whether “understanding and will” are in fact “determinations” of
the necessary being or are ascribed to it merely as “consequences

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

[Folgen] of it in other things” (BDG AA 2:8). Given the argument

just provided (God has all realities; “understanding and will” are
realities; therefore, God has “understanding and will”), Kant’s
reservations are telling. They show, first, that he realizes that the
necessary being whose existence he has proven is not easily con-
sidered a person. But more important, Kant’s reservations indicate
once more that he views consequences as divine properties, inher-
ing in God. Otherwise his claim is obviously false: properties of
God’s “consequences” are transitive to God only if consequences
are themselves God’s properties. The position Kant here suggests
is just the Spinozist position, in which God does not have under-
standing and will as defining attributes (determinations)—and
yet God has them insofar as finite beings (modes) are said to have

I have argued that Kant’s demonstration is committed to Spi-
nozism. Was Kant aware of this? Charity makes it difficult to hold
that he wasn’t. And much textual evidence supports the impression
that indeed he was: passages in which Kant claims that Spinozism
is the “true consequence of dogmatic metaphysics”; passages in
which he says that “if transcendental idealism is not adopted, only
Spinozism remains”; and passages in which Kant identifies the
Ideal’s ens realissimum with Spinoza’s substance.
However, the relevance of these passages to Kant’s pre-critical
writings needs to be examined, for they were written much later
in Kant’s career. Kant doesn’t explicitly endorse Spinozism in the
­Beweisgrund; and he doesn’t write that Spinozism is inevitable in


the pre-critical writings or in the Critique of Pure Reason. The first

text in which such a view is expressed is the Critique of Practical
Reason (1788). Some scholars, I believe, would cling to the hypoth-
esis that Kant never took Spinoza seriously before the outbreak
of the Pantheismusstreit in 1785. On that view, Kant’s comments
on the inevitability of Spinozism during the late 1780s are spuri-
ous, made in the context of the Streit. They indicate nothing about
Kant’s thoughts in the pre-critical period or in the first edition of
the Critique of Pure Reason. The upshot of this view would be that,
even if Kant came to agree with Jacobi’s thesis that “the only phi-
losophy is the philosophy of Spinoza,” this came to him as a genu-
ine discovery. On this account, even if Kant’s 1763 demonstration
and 1781 Ideal of Pure Reason are committed to Spinozism, he
recognized that this was the case only much later. From this per-
spective, given that Kant doesn’t explicitly endorse Spinozism in
the Beweisgrund, it would be hermeneutically irresponsible—or,
what is worse, Straussian—to suggest that he was aware of his Spi-
nozist commitment.
My first response is that I think we should care less about Kant’s
conscious commitments in 1763. The Beweisgrund is committed to
Spinozism and the Ideal of Pure Reason to regulative Spinozism.
As we have seen, this is something that Kant—at least later in his
career—concedes. Moreover, even if, today, it is tempting to think
that the “inevitability of Spinozism” thesis is something that Kant
learned from Jacobi, Jacobi himself actually reported that he had
learned it from Kant—from the Beweisgrund. 56
Hermeneutically, it is only reasonable to assume that if Kant
was aware of his Spinozist commitments in 1763, he would remain
silent about them—even deny them. The assumption that if Kant
was aware of his Spinozist commitments he would openly confess
them is, hermeneutically, immature. There is no Straussianism

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

here—only historical sensitivity. Some views just couldn’t be ex-

pressed in 1763 by a Prussian philosophy professor.
The fact that later in his career Kant speaks explicitly about
Spinozism isn’t due to a late discovery, but to the fact that after the
break of the Pantheismusstreit, Spinozism became kosher. (Indeed,
soon thereafter it would become fashionable.) Moreover, in the
critical period Kant isn’t committed to Spinozism proper but to
regulative Spinozism, and he markets his new philosophy as the
only genuine alternative to Spinoza’s own.
Actually, while never quite explicit in pre-critical times about
his Spinozist commitments, Kant does leave intriguing hints
of Spinozism already in 1763. He chooses as a motto for the
­Beweisgrund a line from Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things: while
the excerpt itself contains little that is philosophically informa-
tive, contemporary readers would certainly have asked why this
Roman poet—well-known for his pantheism, and thus as the fa-
vorite of outspoken Spinozists like J. Toland—should have been
Kant’s choice. Indeed, there is at least one passage in the Beweisgr-
und that seems more poetic, more in the spirit of Lucretius’s Spi-
nozism: “God is all-sufficient. What exists, whether it be possible
or actual, is only something insofar as it is given by Him. A human
language may let the Infinite speak to himself thus, ‘I am from
eternity to eternity, besides me there is nothing, something is but only
insofar as it is through me.’ This thought, the most sublime of any,
is yet much neglected.”57 The claim “besides me there is nothing”
speaks for itself. Also the claim that this “sublime” thought is “yet
much-neglected” deserves attention: in 1763 the much-neglected
view is exactly the Spinozist position, not the one that’s commonly
ascribed to Kant. It is the view that is no longer “much-neglected”
after the break of the Streit, and to which Kant would refer as the
true consequence of dogmatic philosophy.


We can now return to Kant’s claim, in the second Critique, that

if transcendental idealism is denied, “nothing remains but Spi-
nozism, in which space and time are essential determinations of
the original being itself, while the things dependent upon it, our-
selves, therefore, included, are merely accidents inhering in it.”
Kant adds to this:

One may say that the dogmatic teachers of metaphysics have

shown more shrewdness than sincerity in keeping this difficult
point out of sight as much as possible, in the hope that if they
said nothing about it no one would be likely to think of it. 58

Kant believes that Spinozism’s inevitability is a detail that every

competent metaphysician must have seen—nay, has seen, but
actively ignored. He claims that the “dogmatic teachers of
metaphysics”—­ Leibnizian philosophers like Wolff, Baumgar-
ten, and Mendelssohn—have recognized Spinoza’s inevitability
but remained silent about it. Surely Kant didn’t fail to remember
that he, too, before announcing a philosophical revolution, was a
member of the same club. Clearly, the view that metaphysicians
have shrewdly kept “out of sight” until 1785 is the very same view
that in 1763 was “sublime” but “as of yet much-neglected.”

I V.
Of course, it is Kant’s 1781 commitments that are of chief philo-
sophical interest. Is the critical Kant committed to Spinozism?
What is the nature of this commitment? The first Critique, it
is well-known, excludes demonstrative knowledge of God’s

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

existence. In the Ideal of Pure Reason, Kant systematically rejects

all demonstrations prevalent in his time: he refutes the ontologi-
cal argument by claiming that existence is not a real predicate
and, building on that refutation, rejects the cosmological and the
physico-theological arguments. This is perplexing, however. The
three proofs rejected in the Critique as the “only possible three”
had been, in fact, refuted already by 1763 (even 1755). One would
have thought that Kant should first and foremost refute his own
alternative demonstration—but such a refutation is never even ex-
plicitly mentioned. 59
In fact, the Ideal of Pure Reason does not merely fail to address
the 1763 demonstration. Albeit with some changes, it adopts its
main argument. The regulative ideal of reason, which provides
and contains the “supreme and complete material condition of the
possibility of all that exists,” bears the metaphysical structure of
the deity whose existence Kant pledged to prove in 1763. This fact,
which has been noted by a number of scholars, comes forth most
clearly in Kant’s account of “complete determination”60:

This principle [of complete determination] does not rest merely

on the law of contradiction; for, besides considering each thing
in its relation to the two contradictory predicates, it also con-
siders it in its relation to the totality of all possibilities, that is, to
the totality of all predicates of a thing. Presupposing this sum as
being an a-priori condition, it proceeds to represent everything
as deriving its own possibility from the share which it possesses
in the sum of all possibilities. The principle of complete deter-
mination concerns, therefore, the content, and not merely the
logical form. It is the principle of the synthesis of all predicates
which are intended to constitute the complete concept of a
thing, and not simply a principle of analytic representation in


reference merely to one of two contradictory predicates. It con-

tains a transcendental presupposition, namely, that of the material
of all possibility, which in turn is regarded as containing a­ -priori
the data for the particular possibility of each and every thing.
(A572-3/B600-1—emphasis added; trans. mod.)

Kant is still committed to D1, granting that possibility depends on

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

The concept of what thus possesses all reality is just the con-
cept of a thing in itself as completely determined; and since in
all possible [pairs of] contradictory predicates one predicate,
namely, that which belongs to being absolutely, is to be found
in its determination, the concept of an ens realissimum is the
concept of an individual being. It is therefore a transcendental
ideal which serves as the basis for the complete determination
that necessarily belongs to all that exists. This ideal is the su-
preme and complete material condition of the possibility of

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

all that exists—the condition to which all thought of objects,

so far as their content is concerned, has to be traced back.
(A576/B604—emphasis mine)

Two questions come to mind. First, if Kant still accepts the prin-
ciples demonstrating God’s existence, on what grounds does he
reject their conclusion? Why does the first Critique recognize the
“ultimate ground of possibility” as a regulative notion, not a con-
stitutive principle? Second, assuming that Kant’s demonstration
is legitimately transformed into a regulative ideal, how significant
is the difference between Kant’s pre-critical Spinozism and his
critical regulative Spinozism? Is Kant’s defense of freedom, faith,
and morality affected by this commitment to Spinozism? I do not
think it is, but I will have occasion to address this question else-
where. Let us consider the first question.
Kant’s rejection of the demonstrative knowledge achieved in
the Beweisgrund could rely on his new, critical perspective: the crit-
ical Kant no longer thinks that what human beings can or cannot
conceive generates existential claims. The analysis of the “possi-
bility of possibility,” on which he relies in the pre-critical demon-
stration, may determine only what finite discursive thinkers must
assume as existing, not what actually exists. As W. Röd points out,
the critical Kant views the modal notions of “possibility,” “actual-
ity,” and “necessity” as subjective categories. They describe the re-
lation of objects to the faculties of the mind and do not correspond
to independently existing relations. Therefore, such principles as
D4 (“necessarily, something is possible”) must undergo a subjec-
tive interpretation, rendering the ideal a regulative principle, not
an existing entity.61


Fisher and Watkins have argued against this solution. They

point out that the notions of possibility, actuality, and necessity
employed in the first Critique are not restricted to the critical sub-
jective meaning; they are used also in their broader, traditional
sense. For example, Kant famously conceives of the “possibility of
an object in general,” which would seem to imply a wider notion
of possibility than the merely subjective one. Indeed, if Kant is
committed to such general notions, he has no reason for rejecting
his pre-critical demonstration. Fisher and Watkins conclude that
the early demonstration may still commit Kant, also in the critical
period, to a constitutive principle.62 It should be noted that, if this
is so, Kant is committed not merely to theoretical knowledge of
God’s existence but to Spinozism.
However, Kant does provide, if only in passing, his reason for
rejecting his pre-critical demonstration. He writes that reason has
come to “regard all possibility of things as derived from one single
fundamental possibility” because of an “illusion” which is, never-
theless, “natural” to reason (A581/B609). Hence, Kant’s reason
for rejecting the proof-status of the pre-critical demonstration has
to do with the Dialectic’s doctrine of transcendental illusion.63
More specifically, Kant has come to regard D6—the claim that all
possibility is grounded in a single being—as a result of transcen-
dental illusion. Giving up D6 justifies the transformation of the
proof into a regulative ideal. Let us examine the doctrine of tran-
scendental illusion in more detail.

Kant’s doctrine of illusion consists of his analysis of two rational
principles—principles that, he argues, cause the illusions and
misunderstandings that entrap metaphysical thought. Recent

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

literature on Kant sometimes refers to these principles as P1 and

P2.64 I retain these signs here but add that it is often overlooked
that P1 and P2 are but formulations of the PSR—a subjective and
an objective formulation, respectively:

P1: Find for the conditioned knowledge given through the un-
derstanding the unconditioned whereby its unity is brought to
completion (A308/B364).

P2: If the conditioned is given, the whole series of conditions,

subordinated to one another—a series which is therefore itself
unconditioned—is likewise given, that is, is contained in the
object and its connection (A307/B364).

With some interpretation we can render both principles quite clear.

Kant uses “conditioned” here broadly, referring to anything that
could be an object of cognition: any thing, event, or state of affairs
which requires a condition other than itself in order to be given as a
fact.65 A “condition” is the cause or the reason—what would count
as an explanation of a conditioned that is given as a fact. Following
Baumgarten, Kant speaks of “conditions” interchangeably with
“grounds,”66 the latter being what one cites in answer to a why-
question.67 An “unconditioned” is thus an ultimate condition, an
ultimate explanatory ground, of what is given as conditioned. It is
ultimate in the sense that it does not itself require further grounds
for being given (not, in any case, other than itself). Lastly, when
Kant speaks of a “conditioned” or of an “unconditioned” as “given”
(gegeben), he seems to mean that they exist.68
In this light, P1 and P2 are nothing but formulations of the
PSR—a subjective formulation and an objective formulation,
respectively.69 This is an important point that hasn’t received the


attention it deserves.70 First, P1 is a formulation of the PSR be-

cause commanding to seek for every given thing or event its ul-
timate explanatory ground is equivalent to commanding that
we eliminate all brute facts. More specifically, Kant refers to P1
as prescribing the unification of the understanding—to strive to
secure “systematic unity of thought,” bringing the concepts of the
understanding under general rational principles (A305f./B364).
However, attempting complete unification amounts to searching
for “such completeness in the series of premises as will dispense
with the need of presupposing other premises” (A416/B444). For
that reason, the search for complete unity of the understanding is
essentially a search for the unconditioned: only an unconditioned
ground would enable reason to overcome the need to suppose fur-
ther premises. (As I pointed out above, if a set of conditions for the
existence of a conditioned does not itself exist unconditionally, it
cannot be regarded a complete explanation of the conditioned; for
the ground of its existence is part of the sufficient conditions for
the existence of the conditioned.) Only an unconditioned being
contains, Kant writes, “a therefore for every wherefore” and is in
every way “sufficient as a condition” (A585/B613).
However, P1 is only a subjective formulation of the PSR be-
cause it does not state any fact about the world. It states rather a
fact about reason, namely that it strives for ultimate (or complete)
explanations. More accurately, P1 does not state anything at all
but prescribes rather a task, eine Aufgabe71—“Search for the ulti-
mate condition!,” “Eliminate brute facts!”—without promising
that that task can be fulfilled. Therefore, P1 is a regulative formula-
tion of the PSR and carries with it none of the ontological commit-
ments that a constitutive formulation would entail. Specifically, it
carries no commitment as to the existence of an unconditioned
therefore for every wherefore.

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

Kant considers it “beyond all possibility of doubt” that reason

indeed commands such an explanatory Aufgabe; he writes of the
demand for explanation as of a natural instinct, directing us as a
“logical postulate” (A497f./B526f.). This is a strong claim, and one
might ask how Kant could justify it. What is the source of the task?
Where does the instinctive demand for explanation come from?
(Even if the task is not, strictly speaking, categorical, why does
it seem to be?) For example, is it grounded in some further facts
about the nature of our reason? Is it caused by the psychological
constitution of our mind? (One is reminded here of the Nietzs-
chean claim that our thirst for explanation is the result of mere
fear—very much like Spinoza had argued before him that mere
fear stands behind our superstitious thirst for religion and for a
personal God. This, of course, would not have been Kant’s answer;
but then, what is his answer?) Kant never tackles that point di-
rectly. Henry Allison has made in passing a relevant suggestion,
dubbing P1 the “categorical imperative” of theoretical reason.72
I will return to these questions in the third and fourth chapters of
this volume; in the final analysis, the grounding of P1 as a moral
task may be key to defending Kant’s critique of the PSR.
P2 has the same content as P1 but it formulates that content ob-
jectively rather than subjectively—it is declarative rather than im-
perative. Here a fact about the world is asserted: if any conditioned
is given, the complete set of its explaining conditions is given as
well—exists. In P2, reason’s need to find a completeness that dis-
penses with all “need of other premises”—reason’s aspiration to
find the “therefore for every wherefore”—receives an objective
correlate. As pointed out above, this amounts to affirming the ex-
istence of an unconditioned being: if such a being doesn’t exist, the
explanatory grounding series would regress ad infinitum; it will be
impossible to dispense with the need for further premises. P2 thus


asserts the PSR objectively rather than subjectively—“There are

no brute facts”—and spells out the ontological commitments that
that assertion implies.
According to Kant, metaphysicians affirm and assume the
truth of P2 because they are naturally (and legitimately) driven
by P1. Given P1, P2 appears to be inevitable and justified: if reason
naturally impels us to search for an unconditioned element of
knowledge, it is rational to think that such an entity is there to be
found, that it exists. In fact, Kant would grant even more: he would
agree that P2 is a necessary working assumption for anybody en-
gaging in theoretical philosophy; for it wouldn’t make sense to
strive to find the ultimate explanation for everything without
believing that everything can be, at least in principle, ultimately
However, as appealing (and psychologically necessary) as that
working hypothesis may be, metaphysicians fall prey to an illusion
if they are tempted to believe that they know that there is an ulti-
mate explanation (i.e., that P2 is true). For the transition from P1
to P2 is unjustified, and in principle—or so Kant argues—cannot
be justified. First, this transition cannot be accounted for analyti-
cally, because the concept “conditioned” only contains “having a
condition,” and not “depending on an unconditioned.” (We may
analyze as much as we can the concept “conditioned,” it will never
turn out to have “unconditioned” entity as one of its components;
it is only a tautology that it has one or more “conditions.”) More-
over, P2 is an existential claim and, as such, at least according to
Kant, must be justified synthetically—it needs to be verified by
experience. Experiencing an unconditioned entity, however, is im-
possible. An unconditioned entity cannot be experienced through
the mediating conditions of experience, which depend on space,
time, and causality.

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

Take the principle, that the series of conditions (whether in the

synthesis of appearances, or even in the thinking of things in
general) extends to the unconditioned. Does it or does it not
have objective applicability? What are its implications as re-
gards the empirical employment of the understanding? Or is
there no such objectively valid principle of reason, but only a
logical precept, to advance toward completeness by an ascent
to ever higher conditions and so to give to our knowledge the
greatest possible unity of reason? Can it be that this require-
ment of reason has been wrongly treated in being viewed as a
transcendental principle of pure reason, and that we have been
overhasty in postulating such an unbounded completeness in
the series of conditions in the objects themselves? (A309/B366)

One way to understand P2’s illusory nature is to compare Kant’s

doctrine of illusion to Descartes’ reliance, in the Meditations, on
the claim that God is not a deceiver. If reason naturally commands
me to search for an unconditioned element of knowledge (P1) but
that element doesn’t exist (so that P2 is false), God would be (for
Descartes) a deceiver. Thus, Kant’s claim that we may operate on
the basis of P1 but may not assume that P2 is true is equivalent to
refusing to assert, with Descartes, that we know that God is not a
deceiver. (In fact, insofar as the illusion that P2 is known to be true
is itself natural to reason, Kant comes close to affirming that God
is a deceiver. Moreover, other and related arguments in the first
Critique’s Dialectic bring Kant even closer to blasphemy; he claims
that reason generates, by means of P2, clear and distinct ­illusions.
The Cogito—that is, Descartes’s perception of the “I” as a thinking
substance—is itself one of them.)
Still, Kant leaves room for God’s benevolence—and in a true
Cartesian fashion—by arguing that reason is capable of detecting


its own illusions. And, despite the fact that detecting these illusions
doesn’t make them disappear—for they are natural and necessary
(see A297f./B354f.)—it does prevent the erroneous metaphysical
judgments that they cause. Indeed, the first ­Critique’s Dialectic
is supposed to have just this curative function: by “exposing the
illusion .  .  . [it] takes precautions that we be not deceived by it”
In the Antinomies, Kant tries to show that P2 is not only un-
justified but also false, by showing that it forces reason into proven
contradictions. That part of his argument is less relevant here; for
present purposes, Kant’s insistence that P2’s (or the PSR’s) status
is problematic is sufficient: given that that principle has grounded
the pre-critical demonstration all along (in D3–D6), the demon-
stration loses its force if the principle cannot be known to be valid.
Let us spell out the ways in which the pre-critical demonstration
assumes P2 (i.e., the PSR).
Consider first D3 (“possibility is grounded in something ex-
isting”; i.e., if something is possible, something exists). Assume
that something is possible (say, the concept “man”). That possibil-
ity is conditioned; it depends on further conditions—namely, the
material conditions of that possibility, or predicates that partici-
pate in that concept’s definition (say, “rational,” “animal”). These
predicates, in turn, depend on other predicates—further material
conditions of their possibility (say, “animal” depends on “body,”
which in turn depends on “extension”). So far along the argument,
we are at D2 (“essences depend on the material conditions of their
possibility”) and operate on P1: we persistently search for the con-
ditions of conditioned possibilities. However, once we move from
D2 to D3—from assuming that each conditioned possibility has
its conditions to assuming that its ultimate condition (hence an
unconditioned condition) exists—we’re guilty exactly of the slip

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

from P1 to P2 of which Kant had warned us. For we don’t assume

merely that we can always search for further conditions, but that
once the conditioned is given, an unconditioned exists. That as-
sumption, Kant had argued, can be accepted only dogmatically.
Kant does not seem to have exactly that analysis in mind when
dismissing the pre-critical demonstration (or, what is the same,
when he grants the ideal regulative, but not constitutive status).
He writes that reason “regards all possibility of things as derived
from one single fundamental possibility” because of a “natural
illusion”—thus, he refers to D6 as the demonstration’s illusory
element. In order to see why D6 results from P2, the analysis pro-
vided above for D3 needs to be applied to relations.
Given any relation between two possibilities (or concepts), the
condition of that relation must be given as well—a third entity (or
concept) capable of grounding the relation. Moreover, driven by
the PSR, one would demand that all relations and inter-relations
have their conditions. Furthermore, one may claim that if all rela-
tions and inter-relations are grounded, a single entity must be the
ground of them all. (Again, if two or more entities grounded these
relations, the relations between these entities would have to be
grounded, too, by another entity and so on, ad infinitum. But then,
not all relations would be grounded.) So far along the argument we
proceed on P1. However, once we move from the demand that all
relations be grounded—and from determining the necessary con-
ditions under which all relations can be grounded—to the claim
that all relations are grounded, we operate under the spell of P2.
For we do not claim merely that all relations need to be grounded
according to our rational principles, or that if all relations are
grounded then they are grounded by a single entity. Rather, we
assert that all relations are so grounded. But this, Kant argues, we
haven’t justified, and cannot know.


Understanding Kant’s rejection of the demonstration in terms

of the doctrine of transcendental illusion sheds much light on his
position. That doctrine ensures that Kant has defensible grounds
for denying the pre-critical demonstration; and it explains why,
despite the fact that the demonstration is rejected, it is not given
up altogether. Whereas P2 illegitimately compels us to assert the
existence of an unconditioned being, P1 shows why we cannot but
assume the existence of such a being. It also shows how we must
conceive of its metaphysical structure.
Kant, in other words, is committed to regulative Spinozism.
The first Critique’s ideal, which isn’t taken anymore as an entity
whose existence has been proven but as an idea that can direct our
theoretical reasoning, has a structure resembling Spinoza’s sub-
stance. It must be conceived as the stock of material possibility, in
which all existing things inhere: “It is not merely a concept which,
as regards its transcendental content, comprehends all predicates
under itself; it also contains them within itself; and the complete
determination of any and every thing rests on this All of Real-
ity [dieses All der Realität]” (A577/B605—emphasis added). All
finite beings are conceived as “nothing but limitations” of the “All”
(A575/B603). As Kant wrote in 1793, this metaphysical God is
conceived as “one with the world (despite all protestations against
Spinozism), as the totality of all existing things.” 74 The difference
between Spinozism, which the critical Kant certainly rejects, and
regulative Spinozism, to which the critical Kant is committed, is
that the latter doesn’t pretend to know or to be able to prove that
the metaphysical God—the realissimum—exists.
The vexing question is whether Kant’s analysis of transcenden-
tal illusion ultimately provides an effective answer to Spinozism.
If it doesn’t, Kant would seem to be committed to Spinozism that
isn’t regulative, but looks very much like Spinoza’s own. To begin

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

to address the problematics associated with this question, we will

have to consider the Antinomies and Spinoza.


1. F. H. Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses
Mendelssohn, in Schriften zum Spinozastreit, vol. 1 of Friedrich Heinrich
Jacobi: Werke, ed. K. Hammacher (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1998),
pp.  121f.—my translation; H. Pistorius, “Erläuterungen über des Herrn
Professor Kant Kritik der Reinen Vernunft von J. Schultze,” Allgemeine
Deutsche Bibliothek 60:1 (1786)—my translation.
2. See Briefe AA 10:430.
3. BDG AA 02. Unless noted otherwise, English citations of the BDG are to
G. Treash’s translation, Immanuel Kant, The One Possible Basis for a Dem-
onstration of the Existence of God, trans. G. Treash (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1979).
4. For present purposes we may describe the PSR as the claim that “there are
no brute facts”: if a given fact cannot be explained, its existence is denied.
Very little has been written on Kant’s stance to the PSR (at least one impor-
tant exception is B. Longuenesse’s “Kant’s Deconstruction of the Principle
of Sufficient Reason,” Harvard Review of Philosophy 4 [2001], pp. 67–87).
This neglect is unfortunate, because Kant’s critique of reason is intimately
connected to his criticism of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. I offer a
comprehensive account of Kant’s relation to the PSR in Chapter 4. For a
thorough interpretation of that essay drawing on the PSR, see A. Chignell’s
“Kant, Modality, and the Most Real Being,” Archiv für Geschichte der Phi-
losophie 2: (2009), pp. 157–192.
5. The “possibility argument” provided in proposition 7 of the New Elucida-
tion, which, in my view, consists in assumptions similar to the Beweisgrund’s,
has similarly suggested Spinozism. Cf. Tillmann Pinder’s inaugural dis-
sertation, Kants Gedanke vom Grund aller Möglichkeit: Untersuchungen zur
Vorgeschichte der “transzendentalen Theologie” (Berlin, 1969), pp. 123–125.
I thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing out Pinder’s important discus-
sion, which has gone virtually unnoticed in current literature on Kant’s pos-
sibility argument. By contrast to Pinder, however, and in agreement with
current literature, I focus on Kant’s Beweisgrund rather than the New Elu-
cidation in my analysis. The differences between the arguments seem to me
unclear, not the least because the New Elucidation dedicates the argument
no more than one page.


6. Chignell in my view correctly identifies the “threat of Spinozism” in Kant’s

Beweisgrund argument but underestimates the “threat” in arguing that it
arises only once attempting to rescue the argument from a flow in Kant’s
presuppositions (“Kant, Real Possibility and the Threat of Spinoza,” Mind
121:483 [2012], pp. 635–675). I will argue that there’s no flow in Kant’s pre-
suppositions, hence that the argument is committed to Spinozism on Kant’s
own terms.
7. FM AA 20:302. To be on the safe side, note that in this passage the critical
Kant makes it clear that he is opposed to this metaphysical idea of the “One.”
But the passage leaves little room for doubt that he thinks this Spinozist idea
is necessary if one thinks metaphysically—it is the only consistent way to
represent the realissimum. Moreover, his wording evokes the terms used in
the Beweisgrund: Kant speaks of the realissimum as the material ground of
8. See, for example, W. H Walsh, Kant’s Criticism of Metaphysics (Edinburgh: Ed-
inburgh University Press, 1975), p. 218; M. Fisher and E. Watkins, “Kant on
the Material Ground of Possibility: From the Only Possible Argument to the
Critique of Pure Reason,” The Review of Metaphysics 52:2 (1998), pp. 369–397.
9. D. Henrich notices this in his Der Grund im Bewusstsein: Untersuchungen
zu Hoelderlins Denken (1794–1795) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1992), pp. 50f.
But Henrich doesn’t elaborate on this point. Interpreters sometimes sug-
gest that in the Ideal, Kant “passes in silence” over his pre-critical demon-
stration. See, for example, Walsh, Kant’s Criticism of Metaphysics, p. 218;
Fisher and Watkins, “Kant on the Material Ground of Possibility”; I. Logan,
“Whatever Happened to Kant’s Ontological Argument,” Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research 84:2 (2007).
10. Kant, as we shall see below, unequivocally agrees with Jacobi. But he be-
lieves that his transcendental philosophy suggests an alternative, saving
the Enlightenment’s rationality from Spinozism. Reinhold made this thesis
public in his early Briefen über die Kantische Philosophie (1786–1787)—a
thesis Kant would eventually repeat in the preface to the first Critique’s
second edition. See Chapter 5 for a comprehensive discussion.
11. See F. Beiser, The Fate of Reason, pp. 54f.
12. M. Frank is more sympathetic to Jacobi, observing that there is at least a
“hint” of truth in Jacobi’s reading (“Unendliche Annäherung” [Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp, 1997], p. 666). Frank develops his discussion in another
direction, showing that Kant’s analysis of existence as “absolute positing” is
pregnant with Spinozist implications. See below.
13. See the Scholium of Proposition 6 of the New Elucidation.
14. Kant’s refutation is seriously lacking. For a full discussion, see chapter 4.
15. BDG AA 2:74–76. For more discussion of “absolute positing,” see W. Röd,
“Ex­istenz als Absolute Position. Überlegungen zu Kants Existenz-­
Auffassung im Einzig Möglichen Beweisgrund,” in Proceedings: The Sixth

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

International Kant Congress, ed. G. Funke and T. Seebohm (Washington,

DC: The University Press of America, 1989), pp. 67–81.
16. To illuminate the difference between absolute positing (existence) and
relative positing (predicate), Kant invokes the following example: this
relational being [expressed by the copula] is quite properly used even for
relations that non-entities [Undinge] have to one another. For example, Spi-
noza’s God is subject to incessant modifications (BDG AA 2:74).
17. I refer here to the availability or givenness of predicates to thought as their
existence, but it is important to remember that Kant does not consider this
existence in the strict sense of the word. This is only relative, not absolute
positing (see above).
18. It is interesting to note the similarity between Kant’s present claim and his
argument in the Aesthetic of the Critique of Pure Reason. The insight that
the most fundamental notions must be more than conceptual occurs also in
the Critique: whereas here these notions are regarded as “actually existing,”
the first Critique transforms them (space and time) into forms of sensible
19. I argue for the interpretive claim that this expresses the PSR below. Kant
characterizes it here as the “supreme principle of pure reason” and claims
that metaphysics (and its illusions) all spring from this principle.
2 0. R. Adams, “God, Possibility, and Kant,” Faith and Philosophy 17:4 (2000),
p. 431.
21. To be sure, it is not my intention here to show that that argument actually
works. Objections can be raised against the way in which the PSR is applied
in this context, as well as to the application of the PSR in the first place.
(Kant himself raises the latter objection in the critical period, as we shall
22. M. Fisher and E. Watkins, “Kant on the Material Ground of Possibility,”
p. 375 n. 15.
23. One may object that the relation between two entities need not be grounded
by a third entity—that it can be grounded by both of them, simultaneously.
(On such account, whatever grounds possibles—say, a plurality of Platonic
ideas—can also ground the relation between the possibles.) Such position
would be begging the question. The question still remains, what grounds
the relation of simultaneous coexistence between two entities grounding
together the relation between them.
2 4. I take that argument to also exclude the possibility that two (or more) beings
may ground all possibilities. For if two (or more) beings grounded all pos-
sibility, the relation between these beings, too, would have to be grounded.
It is hard to see how that relation could be grounded if not by a third entity
(see n. 20 above). But then, not all possible relations are grounded in either
of the said entities. Kant offers a similar argument, which I unpack below in
more detail.


25. Leibniz argues that all truths, including relational ones, must be grounded
by an existing being (at least by God thinking these truths); and that ground-
ing all of these requires a single being. By that argument, Leibniz excludes a
“Platonic” account of grounding of truths, in which grounds can be scattered
in different ideas (see Leibniz, “Vorausedition zur Reihe VI,” Philosophische
Schriften—in der Ausgabe der Wissenschaften der DDR, Bearbeitet von der
Leibniz-Forschingsstelle der Universität Münster. Fascicles 1–9, 1982–1990).
See also Adams’s discussion in “God, Possibility and Kant,” pp. 434f., as
well as his Leibniz Determinist, Theist, Idealist (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1994), pp. 177–191. For a recent discussion, Samuel Newlands, “Leib-
niz on the Ground of Possibility,” The Philosophical Review (forthcoming).
2 6. Adams, “God, Possibility and Kant,” p. 433.
27. Ibid.
2 8. As noted above, Fisher and Watkins ascribe D6 to Kant in “Kant on the Ma-
terial Ground of Possibility.” See also A. Wood, Kant’s Rational Theology
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978), p. 67; Logan, “Whatever Hap-
pened to Kant’s Ontological Argument,” p. 353; N. Stang, “Kant’s Possibil-
ity Proof,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 27 (2010), pp. 275–299. As far as
I can see, the only exception here is Chignell, who seems to be relying here
on Adams (“Kant, Real Possibility, and the Threat of Spinozism”).
29. Adams, “God, Possibility and Kant,” p. 433.
30. FM AA 20:302.
31. The structural identity between the “ground of all possibility” described
in the Ideal of Pure Reason and the ground of all possibility described in
the Beweisgrund is undisputed (see, for example, Walsh’s Kant’s Criticism
of Metaphysics, pp. 214–219). Of course, in the Ideal the status of the said
entity is modified; it is taken to be a regulative ideal, not an existing entity.
Here, however, we are not concerned with the Ideal’s existential status but
with its conceptual structure, which is the same in both texts.
32. Adams, “God, Possibility and Kant,” p. 434.
33. Cf. “Because all possibility is contained in the necessary being . . .”; “a being
whose possibility depends on another does not contain the ground of all
3 4. AA KpV 5:102. Note that Kant makes a mistake, ascribing to Spinoza the
view that space and time are divine attributes (determinations). In fact,
Spinoza regards thought, not time, as a divine attribute alongside exten-
sion (space). Whereas for present purposes it matters only that Kant uses
the term “determinations” (Bestimmungen) for Spinozistic attributes, his
mistake is telling, for it indicates that Kant thinks of Spinoza’s system in the
light of his own, in which time—not thought—is the second fundamental
notion, alongside space (extension). Kant, in other words, seems to think
that his own system takes what had been, for transcendental realism, divine

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

attributes, and transforms them into forms of sensible intuition. To be sure,

“thought” and “time” are not equivalent to one another, despite being im-
portantly similar. For Kant, time, as the form of inner sense, is the medium
in which all thought takes place; for Spinoza, by contrast, thought is prior
to time. It is very plausible that as a result of this similarity-with-a-differ-
ence, Kant slips and ascribes to Spinoza the view that space and time are
divine attributes. The disagreement between Kant and Spinoza regarding
the priority of time to thought constitutes a key difference between them.
I hope to return to consider that difference—which seems to lead directly
to Hegel—on a different occasion.
35. Kant certainly sees the common interest of theologians to deny spatiality
from God, for example in B70–72.
36. ML2 AA 28:567. See also V-MP/Dohna: “If we take space as real, we accept
Spinoza’s system” (AA 13—my translation).
37. V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt AA 28:132.
38. KpV AA 5:102.
39. KpV AA 5:102. In the first Critique’s Aesthetic, Kant reiterates the same
argument, but without mentioning Spinoza or Spinozism. In a passage in-
serted into the Critique’s second edition, he writes that if space and time are
regarded as properties of things in themselves, one has no right (Recht) to
deny that these are divine attributes. Thus, only transcendental idealism has
the right to deny this conclusion (B71f.).
4 0. Adams, “Kant, Real Possibility, and the Threat of Spinoza,” p. 637
41. See BDG AA 2:84. Kant seems to identify consequences (Folgen) with con-
tingent existing particulars. (To be sure, this passage is obscure and it isn’t
my intention to rely on it as significant textual evidence; more below.)
42. Whereas Leibniz thought that God grounds possibilities by thinking them,
Kant holds that God grounds possibilities by exemplifying them (see espe-
cially Adams’s “God, Possibility and Kant,” pp. 433f.). But then if, say, I, as
a finite being, exist as a substance that doesn’t inhere in God, God doesn’t
exemplify (i.e., ground) those possibilities that I ground by existing. The
argument then fails, relying on the assumption that a being exists necessar-
ily iff all possibilities are grounded by its existence. Adams seems to assume
just this point when he decides to revise D6 into D6*. He reasons that if
Kant operates on the assumption that a being is necessary iff all possibilities
are grounded by it, the argument would fail: “Your existence or mine,” he
writes, “would surely be enough to give a toehold in reality (though pre-
cariously contingent one) to the possibilities of those properties that we
exemplify. So God’s nonexistence would not take away all possibility unless
it excluded the existence of beings like us” (Adams, “God, Possibility and
Kant,” p. 434). As we have seen above, this leads Adams to revise Kant’s ar-
gument and claim that it relies on D6* (a being that grounds any possibility


is necessary). As we now see, however, there is no need to render D6 into

D6*; Kant’s argument doesn’t fail with D6 because all possibilities—in-
cluding those exemplified by finite beings like us—are grounded in God.
43. FM AA 20:302—emphasis added. In some reflections made in the Opus
postumum, Kant repeats similar claims and goes even further, writing that
“Transcendental idealism is Spinozism,” insofar as “it intuits all objects in
God.” But I do not enter here into the problematic of Kant’s Opus postumum.
For discussion of Kant’s comments on Spinozism in the Opus postumum, see
B. Tuschling, “Transzendentaler Idealismus ist Spinozismus. Reflexionen
von und ueber Kant und Spinoza,” in Spinoza im Deutschland. Zur Erinner-
ung an Hans-Christian Lucas, ed. E. Schuermann, N. Waszek, and F. Wein-
reich (Muenchen: Frommann-Holzboog, 2002), pp. 139–167. Tuschling
shows that Kant’s identification of transcendental idealism as Spinozism in
the Opus postumum is not the result of senility. My only reservation is that
in light of the evidence brought here, Kant’s intention may have been that
transcendental idealism is committed to regulative Spinozism.
4 4. V-MP-K2/Heinze AA 28:706—my translation. Consider also the follow-
ing: “Metaphysical bonum is what has reality. God, seen as the metaphysi-
cal summum bonum, is the matter of all possibility. In our conception [of
that being] there is always something anthropomorphic, and it directly ap-
proaches Spinozism” (V-MP-K2/Heinze AA 28:20—my translation).
45. It is interesting to consider the connection between Kant’s position that
all possibilities inhere in God and another Kantian doctrine—namely, the
doctrine named by Ameriks “derivative influx” (see his “The Critique of
Metaphysics: Kant and Traditional Ontology,” in The Cambridge Compan-
ion to Kant, ed. P. Guyer [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992],
pp. 262–274). That doctrine consists in “the idea of a unifying God who
makes things interactive in the very act that makes them what they are”
(Ameriks, “Critique of Metaphysics,” p. 262). This conception of Kant’s
seems connected to and possibly justified by the Beweisgrund’s theory that
all possibilities inhere in God. As Ameriks notes, Kant describes the deriva-
tive influx theory such that “there must be a being from which all derive. All
substances have their ground in it” (V-MP/Dohna AA 28:33), which brings
Kant close to Spinozism (see also Ameriks’s explanation of how Kant may
have sought to avoid Spinozism by what Ameriks calls the “Restraint Argu-
ment” [p. 263]) It is important to notice that Kant recognizes also that “de-
rivative influx” is committed to Spinozism. He writes, for example, “There
must be a being from which all derive. All substances have their ground
in it. If we take space as real, we accept Spinoza’s system. He believed that
only in one substance and all substances in the world he held as—divine
inhering determinations: he named space the phenomenon of the divine
omnipresence” (V-MP/Dohna AA 28:133—my translation). To be sure,
Ameriks notes that (the critical) Kant may claim that “derivative influx”

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

leads to Spinozism by means of reducing this position ad absurdum. I be-

lieve, however, that putting this in this way may be too quick. For we know
from other passages that Kant regards Spinozism as the “most consistent
form of dogmatic metaphysics.” Therefore, while this remark may well be
a normative “threat” posed by Kant to transcendental realists, it does not
seem that Kant thinks of it as a theoretical reductio.
4 6. Pinder argues that Kant’s understanding of the ground of all possibility in
the Ideal of Pure Reason returns to the position he had articulated in the
New Elucidation, not in the Beweisgrund’s conception. On his view, in the
Critique and in the New Elucidation, but not in the Beweisgrund, Kant iden-
tifies God with the omnitudo realitatis (and thus it is at least in some sense
Spinozist). Moreover, Pinder claims, in the Beweisgrund, Kant “spares no
effort” in denying Spinozism (p. 125). As pointed out above, Proposition
7 of the New Elucidation indeed suggests Spinozism, but, to the extent that
its argument can be analyzed at all, it doesn’t seem philosophically distin-
guishable from the Beweisgrund’s. Moreover, while the Beweisgrund may
indeed contain remarks pretending to avoid Spinozism, these remarks only
highlight its argument’s Spinozist comitments (on this, more below). In any
event, I can agree with Pinder’s eventual conclusion, namely that Kant’s
mature understanding of the ground of all possibility suggests substance
monism in that it associates the unconditioned with the omnitudo realitatis.
47. Mendelssohn writes: “[Wolff] proved that Spinoza believed that it is pos-
sible to produce, by combining together an infinite stock of finite qualities,
an infinite [thing]; and then he proved the falsity of this belief so clearly,
that I’m quite convinced that Spinoza himself would have applauded him”
(M.  Mendelssohn, “Dialogues,” in Philosophical Writings, trans. D. Dahl-
strom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), esp. pp. 96–105).
4 8. Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, pp. 403f.
49. C. Ward, “Spinozism and Kant’s Transcendental Ideal,” Idealistic Studies 32
(2002), pp. 221–236.
50. Franks, All or Nothing, pp. 96f.
51. Ibid.
52. Franks, Kant and Spinozism, p. 27.
53. Lord is careful to point this out, noticing the irony in the fact that by dissoci-
ating himself from Spinoza—or from Spinoza’s caricature—Kant actually
becomes a genuine Spinozist. This seems to slip from due historical sensi-
tivity to historicism. The underlying assumption seems to be that a philoso-
pher like Kant could not understand Spinoza’s metaphysis independently of
the caricature available in his time. Moreover, it assumes that Kant could
not see that the direction in which he is going is exactly one in which the
world is immanent in God. That Kant could see all this is clear, among other
things, from the passage immediately below.
5 4. V-MP-K2/Heinze AA 28:713—emphasis added.


