The Nature of Judgment

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
The Nature of Judgment  (1899) 
by George Edward Moore
Read before the Aristotelian Society and appeared in the April 1899 issue of Mind.

"Truth and falsehood", says Mr. Bradley (Logic, p. 2), "depend on the relation of our ideas to reality." And he immediately goes on to explain that, in this statement, "ideas" must not be understood to mean mere "states of my mind". The ideas, he says, on the relation of which to reality truth depends, are "mere ideas, signs of an existence other than themselves," and this aspect of them must not be confused either with their existence in my mind or with their particular character as so existent, which may be called their content. "For logic, at least,' he says, "all ideas are signs" (p. 5); and "A sign is any fact that has a meaning," while "meaning consists of a part of the content (original or acquired) cut off, fixed by the mind, and considered apart from the existence of the sign" (p. 4). (¶ 1)

But Mr. Bradley himself does not remain true to this conception of the logical idea as the idea of something. As such, indeed, it is only the psychological idea, related, indeed, to that which it signifies, but only related to it. Hence he finds it necessary, later, to use "idea," not of the symbol, but of the symbolised. Ideas, as meanings, not as "facts, which have a meaning," "are," he says (p. 8), "the ideas we spoke of, when we said 'Without ideas no judgment'". And he proceeds to show that "in predication we do not use the mental fact, but only the meaning"; although, where he did say "Without ideas no judgment," his words were "we cannot judge until we use ideas as ideas. We must have become aware that they are not realities, that they are mere ideas, signs of an existence other than themselves." It would seem plain, then, that there his doctrine was that we do, in predication, use the mental fact, though only as a sign; whereas here his doctrine is that we do not use the mental fact, even as a sign, but only that which it signifies. This important transition he slurs over with the phrase: "But it is better to say the idea is the meaning". The question is surely not of which is "better to say," but which is true. (¶ 2)

Now to Mr. Bradley’s argument that "the idea in judgment is the universal meaning" I have nothing to add. It appears to me conclusive, as against those, of whom there have been too many, who have treated the idea as a mental state. But he seems to me to be infected by the same error as theirs, alike in his preliminary failure to distinguish clearly whether it is the symbol or the symbolised of which he is speaking, and in his final description of the "idea, as meaning," when he has definitely decided in its favour. "A meaning," he says, as we saw above, "consists of a part of the content (original or acquired) cut off, fixed by the mind, and considered apart from the existence of the sign." And again, "an idea, if we use idea of the meaning, is neither given nor presented, but is taken" (p. 8). If indeed "the universal meaning" were thus simply a part of the content of our own ideas, as mental states, and that, too, a part "cut off" by our own minds, it would be intelligible that "truth and falsehood" should still be said to "depend on the relation of our ideas to reality". It will be our endeavour to show, on the contrary, that the "idea used in judgment" is not a part of the content of our ideas, nor produced by any action of our minds, and that hence truth and falsehood are not dependent on the relation of our ideas to reality. (¶ 3)

I shall in future use the term "concept" for what Mr. Bradley calls a "universal meaning"; since the term "idea" is plainly full of ambiguities, whereas "concept" and its German equivalent "Begriff" have been more nearly appropriated to the use in question. There is, indeed, a great similarity between Kant’s description of his "Begriff", and Mr. Bradley’s of his "logical idea". For Kant, too, it is the "analytical unity of consciousness" which makes a "Vorstellung" or "idea" into a "conceptus communis" or "gemeinsamer Begriff" (R.V., p. 116 n.). (¶ 4)

It is our object to protest against this description of a concept as an "abstraction" from ideas. (¶ 5)

