Long story short, probably the most remarkable contribution of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is the notion that the subject plays an important role on the definition of the object.

However, if the subject defines the object, and if the discipline that deals about all such subjectivity (Metaphysics) is considered a pseudo-science, then, science would be at risk. Having Kant noticed many flaws in metaphysics, he aimed to raise metaphysics to the level of science. If science and metaphysics were at the same level of formality, scientific knowledge would be safe.

So, in order to address the lack of formality of metaphysics, Kant proposed a solution: the Transcendental Doctrine of Elements, the starting point to any possible formalization of metaphysics. A large part of the Doctrine's solution is to identify all pure (synthetic a priori) metaphysical knowledge. I assume that he expected his followers to use such truths to build a metaphysical formalism and produce subsequent theorems.

So, he proceeded as follows.

In the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant found that time and space were pure metaphysical knowledge. In the Transcendental Analytic, Kant found more pure knowledge: the twelve categories.

However, in the Transcendental Dialectic, Kant wasn't able to identify any form of pure knowledge. What this means is that knowledge that raises on the Transcendental Dialectic context leads to antinomies and contradictions. This, because speculative metaphysical reasoning, attempting to go beyond the limits of possible experience can lead to contradiction.

I personally never agreed with such position. Moreover, this is not a trivial assertion and for me, it's extremely destructive.

The fact that Transcendental Dialectic knowledge lead to contradiction logically implies that any possible knowledge in the Transcendental Dialectic is contradictory (principle of explosion emerging not at one, but in multiple points of the logical structure). If there is some possible logical consistency in the Transcendental Analytic, then, it is false as well.

But not only that. Science is essentially the description of empirical facts, science searches for empirical truth. Scientific knowledge goes beyond the limits of possible experience, which for Kant would lead to contradiction and antinomy.

So it appears, in consequence, that Kant, instead of raising the level of Metaphysics to the level of science, is lowering science to the level of a pseudo-science, along with the current state of metaphysics.

An interesting ---while trivial--- additional consequence is this: given that Kant's work can be mostly qualified as Transcendental Dialectic knowledge (since it is not pure, since it is viced with rational constructs resulting for the most part of facts of experience), then, Kant would be denying its own work. Kant would self-destruct himself.

Modus Tollendo ---and this is my personal approach--- if Kant CAN assert that Transcendental Dialectic knowledge leads to contradiction, if such is an a posteriori truth, then there must exist a fundamental, common and objective Transcendental Logic metaphysical truth which we all use as reference to accept science and even Kant. I cannot qualify such truth as dialectic, since Kant uses the term dialectic in a classical old sense, meaning a contradiction with no solution. Evidently, my solution is irrelevant here because it is speculative. I just want to detect the flaw in Kant's argument.

Is this analysis correct, or which are the mistakes on it?


Before formulating your answer, consider this: if you accept the Transcendental Doctrine, then, you accept that your own answer is an a posteriori dialectic judgment, and therefore, your own answer is antinomic (contradictory), that is, it is self-destructive (easy to prove). That is the problem to solve. My approach is to consider Kant is wrong about it, and that there MUST exist some Transcendental Dialectic pure metaphysical truth*... which is the one I base upon to sustain this very assertion, to fix Kant's self denial and to sustains science, which becomes non-antinomic, so it is the actual empirical truth.

* While I can identify one, it is out of topic here since it would be an opinion.

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    What do you mean by science? When Galileo studied motion he demonstrated to others a core pattern of drama that I call The Physics Paradigm. This is the drama in which a human observer makes observations, develops quantities of measure, applies units of measure (Galileo normalized his units), and then takes empirical measurements. To me the only transcendental or metaphysical scientific truth is the pattern of drama in which humans imitate (at the core) the cognitive-behavioral patterns laid down as a paradigm by Galileo. Galileo assumes the human observer is a creature like himself. Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 17:53
  • Science is the worst approach, except for all the others.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 10:43
  • Time can be phrased as an emergent property of statistical mechanics over quantum particles; see Caticha 2010 for an introductory treatment. This is sufficient to completely derail Kant's approach to metaphysics to the point where your question is no longer well-founded. Hope this helps.
    – Corbin
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 11:29
  • @Corbin Except that time as a mathematical dimension and order in time as a necessary perceptive quality are completely different things. And any quantum theorist thinking they describe some transcendent metaphysical truth instead of what we can catch up as data through technical devices and our senses and make sense of via mathematical modelling is delusional.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 15:56
  • @PhilipKlöcking: I'm not saying that I have the metaphysical answers. I'm saying that Kant is outdated; he's on the wrong side of a Kuhnian paradigm shift. "Transcendent metaphysical truth" presumably doesn't vary. (The weak Sapir-Whorf hypothesis can be invoked here; human language isn't going to address unvarying truths.)
    – Corbin
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 17:01

2 Answers 2


A very short answer:

Kant does not put science at risk. He rather allows science to thrive as his philosophy, understood correctly, shows that science can only describe our current ability of how we can model/perceive our objects of experience, ie. human representation of reality.