55. This is certainly what Pinder has in mind when suggesting that Kant goes
out of his way to deny Spinozism in the essay.
56. It is worthy of notice that assuming that Kant learned from Jacobi of the
necessity of Spinozism is assuming that he learned from Jacobi what was
probably the most important lesson of his life. Kant’s great philosophi-
cal achievement was a refutation of transcendental realism but—on that
view—before Jacobi, Kant didn’t understand what transcendental realism
was. As we will see in the following chapters, whether Kant was fully aware
of his Spinozist tendencies in 1763 or not, he certainly did not learn of the
necessity of Spinozism from Jacobi, in 1785. He is fully aware of it when
constructing the Antinomies of Pure Reason, in 1781.
57. BDG AA 2:151—emphasis added.
58. KpV AA 5:103.
59. This puzzlement is repeatedly expressed in the literature. Wood presents an
exception to this. He finds Kant’s demonstration weak to begin with and,
accordingly, doesn’t think it surprising that Kant doesn’t confront it in the
first Critique. This relies on Wood’s claim that Kant irresponsibly moves
from the proposition that “necessarily, something exists” to “there is a being
that exists necessarily.” However, I suggested above a defense of that move,
consisting of a defense of D6. We will see below that whereas D6 is defen-
sible, it is indeed the premise that Kant came to criticize and, accordingly,
what caused him to reject the proof.
6 0. See, for example, Fisher and Watkins, “Kant on the Material Ground of Pos-
sibility,” pp. 369–397.
61. Röd, “Existenz als Absolute Position,” pp. 67–81.
62. Fisher and Watkins, “Kant on the Material Ground of Possibility,” pp.
63. Kant’s reliance on the first Critique’s doctrine of illusion also clarifies his
claim, in his lectures on religion, that “[the demonstration] can in no way be
refuted, because it has its basis in the nature of human reason. For my reason
makes it absolutely necessary for me to accept a being which is the ground of
everything possible, because otherwise I would be unable to conceive what
in general the possibility of something consists in” (28:1034). The first Cri-
tique’s doctrine of illusion, considered below, shows how a demonstration
that cannot be refuted—a demonstration that is “absolutely necessary” due
to the “nature of human reason”—is, nevertheless, rejected.
6 4. Following M. Grier’s analysis in Kant’s Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
65. The generality of this term becomes clear when considering the way in
which Kant reformulates it in the concrete discussions of the Dialectic. In
the first Antinomy, for example, he fills under “conditioned” spatiotemporal
things (A426/B454) and in the third Antinomy the place of “conditioned” is
taken by events (A444/B472), etc.

T h e O n e P ossi b l e B a sis

6 6. FM AA 20:328
67. Cf. V-Lo/Wiener AA 24:921. I thank Ian Proops for calling this passage to
my attention. (Note that the term “ground” carries in German a stronger
explanatory connotation than it does in English; thus in German one refers
to the Principle of Sufficient Reason as the “Principle of Sufficient Ground
[der Satz vom zureichenden Grund]” or as the “Principle of Ground [der Satz
vom Grund].”)
68. This, too, is suggested mostly by the way Kant concretely formulates that
term in the Dialectic. For example, in the first Antinomy he speaks of spa-
tiotemporal things as given and as existing interchangeably (A426/B454),
and of the world existing as infinite or finite (A427/B455); in the third An-
tinomy he speaks of events and of causes of events as existing (A444/B472),
and then of there being freedom or not.
69. I thank James Kreines, who inspired my interest in the connection between
the Supreme Principle of Reason and the PSR when discussing it in his lec-
tures at Yale University (2008).
70. For example, Grier, as pointed out above, dedicates a book-length discus-
sion to the Supreme Principle of Pure Reason without considering the
fact that that principle is the PSR. Henry Allison, too, whose discussion
is indebted to Grier’s, doesn’t equate the Supreme Principle with the PSR
(cf.  his Transcendental Idealism: Interpretation and Defense [New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2004] pp. 307–332). Conversely, Longuenesse’s ac-
count of Kant’s deconstruction of the PSR (in “Kant’s Deconstruction of
the Principle of Sufficient Reason”) doesn’t give much attention to Kant’s
attack on the Supreme Principle of Pure Reason in the first Critique’s Dia-
lectic. Ian Proops provides a recent discussion of the Supreme Principle of
Pure Reason (naming in “D,” not P2), without regarding it the PSR (“Kant’s
First Paralogism” Philosophical Review 119:4 (2010) pp. 449–495). Proops
does at some point considers the possibility that that Principle (D) is the
PSR, but by referencing the present paper (p. 454 n. 15).
71. “. . . wenn das Bedingte gegeben ist, uns eben dadurch ein Regressus in der
Reihe aller Bedingungen zu demselben aufgegeben [ist]” (A497f./B526; em-
phasis Kant’s).
72. Grier, Transcendental Idealism: Interpretation and Defense p. 53f.
73. Again, see Grier’s discussion of the inevitability and the necessity of tran-
scendental illusion in Kant’s Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion, pp. 101–130.
74. FM AA 20:30.

C ha pt e r 2

The First Antinomy and Spinoza

As we saw in the previous chapter, at least at some point in his

career Kant identifies Spinozism as the most consistent form of
transcendental realism. He argues in Refl 6050 that “Spinozism
is the true consequence of dogmatic metaphysics.”1 In the Cri-
tique of Practical Reason he similarly writes that if transcendental
idealism is denied, “only Spinozism remains, in which space and
time are essential determinations of the original being itself.” 2 In
Lectures on Metaphysics Kant pronounces: “[I]f space is taken to
be a thing in itself, Spinozism is irrefutable—that is, the parts of
the world are parts of the Deity, space is God.”3 And yet again:
“Those who take space as a thing in itself or as a property of
things are forced to be Spinozists, i.e., they take the world as the
embodiment [Inbegriff] of determinations from one necessary
substance.”4 Scholars may quarrel over whether Kant also held
that Spinozism is the most consistent form of transcendental re-
alism when constructing the Antinomies in the Critique of Pure
Reason. Most certainly assume that he did not. The question is
historical, but not merely historical. If Kant was already aware
of Spinozism being the true consequence of transcendental re-
alism when writing the first Critique, this may shed significant
light on his motivations for adopting the transcendentally ideal

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

alternative. Be that as it may, if the Antinomies fail to address and

rebut the most consistent form of transcendental realism, they
fall short of sustaining Kant’s aspirations. That is, Spinoza’s posi-
tion may escape refutation and, thereby, resolve the antinomial
conflict. Given that the Antinomies contain the ultimate “indi-
rect proof ” of transcendental idealism, this would have serious
The present chapter has three parts. In the first, I consider
Kant’s first Antinomy, arguing that it does not fail to address a
Spinozist position. The metaphysical stance articulated by the
Antithesis reflects a Spinozistic position regarding the world’s
infinity and eternity—not a Leibnizian position, as is often as-
sumed. This would begin to suggest more directly the “scandal-
ously attractive” revisionist claim according to which at least one
significant reason for adopting transcendental idealism was, in
the first place, the Spinozist threat. (To be sure, this claim can
be conclusively established only once the other Antinomies have
been considered as well; especially, we will see, the fourth.) In
the second part, I raise what I take to be the chief Spinozist chal-
lenge to the Antinomy, namely Spinoza’s reliance on a cosmo-
logical totum analyticum, in which an infinite whole is conceived
as ontologically prior to its “parts.” We will see that Kant and
Spinoza’s disagreement on the cosmological totum analyticum
leads directly to the fundamental clash between their positions,
and that, if granted, Spinoza’s position may endanger the An-
tinomy’s (specifically, the Thesis’s) refutation. 5 In the conclud-
ing part of the chapter, I suggest the beginning of an answer to
Spinoza’s challenge. This defense, however, cannot be concluded
before we discuss Kant’s refutation of the ontological argument,
in Chapter 4.


Several attempts have been made in the literature to identify the
Antinomies’ historical sources. S. Al Azm’s The Origins of Kant’s Ar-
guments in the Antinomies, which traces the antinomial debate back
to the Leibniz-Clarke controversy, remains highly influential.6 On
that reading, whereas the Thesis corresponds to Clarke’s Newto-
nian position—assuming space and time as “empty containers”—
the Antithesis corresponds to Leibniz’s position, which denies
empty containers with an argument from the PSR.7 Other attempts
to trace the Antinomies’ historical origins sometimes associate the
Platonic-theistic Leibniz-tradition not with the Antithesis, but with
the Thesis.8 Indeed, similarly to the Thesis, Leibniz grants a theory
of creation (as well as freedom, which is relevant in the case of the
third Antinomy)—the very position that the Antithesis denies.
Such discrepancy in the secondary literature is puzzling. Given
the Antinomies’ unequivocal cosmological statements, one could
expect to meet a consensus. How can contradictory metaphysical
positions (“there is a beginning of the world”; “there is none”) be
ascribed to Leibniz?9 Confusion is increased by the fact that both
lines of interpretation seem, at first glance, persuasive. In view of
Leibniz’s PSR-based critique of Newtonian empty containers, Al
Azm’s identification of the Antithesis as Leibnizian seems conclu-
sive. Yet just as conclusive is the observation that Leibniz does not
deny, but affirms, the creation of the world. Moreover, he rejects
the world’s infinity—which is affirmed by the Antithesis—and
reserves infinity exclusively for God.10 We will see that this con-
fusion is due to the questionable supposition that the Antithesis
reconstructs a Leibnizian position. Despite the fact that the An-
tithesis’s PSR-argument is reminiscent of Leibnizian principles,

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

the position derived from it is not Leibnizian but Spinozist. One

is reminded of Russell’s claim that Leibniz “fell into Spinozism
whenever he allowed himself to be logical,” and hence “in his pub-
lished works . . . took care to be illogical.” Let us consider the first
Antinomy in more detail.

The first Antinomy debates the world’s beginning in space and
time. The Thesis states that the world has a beginning in time and
space: “The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as
regards space” (A427/B455). Its proof can be outlined as follows:11

Thesis: Prove: The world has a beginning.

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

The third and fourth steps establish the core of the argument.
Step three states that if the world has no beginning, then an infinite


number of events—happenings in the world—has taken place, that

is, that an infinite series of events has been completed. Step four
argues that this is impossible, since an infinite series is just that
which cannot be completed. The Thesis’s proof, then, relies on the
claim that the notion of complete infinity is inconsistent.
Al Azm associates the Thesis with Newton’s position, as expressed
in Clarke’s controversy with Leibniz. “The ideas expressed in the
thesis,” he writes, “are straightforward statements of the Newtonian
position as it was expounded and defended in his letters to Leibniz.
In fact, the observation on the first antinomy leaves little doubt that the
thesis is meant to state the Newtonian point of view.”12 As Al Azm
points out, Kant observes that the Thesis is committed to viewing
space and time as pre-given, “empty containers”—that is, to the idea
of time existing prior to the world and space extending beyond it
(A430–4/B458–63). This is indeed Newton’s conception, of which
Kant, of course, is well aware. Al Azm’s claim seems conclusive.

The Antithesis states that the world has no beginning and is infi-
nite: “The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is in-
finite as regards both time and space” (A427/B455). Its proof can
be outlined as follows:

Antithesis: Prove: The world is infinite.

1. Assume (for the sake of a reductio) the Thesis: the world has
a beginning in time.
2. The concept of beginning presupposes a preceding time in
which the thing that comes into being does not yet exist.
3. Therefore, the concept of beginning presupposes an empty,
pre-given time.

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

4. However, it is impossible for anything to come into being

in empty time. For no part of such a time (empty) has any
distinguishing condition (unterscheidende Bedingung) of its
existence rather than its nonexistence.
5. Therefore, the world itself cannot have a beginning in time.
6. Therefore, the world is infinite with respect to time.

The fourth step establishes the Antithesis’s argument. It states

the impossibility of coming into being in empty time (or space), on
the grounds that “no part of such a [empty] time [or space] . . . has
any distinguishing condition of its existence rather than its non-­
existence.” As mentioned, Al Azm claims that this argument is best
understood as Leibniz’s refutation of Newton’s empty containers by
the PSR. In such empty containers, there would be no reason for God
to position an event in a specific place, or create it as the world’s first.
Consider the following passage, quoted by Al Azm from Leibniz:

(supposing space to be something in itself, besides the order

of bodies among themselves): ’tis impossible that there should
be a reason, why God, preserving the same situations of bodies
among themselves, should have placed them in space after one
certain particular manner, and not otherwise; why everything
was not placed the quite contrary way, for instance, by chang-
ing East into West.13

Leibniz does not speak of the creation of the world in this pas-
sage, but he draws on the PSR in rejecting the possibility of empty
containers. Precisely the same logic is applied in the Antithesis’s
fourth, crucial step.
Note, however, that the Antithesis is committed to two propo-
sitions, not only one. It denies a beginning of the world in (empty)


time and space, and it states that the world is infinite. The two
propositions are not equivalent. A rejection of the world’s begin-
ning does not necessarily entail its infinity. Descartes, for example,
distinguished between the indefinite and the infinite, ascribing
the first to the world and reserving the second exclusively for God.
Crucially, Leibniz preserves the same infinite/indefinite distinc-
tion. Despite rejecting Newtonian empty containers, he does
not affirm, but denies, the world’s positive infinity. According to
Leibniz, the existence of infinite wholes contradicts the whole-
part axiom, which states that a whole must be larger than its part.
If it existed, an infinite whole would admit to having an infinite
part that is just as large as the whole itself (both being infinite). “It
would be a mistake,” writes Leibniz in the New Essays, “to try to
suppose an absolute space which is an infinite whole made up of
parts. There is no such thing: it is a notion which implies a contra-
diction.” And he continues: “the true infinite, strictly speaking, is
only in the absolute [God], which precedes all composition.”14
This line of reasoning brings Leibniz to maintain the Carte-
sian infinite/indefinite distinction also regarding the “size” of the

Descartes and his followers, in making the world out to be in-

definite so that we cannot conceive of any end to it, have said
that matter has no limits. They have some reason for replacing
the term “infinite” by “indefinite,” for there is never an infinite
whole in the world, though there are always wholes greater
than others ad infinitum. As I have shown elsewhere, the uni-
verse itself cannot be considered to be a whole.15

It may be useful to introduce the Early Modern infinite/­

indefinite distinction:

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

The indefinite: conceived as the negation of the finite. This con-

ception consists in the unceasing potential to add, for any given
magnitude, an additional unit. This conception therefore has no
actual size and is not a conception of an actual infinite measure.
The infinite: conceived as an actual infinity, the absolute, or
the biggest possible actual measure.
The world is composed of distinct parts—it is a collection of
objects—and cannot be genuinely infinite. (Again, otherwise it
would contradict, thinks Leibniz, the whole-part axiom.) Hence,
despite rejecting empty containers (similarly to the Antithesis),
Leibniz denies the world’s infinity (contrary to the Antithesis). He
affirms its indefiniteness instead: the world is larger than any given
magnitude but not absolute, or positively infinite. As we have seen,
Leibniz, not unlike Descartes, reserves true infinity exclusively for
God, the “absolute,” which “precedes all composition and is not
formed by the addition of parts.” Because God is simple, he may
be an infinite whole without contradicting the whole-part axiom.
A reader of Leibniz and Wolff, Kant is well aware of the infinite­/
indefinite distinction. In the first Critique he explains that whereas
in mathematics and geometry the distinction is an empty “Sub-
tilität,” in metaphysics, when the question concerns the length of
a series (Fortgange) from something given as “conditioned” to its
“conditions,” the distinction has crucial implications (A511–5/
B539–43). Of course, the Antinomies debate a metaphysical
matter—of the very same character referred to by Kant when
speaking of a series moving from the “conditioned” to its “condi-
tioned.” Hence, the fact that the first Antinomy states the world’s
infinity rather than its indefiniteness is crucial. It indicates that
despite the strong Leibnizian echo in the Antithesis’s argumenta-
tion, one ought not identify it too quickly as Leibnizian: whereas
Leibniz’s denial of empty containers leads him to assert the world’s


indefiniteness, the Antithesis’s denial of such “containers” leads

straight to an affirmation of the world’s infinity.
Here is a fundamental difficulty with Al Azm’s otherwise el-
egant reading and, in a sense, with Kant’s formulation of the first
Antinomy in general. The Antinomy’s insistence on the world’s
infinity seems at first glance anomalous, differing from most
acknowledged metaphysical positions. This is a good moment
also to recall the puzzle I alluded to earlier: due to Leibniz’s
PSR-rejection of absolute space and time, Al Azm convincingly
identifies the Antithesis as Leibnizian; however, due to Leibniz’s
acceptance of creation (as well as freedom), it seems reasonable
to identify the Thesis—not the Antithesis—as Leibnizian. We
may now have a better understanding of that puzzle: it arises be-
cause the Antithesis, despite providing a Leibnizian argument
from the PSR, does not arrive at a Leibnizian position. It denies
the possibility of the world’s creation and affirms its infinity and

This invites a closer consideration of the metaphysical positions
articulated in the Antinomies, especially by the Antithesis. Kant
provides important information when setting up the Antinomies.
He writes:

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

may be viewed as consisting of the entire series in which all the
members [Glieder] without exception are conditioned and only
the totality of them is absolutely unconditioned. This regress
is to be entitled infinite. Or alternatively, the absolutely un-
conditioned is only a part [Teil] of the series—a part to which

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

the other members are subordinated, and which does not itself
stand under any other condition. (A417/B445)16

Let us call the first conception of the unconditioned A1 and

the second A2. The former is an infinitistic conception and the
latter a finitistic one. The clash between them generates the Antin-
omies. A1 thus maps onto the Antithesis: it consists of an infinite
existing series which, taken in its totality, constitutes an uncon-
ditioned whole. Kant explains that it eliminates the possibility of
a transcendent unconditioned (hence the Judeo-Christian deity),
creation and freedom. A2 maps onto the Thesis: it relies on an
unconditioned entity to which the series is subordinated, and
it allows room for creation (Weltanfang) and freedom (absolute
Selbsttätigkeit) (A418/B445–6).
A1 strongly suggests Spinozist substance monism. The infinite
series itself, considered as a totality, may be conceived as Spinoza’s
unconditioned substance, whereas the series’ conditioned mem-
bers may be conceived as its modes. Kant’s passage makes it clear
that the relation obtaining between the unconditioned entity and
the conditioned items of the series is that of a whole and its “parts.”
Moreover, the unconditioned series, taken as a whole, is infinite
and complete: unlike in Leibniz and Descartes, substance monism
in Spinoza has no need, or room, to deny the unconditioned’s in-
finity. It is infinite and yet the One.
It is hard to think of any philosopher other than Spinoza who
holds a conception so similar to that portrayed by Kant’s construc-
tion of the transcendental realist unconditioned. Giordano Bruno17
may have held an analogous pantheistic conception, but Leibniz
and Wolff certainly did not. It can be safely assumed that Kant either
has Spinoza in mind, or invents Spinozistic substance monism
independently—construing it as the Antithesis’s cosmological


conception. The crucial question of whether the Spinozist position

constructed in the Antithesis accurately reflects Spinoza’s own
version of Spinozism will be addressed below. (As should become
clear, Spinoza’s own Spinozism, when accurately construed, actu-
ally poses significant challenges to the argument advanced by the
The impression that Kant has Spinozism in mind is strength-
ened when considering the structure of the Ideal of Pure Reason.
As we have seen in the previous chapter, the latter is a (regulative)
idea of an unconditioned being, conceived in the form of A1: it
is the “All of Reality,” encompassing all other conditioned beings
as “nothing but limitations (nichts als Schranken)” (A575/B603).
Kant elsewhere associates this conception of the ideal with Spi-
noza’s substance:

[This One] contains the material for production of all other

possible things, as the supply of marble does for an infinite mul-
titude of statues, which are altogether possible only through
limitation. . . . In a world fashioned this way one comes strongly
to suspect that this metaphysical God (the realissimum) is one
with the world (despite all protestations against Spinozism), as
the totality of all existing thing.18

Spinoza’s conception of God, as an unconditioned entity expressed
by the totality of its infinite “parts,” was well-known to German
academics throughout the eighteenth century. This conception
was often presented and contrasted with the “true,” transcen-
dent conception of the deity, which was pictured along Leibniz-
ian lines. That contrast is clearly portrayed by Wolff’s “refutation

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

of Spinozism” in the Theologia Naturalis. The book offers not only

a “refutation” of Spinoza, but also a thorough exposition of the
Ethics’ metaphysics. Wolff argues that unlike other metaphysical
standpoints, Spinozism is committed to the world’s infinity (since
attributes and modes express God’s infinite essence), as well as
to a whole-part relation between God and the world (so that the
infinite whole is constituted as the totality of its infinite parts).
Granted these two claims, Wolff refutes Spinoza by adducing the
argument that an infinite whole cannot be constructed of an in-
finite number of parts. We shall come to evaluate the success (or
failure) of that argument below, when considering some Spinozist
objections to the Antinomy. For present purposes it may be useful
to notice Wolff’s construction of the contrast between the two
conceptions of the unconditioned (God)—the immanent and the
transcendent one:

[Spinoza maintained], that bodies and souls, as well as any

other conceivable things, are found in God as parts in the whole
(Note to 708§): accordingly he invents a God that is different
from the true God, which has the highest wisdom and freedom
of the will—a God who rules this world by his wisdom—a God,
finally, to which bodies and souls are real and external, and
are not included in him as parts in the whole. (716§—­emphasis

Moses Mendelssohn gives the following summary of Wolff’s

Spinoza-­critique in the Dialogues:

[Wolff] proved that Spinoza believed that it is possible to pro-

duce, by combining together an infinite stock of finite quali-
ties, an infinite [thing]; and then he proved the falsity of this


belief so clearly, that I am quite convinced that Spinoza himself

would have applauded him. 20

This argument has roots, famously, in Bayle’s portrayal and

attack on Spinoza in his Dictionnaire. The same argument clearly
echoes in the Thesis’s argument against the Antithesis—namely
that an infinite whole cannot be composed of infinitely many
parts. As we will see, this poses a challenge to the Antinomy, for
Spinoza’s Spinozism, when properly construed, in fact escapes the

A moment before we return to this challenge, it is worthwhile to
return to the Antinomy itself. The Thesis argues that the world is
not infinite and, therefore, that it has beginnings in time and space.
Al Azm’s interpretation of that position as Newton’s argumenta-
tion against a Leibnizian position needs to be rejected for two
reasons. First, the view that the world is not infinite and has a be-
ginning is common to most dogmatic rational thinkers, including
Descartes, Newton, and Leibniz. Newton and Leibniz may dis-
agree regarding the characterization of the world’s beginnings, and
they certainly disagree regarding the possibility of empty contain-
ers. But they ultimately agree that the world has beginnings and
that it is not infinite. There is only one relevant rationalist thinker
who has a good reason to insist, as does the Antithesis, that the
world is positively infinite. Second, Newton’s actual line of argu-
mentation against the world’s infinity appeals to the definition of
matter in Newtonian physics and, as such, has nothing to do with
the argument invoked by the Thesis. As we have seen, the Thesis’s
argument relies on the claim that an “infinite successive synthesis”

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

cannot be completed (see above). This reflects (in fact, relies on)
Wolff and Mendelssohn’s Beylean reading of Spinoza’s uncondi-
tioned as an indefinite whole, which is composed as a collection
of parts; and more important, it invokes the same reasoning in re-
futing that conception: an infinite entity cannot be composed by
combining (zusammensetzen) an infinite number of finite entities.
In other words, the Thesis does not only criticize a Spinozist in-
finitistic position, as understood by Wolff and Mendelssohn: it also
invokes a characteristically Wolffian argument against Spinoza.
We will see below that a sophisticated Spinozist may be able
to answer this argument rather effectively, for it relies on an inac-
curate reading of Spinoza’s position. Spinoza conceives the world
(substance) as infinite but does not think it is composed of an
infinite number of parts: substance for Spinoza is ontologically
simple. The first Thesis, therefore, like Wolff and Mendelssohn, re-
quires further argumentation in order to hold ground.
The Antithesis states that the world has no beginnings (by the
rejection of empty containers) and, therefore, that it is infinite. We
have seen above that only Spinozistic substance monism, collaps-
ing the distinction between God and the world, generates such
an infinitistic conception. Moreover, that position corresponds
to the first conception of the unconditioned, presented by Kant
when setting up the Antinomies, which corresponds, in turn, to
Spinozistic substance monism.
To be sure, there is no need to deny the clear Leibnizian echo
in the Antithesis’s argument, which invokes the PSR against the
world’s beginnings (empty containers). This Leibnizian strand
cannot and need not be disputed. But it creates a discrepancy, a
confusion, whose solution is the key to understanding the An-
tithesis. Unlike the Antithesis, Leibniz does not infer from this
argument the world’s eternity and infinity. Instead, he relativizes


space and time to worldly objects—viewing them as properties of

things—a move that enables him to claim that space and time are
not positively infinite, since they began with the world’s creation.
Hence, Kant’s Antithesis employs a truly Leibnizian argument,
but infers from it a conclusion that is not Leibnizian; it infers the
Spinozist conclusion that the world is infinite and eternal.
Kant’s move, in turn, requires an argument: What excludes the
Leibnizian strategy of relativizing space and time and viewing the
world as indefinite rather than infinite? In other words, what le-
gitimizes the Antithesis’s direct inference that, because the world
is not finite, it is infinite?

On a first look, Kant offers only a glimpse of an argument, and
only later in his career. Toward the second Critique’s conclu-
sion, he addresses the Leibnizian-Wolffian denial of the world’s
infinity and eternity—in fact, he refers to the Leibnizian denial
of ­Spinozism—and rejects it as inadequate. Whoever relativizes
space and time by viewing them as properties of things (monads),
Kant argues, cannot genuinely avoid affirming the world’s infinity
and eternity:

I do not see how those who insist on regarding time and space
as determinations belonging to the existence of things in
themselves [e.g., Leibniz, Wolff, Mendelssohn—O.B] would
avoid fatalism of actions; or if (like the otherwise acute Men-
delssohn) they flatly allow both of them [time and space] to be
conditions necessarily belonging only to the existence of finite
and derived beings but not to that of the infinite original being—
I do not see how they would justify themselves in making such

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

a distinction, whence they get a warrant to do so, or even how

they would avoid the contradiction they encounter when they
regard existence in time as a determination attaching neces-
sarily to finite things in themselves, while God is said to be
the cause of this existence but cannot be the cause of time (or
space) itself.21

Kant’s point is that if one is committed to viewing space and

time as divine attributes, one is committed to viewing them as in-
finite and eternal. Hence, Leibniz’s denial of Spinozism, relying
on the indefinite alternative, holds only by denying the claim that
space and time, which are properties of things, are also attributes
of God. Kant dismisses this denial as arbitrary and inconsistent.
It is arbitrary because if one considers space and time as proper-
ties of things-in-themselves (monads), why not also consider
them as properties of God (Spinozistic attributes)? It is inconsis-
tent because if time and space are essential properties of created
beings—and God is conceived as the cause of these beings—God
must have these properties as well. That is, space and time must
be divine attributes or, as Kant says, “essential determinations of
the original being itself [des unendlichen Urwesens].” It follows that
Leibniz’s position is not, in fact, different from Spinoza’s, that is,
that from the denial of empty containers Spinozism necessarily
follows. Kant explicitly draws this conclusion, in a passage already
considered before:

Hence, if the ideality of space and time is not adopted [i.e.,

Kant’s transcendental idealism rather than Leibniz’s], nothing
remains but Spinozism, in which space and time are essential
determinations of the original being itself, while the things de-
pendent upon it . . . are merely accidents inhering in it. . . . Thus


Spinozism . . . argues more consistently than the creation theory

can, when beings assumed to be substances and in them-
selves existing in time are regarded as effects of a supreme
cause and yet not belonging to him and his action as substances

I emphasize the phrase “the things dependent upon it .  .  . are

merely accidents inhering in it” to highlight the link between this
passage and the passage in the first Critique discussing the two al-
ternative conceptions of the unconditioned. I argued above that
the first conception described in that passage, which underlies
the Antithesis’s infinitistic position, corresponds to Spinozistic
substance monism: it conceives the unconditioned as “an infinite
series in which all the members are conditioned, only their total-
ity unconditioned.” In the second Critique, then, Kant explicitly
names it Spinozist. Note also the term Schöpfungstheorie (“cre-
ation theory”). Referring to the Leibnizian-Wolffian theories, it
indicates that Kant has in mind not only the problem of freedom
(which occupies the third Antinomy) but also that of the world’s
beginning, which applies directly to the first Antinomy.23
Kant’s comment in the second Critique is not spurious. In his
Lectures on Metaphysics it becomes clear that Kant considers Spi-
nozism the most consistent form of transcendental realism—an
unavoidable conclusion of dogmatic metaphysics. “If we take space
as real,” Kant writes, “we accept Spinoza’s system.”24 Or elsewhere:

Those who take space as a thing in itself or as a property of

things are forced to be Spinozists, i.e., they take the world as
the embodiment [Inbegriff] of determinations from one nec-
essary substance.  .  . . Space as something necessary would

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

have been also an attribute [Eigenschaft] of God, and all things

[would have] existed in space, thus in God.25

One thing to note here is that Kant’s argument doesn’t seem

elaborate or conclusive. Indeed it isn’t. However, we will see in
the next chapter that Kant is relying here on an elaborate argu-
ment he had provided in the fourth Antinomy. Another thing to
notice is that these texts, from the second Critique and from the
Lectures on Metaphysics, appear only after the first edition of the
Critique. Indeed, they appear only after the break of the Panthe-
ismusstreit (1785). 26 Kant does not explicitly name Spinozism as
the most consistent form of metaphysics before the break of the
Streit. The question is whether this is due to Kant’s ignorance of
Spinoza, or to his political prudence. We will see that given his
remarks on the fourth Antinomy, it is rather implausible to sug-
gest that he isn’t fully conscious of Spinozism when constructing
the Antinomies in 1781, but chooses to avoid the term. It is also
worthy to recall Kant’s remark in the second Critique that Leib-
nizian philosophers such as Mendelssohn or Wolff have shown
“shrewdness” but not “sincerity,” keeping the collapse of Leib-
nizianism to Spinozism out of sight as much as they can, “in the
hope that if they said nothing about it no one would be likely to
think about it.” 27 Kant thinks that any competent metaphysical
thinker must recognize that Leibniz and Wolff could not genu-
inely avoid Spinozism: he does not regard their “indefinite alter-
native,” allowing room for creation and freedom, to be sincere.
This explains the position he constructs in the Antithesis: if one
denies the possibility of empty containers—that is, if one denies
that the world is finite—the world’s infinity and eternity neces-
sarily follow.


Note that Kant writes that the Antithesis position is that of “pure

In the assertions of the antithesis we observe a perfect unifor-

mity in manner of thinking and complete unity of maxims,
namely a principle of pure empiricism, applied not only in ex-
planation of the appearances within the world, but also in the
solution of the transcendental ideas of the world itself, in its
totality. (A465f./B493f.)

At first glance, this passage seems to complicate the asso-

ciation of the Antithesis with Spinoza. Does Spinoza explain
­everything—worldly phenomena and the world itself—by what
Kant calls an empiricist principle?
To see that he does, one has to get clearer on what Kant means
by “empiricist” in this passage. What is the empiricist explana-
tory principle, characterizing the Antithesis position, through
which everything—worldly phenomena and the world itself—is
explained? This principle, Kant writes, is that of granting only
philosophical knowledge acquired by naturalistic principles, that
is, by the standard of “possible experience” (A468/B496). More
specifically, that principle consists in an overriding acceptance of a
mechanism of nature: on the Antithesis position, only mechanistic-­
natural explanations are legitimate.28 Now whereas Spinoza is not
what we call an empiricist, he fits rather well with Kant’s notion of
“pure empiricism.” Spinoza pledges to explain worldly phenomena
and the idea of the world itself, substance, by solely mechanistic
(and in this sense, empiricist) principles. (Note that Leibniz does
not fit Kant’s conception of pure empiricism at all. He does not

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

claim to explain the existence of the world itself by exclusively—

what Leibniz would have called “blind”—­mechanistic principles.
This speaks strongly against Al Azm’s commonly accepted inter-
pretation.) To be sure, Spinoza’s use of these principles eventually
transcends the limits of experience, by adhering to the dogmatic-
metaphysical notion of substance, which can only pretend to be
naturalistic (more on this below, and in Chapter 3). However—
and this is just the point—so does the Antithesis: it derives from
empiricist principles the metaphysical notion of the World. In the
same passage, Kant writes that the Antithesis “deprives us of the
practical interests, or at least seems to deprive us of them” because
it excludes the existence of a “primordial being distinct from the
world [von der Welt unterschiedenes Urwesen]” (A 468/B 496; trans-
lation mine).29


The Thesis’s argument against the Antithesis’s has been extensively

discussed in the literature. Identifying that position as Spinozist,
however, introduces some new challenges to Kant. Let us consider
these challenges in detail; they lead directly to the fundamental
metaphysical antagonism between Kant and Spinoza’s positions.

The Thesis’s argument against the world’s infinity relies on the
claim that completing an “infinite successive synthesis” is impos-
sible. The most common objection against that argument is that
of a psychologistic fallacy. Kant, it is argued, draws on a finite
human epistemological perspective in deriving an illegitimate


metaphysical conclusion. Kemp Smith famously writes that “from

a subjective impossibility of apprehension . . . [Kant] infers an ob-
jective impossibility of existence.”30 B. Russell similarly contends
that Kant’s appeal to a synthesis is infected with “that reference
to mind by which all of Kant’s philosophy is infected.”31 Infinite
classes, Russell argues, are not generated by a successive synthesis.
They are given instantly by the defining property of their members.
The charge of psychologism is ineffective, however. It over-
simplifies Kant’s appeal to the notion of synthesis in this passage,
which is not epistemological or psychologistic. As H. Allison
points out, Kant’s argument relies on a conceptual, not psycholo-
gistic, distinction between an analytic whole (totum analyticum)
and a synthetic one (totum syntheticum). 32 A totum analyticum is a
whole whose parts are not independently conceived: they cannot
be regarded as existing, pre-given entities but must be thought of
as mere qualities, or limitations, of the whole. A totum syntheticum,
by contrast, is a whole whose parts are pre-given entities: they may
be separated, at least in thought, from the whole, which is con-
ceived as the product of its parts. An infinite and complete totum
analyticum is possible, since its “parts” are mere limitations of the
whole, whose infinity is given as prior. (Such would be also Rus-
sell’s infinite, instantly given sets; they are tota analytica precisely
because they are produced by the “defining property” of their
members). An infinite and complete totum syntheticum, however,
is impossible: the whole is produced by its parts, whose enumera-
tion proceeds ad infinitum. The world is a totum syntheticum, since
it is metaphysically constituted of pre-given parts (such as material
bodies, minds, etc.). Therefore, if completed, it is not infinite. This
is the reasoning applied by the Thesis’s claim that “completing an
infinite successive synthesis” is impossible. The conclusion is that
the world has beginnings.

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

Allison points out that the Thesis’s argument leaves two alterna-
tives open, not just one: (1) allow the world’s infinity by denying
its existence as a given, complete whole; or (2) grant that it is finite
and has beginnings. 33 The first alternative cannot be ruled out, but
it does not effectively criticize Kant’s Antinomy. On the contrary,
it grants the conclusion that Kant is trying to establish by the An-
tinomies—namely, that conceiving the world as a completed given
entity is a cosmological misconception, indeed, an illusion. Thus,
if one clings to the assumption that the world is a given whole,
one is committed to the second alternative, which is equivalent to
granting the Thesis’s proof (i.e., that the world is finite).
Yet a third alternative, which Allison does not consider, is Spi-
noza’s. Since this alternative specifically is the “true conclusion of
dogmatic metaphysics,”34 it deserves careful consideration. The
challenge is the following: according to Spinoza, worldly objects
are nothing but divine modes. They “exist in” and are “conceived
through” substance (E Id4) and cannot be regarded as separate
subsisting entities. Hence, the unconditioned whole is given prior
to its parts, whose separate existence is denied. (That is, substance
is ontologically simple [E Ip12].) Spinoza’s cosmological infinity is
thus a totum analyticum, not a totum syntheticum. Spinoza is very
clear about this. He writes, as if in reply to the Antinomy:

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

Substance is composed of parts or bodies really distinct from one
another. . . . Therefore the whole conglomeration of arguments
whereby philosophers commonly strive to prove that extended
Substance is finite collapses of its own accord. All such argu-
ments assume that corporeal Substance is made up of parts.35


Indeed, Spinoza’s position may seem to escape the Thesis’

proof and constitutes a consistent metaphysical position in which
God, who is identical to the world, is infinite and complete. 36

Kant observes a similar challenge and attempts to respond to it. In
the Observation on the Thesis he writes:

[I]f we are to think the totality of such a multiplicity, and yet

cannot appeal to limits that of themselves constitute a totality
in intuition, we have to account for a concept which in this case
cannot proceed from the whole to the determinate multiplicity
of the parts, but which must demonstrate the possibility of a
whole by means of the successive synthesis of the parts. Now
since this synthesis must constitute a never to be completed
series, I cannot think a totality either prior to the synthesis or
by means of the synthesis. For the concept of totality is in this
case itself the representation of a completed synthesis of the
parts. And since this completion is impossible, so likewise is
the concept of it. (A431/B459–A433/B461)

The core of the argument is found in the first lines of the pas-
sage. A complete totality, if preexisting as such, hardly accounts
for the fact that it is not experienced as a totality but as a manifold
of discrete parts. An analogy to Kant’s notion of space can perhaps
help see the force of the argument. Kant views space as an infinite
totum analyticum, whose parts do not exist as separate entities: the
Aesthetic of the first Critique argues that spatial parts (regions) are
mere limitations of a singular, infinite space (A24–5/B39–40).
Crucially, however, the first Antinomy does not concern space

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

(or time), but the world. In contrast to space, the world in space
is not given as a totum analyticum—in fact, it is not at all given as
a world. Rather, it is assumed as the object unifying an immense
number (problematically, an infinity) of separate entities. Hence,
conceiving the world as a complete object requires apprehending
in thought a manifold of pre-given objects—uniting them under
reciprocal participation in a single entity. Therefore, an appeal to
a totum analyticum seems unjustified: the notion of the world is
composed as a totum syntheticum; therefore, the world is either in-
complete or finite; and, therefore, if we take the world in the tradi-
tional cosmological sense (to be complete), it must be finite.