Mr. Bradley’s doctrine, as above sketched, presupposes that, when I have an idea (Vorstellung) of something, that something is itself part of the content of my idea. This doctrine, for the present, I am ready to admit; my question now is whether, when I have an idea of something, that something must not also be regarded as something other than part of the content of my idea. The content of an idea is, Mr. Bradley tells us, what the idea is; it is "a character which is different or distinguishable from that of other" ideas, treated as mental facts. Now, before I can judge at all on Mr. Bradley’s theory, a part of this character must have been "cut off and fixed by the mind". But my question is, whether we can thus cut off a part of the character of our ideas, and attribute that part to something else, unless we already know, in part at least, what is the character of the idea from which we are to cut off the part in question. If not, then we have already made a judgment with regard to the character of our idea. But this judgment, again, requires, on Mr. Bradley’s theory, that I should have had an idea of my idea, and should have already cut off a part of the content of that secondary idea, in order that I may make a judgment with regard to the character of the primary idea that is in question. And similarly it is quite impossible that I should know what the content of my secondary idea is, until I have made it in its turn the object of a third idea, by taking part of this tertiary content. And so on ad infinitum. The theory would therefore seem to demand the completion of an infinite number of psychological judgments before any judgment could be made at all. But such a completion is impossible; and therefore all judgment is likewise impossible. It follows, therefore, if we are to avoid this absurdity, that the "idea used in judgment" must be something other than a part of the content of any idea of mine. Mr. Bradley’s theory presupposes that I may have two ideas, that have a part of their content in common; but he would at the same time compel us to describe this common part of content as part of the content of some third idea. But what is gained by such a description? If the part of content of this third idea is a part only in the same sense, as the common part of the other two is a part of each, then I am offering an explanation which presupposes that which was to be explained. Whereas if the part, which is used in explanation, is a part in the only sense which will make my explanation significant, i.e., an existent part, then it is difficult to see how that which belongs to one idea can also come to belong to other ideas and yet remain one and the same. In short, the idea used in judgment is indeed a "universal meaning"; but it cannot, for that very reason, be described as part of the content of any psychological idea whatever. (¶ 6)

These difficulties, which are of the same nature as the famous τρίτος ἄνθρωπος urged against the hypostatised Platonic ideas, inevitably proceed from trying to explain the concept in terms of some existent fact, whether mental or of any other nature. All such explanations do in fact presuppose the nature of the concept, as a genus per se, irreducible to anything else. The concept is not a mental fact, nor any part of a mental fact. Identity of content is presupposed in any reasoning; and to explain the identity of content between two facts by supposing that content to be a part of the content of some third fact, must involve a vicious circle. For in order that the content of the third fact may perform this office, it must already be supposed like the contents of the other two, i.e., having something in common with them, and this community of content is exactly what it was proposed to explain. (¶ 7)

When, therefore, I say "This rose is red," I am not attributing part of the content of my idea to the rose, nor yet attributing parts of the content of my ideas of rose and red together to some third subject. What I am asserting is a specific connexion of certain concepts forming the total concept "rose" with the concepts "this" and "now" and "red"; and the judgment is true if such a connexion is existent. Similarly when I say "The chimera has three heads," the chimera is not an idea in my mind, nor any part of such idea. What I mean to assert is nothing about my mental states, but a specific connexion of concepts. If the judgment is false, that is not because my ideas do not correspond to reality, but because such a conjunction of concepts is not to be found among existents. (¶ 8)

With this, then, we have approached the nature of a proposition or judgment. A proposition is composed not of words, nor yet of thoughts, but of concepts. Concepts are possible objects of thought; but that is no definition of them. It merely states that they may come into relation with a thinker; and in order that they may do anything, they must already be something. It is indifferent to their nature whether anyone thinks them or not. They are incapable of change; and the relation into which they enter with the knowing subject implies no action or reaction. It is a unique relation which can begin to cease with a change in the subject; but the concept is neither cause nor effect of such a change. The occurrence of the relation has, no doubt, its causes and effects, but these are to be found only in the subject. (¶ 9)

It is of such entities as these that a proposition is composed. In it certain concepts stand in specific relations with one another. And our question now is, wherein a proposition differs from a concept, that it may be either true or false. (¶ 10)

It is at first sight tempting to say that the truth of a proposition depends on its relation to reality; that any proposition is true which consists of a combination of concepts which is actually to be found among existents. This explanation was indeed actually used above (¶ 8), as a preliminary explanation. And it may be admitted that propositions with which this is the case are true. But if this constituted the truth of a proposition, concepts too might in themselves be true. Red would be a true concept, because there actually are red things; and conversely a chimera would be a false concept, because no such combination either has been, is, or will be (so far as we know) among existent things. But the theory must be rejected as an ultimate one, because not all true propositions have this relation to reality. For example, 2 + 2 = 4, whether there exist two things or not. Moreover it may be doubted here whether even the concepts of which the proposition consists, can ever be said to exist. We should have to stretch our notion of existence beyond intelligibility, to suppose that 2 ever has been, is, or will be an existent. (¶ 11)

It would seem, in fact, from this example, that a proposition is nothing other than a complex concept. The difference between a concept and a proposition, in virtue of which the latter alone can be called true or false, would seem to lie merely in the simplicity of the former. A proposition is a synthesis of concepts; and, just as concepts are themselves immutably what they are, so they stand in infinite relations to one another equally immutable. A proposition is constituted by any number of concepts, together with a specific relation between them; and according to the nature of this relation the proposition may be either true or false. What kind of relation makes a proposition true, what false, cannot be further defined, but must be immediately recognised. (¶ 12)