That allows for two things: Firstly, it allows for scientific progress, ie. we can falsify theories without having to assume that reality changed. Secondly, it kind of validates the scientific method of modelling as the object of science and its methods match better.

Most people assume that if we only describe our representation of things-in-themselves that this would not be what science aims for. On the contrary, in the Kantian framework, science that thinks it describes independently of human representation is nothing more than speculative metaphysics misunderstanding what "empirical" really means. Empirical facts are not closed, eternal "givens" that stand for themselves. They are formed representations, hence they can err and be transformed by our way of viewing at and interpreting them.

About your "going beyond possible experience": Science does not aim to go beyond possible experience. It aims to enrich the body of actualised experience. I think you misunderstand "possible" here. If science enables us to experience new layers and aspects of reality that is not "beyond possible experience". The possibility here is modal, ie. if we can have that experience it was possible by definition. Our technical and methodological ability to actualise this experience has no bearing on that principal possibility.

About your misunderstanding of the antinomies

I think you do not really get the point Kant is making here. It is definitely not that any metaphysics lead to antinomies. It is that the logical inconsistencies between metaphysics and empirical knowledge - with equally valid and non-falsifiable ("self-evident") assumptions - can be solved as soon as we look at them from the viewpoint of transcendental idealism. The antinomies arise if we try to uphold both empirical and metaphysical arguments without discerning their object of consideration.

Now, as science is strictly describing objects of experience - even if their theories have mathematical solutions for values that cannot be reached in experience - there is no antinomy.

Transcendental Dialectics are called that way because they are able to what Hegel will later call "sublate" the thesis-antithesis into a synthesis by changing perspectives. They go through thesis and antithesis not to show that they are irreconcilable but to show that the seeming antinomy can be solved.

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    Sincerely hope being wrong, but, for example, the Third Law of Thermodynamics (part of science) goes beyond experience: it predicts that 0K cannot be achieved, and that is what experience has shown. So, by describing the past and the present, science does go beyond experience, even predicting the future. According to Kant, this should be antinomic (yes it is! results exactly at 0K are at least conflictive), which would mean science is antinomic... as well as Kant's books! What has happened is not that: we've decided (for some metaphysical reason X) that 0K is impossible, period.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 12:11
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    @RodolphoAP It does not go beyond possible experience. It rather predicts possible experience, ie. experience how it may be possible in the future. That's why theories can be falsified by actual experience in the first place.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 13:03
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    While I don't see the difference ("predicting" or "going beyond" are the same, we can't reach the speed of light or 0 Kelvin, in the same way the antinomies predict things that end up in contradictions), that is not the point. This answer is an assertion about science, which is ok, but doesn't address the actual problem: if Transcendental Dialectic judgements are antinomic, any judgement is antinomic (principle of explosion), then, science is antinomic (such is the risk) and Kant self-destructs (no matter if science "predicts" or "goes" beyond experience: it is Transcendental Dialectic).
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 15:24
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    @RodolfoAP Added a paragraph to try to clear up what I think is a grave misunderstanding.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 20:34
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    Didn't see it, ok, thanks. But you seem wrong: contradictions are part of science (e.g. thermodynamics, relativity, QM, QM-vs-relativity, etc.). Antinomies are common in science, it occurs in any dialectic judgement, Kant is right about that. To 'raise metaphysics to the level of science' targets solving the issue.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 9:36

I would like to zone in on the reference to the 0-degrees-Kelvin issue, as it seems illustrative of your concern. Now, on the one hand, we can never perceive a truly absolutely cold space, because to perceive it, we will have to reflect light off something in that space, something by which that space manifests, and this small amount of photon activity will increase its temperature a small degree above absolute zero.

This is reminiscent of Kant's argument against the empirical acceptance of an absolutely empty space:

If all reality in perception has a degree, betw een which and negation there is an endless sequence of ever smaller degrees, and if, nevertheless, every sense must have a determinate degree of receptivity for sensations; no perception, and consequently no experience is possible, which can prove, either immediately or mediately, an entire absence of all reality in a phenomenon; in other words, it is impossible ever to draw from experience a proof of the existence of empty space or of empty time. For in the first place, an entire absence of reality in a sensuous intuition cannot of course be an object of perception; secondly, such absence cannot be deduced from the contemplation of any single phenomenon, and the difference of the degrees in its reality; nor ought it ever to be admitted in explanation of any phenomenon. For if even the complete intuition of a determinate space or time is thoroughly real, that is, if no part thereof is empty, yet because every reality has its degree, which, with the extensive quantity of the phenomenon unchanged, can diminish through endless gradations down to nothing (the void), there must be infinitely graduated degrees, with which space or time is filled, and the intensive quantity in different phenomena may be smaller or greater, although the extensive quantity of the intuition remains equal and unaltered.