A Spinozist would object to this. The fact that the world is experi-
enced as discrete is beside the point. The appropriate order of meta-
physical reasoning is directed by the intellect, not by the senses.
(In fact, the senses reverse the appropriate order.) According to
the intellect, the unconditioned whole is metaphysically prior to
its conditioned “parts.” Therefore, it must also be methodologi-
cally and epistemologically prior; therefore, a consistent notion of
an infinite totum analyticum remains justified and, therefore, the
world may be infinite and complete.
The crucial point is that Spinoza does not generate the notion
of an unconditioned-infinite entity by looking at finite worldly
objects and, subsequently, deducing the cosmological uncondi-
tioned idea. Rather, he relies on the claim that an innate, adequate
cosmological idea of the unconditioned is available to him, prior
to sensual experience of finite worldly objects. Spinoza’s prede-
cessor, Descartes, offers a clear articulation of such a perspec-
tive when he claims in the third Meditation that the concept of an


unconditioned infinite is not the product of “merely negating the

finite.” Rather, it is a true idea: “I clearly understand that there is
more reality in an infinite substance than in a finite one, and hence
that my perception of the infinite, that is, God, is in some way prior to
my perception of the finite, that is myself.”37 Spinoza pursues (or at-
tempts to pursue) this Cartesian insight to its logical conclusion.
In a sense, it becomes the fundamental premise of his thought.
Whereas Descartes does begin to philosophize from the percep-
tion of the conditioned i­ ndividual—himself, via the Cogito—and
only subsequently states that the unconditioned notion, God,
must have been prior within him, Spinoza begins to philosophize
from the unconditioned notion itself. He does not generate that
unconditioned notion from finite (conditioned) experience but
claims to have it. The entire Spinozist system thus unfolds from
the definition of the unconditioned, the causa sui. “By that which
is self-caused,” writes Spinoza, “I mean that of which the essence
involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable
as existent” (E Id1). 38 The self-caused entity is God, or nature, “a
being absolutely ­infinite—that is, a substance consisting in infinite
attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essential-
ity” (E Id6). Since the entities expressing Spinoza’s substance are
not numerically distinct from it, substance is simple—an infinite
totum analyticum. Crucially, that notion is not only ontologically
but also epistemologically prior: the unconditioned substance
is conceived through itself, whereas finite modes are conceived
through substance, as participating in it. Hence, Spinoza’s position
is not liable to Kant’s argument in the Observation on the Thesis that
the world is perceived as discrete. In the Treatise on the Emendation
of the Intellect, moreover, Spinoza argues that the unconditioned
idea can be conceived only clearly and distinctly (since it is simple)
and, therefore, that its adequacy is infallible and certain:

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

Since the first principle of nature cannot . . . be conceived ab-

stractly or universally, and cannot extend further in the under-
standing than it does in reality, and has no likeness to mutable
things, no confusion need to be feared in respect to the idea of
it. . . . This is, in fact, a being single and infinite; in other words,
it is the sum total of being, beyond which there is no being
found. (TdIE 29)

At this point, we seem to face an impasse between two philo-
sophical perspectives. The first, shared by Spinoza and Des-
cartes, admits a notion of the genuinely (i.e., complete or actual)
infinite, which is epistemologically and ontologically prior to
finite entities. When appropriated by Spinoza, it generates a
powerful cosmological position in which nature is conceived
as an infinite and complete totum analyticum. That position is
immune to Kant’s Antinomy, which relies on the claim that an
infinite totum syntheticum is impossible. 39 The other perspec-
tive is that assumed by Kant, in which an innate notion of an
infinite whole is denied. Kant would insist that an adequate
notion must conform to the conditions of experience, space, and
time, to which an infinite unconditioned notion cannot possi-
bly comply—hence, that the cosmological idea is not given as
a totum analyticum, but is generated by apprehending a multi-
plicity of worldly objects. The cosmological notion is therefore
a totum syntheticum, which cannot be infinite and complete. The
point is that Kant has to have at his disposal an argument against
Spinoza’s initial perspective. Otherwise, a consistent Spinozist
would remain unaffected by the first Antinomy’s Thesis (and,
thereby, resolve the Antinomy).


Kantians will have to insist here that Spinozists cannot too easily
help themselves to the notion of an infinite totum analyticum. The
Spinozist conception requires that substance (the World) be con-
ceived as an absolutely unlimited infinite whole—a determin-
able (measurable) maximum necessarily greater than any other.
Whereas Kant grants that that conception is commonsensical—­
that is, natural to reason—he deems it incoherent. Given any
measurable totality (or magnitude), it is possible for a greater
magnitude to exist (cf. A527/B555). This position is supported
by standard set theory. Measurable totalities accounted for by set
theory are all sets and, given any set, a greater set exists. Therefore,
every set—infinite ones included—is only relatively large; no set
can be conceived as the genuinely unlimited, which is the way Spi-
noza claims to conceive of substance.40 The truly unlimited—the
Absolute Infinite41—can perhaps be thought of as the class of all
sets rather than as the set of all sets. But then, such Absolute cannot
be regarded as an actually measured totality, like Spinoza’s “One.”42
It is important to point out that Kant himself does not alto-
gether reject actual infinity.43 In fact, he grants something of its
metaphysical significance, and in a way that eventually brings him
close to Spinoza. However, we will see that Kant’s reasons for ac-
cepting this notion are ones that the Spinozist will have to reject.
Consider first the following passage from the Dissertation:

Those who reject the actual mathematical infinite do so in a

very casual manner. For they so construct their definition of
the infinite that they are able to extract a contradiction from
it. The infinite is described by them as a quantity than which
none greater is possible, and the mathematical infinite as a

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

multiplicity—of an assignable unit—than which none greater

is possible. Since they thus substitute maximum for infinitum,
and a greatest multiplicity is impossible, they easily conclude
against this infinite which they have themselves invented.
Or, it may be, they entitle an infinite multiplicity an infinite
number, and point out that such a phrase is meaningless, as is,
indeed, perfectly evident. But again they have fought and over-
thrown only the figments of their own minds. If, however, they
had conceived the mathematical infinite as a quantity which,
when related to measure, as its unit, is a multiplicity greater
than all number; and if furthermore, they had observed that
measurability here denotes only the relation [of the infinite]
to the standards of the human intellect, which is not permit-
ted to attain to a definite conception of multiplicity save by
the successive addition of unit to unit, nor to the sum-total
(which is called number) save by completing this progress in
a finite time; they would have perceived clearly that what does
not conform to the established law of some subject need not
on that account exceed all intellection. An intellect may exist,
though not indeed a human intellect, which perceives a multi-
plicity distinctly in one intuition [uno obtutu] without the suc-
cessive application of a measure.44

The concluding lines in particular indicate that Kant’s ap-

proach to the infinite is subtle. On the one hand, he allows room
for its possibility: he thinks that rejecting the notion of the infinite
on the grounds that “the greatest multiplicity is impossible” is too
quick, because actual infinity need not be constituted as a multi-
plicity. (On that score, Kant agrees with Spinoza; as we have seen
above, Spinoza argues that it is ineffective to refute the possibil-
ity of an infinite whole on the presupposition that it is “made out


of parts.”) On the other hand, Kant maintains that even if actual

infinity may be possible, this infinite cannot be grasped by the
human intellect. (On this point, Kant completely disagrees with
Spinoza; as we have seen above Spinoza holds that if anything at
all can be known adequately, without “fear” or “uncertainty,” this
is substance.) In the first Critique Kant explicates the same point
when he writes that even if the infinite “whole of nature” is “spread
before us,” no experience can sustain knowledge “in concreto” of
this unconditioned whole; for it would be impossible to have “con-
sciousness of its absolute totality” (A482f./B510f.). In the Critique
of Judgment, Kant remains faithful to a similar position but changes
the points of emphasis. This change sheds light also on his stance
in relation to Spinozism. Let us consider Kant’s understanding of
infinity in his Analytics of the Sublime. The connection between
the third Critique’s account of the sublime and the first Critique’s
Antinomies deserves more attention than it usually receives.

Kant’s discussion of the sublime begins by introducing the notion
of mathematical infinity, which consists in the potential to add, for
any given magnitude, an additional unit—thus enlarging it without
hindrance ad infinitum (ungehindert ins Unendliche).45 This mathe-
matical notion, Kant explains, does not sustain the notion of actual
infinity: first, because the mathematical notion consists merely in
negating the finite (the possibility of enlarging any given series);
and second, because the mathematical procedure is abstract, con-
sisting in the successive addition of units regardless of their size
(for all that matters, the units added could be mathematical points).

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

An estimation of magnitude (Größenschätzung) cannot be purely

mathematical: actually estimating a magnitude requires an aes-
thetic measure, a criterion of judgment, which provides, through
the senses or the imagination, the basic unit’s actual size.
Now, to the successively generated mathematical infinity, so
Kant argues, reason adds a further demand, namely that the infi-
nite succession be completed:

The mind listens to the voice of reason within itself, which de-
mands totality for all given magnitudes, even those that we can
never apprehend in their entirety . . . and it exempts from this
demand not even the infinite (space and time). Rather, reason
makes us unavoidably think of the infinite (in common rea-
son’s judgment) as given in its entirety (in its totality).46

By granting such an inner voice of reason (Stimme der Vernunft)

Kant admits the presence of a notion of actual infinity. Moreover,
that notion is the cosmological notion of the complete world:

If the human mind is nonetheless to be able to think the given

infinite without contradiction, it must have within itself a
power that is supersensible, whose idea of a noumenon cannot
be intuited but can yet be regarded as the substrate underlying
what is mere appearance, namely, our intuition of the world.47

This cosmological notion is similar, but not identical to the

transcendentally real notion assaulted in the first Thesis. It is
rather a noumenal substrate of nature, the “supersensible”:

The proper unchangeable basic measure of nature is the abso-

lute whole of nature, which, in the case of nature as appearance,


is infinity comprehended. This basic measure, however, is a

self-contradictory concept (because an absolute totality of an
endless progression is impossible). Hence that magnitude of a
natural object to which the imagination fruitlessly applies its
entire ability to comprehend must lead the concept of nature
to a supersensible substrate (which underlies both nature and
our ability to think), a substrate that is large beyond any stand-
ard of sense.48

This text is condensed, and it is outside my scope to suggest

that Kant presents a defensible argument.49 Suffice it here to ob-
serve that Kant recognizes a notion of actual infinity, and grants
that that notion “leads to” a cosmological notion of the “substrate
of all nature”; one, moreover, that includes “both nature and our
ability to think.” Two questions call for an answer in the present
context. How does the notion of actual infinity lead to a substrate
of “all nature”? And why does Kant consider that notion legiti-
mate? Clearly, no possible experience in the traditional Kantian
sense can vouch for that notion.
The answer to these questions is roughly the following. First,
Kant considers it significant that the notion of actual infinity
cannot be mathematical because the latter is abstract, whereas
the former is not. Actual infinity involves a determination of
magnitude (namely of the absolutely large) and, as mentioned,
this requires an aesthetic measure of judgment, which provides
the basic unit’s actual size. Kant maintains that in order to pro-
duce the “absolutely large,” that basic measure itself must be the
largest conceivable—thus, it must be the notion of “everything,”
or of the “world.” However, if this measure is generated by rely-
ing on concrete experience with finite worldly objects, it is incon-
sistent. (Kant’s argument here clearly refers to on the argument

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

invoked in the first Thesis [see especially step four of the Thesis’s
argument].) Therefore, the need for an aesthetic measure of the
largest possible unit “must lead” from the “concept of complete
nature” to the concept of a “supersensible substrate”—some sub-
strate that is large beyond any standard of sense and underlies the
complete phenomenal reality. The latter just is the notion of the
infinite whole—the “voice of reason” inducing us to think infinity
in its totality.
Still, why does Kant grant that that infinite unconditioned
notion is meaningful? In order to justify accepting this notion, it
has to be, for Kant, illustrated or exemplified in experience. Yet,
clearly, there isn’t possible experience, in the traditional Kantian
sense (nor for that matter, on other accounts of experience), that
illustrates that notion. Kant thinks that the experience of the sub-
lime, which is an experience of spontaneity and freedom, is what
justifies that notion: through this experience, we are presented
with and become conscious of a measure that is absolutely large;
in relation to this measure everything in nature is small.

[We find] in our power of reason a different and nonsensible

standard that has this infinity itself under it as a unit; and since in
contrast to this standard everything in nature is small, we found
in our mind a superiority over nature itself in its ­i mmensity . . . .
[It reveals in us] an ability to judge ourselves independent of
nature, and reveals in us superiority over nature. 50

Kant formulates the same point in the conclusion of the second

Critique, which describes the experience of the sublime:

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing ad-
miration and respect [Ehrfurcht], the more often and more


steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and

the moral law within me.  .  . . The first begins from the place
I occupy in the external world of sense and extends the con-
nection in which I stand into an unbounded magnitude with
worlds upon worlds and systems upon systems. . . . The second
begins from my invisible self .  .  . and presents me in a world
which has true infinity but which can be discovered only by
the understanding. . . . The first view of countless multitudes
of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as an animal
creature. . . . The second, on the contrary, infinitely raises my
worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral
law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of
the whole sensible world. 51

There are some significant similarities between Kant’s conception
of the infinite and Spinoza’s. Like Spinoza, Kant views the infinite
“supersensible” as an all-encompassing cosmological substrate:
“[an] idea of a noumenon [that] cannot be intuited but can yet be
regarded as the substrate underlying what is mere appearance,
namely, our intuition of the world.” Moreover: “[a] supersensible
substrate (which underlies both nature and our ability to think).”
This all-encompassing notion is not foreign to Kant’s thought.
Most important, it echoes Kant’s understanding of the (regulative)
notion of the ideal of pure reason, considered at length in Chapter 1:

The transcendental major premise which is presupposed in the

complete determination of all things is therefore no other than
the representation of the sum of all reality; it is not merely a con-
cept which, as regards its transcendental content, comprehends

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

all predicates under itself; it also contains them within itself; and
the complete determination of any and every thing rests on
this All of Reality [dieses All der Realität] (A577–B605). 52

Yet Kant’s reasoning is far from being truly Spinozist. The all-
encompassing “substrate of nature” cannot be known; it is nou-
menal. There cannot be philosophical determinative knowledge
of that substrate as a substance; the notion of complete infinity
depends on practical, not theoretical considerations. Thus, despite
not giving up completely on the notion of complete infinity, Kant
insists that, when it comes to cognition, “the structure of human
cognition makes it impossible to do otherwise than to proceed from
the parts [to the whole].”53 The important point is that, even if the
notion of complete infinity is not, according to Kant, completely
dispensable, it arises through the experience of the sublime and
through practical principles; it cannot be the ground of metaphys-
ics—­in a way that would be required for solving the Antinomies.
Kant himself suggests at some point the following brisk argu-
ment against Spinoza’s substance monism:

If only a single substance exists, then either I must be this sub-

stance, and consequently I must be God (but this contradicts
my dependency); or else I am an accident (but this contradicts
the concept of my ego, in which I think myself as an ultimate
subject which is not the predicate of any other being). 54

And elsewhere:

When I think, I am conscious that my ego thinks in me, and not

inhere in another thing external to me, but inheres in myself.
Consequently I conclude that I am a substance, that is, that


I exist for myself and am not a predicate of any other thing. . . .

But if I myself am a substance, then I must be God himself or
God is a substance different from me, and consequently differ-
ent from the world. 55

However, this attempt to rely on the doctrine of “rational

psychology” in refuting substance monism is not promising. An
obvious objection is that Kant’s argument won’t survive Kant’s
own criticisms of rational psychology in the Paralogisms, which
excludes knowledge of the self as a substance. Worse, we have
seen above that Kant affirms that the all encompassing “noume-
nal substrate” underlies “both nature and our ability to think.” This
makes it hard to see why Kant should suggest that thought or self-
reflection proves our existence as separate substances, or entities
numerically distinct from the “substrate of nature.”
It would be more effective to insist, from a Kantian point of
view, that the notion of actual infinity has not been justified by
the Spinozist—moreover, that justification has to rely on the basis
of one’s consciousness of freedom. If not for that consciousness,
actual infinity remains an empty (mis)use of words—certainly
not a notion on which one can successfully base metaphysical
demonstrations. As we have seen above, it is reasonable to argue
that if an unconditioned infinity can be grounded in experience,
this must be an experience of freedom: any sensory experience
remains essentially bound and limited, conditioned upon space,
time, and causality. 56 Also the opposite holds: if an individual
claims to conceive an unconditioned notion, that individual must
grasp that notion independently of such limiting conditions as
space, time, and causality. In this sense, she becomes aware of the
unconditioned insofar as she is genuinely free. Here lies a prob-
lem for Spinoza’s position, with respect to the first Antinomy but

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

also more generally. The Spinozist cannot rely on an experience

of spontaneity and freedom, as this would be inconsistent with
Spinoza’s necessitarianism. Spinoza’s totum analyticum excludes
an experience of freedom because it excludes the substantiality
(or independence) of finite entities. Thus, deriving necessitarian
substance monism from the notion of actual infinity, Spinozism
threatens to undercut its very foundations.
Spinoza may have a way of answering this challenge, drawing
on his own theory of freedom. We will consider this challenge in
the following chapter, dealing with the Antinomy of freedom.


1. Refl. AA 18:436.
2. KpV AA 5:102.
3. ML2 AA 28:567.
4. V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt AA 29:132.
5. A similar challenge has been raised by P. Franks, but to the third Antin-
omy (see P. Franks and S. Gardner, “From Kant to Post-Kantian Idealism,”
­A ristotelian Society Supplementary 76 [2002], pp. 229–246). Franks does
not suggest, however, that Kant had Spinoza’s position in mind; and he does
not undertake an attempt to defend Kant’s position with Spinoza’s. I inter-
act with Franks regarding the third Antinomy in Chapter 3.
6. S. Al Azm, The Origins of Kant’s Arguments in the Antinomies (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1972). Interpreters in the English-speaking tradi-
tion sometimes overlook that Al Azm is not the first to draw on the Leibniz-
Clarke connection. E. Cassirer and G. Martin did so earlier, among others.
(For a thorough discussion, see L. Kreimendahl, Kant—Der Durchbruch
von 1769 [Köln: Dinter, 1990], pp. 156–185.) Nevertheless, Al Azm’s inter-
pretation is the most comprehensive in this respect. H. Heimsoeth provides
a much more general account of the historical influences on Kant’s Antino-
mies, drawing extensively on ancient and Medieval sources as well. (For the
first Antinomy, see especially H. Heimsoeth, “Zeitliche Weltunendlichkeit
und das Problem des Anfangs,” Kantstudien ergämzungshefte 82 [1961],
pp. 269–292.)
7. Al Azm, The Origins of Kant’s Arguments in the Antinomies, pp. 1–42.


8. See, for example, W. Walsh, Kant’s Criticism of Metaphysics (Edinburgh:

Edinburgh University Press, 1975), p. 198; Grier comments on this more
recently in M. Grier, Kant’s Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 182.
9. One could perhaps doubt the relevance of any actual historical position—
why must the Antinomies correspond to actual historical sources at all?
The answer is that Kant has a somewhat historical—albeit pre-Hegelian—­
conception of reason’s development (for a recent discussion of that position,
see B. Longuenesse and D. Garber, Kant and the Early Moderns [Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2007], pp. 1–3). In order to argue that reason
necessarily leads to contradictions, Kant needs to be able to show that the
Antinomies, which he constructs abstractly, can be mapped onto actual
(historical) positions—i.e., have actually confused metaphysical thought.
Note in any event that Kant does identify the theses and antitheses with
originating historical fathers—Plato and Epicurus, respectively. (It will
become clear below that Kant sees Spinoza’s position as the more recent
and more consistent embodiment of Epicurus’s position.)
10. The infinite/indefinite distinction is more often associated with Descartes
than with Leibniz. Moreover, Leibniz is remembered as affirming an in-
finity (not an indefinite number) of monads. However, while he uses the
infinite/­i ndefinite terminological distinction less carefully than Descartes,
Leibniz, too, explicitly rejects the world’s infinity and reserves it exclusively
for the absolute—that is, for God. Leibniz’s understanding of the infinite/
indefinite distinction is discussed in detail below.
11. Here I focus on Kant’s argument regarding time, which can be applied
almost interchangeably to space.
12. Al Azm, The Origins of Kant’s Arguments in the Antinomies, p. 9.
13. H. G. Alexander, ed., The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1956), Third Letter.
14. G. W. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding, trans. and ed. Peter
Remnant and Jonathan Bennett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
1981), pp. 157f.
15. Leibniz, New Essays, p. 151. Indeed, Leibniz is not as consistent as Descartes
in distinguishing between the terms infinite and indefinite; yet he does not
consider the universe to be a completed whole—that is, he considers it to be
indefinite and not infinite. Hence, even when speaking of an “infinity” of
monads, the implication is an endless number of monads (hence, indefinite
number) but not a completed infinity, which, as the passages above make
clear, Leibniz strictly denies. On Leibniz’s infinite/indefinite distinction,
see O. Bradley-Bassler, “Leibniz on the Indefinite as Infinite,” The Review
of Metaphysics 51:4 (1998), pp. 849–874; M. Futch, “Leibniz on the Pleni-
tude, Infinity, and the Eternity of the World,” British Journal for the History

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

of Philosophy 10:4 (2002), pp. 541–560; R. Arthur, “Leibniz on Infinite

Number, Infinite Wholes and the Whole World: A Reply to Brown,” The
Leibniz Review 11 (2001).
16. I thank James Kreines for pointing out this passage to me.
17. Heimsoeth suggests Bruno as one source, among others (see Heimsoeth,
“Zeitliche Weltunendlichkeit und das Problem des Anfangs,” p. 286.)
18. FM AA 20:302. Note that Kant later associates the thesis with Plato and
the Antithesis with Epicurus (A471/B499). This is significant, because he
elsewhere associates Epicurus’s and Spinoza’s positions and argues that
the latter is more consistent than the former (KU AA 5:393). More on this
19. Translation mine. It is hard to doubt that Kant was familiar with Wolff’s
Theologia Naturalis before 1781. (In fact, he may be referring to it, in con-
nection with Spinoza, in the Nachträge Metaphysik Herder, dated 1762–1764
[MNHerder AA 28:41].)
2 0. M. Mendelssohn, “Dialogues,” in Philosophical Writings, trans. D. Dahl-
strom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), esp. pp. 96–105.
21. KpV AA 5:102.
22. KPV AA 5:102.
23. I discuss the case of the third Antinomy in Chapter 3.
2 4. V-MP/Dohna (AA 28:103).
25. V-MP-K3E/Arnoldt AA 29:132; see also AA 29:65f. I cited additional pas-
sages in the beginning of the chapter. Kant reiterates the same argument
also in the second edition of the Critique. He does not mention Spinoza or
Leibniz by name, but stresses the very same point: if space and time are re-
garded as properties of things (monads), one has no “Recht” to deny that
they are also divine attributes; therefore, only transcendental idealism can
rightfully deny the world’s infinity and eternity (see B71f.)
2 6. For a detailed analysis of the Streit, see F. Beiser, The Fate of Reason (Cam-
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 44–126.
27. KpV AA 5:102.
2 8. That such a mechanism of nature is what Kant has in mind is, I think, fairly
clear. It is strongly supported by the Second Analogy’s dominant role in the
“possibility of experience”; by the principle of causality adhered to in the
third Antithesis; and, importantly, by Kant’s identification of the Antith-
esis’s empiricism with Epicurus [A 471/B499] (more below).
29. As said, Kant associates the Antithesis’s empiricism with Epicurus (A 471/
B499). This is significant because Kant elsewhere associates Epicurus’s
mechanistic conception with Spinoza’s. In fact, Kant maintains that Spi-
noza’s mechanistic conception is superior to Epicurus’s (KU AA 5:391).
30. N. Kemp Smith, A Commentary on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (New
York: Humanities Press, 1950), p. 485.


31. B. Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World (London: Routledge, 1914),
pp. 160f.
32. For a full discussion, see H. Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) pp. 369f.
33. Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism (New Haven: Yale University Press,
2004), pp. 369f.
3 4. Refl. AA 18:436.
35. B. Spinoza, “Letter 12,” in The Correspondence of Spinoza, trans. and ed.
A. Wolf (London: Allen & Unwin 1966), p. 103. In the same letter, Spinoza
explicitly explains the difference between the absolutely infinite, which
“cannot be conceived” in any other way, and the merely “indefinite.”
36. As I have said, P. Franks raises a similar problem regarding the third Antin-
omy. (See Franks, “From Kant to Post-Kantian Idealism.”) See also Chap-
ter 3 of the present work.
37. R. Descartes, “Third Meditation,” in The Philosophical Writings of Des-
cartes I/II [CSM] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 31—­­
emphasis added.
38. It is here that Kant’s criticism of the geometrical method becomes relevant.
Kant criticizes the use of definitions as illegitimate in philosophy because
definitions can be given only in the end of the philosophical process and
not—as in Spinoza—in the beginning. Elsewhere, Kant ascribes to Spinoza
precisely the fault that “as a mathematician, he started with an arbitrary
definition of substance.”
39. The fact that Spinoza’s actual position is immune to Kant’s argument
could be seen as a challenge to the identification of the antithesis as Spi-
noza’s position. However, it is important to notice here the difference be-
tween Spinoza’s own position and various versions of Spinozist positions.
Spinoza’s actual Spinozism can challenge the argument of the Antinomy,
but this depends on his special version of Spinozism, which is unique ex-
actly by the fact that it is conceived as a totum analyticum. Importantly,
this was not the way in which Spinoza was read in Kant’s day. Philosophers
such as Wolff and Mendlessohn (cf. p. 93), for example, pledged to refute
Spinoza’s own Spinozism exactly by the argument from the impossibility
of an infinite successive synthesis. To the extent that Kant, unlike his con-
temporaries, recognized that this is not Spinoza’s own Spinozism (and at
least later in his career, he would recognize this [cf. V-MP-K2/Heinze AA
28:713]) he would have had to realize that the Antinomies don’t provide a
conclusive attack on the metaphysical tradition. To the best of my knowl-
edge, he did not recognize this himself. In any event, as I argue in the fol-
lowing, Kant’s attack on Spinozism cannot rely on the Antinomies alone;
it depends on the success of Kant’s refutation of the ontological argument
as well.

T h e Fi r st Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

4 0. For a thorough discussion of Kant’s conception of infinity, see A. Moore,

“Aspects of the Infinite in Kant,” Mind 97 (1988), p. 205–223. (See also
­Erratum 98 [1988], p. 501.)
41. G. Cantor, “Letter to Dedekind,” in From Frege to Gödel: A Source Book in
Mathematical Logic, 1879–1931, ed. J. van Heijenoort (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1967), p. 114.
42. Moore shows nicely how the problem of the universal set can be treated as
an Antinomy. (See Moore, “Aspects of the Infinite in Kant,” p. 217.) See
also Ulrich’s treatment in M. Ulrich, “Das Unendliche—eine blosse Idee?,”
Revue Internationale de Philosophie 47 (1993), pp. 319–341.
43. See also Kemp Smith’s discussion in A Commentary to Kant’s Critique of
Pure Reason (New York: Humanities Press, 1962), pp. 486f.
4 4. MSI AA 2:388n—Kemp Smith’s translation.
45. KU AA 5:251–252.
4 6. KU AA 5:254.
47. KU AA 5:254f.
4 8. KU AA 5:255.
49. For a more comprehensive discussion, see P. Guyer, “Kant’s Distinction
Between the Beautiful and the Sublime,” Review of Metaphysics 35 (1982),
pp. 767f. For an analysis of infinity and the sublime, see Moore’s “Aspects of
the Infinite in Kant,” pp. 218–220; L. Roy, “Kant’s Reflections on the Sub-
lime and the Infinite,” Kant-Studien 88:1 (1997), pp. 44–59. See also Kant’s
MNHerder AA 28:568f.
50. KU AA 5:261—emphasis mine.
51. KpV AA 5:161f—emphases mine.
52. As I argued in Chapter 1, Kant himself understands the ideal as a Spinozist
(albeit regulative) conception.
53. KpV AA 5:10—translation mine.
5 4. V-Phil-Th/Pölitz AA 28:1052.
55. V-Phil-Th/Pölitz AA 28:1041.
56. This is clearly Kant’s position in the first Critique and, to be sure, not be-
cause of the argument of the Antinomies. It is fairly uncontroversial that
regardless whether we accept transcendental idealism, or Kant’s antinomial
argument, our experience of the world is, as a matter of fact, limited.

C ha pt e r 3

The Third Antinomy and Spinoza

We saw in Chapter 2 that Spinoza’s challenge to Kant’s Antin-

omy stems from his reliance on a cosmological notion of a totum
­analyticum—an infinite whole that is prior to its parts. That notion,
if granted, may resolve the antinomial conflict. The Kantian
answer to this consists in problematizing the Spinozist reliance on
the infinite totum analyticum. That notion may be accepted, I sug-
gested, only on the basis of an experience of freedom (in Kant, the
sublime), which threatens Spinoza’s metaphysical aspirations: by
deriving necessitarianism from the notion of a totum analyticum,
Spinoza renders freedom a human illusion, thereby undercutting
his own position.
In this chapter I consider the possible Spinozist reply to this
challenge by bringing Spinoza’s theory of adequacy and freedom
into dialogue with Kant’s third Antinomy. If one can become, in
virtue of acquiring an adequate idea, free, Spinoza’s notion of com-
plete cosmological infinity may be granted, as well as the Spinozist
resolution of the third and the first Antinomies. Along the lines
of the third Antinomy, however, one may argue that the task of
acquiring an adequate idea is impossible. If that is the case, the
Spinozist challenge to the Antinomies has to be given up—as do
Spinoza’s more general rational-metaphysical aspirations. In this
chapter and the following one, I argue for the latter position.

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

In the first part of the chapter, I offer an interpretation of the

third Antinomy. In line with the previous chapter, it will become
clear that the Antithesis’s argument against freedom is best un-
derstood as a Spinozist application of the PSR—not as a Leib-
nizian application, as is often assumed. In the second part of the
chapter, I raise the chief Spinozist challenge to the Antinomy,
stemming from Spinoza’s cosmological totum analyticum—in
the case of the third Antinomy, an infinite explanatory whole.
If that notion is granted, the Antinomy’s thesis—which argues
for the necessity of freedom by presupposing the incomplete-
ness of infinity—fails.1 In the third and concluding part of the
chapter, I continue to defend Kant’s position along the lines ini-
tiated in the previous chapter. We will see that Spinoza’s reliance
on a totum analyticum, which has to be accepted on the basis of
an adequate idea (or an experience of freedom), cannot be non-
circularly justified.

The third Antinomy deals with the problem of causality and free-
dom. The Thesis maintains that there are two types of causality—
that of “nature,” whereby worldly events follow necessarily from
antecedent states; and that of “freedom,” whereby events occur
through a power “of generating a state spontaneously.” The An-
tithesis argues, in opposition to this, that there is only one type of
causality, and that this is causality “in accordance with the laws
of nature” (A444/B472). On the Antithesis’s view, every worldly
event necessarily follows from the cosmos’s preceding state. The
idea of freedom is therefore an illusion, an “empty thought entity”


(A445/B473). The third Antinomy is systematically related to

the first, which deals with the problem of the world’s beginning.
Kant explains that “if you do not, as regards time, admit anything
as being mathematically first in the world, then there is no neces-
sity as regards causality, to seek for something that is dynami-
cally [causally] first” (A449/B477). Thus whoever sides with the
first Thesis (arguing that the world is finite in space and time)
will also side with the Thesis of the third (arguing that there is
freedom); while those who side with the first Antithesis (argu-
ing for the world’s infinity) will also side with the Antithesis of
the third (arguing against freedom). The third Antinomy is also
systematically connected to the fourth, which deals with the
(non-)existence of a necessary being. This is due to the fact that
they draw on similar cosmological (first cause) arguments. 2 In in-
terpreting the third Antinomy I will at times be assuming these
connections, going into a detailed discussion of the fourth Antin-
omy, which is yet another crucial moment in which the relevance
of Spinoza reappears.
As I pointed out in Chapter 2, the prevalent historical account
of the Antinomies follows Al Azm’s interpretation, mapping the
Antinomies’ arguments onto the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence.3
On that view, the theses correspond to Clarke’s Newtonian posi-
tion, while the antitheses correspond to Leibniz’s. In the case of
the first Antinomy, for example, whereas the Thesis assumes space
and time to be Newtonian “empty containers,” the Antithesis rep-
resents Leibniz’s rejection of empty containers by an argument
from the PSR. In the case of the third Antinomy, it is assumed,
the Thesis reflects Newton’s occasionalist position—in which the
“world machine” requires God’s intervention in order “to keep
running properly”—whereas the Antithesis reflects Leibniz’s

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

determinist position, in which freedom is excluded by an argu-

ment from the PSR.4
This reading has become deeply entrenched, but it suffers from
serious problems. Some of these, regarding the world’s creation
and infinity, were considered in Chapter 2. For example, it must
be noted that, despite rejecting Newtonian empty containers by
an argument from the PSR, Leibniz does not affirm the world’s
infinity: he affirms, rather, that the world is indefinitely large,
and reserves infinity exclusively for God. 5 (This is significant, be-
cause Kant was well aware of the infinite/indefinite distinction
[A511–5/B539–43] and does use the term “infinite” in articu-
lating the first Antithesis.) Moreover, contrary to the Antithesis,
Leibniz does not deny, but affirms, that the world is created. As for
the third Antinomy, Leibniz does not offer an argument from the
PSR against freedom: in contrast to the third Antithesis, he argues
that freedom and the PSR are compatible, even complementary.
Al Azm deals with this fact by commenting briefly that Leibniz
is “couched in the language of freedom” when articulating a de-
terminist position.6 This is unsatisfactory. Leibniz is not merely
“couched” in the language of freedom. Contrary to the Antithesis,
Leibniz is a compatibilist. Let us examine the case of the third An-
tinomy in more detail.

The Thesis states that causality in accordance with the laws of
nature is not the only causality from which “appearances of the
world” can be sufficiently explained. To explain the world’s ap-
pearances, “it is necessary to assume that there is also another cau-
sality, that of freedom” (A445/B473).


Thesis: Prove: To sufficiently explain all worldly phenomena

it is necessary to assume both natural causality and causality of

1. Assume (for the sake of a reductio) the Antithesis: There is

no freedom; all worldly phenomena take place solely in ac-
cordance with laws of nature.
2. It follows that every worldly event (E3) “presupposes a pre-
ceding state” (E2), from which it necessarily ­(unausbleiblich)
3. Further, it follows that the preceding state (E2) also came
into being “in time.” [If E2 always existed, E3 would also
have always existed. But this contradicts the assumption
that E3 came into existence subsequently to E2.]
4. Thus every worldly cause (such as E2) presupposes a pre-
ceding worldly cause, which itself follows “according to the
law of nature,” and so forth, ad infinitum.
5. Therefore, on the assumption that “everything happens ac-
cording to the laws of nature,” there will always be a “deeper”
(subalternen) cause but never an ultimate one. Because the
regress continues ad infinitum, the series of causes remains
6. However, the “law of nature” consists in the claim that
nothing happens without a cause “sufficiently determined a
7. Therefore, when taken in an “unlimited universality,” the
claim that all causality takes place only in accordance with
the laws of nature is contradictory.
8. Therefore, causality in accordance with the law of nature
is not the only kind of causality. There is also causality of

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

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

a. A thing is understood by natural causality (henceforth:

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

Despite the textual plausibility of that reading, J. Bennett rejects it.8

He points out that this interpretation commits the Thesis’s target—
that is, the Antithesis—to a position more sweeping than that in
which “there is only causality of nature.” Indeed, given (b) and (c),
the Antithesis is refuted by the thesis only if the former assumes,


first, that there is only natural causality; and second, that every event
admits of an ultimate explanation. Bennett argues that the latter
position cannot be the Thesis’s target because it renders the Antith-
esis’s proponent “such an obvious straw man that Kant cannot have
taken it seriously or supposed that the Thesis-arguer would do so.”9
Bennett’s position, at first glance, is puzzling. It seems clear that
the Thesis argues against a position committed to (a)–(c), and it is
everything but clear why that position is that of an obvious straw
man. In fact, thus understood, the Antithesis articulates nothing
but a thoroughgoing commitment to the PSR. In this light, the
metaphysical dispute that constitutes the third Antinomy is no
longer understood as a dispute over freedom and causality in gen-
eral, but rather as a dispute over freedom and the PSR. This inter-
pretation is endorsed by Allison (among others), who is similarly
puzzled by Bennett’s position. The Antithesis’s fully universalized
version of the PSR is not that of a straw man, says Allison, but is the
Leibnizian version. “Leibniz,” Allison adds, “is one of Bennett’s fa-
vorite philosophers.”10
Contra Bennett, then, it seems reasonable to read the Thesis as
debating the PSR. The argument assumes, for the sake of a reductio,
(a) that there is only naturalistic causality and (b) the PSR: every
event has an ultimate explanation. This position is then challenged
by showing that (a) and (b) pull in opposite directions: the PSR’s
demand for explanatory completeness is inconsistent with the
claim that all causality is naturalistic. For if the latter were the case,
the explanatory (causal) regress would have continued ad infini-
tum and, therefore, there would be no explanatory completeness.
Note that in understanding the Antithesis as Leibnizian, Al-
lison is following Al Azm. Yet Leibniz does not argue from the
PSR against freedom. On the contrary, he holds that freedom and
the PSR are compatible and complementary. For Leibniz, despite

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

the fact that every worldly event is determined (or explained) by

its causes, no such event is genuinely necessary, precisely because
an ultimate naturalistic explanation is impossible.11 For Leibniz, a
thing’s or an event’s existence does not follow directly (“blindly,” as
Leibniz would put it) from its possibility (or nature). Every worldly
event is contingent and requires an act of choice in order to occur,
because the causal series determining it regresses ad infinitum.
Consider Leibniz’s doctrine of infinite analysis. According
to Leibniz, fact x is necessary if and only if its existence can be
proven by an analysis of its reasons. (For only in that case can x’s
existence be shown to obtain by identity propositions; thus only
in that case does x’s contrary imply a contradiction.) It follows
that fact x is contingent if the analysis of its reasons consists of an
infinite series. (For in that case it cannot be proved that x exists;
x’s contrary is not a contradiction.)12 Given that the existence of
the world as a whole, as well as the existence of worldly entities,
depends on an infinitely regressing series of causes, its existence
cannot be proved. It is contingent.
Leibniz invokes the doctrine of infinite analysis in defending
divine and human freedom alike. God must have chosen freely to
create the present world because it cannot be proved that this world
is the best. The same doctrine is also applied to human freedom:
the series of causes that determines a given human action is con-
tained in the notion of its agent but, because that series regresses
ad infinitum, each action is contingent. No action or decision is
fully accountable (provable) by an analysis of the said series. Con-
sider the following claim from the Discourse on Metaphysics:

As the individual concept of each person includes once for all

everything which can ever happen to him, in it can be seen
a priori the evidences or the reasons for the reality of each


event. . . . But these events, however certain, are nevertheless

contingent, being based on the free choice of God and of his
creatures. It is true that their choices always have their reasons,
but they incline to the choices under no compulsion of neces-
sity. (DM 13)

This claim is supported by the following example, which in-

vokes Caesar’s successful crossing of the Rubicon:

If anyone were capable of carrying out a complete demonstra-

tion by virtue of which he could prove [the] connection of
the subject, which is Caesar, with the predicate, which is his
successful enterprise, he would bring us to see in fact that the
future dictatorship of Caesar had its basis in his concept or
nature . . . but one would not [thereby] prove that it was neces-
sary in itself, nor that the contrary implied a contradiction. . . .
[For] this demonstration of this predicate as belonging to
Caesar is not as absolute as are those of numbers or of geometry,
but this predicate presupposes a sequence of things which God
has shown by his free will. This sequence is based on the first
free decree of God. (DM 13; emphasis added)

By claiming that the demonstration of the connection between

“Caesar” and “crossed the Rubicon” is “not as absolute as those of
numbers or of geometry,” Leibniz implies that his doctrine of in-
finite analysis relies on the infinite/indefinite distinction. Leibniz
accepts complete infinity (which he terms the “Absolute”) in ge-
ometry and mathematics, but he rejects it in metaphysics. Accord-
ingly, every causal series (like the “sequence” he alludes to above)
is indefinite: its conclusions cannot be demonstrated. Therefore,
the contrary of its conclusion is not contradictory. Without the

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

further assumption of divine will, choice, and freedom, no expla-

nation can be complete. This invites Leibniz’s claim that the se-
quence is “based first on the first free decree of God.”

If anything, Leibniz’s understanding of freedom and the PSR
bears interesting similarities to the argument presented in the
Thesis (especially to proposition 5). Certainly it is not related to
the argument of the Antithesis. The crucial point is Leibniz’s ar-
gumentative strategy: despite arguing that every event is deter-
mined, he doesn’t argue from the PSR against freedom. On the
contrary, invoking the PSR in combination with the doctrine of
infinite analysis, Leibniz argues for freedom. This is also the strat-
egy of the Thesis.
An objection often raised against Leibniz’s doctrine of infinite
analysis is worth repeating here. That doctrine, it is argued, ren-
ders freedom an illusory human fancy: if everything is determined
by a series of causes, the fact that that series regresses ad infinitum
is immaterial. It is due to the limitations of our finite intellects that
we cannot complete an infinite series of analysis. God, whose in-
tellect is infinite, can complete an infinite analysis—there is no
place for assuming genuine contingency and no need for a causal-
ity of freedom.13 As A. Lovejoy puts it, despite the fact that we are
“unable to apprehend the necessity,” we can still “be sure that the
necessity is there, and is recognized by the mind of God.”14
The Leibnizian reply to this objection needs to be understood
in terms of the infinite/indefinite distinction. Leibniz denies
cosmological-metaphysical infinity; he maintains that every cos-
mological series of causes can be only indefinite (i.e., proceed ad
infinitum). God cannot completely analyze an indefinite series


because it is essentially incomplete. If this is so, no event is neces-

sary; there is room left for contingency and freedom.15
We will see below that the Spinozist challenge to the Antinomy
comes from a similar direction. Unlike Leibniz, Spinoza denies
that the infinite/indefinite distinction applies in this case: this
threatens to render freedom illusory after all.