And this description will also apply to those cases where there appears to be a reference to existence. Existence is itself a concept; it is something which we mean; and the great body of propositions, in which existence is joined to other concepts or syntheses of concepts, are simply true or false according to the relation in which it stands to them. It is not denied that this is a peculiarly important concept; that we are peculiarly anxious to know what exists. It is only maintained that existence is logically subordinate to truth; that truth cannot be defined by a reference to existence, but existence only by a reference to truth. When I say "This paper exists," I must require that this proposition be true. If it is not true, it is unimportant, and I can have no interest in it. But if it is true, it means only that the concepts, which are combined in specific relations in the concept of this paper, are also combined in a specific manner with the concept of existence. That specific manner is something immediately known, like red or two. It is highly important, because we set such value upon it; but it is itself a concept. All that exists is thus composed of concepts necessarily related to one another in specific manners, and likewise to the concept of existence. (¶ 13)

I am fully aware of how paradoxical this theory must appear, and even how contemptible. But it seems to me to follow from premisses generally admitted, and to have been avoided only by lack of logical consistency. I assume Mr. Bradley’s proof that the concept is necessary to truth and falsehood. I endeavour to show, what I must own appears to me perfectly obvious, that the concept can consistently be described neither as an existent, nor as part of an existent, since it is presupposed in the conception of an existent. It is similarly impossible that truth should depend on a relation to existents or to an existent, since the proposition by which it is so defined must itself be true, and the truth of this can certainly not be established, without a vicious circle, by exhibiting its dependence on an existent. Truth, however, would certainly seem to involve at least two terms, and some relation between them; falsehood involves the same; and hence it would seem to remain, that we regard truth and falsehood as properties of certain concepts, together with their relations—a whole to which we give the name of proposition. (¶ 14)

I have appealed throughout to the rules of logic; nor, if any one rejects these, should I have much to fear from his arguments. An appeal to the facts is useless. For, in order that a fact may be made the basis of an argument, it must first be put in the form of a proposition, and, moreover, this proposition must be supposed true; and then there must recur the dilemma, whether rules of logic are to be accepted or rejected. And these rules once accepted, would seem themselves to offer a confirmation of our theory. For all true inference must be inference from a true proposition; and that the conclusion follows from the premise must again be a true proposition: so that here also it would appear that the nature of a true proposition is the ultimate datum. Nor is an appeal to the "matter" of the proposition more useful than the former appeal to the facts. It may be true that this matter is given in sensation, or in any other conceivable way. We are not concerned with its origin, but with its nature; and its nature, if it is to enter into a true proposition, must, we agree with Mr. Bradley, be the nature of a concept and no other: and then the old conclusions follow. Nor, finally, is a vicious circle involved in our own attempt to establish conclusions with regard to truth, by rules of logic in which that conception is presupposed. For our conclusion is that truth is itself a simple concept; that it is logically prior to any proposition. But a vicious circle occurs only where a proposition is taken as prior to a concept, or a more complex proposition (one involving more concepts) as prior to one which is more simple. Valid logical processes would seem to be of two kinds. It is possible to start from a complex proposition and to consider what propositions are involved in it. In this case the latter must always be more simple than the former; and they may be true, although the former is false. Or it is possible to start from a more simple proposition and to deduce one that is more complex, by successive additions of concepts; which is the properly deductive procedure exhibited in the propositions of Euclid: and in this case the premiss must be true, if the conclusion is so. It may be well to state that both procedures are synthetic, in the sense that the results arrived at are different from the premisses, and merely related to them. In a vicious circle, on the other hand, the two procedures are confused. A result arrived at by the former of the two processes just described, is regarded as involving the truth of its premiss. Thus, when we say that the conceptual nature of truth is involved in logical procedure, no vicious circle is committed, since we do not thereby presuppose the truth of logical procedure. But when an existent is said to be involved in truth, a vicious circle is committed, since the proposition "Something is true," in which "Something exists" is supposed to be involved, must itself be true, if the latter is to be so. (¶ 15)

