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Fr. 470

December 28, 2013

If the first three paralogisms treat the logical relations between consciousness and the soul, the Fourth Paralogism deals instead with consciousness and the outside world. In particular, the Fourth Paralogism correctly identifies an intuition widely held by conscious subjects: outside objects exist. Yet its being common does not prove it, and so philosophy seeks a way to secure this claim. As with the other paralogisms, pure reason leads the transcendental psychologist to an untenable position; Kant identifies this rational impasse and sketches a way of overcoming it.

Preliminaries in place, we can now turn to the specificities of the Fourth Paralogism. Our first task will be to show the reasons for which Kant deems this position untenable. Notably, this will consist in a diagnosis of where reason goes wrong. Our attention will then turn to the twofold task of presenting Kant’s solution to the problem and assessing relevant motivations for this solution. We will conclude with a short analysis of where Kant’s solution leaves the conscious subject in regards to the outside world, space and time.


Kant presents the Fourth Paralogism (FP) thusly:

1.) It is dubious to infer existence of a cause from an immediately perceived effect.
2.) Existence of outside objects can only be established in this way.
3.) Therefore, existence of outside objects is dubious.

Kant bundles the above premises and conclusion under the term “idealism”, which he will go on to qualify. The text then turns to the examination of 1.) and 2.).  Of 2.), the author confirms that there is only immediate perception of that which is in ourselves, for objects of both inner and outer sense alike. Yet outside objects are not simply in ourselves. Indeed, this surplus reality is the crux of the problem, for outside objects cannot be accounted for in the same way because “the external is not in me […] hence not in any perception” (A368). As to 1.), Kant maintains that inferring causes from effects is, indeed, subject to difficulties in cases of multiple causes. Specifically, if outside objects can conceivably result from internal rather than external stimuli, being mere delusion, such inference seems compromised in advance. Prima facie, 3.) is properly motivated.

That said, it is still necessary to isolate the type of idealism motivating FP. A first distinction specifies any system holding that outside objects cannot be cognized through immediate perception and thus requires a spurious inference from cause to effect, leaving us uncertain of their existence. This is not to deny their existence. This first distinction receives, however, further inflection. Whereas transcendental idealism holds that space and time, the conditions of experience, are forms inherent to our sensibility, transcendental realism holds that these exist in the world independently of sensibility.

To this twofold distinction is joined that between: empirical idealism for which representation of outside objects is insufficient to guarantee correspondence between their representation and their existence in themselves; and empirical realism for which representation of outside objects coincides with their existence insofar as they are merely representations in self-consciousness. Kant sees a natural link between transcendental realism and empirical idealism, given that they posit an existence of things in themselves to which we could conceivably have access, a presupposition in FP. On the contrary, transcendental idealism and empirical realism are natural allies, for both suppose: a.) that outside objects and spatiotemporal conditions of experience are mere representations; b.) that matter is only external in that it is to be found within space, which is itself internal to our representations.

Kant now makes use of these distinctions to pinpoint the flaw in FP and 2.). Namely, the existence of outside objects need not be established through inference, for there is no surplus property or difference in kind between representations of inside or outside objects, these being two species belonging to one genus, i.e. representation. Accordingly, “both exist on the immediate testimony of my self-consciousness” (A371). If both are on the order of mere representation, there is no need to draw exceptional inferences to establish the existence of outside objects. In sum, FP stands or falls with the truth of 2.).

Certainly, Kant finds that we can indulge the doubt introduced by FP through distinguishing two ways of talking about outside objects: as empirical or transcendental object. While the former proves to be the spatiotemporal representation of matter or outside objects, the latter is at once the cause of such experiences and outside of all possible experience. Although positing the latter might seem to leave the door open to a potentially stronger proof of the existence of outside objects, Kant envisages nothing of the sort. On the contrary, he seems to consider this simply a manner of indulging the natural bent of reason at work in FP while still securing existence through identifying outside objects’ existence with their representations. (More broadly, the question of the transcendental object proves a thorny issue in interpreting Kant. Does the empirical object’s status as “mere representation” include the possibility of a transcendental object or exclude it? Does it assume this causing? See: Chapter 3 in Allison (2004); Chapter 15 in Guyer (1987); Allais (2010).)

Now that we have presented the author’s reasons for rejecting the interpretation of outside objects in FP, we turn to the positive case that Kant makes for preferring transcendental idealism to the transcendental realism inherent in FP.


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