The Antithesis states that “there is no freedom. Everything in the
world takes place solely in accordance with laws of nature” (A445/
Antithesis: Prove: There is no freedom, all events happen ac-
cording to the laws of nature.

1. Assume (for the sake of a reductio) the thesis: There is free-

dom in the “transcendental sense,” that is, a power of “abso-
lutely beginning a state.”
2. It follows that there is “a series of consequences” of the state
that was freely initiated.
3. It follows (a) that a series of events has its absolute begin-
ning in a spontaneous cause and (b) that that spontaneous
cause has an absolute beginning, that is, it does not take
place as a state in any preceding series.
4. However, every beginning of an action presupposes a state
of the “not yet acting cause.”
5. Moreover, if the beginning of action is not only the begin-
ning of a causal sequence but also a first beginning, it pre-
supposes a state that has no causal connection at all with
the preceding state of the cause, that is, there is no sense in
which the event follows from the cause.

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

6. Therefore, transcendental freedom is contrary to the causal

law, and is a connection of the successive states of effec-
tive causes in accordance with which no unity of experi-
ence is possible, which thus cannot be encountered in any
7. The idea of such freedom is, therefore, “an empty thought
entity,” that is, there can be no transcendental freedom.

The heart of the argument is the fourth proposition, stating that

every change must be connected to the antecedent state of the
changing agent. The fifth proposition extends that proposition to
the notion of “absolute beginning,” and the sixth concludes (by
the second and the third propositions) that causality of freedom
violates the fourth and the fifth propositions, because it posits
that a state can begin without connection to the agent’s anteced-
ent state. The sixth proposition claims, further, that causality of
freedom violates the “unity of experience” and therefore cannot be
met with in experience. It is an “empty thought entity.”
The third Antithesis is less controversial than other antinomial
arguments. This may be due to the commonsensical conclusion
that freedom and naturalistic causality are mutually exclusive.
Schopenhauer, for example, who is otherwise hostile to the An-
tinomies, accepts the third Antithesis as an adequate proof, con-
sistent with Kant’s transcendental idealism.16 Strawson similarly
approves of the Antithesis as a “simple denial of freedom,” which
can be deduced from Kant’s Second Analogy of Experience.17
Indeed, the fourth proposition (“every beginning presupposes a
state of the yet not acting cause”) could be interpreted as a dis-
guised statement of Kant’s Second Analogy, which argues that
every causal change must be connected to the antecedent state of
the agent of change (A189/B232). On that reading, which is widely


adopted in the literature, the sixth proposition is derived from the

fourth and fifth, which are understood as the Second Analogy:
­because freedom violates the “unity of experience” (contradicting
the second Analogy) it cannot be met with in experience. There-
fore, it is “an empty thought entity.”18
There is something inaccurate about that reading, which,
indeed, raises a suspicion of circularity.19 It would be inappropri-
ate for Kant to assume transcendental idealism in the fourth and
the fifth propositions (by bringing in the Second Analogy) be-
cause the position to be assumed and refuted in the Antinomy is
that of transcendental realism. From the latter perspective, what
can or cannot be met with in experience does not license con-
clusions about what there is. Accordingly, the claim that freedom
destroys “the unity of experience,” which is raised in the sixth
proposition, does not license the conclusion: the fact that free-
dom cannot be met with in experience does not show that there
is no freedom.
There is no doubt that Kant’s terminology of “experience”
evokes transcendental idealism and, to that extent, it is unfortu-
nate. However, the argument itself is carried out from the position
of transcendental realism and is not circular. To see this, let us
recall the argument of the Thesis. We saw that it is effective only if
its target—the Antithesis—relies on the PSR. The Thesis argues
against the position that (a) there is only naturalistic causality and
(b) that every event has an ultimate explanation. Now, because the
Thesis and the Antithesis are constructed as mutual refutations,
it is appropriate—in fact, necessary—to use the one in the inter-
pretation of the other. Therefore, the Antithesis’s fourth proposi-
tion is not Kant’s Second Analogy of Experience (which would be
the PSR’s transcendentally ideal version) but the PSR. The claim
that “every beginning of action presupposes a state of the not yet

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

acting cause” is identical to the claim that there are no brute facts:
the abrupt emergence of an event, a sudden beginning that is not
connected to the previous state of the “not yet acting cause,” is just
such a brute fact. On the reading proposed here, the fifth propo-
sition universalizes the PSR, which is announced in the fourth
proposition, to causality of “absolute beginning.” Such a begin-
ning cannot occur because it violates the PSR by the emergence
of a state that bears no causal (explanatory) connection “with the
preceding state of the cause”—ex nihilo nihil fit. (Put simply, the
Antithesis’s denial of freedom does not depend on the claim that
freedom violates the “unity of experience.” It depends rather on
freedom violating the PSR.20)

Once more we see that the Antithesis cannot be understood as a
Leibnizian argument. It is Spinoza who, in contrast to Leibniz, ex-
cludes freedom by an argument from the PSR. Now it is clear that
Kant recognizes the relevance of Spinoza’s view to the Antithesis’s
fatalistic position. In the Critique of Practical Reason he writes that
the Leibnizians pretend to preserve room for freedom by taking
space and time as properties of finite beings but not of God. Their
position, however, collapses into fatalism:

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


in making such a distinction, whence they get a warrant to do

so, or even how they would avoid the contradiction they en-
counter when they regard existence in time as a determination
attaching necessarily to finite things in themselves, while God
is said to be the cause of this existence but cannot be the cause
of time (or space) itself.21

The shortcomings of this position bring Kant to his conclusion,

mentioned above, that if transcendental idealism is not adopted,

only Spinozism remains, in which space and time are essential

determinations of the original being itself, while the things de-
pendent upon it (ourselves, therefore, included) are not sub-
stances but merely accidents inhering in it; for if these things
exist merely as its effects in time, which would be the condition
of their existence itself, then the actions of these beings would
have to be merely its actions that it [God] performs in any place
and at any time. . . . [Thus Spinozism] argues more consistently
than the creation theory can when beings assumed to be sub-
stances and in themselves existing in time are regarded as effects
of a supreme cause and yet as not belonging to him and his

Without transcendental idealism “freedom could not be saved,”

Kant writes:

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

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

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

It is true that this passage was written after the Pantheismusst-

reit had begun. Yet for that reason precisely the most surprising
element about it is the fact that it contains little that should be
surprising or new. Kant’s words are consistent with his character-
ization of transcendental realism in the first Critique’s Antinomies
and in some pre-critical texts, the only novelty being the explicit
mention of Spinoza’s name. Kant’s claim that transcendental re-
alism leads to viewing space and time as “divine determinations”
is continuous with the infinitistic position articulated in the first
Antithesis (with its denial of the world’s creation); it is consistent
with Kant’s claim that the Antithesis deprives us of a “primordial
being distinct from the world” (A468/B496). And the claim that
transcendental realism cannot but regard freedom as a “delusion”
is continuous with the argument presented in the third Antithesis
that freedom is a “mere thought entity” (A447/B475).
It should be at least noted that already in the pre-critical period
Kant had little taste for Leibnizian compatibilism. In the New Eluci-
dation he comments on Leibniz’s position on freedom and the PSR:

I readily admit that here some of the adherents of the Wolff-

ian philosophy deviate somewhat from the truth of the matter.
They are convinced that that which is posited by the chain of
grounds which hypothetically determine each other still falls a
little short of complete necessity, because it lacks absolute ne-
cessity. But in this matter I agree with their illustrious ­opponent:
the distinction, which everyone recites parrot-fashion, does
little to diminish the force of the necessity of the certainty of
the determination. For just as nothing can be conceived which
is more true than true, and nothing more certain than certain,
so nothing can be conceived which is more determined than
determined. The events which occur in the world have been


determined with such certainty that divine foreknowledge,

which is incapable of being mistaken, apprehends, both their
futurition and the impossibility of their opposites.24

It is common among interpreters to hold that in the New Elucida-

tion Kant is faithful to Leibnizian compatibilism. 25 In light of the
above passage, however, this view is untenable.26 Kant is clearly
mocking Leibnizian compatibilism and complains that every-
body recites it “parrot-fashion” despite the fact that it is futile. It
is worth noticing what is probably the source of the confusion
surrounding Kant’s position. In the New Elucidation, Kant rejects
Crusius’s conception of freedom as action without a reason and
grants compatibilism instead. He insists, moreover, that free-
dom worthy of that name is nothing but one’s determination to
action according to inner reasons. This has suggested to inter-
preters that Kant was a Leibnizian. Longuenesse, for example,
reasons, “To the question: ‘is this principle of reason [PSR] ap-
plied to human action compatible with freedom of the will and
freedom of action?’ Kant answers—­again against Crusius—that
being free is not acting without a reason, but on the contrary acting
from an internal reason. . . . Kant, here, is faithfully Leibnizian.”27
However, Kant’s rejection of Crusius’s position—his acceptance
of compatibilism—­does not entail that he has granted Leibniz-
ian compatibilism. For in the same passage Kant had also sided
with Crusius against Leibnizian compatibilism in claiming that
the PSR—which the Leibnizians and he, Kant, posit—entails ne-
cessitarianism. Thus Kant’s compatibilism in the New Elucidation
consists in the view that every action is completely necessitated
(for there is nothing “more determined than determined”) and
that we are free nevertheless. “The question hinges,” Kant writes,
“not upon to what extent” things are necessary but “whence” the

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

necessity derives: even though necessitarianism obtains, one is

free if the reasons of one’s action (God’s actions included) are inter-
nal.28 Kant’s compatibilism in the New Elucidation best resembles
the compatibilism of the Stoics. Indeed, it best resembles the com-
patibilism of Spinoza. In fact, given that monism and necessitarian-
ism go hand in hand, this should not come as a surprise: as we have
seen in Chapter 1, the pre-critical Kant was committed to monism.

Returning to the second Critique passage, the crucial question
is what argument brings Kant to conclude that those who regard
space and time as properties of things-in-themselves are commit-
ted to regarding them as properties of God. His assertion draws
on the proposition that it is arbitrary to regard space and time as
“necessary properties belonging to the existence of finite beings”
but not to the existence of the “infinite original being itself ”; as
well as that it is less consistent to maintain that finite beings “in
themselves existing in time” are “effects of a supreme cause and yet
not belonging to him and his action.” Much of an argument this is
not, and it is therefore important to notice that Kant is in fact only
alluding to an argument he had defended in the first Critique—
namely, in the fourth Antinomy (debating the non/existence of a
necessary being29). In the Observation on the Thesis, Kant writes
that after invoking the cosmological argument in establishing
the existence of a necessary being—as the fourth Antinomy’s
Thesis does—one must reflect on the relation between that being
and the world; decide, as Kant writes, “whether that being is the
world itself or a thing distinct from it” (A456/B484; my empha-
sis). These words are intriguing insofar as Spinozism is concerned;
but Kant’s formulation may seem at first somewhat inaccurate or


careless because he in fact holds that, even if the unconditioned

is not distinct from the world, two possibilities still remain: the
unconditioned can belong to the world as “the highest member of
the cosmological series”; or as the whole series taken in its totality
(and hence as “the world itself ”). In other words, initially at least,
there are three possibilities, not just two: God is either (1) distinct
from the world (not spatiotemporal); or (2) the highest member
of the cosmological series (spatiotemporal); or (3) the “world
itself,” that is, the whole cosmological series taken in its totality
(spatiotemporal). Kant’s position in the fourth Antinomy is that if
appearances are taken to be things-in-themselves—that is, if tran-
scendental realism is true—one cannot uphold (1). God must be

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

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

The argument asserts a general principle, which is then applied

to the specifics of transcendental realism. This principle appears

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

in the middle of the passage: “Anything taken as condition must

be viewed precisely in the same manner in which we viewed the
relation of the conditioned to its condition in the series which is
supposed to carry us by continuous advance to the supreme con-
dition.” Kant is stating the following principle: the grounding
relation between the unconditioned and the conditioned cos-
mological series that it grounds must be of the same type as that
obtaining between the conditioned members of the series them-
selves. This principle is plausible: in any cosmological argument
for the existence of an unconditioned being, one concludes that
an unconditioned being exists because it is a necessary condition
of terminating a regressing grounding series (that’s the first part of
the argument). Therefore, we are in the first place justified in posit-
ing the existence of the unconditioned being only if it has this ex-
planatory power. However, it has this explanatory power only if it
stands in the same grounding relation to the series as the members
within the series stand to one another. The unconditioned doesn’t
explain the termination of the regressing series if it doesn’t share
its essential property. Without claiming actual historical influence
here, Kant’s principle expresses the thought captured in Spinoza’s
E Id2 and E Ia5.
The Thesis of the fourth Antinomy applies this principle to
transcendental realism. Transcendental realists view explanatory
grounding relations among things in the world as causal-temporal.
They assume that the condition (ground) exists in a time prior to
the conditioned—that the latter comes into existence by necessity
following the former. Moreover, every such explanatory ground—
every condition—itself came into existence in time, that is, in a
moment following a previous condition. (If the condition itself
always existed and did not come into being at a certain moment
of time, also the conditioned following from it would have always


existed. Kant argues for this in the Thesis of the third Antinomy
[A445/B473].)   This generates a regressing causal-explanatory
series, which is “supposed to carry us by continuous advance to
the supreme [unconditioned] condition” (A452f./B480f.). And
because it is the explanatory power of causal (temporal) depen-
dence relations that establishes the existence of a necessary being,
we must appeal to the same explanatory relation obtaining be-
tween the unconditioned and the conditioned series itself—that
is, the world. Therefore, the relation between the unconditioned
and the world is causal-temporal. This means, for Kant, that the
unconditioned condition exists in time prior to the existence of
the (first) conditioned being. Therefore, the unconditioned being
exists in time. If time is viewed as a property of things, time is a
property of the unconditioned. The unconditioned being must be,
as Kant says, immanent to the temporal series—either as a part
of the regressing series (as in [2]), or as that series itself taken as a
whole (as in [3]).
This argument rules out the first view of the unconditioned
(i.e., [1]): the unconditioned is not distinct from the world; it is
temporal. This already excludes the Wolffian-Leibnizian posi-
tion. 30 In other words, it establishes Kant’s claim in the second
Critique that it is illegitimate to view space and time as essential
properties of things but not of the unconditioned being that cre-
ated them. Now, note that we are still left with two alternatives.
God can be conceived as a part of the cosmological series (i.e., [2])
or as the “world itself ” (i.e., [3]). At first glance, the former perhaps
seems less damaging or less “Spinozist” than the latter. However,
(2) cannot sustain the theistic practical aspirations of those who,
like the Leibnizians, cling to (1). For if the unconditioned exists
in time (on that view, it does) then it always so existed; but then,
so did the cosmological series following from it—which therefore

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

always exists as a whole. (If a temporal unconditioned cause

always existed, Kant writes, “its consequence would have also
always existed” [A444/B472].) Hence, once (1) is ruled out, the
transcendental realist view of the unconditioned sooner or later
collapses into (some sort of) Spinozism. 31 This precisely licenses
Kant’s conclusion in the second Critique that transcendental real-
ism is committed to Spinozism.
In other words, the argument bringing Kant to say in the
second Critique that he cannot “see” how transcendental real-
ists would “justify themselves” in allowing that space and time
are “conditions necessarily belonging only to the existence of
finite and derived beings but not to that of the infinite original
being”—the argument leading him to insist as he does that Leib-
nizians fall back on Spinozism—is elaborated and presented in the
first ­Critique. 32 The Pantheismusstreit did not change Kant’s mind
about the Leibnizian position. He had seen—in fact, had argued
for—their collapse into Spinozism all along. This again sheds light
on his subsequent comment in the second Critique, quoted above,
that it is by “shrewdness,” not “sincerity,” that Leibnizians seek to
avoid Spinozism.33


After the break of the Pantheismusstreit, Kant repeatedly claims

that only transcendental idealism can prevent Spinozism—that
only his philosophical revolution can prevent the threats posed by
radical metaphysical rationalism. In the preface to the second edi-
tion of the Critique of Pure Reason (published at the height of the
Streit), he writes that only transcendental philosophy can answer
the injury of such doctrines as materialism, fatalism, and atheism


(Bxxxiv); that he had “found it necessary to deny knowledge, in

order to make room for faith” (Bxxx). This promise to have saved
the practical interests of reason depends in large part on the suc-
cess of the Antinomies. Kant’s promise is fulfilled only if he has
shown that transcendental realism—which he thinks necessitates
Spinozism—leads to contradictions. Yet does Kant challenge Spi-
nozist transcendental realism as successfully as he pledges?

The third Antinomy draws, similarly to the first, on the infinite/
indefinite distinction. It relies on the assumption that a series
regressing ad infinitum—that is, an indefinite, not an infinite
regress—cannot be completed. The first Thesis relies on this as-
sumption in claiming that the “infinity of a series consists in the
fact that it can never be completed through successive synthesis”
(A426/B454). The third Thesis relies on this assumption in claim-
ing that in order for a regressing series to be complete, causality of
freedom (i.e., a first beginning) must be postulated (A444/B472).
As we have seen in Chapter 2, this type of argument, which trades
on the incompleteness of indefinite regresses, was a commonplace
challenge to Spinoza and his fatalism in Kant’s day. Mendelssohn,
for example, summarizes Wolff’s (alleged) refutation of Spinozism
in the following way: “[Wolff] proved that Spinoza believed that it
is possible to produce, by combining together an infinite stock of
finite qualities, an infinite [thing]; and then he proved the falsity of
this belief so clearly, that I am quite convinced that Spinoza him-
self would have applauded him.”34 These words apply more read-
ily to the first Antinomy’s Thesis, but a similar idea is also found
in the Thesis of the third. Moreover, we have seen that Leibniz’s
doctrine of infinite analysis (conceptualized not without an eye

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

on Spinozist fatalism) gives another relevant historical example:

Leibniz’s position requires (among other things) that an analysis
of reasons be indefinite rather than infinite—that the regress of
the analysis be incomplete.
As we have seen, however, Spinoza has a ready answer to this
challenge. His monism collapses the distinction between God and
world, which enables him to view substance as a positively infinite
whole. Recall Spinoza’s words in his letter to L. Meyer:

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

Substance is composed of parts or bodies really distinct from
one another. . . . Therefore the whole conglomeration of argu-
ments whereby philosophers commonly strive to prove that
extended Substance is finite collapses of its own accord. All
such arguments assume that corporeal Substance is made up
of parts. 35

In Kantian terms, Spinoza views the world as an infinite totum

analyticum—a simple infinite whole whose parts are conceived
as the whole’s limitations, not its proper parts. This enables Spi-
noza to view the world as an infinite existing entity (targeted in
the first Antinomy) as well as a complete explanatory whole (tar-
geted in the third Antinomy). If this is granted, Spinoza’s position
escapes refutation by the Thesis. It threatens thereby to disarm the

Franks has brought up a similar challenge to the Antinomy, devel-
oped from Jacobi’s account of Spinoza as it was presented during
the Pantheismusstreit.36 Franks observes that Jacobi deduces from


the PSR a consistent position in which an infinite whole is af-

firmed and every event is sufficiently explained—without re-
quiring an assumption of freedom. “The finite is in the infinite,”
Jacobi writes, “so that the sum of all finite things, equally contain-
ing within itself the whole of eternity . . . is one and the same as
the infinite being itself.”37 Jacobi points out, moreover, that such
an infinite sum of all things is a coherent conception because it
is conceived as a totum analyticum: “[T]his sum is not an absurd
combination of finite things, together constituting an infinite, but
a whole in the strictest sense, whose parts can only be thought
within it and according to it.”38 Jacobi thus anticipates and checks
the anti-Spinozist challenge raised by Wolff, Mendelssohn and
Kant’s Antitheses.
This leads Franks to conclude that Kant’s transcendental ide-
alism is not the only resolution of the Antinomy. Transcendental
idealism and Spinoza’s substance monism, he writes, offer the
“hope” of a solution: Spinozism may “outflank” the first Critique
“because it provides a solution to the Third Antinomy that com-
petes with Kant’s transcendental idealism, a solution unsuspected
by Kant.”39
In fact, Kant’s problem is more severe. Transcendental ideal-
ism and Spinozism cannot be concurrent resolutions to the An-
tinomy because the Spinozist position is transcendentally real. If
Spinozism constitutes a possible solution, there is no Antinomy at
all, for transcendental realism does not conflict with itself. More-
over, we have seen that this (alleged) Spinozist challenge to the
third Antinomy concerns the first Antinomy just the same. Unlike
the third Antinomy, the first is supposed to provide a proof of tran-
scendental idealism (A506f./B534f.). Therefore, if Spinoza’s cos-
mological totum analyticum is granted, transcendental idealism
loses its force.

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

I began to develop a Kantian answer to that challenge at the
conclusion of the previous chapter. Let us briefly reiterate that
beginning-­of-an-answer in order to continue it here. The notion
of complete infinity, on which Spinoza crucially relies40—though
without ever trying to justify it—is highly problematic. Why
should we grant that notion as consistent and coherent? Why
should we grant that, besides our ability to add an additional unit to
any determinate magnitude—an ability that generates the notion
of the indefinite but not of the infinite—there is also a notion of
an a­ ll-encompassing, absolute entity? Concluding the previous
chapter, I argued that if such a notion can be granted (a possibility
that Kant does not rule out), it must be verified through an experi-
ence of freedom. (In Kant this would be the sublime, in Descartes,
the Cogito.41) Without such a primary experience of freedom, the
notion of an infinite unconditioned whole remains an unverified,
unwarranted concept—an “empty thought entity.”
This challenge to Spinoza strikes a nerve, especially when
considering the Spinozist assault on the third Antinomy. Here,
more than anywhere else, Spinoza’s position seems problematic.
He does not himself try to ground his use of complete infinity,
but such grounds are required. Grounding that notion through
a sublime-like experience of freedom (as Kant grounds it) would
have been useful for him in this context—but it is unavailable
from his perspective. For precisely from his metaphysical totum
analyticum follows the denial of freedom (as independence from
nature), and this renders the experience of freedom illusory. Spi-
noza thus seems to undercut his own position: by denying free-
dom, his reliance on complete infinity undermines the grounds


on which he needs to ground his own philosophy.42 This is where

the discussion was left off in the previous chapter, and it is time to
pick it up again.

The Spinozist line of argument would have to be that Spinozism
denies neither freedom nor its experience; that Spinoza only
denies freedom in the Kantian sense of independence of natural-
istic (mechanical, efficient) causality. According to Spinoza’s own
definition, one is free insofar as one acts from within one’s nature,
unaffected by external causes. Moreover, human agents are so
acting (freely) precisely when conceiving the notion of an infinite
unconditioned entity. This point is significant. Spinoza, in fact,
agrees with Kant and Descartes that the infinite-unconditioned
notion can be genuinely thought only by a free thinker; he seems
to agree, in this sense, that one has reason to accept his infinite and
complete cosmological conception only if this conception enables
the thinker, acting from within nature, to verify it by acquiring
freedom. Spinoza claims, further, that his system enables this: by
philosophizing appropriately one can become, in virtue of having
adequate ideas, free—acting (thinking) solely from within one’s
nature. If this is so, by doing Spinozist philosophy we can gain free-
dom and come to justify the basic Spinozist notion—an infinite
unconditioned whole.
This suggestion is extremely tempting. It gives philosophers—
these passionate lovers of knowledge—a hope of consummating
their love. But is the hope warranted, or is this a false temptation?
Can Spinoza provide an account of freedom and adequate ideas
that will justify the notion of complete infinity? Let us consider
Spinoza’s theory of adequacy and freedom in more detail.

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

“That being is called free,” Spinoza writes, “which exists from the
necessity of its nature alone, and is determined to act by itself
alone” (E Id7). Because only God exists solely from the necessity
of his own nature, it follows from that definition that only God is
genuinely free. However, it seems reasonable to grant that man,
too, is free, if man is “determined to act by himself alone.” Let
us say that insofar as man can be determined to act solely by his
own nature, man partakes in, or has a “taste” of (experience of),
freedom. Moreover, let us grant that such partaking in freedom,
if possible, is what is required to justify accepting the notion of an
infinite unconditioned whole.
On the assumption that man is a rational being, man acts from
his own nature when man thinks, that is, when he has ideas in the
mind. According to Spinoza, having an idea of x in the mind con-
sists of having ideas of the series of x’s causes (E Ia4).43 However,
some ideas are said to be fully contained in the mind, whereas
others are only partially contained. If an idea is only partially con-
tained (that is, if the series of the ideas of its causes is not com-
pletely enclosed in the mind), then that idea is inadequate. We may
say that idea x is inadequate in mind y (itself an idea in God’s mind)
iff one idea or more of the causes of x is not a part of y. (In other
words, idea x is inadequately conceived in mind y iff God’s idea of
x is not given solely in virtue of having idea y.) Whenever this is the
case, y is compelled into thinking by external forces (ideas) that
act upon it and is not genuinely free.
The opposite holds in the case of adequate ideas. An idea x
is adequately conceived in mind y (itself an idea in God’s mind)
iff x is a proper part of y. Put another way: idea x is adequate in
mind y iff God’s idea x is given in virtue of having y. When this


is the case, mind y is not compelled into thinking by any exter-

nal forces: it thinks only ideas that are contained within it and,
in that sense, it is genuinely free. Let us grant that if the human
mind can satisfy this criterion, man is free when conceiving an
adequate idea. It follows that in virtue of having an adequate
idea—particularly, in virtue of having an adequate idea of the
infinite unconditioned substance—we have a justified notion of
such substance.
Spinoza says that we can have adequate ideas of finite modes,
common notions (infinite modes), and God’s nature. Each of these
claims needs to be examined separately.

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

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

In this light, Spinoza’s claim that the human mind can acquire ad-
equate ideas of finite entities is doubtful. First, if human mind y
is a finite idea in the infinite mind of God, and x is an idea of an
individual thing, it is impossible for y, which is finite, completely
to contain the infinite series of the ideas of x’s causes. In other
words, whereas God’s infinite mind has an adequate idea of x, that
idea cannot be adequate solely in virtue of God having y.44 Hence,

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

y cannot have an adequate idea of a finite entity and cannot be re-

garded free in virtue of having such an idea.
The latter difficulty is internal to Spinoza’s system. It faces
anyone who has already bought into Spinoza’s presuppositions
(including the premise of an infinite whole) and tries to work out,
from within the system, adequate knowledge of individual entities.
The following difficulty is external to Spinoza’s system. It is a dif-
ficulty that must concern anyone who wishes to justify the notion
of complete infinity by the doctrine of adequacy and freedom in
order to do so. Mind y cannot completely contain an infinite series
of ideas of causes not merely because it is finite. It cannot com-
pletely contain such a series of causes because we do not yet have
a reason to think that an infinite series can be completed at all.
We may put that problem in terms of Kant’s third Antinomy: as
claimed by the Thesis, an infinite series of naturalistic causes will
always have a relative [subalternen] but not a “first beginning.” Or
we can put it in terms of Leibniz’s doctrine of infinite analysis: a
given event cannot be fully explained by an analysis of its causes;
for such analysis is indefinite and, as such, incomplete. To bring
this back to Spinozist terms, we are still doubting whether God
can have an adequate idea of a finite entity. For we have not granted
the notion of complete infinity—indeed, we require an adequate
idea in order to do so and therefore shouldn’t presuppose complete
infinity when explaining what entitles us to it.

Let us see if Spinoza is more successful at generating adequate ideas
of common notions—such notions, or ideas, that are “common to
all, and which are equally in the part and in the whole” (E IIp38).
An example of such a notion is the property of movability: it is


common to all bodies in virtue of participating in the same at-

tribute (Extension) that they are capable, to the same degree, of
motion and rest. “All bodies,” writes Spinoza, “agree in that they
can move now more slowly, now more quickly, and absolutely, that
they now move, now they are at rest” (E II L2). Spinoza considers
such common notions as movability to be infinite modes, that is,
fundamental properties of a divine attribute (in that case, Exten-
sion). As such, they are equally present in the part as in the whole
and are not generated through an infinite series of causes; rather,
they follow directly from the nature of the attribute.
This invites Spinoza’s conclusion that common notions can be
conceived only adequately:

P38 Dem.: Let A be something which is common to all bodies,

and which is equally in the part and in the whole. I say that A
can only be conceived adequately. For its idea (by P7C) will
necessarily be adequate in God, both insofar as he has the idea
of the human body and insofar as he has ideas of its affections,
which (by P16, P25, and P27) involve in part both the nature
of the human body and that of external bodies. That is (by P12
and P13), this idea will necessarily be adequate in God insofar
as he constitutes the human mind, or insofar as he has ideas
that are in the human mind. The mind, therefore (by P11C),
necessarily perceives A adequately, and does so both insofar
as it perceives itself and insofar as it perceives its own or any
external body. Nor can A be conceived in another way, QED.
(E II P38 Dem.)

Assume that x is an idea of a part of a body and that y is a human

mind conceiving that body. By having an idea of x—and regardless
of how partial y’s idea of x actually is—the notion of movability is

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

fully contained in y. For movability is found in its entirety in every

part as in the whole.
Such an account of adequacy may satisfy someone already
working within the assumptions of Spinoza’s system.45 How-
ever, it does not give a good reason to buy into the notion of
complete infinity, because it too assumes that notion before-
hand. The premise that common notions are “equally in the part
and the whole” presupposes that the (infinite) attribute of which
these notions are fundamental properties (in this case, Exten-
sion) is given as a whole and is simple. For if the attribute had
been a complex entity—or if it had not been given as a totality—
then arbitrarily and partially conceiving any of its parts would
not have been sufficient to conceiving the whole of it. This point
can be conveniently understood in terms of the first Antinomy:
the claim that movability is contained in the whole attribute of
Extension as in each of its parts presupposes that Extension is
given as an infinite totum analyticum. However, as we have seen
in the previous chapter, the legitimacy of an infinite totum ana-
lyticum is just what needs to be established by the doctrine of
freedom and adequate ideas. Here, too, therefore, it would be
circular to appeal to adequate ideas of common notions in order
to justify complete infinity.

We now turn to see if one can plausibly acquire an adequate idea
of the unconditionally existing infinite substance. This is, for the
Spinozist, a crucial task. In possession of such an adequate idea
there would be a good reason to grant the notion of complete infin-
ity and, with it, Spinoza’s resolution of the Antinomies. Without
that notion, however—and given that God is the efficient cause


of everything that exists—none of our ideas can be adequate to

begin with. If this is the case, the Spinozist metaphysical ambi-
tions would require moderation.
Roughly speaking, there are three ways for Spinoza to ground
his claim to posses an adequate idea of God. He may do so through
his claim to possess adequate ideas of divine attributes; through
the Spinozist version of the ontological argument; or through a
direct grasp of the meaning of the notion of substance. Let us con-
sider each of these.
(a) Having an adequate idea of God is grounded through an ad-
equate idea of an attribute in the following way. In virtue of having
an idea (cf. of our body), we have an adequate idea of a common
notion (such as movability in space)—such notion that is found in
the part as in the whole. Common notions are fundamental prop-
erties of an attribute—in the case of movability, as we have seen, of
Extension. Thus, in virtue of having an idea of a common notion,
we have an idea of an attribute. However, an attribute, too, is found
in the part as in the whole. Hence, in virtue of having an idea (cf. of
our body), we have an adequate idea of a common notion (as mov-
ability), as well as of its attribute (as Extension). However, an attri-
bute just is God’s essence (E I D4). Therefore, in virtue of having
an adequate idea of an attribute, we have an adequate idea of God’s
Clearly, this account of adequacy cannot validate Spinoza’s
notion of an infinite whole. It assumes that notion in two crucial
steps of the argument: first, in relying on the claim that common
notions are equally found “in the part as in the whole”; and, then,
by making the same presupposition regarding attributes. Hence,
whereas it may give a coherent Spinozist account of freedom, it
may not, via that account of freedom, give an argument for accept-
ing complete infinity.

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

(b) Spinoza’s version of the ontological argument can be briefly

outlined as follows.47 For every thing, there must be sufficient
reason that determines its existence or its nonexistence. There-
fore, if there can be no reason for the nonexistence of an entity,
that entity necessarily exists. A reason for a thing’s existence or
nonexistence can be either external to its nature or internal to it.
An external reason for the nonexistence of substance is impos-
sible: that reason will have to be in a substance* that shares no at-
tribute with substance (otherwise they will be identical; [E Ip5]);
however, if substance and substance* share no attribute, they can
have no causal interaction (E Ia5; p3). Hence, substance* cannot
cause the nonexistence of substance. Further, an internal reason
for the nonexistence of substance is also impossible. An internal
reason for a thing’s nonexistence is a contradiction in its notion
and, Spinoza argues, it is “absurd to affirm this [contradiction] of
a Being absolutely infinite and supremely perfect” (E Ip11). Thus,
because there can be neither external nor internal reason for sub-
stance’s nonexistence, it necessarily exists.
That argument, too, draws on the assumption that the notion
of an infinite whole is coherent. Spinoza’s claim that a being “ab-
solutely infinite” and “supremely perfect” cannot be contradictory
relies, albeit implicitly, on a further premise—namely, that the
notion of an absolutely infinite entity is a notion of a simple entity.
Only that assumption makes it absurd, as Spinoza claims that it
is, to consider its notion as contradictory. (A simple entity has no
separate elements that can contradict one another; all elements
are at the first place conceived through that entity.) However, if we
do not begin by assuming the notion of complete infinity, there’s
nothing absurd in thinking that the notion of an infinite whole
may be incoherent. In fact, for all that we know it is incoherent (for
the most reasonable account of infinity that we have been given so


far consists of our ability to add, for every determinate measure, an

additional unit. Actually completing such infinity is impossible).
Therefore, whereas Spinoza’s ontological argument may satisfy
someone who has already granted his cosmological totum ana-
lyticum, it would be circular to invoke that argument in support of
that cosmological conception.48
(c) The last strategy for Spinoza to take is, I suspect, the truly
Spinozist one. It consists of directly grasping the force of the claim
that substance is the causa sui, the cause of itself. Spinoza argues
that because a thing is conceived through its cause, the causa sui
is conceived through itself. No external idea is required to under-
stand that the causa sui exists—neither an infinite series of ideas
of causes nor a further assumption regarding complete infinity.
By simply and directly grasping the meaning of the claim that
substance is its own cause, we obtain adequate certainty that sub-
stance is. This must be Spinoza’s intention when he writes, in his
letter on the Infinite, that he has proven the existence of substance
“without the help of any further propositions.”49
The notion of the causa sui is unsatisfactory, however, not only
from a Kantian’s perspective but also from a Spinozist’s. The third
Antinomy’s Antithesis states not merely that everything admits
of an ultimate explanation; it states that everything has an ulti-
mate explanation in terms of naturalistic causality (“in accor-
dance with the law of nature”). In Kant, naturalistic causality is
understood as mechanical, or efficient causality. We naturalisti-
cally understand an event if and only if we see how it necessarily
follows from another event that precedes it. Arguably, Spinoza
favors a similar conception. A thing, A, is said to be the cause of
another, B, if B necessarily follows from A (e.g., E Ip16c1; Ip25;
IIp5). Of course, a mechanistic conception is the hallmark of
seventeenth-century scientific naturalism, of which Spinoza is

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

supposed to be a champion. Now if one clings to this efficient-

naturalistic conception, the notion of a “self-caused entity” is
identical to a notion of an entity that is “not caused at all.” For
the causal conception that’s assumed in the notion of a self-
caused entity is entirely different from—in fact, it excludes—
the naturalistic-­efficient conception. Kant is implicitly giving a
similar argument against Spinoza in the New Elucidation, when
he argues against the notion of the cause of itself. “Whatever con-
tains within itself the ground of the existence of something is the
cause of that thing,” he writes.

Suppose, therefore, that there is something which has within

itself the ground of its own existence, then it will be the cause
of itself. Since, however, the concept of a cause is by nature
prior to the concept of that which is caused, the latter being
later than the former, it would follow that the same thing would
be simultaneously both earlier and later than itself, which is

To be sure, Spinoza does not define causality exclusively in natu-

ralistic or efficient terms. He writes that “[w]hat cannot be con-
ceived through another, must be conceived through itself ” (E Ia2).
That is, a thing is conceived through another—i.e., by naturalistic,
efficient terms—or through itself. But for anyone genuinely as-
piring to understand everything naturalistically, that position is
unsatisfactory. For whereas the human intellect genuinely grasps
how one thing can cause another, it has no handle on the claim
that an entity is its own cause.
Let us consider this point more carefully. Spinoza seems
to assume the following line of reasoning: (a) a thing is under-
stood through a thing’s cause; therefore (b) a self-caused entity


is understood through itself. (That this is Spinoza’s position is

suggested by the fact that he defines substance as the “cause-of-
itself ” rather than as “un-caused-cause.”) To the extent that this
is indeed Spinoza’s line of reasoning it is flawed, because the con-
ception of “cause” assumed at (a) is of naturalistic-efficient cau-
sality, whereas the conception of “cause” assumed at (b) excludes
naturalistic-­efficient causality. In (a), causality is understood as a
relation between non-identical entities, whereas in (b) it is a reflex-
ive relation. It is mistaken to assume that because we understand
everything in virtue of an (a) kind of relation (everything is under-
stood through its cause), we understand something in virtue of a
(b) kind of relation. Existential knowledge of the causa sui cannot
be gained by consideration of causes that conform to our ordinary
naturalistic-scientific standards. Contrary to Spinoza’s claim, we
have no conception of God’s essence—that is, of God’s existence.
Affirming God’s existence we find ourselves affirming one big (if
you’d like, infinite) brute fact.
Of course, this is not the end of the story. The notion of the
causa sui can perhaps be redeemed by endorsing the traditional on-
tological argument: if existence is a first order predicate, a natural-
istic account of a self-caused entity may be in a position to disarm
the Antinomies.


1. Franks has raised a similar challenge to the third Antinomy in P. Franks and
S. Gardner, “From Kant to Post-Kantian Idealism II,” Aristotelian Society
Supplementary 76:1 (2002), pp. 229–246. I discuss Franks’s account below.
2. Kemp Smith writes, “Kant’s proof of freedom in the thesis of the third
Antinomy is merely a corollary from his proof of the existence of a cosmo-
logical or theological unconditioned” (N. Kemp Smith, A Commentary To
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason [New York: Humanities Press, 1962], p. 497).

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

3. S. Al Azm, The Historical Origins of Kant’s Arguments in the Antinomies

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972). For a thorough bibliographi-
cal survey, see L. Kreimendahl, Kant—Der Durchbruch von 1769 (Köln:
Dinter, 1990), pp. 156–185.
4. Al Azm, The Historical Origins, pp. 87–90.
5. See my discussion of Leibniz’s position in Chapter 2.
6. Al Azm The Historical Origins, p. 87.
7. For example Allison, Transcendental Idealism (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2004), p. 378f.
8. J. Bennett, Kant’s Dialectic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1974), pp. 184–186.
9. Ibid.
10. Allison, Transcendental Idealism, p. 380.
11. Indeed, this might be the reason that Bennett does not ascribe the Antith-
esis to Leibniz, as other commentators do. Moreover, his view that the An-
tithesis cannot convey a necessitarian position because necessitarianism is
(so he thinks) a straw man’s position is at least continuous with his belief
that Spinoza also did not hold a necessitarian position.
12. Cf. Leibniz, The Monadology, in Die philosophischen Schriften von G. W
­Leibniz, ed. C. Gerhardt (Berlin: Weidman, 1875–1890), [Gerhardt] 6:612.
For more detailed accounts of Leibniz’s doctrine of infinite analysis, see
B. Russell, A Critical Presentation of the Philosophy of Leibniz (London:
Routledge, 1997) pp. 25–35; L. Couturat, “On Leibniz’s Metaphysics,”
in Leibniz: A  Collection of Critical Essays, ed. H. Frankfurt (Garden City,
NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1972), pp. 30–35; R. Adams, Leibniz Determinist,
Theist, Idealist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 25–30. The suc-
cess of this doctrine is controversial, of course. See D. Blumenfeld, “Leibniz
on Contingency and Infinite Analysis,” Philosophy and Phenomenological
Research 45:4 (1985), pp. 483–514; as well as M. Lin, “Rationalism and Ne-
cessitarianism” (unpublished manuscript).
13. Cf. Russell, “Recent Work on the Philosophy of Leibniz,” reprinted in
Frankfurt, ed., Leibniz: A Collection of Critical Essays, p. 378.
14. A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer-
sity Press, 1936), 175.
15. This Leibnizian reply is well-known. See, for example, N. Rescher, The
Philosophy of Leibniz (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), p. 44;
Adams, Leibniz, p. 28. However, while much work has been done on Leib-
niz’s doctrine of infinite analysis, and some work has been done on Leibniz’s
infinite/indefinite distinction, I do not know of any work that combines the
16. A. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F. J. Payne
(New York: Dover, 1969), p. 498.
17. P. F. Strawson, The Bounds of Sense (London: Methuen, 1966), pp. 208–210.