If a space were utterly empty, it would be empty of causality. Since perception is caused, an empty space would be empty of a cause of some perception thereof; so no empty space could cause us to perceive itself, so purely empty space is not a possible object of experience, "and we are done." Likewise, then, Kant would not have been minded to admit the actual possibility of absolutely cold space, even though the mathematical image of such a space is possible.

Now, Kant elsewhere says (with respect to the categories of modality):

But when we fashion to ourselves new conceptions of substances, forces, action, and reaction, from the material presented to us by perception, without following the example of experience in their connection, we create mere chimeras, of the possibility of which we cannot discover any criterion, because we have not taken experience for our instructress, though we have borrowed the conceptions from her. Such fictitious conceptions derive their character of possibility not, like the categories, a priori, as conceptions on which all experience depends, but only, a posteriori, as conceptions given by means of experience itself, and their possibility must either be cognized a posteriori and empirically, or it cannot be cognized at all. A substance which is permanently present in space, yet without filling it (like that tertium quid between matter and the thinking subject which some have tried to introduce into metaphysics), or a peculiar fundamental power of the mind of intuiting the future by anticipation (instead of merely inferring from past and present events), or, finally, a power of the mind to place itself in community of thought with other men, however distant they may be—these are conceptions the possibility of which has no ground to rest upon. For they are not based upon experience and its known laws; and, without experience, they are a merely arbitrary conjunction of thoughts, which, though containing no internal contradiction, has no claim to objective reality, neither, consequently, to the possibility of such an object as is thought in these conceptions. As far as concerns reality, it is self-evident that we cannot cogitate such a possibility in concreto without the aid of experience; because reality is concerned only with sensation, as the matter of experience, and not with the form of thought, with which we can no doubt indulge in shaping fancies.

And later, in the Transcendental Dialectic:

The conceptions of the understanding make us acquainted, among many other kinds of unity, with that of the causality of a substance, which is termed power. The different phenomenal manifestations of the same substance appear at first view to be so very dissimilar that we are inclined to assume the existence of just as many different powers as there are different effects—as, in the case of the human mind, we have feeling, consciousness, imagination, memory, wit, analysis, pleasure, desire and so on. Now we are required by a logical maxim to reduce these differences to as small a number as possible, by comparing them and discovering the hidden identity which exists. We must inquire, for example, whether or not imagination (connected with consciousness), memory, wit, and analysis are not merely different forms of understanding and reason. The idea of a fundamental power, the existence of which no effort of logic can assure us of, is the problem to be solved, for the systematic representation of the existing variety of powers. The logical principle of reason requires us to produce as great a unity as is possible in the system of our cognitions; and the more the phenomena of this and the other power are found to be identical, the more probable does it become, that they are nothing but different manifestations of one and the same power, which may be called, relatively speaking, a fundamental power. And so with other cases.

The desire to conceive of the maximal negation of energy, down to zero, is therefore a desire of reason, impressed upon the procedure of the understanding; Kant can allow for this desire, as a scientific impulse in us, without fully reifying it. It is impossible to experience that some concrete physical law is absolutely fundamental and universal, and so thus far, scientific propositions acceptable from a modern vantage might seem blocked. But modern physicists need not, and do not, one and all assume that any proposed unit of elementary "law" is verifiably such a unit. Sometimes, some physicists do propose that e.g. quarks are irreducible, and we have found no evidence of preons (hypothetical parts of quarks); and perhaps there is something in the limits of measurement technology that puts a cap on our "possible experiences," here.

Regarding the antinomies: the Transcendental Aesthetic concerns the meaning of individual terms a priori, that they have spatiotemporal content on pain of emptiness. The Analytic concerns how terms are composed to form propositions (a common, if debatable, translation of the relevant word in German is "cognitions"). The Dialectic is about how propositions are composed to form systems reaching towards absolute totality over all possible conditions. If dialectical processing inescapably generates transcendental illusions, and with those the antinomies, this does not seem to require transposing those contradictions down into the understanding, for if the understanding forms individual propositions, there doesn't seem to be a need for it to form pairs of propositions that are inconsistent (or even to form pairs of propositions by itself, at any one moment, at all).

Granted, it is somewhat enigmatic, what Kant thought the basis for the whole project was: he almost seems to be appealing to a faculty that goes beyond the aesthetical, analytical, and dialectical faculties. Following the template of their progression, we would mean something that can compose entire systems of propositions to render meta-systems: this is the critical faculty, then, which even so is interwoven with the dialectical one, as a province of reason. However, this is why Kant will go on to write two more Critiques, the second with an eye towards finding the truly ultimate, if still partly-subjective, principle of reasoning (the moral law); the third with an ear for both theoretical and practical music and the artistic harmony thereof.

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