I am just starting to read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason translated by Max Mueller. In the introductory chapter, "General truths, which at the same time, bear the character of an inward necessity, must be independent of experience".

So as I understand - this ^ assumes the existence of "general truths", also called "knowledge a priori" as opposed to "knowledge a posteriori, taken from experience".

Is there any good discussion of this specific assumption about the existence of a priori knowledge? In particular, does it have to exist?

Further on, "even if we remove from experience everything that belongs to the senses, there remain certain original concepts" - this troubles me because how can one remove from experience everything that belongs to the senses? And how can one know that the things that are remain (the pure concepts) are not in some convoluted way related to the senses or the affects?

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    I think a proper first step would be to use a more up-to-date and scholarly translation such as Critique of Pure Reason, ed. Paul Guyer & Allen Wood, 2008, in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. You really would, I think, find this helpful - and btw welcome to PSE.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 18:07
  • Thanks! I have in fact the American translation as well. I went with the Max Mueller version because Kant's original is in German and I figured a German author would best translate the long/winding German sentences and the hard-to-exactly-translate German words into (albeit somewhat dated and somewhat European) English. Is the Guyer & Wood translation faithful to the spirit of the original?
    – ahron
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 6:38
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    One problem with Mueller is that his English is now dated whatever his mastery of the original German. Also, Guyer and Wood not only are adequately competent in 18th-century German - they are scholars after all, published by a world-class university - but their translation is informed by the large body of Kantian scholarship that has flourished since Meuller produced his translation. But I can understand your query and you did well to put it.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 8:40
  • Yes, I had a look, it indeed takes less effort to comprehend. Thanks!
    – ahron
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 3:29
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    A priori knowledge comprises knowledge that comes innately from the self. So whereas before Kant the 'mind' was seen as passive (a clay tablet) Kant's innovation is to see the mind/self as active (e.g. unconsciously and more). To give an indication of where Kant is pointing, his intuition of time is completed by Heidegger, directly identifying time with the self [page 197]. Structures of experience presented to consciousness come from the a priori. Commented Apr 20 at 13:48

1 Answer 1


Kant's argument which demonstrates the necessity of universal, a priori knowledge constitutes the Transcendental Deduction of the forms of space and time and then the Transcendental Deduction of Pure Intellectual Concepts (which is usually, in short, called just: the Transcendental Deduction, although there are, strictly speaking, two deductions). The term deduction should be understood here in terms of legal, and not mathematical, reasoning. They are both regressive arguments from the very possibility of experience - our ability to acquire knowledge by being affected by objects.

The first deduction, along with the Axioms of Intuitions and Anticipations of Perception, demonstrates that in order to have knowledge of mathematics, specifically: applied mathematics, i.e. to be able to quantify our empirical cognitions according to the mathematical categories we need to posit a priori universal knowledge of the a priori notions of space and time (pure and applied geometry, arithmetic and chronometry). This is then required for experience as such, as we cannot experience anything if we abstract from space and time altogether. Therefore, the very possibility of experience depends on having universal a priori knowledge of mathematics.

The second deduction, way more convoluted, demonstrates that all appearances, i.e. objects of experience, can be necessarily subsumed under the dynamical categories and that the very intelligibility of these categories, especially the notion of causality, which transcend all actual (albeit not possible) experience, extending indefinitely into the future and into counterfactual scenarios, and thus impossible to be derived from it in the way that Hume would demand, or universal rule according to which changes happen in nature is implied by possibility of association, i.e. merely subjective habit of thinking which forms as a reaction to constant conjunction, as Hume likes to say, of two events. This way, if Hume admits of any general habit being able to form at all, he must admit of general, universal and thus, to various extent, a priori knowledge.

It's hard to reconstruct Kant's argument here, because it's different inbetween A-edition and B-edition of the Critique, but the main point is that there has to be a variable degree of affinity between concepts with which we classify the objects of our senses in order to be able to generalize at all. And this affinity is something that is posited a priori as a condition of experience.

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