18. For example, Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, p. 282f; P. Guyer,

Kant and the Claims of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1987), p. 411f.; H. Hudson, Kant’s Compatibilism (Ithaca, NY: Cor-
nell University Press, 1994); W. Malzkorn, Kants Kosmologie-Kritik (Berlin:
De Gruyter, 1999), p. 214.
19. See E. H. Röttges, “Kants Auflösung der Freiheitsantinomie,” Kant-­Studien
65 (1974), pp. 45–48; B. Ortwein, Kants Problematische Freiheitslehre
(Bonn: Bouvier, 1983), pp. 24–26.
2 0. Eric Watkins advocates a similar reading, relying on the Antithesis’s text
rather than on comparing it to the Thesis. See his Kant and the Metaphysics
of Causality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 309f.
21. KpV AA 5:101f.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid.
2 4. PND AA 01:400.
25. See, for example, Longuenesse’s important paper on the PSR, “Kant’s De-
construction of the Principle of Sufficient Reason,” The Harvard Review of
Philosophy 9 (2001), p. 74; H. Heimsoeth, “Zum kosmologischen Ursprung
der Kantischen Freiheitsantinomie,” Kant-Studien 57 (1966), p. 215.
2 6. This is also the argument of J. Byrd’s “Kant’s Compatibilism in the New
­Elucidation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Cognition,” Kant-Studien
99 (2008), pp. 68–79.
27. Longuenesse, “Kant’s Deconstruction of the Principle of Sufficient Reason,”
p. 74. Heimsoeth reasons along similar lines (Heimsoeth, “Zum kosmolo-
gischen Ursprung,” p. 215).
2 8. PND AA 01:400.
29. My discussion of the fourth Antinomy follows an argument I first provided
in “Kant’s Idea of the Unconditioned and Spinoza’s” in: Eckart Förster
Yitzhak Melamed (ed.), Spinoza and German Idealism ( Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 2012), pp. 27–43.
30. Some have already noted the relevance of Spinoza to the argument of the
fourth Thesis. See Heimsoeth’s “Le Continu métaphysique de la Quatrième
Antinomie de Kant,” in L’histoire de la philosophie: ses problèmes, ses méthodes
[Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1964], pp. 89–91. Heimsoeth comments that
Spinoza’s doctrine, “telle que Kant la connaissait ou l’imaginait, a été, pour
lui toujours, plus qu’on ne le remarque ordinairement, l’objet de médita-
tions critiques, et cela précisément au cours de l’itinéraire qui le menait vers
sa position definitive.” While I agree with every word of this extremely con-
troversial remark, Heimsoeth does not offer much historical or philosophi-
cal support for it. More recently, Grier offers some discussion of Spinoza as
a possible historical source of the argument (see her Kant’s Doctrine of Illu-
sion, p. 224f.). In fact, Al Azm also concedes that the Newtonian position

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

(which he assumes is represented in the Thesis) is pushed to Spinozism, and

that Clarke came close to conceding as much (see his The Historical Origins,
p. 117f.).
31. Heimsoeth remarks that the conception conveyed by (2) expresses the
Stoics’ fatalist and Spinozist conception of the world soul (see his “Le Con-
tinu métaphysique de la Quatrième Antinomie de Kant,” p. 90f.; as well as
his “Zum kosmologischen Ursprung der Kantischen Freiheitsantinomie,”
p. 209.) Heimsoeth does not offer much argumentation for this claim. But
it is strongly supported by the fact that Kant discusses Zeno’s paradoxes
in connection with the Antinomies. While I cannot discuss this point in
detail here, it is highly relevant for the present discussion. As we have seen
above, Kant’s pre-critical conception of freedom arguably resembles Stoic/­
Spinozist compatibilism. Moreover, Kant’s position in the Antinomies was
certainly influenced by Bayle’s use of antinomial dialectic in connection
with Zeno in the Dictionnaire (indeed, Kant discusses Zeno in the Antino-
mies [A502f/B530f]). Surprisingly little attention has been paid to Bayle
and the Antinomies, an exception being J. Ferrari’s entry on Bayle in his
Les sources françaises de la philosophie de Kant (Paris: Klincksieck, 1979),
pp. 91–99. See also his “Le Dictionnaire historique et critique de Pierre Bayle
et les deux premières antinomies kantiennes de la Raison pure,” Études phi-
losophiques et littéraires, Société de philosophie du Maroc, 1967, pp. 24–33.
32. One advantage of reading the passage from the second Critique in light of
the fourth Antinomy’s thesis is that it provides a possible explanation for
a mistake Kant makes about Spinoza. Kant writes that if transcendental
idealism is denied, “only Spinozism remains, in which space and time are
essential determinations of the original being itself.” But of course Spinoza
does not regard time, but thought, as an “essential determination” (attri-
bute) of substance alongside space. This mistake could be the result of the
fourth Antinomy argument because that argument proceeds by showing
that the unconditioned being must be temporal—i.e., that time must be an
“essential determination of the original being itself.” Kant’s mistake shows
that what Kant understands by Spinozism may not correspond exactly to
Spinoza’s own system.
33. KpV AA 5:102.
3 4. M. Mendelssohn, “Dialogues,” Philosophical Writings, trans. D. Dahlstrom
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), esp. pp. 96–105.
35. B. Spinoza, “Letter 12,” in The Correspondence of Spinoza (London: Allen &
Unwin, 1966), p. 103. It is clear from the letter that Spinoza is well aware of
the infinite/indefinite distinction.
36. P. Franks in P. Franks and S. Gardner, “From Kant to Post-Kantian Idealism
II,” Aristotelian Society Supplementary, pp. 229–246; P. Franks, All or Noth-
ing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 98–108.


37. Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 95. See Franks’s “From Kant to Post-
Kantian Idealism II,” p. 239f.
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid, pp. 241–244.
4 0. In a way, complete infinity is Spinoza’s most fundamental assumption;
without it, all his other assumptions, explicit and implicit, fail.
41. For a discussion of the Cogito’s reliance of an experience of freedom, see my
“Freedom and the Foundations of Cartesian Epistemology” (unpublished
42. Of course, there may be different ways for Spinozists, other than reliance
of the experience of freedom, for grounding their notion of the absolute.
Here I focus on one such possible strategy. The choice isn’t arbitrary, how-
ever. Given the linkage in Spinoza’s thought between freedom, power, and
knowledge in Spinoza’s thought, grounding the notion of the absolute
through freedom (in Spinoza, the difference between freedom and the ex-
perience thereof would collapse) would be one natural way to go.
43. For discussion of Spinoza’s theory of adequate ideas, see M. Wilson, “Spi-
noza’s Theory of Knowledge,” in D. Garrett, ed., The Cambridge Companion
to Spinoza (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 111–116;
M. Della Rocca, Representation and the Mind Body Problem in Spinoza (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 55–57.
4 4. Della Rocca raises this problem in Representation and the Mind Body Problem
in Spinoza, p. 183n. 29. See also “The Power of an Idea: Spinoza’s Critique of
Pure Will,” Nous 37:2 (2003), p. 205. See also E. Marshall, “Adequacy and
Innateness in Spinoza,” Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 2008 (4)
pp. 51–88.
45. That strategy is developed by Marshall as a reply to Della Rocca’s “problem
of adequate ideas” (see his “Adequacy and Innateness”).
4 6. Ibid.
47. For a detailed discussion, see D. Garrett, “Spinoza’s Ontological Argu-
ment,” The Philosophical Review 88:2 (1979), pp. 198–223; M. Lin, “Spi-
noza’s Ontological Arguments,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
75:2 (2007), pp. 269–297. Spinoza offers several arguments for God’s exis-
tence. Here I refer only to the truly Spinozist one, which relies on the PSR
and not on the assumption that existence is a predicate.
4 8. Garrett and Lin claim that Spinoza’s argument is not liable to Kant’s refuta-
tion in the first Critique, which is based on the claim that existence is not
a predicate. For Spinoza’s argument is based on the PSR—not on the as-
sumption that existence is an attribute. Garrett, however, suggests that that
argument too must fail, if only for the reason that God’s existence cannot be
proven. (In other words, Garrett seems to think that the conclusion “God
exists” licenses a reductio.) This seems to me mistaken, for God’s existence is

T h e T h i r d Antino m y a n d S pinoz a

probably not a greater absurdity than his nonexistence (nor is knowing that
God exists a greater absurdity, in my opinion, than being in principle inca-
pable of knowing God’s existence.) In any event, we will see in Chapter 4
that Spinoza’s reliance of the PSR in fact assumes the traditional ontological
argument, i.e., the assumption that existence is a predicate. If this is so, even
if Spinoza’s PSR-argument for God’s existence does not directly rely on ex-
istence being a predicate, it fails together with the traditional ontological
49. Spinoza, “Letter 12” in The Correspondence of Spinoza, ed. and trans. A. Wolf
(London: Frank Cass, 1966), p. 102.

C ha pt e r 4

The Causa Sui and the

Ontological Argument, or the
Principle of Sufficient Reason
and the Is-Ought Distinction

The Spinozist challenge to Kant’s Antinomies, and thus Spinoza’s

challenge to the critique of reason in general, stands and falls with
the notion of complete infinity. The advantage offered by sub-
stance monism over competing transcendentally real positions are
embedded in Spinoza’s reliance on a metaphysical-cosmological
totum analyticum, in which the world is conceived as a simple, infi-
nite, and complete explanatory whole. In order for that metaphysi-
cal position to hold ground, however, the cogency of its key notion
(namely, simple complete infinity) has to be vindicated.
In the previous chapter I suggested that such a vindication,
if at all possible, has to be provided by an account of freedom. In
Spinozist terms, this means that complete infinity needs to be ac-
counted for by a theory of adequate ideas. (According to Spinoza,
we are free and are aware of that freedom insofar as we are capable
of acquiring adequate ideas.) This, however, presents a problem
to Spinozism, for within a Spinozist framework it is difficult to
account for adequate ideas without assuming complete infinity


beforehand—and thereby begging the question. We saw that the

possibility of acquiring adequate ideas of concrete entities relies
on complete infinity, as does the possibility of acquiring adequate
ideas of infinite modes, of divine attributes, and of God. Indeed,
Spinoza’s PSR-version of the ontological argument assumes com-
plete infinity as well.
The last Spinozist resort is the notion of the causa sui. Because
that notion is (supposedly) simple, one conceives it adequately
merely in virtue of conceiving it, without appealing to further no-
tions. In concluding the previous chapter, however, I argued that
this notion is inexplicable: whereas we understand mechanical
causal relations in which one entity causes another, we have no
handle on the claim that a thing causes itself. Our naturalistic un-
derstanding of causes is restricted to ones obtaining between two
non-identical entities, one of which is prior to the other. Hence, if
we assume that a thing is understood through its causes, a thing
allegedly explained by itself is nothing but a brute fact.
The Spinozist answer to this challenge brings out the kernel
of Spinozism, because it discloses its dependence on rationalism
in its most radical form. The answer consists in the sheer iden-
tification of Thought of Being, existence and conceivability. On
this view, the causa sui’s existence is fully explainable because it
exists by definition. Spinoza certainly thinks along those lines
when defining the causa sui as that “whose essence involves exis-
tence” (E Id1) and when claiming that what cannot be conceived
through another must be “conceived through itself ” (E Ia2).1
If sustainable, this position may enable a rationalist account of
a self-caused entity—thus, ultimately, resolving the problem
of adequate ideas haunting Spinozism. The aim of the present
chapter is to confront Kant with this rationalist position and in-
troduce a Kantian counter-argument. While I do not think this


confrontation captures Kant’s and Spinoza’s actual historical

positions, it does capture the spirit of the philosophical question
at stake.
Perhaps the main lesson to take from this confrontation is
that the ontological argument (and its refutation) plays a much
more significant role in the justification of rationalist metaphysics
than usually acknowledged—by rationalists and Kantians alike.
This is so because, as will turn out, if existence isn’t a “real,” first
order predicate, the PSR is false. In more contemporary terms, we
may say that proponents of the PSR (“metaphysical rationalists”)
are committed to the existence of strictly so-called conceptual
truths—ones that are true in virtue of concepts alone. We will
see that the only way to defend a metaphysical-conceptual under-
standing of truth, as metaphysical rationalists must, is to defend
the view the existence is a first order predicate.
To be sure, metaphysical rationalists don’t ordinarily acknowl-
edge this commitment. An important example of this is the thesis,
briefly discussed in Chapter 3, that Spinoza has an argument for
the existence of God (or Substance) that draws on the PSR and
is immune to Kant’s refutation of the ontological argument.2 I al-
ready gave reasons for rejecting this argument; here we will see
that, drawing on the PSR, it isn’t independent of the assumption
that existence is a first order predicate.
Kantians, too, on their part, tend to underestimate the central-
ity of the refutation of the ontological argument to the Kantian
project. They often treat the refutation as dealing with but one
metaphysical doctrine, Rational Theology, standing alongside
the other metaphysical doctrines—Rational Psychology (in the
Paralogisms) and Rational Cosmology (in the Antinomies). That
is, we think of the refutation primarily in connection with the
philosophico-theological question of God’s existence (and this is


certainly how Kant himself presents things). However, given the

fact that the Antinomies fail if the causa sui is granted—Thought
and Being collapse—the ontological argument should be studied
as the key to the Kantian attack on—and to the rationalist defense
of—the possibility of dogmatic metaphysical thought.
In this light, the details of the refutation deserve serious atten-
tion. How exactly does Kant show that existence is not a predi-
cate? How successful is the argument? It will become clear that
Kant’s refutation is question-begging vis-à-vis metaphysical ra-
tionalists. It is a premise of Kant’s refutation that we can have a
complete concept of a merely possible thing, and that a merely
possible thing can become actual (recall the famous hundred thal-
ers [A599/B627]). Metaphysical rationalists are in a position to
deny this premise by showing that if the PSR is true, Spinozist ne-
cessitarianism obtains. This allows them to salvage the ontological
argument and, thereby, to outflank Kant’s attack on metaphysics
as a whole.
I conclude the chapter by sketching how the Kantian position
can be defended. This defense depends on the relation between
practical and theoretical rationality. Kantians would have to insist
that the only way to justify our theoretical use of the PSR is by a
normative decree; specifically, that we strive to explain the world
only because of the conviction that the way the world “is” is not
the way it ought to be. I will use this insight in giving a defense of
the anti-necessitarian assumptions required by Kant’s refutation
of the ontological argument. This defense is no knockdown argu-
ment, but it is powerful nonetheless; and it brings out something
essential to the Kantian enterprise in revealing a connection be-
tween Kant’s well-known claim that existence—the “is”—is not
a predicate, and his not less known claim that the “is” is distinct
from the “ought.”


We get a handle on the notion of a self-caused entity, a rationalist
may argue, as soon as we come to affirm the following two proposi-
tions. (1) Existence is coextensive with and follows from conceiv-
ability: a thing’s conceivability does not depend on representing
the causes of its existence, for conceivability is prior to both “cau-
sality” and existence. A thing exists if and only if it is conceivable.
(We will consider an argument for that proposition presently.)
(2) Concepts are conceived through themselves: we do not con-
ceive a concept in virtue of something over and above that con-
cept; we conceive it simply in virtue of having that concept. Take
the concept “bachelor” for example: it is inappropriate to ask, one
might think, “in virtue of what are bachelors conceived as unmar-
ried men,” because answering that question is a matter of merely
explicating the concept “bachelor.” The question merely discloses
the ignorance of the person asking about the concept’s definition:
a bachelor is unmarried and is a man in virtue of the fact that a
bachelor is what it is. 3
If granted, (1) and (2) present a model with which we under-
stand the notion of a self-caused entity—we get a handle on the
kind of thing that the cause of itself is. For conceivability implies
existence, and concepts, which we undeniably have (e.g., “bach-
elor”), are conceived through themselves.

This rationalist stance is unsatisfactory on several counts. Before
we approach (1), let us briefly consider (2). The claim that con-
cepts are conceived through nothing but themselves is somewhat


inaccurate. Most concepts, in fact all but one, are not conceived
through themselves but through other concepts. Consider “bach-
elor” once more: it is conceived through a long, possibly infinite,
list of concepts—starting with “man,” “married,” and the operator
“un.” Neither of these is identical to “bachelor,” but each is indi-
vidually required for conceiving that concept. Moreover, each of
these concepts requires in turn its own set of concepts, in virtue
of which it is conceived: “man” requires “animal” and “rational”
(let’s say); “animal” requires “body” (among others); “body,” “ex-
tension,” up to causa sui, defined as that thing that is conceived
through itself. The latter is the only concept that is conceived—or
so the rationalist needs to argue—through itself.4 Therefore, the
rationalist claim that concepts are conceived through themselves,
insofar as it is invoked in defense of the conceivability of the causa
sui, is begging the question. One cannot defend the conceivability
of the causa sui by claiming that concepts are conceived through
themselves and rely on the concept of the causa sui as the one ex-
ample of a concept that’s conceived through itself. That this con-
cept is conceivable is, of course, just what needs to be shown.
To avoid begging the question, the rationalist may attempt to
rely generally on the notion of conceivability, instead of relying on
the example of causa sui (or any example at all). He may claim that
we should believe (2), that is, that concepts are conceived through
themselves, because we accept the initially plausible view that con-
ceptual truths are true (and known as such) in virtue of nothing
over and above the concepts involved. Thus, “triangles have three
sides” is true and known to be true in virtue of concepts alone,
without the aid of anything that is not conceptual. On this view,
even if we will eventually discover (and according to the rational-
ist, we will) that, strictly speaking, there is only one truth and
that that truth is conceptual—namely, the causa sui exists—the


argument was not premised on that concept. It was premised,

again, only on the initial and plausible assumption that conceptual
truths require nothing but concepts to be true.
Yet this assumption isn’t initially plausible at all. On a first pass,
the truth of an assertion like “triangles have three sides” obviously
depends on existence. If no triangles actually exist, triangles don’t
have three sides. Thus, unless existing is something triangles do,
so to speak, by definition, it isn’t conceptually true that triangles
have three sides. Of course, one will here recourse to interpreting
this conceptual truth as a hypothetical, “if a triangle exists, it has
three sides.” But this hypothetical truth isn’t conceptual, either. For
despite being hypothetical, the assertion itself is supposedly actu-
ally true (to wit, it is actually true that if a triangle exists, it has three
sides). This truth in turn depends on existence: if it is true regardless
of the existence of triangles that if one exists it has this or that prop-
erty, this truth depends on something that exists and isn’t a triangle
that makes it the case. Here, this may be the nature of space (given
that space exists); or my mind, or yours, or God’s (provided any
of these exist); or another possible world existing (supposedly in
David Lewis’s mind) in which triangles do exist, and so on. Truth,
even hypothetical, cannot be divorced from existence. Therefore,
unless one makes existence a first order predicate and builds it into
a thing’s definition, there can be no conceptual truth at all. It is
common to say that the ontological argument fails because exis-
tential truths cannot be conceptually true in the same way that, say,
“triangles have three sides” is conceptually true. In fact, however,
given that all truth depends on existence, if existential propositions
aren’t conceptual there are no conceptual truths at all.
To be sure, there may be—perhaps—epistemologically con-
ceptual truths, that is, ones you know to be true in virtue of un-
derstanding a concept. This is not what rationalism requires. At


stance is not the reason for knowing that the causa sui exists, but
the reason for its existence. Hence, if there are no, metaphysically
speaking, truths made true by concepts, the causa sui is to be re-
jected. Or, to be more accurate, what the rationalist requires is the
collapse of epistemological and metaphysical here—­rendering
the reason of knowing and reason of existence identical. There
seems to be only one way of doing this, which is assuming that
existence is a first order predicate. Perhaps this assumption can
be somehow motivated; but it isn’t initially plausible. (Ironically,
the reason for rejecting the rationalist’s stance here is the PSR.
For this principle states that if anything at all is true, then there
is something in virtue of which that truth obtains. The only way
to build this “there is” clause into a concept is to contradict what
may well be the broadest consensus in current philosophical cir-
cles—treat existence as a first order predicate. We will consider a
rationalist argument for the claim that existence is such a predi-
cate below.)

Let us move on to consider (1), the claim that conceivability im-
plies existence. A rationalist argument for this is the following. 5
Assume the PSR:6 (a) It follows that a thing, x, is conceivable if and
only if its existence involves no brute facts. Thus if x’s existence
involves brute facts, it is inconceivable. [This is just the meaning
of the PSR]. (b) It follows that if x is conceivable, x exists. To see
that this is the case assume, for the sake of a reductio, (c) that x is
conceivable and that the existence of non-x is conceivable, too. (d)
State of affairs (c) implies that the existence of both x and non-x
involves no brute facts [by (a)]. If this state of affairs were possible,
x’s conceivability would not entail its existence (it would entail its


possibility). However, this state of affairs is impossible. For (e) if

both x and non-x are conceivable (hence by [a] involve no brute
facts) and, say, x exists rather than non-x, there can be no reason
that x exists and non-x does not [by (c) non-x is equally conceiv-
able as x]. (f) However, this implies that x’s existence contradicts
(c) [for its existence involves, contrary to what (c) states, a brute
fact]. (g) Therefore, if x is conceivable, non-x is inconceivable. (h)
Therefore, if x is conceivable, x exists [by (g)].7
The moral of this argument is that, given the PSR, x and non-x
cannot be simultaneously conceivable: If x is conceivable, x exists.
Note also that the opposite holds: If x exists, x is conceivable (by
the PSR, there are no brute facts). It follows that if we assume the
PSR, a thing’s existence is at least coextensive with its conceiv-
ability. As Della Rocca points out, this also implies a necessitarian
conclusion. The distinction between a thing’s conceivability (or its
possibility) and its existence collapses: everything possible exists,
and everything that doesn’t exist is impossible.8

That argument, too, is unsatisfactory, especially if invoked to sup-
port the conceivability of the self-conceived being. Let us embrace
the rationalist claim that everything needs to be ultimately ex-
plained, as well as the claim that existence is explained by reducing
it to conceivability. What does it mean, we must then ask, to con-
ceive or understand something? A rationalist is committed to ex-
plaining how x’s conceivability is itself accounted for. Now here is
one attractive answer that a rationalist cannot give: We conceive a
thing, or understand it, by representing the causes of its existence.
Rationalists must reject this answer since they aspire to account
for both “existence” and “causality” in terms of “conceivability.” It


would be unhelpful to now fall back on these concepts in order to

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

[a]nd, more specifically, what is it in virtue of which a is conceiv-

able in terms of such-and-such? The answer is this: a is conceiv-
able in a certain way because otherwise it would not be a. That’s
what it is to be a. Asking why a is conceivable as such-and-such
a way is analogous to asking why bachelors are unmarried. In
each case, the question betrays a misunderstanding of the very
concepts at work.9

On this account, “conceivability” is a primitive notion, bringing

to a halt the regressing “in-virtue-of-what” questions fueled by the
PSR. Whereas most notions (e.g., “existence,” “causality”) require
an account—and are given one in terms of “conceivability”—
“conceivability” itself is conceived (or accounted for) through

I pointed out above that the “bachelor” example is somewhat in-
accurate. The question in virtue of what bachelors are conceived
as unmarried men is, in fact, appropriate; the answer is that bach-
elors are conceived through more basic concepts such as “mar-
riage” and “man.” The only concept that is not conceived through
other concepts and can be conceived through itself (if it can) is


causa sui. Thus, Della Rocca’s only valid case in point is the ques-
tion “in virtue of what is ‘causa sui’ conceived as existing?” and,
to that question, he can answer (if he can) by denying the valid-
ity of the question: causa sui, he will say, “is conceived to exist
because it is what it is.” Only in the latter case may the PSR’s “in-
virtue-of-what” question be a bad question, reducible to a genuine
But, in this light, it turns out that rationalism ultimately as-
sumes the validity of the traditional ontological argument. The
question in virtue of what substance is conceived to exist can be
dismissed as a mere misunderstanding of the concept only if ex-
istence is a predicate, participating in substance’s essence. What
needs to be underlined is that at stake is not merely a rational-
ist argument concerning the theological question of God’s ex-
istence. At stake is the viability of the rationalist position itself:
Without the ontological argument, the edifice of conceivability
and of the PSR falls apart. If Substance’s existence is not con-
ceived through itself—if its existence is not conceptually self-
explanatory—­nothing has been sufficiently accounted for by the
rationalist. Everything remains a brute fact.
The PSR’s dependence on the ontological argument can be
shown in the following way. It is straightforward, but isn’t noticed
often enough. Assume that the PSR is true:

(a1) Then everything that exists admits of a full explanation

[this is the meaning of the assumption].
(a2) Then there exists a necessary being [without a necessary
being not everything would be ultimately explained—
(a1) would be false—on pains of an indefinite regress].
(a3) But that necessary being has a reason for its existence [by
(a1)], either in itself or in another being.


(a4) That reason can’t be found in another being [if it were, the
necessary being wouldn’t enable—on pains of indefinite
regress—the ultimate explanation for which it was pos-
ited in (a2)].
(a5) Therefore, the reason for the existence of the necessary
being posited in (a2) is that necessary being itself [by
(a3) and (a4)]. If the PSR is true, there exists an entity
containing the ground of its own existence—a causa sui.

But what does it mean to say that the reason for the existence of a
being is that being itself? This amounts just to saying: that being
exists because of its nature, or its essence or its concept. For the
answer to the question, “Why does this being exist?” would be:
“Because it is what it is.” In other words, the answer just is the on-
tological argument: the reason for the existence of that being is
that this being exists by definition, or essence. The PSR, then, what
Kant calls the Supreme Principle of Pure Reason (P2), is false
unless existence is a first order predicate.

Given this situation, the natural Kantian response is to insist on
the well-known claim that existence isn’t a predicate or a property
of a thing—adduce Kant’s refutation of the ontological argument.
Kant’s views on existence and predication are pronounced most
clearly in the first Critique’s Dialectic and in the pre-critical Beweis-
grund. In the first Critique Kant writes:

By whatever and by however many predicates we may think a

thing—even if we completely determine it—we do not make
the least addition to the thing when we further declare that this


thing is. Otherwise, it would not be exactly the same thing that
exists, but something more than we had thought in the con-
cept; and we could not, therefore, say that the exact object of
my concept exists. (A600/B628)

And in the Beweisgrund:

Take anything you like, for example Julius Caesar. Combine

in it all its conceivable predicates (not excepting those of time
and place). You will then see that, with all these determina-
tions, it may or may not exist. The being that gave existence
to the world and to this hero was able to recognize all these
predicates—not a single one excluded—and could still regard
him as a merely possible thing which, save for His decree, did
not exist. Who can deny that millions of things that really
do not exist are, with all the predicates they would contain if
they existed, merely possible; that in the conception which the
highest being has of them, not one of these determinations is
lacking, although existence is not among them. For He knows
them only as possible things. Therefore, it cannot occur that
if they exist they contain one more predicate; for in the pos-
sibility of a thing according to its complete determination, no
predicate whatsoever can be missing. And if it had so pleased
God to create another world, then it would have existed with
all the determinations, and nothing more, that He discerned in
it, although it is only merely possible.10

Kant’s argument in the latter passage is the following.11 (1) God has
concepts of merely possible things (the “highest being” has “mil-
lions” of complete concepts of things that don’t exist; reference to
the highest being here is a mere rhetorical device). (2) Although


these concepts are complete, existence isn’t one of their predicates

(“existence isn’t among them”). The reason for this seems to be (3)
that God knows these things as merely possible, not as actual: had
existence been among their predicates, God would have known
them as actual, not as merely possible. However, (4) given that ex-
istence isn’t a predicate of a merely possible being, if such a being
comes into existence then “existence” will not be added to its pred-
icates. The reason for this, stated more clearly at A600/B628, is
that if existence would be added to the concept of what had been
a merely possible thing, as soon as it comes into existence the con-
cept of the merely possible and the concept of the actual wouldn’t
be of the same thing. However, (5) this contradicts the assumption
that the merely possible could come into existence.
The skeleton of the argument is roughly this:

(A1) It is possible to have a complete concept of a merely pos-

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

Because existence isn’t a property of a thing—existing or nonex-

isting—it isn’t included in the concept of God. There is no con-
tradiction involved in the thought “God, the being possessing all
properties, doesn’t exist.” The ontological argument fails.


One challenge facing interpreters of Kant is that of understand-

ing how Kant views A3, and why he thinks it is true. Indeed, on a
prevailing interpretation of the argument, A3 is false.12 For let us say
that property φ is included in the concept of a thing, z, iff φ is a nec-
essary condition for anything being an instance of z (thus “having
three sides” is a property of triangles because having three sides is
a necessary condition for anything being an instance of a triangle):
there is no reason that existence cannot be a property of a merely
possible z. Assume that existence is included in z’s concept: it follows
that existing is a necessary condition for anything being an instance
of z, not that z actually exists. On this interpretation, A3 is false.13
Of course, it doesn’t follow from this analysis that the ontologi-
cal argument goes through—it doesn’t follow that existence is, or
can be, a property of a thing in the relevant sense. Existence can be a
property of a merely possible thing precisely because even if it is, in
the relevant sense it still isn’t—in the relevant sense, existence can
only be a property of a concept of a thing (i.e., the second-order
property, “being instantiated”). Thus even if a concept of a thing
is complete—including within it “existence”—it does not follow
that that thing exists. What follows is that if it exists, it has all the
relevant properties. (In this case, that if it exists, it exists.) The on-
tological argument fails: define God as that being possessing all
predicates, and allow existence to be one of them; it follows that
if there exists a being possessing all predicates, that being is God.
If only for the purpose of historical precision, however, it
should be noted that this analysis, which is sometimes presented
as part of a criticism of Kant’s refutation, seems to be what Kant
himself is groping for. A couple of passages should make this clear:

In whatever manner the understanding may have arrived at a

concept, the existence of its object is never, by any process of


analysis, discoverable within it; for the knowledge of the exis-

tence of the object consists precisely in the fact that the object
is posited in itself, beyond the [mere] thought of it. (B667)

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

much as a predicate of the thing itself, as it is of the thought one
has of it. E.g. existence belongs to the sea-unicorn but not to
the land-unicorn. This is to say nothing more than: the concep-
tion of the sea-unicorn is a concept of experience, that is, the
conception of an existing thing. . . . Not: regular hexagons exist
in nature, but: the predicates which are thought together in a
hexagon belong to certain things in nature.14


If I say, “God is an existing thing,” it appears that I express the

relation of a predicate to a subject. But there is an incorrectness
in this expression. Expressed exactly, it should say: something
existing is God, that is, those predicates that we designate col-
lectively by the expression “God” belong to an existing thing.15

Thus, A3 needs to be interpreted as a claim about existence not

being a predicate in the relevant sense:

(A3*) Existence in the relevant sense cannot be a property of a

merely possible thing, z. [Existence in the relevant sense isn’t a
property of a concept of a thing but a property of a concept—
a second-level property, “being instantiated.” Moreover, had
the property “being instantiated” been a property of the con-
cept of z, z wouldn’t have been merely possible; it would have


It is important for Kant to stress that because existence isn’t a

predicate of a thing, it is impossible to know from a thing’s concept
whether the thing exists. “In the mere concept of a thing,” he fa-
mously writes, “no mark [Charakter] of its existence is to be found”
(B272). If this is so, from definitions like the Ethics’ first—causa
sui is “that whose essence involves existence, or that whose nature
cannot be conceived except as existing”—nothing existentially
informative follows. Accordingly, the rationalist remains without
a genuine answer to the question “In virtue of what is substance
conceived as existing?” He remains short of an account of conceiv-
ability and, for all that matters, of anything at all.16
Kant doesn’t explicitly use this argument against rationalism
in the Critique of Pure Reason. However, he does seem to argue
along similar lines in his attack on Johann Eberhard’s attempt to
ground the PSR in the principle of contradiction. He writes:

the principle itself [PSR], taken in the unlimited universality in

which it there stands is, if applied to entities, obviously false; for
according to this principle, there could be absolutely nothing
unconditioned. To seek, however, to avoid this embarrassing
consequence by saying of a supreme being that he has indeed
a reason for his existence, but that it lies within himself, leads
to a contradiction. The reason for the existence of a thing, con-
structed as its real ground, must always be distinguished from
the thing. The thing must, therefore, be necessarily regarded
as dependent upon another. I can very well say of a proposition
that it has the reason (the logical reason) in itself; for the con-
cept of the subject is something other than the predicate, and
hence can contain the reason thereof. But if I allow no other
reason for the existence of a thing to be accepted except the
thing itself, I really mean by that that it has no real reason.17


Granting that propositions may contain the ground of their truth

while denying that the same can be said of the existence of things
amounts to assuming that existence isn’t a real first order predi-
cate. For if a subject could contain the real predicate “exists” and
thereby be the ground of the truth of a proposition asserting its
existence, that subject would be a being containing the ground of
its own (hence unconditioned) existence. Kant had assumed that
existence isn’t a real predicate at least since the early New Elucida-
tion (this is overlooked by some), offering what would become his
official refutation of the ontological argument, which he there, as
in the Critique, associates with Descartes.18 In the same essay he
also argues, as he would in the passage from the Eberhard debate
quoted above, that “it is absurd that something should have in
itself the reason of its existence [Exsistentiae suae rationem aliquid
habere in se ipso, absonum est]” (AA 1:394). Longuenesse suggests
at some point that Kant here “expressly” refers to Spinoza.19 As far
as I can determine, this isn’t quite so clear. But it seems well pos-
sible that Kant is thinking of Spinoza in this passage: he expressly
mentions in this passage only Descartes—and will go on referring
to the ontological argument as Cartesian throughout his career—
but Descartes seems hardly committed to the metaphysical notion
that the unconditioned is the cause of itself; Spinoza is. If this is
so—and here I do not believe there’s much historical or herme-
neutical evidence to judge by—it’s possible that Kant’s later refer-
ences to the Cartesian ontological argument are directed at the
Spinozist notion of the causa sui. Indeed, they should be.
Be that as it may, Kant’s attack on the ontological argument
must be consciously assumed in his attack on Spinoza’s geometri-
cal method, in the Critique’s Discipline of Pure Reason. “The ex-
actness of geometry,” Kant writes, “rests upon definitions, axioms
and demonstrations”; “I shall show that none of this, in the sense in


which they are understood by the geometrician, can be imitated by

the philosopher. I shall show that in philosophy, the geometrician
can by his method build only so many houses of cards” (A727/
B755).20 That this is directed at Spinoza is obvious enough.21 But
Kant can dismiss here, as he does, the metaphysical use of defi-
nitions, axioms, and demonstrations only on the assumption that
existence isn’t a first order predicate. For if it is a predicate, the
geometrical method’s attempt to derive metaphysical truths from
definitions would seem most appropriate.

Kant’s refutation, however, doesn’t successfully debunk the ratio-
nalist’s position—not without further argument. One implication
of the rationalist insistence that conceivability is coextensive with
existence is its necessitarian conclusion (if x is conceivable, ­non-x
is inconceivable). This conclusion indicates that there is some-
thing fundamentally lacking in Kant’s claim that existence isn’t a
predicate. Della Rocca writes:

This argument shows that a standard and Kantian criticism of

the ontological argument fails to address what are, perhaps,
the most powerful reasons in defense of that argument. In that
famous section of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant claims, in
effect, that conceivability is separate from existence. But a ratio-
nalist who has his wits about him (as Spinoza does) will simply
deny this by saying—and plausibly so, as I have argued—that
conceivability is identical to existence. Kant’s criticism of the
ontological argument fails to confront the reasons that be mar-
shaled for the claim that conceivability is not separate from ex-
istence. These reasons depend, of course, on the PSR, and this


shows that the defense of the ontological argument may, in the

end, surprisingly rest on a defense of the PSR. This is surpris-
ing because the PSR is generally associated with the cosmo-
logical argument which Kant claimed was dependent on the
ontological argument. But now it may seem that the explana-
tory considerations at the heart of the cosmological argument
may be more fundamental.22

The rationalist denies Kant’s opening assumption, A1. It is im-

possible to have a complete concept of a merely possible thing, a
rationalist maintains, because, by the PSR, a thing’s complete con-
cept shows that its negation is inconceivable, hence that z exists.
Therefore, A2 is false as well: obviously, the merely possible thing
cannot come into existence if there isn’t a conceivable concept of a
merely possible z. Therefore, and this is now the main point, A3* is
false: we can know from a thing’s concept whether it is instantiated
or not, for its complete concept shows that its negation is incon-
ceivable. Kant’s claim that in the mere concept of a thing “no mark
of its existence” can be found is thereby rejected.
From the rationalist’s perspective, Kant, in assuming A1,
is begging the question. He assumes that there is a genuine dis-
tinction between existence and possibility—that necessitarian-
ism is false—in arguing that existence isn’t a property of a thing;
but then assuming that existence is not a predicate is a necessary
condition of making that very same argument. (We believe that it
is possible to have a complete concept of a merely possible thing
only if we believe that existence isn’t a predicate; for if existence
is a predicate, the rationalist can show that necessitarianism is
true and thereby deny A1–3.) It is worthy of notice here that the
standard Russellian/Fregean argument commonly offered in
rejection of existence being a first order predicate is begging the


question just as much as Kant’s argument does. “There is no sort of

point in a predicate which could not conceivably be false,” Russell
writes; “I mean, it is perfectly clear that, if there were such a thing
as this existence of individuals that we talk of that would be abso-
lutely impossible for it not to apply, and that is the characteristic
of a mistake.”23 His point is that regarding existence a first order
predicate renders all existential affirmative statements tautologies
and all negative existential statements contradictory—existence
would then apply for all conceivable objects, a result which he then
counts as a reductio ad absurdum. Ayer formulates this alleged Rus-
sellian reductio more clearly: “Existence is not an attribute. For,
when we ascribe an attribute to a thing, we covertly assert that it
exists; so that if existence were itself an attribute, it would follow
that all positive existential propositions were tautologies, and all
negative existential propositions self-contradictory; and this is not
the case.”24 Of course, for a metaphysical rationalist this alleged
reductio is vacuous: the claim that all positive existential proposi-
tions are tautological and all negative existential propositions are
contradictory is exactly their point.
While all this does not mean that the Kantian line of argument
is formally invalid, it does show that the argument can’t be accepted
as sound. It is ineffective against the Spinozist denial of the prem-
ises. Therefore, the argument licenses a weaker conclusion than the
one proclaimed by Kant: If we believe that there is a distinction between
the merely possible and the actually existing (if we assume that neces-
sitarianism is false), we are committed to believing that existence isn’t a
predicate. But this doesn’t show why or that we should believe that
this circumstance actually obtains. Given that Kant’s critique of ra-
tionalism depends on the refutation of the ontological argument,
the weaker statement above is unsatisfactory. And more problemat-
ically still: at this point metaphysical rationalist would be tempted


to invoke the PSR to argue that necessitarianism is true—that is,

that A1 is false and that the Kantian refutation fails. (This is what
Della Rocca seems to suggest in the passage quoted above.)
This latter step, however, would be question begging as much
as Kant’s (and Russell’s). In arguing from the PSR that necessi-
tarianism and the ontological argument are true, he is begging the
question just as much as Kant. We saw above that believing that
necessitarianism is true is necessary for believing the ontologi-
cal argument (if necessitarianism is false, Kant’s refutation goes
through). We also saw that accepting the ontological argument is
necessary for accepting the PSR. Therefore, believing necessitari-
anism is necessary for believing the PSR. Therefore, it is circular
to assume the PSR in showing that necessitarianism obtains in
order to redeem the ontological argument. To be sure, here, too,
circularity is no formal fallacy.25 Let us grant that the argument is
valid—let us grant that arguing from the PSR we establish that ne-
cessitarianism obtains.26 We would still have to insist that even if
the conclusion follows from the premises, the premises themselves
aren’t known to be true. Just like Kant, a rationalist has to rest satis-
fied with a weaker claim: if we believe necessitarianism, we have a good
reason to believe that existence is a predicate—and to uphold the PSR.

In this light, the dispute between Kant’s critical- and Spinoza’s
metaphysical rationalism can only to be settled—if it can be set-
tled at all—by debating the legitimacy of each side’s initial posi-
tion. Needed is an independent reason to preferring the one rather
than the other. It may be useful to articulate each of the positions.
Significantly, both begin by admitting a rationalist commitment
to the PSR: both agree that reason demands that we strive to


explain everything (in Kant, this is P1, the Aufgabe to “find for the
conditioned knowledge . . . the unconditioned whereby its unity
is brought to completion” [A308/B364]); as well as assume that
everything can be explained (in Kant, this is P2, the Supreme
Principle of Pure Reason, “if the conditioned is given, the whole
series of conditions . . . —a series which is therefore itself uncon-
ditioned—is likewise given” [A307/b364]). They part company,
however, when it comes to the status of the latter rational assump-
tion (P2). Kant maintains that P1 must remain essentially unsatis-
fied because the assumption that everything can be explained (P2)
cannot be known to be true. He thinks that the rational assump-
tion that (we know that) everything can be ultimately explained
depends on transcendental illusion: a slip we can hardly avoid,
from accepting the task of explanation to assuming that the task
can be fulfilled. Since the latter depends on the existence of an un-
conditioned (self-explanatory) being, it depends on accepting the
ontological argument. Since the latter fails, so does the transition
from P1 to P2. The latter claim, however, depends on the assump-
tion that there is a modal distinction between existence and pos-
sibility: only on the assumption that necessitarianism is false can
Kant successfully reject the ontological argument and, thereby,
the rationalist “geometrical house of cards.” The metaphysical ra-
tionalist, however, takes just the opposite stance. Assuming that
nothing is possible that doesn’t exist, he recovers the ontological
argument. The edifice of conceivability and of the PSR is thereby
sustained. Moreover, as we have seen in the previous chapters, this
position enables him in turn to outflank the other anti-rationalist
arguments Kant advances to expose (what he detects as) transcen-
dental illusion: defending a metaphysical-cosmological totum an-
alyticum, he disarms the Antinomies; deriving thereby Substance
Monism, the Paralogisms are irrelevant as a matter of course (the


soul isn’t regarded by Monists a substance). The PSR, from this

perspective, doesn’t lead to transcendental illusion; on the con-
trary, the failure to apply it consistently to its logical concequences
(by moderate metaphysicians like Leibniz or Descartes) does.
Is there a reason to favor one initial position over the other?


One way to answer this question is to examine the modal assump-

tions driving the application of the PSR. These give an indepen-
dent reason to favoring the Kantian perspective.

The most natural, spontaneous moments in which we apply the
PSR occur when we raise simple “why-questions.” We encounter
concrete worldly states of affairs and instinctively demand an ex-
planation: “Why did this thing happen?”; “Why did this happen
as it did?”; or even “Why didn’t this happen?” One can fill into
these formulas the most basic content there is: “Why is the table
here?”; “Why is the table here rather than there?”; “Why is there
something rather than nothing?” Most would agree that we raise
these questions instinctively, and that once we start raising them,
it is difficult to stop. “Why is this table here?” “Because the waiter
put it here.” “Why then did he put it here?” “Because his boss told
him to do so.” “But why did she tell him to do so?” This regress is
motivated by a familiar instinct: we ask why something happened
because we instinctively assume it happened for some reason, and
the moment we learn about the reason we assume that that reason,
too, is conditioned on another. And so, we ask again.


Behind this instinctive demand for reasons are two basic in-
tuitions, which can be viewed as necessary conditions of why-
questions being raised. (1) Everything that happens happens for
a reason. And (2) everything that happens could have happened
otherwise (it is contingent).
Della Rocca elegantly accounts for the first intuition, but only
at the expense of the second. This is not a welcome sacrifice. The
relation between (1) and (2) is such that (1) depends on (2): the
assumption that what happens is contingent is essential for the
application (and, we shall see, the justification) of the PSR. That
is, our rational insistence that what happens happens for a reason
(i.e., 1) is fueled by the assumption that things could have been
otherwise (i.e., 2). It is because we think that things could have
occurred otherwise that we think that there has to be a reason why
they occurred. Effectively, we never ask why something happened
but what made it happen despite the fact that it didn’t have to.
Take two examples. “Why is this table here?” This is a good
question, but only because we think that the table could have been
elsewhere, or that it could have failed to exist. Had we seen that the
table was here necessarily we wouldn’t have asked why—we would
have had no reason to question its location. This assumption be-
comes clearer with the following question. “Why is there some-
thing rather than nothing?” Had we thought that something’s
existence is necessary, we would never raise that question. But we
do naturally wonder why anything at all exists, and we do so be-
cause we assume that something’s existence is contingent.
At the heart of the cosmological argument, so intimately con-
nected to the PSR, lies a strong belief in contingency—an anti-
necessitarian conviction. The argument begins with the claim that
the “world of becoming” exists contingently and, hence, requires a
reason to come into existence. Moving up from that contingency


premise, ancient and early modern philosophers would pro-

ceed to derive the existence of an ultimate “world of being”—an
“uncaused-­cause.” The latter, being necessary, requires no expla-
nation. Of course, the validity of the cosmological argument does
not concern us here in the least; of interest is only the insight it
provides into the assumptions driving the PSR. The cosmological
argument illustrates, first, that we naturally demand reasons for
things we take to be contingent; and second, that we don’t demand
reasons for things we take to be necessary.
Thus, our motivation to apply the PSR is based on the assump-
tion that there is a distinction between existence and possibility.
Therefore, in applying the PSR we are led to reject the claim that
existence is a predicate—to reject the ontological argument. But
as we have seen, if the ontological argument fails, so does the ratio-
nalist edifice of conceivability.
Let us be more specific. If we assumed that the table’s existence
here or something’s existence in general were a matter of concep-
tual necessity, asking why they exist as they do would be in vain.
Our questions wouldn’t be genuinely good questions, but mis-
understandings of the concepts at work (as in the case of asking
why bachelors are unmarried men).27 Let us say that only on the
assumption that things are not conceptually necessary is there a
genuine reason to ask why they happened as they did. This means
that when we employ the PSR we assume a genuine distinction
between existence and possibility.28
At first glance, the rationalist seems to have an obvious reply.
He may claim that it is not the case that we apply the PSR because
we think that things are contingent, but because we don’t see
how they are necessary.29 The point is this: asking why bachelors
are unmarried is vain because the conceptual truth that they are
unmarried is something that we instantly see—the conceptual


containment is “more or less on the sleeve of the relevant con-

cept.”30 We have a reason to raise why-questions about conceptual
truths when those truths are not, to us, obviously conceptual. On
this view, the purpose of asking “why” is to further inquire into
and articulate our concepts. The rationalist would argue that,
whereas it makes no sense to ask why bachelors are unmarried,
it makes sense to ask why there is something rather than noth-
ing. The answer to the latter question, unlike that of the first, isn’t
something that’s readily seen. It has to be articulated out of the
concepts “something,” “nothing,” and so forth.
I don’t think that this rationalist claim can be denied—and it
need not be. Indeed even if all truths are conceptual, we (creatures
of finite intellects) don’t see all of them as such. Philosophy’s task
from this point of view would be none other than the Socratic as-
piration to further articulate and inquire into the meaning of our
concepts. However, the present philosophical debate is of a differ-
ent nature. We’re asking whether all truths are in fact conceptual,
and whether a rationalist may claim to know that they are. The
rationalist employs the PSR to argue for an affirmative answer,
but by granting that we ask why because we don’t see how truths
are conceptual, the rationalist has granted the only point that
we sought to establish: we raise why-questions because it seems
to us that things are not necessary. It doesn’t follow from this, of
course, that things are not necessary; but then, the PSR can hardly
be assumed in showing that they are. For given contingency, the
ontological argument fails. Thus, when we apply the PSR, we do
so believing in contingency and, given that belief, the PSR itself
should hardly be the reason to change our mind.
Here is another way of putting the same point. Let us ask, if
some conceptual truths are easily seen as such, why aren’t others?
The rationalist answers: (1) because our mind is finite; and,


moreover, he would say: (2) from God’s perspective all truths are
conceptual and are intuited as such. However, (1) is equivalent to
granting that we ask “why” because a state of affairs seems to us
contingent; and there will be a reason to believe (2) only if there
is an argument justifying the existence of such a divine perspec-
tive in the first place. We have seen above that the PSR cannot in-
dependently provide that justification because believing that that
perspective exists—believing the ontological argument—is nec-
essary for believing that the PSR is true. This is admittedly a very
fragile line of defense. I’ll return to supplement it with a further
argument in a moment.


Della Rocca has attempted to provide a separate justification of

the PSR. The argument proceeds bottom up: Della Rocca points
out that basic theoretical procedures are initially committed to the
PSR; from this fact, he generates a commitment to a fully univer-
salized version of that principle—a commitment to the claim that
everything that exists is fully explicable. One could think that, if
successful, such a justification could give an independent reason
for accepting the PSR and the conclusions it entails (necessitari-
anism, the ontological argument, etc.). We will see, however, that
even if successful, this justification does not support a genuine
commitment to the full-blown version of the PSR. It generates
a commitment to the subjective version, the regulative Aufgabe
(P1), which Kant of course accepted and which is consistent with
his critical position. The argument cannot provide the indepen-
dent justification that metaphysical rationalism would require.
Taking it to provide such justification is, in fact, falling trap to


the transcendental illusion of which Kant’s Dialectic would warn.

Let us begin by briefly examining Della Rocca’s argument.

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

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

which everything is alike on both sides, and if equal weights
are hung on the two ends of that balance, the whole will be
at rest. That is because no reason can be given why one side
should weigh down rather than the other. 31

Della Rocca points out that “Leibniz (or Archimedes) here rejects
a certain possibility—viz. that the balance is not at rest—because
this possibility would be inexplicable.”32 Such a procedure Della
Rocca defines as an “explicability argument”—one in which a
certain possibility is rejected because its existence cannot be ex-
plained. He clarifies that, in explicability arguments, “a certain
state of affairs is said not to obtain simply because the existence of
that state of affairs would be inexplicable, a so-called brute fact.”33
Della Rocca does not try to justify his reliance on explicabil-
ity arguments. And, at least at first glance, this seems unprob-
lematic. Indeed, anybody who is even minimally rational would
be reluctant to deny such arguments, which are as intuitive and
necessary as a theoretical argument can be (just consider the
Leibniz-­A rchimedes case above). Della Rocca claims that invoking


explicability arguments like the one above creates a serious pres-

sure to accept the PSR itself. This pressure is generated by what
we may call the “rationalist principle of inertia” (not Della Rocca’s
term). A body, once moved, will move in the same direction and
speed unless acted upon by external force. Similarly, if we accept
explicability arguments, we have an initial, if minimal, commit-
ment to go on using the PSR. (One can deny that commitment
only at the price of giving up the buona fida of arguments such as
the Leibniz-Archimedes argument mentioned above, which seems
unattractive.) But given this initial commitment, we cannot but
keep on going in the same direction—demand that existence itself
be explicable. It would be inconsistent to refrain from going on and
appealing to explicability arguments, unless we have a reason to do
so. Hence, for lack of a reason to stop using explicability arguments,
we cannot but raise them continually and eventually to demand an
account of existence itself. But as soon as we demand this, argues
Della Rocca, we have conceded our commitment to the PSR itself:

the explicability argument concerning existence does [commit

one to the full-blown PSR], for to insist that there be an expla-
nation for the existence of each existing thing is simply to insist
on the PSR itself, as I stated it at the outset of this paper. So the
explicability argument concerning existence, unlike the other
explicability arguments, is an argument for the PSR itself, and
it is our willingness to accept explicability arguments in other,
similar cases that puts pressure on us to accept the explicabil-
ity argument in the case of existence, i.e. puts pressure on us to
accept the PSR itself. 34

With one important qualification, Kantians should probably

accept this argument. Kant himself, though admittedly without


elaborate argument, grants that we are as a matter of fact instinc-

tively committed to striving to explain absolutely everything. But
the qualification is this: the commitment generated by this ar-
gument is much more limited than metaphysical rationalists are
tempted to believe. From a Kantian point of view, this argument
only seems to justify the full-blown PSR. Let us distinguish be-
tween two different claims:

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

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

(1) and (2) correspond exactly to P1 and P2, respectively. The Kan-
tian objection to Della Rocca’s justification of the PSR is therefore
none other than the Kantian standard objection to the slip from P1
to P2. Della Rocca’s argument puts pressure on accepting (1): he
shows that the most obvious theoretical explanations commit us
to demanding (“insist”) that everything be fully explicable. How-
ever, in the above-quoted passage he slips into the conclusion that
in virtue of accepting (P1) we accept the fully blown PSR; that
is, (P2). This move was not argued for and is suspicious; Kant has
claimed that it occurs because of a “necessary and natural illusion
of reason,” tempting us to slip from subjective claims about our
rational commitments to objective claims about the way the world
is. The point is this: Della Rocca seems to suggest that in virtue of
accepting that we are committed to “insist that there be an explana-
tion for the existence of each existing thing,” we are committed to
accepting “the PSR itself,”—that is, that there is an explanation for
everything. But what justifies that claim? Especially because P2 is
only true if the unconditioned exists, this claim has not been justi-
fied. And the attempt to justify the existence of the unconditioned
by P2 would obviously fall on a circle.


Rationalists, speculative or critical, are committed to the view

that one ought not claim to know that a given metaphysical prop-
osition is true unless one has sufficient grounds for making that
claim. What, then, justifies the claim that there are no brute facts?
Is the fact that we are committed to demanding explanations for
everything—a fact about reason—sufficient to establish that we
know that everything is explicable? What justifies this optimism?
I suggested in Chapter 1 that there could be a Cartesian as-
sumption doing the work in the background: If we assume that a
benevolent God created us, we have grounds for believing that our
reason’s natural inclinations do not deceive us. Accordingly, if we
grant God’s existence and goodness, we may claim that if we know
that we are committed to eliminating brute facts, we know that
there are none. However, colder rationalist like Kant and Spinoza
would be reluctant to perform such a Cartesian salto mortale. Kant
is only true to rationalist principles when he refuses to take here a
leap of faith.
Let me translate this point into the setup of Della Rocca’s own
argument. Faced with the pressure to appeal to explicability ar-
guments about existence, Della Rocca claims, a “non-rationalist”
may embrace one of the following three options:

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

Strictly speaking, Kant, who does not understand himself as

a non-rationalist but as a critical rationalist, embraces (2). This
sounds somewhat harsh; a more positive way of putting this point


is saying that a critical rationalist like Kant embraces something

like (2) as well as something like (3). Kant would argue, first, that
no explicability argument is known to be true—call this (2*). The
reason behind this (very costly) claim is that in order for any ex-
plicability argument to be known to be true, existence itself must
be (known to be) explicable. (If existence isn’t explicable, noth-
ing is explicable. And in order for us to believe that existence is
explicable, we need to believe the ontological argument, etc.)
However, the Kantian will at the same time accept that we are
rationally committed to striving to explain everything, eliminate
all brute facts—call this (3*). Thus, insofar as Della Rocca is ar-
guing that we are committed to explaining everything—insofar
as he insists that the commitment to eliminate brute facts ought
not be given up—he has found in Kant a true ally. (This is sig-
nificant, since not many philosophers today accept this much.)
And yet once he moves from speaking about our commitments
to speaking about the way the world is, a Kantian would have
to insist that he thereby gave up on the most precious rational-
ist principle: That principle is not the PSR. It is rather the maxim,
defined by Kant as the essence of Enlightenment, to use one’s
own understanding—never to believe something I cannot myself
understand. 35
One could ask which principle comes first. Perhaps it is pos-
sible to argue that without believing that there are no brute facts
there is no point in refusing to believe something without suffi-
cient reason. To me this does not seem to be the case. The ratio-
nalist code to believe nothing without sufficient grounds—a code
embraced by both Spinoza and Kant—draws on a normative
decree rather than on theoretical justification. The source of Spi-
noza’s adherence to the PSR is the assumption that this principle
can serve as an effective criterion, liberating thought from foreign,


fake authorities. But in crowning this principle, using it to criti-

cize dogmatic unthinking, Spinoza fails to notice that this prin-
ciple must itself be subjected to its own criterion—criticized by
the standard that what cannot be understood should be rejected.
This is exactly Kant’s position, of course, and the sense in which
his ­Critique of Pure Reason is Spinozist in spirit: it fights dogma-
tism by doing to reason what Spinoza himself had done to revela-
tion. This is the sense in which Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is a
critique of Spinoza.

There may be more positive Kantian reasons for applying the PSR.
Why does Kant think we apply this principle in the first place and
are committed to doing so? Why, according to Kant, are we com-
mitted to explaining the world?
One answer, which Kant himself, as far as I can see, never quite
articulated, is that we believe that things could have been differ-
ent because we demand that they ought to have been different.
We ask why something happened despite the fact that it ought not
to have happened. Our insistence that necessitarianism is false is
thus grounded in a moral conviction, which is also a positive cause
for demanding an explanation of the world—using the PSR. In the
most authentic manifestations of the PSR, we do not ask “why” but
we cry in moral outrage—outrage against an earthquake taking
thousands of innocent lives, the premature death of a loved one,
or the course of history, teaching us about the political evils gener-
ated by human society. 36 We ask why the world is as it is because
we demand justice from God or nature; we strive to theoretically
understand the world with a commitment to changing it, bringing
it to justice. 37


It is perhaps not a coincidence that Schopenhauer, who wrote a

dissertation on the Principle of Sufficient Reason, articulates this
Kantian stance most lucidly:

If the world were not something that, practically expressed,

ought not to be, it would also not be theoretically a problem. On
the contrary, its existence would either require no explanation
at all, since it would be so entirely self-evident that astonish-
ment at it and enquiry about it could not arise in any mind; or
its purpose would present itself unmistakably. But instead of
this it is indeed an insoluble problem, since even the most per-
fect philosophy will always contain an unexplained element,
like an insoluble precipitate or the remainder that is always left
behind . . . Therefore, if anyone ventures to raise the question
why there is not nothing at all rather than this world, then the
world cannot be justified from itself. 38

Of course, a rationalist like Spinoza believes that everything is

just the way it is. Moral outrage against God or world is anthropo-
morphic. One way to think of the difference is to recall the bibli-
cal Job, and his position vis-à-vis God. While Kant admired Job’s
position exactly because of his moral outrage against divine injus-
tice, Spinoza would have answered Job just like God did, from the
tempest: “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without
knowledge? . . . Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the
earth? declare, if thou hast understanding” (Job 38:1–4). Outrage
against the world’s existence, God answers, is a misunderstanding.
God (or world) just is. In the end, the question is what is dismissed
as an illusion, then: the thought that everything can be explained;
or that justice can be demanded.


Now the metaphysical proposition that everything is just the

way that it is, as well as the success of rationalistic prescriptions for
remedying anthropomorphic moral rebellion, depend on the PSR
having shown that we know that things are necessary. This is an as-
sumption that hasn’t been justified. In the final analysis, then, if de-
ciding whether our moral outrage against the world is unfounded
and illusory—or whether illusory is the thought that everything
is known to be explicable—there is good reason to think it is the
latter. In this point lies the deepest difference between Kant’s posi-
tion and Spinoza’s, the reason that their philosophies need to be
confronted. No philosopher strived like Spinoza to ground practi-
cal rationality in theoretical rationality: This is why a book that
is so heavily metaphysical—a book that in fact collapses practical
reasoning into theoretical-geometrical speculation—is called the
Ethics. The Kantian project aspires to turn that philosophical en-
terprise on its head: It is not only that theoretical reasoning cannot
override the practical; in fact, it is grounded in it.


1. In a recent series of papers, Della Rocca elaborates a contemporary develop-

ment of that approach (see, e.g., “A Rationalist Manifesto: Spinoza and the
Principle of Sufficient Reason,” Philosophical Topics 31 (2003), pp. 75–95);
I interact with his position below.
2. Cf. D. Garrett’s “Spinoza’s Ontological Argument,” The Philosophical Review 88
(1979), pp. 198–223; and more recently, M. Lin, “Spinoza’s Ontological Argu-
ments,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 75:2 (2007), pp. 269–297.
3. Della Rocca, “A Rationalist Manifesto,” pp. 77–90.
4. To be sure, this account is presented from Spinoza’s perspective. Spinoza
maintains that all concepts are conceived through the causa sui, which is
itself conceived through none but itself.
5. Della Rocca lays out that argument in more detail in his “Rationalist Mani-
festo,” pp. 82–90.


6. Of course, assuming the PSR requires separate justification. Della Rocca’s

justification, suggested in “PSR,” is considered in detail below.
7. A more exhaustive argumentation is offered also in Della Rocca’s “Rational-
ism Run Amok: Representation and the Reality of Emotions in Spinoza,”
in Interpreting Spinoza, ed. Charles Huenemann (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2008).
8. Della Rocca “A Rationalist Manifesto,” p. 90.
9. Della Rocca: “A Rationalist Manifesto,” p. 91.
10. BDG AA 02:72.
11. Cf. W. Forgie, “Kant and Existence: Critique of Pure Reason A600/B623,”
Kant-Studien 99 (2008), pp. 1–12.
12. J. Shaffer, “Existence, Predication and the Ontological Argument,” Mind
238 (1962), pp. 309–311. Schaffer’s position has become standard. See,
for example, J. Barnes, The Ontological Argument (London: The Macmil-
lan Press, 1972), p. 48; J. Bennett, Kant’s Dialectic (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1974), p. 230; G. Oppy, Ontological Arguments and Belief
in God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 230.
13. Indeed, this analysis renders all positive existential propositions tautologi-
cal, and all negative existential propositions contradictory. Some have used
this very fact to carry out a reductio ad absurdum, i.e., to argue that for that
reason existence is not a predicate. See more below.
14. BDG AA 02:72f.
15. BDG AA 02:74.
16. Schopenhauer gives an intriguing description of the situation faced by the
rationalist attempt to rely on self-explanatory devices: “The right emblem
for causa sui is Baron Münchhausen, sinking on horseback into the water,
clinging by the legs to his horse and pulling both himself and the animal
out by his own pigtail, with the motto underneath: causa sui” (On the Prin-
ciple of Sufficient Reason, trans. K. Hillebrand [Amherst: Prometheus Books,
2006]). As we will see presently, Schopenhauer is too quick to ridicule this
position. Much more Kantian sweat is required to obtain the claim that ex-
istence is not a predicate.
17. ÜE AA 08:198.
18. NE AA 1: 396f.
19. Béatrice Longuenesse, “Kant’s Deconstruction of the Principle of Sufficient
Reason,” The Harvard Review of Philosophy 9 (2001), p. 72.
2 0. Kemp Smith’s non-literal translation of Mathematiker as geometrician
rather than mathematician is faithful to Kant’s intensions. Kant means here
by “mathematical method” exactly what we mean by “geometrical method.”
Indeed, Kant refers also to Spinoza’s method as “mathematical” rather than
“geometrical.” The passage below demonstrates this sufficiently.
21. To be on the safe side, in the Lectures Kant employs the very same argument,
this time mentioning Spinoza by name: “Spinoza believed that God and the


world were one substance . . . This error followed from a faulty definition of
substance. As a mathematician, he was accustomed to finding arbitrary def-
initions and deriving propositions from them. Now this procedure works
quite well in mathematics, but if we try to apply these methods in philoso-
phy we will be led to an error. For in philosophy we must first seek out the
characteristics themselves and acquaint ourselves with them before we can
construct definitions. But Spinoza did not do this” (AA 28:1041).
2 2. Della Rocca, “A Rationalist Manifesto,” p. 90.
23. Russell, “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism,” in ed. R. C Marsh, Logic and
Knowledge (London: George Allen& Unwin, 1956), p. 241.
2 4. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic (New York: Dover Publications, 1952),
p. 43.
25. For present purposes I’m assuming a quasi-pragmatic conception of ques-
tion begging. D. Sanford formulates this so: “Question begging is not a
purely formal matter. An argument formulated for Smith’s benefit, whether
by Smith himself or by another, begs the question either if Smith believes
one of the premises only because he already believes the conclusion or if
Smith would believe one of the premises only if he already believed the con-
clusion” (D. Sanford, “Begging the Question,” Analysis 32:6 [1972], p. 198.)
F. Jackson holds a similar conception, which he understands as “egocentric
reasoning” (in which the premises selected are consistent with the beliefs of
the arguer and not the target audience) (see chap. 6 of his Conditionals [New
York: Blackwell, 1987]).
2 6. Some refuse to take that step. Relying on Leibniz’s conception of per se
possibilities, Martin Lin advances an argument for the claim that the PSR
does not necessitate necessitarianism (see his “Rationalism and Necessi-
tarianism,” [unpublished manuscript]). Lin argues that Spinoza’s reasons
for rejecting Leibniz’s defense of contingency from per se possibilities is
not motivated by the PSR. Here I cannot discuss Lin’s position in detail but
will assume for the sake of argument that the PSR does necessitate neces-
sitarianism. However, it is important to keep in mind that if the PSR does
not entail necessitarianism, this would have further consequences for ratio-
nalism. As I argued, rationalism depends on the success of the ontological
argument, and the latter is rejected if necessitarianism is rejected.
27. One could suggest that a rationalist like Spinoza maintains, in fact, an im-
portant distinction between the necessity of “substance exists” and that of
“the table is here”—the former but not the latter is completely conceived
through itself. E IIax1, for example, states, “the essence of man does not in-
volve necessary existence,” which could suggest that the existence of partic-
ular modes is not necessary. This doesn’t seem an acceptable answer. Even
if the source of the necessity of a finite mode’s existence is not the (finite)
mode’s essence, the degree of its necessity is no lesser than anything else’s.
Spinoza’s E Ip33s1 makes it clear that despite the distinction between these


sources of necessity, any appearance of contingency is a mere appearance,

an illusion due to a “defect of our knowledge.” (See also D. Garrett’s “Spi-
noza’s Necessitarianism,” in Y. Yovel, ed., God and Nature: Spinoza’s Meta-
physics [Leiden: Brill, 1991], pp. 199f.)
2 8. In a way, Della Rocca concedes this intuition. This is so to the extent that
that intuition constitutes his account of “conceivability.” As we recall, Della
Rocca argues that everything needs to be accounted for, and suggests that
this can be done in terms of “conceivability.” When faced with the “inevi-
tably annoying” question, “In virtue of what is conceivability accounted
for?,” however, he dismisses the question—the answer being a matter of
conceptual necessity—as a misunderstanding of the concepts at work. Im-
portant for our purposes at this point is only Della Rocca’s assumption that
if x is conceptually true—as in the case of “the cause-of-itself exist” (or of
“bachelors are unmarried”)—there is no point in asking in virtue of what
this is the case. Bachelors are unmarried because they are what they are; the
cause-of-itself exists because it is what it is. This challenges Della Rocca’s
position because his necessitarian conclusion—itself a necessary condition
for universalizing the PSR—renders all truths conceptual. Asking “Why is
the table here?” on this account would be just as hollow as asking “Why are
bachelors unmarried?” The appropriate answer is that “the table is here be-
cause it is what it is” (or rather, because substance is what it is.)
29. See Della Rocca, “The Identity of Indiscernible and the Articulability of
Concepts,” Linguistics and Philosophical Investigations 7 (2008). This is in
reply to a challenge raised in R. Jeshion’s “The Identity of Indiscernibles
and the Co-Location Problem,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87 (2007),
pp. 163–176.
30. M. Della Rocca, “The Identity of Indiscernible and the Articulability of
31. In R. Ariew, ed., G. W Leibniz and Samuel Clarke: Correspondence (India-
napolis: Hackett Publishing, 2000), p. 7.
32. Della Rocca: “PSR,” p. 2.
33. Ibid.
3 4. Della Rocca, “PSR” p. 7.
35. Whether in the end Kant can hold fast to his definition of Enlightenment
as using one’s own understanding without the guidance of another is, in my
view, doubtful. For a through treatment, also in relation to Spinoza’s under-
standing of Enlightenment, see my “Enlightenment, Prophecy, and Genius:
Kant’s Critique of Judgment vs. Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus,”
Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 2013 (1), p. 149–178.
36. Susan Neiman gives a detailed account of the history of philosophy as the
problem of theodicy, showing beautifully that the theoretical strife to ex-
plain the world is motivated by the moral objection to the way the world is.


See her Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princ-

eton: Princeton University Press, 2002).
37. Allison once named P1 (i.e., reason’s command to strive to explain every-
thing) as the Categorical Imperative of theoretical reason. I think this was
meant metaphorically, but it seems that the relation between P1 and the cat-
egorical imperative is such that the latter grounds the former. Kant never
says so explicitly, but his talk of the fact that there is only one reason—and,
indeed, the fact that an image of Rousseau was hanging in his study—­
suggests that he was thinking along similar lines.
38. A. Schopenhauer, The World As Will and As Representation II, trans. E. F. J.
Payne (New York: Dover, 1958), p. 579.

C ha pt e r 5

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

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


The task announced in the A-Preface was to recover philoso-

phy from its degraded status among the sciences (Avii–xxii). This
status, Kant wrote in 1781, is historically rooted in two philo-
sophical positions: dogmatism, an irresponsible speculation with
metaphysical concepts; and skepticism, a counter-reaction to
dogmatism, which denies the possibility of knowledge altogether.
Three years after the publication of the A-edition, Kant would
recall how Hume’s skepticism woke him up from a “dogmatic slum-
ber,” inducing him to write a “critique of reason.”1 These are the
words of the Prolegomena (1783); in the first Critique Kant never
expressed himself in this way. Still, this later reflection is faith-
ful to the motivation announced in the first edition: by assaulting
the metaphysical status of causality, Hume’s skepticism subverted
metaphysical knowledge; by introducing transcendental idealism,
and by checking dogmatic rationalism by the test-stone of experi-
ence, Kant undertakes to answer that threat.2
The Preface to the Critique’s second edition (1787) introduces
a noteworthy change of tone. Appearing seven years after the first
edition and four after the Prolegomena, the B-Preface no longer
designates Hume as Kant’s chief opponent or skepticism as his
foremost philosophical threat. What was presented in the Cri-
tique’s first edition as the exclusive goal of the book is in the second
edition only one of its goals and, indeed, only the “negative” one
(Bxxiv). The second edition redefines the goals of the Critique as
the ones we by now take for granted: not only protecting philoso-
phy from skepticism but also—and foremost—offering a final de-
fense of freedom, faith, and morality. To be sure, in the A-edition
Kant already maintains that transcendental realism leaves no
room for freedom. He unequivocally writes, discussing the Antin-
omies, “if appearances are things in themselves, freedom cannot
be upheld” (A536). As we have seen, Kant is well aware, already


in the A-edition, that transcendental realism collapses to Spi-

nozism. Moreover, the Antinomies and the Ideal of Pure Reason
provide strong instrumentarium for defending practical reason.
These chapters, however, come late in the text. A-readers would
have had no reason to think that this practical enterprise was the,
or even a, major aim of the book. (We will see below that they in
fact did not think that.) In the B-Preface Kant moves the practi-
cal interest in destroying metaphysics to the fore and announces it
as the Critique’s main motivation: transcendental idealism is now
prescribed as the only rational defense against “fatalism, materi-
alism, atheism and Schwärmerei,” as “denying knowledge in order
to make room for faith,” and as the last defense against a pending
political scandal, a result of theoretical “controversies” (Streitig-
keiten) made public (Bxxxi–xxxv). This is now the “positive use”
of the Critique of Pure Reason, which was never mentioned in the
book’s original preface.
This change of tone is not surprising. The philosophical discus-
sion in 1787 was dominated by the worries Kant now highlights.3
Does philosophy necessarily lead to materialism, atheism, and fa-
talism? In the language of the time, does rationality, as such, lead
to Spinozism? And if so, can the authority of reason, so dear to
the Enlightenment, be trusted? Jacobi’s book on Spinoza was the
first to attract public attention to these questions. The echo they
received in Mendelssohn’s Morgenstunden (1785), Wizenmann’s
Resultate (1786), Kant’s “Was heißt” (1786), and Reinhold’s Briefe
über die Kantische Philosophie (1786) made them the burning issue
of the time.4 As Beiser writes, this discussion engaged most of
the “celebrities” of the time, almost “all the best minds of the late
eighteenth-century Germany.” It is hard to imagine, he adds, a dis-
cussion whose “effects were so great.”5 In such an atmosphere, it is
hardly surprising that Kant should invoke the Critique in defense


of rational faith and morality. He brings his attack on Spinozist

metaphysics from the Critique’s background to its fore because an-
swering Spinozism’s metaphysical threat has become the need of
the time.
Note that Kant redefines the first Critique’s official goal without
revising the Antinomies or the Ideal of Pure Reason themselves.
Changes were made throughout the Aesthetic, the Analytic, and
the Paralogisms but, apparently, no change was required in those
parts of the book that answer to its newly announced philosophi-
cal goal. Given that one of the central arguments of the Pantheis-
musstreit was that Spinoza’s rationalism was superior to any other
(specifically, to Leibniz’s)—an argument, we have seen, that Kant
empathically endorsed—this fact is telling.
My aim in this chapter is to examine in detail some of the
turning points in the development of the Pantheismusstreit—the
well-known controversy that sent Germany’s intellectual scene
reeling in the late eighteenth century. In recent years the Streit has
received growing attention, but it deserves still more.6 Two aspects
of the event require specific attention here. First, it is sometimes
thought that the debate between Jacobi and Mendelssohn led to
the rediscovery of Spinoza in Germany. This is based on the as-
sumption that Spinoza was regarded as a “dead dog” whose phi-
losophy had been forgotten.7 This assumption is, by now, outdated.
Spinoza’s radical writings and ideas were well-known before the
Streit and never lost relevance.8 Second, Kant’s reaction to the
Streit is commonly underestimated or misunderstood. A prevail-
ing assumption is that Kant, who in his pre- and early critical days
was uninterested in Spinozism, strived as much as he could to
stay out of the Spinoza-debate—short essays like “Was heißt” or
side passages in the Critique of Judgment notwithstanding.9 How-
ever, we have seen that Kant was occupied with Spinoza already


before the break of the Streit. He was, arguably, a Spinozist in the

pre-critical period, and was answering Spinozism in his attack on
dogmatic metaphysics in the Critique of Pure Reason. Eventually,
his reaction to the Streit culminates in redefining the main func-
tion of the Critique of Pure Reason. In the B-Preface, answering the
Spinozist—what authors nowadays call the “radical”—threat be-
comes the explicit positive aim of the book.

On March 25, 1783, Elise Reimarus, mutual friend of Jacobi, Men-
delssohn, and Lessing, wrote to Jacobi from Berlin, informing him
of Mendelssohn’s intention to write a book on Lessing’s character.
The latter had died two years earlier and was not only a close friend
of Mendelssohn’s but an ideal of the Enlightenment—a modern,
tolerant Aufklärer. Jacobi did not answer Reimarus’s report for sev-
eral months. But his delayed reply, dated July 21, 1783, would fire
the first shot of the Pantheismusstreit. In his letter, Jacobi confiden-
tially inquired whether Mendelssohn was aware of his deceased
friend’s “later religious convictions.” For Lessing—reports Jacobi
to Reimarus—was a Spinozist.10
According to Jacobi, Lessing had confessed his Spinozism
in a private conversation, held in Wolffenbüttel in 1780, a few
months before his death. Upon Mendelssohn’s distrust of Jacobi’s
report—Reimarus had communicated Jacobi’s inquiry to him, as
Jacobi certainly expected—Jacobi decided to put his conversation
with Lessing in writing and publish it in a book. This is Jacobi’s
Über die Lehre des Spinoza, which saw light in 1785. Mendelssohn’s
Morgenstunden was published a few months thereafter.


The Wolffenbüttel conversation conveys not only the histori-

cal background of the Streit but also, in a nutshell, the philosophi-
cal challenges that occupy Kant in his attack on metaphysics.11
Jacobi reports that the first part of the conversation took place
in his room in Wolffenbüttel, as he handed over to Lessing
“Prometheus”—a poem by the young Goethe. The poem articu-
lates strong Spinozistic inclinations, and Jacobi hoped that it
would provoke Lessing. “You have offended a few people [in your
writing],” he says to Lessing upon giving him the poem, “so you
too may once be offended.”

Lessing: [Having read the poem and given it back to Jacobi]

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


The conversation was interrupted by the director of the famous

Wolffenbüttel Library, which Jacobi and Lessing were sched-
uled to visit. It was continued the next morning, as Lessing came
back to Jacobi’s room, eager to clarify his expressions regarding

Lessing: I came to talk to you about my “One and All.” You

were shocked yesterday.
Jacobi: You surprised me .  .  . but [I] was not shocked. It
surely wasn’t my expectation to find you a Spinozist or
Pantheist; and you revealed this so directly. I had come
for the most part in order to receive your help against
Lessing: You know Spinoza then?
Jacobi: I believe that I know him like very few others.
Lessing: Then one cannot help you. It is better for you to
become his friend. There is no philosophy other than the
philosophy of Spinoza.
Jacobi: This might be true. For a determinist, if he wants to
be consistent, must become a fatalist: the rest follows from
Lessing: I see that we understand each other. I am therefore
eager to hear from you, what you consider to be the spirit
of Spinozism; I mean that, which was working through Spi-
noza [Ich meine den, der in Spinoza selbst gefahren war].
Jacobi: This was surely nothing else, but the old [saying]:
ex nihilo nihil fit . . .
. . . . . .
Lessing: . . . So we will not be parting company over our credo.
Jacobi: We don’t want this on any account. But my credo is not
in Spinoza.


Lessing: I would hope that it is found in no book.

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

At this point, Jacobi turns to explain in more detail his rejection of

fatalism, based on an unconditional acceptance of teleology and
final causes: If one accepts, with Spinoza, only mechanical causes,
one must conclude that our thoughts never determine our actions
but only accompany them: “we do not do what we think, but think
about what we do.” As Lessing recognizes, Jacobi’s chief concern
is with the problem of freedom; yet, somewhat surprisingly, he is
indifferent to it. “I notice you would like to have your will free,”
he tells Jacobi. “I desire no free will.” Faithful to the Ethics, he dis-
misses this notion as a dispensable human fancy, and continues to
challenge Jacobi:

Lessing: .  .  . Ok. How do you imagine your personal Deity

then? Something like the way Leibniz imagined it? I’m
afraid that he himself was at heart [im Herzen] a Spinozist.
Jacobi: Do you speak seriously?


Lessing: Do you truly doubt that?—Leibniz understood

the concepts of truth so, that he could not tolerate them
being limited. From this way of thinking flow many of
his thoughts, and it is often very difficult, also for the best
thinkers, to discover his actual opinion . . . exactly because
of that I find him so valuable; I mean, because of this big way
of thinking and not because that opinion or another that he
only seemingly had, or in fact did.
Jacobi: Completely true. Leibniz wanted to “make fire of every
match.” But you speak of some specific position, namely
Spinozism, which Leibniz was essentially fond of . . .

Lessing and Jacobi agree that Leibniz’s metaphysical concepts,

most crucially the pre-established harmony, force him into Spi-
nozism. “The two have basically the same theory of freedom,”
concludes Jacobi. “[O]nly a work of deception [Blendwerk] distin-
guishes them” (my emphasis). Yet, despite all that, Jacobi clings
to faith in freedom, teleology, and a personal Deity, which brings
Lessing to argue:
. . . With your philosophy, you will have to turn your back on
all philosophy.

Jacobi: Why all philosophy?

Lessing: Because you are a complete skeptic.
Jacobi: On the contrary. I withdraw myself from a philosophy
that makes skepticism necessary.
Lessing: And withdraw yourself—where?
Jacobi: To the light, the light Spinoza speaks about when he
says that it illuminates itself and the darkness. I love Spinoza
since, more than any other philosopher, he has convinced


me that certain things cannot be explained, and that one

must not close one’s eyes in front of them but simply accept
them as one finds them . . . even the greatest mind will hit
upon absurd things when he tries to explain everything and
make sense of it according to clear concepts. Whoever does
not want to explain what is inconceivable but only wants to
know the borderline where it begins: he will gain the largest
space for human truth.
Lessing: Words, Jacobi, mere words! The borderline you want
to fix cannot be determined. And on the other side of it you
give free rein to dreaming, nonsense and blindness.
Jacobi: I believe that the borderline can be determined. I want
not to draw it, but only to recognize what is already there. And
as far as dreaming, nonsense and blindness are concerned . . .
Lessing: They prevail wherever confused ideas are found . . .
Jacobi: More where false ones are found . . . As I see it, the first
task of a philosopher is to disclose existence. Explanation
is only a means, a way to this goal: it is the first task, but it
is never the last. The last task is what cannot be explained:
irresolvable, immediate and simple.
. . .
Lessing: Good, very good. I can use all that; but I cannot
follow it in the same way. In general, your salto mortale does
not displease me; and I can see how a man with a head on his
shoulders will want to stand on his head to get somewhere.
Take me along with you if it works.
Jacobi: If you will only step on the elastic spot from which
I leap, everything else will follow from there.
Lessing: Even that would demand a leap that I cannot ask of
my old legs and heavy head.


Was Lessing a Spinozist? This was the initial question of the Pan-
theismusstreit, but one irrelevant for Kant. In fact, Mendelssohn
and Jacobi also eventually moved on from it. Lessing was cer-
tainly not an enemy of Spinoza. This is evident from his personal
conversation with Jacobi, as well as from his published writings.
Together with Spinoza and the Spinozists, Lessing believed in
liberalism, biblical criticism, and natural religion. This is indeed a
political taste, in the spirit of Spinoza’s Tractatus, not an atheistic-­
pantheistic metaphysical position in the spirit of the Ethics. But, of
course, metaphysics and political philosophy are intimately con-
nected, not the least in Spinoza, and all the more so in such matters
as biblical criticism and natural religion.12
A more important question raised by the Streit concerns
Lessing’s philosophical taste, not as a personal figure but as a
symbol—an ideal of the Enlightenment. His Geist personified the
qualities of tolerance, broadmindedness, and liberalism. In sharp
contrast to Lessing, the Jew from Amsterdam was associated with
abomination and danger. He was conceived as a symbol of athe-
ism, dubbed by many as the Euclides atheisticus or the principus
atheorum. By bringing Lessing’s and Spinoza’s names together,
Jacobi was seeking a reductio ad absurdum of the Enlightenment:
If this is where rationality leads, the argument goes, one should
reconsider rationality.

The most significant challenge raised by the Streit concerns nei-
ther Lessing’s philosophical taste nor the reductio of the Enlight-
enment by his character. There is a philosophical question at


stake—namely, does rationalism, as such, lead to Spinoza’s athe-

istic necessitarianism? Must rational philosophy override faith,
freedom, and morality?
This question is immanent already in Jacobi and Lessing’s
conversation. Lessing tells Jacobi that he cannot help him against
Spinoza, implying that such help is in fact impossible: if one truly
grasps Spinoza, one better “become his friend,” for “there is no
philosophy but the philosophy of Spinoza.” Jacobi embraced Less-
ing’s statement and would make it the slogan of the Streit. More-
over, he agreed with Lessing that Leibniz’s position, too—which
was commonly acknowledged as the more acceptable, moderate
alternative to Spinoza—only proves Spinoza’s indispensability. If
one truly enters the matter, claims Jacobi, one finds that Leibniz
was a Spinozist “at heart.” As we have seen, this is a point on which
Kant, throughout his career, emphatically agrees.
Jacobi’s claim that Spinoza’s philosophy is the only possible
one relies on his understanding of the PSR; first, as the normative
criterion of rationality; and second, as the “spirit of Spinozism.”
Ex  nihilo nihil fit—Jacobi argues that this principle entails both
necessitarianism and pantheism. And, interestingly, he claims to
have learned this lesson from Kant’s Beweisgrund. As we saw in
Chapter 1, this isn’t, pace Beiser, merely a “tendentious” reading
of Kant, who himself was aware of his Spinozist commitment. Of
course, Jacobi recognizes that other metaphysicians, most charac-
teristically those of the Leibnizo-Wollfian school, have employed
the PSR in their writings without deriving pantheism. But he main-
tains that only Spinoza had the philosophical integrity to draw the
logical conclusions that follow from that principle. Accordingly, he
thinks it would be vain to try to give a rational defense of freedom,
morality, or faith, because such a defense is beforehand committed
to the PSR and would fall back on fatalistic pantheism.13 There are


only two alternatives, then. One can submit to Spinoza’s philoso-

phy or turn one’s back on philosophy altogether.14
While Kant agrees with much of Jacobi’s argument, he denies
this twofold alternative. First, he rejects the claim that the PSR,
as understood by Spinoza and Jacobi, is a genuine standard of ra-
tionality. The subjective formulation of the PSR (P1) may be such
a standard, but the objective formulation (P2) certainly is not
(see Chapter 4). Accordingly, whereas he agrees with Jacobi that
dogmatic rationalism leads, by the PSR (P2), to Spinoza’s posi-
tion, he rejects the claim that the only other alternative is to turn
one’s back on rationality altogether. After the break of the Panthe-
ismusstreit, Kant’s writings are saturated with the claim that there
are only two philosophical alternatives: transcendental realism,
which is Spinozist and dogmatic; or transcendental idealism, his
own critical philosophy.
Jacobi, who before the publication of the first Critique’s second
edition completely overlooked Kant’s challenge to the PSR and to
Spinoza, claimed that one can overcome philosophy’s Spinozist
destiny only by performing a salto mortale. That is, he confesses
that he cannot avoid rationally conceiving of God in terms of
Spinoza’s substance—a notion leaving no room for faith in a per-
sonal deity—but, at the same time, he accepts the existence of a
personal, good deity. His religious conviction thus depends on a
simple acceptance of the Christian doctrines and does not re-
quire validation by rational proof or theoretical arguments. His
faith therefore r­emains—contrary to everything believed by the
­Enlightenment—irrational and subjective. This is something that
Jacobi openly admits: Religious conviction is based on “feelings,”
he writes, which not everybody must share. These feelings and re-
ligious convictions cannot be rationally supported or universally
communicated (mitgeteilet werden).15 Mendelssohn, in opposition


to this, wanted to preserve at all costs reason’s sovereignty in mat-

ters of morality and religion. His Morgenstunden therefore takes
up two major opponents who Mendelssohn thought endangered
reason’s role—Jacobi and Kant. Against the former, Mendels-
sohn wanted to show that philosophy as such need not culminate
in Spinozism (or, at the very least, that Spinozism need not entail
the injurious implications normally associated with it)—thus that
a salto mortale is not required.16 Against the latter—whom in the
Morgenstunden’s introduction Mendelssohn famously dubs the
alles zermalmende—­Mendelssohn wanted to defend knowledge of
the traditional metaphysical ideas—­especially knowledge of the
soul (rational ­psychology) and of God’s existence.17 Lastly, Men-
delssohn was trying to invoke intuitive common sense to check
the dangers involved by theoretical (speculative) rationality.18 The
clearest example of this move is his adherence to physico-theology
as a reply to the overriding mechanistic consequences of Spinozism.
Beholding natural beauty, writes Mendelssohn, and considering
even the simplest natural organisms, make it impossible to deny
nature’s creation by a wise author. The conviction produced by
such observations is as strong as that of a “geometrical proof,” he
writes.19 If conceptual reasoning like Spinoza’s comes to contradict
that conviction, says Mendelssohn, one must assume that fault is on
the side of speculation. In a way, the Critique of Judgment defends
a position similar to the one Mendelssohn here articulates, but
allows the compatibility of speculation and physico-theology by
modifying the status of both. I will return to this point elsewhere.

As I have said, authors writing on the Pantheismusstreit often
assume that the debate ignited by Jacobi eventually led to Spinoza’s


rediscovery. This relies on the assumption that before Jacobi’s

1785 publication Spinoza was a neglected, defeated philosopher.
On that assumption, Lessing and Jacobi’s agreement that Spino-
za’s philosophy is not only relevant but is “the only possible one”
would have to be a coincidence—a genuine surprise not only for
Jacobi’s readers but for Lessing and Jacobi themselves. It is doubt-
ful, however, that Lessing’s confession of Spinozism to Jacobi was
a matter of much coincidence. Just as doubtful is it that Spinoza
ever had to be “rediscovered.” First, Jacobi’s decision to provoke
Lessing, of all things by a Spinozist poem like “Prometheus,” was
not arbitrary. Jacobi knew that Lessing would be neither shocked
nor offended by Goethe’s Spinozist poem. As mentioned above,
Lessing was fond of liberalism and biblical criticism, a tendency
associated with Spinoza’s TTP. Lessing was also a close friend of
Mendelssohn, who famously argued that Leibniz plagiarized the
doctrine of the established harmony from Spinoza. A well-known
manipulator,20 Jacobi probably expected Lessing to react just in
the way that he did. (In other words, while Jacobi probably did
not, as some suspected, invent his conversation with Lessing, he
almost certainly produced and directed it.)
More significant, the still prevalent assumption that the Streit
led to Spinoza’s rediscovery is inaccurate. The first indication that
Spinoza had not been forgotten is the fact that he influenced such
diverse intellectuals as Lessing, Jacobi, and the young Goethe.
This suggests that his writings were available and read, and that
his ideas exercised significant force. Was the ban on Spinoza’s
ideas and the censorship of his writings ineffective? Were the
philosophical attacks on Spinoza’s metaphysics—culminating in
Wolff’s refutation of Spinozisterey—not quite convincing? Jacobi
and Lessing agreed that Wolff’s refutation of Spinoza was “hardly
useful.” They agreed that Leibnizo-Wollfian rationalism was, “at


heart,” Spinozist. (Indeed, Kant agreed on the same point.) Yet

matters cannot be quite so simple: Wolff was the critic of Spi-
noza and the systematizer of Leibniz. Did he fail to see the con-
sequences of his own work? Or did he, too, like possibly Leibniz,
conceal Spinoza’s inevitability? “Only a work of deception [Blend-
werk],” Jacobi tells Lessing, separates the Leibnizian position from
Spinoza’s. As Russell once wrote, “Leibniz fell into Spinozism
whenever he allowed himself be logical; in his published works,
accordingly, he took care to be illogical.”21 (As we have seen, on
this point, too, Kant agreed.)22
The impression that Spinoza was forgotten may have been
caused, among other things, by the fact that his philosophy was
never taught in university seminars of the time; his books were
forbidden and his ideas passed over in classroom—of course, Spi-
noza was not surveyed seriously in philosophy textbooks. How-
ever, one can learn more about Spinoza’s reception and influence
outside the official curriculum of the schools by studying his
prevalence in the Enlightenment’s lexicons, encyclopedias, and
dictionaries. (For a modern reader, the equivalent is something
like running a Google search on a name.) It is well-known, for ex-
ample, that Bayle provided an extensive discussion of Spinoza and
Spinozism in his philosophical dictionary. In fact, Bayle’s Spinoza
entry was the single longest article dedicated to any subject in the
Dictionnaire. There is no need here to address the question of Bay-
le’s own philosophical stance toward Spinoza (some take him for
a clandestine supporter of Spinoza, some for a harsh critic). Suf-
fice it to call to attention the significance of the entry’s length: it
is hard to see why the longest entry in one of the Enlightenment’s
most influential philosophical media should be dedicated to a for-
gotten, defeated philosopher. Deliberately or not, Bayle supplies
in his entry abundant information about Spinoza’s metaphysics:


lesser readers than Kant would gain from the book a good grasp
of Spinoza’s position. This entry certainly attracted much atten-
tion to Spinoza and ensured that many would think about Spinoza
on their own. It is difficult to see how once such a high-exposure
entry is published Spinoza’s relevance was supposed to wane.
Searching in Zedler’s Grosses Universal Lexicon reinforces the
same impression. Zedler dedicates separate entries to “Spinoza”
and “Spinozisterey”: the first is accorded a five-page discussion,
the latter a three-page discussion. The entry “Descartes,” by com-
parison, is discussed in one page. Plato, Aristotle, Thomas, Augus-
tine, Luther, Locke, and Hume are similarly accorded one-page
discussions. To be sure, Zedler, like Bayle, presents Spinoza in a
denouncing and critical tone. But his extensive discussion, too,
provides abundant information about Spinoza’s thought. Given
that Zedler dedicates to Spinoza five times more attention than
to many of the most prominent thinkers in the history of philos-
ophy, the assumption that Spinoza was forgotten or neglected is
Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie provides another note-
worthy example here. Like Bayle and Zedler before them, the En-
cyclopédiests denounce Spinoza in a harsh tone. But like Bayle and
Zedler, they also dedicate to Spinoza significantly greater atten-
tion than to almost every other prominent thinker in the history of
philosophy. (Spinoza receives in the Encyclopédie about five times
more space than Descartes, Locke, Hume, Plato, or Hobbes.) The
entry gives an overview not only of Spinoza’s life, character, politi-
cal philosophy, and metaphysics, but also a systematic discussion
of the Ethics’ definitions, axioms, and foremost propositions. To-
gether with laconic denunciations of Spinoza’s view (examples will
follow), the Encyclopédie provides in-depth discussions of Spinoza’s
accounts of the finite and the infinite, substance-mode relation,


his argument for substance monism, and more. For example, it

is claimed that the source of Spinoza’s “errors” is his definition of
substance. Spinoza’s E Id3 is then quoted in full. The definition
is denounced as “meretricious” but is discussed in some detail.
A similar procedure follows in the discussion of Spinoza’s concep-
tion of “essence.” The next passage then opens with the claim that
“[t]he definition [Spinoza] gives of the finite and the infinite is no
less unhappy,” followed by (almost) full quotes of E Id2 and E Id6,
and moving to a survey of Spinoza’s conception of the finite as that
“which can be limited by the same nature” and of the infinite as
that “which includes all formal realities in itself.” By the end of this
part of the entry, much of Spinoza’s most important definitions
had been laid out. The next passage then opens: “Spinoza’s axioms
are no less alluring and false than his definitions.” E Ia4 and E Ia5
are quoted in full. These axioms are denounced and discussed in
two long passages. The new passage then proceeds to examine
“the main propositions that form Spinoza’s system.” The author
discusses E Ip1–7 almost exhaustively, concluding by denounc-
ing Spinoza’s system more generally as ­“ irrational,” “absurd,” and
“fallacious.” The author claims that there is no need to survey the
other propositions of the Ethics because “once the foundations
have been destroyed, it is a waste of time to demolish the build-
ing.” Indeed, the opposite holds, too: once the foundations of the
system have been so systematically laid out, there is little need to
reconstruct the Ethics much further. At the very least, every dis-
cerning reader would have to wonder, as Israel points out, “Why
on earth so much attention was being lavished on a thinker whose
doctrines are absurd and irrational”23 —why this absurd system,
which according to the entry “so few people follow,” would be
discussed at significantly greater length than Locke or Descartes.
(We know that Kant was acquainted with the encyclopedia by


1759 [in letters dating that year he recommends some of its entries
to his friends].)
The general impression received from the Dictionnaire, the En-
cyclopédie, and the Lexicon is not that Spinoza was not ignored but
that he could not be. The space he received in the canonical vehicles
of the Enlightenment ensured that philosophers and intellectuals
would be aware of and worried about Spinoza’s metaphysics; they
ensured that some, perhaps many, would gain firsthand knowl-
edge with Spinoza’s writing; and they ensured that sometimes,
despite the fact that very few would actually name themselves Spi-
nozists, Spinoza’s position was actually embraced. It is worthy of
mention that the Encyclopédie—which was edited by Diderot, who
had been imprisoned for publishing a Spinozist essay as Lettre sur
les aveugles—contradicts itself in this regard.24 At one point in the
Spinoza entry, it is claimed that “very few people are suspected of
adhering to [Spinoza’s] doctrine,” but shortly thereafter such lines
as the following are repeated: “what is surprising is that Spinoza,
who had so little respect for proof and reason, would have so many
partisans and supporters of his system.”
J. Israel seems to have a point when he comments, “philoso-
phers are . . . saddled with what are really hopelessly outdated his-
torical accounts of the Enlightenment and ones which look ever
more incomplete, unbalanced, and inaccurate, the more research
into the subject proceeds.”25 As he shows, Spinoza’s influence on
the Enlightenment has to be understood as constituting a radical,
clandestine strand of the European movement, acting behind the
scenes of the moderate, official movement.26 Whereas the moder-
ate Enlightenment was (more or less) consistent with conserva-
tive political and religious ideals—its thinkers defending theistic
metaphysics and conformist political rules—the radical Enlight-
enment was characterized by Spinozist metaphysics, Spinozist


rejection of biblical theology, and Spinozist support of democratic

Although officially banned, radical thought exercised severe
philosophical and political force throughout Europe. In Ger-
many, it was spread through the works of such authors as Leenhof,
Kuyper, Lucas, Boulainvilliers, Lau, Stosch, and Toland. (While
many of these are today almost forgotten, their writings served at
the time as a vehicle for Spinoza’s ideas.) Yet Israel himself does not
venture to consider this possibility: the pre-critical Kant belonged
to the radical trend himself.28 This is crucial, because it completely
changes our understanding of Kant’s Auseinandersetzung with
Spinozism in the Critique and during the Pantheismusstreit. The
critical Kant, who started his career as a Spinozist, is far from de-
fending moderate Enlightenment ideals. Rather, he is dealing with
what he correctly detects—already before Jacobi—as the nihilist
consequences of the Enlightenment’s metaphysical rationalism.
We may now go back to the conversation between Jacobi and
Lessing. Their agreement that “Spinoza’s philosophy is the only
possible one” is yet another expression of Spinoza’s lasting rel-
evance: Lessing, Jacobi, and the author of “Prometheus” were all
independently influenced by Spinoza’s radical thought. (All three
were certainly acquainted with the Dictionnaire, the Encyclopédie,
and the Lexicon.) In this light, the break of the Pantheismusstreit
does not represent Spinoza’s rediscovery. It represents the moment
in which his radical thinking moved from the clandestine under-
ground to the center of the public debate. It marked the moment
in which Spinoza’s impact on Enlightenment thinking became
public. The Streit’s technical philosophical question—Does the
PSR lead to Spinozist metaphysics?—was politically and publicly
reinterpreted: Is there room for a genuine moderate version of en-
lightened rationality? If Leibniz himself was (consciously or not)


committed to Spinozism—and before Kant became critical—­

Enlightenment thinking could only be radical.
This was just Jacobi’s conclusion, and it led him to reject the
rationality of the Enlightenment—moderate and radical alike.
Mendelssohn, until his death, was trying to show that Spinoza
himself was a moderate thinker (or at least could be rendered one).
What is important to see is that much of the theoretical argument
raised for and against Spinoza can be traced back to arguments
from Wolff, Bayle, Diderot, and Zedler. The one new thing about
the Streit was that, perhaps for the first time, Spinoza’s challenge
had to be dealt with: whereas questions asked in the philosopher’s
armchair can remain theoretical disagreements, questions asked
in public—political questions—demand definitive answers. For
the first time, it was not the destiny of Spinoza’s metaphysics that
was debated, but the destiny of the Enlightenment’s scientific and
political project.29
No book represents this political-philosophical transition
better than the Critique of Pure Reason. We have seen in previous
chapters that in the pre-critical period Kant was committed to
substance monism and that, with the first Critique, Spinoza’s fore-
most philosophical principle, the PSR (P2), undergoes a severe
attack, leading Kant to modify the (Spinozist) proof of God’s ex-
istence into a regulative ideal. Despite all that, in 1781 the Critique
still announces itself as an answer to skepticism—in this sense, to
Hume. It is only with the publication of the B edition, two years
after the break of the Streit, that Kant’s attack on radical metaphys-
ics is emphasized. Leaving the Antinomies and the Ideal virtually
untouched, Kant opens the book by referring the reader to these
chapters, and claiming that these constitute the only response to
the challenge of the Streit—that is, the only response to radical,


Spinozist thought. I will return to a closer reading of the Preface

after the Streit has been considered in more detail.

Jacobi sent his book to Hamann, who was supposed to hand it
over to Kant. His intention, it would seem, was to force Kant to
respond publicly, unwittingly participating in the promotion of
the book. This is the only explanation for Jacobi’s move: his book
contains two unnecessary provocations of Kant, presenting him
as a Spinozist.
The first of these occurs in Jacobi’s explanation of Spinoza’s
conception of the infinite as a whole that is prior to its parts. “[The
parts] exist only in him [the whole] and after him,” writes Jacobi.
“[O]nly in and after him can they be conceived.” In a footnote, he
brings a quotation from the first Critique that, he says, can “serve
to clarify” Spinoza. 30 This quotation is from §2 of the Aesthetic,
Kant’s famous claim that only one infinite space is conceivable—
one space whose parts are merely limitations of the whole:

We can represent to ourselves only one space; and if we speak

of diverse spaces, we mean thereby only parts of one and the
same unique space. Secondly, these parts cannot precede the
one all embracing space as being, as it were, constituents out
of which it can be composed; on the contrary, they can be
thought only as in it. Space is essentially one; the manifold in
it, and therefore the general concept of space, depends solely
on the introduction of limitations. (A25)


Jacobi proceeds to quote also from Kant’s account of time. A de-

termined measure of time, Kant argued, can be thought of only as
a limitation of time as an infinite whole:

The infinitude of time signifies nothing more than that every

determinate magnitude of time is possible only through limita-
tion of one single time that underlies it. The original represen-
tation, time, must therefore be given as unlimited. But when an
object is so given that its parts, and every quantity of it, can be
determinately represented only through limitation, the whole
representation cannot be given through concepts, since they
contain only partial representation; on the contrary, such con-
cepts must themselves rest on immediate intuition. (A 32)

Jacobi does not explicitly say so, but his words suggest that Kant’s
space and time, the forms of intuition, correspond to Spinoza’s at-
tributes: space corresponds to the attribute of extension; time, the
medium of inner sense, to the attribute of thought.
The second mention of Kant in association with Spinoza, again
a clarifying remark, brings together the heart of Kant’s philoso-
phy with the heart of Spinoza’s. Jacobi clarifies Spinoza’s notion
of substance as an “absolute thought,” an “immediate absolute
consciousness of general existence.” In order to explain this, he
invokes Kant’s transcendental unity of apperception31 Kant had
argued that the unity of experience is possible only by the unity of
consciousness, actively apprehending a manifold passively given
in the forms of intuition. Thus the numerical unity of conscious-
ness, in Kant, is an a priori condition of all thought:

There can be in us no modes of knowledge, no connection or

unity of one mode of knowledge with another, without that


unity of consciousness which precedes all data of intuitions,

and by relation to which representation of objects is alone possi-
ble. This pure original unchangeable consciousness I shall name
transcendental apperception. That it deserves this name is clear
from the fact that even the purest objective unity, namely, that of
the a priori concepts (space and time), is only possible through
relation of the intuitions to such unity of consciousness. The nu-
merical unity of this apperception is thus the a priori ground of
all concepts, just as the manifold of space and time is the a priori
ground of the intuitions of sensibility. (A107)

The similarity between Kant’s unity of apperception and Spinoza’s

substance is suggestive. Jacobi seems to think of Kant’s theory of
knowledge along the lines of Spinoza’s metaphysics: the unity of
apperception parallels Spinoza’s substance; the forms of intuition
are the attributes. In a way, this suggestion of Jacobi is most char-
acteristic of his thought: at once a hoax intended to insinuate its
author into the philosophical scene and a brilliant insight, one that
would become a cornerstone for the German Idealists to come.
What was the motive behind Jacobi’s comparison of Kant and
Spinoza? As clarifications of Spinoza the passages quoted from
the first Critique are not particularly helpful: there is something
awkward about explaining one philosophical thesis, which had
originally been put in more or less familiar early modern terms—
“substance,” “attribute,” and so on—by the neologisms of the
latest philosophical revolution (“transcendental apperception,”
etc.). Besides, Jacobi was well aware of the danger he was bring-
ing to Kant’s door. He had just started a scandal over Lessing’s
Spinozism and knew that his words could, at the very least, harm
the reputation of the Königsberg professor. Jacobi writes in a foot-
note that Kant’s passage was written “fully [ganz] in the spirit of


Spinoza.”32 He then sends a copy to Hamann and waits for Kant

to react.
Hamann wrote back to Jacobi on November 30, 1785, inform-
ing him that Kant had received the book, “was very pleased with
[the] presentation” and “had never been able to make sense of Spi-
noza’s system.”33 Zammito speaks for many when he suggests that
in those early days of the Streit, “Kant simply had nothing more
to say.”34 Given what we have seen, there are reasons to think that
Kant actually had quite much to say; so much, in fact, that he had to
keep silent—and be less than frank with Hamann. Certainly he was
not “very pleased” with Jacobi’s assertion that his Critique of Pure
Reason was written “fully in Spinoza’s Spirit”—for all the obvious
reasons, but not because the statement is completely false. Anyone
who has Jacobi’s book fresh in mind must sense the touch of sarcasm
in Kant’s reply: he writes he had “never been able” to understand
Spinoza’s “system,” while Jacobi allowed himself to use the Critique
as helping material for explaining Spinoza. Indeed, we know from
Kant’s correspondence that he saw through Jacobi’s intention: in
reply to Marcus Herz’s request that he join Mendelssohn against
Jacobi, Kant writes (April 7th): “The Jacobian farce is no serious
matter . . . [it is only] designed to make a name for himself and there-
fore hardly worthy of an earnest refutation. Maybe I will do some-
thing to the Berlinische Monatsschrift to expose this hocus-pocus.”35

By 1786, all sides of the debate had made much effort to draw
Kant into battle. Jacobi had Hamann deliver to Kant the Spinoza-
Büchlein, containing, as we just saw, a threat to the transcendental


philosopher. In the introduction to the Morgenstunden, Mendels-

sohn dubbed Kant an alles zermalmende, an all-destroyer, accusing
him of subverting the rational basis of religion and morality. Imme-
diately after Mendelssohn’s death in 1786, his colleagues and friends
of the Berlin Aufklärung continued to put pressure. Biester, the editor
of the Berlinische-Monatsschrift, wrote to Kant early in 1786, asking
him “not to forget to write a word concerning Jacobi’s philosophische
Schwärmerei.”36 It is clear from the letter that Kant had contacted
Biester earlier, expressing his concern about Jacobi’s book. Schütz,
another ally of the Berlin Aufklärung, wrote Kant shortly after
Biester, urging him to publicly reject Jacobi’s association of the first
Critique with Spinoza. “He names your notion of space and argues
that it was ‘written fully in the spirit of Spinoza.’” “It is fully incon-
ceivable,” he writes, “how often you are being misunderstood; there
are men—not at all stupid ones—who take you for an atheist.”37
Biester wrote again two weeks later, informing him from Berlin that
the “Jacobian-Mendelssohnian” Streit had escalated:

No doubt, the Schwärmerei is growing too much in the writings

of the modischen Philosophen. Demonstration is dismissed and
tradition (the lowest kind of faith) is recommended instead of
rational faith. It is truly the time that you, the noble designer of
thorough and consistent thought, would rise up and put an end
to this mischief [Unwesen]. Do this soon, in a short essay in the
journal, until you find the time to do it in a complete book. 38

Two factors are known to have had a decisive influence on Kant’s

decision to get explicitly involved: Thomas Wizenmann’s essay, Re-
sultate der Jacobisher und Mendelssohnischer Philosophie (published
in May 1786); and another letter Kant received from Biester (June
1786). Both uncover the philosophical and political threat with


which the Streit is pregnant; and both expose the danger awaiting
Kant himself should he not reject the charges raised against him.
The Resultate appeared at first anonymously, identifying the
author as a Freiwilligen, a “volunteer.” A few months after the essay’s
publication, the author was identified as the young Thomas Wizen-
mann. 39 His main point was that there was, in fact, no significant
difference between Mendelssohn’s and Jacobi’s positions. For by
subjecting speculative reason to common sense, the former, like
the latter, subjects rationality to an irrational faculty—allowing
belief even where belief is contradicted by reason.40 Wizenmann
concludes his essay with an argument for positive religion—an
argument, perhaps oddly, with a clear Kantian ring. Religious
conviction, Wizenmann writes, requires an existential premise,
namely belief in the existence of God. Reason, however, is incapa-
ble of proving existence—not even in the special case of the “most
perfect being.” What kind of experience, then, could rationally
substantiate God’s existence? Surely not an empirical experience
of the sort mediated by space and time; God cannot be objectified
and apprehended by the senses. No room is left for rational reli-
gion: if any religion is possible, one must accept it on the grounds
of revelation. “Man of Germany!” writes Wizenmann,

Either religion of revelation or no religion at all. . . . I challenge

you to find a more correct and impartial judgment of reason. Is
from my side another relationship to God possible other than
through faith, trust and obedience? And can from God’s side
another relationship to me be possible other than through rev-
elation, command and promise?41

Kant certainly welcomed Wizenmann’s claim that we cannot

know God’s existence by experience or proof. The dramatic


conclusion of the essay, however—its elevated tone and the “Kan-

tian call” to positive religion—must have made him uneasy. For
Kant, excluding theoretical existential knowledge as a basis of
faith does not mean a return to a religion of revelation—far from
it. Wizenmann’s position indicates once more what was bound to
be overlooked in the first Critique’s A-edition: the destruction of
metaphysics was supposed to make room for rational faith.

Then came Biester’s third letter from Berlin (June 11, 1786). Zam-
mito refers to that letter as a “masterpiece of a small scale.”42 Indeed,
Biester made Kant see, perhaps for the first time, the necessity of
explicitly taking a stand. Biester opens his letter by pointing out
that the “unfortunate Streit” between Mendelssohn and Jacobi in-
volves “two issues.” First, the “Factum” of the debate: the questions
whether “Lessing was really an atheist” and whether Mendelssohn
would be able to concede this if it was in fact the case. These ques-
tions, however, are beside the point, writes Biester, a Nebending.
“Let us suppose that it is fully proven that Lessing was an atheist
and that Mendelssohn was somewhat of a weak person—is there
anything more to it?”43 “The second point is more important,”
­Biester continues, “and concerns the reason why the philosophical
Schwärmerei is at the moment heating up.” This is the tendency,
growing in intellectual circles in Berlin, to dismiss “rational cog-
nition of God” and accept instead “positive religion” as the only
alternative to Spinoza. Jacobi is promoting, writes Biester,

[an] undermining mockery of every rational theory of God,

the celebration and virtual idolatry of Spinoza’s incomprehen-
sible chimeras, and the intolerant directive to take up positive


religion as the only necessary and at the same time the only
available way out for any rational man; atheism and Schwär-
merei: it is a miraculously strange occurrence that both confu-
sions of the human understanding should be so unified in these
dizzy-heads of our time.44

The matter is more severe in Berlin, Biester continues:

Perhaps in no other place in the world are the scholars [Geleh-

rten] less united than here, contradicting one another so can-
didly; perhaps in no other place in the world are scholarly
disputes [gelehrte Streitigkeiten] more light-headed than here
and are undertaken with a less serious approach.  .  .  . Only
from you, dear man, can one expect a serious reprimand; only
[a Kant] can stop this dangerous philosophical Schwärmerei.45

At this point, Biester moves to remind Kant of the “highly indis-

creet” manner in which Jacobi had tried to pull him into the Streit,
by associating the first Critique with Spinoza. “You now owe to
your contemporaries a clarification of your good intentions, in
order to calm them down,” he writes. As Schütz before him, Bies-
ter warns Kant that Jacobi’s Spinoza-Büchlein made many people
think that he, too, was an atheist:

When readers find that a writer in every sphere defiant of truth

and innocence [Jacobi] has taken you as a supporting witness,
they don’t know what to think, and in the end come to believe
his claims. I can assure you that this is already the case with
many very respectable people, who have been misled in this
manner. No accusation that an enlightened philosopher can
endure is more odious than that his principles foster overt


dogmatic atheism, and thereby Schwärmerei. Schwärmerei

via atheism! That is Jacobi’s doctrine, and he does not shrink
from trying to delude the world into thinking you agree with
him.  .  .  . You must at least teach the public (Publikum) and
emphasize: that Mr. Jacobi has misunderstood you, and that
you could never teach and promote atheism and fatalism. . . .
Moreover: we will soon experience a change, of which one (as
with all future things) cannot know if it will favor free thought
or not? It must disturb any good person when someone, with
a few pretenses, accuses the first philosopher of our land and
philosophy in general, of favoring and encouraging dogmatic
atheism. These spiteful accusations would perhaps be able to
have an effect; but this effect would be fully weakened if you
already beforehand break apart from those fanatic atheists.46

Biester’s latter, political argument, proved crucial. The days were

the last days of Fredrick Wilhelm II’s rule over Prussia—a rela-
tively liberal, open-minded king. As the Aufklärer feared, his suc-
cessor would prove much more conservative, exercising strict
control and censorship over universities. The Pantheismusstreit
was thus heating up at the wrong time: the achievements of the
Enlightenment in Berlin could be easily jeopardized. Now is the
time for Kant to engage, says Biester, if not for the sake of the En-
lightenment, then for his own.
Biester concludes his letter by dissuading Kant from writing a
reply to Feder and Tittel. The two, it is well-known, had argued that
Kant’s idealism was equivalent to Berkeley’s, an accusation Kant
was planning to systematically refute. “I cannot convince myself,”
writes Biester, “that Feder constitutes a real threat .  .  . I believe
that defending yourself [against him] cannot be at the moment as
important as clarifying yourself [against Jacobi’s accusations], as


I ask you to do. . . . [T]he danger impending from Jacobi and the
author of the Resultate is much more urgent.”47

Kant first responded by sending Biester “Was Heißt, sich im
Denken orientieren.” The essay was published in October 1786
in the Berlinische Monatsschrift. A few months thereafter, Kant re-
ceived from Biester a letter of gratitude: “hearty thanks, dear man,
for your excellent essay on the J—and M-ian Streitigkeit !”48
The essay makes clear that Kant’s stance to the Streit is
­complex—he approaches the debate as an outsider. On the one
hand, Kant agrees with Jacobi: metaphysics culminates in Spi-
noza’s position; strictly speaking, there is no rationalist answer to
atheism and fatalism, at least not by traditional terms. Kant en-
dorses, moreover, Wizenmann’s claim that Mendelssohn’s subjec-
tion of reason to common sense arrives at a position very similar to
Jacobi’s. Such an unfortunate position, Kant writes, is unavoidable
when one begins to doubt that

reason has the right to speak first concerning supersensible

objects like the existence of God . . . a wide gate is opened to
all Schwärmerei, superstition and even atheism. And yet in this
controversy [Streitigkeit] between Jacobi and Mendelssohn, ev-
erything appears to overturn reason in just this way.

Nevertheless, Kant’s philosophical motivation certainly lay with

Mendelssohn. Despite the radical consequences of metaphysics,
the Enlightenment’s trust in reason’s sovereignty must be de-
fended at all costs. This allows Kant to present his own philoso-
phy as the only answer to Spinozism; and, from this perspective,


to answer Jacobi’s claim that the first Critique was written fully in
Spinoza’s spirit. “It is hard to comprehend,” Kant writes,

how the scholars just mentioned could find support for Spi-
nozism in the Critique of Pure Reason. The Critique com-
pletely clips dogmatism’s wings in respect to the cognition of
supersensible objects, and Spinozism is so dogmatic in this
respect that it even competes with the mathematicians in re-
spect to the strictness of its proofs. Spinozism leads directly to
­Schwärmerei. . . . Against this there is not a single means more
certain to eliminate Schwärmerei in its roots [Wurzel], than that
determination of the bounds of pure faculty of understanding.49

Kant concludes the essay by addressing the public, political worry

concerning the Streit. This worry has three levels. First, a plainly
political one: as Biester warns in his letter, a change of rule was
going to take place. The public debate over Spinozism, atheism, and
fatalism was thus developing at a difficult moment. Second, there
is a social-historical worry: Kant thinks that free thought would
be lost if unconstrained speculation or irrational Schwärmerei
would govern intellectual discourse. Third, Kant also expresses
a moral-political worry, namely that the debate over atheism will
not remain confined to academic circles. The Streit may influence
the moral-religious worldview of the public (Publikum), which ac-
cepts received opinions without subjecting them to critical exami-
nation. Kant therefore urges the quarreling parties to show more
responsibility when attacking reason in public:

Men of intellectual ability and broadminded disposition!

I honor your talents and love your feeling for humanity. But have
you thought about what you are doing, and where your attacks


on reason will lead? Without doubt you want to preserve invio-

late freedom to think; for without that even your free flights of
genius would soon come to an end. Let us see what would natu-
rally become of this freedom of thought if a procedure such as
you are adopting should get the upper hand. 50

Friends of the human race and what is holiest to it! Accept what
appears to you most worthy of belief after careful and sincere
examination, whether of facts or rational grounds; only do not
dispute that prerogative of reason which makes it the highest
good on earth, the prerogative of being the final touchstone of
truth. Failing here, you will become unworthy of this freedom,
and you will surely forfeit it too; and besides that you will bring
the same misfortune down on the heads of other, innocent par-
ties who would otherwise have been well disposed and would
have used their freedom lawfully and hence in a way which is
conducive to what is best to the world. 51

Karl Reinhold’s Briefe über die Kantische Philosophie is mostly
known for popularizing Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. This was
achieved by pointing out, for the first time explicitly, that the Cri-
tique constitutes an answer to Spinoza’s challenge as formulated in
the “disputes [Streitigkeiten] between Jacobi and Mendelssohn.”52
Reinhold’s book was published in 1790. The first four letters, how-
ever, had been published in 1786–1787. In a letter to Reinhold
Kant confirms that he has read the letters and found them “com-
pletely in agreement” with his own thinking.53
The pivotal concept in Reinhold’s Briefe is the “need” of the
time, which, he claims, is embodied in the debate between Jacobi


and Mendelssohn. That need is reducible to two questions, corre-

sponding to the Spinozistic challenge that Jacobi had raised. First,
“does reason contain apodictic proofs for God’s existence—proofs
that make all faith dispensable?” Second, can there be “conviction
in God’s existence that requires no grounds of reason?”54 Rein-
hold informs his reader that Kant’s Critique answers both ques-
tions negatively. It demonstrates “from the essence of speculative
reason” the impossibility of rational theology—the vanity of “apo-
dictic proofs” of God’s existence and, at the same time, the neces-
sity of rational “moral faith.”55 Kant thus “shuttered the weapons”
of the debate over atheism, making future dispute (­Streitigkeit)

He displayed as a chimera the atheism that today more than

ever haunts the moral world in the forms of fatalism, materi-
alism and pantheism, and he did so with a vivacity that our
modern theologians cannot claim in their unmasking of the
devil. So if there should still be fatalists, etc. . . . in the present
or future, they will be people who have either not read or not
understood the Critique of Pure Reason. 56

How does the Critique constitute such an effective instrument

against “atheism, fatalism, materialism and pantheism”? Reinhold
asks the question somewhat differently. What does religion gain
from the destruction of speculative theological knowledge, which
in “traditional metaphysics” had sustained all rational religion and
morality?57 As we recall, Mendelssohn had accused Kant by saying
that destroying metaphysical knowledge also subverted the foun-
dations of rational faith and morality. Reinhold most certainly has
an eye on Mendelssohn when he explains that just the contrary
is true: Kant had to destroy theoretical-theological knowledge in


order to save rational religion; for it is only by the “clearing” of ratio-

nal theology “in the manner accomplished by the Critique of Pure
Reason, [that] religion gains nothing less than a single, unshakable
and universally valid ground of cognition, one which completes by
means of reason the unification of religion and morality.”58
Reinhold’s claim turns on the argument that in view of the
Spinozistic-atheistic threat to rational religion, the possibility of
dogmatic theology must be refuted, not only silenced or weakened
by counter-argumentation. Again, it is helpful to recall Mendels-
sohn in order to see what Reinhold has in mind: Mendelssohn
had attacked Spinoza’s substance-monism in the Morgenstunden,
hoping, thereby, to secure the rational path to theology—and
indeed moderate thinkers, followers of Leibniz and Wolff, had for
years engaged in a similar enterprise. According to Reinhold, such
attempts are bound to fail: they leave the Spinozist radical threat
unsettled, leaving an atheistic temptation, one that can only be
­irrationally answered. Rational faith becomes possible, then, not
by ad hoc arguments against Spinoza but by decidedly terminat-
ing Spinoza’s appeal:

If the moral ground of cognition is to be forever guaranteed its

singular preeminence, and reason is to be forever suspended
from its endless striving for new proofs (a striving that would
otherwise be sustained by the mere doubt regarding the un-
decided impossibility of such proofs), then the arguments that
uncover the emptiness of metaphysical proofs for and against
God’s existence must count not only against previous proofs
that have been brought forward but also against all possible
proofs of this kind—or rather, against their very possibility.
Such state of affairs cannot be conceived until it is apodictically
proven that reason does not possess any faculty for recognizing


the existence or non-existence of objects that lie outside the

sphere of the world of sense. 59

Modern readers of Kant are already familiar with such a line of

argument. A-readers, however, had not yet come across them as
clearly in the first Critique. Reinhold’s main contribution then is
in formulating clearly, for the first time, what Kant had already
thought, or done, in A but never clearly pronounced: the moderate
metaphysical options cannot satisfactorily defend practical reason
from the radical threats. Reinhold writes:

The Critique of Pure Reason has carried out [an] investigation of

the faculty of reason, and one of its preeminent results is “that
the impossibility of all apodictic proofs for or against the ex-
istence of God follows from the nature of speculative reason,
and the necessity of moral faith in the existence of God follows
from the nature of practical reason.” Thus, with this result, the
Critique has fulfilled the conditions by which alone, as we have
seen, our philosophy . . . [can] ground the first basic truth of
religion and morality.60

Now there is no doubt that the first Critique provides a serious argu-
ment to the extent that theoretical proofs of the existence of God (and
metaphysical knowledge in general) must be given up. It thereby ful-
fills a necessary condition for developing rational faith drawing on
practical reasoning. The Critique, however, does not provide much of
an argument in defense of rational practical faith—that task, despite
Reinhold’s positive words, still awaits Kant. Nor will Kant provide a
satisfactory defense of such faith in the Critique of Practical Reason.
A more interesting defense is first provided in the Critique of Judg-
ment, but to this issue I will have to return in a different context.


I V.
The preface to the second edition of the first Critique can be di-
vided, somewhat roughly, into two parts. The first (Bvii–xxiv)
reiterates the aim and function of the Critique that had been an-
nounced by the A-Preface: by subjecting the flights of reason to
the criterion of experience, the book is designed to turn philoso-
phy into a rational science, matching the model of the mathemati-
cal Naturwissenschaften. In the B-edition this goal is dubbed a
“Copernican Revolution”—a term never mentioned in 1781. The
introduction of a new term, however, does not add much to the
understanding of the critical philosophy; this revolution was, in
fact, already announced in the A-Preface.
The second part of the B-Preface (B xxiv–xliv) adds a new di-
mension. It defines the function of the first Critique discussed thus
far as the “negative” function of the book; and it relativizes this
negative function to a higher, “positive” one:

So far, therefore, as our Critique limits speculative reason, it is

indeed negative; but since it thereby removes an obstacle which
stands in the way of the employment of practical reason, nay
threatens to destroy it, it has in reality a positive and very im-
portant sense. (Bxxv)

The A-Preface did not mention this function of the Critique, not
because the book did not fulfill that function but because there
was no point in mentioning it as a (or the) goal of the book. In fact,
there was no room to mention this goal: claiming that metaphysics
has to be destroyed in order to defend practical reasoning would
have amounted to expressing publicly a feeling that, before Jacobi,


was never publicly expressed, namely that radical metaphysics

is the only possible one. Indeed, claims that rigorous metaphys-
ics necessitates fatalism, atheism, or pantheism were occasionally
made—most famously against Christian Wolff. But this was not
a current view and, when these charges were raised, they were
raised together with the accusation of Spinozism. In 1781 any talk
of the need to refute metaphysics in order to refute radical thought
would have been a problematic admission that rational metaphys-
ics yields Spinozism. And in 1787, when Kant did come to write
explicitly about the need to destroy metaphysics, that claim could
not be seen as anything other than an answer to Spinoza—a reac-
tion to the Pantheismusstreit.61
“There will always be some kind of metaphysics,” Kant contin-
ues, that threatens to destroy religion and morality. The “inesti-
mable benefit” of the first Critique is therefore

that all objections to morality and religion will be forever si-

lenced, and this in Socratic fashion, namely, by the clearest
proof of the ignorance of the objectors. There has always ex-
isted in the world, and there will always continue to exist, some
kind of metaphysics. . . . It is therefore the first and most im-
portant task of philosophy to deprive metaphysics, once and
for all, of its injurious influence, by attacking its errors at their
very source.

This is the first time that Kant expresses himself so strongly in

the Critique itself, but not the first time that he articulates such
an argument. He had already done so—in the context of the
Pantheismusstreit, in “Was Heißt” and in reply to Mendelssohn’s
Morgenstunden. As we have seen, this was also the central thesis of
Reinhold’s Briefe.


At this stage of the Preface, Kant turns to address the “most rigid”
of dogmatic philosophers. He contends that theoretical proofs of
God’s existence, freedom, and immortality never exercised the
“slightest influence” on the moral-religious convictions of the
public; and therefore that the Critique subverts only the dog-
matic demonstrations of the “schools”—not the practical faith of
the public. “The change affects only the arrogant pretensions of
the Schools, which would fain be counted the sole authors and
possessors of such truths .  .  . reserving the key to themselves”
Arguably, this highly polemical claim addresses Mendelssohn’s
accusation that by destroying metaphysics the Critique subverts
the rational basis of religion and morality. In his private corre-
spondence, Kant had referred to Mendelssohn’s Morgenstunden as
a “perfect work of dogmatism.”62 His answer in the B-Preface to
the “most rigid of dogmatists” seems clear, then: The Critique sub-
verts only the phony, dogmatic convictions of the schools, not the
genuine conviction of the general public.

The Preface next addresses the philosophical “schools,” urging
them to stop their metaphysical “controversies” (Streitigkeiten).
These controversies, Kant warns, would sooner or later cause a
public “scandal”:

It is the duty of the schools, by means of thorough investigation

of the rights of speculative reason, once and for all to prevent


the scandal which, sooner or later, is sure to break out even

among the masses, as the result of the disputes [Streitigkeiten]
in which metaphysicians . . . inevitably become involved to the
consequent of perversion of their teaching. (Bxxxiv)

It is clear what Streitigkeiten Kant has in mind, who the metaphy-

sicians he refers to are, and what “scandal” threatens the public.
The metaphysicians are Jacobi, Mendelssohn, and Wizenmann.
The public scandal Kant worries about is the loss of freedom of
thought—a “misfortune” (Unglück) of which he first became se-
riously worried through Biester’s letter and of which he already
warned (in strikingly similar words and tone) in “Was Heißt.”
This scandal is advanced, first, by Jacobi and Wizenmann’s attack
on rationality—endorsing intellectual Schwärmerei instead of se-
rious philosophical practice; and second, by the political change
that is about to take place, threatening to censure the Enlighten-
ment’s intellectual freedom. Kant also feared, as we have seen, that
through the Pantheismusstreit the general public would embrace a
distorted metaphysical worldview. Kant moves at this point to ad-
dress directly also the government:

If governments think proper to interfere with the affairs of the

learned, it would be more consistent with a wise regard of sci-
ence as well as for mankind, to favor the freedom of such criti-
cism, by which alone the labors of reason can be established
on a firm basis, than to support the ridiculous despotism of
the schools, which raise a loud cry of public danger over the
destruction of cobwebs to which the public has never paid
any attention, and the loss of which it can therefore never feel.


In passing, Kant also makes a more general philosophical claim:
Only criticism, he says, can establish the “labors of reason.” Any
other philosophy, that is, falls short of answering the radical chal-
lenge. Later in the Preface, this argument is repeated. “Only the
critical philosophy,” Kant writes, can “eliminate” the threat posed
by speculative reason at its root:

Criticism alone can sever the root [Wurzel] of materialism,

fatalism, atheism, Schwärmerei and superstition, which can be
injurious universally; as well as of idealism and skepticism,
which are dangerous chiefly to the schools, and hardly allow
being handed over to the public. (Bxxxiv)

This passage refers directly to the Pantheismusstreit. Not only be-

cause atheism, fatalism, materialism, and Schwärmerei are the
unmistakable labels of Spinozism in the writings of the Streit, but
because all terms used in it have been referred to in “Was Heißt,”
in Biester’s last letter, and in Reinhold’s Briefe. No contempo-
rary reader of Kant—somebody like Jacobi, Biester, Reinhold, or
Hertz—would have failed to see the connection.
Of course, Kant’s claim that there is no answer to atheism, fa-
talism, and Schwärmerei other than his own was not self-evident.
Moderate thinkers such as Leibniz, Wolff, and Mendelssohn gen-
erally thought otherwise. But we now see that Kant completely
agreed with Jacobi that traditional metaphysics leads by necessity
to Spinoza: he consistently presents the thesis that if transcenden-
tal idealism is denied, “only Spinozism remains,”63 that “Spinozism
is the true consequence of dogmatic metaphysics.”64 Without men-
tioning Spinoza, the same arguments had been presented in the


A-edition: already in 1781 Kant claims that transcendental real-

ism must consider the unconditioned being as one with the world;
that if phenomena are taken to be things in themselves, freedom
cannot be upheld.
In the Critique of Practical Reason Kant claims that, unlike the
“dogmatic teachers of metaphysics,” he proposes a genuine answer
to Spinozism. Unlike the “shrewd” metaphysicians, he admits
in the open that deterministic mechanisms of nature cannot be
denied but, by opening a gulf between phenomena and noumena,
he allows mechanism and practical reason to coexist. “Of such
great importance,” concludes Kant, “was the separation of time (as
well as space) from the existence of things in themselves that was
accomplished in the Critique of pure Speculative Reason.”65
Constituting the only answer to Spinozism, which in the Cri-
tique of Practical Reason (1788) is characterized as the “great im-
portance” of the Critique of Pure Reason, is precisely the “positive
function” of the Critique of Pure Reason, which is announced in the
B-Preface (1787):

[since the first Critique] removes an obstacle which stands in

the way of the employment of practical reason, nay threatens to
destroy it, it has in reality a positive and very important sense.

“I had to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.” Kant
never wrote this sentence in the A-edition. It conveys a multi-
layered answer to Spinoza’s thinking, as now comes to the fore
through the Pantheismusstreit. First, it is an answer to Jacobi: Ra-
tional philosophy does not lead to atheism; a salto mortale is not


necessary if Spinoza’s radical position is severed from its root by

the transcendental philosophy. Second, it is an answer to Men-
delssohn: Kant is not an “all-destroyer.” The theoretical basis of
religion had to be destroyed in order to save religion from radi-
cal thinking. Lastly, it approves officially a point so far stressed
mainly by Reinhold: in order to secure religion and morality, the
threat imposed by metaphysics cannot merely be argued against.
It must be destroyed in its root. Only the Critique of Pure Reason,
thinks Kant, can prevent the scandal that will emerge as soon as ir-
rational or Spinozist-radical metaphysics becomes—through the
­Pantheismusstreit—the worldview of the public. Jacobi would later
coin a term for that worldview.


1. Prol AA: 4:10.

2. In fact, Kant’s relation to Hume may be not so easy to define; but for the
present purposes, this seems accurate enough. (One question that has to be
asked is whether Kant was disturbed by Hume’s attack on causality or by his
attack on dogmatic metaphysics. To the extent that the answer is, contrary
to common opinion, the latter, this might become relevant to my purposes
here. For Hume’s attack on the Principle of Sufficient Reason has to do with
his implicit attack on Spinoza.)
3. Of course, there may be several motivations behind the change in Kant’s
approach. I focus here on one only, which seems extremely relevant in this
context—the response to the Pantheismusstreit. Among the other motiva-
tions behind Kant’s different tone in the B-Preface there can be mentioned,
for example, his realization that the principle of morality requires critical
justification. Hence, whereas the A-Preface concluded promising an up-
coming metaphysics of nature (Axxi), the B-Preface concludes promising
an upcoming metaphysics of nature and morals (Bxliii).
4. F. H. Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Men-
delssohn in Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. Werke, ed. K. Hammacher, vol. 1,
Schriften zum Spinozastreit (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1998)—unless
noted otherwise, translations are mine; M. Mendelssohn, Morgenstunden
in Moses Mendelssohn: Gesammelte Schriften III.2, ed. L. Strauss (Stuttgart:


Holzboog, 1974)—unless otherwise noted, translations are mine; Imman-

uel Kant, “Was Heißt,” WDO AA: 08; K. Reinhold, Letters on the Kantian
Philosophy, trans. J. Hebbeler, ed. K. Ameriks (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 2005).
5. F. Beiser, The Fate of Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1987), pp. 44–46.
6. For detailed accounts of the Streit, see Beiser’s The Fate of Reason (esp.
pp. 44–126). My discussion is deeply indebted to Beiser’s, but departs from
his on some crucial points along the way. See also L. Strauss’s book-length
introduction to Mendelssohn’s Morgenstunden; J. Zammito, The Genesis of
Kant’s Critique of Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992),
pp. 228–262; and most recently, Jonathan Israel, Democratic Enlightenment:
Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750–1790 (Oxford: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2011), pp. 684–740.
7. Cf. E. Cassirer’s The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans. F. Koelln and
J. Pettegrove (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951). “Spinoza seems
hardly to have had any direct influence on eighteenth century thought,”
Cassirer writes (p. 187).
8. See below for a brief discussion of relevant historical evidence, but for a
thorough and recent discussion, see J. Israel’s Radical Enlightenment: Phi-
losophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2001).
9. Zammito provides a helpful discussion of the Pantheismusstreit’s impact
on the third Critique in his The Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment,
pp. 228–262. However, he, too, operates on the assumption that Kant first
became interested in Spinoza because of the Streit. I hope in the future to
account for the third Critique’s relation to the Streit (see my introduction
above for more detail).
10. See Jacobi’s report in the introduction to his Über die Lehre des Spinoza,
pp. 1f. My discussion is indebted to Beiser’s, but departs from his analysis—
especially when Kant is concerned—in crucial ways.
11. See Jacobi’s recount of the conversation in Über die Lehre des Spinoza,
pp. 22–36. I use Beiser’s translation (The Fate of Reason, pp. 65–68), albeit
with minor changes and additions.
12. For full discussion of Lessing’s theology, see T. Yasukata, Lessing’s Philoso-
phy of Religion and the German Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2003). Cassirer discusses Lessing’s debt and divergence from Spi-
noza in The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, pp. 190–196.
13. Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 172.
14. For a detailed discussion of Jacobi’s salto mortale, see B. Sandkaulen,
Grund und Ursache: Die Vernunftkritik Jacobis (Munich: Fink, 2000), esp.
pp. 11–64 (“Überlegungen zur Topographie des Sprungs”).
15. Jacobi Über die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 109.


16. Mendelssohn, Morgenstunden, esp. pp. 104–114.

17. Ibid., p. 3; it is not always noted that in the same introduction, Mendels-
sohn also speaks very fondly of Kant, expressing his belief that the business
of defending rational morality will be better served in Kant’s hand than in
his own. “Hopefully [Kant] will rebuild with the same spirit with which he
destroyed” (p. 5).
18. Ibid., esp. pp. 76–81.
19. Mendelssohn, An die Freunde Lessings, p. 198.
2 0. For example, in 1783 Jacobi fabricated an anonymous critical reply to his
own article, Etwas, das Lessing gesagt hat, basing it on personal remarks he
had received from Mendelssohn. He then published a reply to the “reply”—
dragging Mendelssohn into a public debate by means of promoting his
work. On this affair, see Beiser, The Fate of Reason, p. 63.
21. Bertrand Russell, A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz (London:
Bradford and Dickens, 1937), p. vii.
22. Wolff himself was accused of Spinozism several times in his lifetime. These
accusations were often unfair and politically motivated, but this does not
mean that they were altogether off mark. Wolff certainly differed from
Spinoza on many a doctrine, but his sober, thorough discussion of Spi-
noza was, intentionally or not, a major engaging source with Spinozism. In
1744, J. Schmidt’s German translation of Wolff’s refutation of Spinoza saw
light and, in the same binding, the first German translation of the Ethics
(see U.  Goldenbaum, “Die erste deutsche Übersetzung der Spinozachen
‘Ethik,’ ” in H. Delf, J. Schoeps, and M. Wanther, eds., Spinoza in der eu-
ropäischcen Geistesgeschichte [Berlin: Hentrich, 1994].)
23. Israel, Radical Enlightenment, p. 712
2 4. For Diderot’s relation to Spinoza, see P. Vernière, Spinoza et la pensée fran-
çaise avant la Revolution (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954),
pp. 555–611.
25. J. Israel, “Enlightenment! Which Enlightenment?,” Journal of the History of
Ideas 67:3 (2006), p. 528.
2 6. See, for present purposes, especially J. Israel’s “Germany: The Radical
Aufklärung,” chap. 34 of Radical Enlightenment, pp. 628–663.
27. My agreements and not less significantly disagreements with Israel are
elaborated in my review of his most recent volume, Democratic Enlight-
enment, NDPR, 6.2.2012. http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/28697-democratic-
2 8. See Israel’s discussion in Democratic Enlightenment, pp. 684–740.
29. This dimension of the Streit, previously neglected, is now recognized by
more recent commentators, most importantly Zammito: “The Most Hidden
Conditions of Men of the First Rank: The Pantheist Current in Eighteenth-­
Century Germany ‘Uncovered’ by the Spinoza Controversy,” Eighteenth-
Century Thought 1 (2003), pp. 335ff.; Israel, Democratic Enlightenment, p. 688.


30. Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza, pp. 121–123.

31. Jacobi Über die Lehre des Spinoza, p. 140.
32. Jacobi, Briefe, p. 121.
33. Hamann to Jacobi, October/November 1785, in Hamanns Briefwechsel, ed.
A. Henkel (Wiesbaden/Frankfurt: Insel, 1955–1979).
3 4. Zammito, The Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, p. 233.
35. April 1786 in E. Cassirer, ed., Immanuel Kants Werke IX (Briefe von und an
Kant) (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1922), p. 295—this and the following trans-
lations from the correspondence are mine.
36. See Kant, Briefe, pp. 276f.
37. Ibid., p. 287.
38. Ibid., pp. 289f.
39. T. Wizenmann, Die Resultate der Jacobischen und Mendelssohnischen Philoso-
phie von einem Freywilligen (Leipzig: Goeschen, 1786).
4 0. Ibid.
41. Ibid., pp. 196f.
42. Zammito, The Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, p. 237.
43. Kant, Briefe, pp. 304–309.
4 4. Ibid.
45. Ibid.
4 6. Ibid.
47. Ibid.
4 8. Ibid., p. 312.
49. Ibid.
50. WDO AA 08:146. (English translation taken from A. Wood and G. di
Giovanni, eds., Kant: Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason and
Other Writings [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998], pp. 13f.).
51. Ibid. To be sure, when Kant refers to “innocent parties” he refers to the
public realm, as opposed to the metaphysicians; for he is emphasizing their
lawful usage of freedom, being conductive to the best of the world.
52. Reinhold, Briefe, p. 34.
53. Kant, Briefe, pp. 343f.
5 4. Reinhold, Letters, p. 20—trans. mod.
55. Ibid.
56. Ibid., p. 21.
57. Ibid.
58. Ibid.
59. Ibid., p. 38.
6 0. Ibid.
61. Commentators writing on Kant’s involvement in the Streit often overlook
the fact that the B-Preface, more than texts like “Was Heißt,” constitutes
the Kantian answer to the debate. As far as I can see, George di Giovanni
is the only to note in writing that despite the fact that “the most important


changes and additions” made in the first Critique were intended to answer
charges of “psychological subjectivism,” one can hear in the new Preface
also “echoes of the Jacobi-Mendelssohn dispute” (G. di Giovanni, “The
First Twenty Years of Critique: The Spinoza Connection,” in The Cambridge
Companion to Kant, ed. P. Guyer [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1992], p. 426).
62. Kant, Briefe, p. 174.
63. KpV AA 5:102.
6 4. Refl. AA 18:436.
65. Ibid.



All quotations from Kant’s works are from the Akademie Ausgabe. The first Cri-
tique is cited by the standard A/B edition pagination, and other works by standard
siglum AA vol:page. Gesammelte Schriften Hrsg.: Bd. 1–22 Preussische Akademie
der Wissenschaften, Bd. 23 Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, ab
Bd. 24 Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Berlin 1900ff.
Unless otherwise noted, English translations from the Critique are taken
from N. Kemp-Smith’s translation, Critique of Pure Reason (New York: Pal-
grave Macmillan, 2003). English translations of other works by Kant are cited
in the text.

All quotations from Spinoza’s works are from Spinoza Opera. ed. C. Gebhardt,
4 Vols Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1925. The Ethics is abbreviated as E. References
proceed with Roman numerals for part, letter for definition/axiom/proposition,
Arabic numeral for number. E Ip10s refers to the Ethics, Part 1, Proposition 10,
Scholium. The Theological-Political Treatise is abbreviated as TTP.
English translations of the Ethics are from trans. E. Curley The Collected
Works of Spinoza, Vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985). English
translations of the TTP are from ed. J. Israel, trans. M. Silverthorne and J. Israel,
Spinoza: Theological-Political Treatise (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2007). English translations from Spinoza’s correspondence are brought from
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Note: Letter ‘n’ followed by the locators refer to notes.

Adams, Robert, 29–30, 33, 62n.25, 62n.28, Archimedes

63n.42 Leibniz-Archimedes, 178–9
Adorno, Theodor, xxvi–xxvii Aristotle, xx, xxixn.23, xxxn.34, 2, 206
Al Azm, Sadiq Jalal, 13n.21, 70–6, 80, 87, Atheism, 10, 129, 192, 200, 218–21, 223,
103n.6, 110–1, 114, 146n.30 227, 230–1
d’Alembert, Jean le Rond Attribute, 19, 25, 30
Encyclopédie, 2–3, 206, 208–10 of God, 35–8, 42–3, 79, 92, 151
Allison, Henry, 12n.5, 40–1, 53, 67n.70, extension, 23–4, 35–7, 62n.34,
88–9, 114 138–41, 212
All of Reality, 32, 40–2, 58, 65n.46, 78, 101 space, 35–6, 62–3n.34, 63n.39,
Ameriks, Karl, xxxiii, 64n.45 83–5, 105n.25, 147n.32,
Antinomies, 6–9, 12n.7, 13n.21, 37, 56–9, 212–3
66n.56, 68–103, 103n.6, 104n.9, time, 62–3n.34, 63n.39, 83–5,
106n.39, 107n.42, 107n.56, 108–44, 105n.25, 147n.32, 212–3
147n.31, 150, 152–3, 172, 191–3, 210 Aufklärung. see Enlightenment
First Antinomy, 7, 66n.65, 67n.68, Augustine, Saint, 206
68–77, 80, 84, 89–90, 93, 102, Ayer, A, 170
103n.6, 106n.39, 107n.42, 108,
110, 130–2, 139 Barnes, J, 186n.12
Second Antinomy, 13n.20 Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb, 46, 51
Third Antinomy, 8, 66n.65, 67n.68, Bayle, Pierre
70, 84, 103, 103n.5, 105n.23, Dictionnaire, 2–3, 12n.7, 80, 147n.31,
106n.36, 108–11, 114, 118–20, 205–6, 208–10
128, 130–3, 137, 142, 144n.1–2 Bedingung. see Condition
Fourth Antinomy, 8, 37, 69, 85, 110, Beiser, Frederick., 12n.1, 12n.5, 18,
125–7, 146n.29–31, 147n.32 105n.26, 192, 201, 233n.6, 233n.10,
as ‘indirect proof ’ of transcendental 234n.20
idealism, 69 Bennett, Jonathan, 113–5, 145n.11


Berkeley, George, 11n.1, 219 Lettre sur les aveugles, 208

Bestimmung. see Attribute Dogmatic
Biblical criticism, 200, 204 atheism, 219
Biester, Johann Erich, 215, 217–21, 229–30 metaphyscis, 1, 5, 10, 43, 45–6, 65n.45,
Bradley-Bassler, O., 104n.15 68, 84, 87, 89, 153, 194, 230–1,
Bruno, Giordano, 77, 105n.17 232n.2
Burke, Edmund, xxv rationalism, 80, 191, 202
Byrd, Jeremy, 146n.26
Eberhard, Johann, 166–7
Caesar, Julius, 19, 116, 162 Ehrfurcht. see Sublime
Cantor, Georg, 107n.41 Eigenschaft. see Attribute
Cassirer, Ernst, 1, 103n.6, 233n.7, 233n.12 Einschränkung. see limitation
Causality Enlightenment, ix–xii, xvii–xviii, xxiii–xxvi,
Blind, xi, xix xxixn.21, 3, 10, 12n.8, 18, 60n.10,
natural/naturalistic, xix, 109–14, 182, 188n.35, 192, 194, 200, 202, 205,
119–20, 134, 142–4 208–10, 215, 219–20, 229
of freedom, 109–14, 117, 119, 121, 130 Ens realissimum, 17, 39, 41, 43, 48, 58,
Causa sui. see Spinoza, Causa sui 60n.7, 78
Chignell, Andrew, xxxiii, 37, 59n.4, 60n.6, as omnitodu realitatis, 40–1, 65n.46
62n.28 Epicurus, xi, xxviiin.5, 2, 104n.9, 105n.18,
Clarke, Samuel, 70, 72, 103n.6, 110, 105n.28–9
146–7n.30 Existence
Compatibilism. see Freedom as (first/second order) predicate, 9,
Conceivability, 9, 151, 154–60, 166, 168, 16, 19–20, 25, 30, 47, 61n.16–7,
172, 175, 188n.28 144, 148n.47, 148–9n.48, 152–3,
Condition, 41, 47–9, 51–7, 73, 77, 122, 156–7, 160–71, 175, 186n.13,
126–8 186n.16
Conditioned, 24, 51–7, 66n.65, 67n.71, 73, Explicability, 178–82
75–8, 84, 91–2, 102, 126–8, 172–3 see also Conceivability
Consequence, 24–5, 30–2, 38, 42–3,
63n.41, 118, 129 Fatalism, 10, 36, 82, 121, 129–31, 192, 197,
Copernican revolution, 226 219–21, 223, 227, 230
Crusius, Christian August, 124 see also Necessitarianism
Feder and Tittel, 219
Della Rocca, Michael, xxviin.2, xxxiv, Ferrari, Jean, 12n.7, 147n.31
148n.44–5, 158–60, 168–71, 174, Folge. see Consequence
177–82, 185n.1, 185n.5, 186n.6–7, Franks, Paul, 41, 103n.5, 106n.36, 131–2,
188n.28–9 144n.1
Descartes, René, 2, 11n.1, 13n.14, 74–5, 77, Frank, Manfred, 60n.12
80, 92–3, 104n.10, 104n.15, 134, 167, Freedom
173, 181, 206–7 and Infinity, 132, 137 (see also
cogito, 55, 92, 133, 148n.41 Sublime)
Meditations, 55, 91 compatibilism, x, 1, 8, 17, 49, 67n.68,
Determinism. see Necessitarianism 70, 76–7, 84–5, 109–25, 130, 132,
Diderot, Denis, 234n.24 134, 147n.31, 191, 197–8, 201,
Encyclopédie, 2–3, 206, 208–10 222, 231


experience of, 8, 99, 102–3, 108–9 Heine, Heinrich, xxvii

133–5, 148n.41–2 (see also Heman, Friedrich, 11, 13n.13
Sublime) Herz, Marcus, 214
of Thought, 222, 228–9, 235n.51 Hobbes, Thomas, xxv, 2, 206
Spinoza’s Doctrine of, 103, 134–7, Horkheimer, Max, xxvi–xxvii
139–40, 150 Hume, David, xxiii, 2, 11n.1, 18, 191, 206,
Frege, Gottlieb, 169 210, 232n.2

Garber, Daniel, 11n.1, 13n.19, 104n.9 Infinite, 18, 35, 36, 38, 45, 60n.7,
Geometric Method. see Spinoza 65n.47, 78
God, xii, xxi, xxiii, xxvii, 4, 11, 27–58, absolute, 75, 92–4, 102, 116, 141
61n.16, 63n.35, 64n.43–6, 65n.53, actual/complete infinity, 7–8, 69, 72,
70, 73–9, 81, 90, 92, 101–2, 104n.10, 74–5, 77, 79–80, 90–1, 93–103,
110–1, 115–29, 131, 181–4, 186n.21, 108–9, 116, 131–7, 139–42,
197–8 148n.40, 150–1, 207, 211–2
adequate idea of, 140 and sublime, 99–100, 107n.49, 107n.40
as deceiver, 55 indefinite, 74–6, 81–5, 104n.10,
as ground, 38–43, 62n.25, 63n.42, 139 104n.15, 106n.35, 111,
as regulative ideal, 48–50, 62n.31, 116–8, 130–1, 133, 137, 145n.15,
210 147n.35, 160–1
as spatiotemporal, 5, 35–7, 46, 54, infinity, 3, 7, 71, 77, 90, 92, 107n.40,
62n.34, 63n.39, 64n.45, 68, 83–5, 110, 117, 122, 130, 136–7, 139,
121–6, 128–9, 147n.32 141, 151
cosmological proof of, 31, 47, 110, mathematical infinity, 94–8
125–8, 169, 174–5 space and time as, 67n.68, 82–3, 90, 93,
existence of, 7, 9, 14n.22, 16–19, 28, 97, 110, 121, 125, 129, 211
31, 36–7, 46–50, 63n.42, 135–8, successive synthesis, 71, 80, 87–8, 90,
144, 148n.47–8, 152, 156, 160–8, 106n.39, 130
181, 202–3, 210, 216–17, 220, Is-ought Distinction, xxxiv, 9–10, 153,
223–5, 228 183–4
Job and, 183–4 Israel, Jonathan, xxiii–xxiv, xxixn.21, 12n.8,
ontological argument, xix, xxxiv, 9, 207–9, 234n.27
14n.22, 16, 19, 47, 68–9, 106n.39,
140–4, 148–9n.48, 151–3, 156, Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich
160–77, 182, 185, 187n.26 and Kant, 2–6, 10, 15–8, 44, 60n.10,
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 195, 204, 60n.12, 66n.56, 132, 202–5,
209 211–14, 192–232
Grier, Michelle, 66n.64, 67n.70, 67n.73, and Lessing, 194–201, 204–5, 209, 213
104n.8, 146n.30 and Mendelssohn, 132, 192–4, 200,
202–4, 210, 214–7, 222–3,
Habermas, Jürgen, xv 229–30, 234n.20, 236n.61
Hamann, Johann Georg, 2–4, 12n.5, 211, on Spinoza/Spinozism, ix, xvii, xxv,
214 xxviin.1, xxxin.36, 2–4, 15–8, 44,
Hegel, Georg W. F., 62–3n.34 60n.12, 131–2, 192–232
Heimsoeth, Heinz, 103n.6, 105n.17, Spinoza-Büchlein, 214, 218
146n.27, 146n.30, 147n.31 Job, 184


Kant, Immanuel Transcendental idealism, xxxn.28, 5–6,

Beweisgrund, 7, 16–9, 26–7, 29–31, 35, 37, 43, 46, 63n.39, 64n.43,
35, 37–9, 42–5, 48–9, 59n.5, 68–9, 83, 105n.25, 107n.56,
60n.6–7, 62n.31, 64n.45, 65n.46, 119–20, 122, 129, 132, 147n.32,
161–2, 201 191–2, 202, 230
Critique of Judgment, xxi, 6, 8, 10–1, Transcendental illusion, 7, 17, 50, 58,
12n.5, 96, 188n.35, 193, 203, 225, 67n.73, 172–3, 178
233n.9 Kemp-Smith, Norman, 13n.12, 88, 107n.43,
Critique of Practical Reason, xxi, xxxn.28, 144n.2, 186n.20
5, 35–6, 44, 46, 68, 82–5, 99, 121, Korsgaard, Christine, xxixn.23
125, 128–9,147n.32, 225, 231
Critique of Pure Reason, xxiii–xxiv Lacan, Jacques, xxxin.38
xxixn.20, 1–5, 8, 10, 12n.1, 15–7, Lampe, Martin xxvii
19, 24, 28, 32, 38–41, 44, 46, Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, xiii, 1–2, 6–8,
48–50, 55–6, 58, 61n.18, 63n.39, 11n.1, 13n.14, 13n.19, 13n.21, 17, 36,
66n.59, 66n.63, 67n.70, 68, 75, 38, 62n.25, 63n.42, 69, 77–8, 80–7,
84–5, 90, 96, 107n.56, 123, 125, 103n.6, 104n.10, 105n.25, 145n.11,
129, 132, 148n.48, 161, 166–8, 173, 178–9, 187n.26, 193, 197–8,
182–3, 190–4, 209–11, 213–5, 201, 209–10
218, 221–8, 231–2, 236n.61 and PSR, 28–30, 70–1, 73–6, 81,
A-edition, xxixn. 20, 191–2, 217, 109–11, 114–8, 121–5, 187n.26
225–6, 231, 232n.3 compatibilism, x, 111, 123–4
B-edition, xxixn. 20, 10, 60n.10, infinite/indefinite distinction, 74–5,
63n.39, 105n.25, 129, 190–4, 104n.10, 104n.15, 116–7, 118,
202, 226, 228, 230–1, 232n.3, 121–3, 131
235n.61 Leibnizo-Wolffian school, xviii, xxiii, 46,
Ideal of Pure Reason, 7, 15–7, 32, 75, 77–8, 82, 84–5, 128–9, 204–5,
38, 40–1, 44, 47–50, 57–8, 224, 230
60n.9, 62n.31, 65n.46, 78, Leibniz’s doctrine of infinite ­analysis,
100, 107n.52, 192–3, 210 115–7, 130, 137, 145n.12,
Paralogisms, 102, 152, 172, 193 145n.15
Second Analogy of Experience, xix, Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence, 70–2,
105n.28, 119–20 103n.6, 110
Supreme Principle of Pure Reason, Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, 1, 3, 12n.3,
61n.19, 67n.69–70, 161, 172 194–201, 204–5, 209, 213, 217,
(see also PSR and P2) 233n.12, 234n.20
genius, 11, 222 and Jacobi. see Jacobi and Lessing
Lectures on Metaphysics, 4–5, 15, 36, 39, Lewis, David, 156
41, 68, 84–5, 186n.21 Limitation, 7, 35, 39–40, 58, 78, 88, 90, 117,
New Elucidation, 19, 29, 59n.5, 60n.13, 131, 211–2
65n.46, 123–5, 143, 167 see also mode
Opus postumum, 64n.43 Lin, Martin, 148n.48, 187n.26
Prolegomena, 191 Locke, John, xii–iii, xxv, 2, 11n.1, 206–7
The One Possible Basis for a Longuenesse, Beatrice, 11n.1, 59n.4,
Demonstration of the Existence of 67n.70, 124, 146n.25, 167
God. see Beweisgrund Lord, Beth, 12n.1, 41, 65n.53


Lovejoy, A, 117 Plato, 2, 61n.23, 62n.25, 70, 104n.9,

Lucretius, xi, xxviiin.5, 45 105n.18, 206
Luther, Martin, 206 Possibility
Argument, 16, 59n.5
Marshall, Eugene, 148n.45 Existence and, 169, 172, 175
Mathematical method. see Geometric Formal, 20–3, 33
Method Ground of all, 17, 27–34, 37–9, 41,
Mendelssohn, Moses 48–50, 56–8, 61n.24, 62n.31,
and Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich. see 62n.33, 65n.46, 66n.63
Jacobi and Mendelssohn Internal, 20–2, 29, 33, 35
and Kant, 2, 36, 40, 46, 81–2, 85, 121, Material, 20–1, 23–5, 28, 30, 33, 35,
130, 132, 202–3, 214–7, 220, 38–9, 47–8, 56, 58, 60n.7
222–3, 227–32, 234n.17, 236n.61 see also Conceivability
debate with Jacobi. see Pantheismusstreit Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), xviii,
Morgenstunden, 192, 194, 203, 215, xix, xxxiv, 7–9, 16–8, 21, 24–6, 28–9,
224, 227–8, 233n.6 34, 51–9, 59n.4, 61n.19, 61n.21,
Mill, John Stuart, xv 67n.67, 67n.69–70, 70, 73, 76, 81,
Monism, 125, 173 109–11, 114, 117, 120–1, 123–4,
Substance, xxviiin.5, 1, 7, 16, 38, 65n.46, 131–2, 148n.47, 148–9n.48, 151–3,
77, 81, 84 101–3, 131–2, 150, 157, 160–1, 166, 183–5, 187n.26,
172, 202, 207, 210, 224 201–2, 209–10, 232n.2
and transcendental illusion, 172–3, 177–8
Necessitarianism, x, xviii, 1, 8, 103, 108, Della Rocca on, 158–61, 168–82,
124–5, 145n.11, 153, 158, 168–72, 186n.6, 188n.28
174, 175 177, 183, 187n.26, 187n.28, Lin on, 187n.126
201 Longuenesse on, 124
Neiman, Susan, xvii, xxixn.19, xxxiii, New Elucidation, 123
188n.36 Schopenhauer on, 184
Newton/Newtonian, 2, 70, 72–5, 80–1, 83, Proops, Ian, 67n.67, 67n.70
85, 110–1, 146n.30 Publikum (public), 219, 221, 228–30, 232
Nietzsche, Friedrich, ix-x, xii, xv, xxvii,
xxviin.2, xxxn.34, 53 Rationalism
Nozick, Robert, xvi–xvii Critical, 181–2
Metaphysical, 80, 129, 152–3, 157,
Ontological argument. see God 170–2, 177, 180, 191, 202,
P1, 51–8, 172, 177, 180, 189n.37, 202 Rawls, John, xv, xxixn.14
P2, 51, 53–8, 67n.70, 161, 172, 180, 202, Reinhold, 60n.10, 192, 222–5, 227, 230,
210 232
see also PSR Röd, Wolfgang., 49, 60n.15
Pantheismusstreit, xxx-xxxin.36, 5–6, 10 Rousseau, Jean Jacques, xxv, 189n.37
12n.1, 18, 44–5, 85, 105n.26, 123, Russell, Bertrand, 71, 88, 145n.12, 145n.13,
129, 131, 192–32, 232n.3, 233n.6, 169–71, 205
233n.9, 234n.29, 235n.61
Pinder, Tilmann, 59n.5, 65n.46, 66n.55 de Sade, xii, xxvi, xxxin.40
Pistorius, Hermann, 15, 17 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 119, 184, 186n.16


Schöpfungstheorie, 84 Strawson, Peter Frederick, 119

Schwärmerei, 10, 192, 215, 217–21, 229–30 Sublime, 8, 11, 45–6, 96–7, 99, 101–3,
Spinoza, Baruch, 11–12n.1 107n.49, 108–9, 133–5, 148n.41–2
adequate Ideas, xxviiin.4, 8, 91–3, Supersensible, 97–100, 220–1
96, 108–9, 134–40, 148n.43,
148n.45, 150–1 Toland, John, 45, 209
Causa Sui, vii, 8–9, 92, 142–4, 150–7, Totum analyticum, 7–8, 69, 88–94, 103,
160–1, 166–7, 185n.4, 186n.16 106n.39, 108–9, 131–3, 139, 142,
Ethics, ix, xxiii, 1, 3–4, 10, 13n.19, 18, 150, 172
79, 89, 92, 127, 135–8, 140–3, as the world’s infinity, 7–8, 67n.68,
151, 166, 185, 187n.27, 197, 200, 69–76, 79–82, 84–5, 87–91,
206, 207, 234n.22 93–4, 97–8, 100 104n.10,
geometrical method, xxiii, 1, 4, 10, 105n.25, 108, 110–1, 117, 131
13n.12, 106n.38, 96–8 167–8, Totum syntheticum, 88–91, 93
172, 185, 186n.20, 203, 226 Transcendental realism, 5–6, 36–7,
infinite mode, 136, 151, 206 62n.34, 66n.56, 68–9, 84, 120, 123,
mode, 38, 40, 42–3, 76–7, 79, 89, 92, 126–7, 129–30, 132, 191–2, 202,
136, 138, 151, 187n.27 (see also 231
Consequence) Tuschling, Burkhard, 64n.43
proof of God’s existence, 14n.22, 18,
38–9, 61n.16, 128, 144, 148n.47, Unconditioned, 24, 37, 40–2, 51–8, 65n.46,
148–9n.48, 152, 181, 184, 210 76–9, 81, 84, 89, 91–3, 96, 99, 102,
prophecy, xxiv, 11, 188n.35 126–9, 133–6, 144n.2, 147n.32,
substance, xxiii, xxviii, 1, 3–5, 7–8, 166–7, 172, 180, 231
16, 18, 36, 38, 40–3, 58, 64n.45,
65n.46, 77–81, 84, 86–7, 89–96, Watkins, Eric, xxxiv, 28–9, 50, 62n.28,
101, 103, 106n.38, 122, 131–2, 66n.60, 146n.20
136, 139–44, 147n.32, 150, 152, Wittgenstein, Ludwig, xiv–xv
160, 166, 172–3, 186–7n.21, Wizenmann, Thomas, 192, 215–7, 220,
187n.27, 202, 206–7, 210, 212–3, 229
224 Wolff, Christian, xxiii, 1–2, 230
Theological Political Treatise, (TTP), xxiv, Leibnizo-Wolffian School, xviii, 46,
11, 13n.9, 200, 204 82–4, 123, 128
Treaties on the Emendation of the Intellect, refutation of Spinozism, 40, 47n.65, 75,
92–3 77–85, 105n.19, 106n.39, 130,
Spinozism, 68–9 132, 204–5, 210, 224, 227, 230,
accusation of, 3, 13n.14, 15–6, 40, 46, 234n.22
65n.47, 79–81, 85, 132, 190–232, Wood, Allen, 62n.28, 66n.59
Kant as, 1–11, 12n.1, 15–59, 68–9, Xenophanes, 41
regulative, 7, 15–8, 44–6, 49, 58, Zammito, John, 12n.5, 14n.23, 214, 217,
64n.43, 107n.52, 210 234n.29
Stoics, 125, 147n.31 Zedler, Johann Heinrich, 2–3, 206, 208–10
Strauss, Leo, xiv, xxv, xxx–xxxin.36, 44–5, Zeno’s Paradoxes, 12n.7, 147n.31
233n.6 Zizek, Slavoj, xxxin.38