It seems necessary, then, to regard the world as formed of concepts. These are the only objects of knowledge. They cannot be regarded fundamentally as abstractions either from things or from ideas; since both alike can, if anything is to be true of them, composed of nothing but concepts. A thing becomes intelligible first when it is analysed into its constituent concepts. The material diversity of things, which is generally taken as starting-point, is only derived; and the identity of the concept, in several different things, which appears on that assumption as the problem of philosophy, will now, if it instead be taken as the starting-point, render the derivation easy. Two things are then seen to be differentiated by the different relations in which their common concepts stand to other concepts. The opposition of concepts to existents disappears, since an existent is seen to be nothing but a concept or complex of concepts standing in a unique relation to the concept of existence. Even the description of an existent as a proposition (a true existential proposition) seems to lose its strangeness, when it is remembered that a proposition is here understood, not as anything subjective—an assertion or affirmation of something—but as the combination of concepts which is affirmed. For we are familiar with the idea of affirming or positing an existent, of knowing objects as well as propositions; and the difficulty hitherto has been to discover wherein the two processes were akin. It now appears that perception is to be regarded philosophically as the cognition of an existential proposition; and it is thus apparent how it can furnish a basis for inference, which uniformly exhibits the connexion between propositions. Conversely light is thrown on the nature of inference. For, whereas it could not be maintained that the conclusion was only connected with the premisses in my thoughts, and that an inference was nothing, if nobody was making it, great difficulty was felt as to the kind of objectivity that belonged to the terms and their relation, since existence was taken as the type of objectivity. This difficulty is removed, when it is acknowledged that the relation of premisses to conclusion is an objective relation, in the same sense as the relation of existence to what exists is objective. It is no longer necessary to hold that logical connexions must, in some obscure sense, exist, since to exist is merely to stand in a certain logical connexion. (¶ 16)

It will be apparent how much this theory has in common with Kant’s theory of perception. It differs chiefly in substituting for sensations, as the data of knowledge, concepts; and in refusing to regard the relations in which they stand as, in some obscure sense, the work of the mind. It rejects the attempt to explain "the possibility of knowledge," accepting the cognitive relation as an ultimate datum or presupposition; since it maintains the objections which Kant himself urged against an explanation by causality, and recognises no other kind of explanation than that by way of logical connexion with other concepts. It thus renounces the supposed unity of conception guaranteed by Idealism even in the Kantian form, and still more the boasted reduction of all differences to the harmony of "Absolute Spirit," which marks the Hegelian development. But it is important to point out that it retains the doctrine of Transcendentalism. For Kant’s Transcendentalism rests on the distinction between empirical and a priori propositions. This is a distinction which offers a striking correspondence to that between the categorical and hypothetical judgments; and since one object of this paper is to combat the view which inclines to take the categorical judgment as the typical form, and attempts in consequence to reduce the hypothetical judgment to it, it will not be out of place to discuss Kant’s distinction at some length. (¶ 17)

Kant himself offers us two marks by which an a priori judgment may be distinguished. "A proposition," he says, "which is thought along with its necessity is an a priori judgment." And it is absolutely a priori only if it be not deduced from any other proposition, that is not itself a necessary proposition. The second mark of the a priori is strict universality. But unfortunately Kant himself seems to admit the invalidity of the mark; since he immediately proceeds to state than an empirical universality may hold in all cases ("for example, in the proposition: All bodies are heavy") and hence be strictly universal.[1] (¶ 18)

It is true Kant states that this empirical universality is merely arbitrary. We ought, he says, to express our proposition in the form: "So far as we have yet observed, there is no exception from" the rule that all bodies are heavy. But it would seem that such a qualification can only affect the truth of our proposition and not its content. It may be questioned whether we have a right to assert universality, but it is universality which we assert. The limitations which Kant points out as belonging to the proposition, can properly be expressed only in the doubt whether we have found a rule at all, not in a doubt whether there are exceptions to it. It may not be true that all bodies are heavy; but whether true or not, it is a universal proposition. There is no difference between this proposition and such as are a priori, in respect of universality. And Kant could hardly wish to assert that the difference lay in its truth. For this proposition, he would admit, may be true; and, if so, then it would be a priori. But he would not admit that it may be a priori: he asserts that it is not so. The difference between the empirical and the a priori, if there is a difference, must therefore be in some other mark than in this universality, which Kant nevertheless asserts to be by itself an infallible criterion (ib., p. 35). We may next consider whether such a mark is to be found in "necessity". (¶ 19)

In this investigation, too, it may be well to examine his example "All bodies are heavy," since this proposition might seem to have a claim to necessity also, just as it is undoubtedly universal. Kant speaks of it as "a rule borrowed from experience" (ib., p. 34). By this language and by his use of "Bodies are heavy" as convertible with it, he would seem to suggest that he would not base its empirical character solely on its extensional interpretation. If, as seems probable, he would allow "Body is heavy" or "Man is mortal," to be equally empirical propositions, then it is plain that what he calls empirical may involve necessity. It is certain, at all events, that if we are to understand by empirical propositions only such as experience can justify, such a proposition as "All bodies are heavy" cannot be regarded as empirical. It is based on the proposition "Body is heavy," with which, if it is to be used for purposes of inference, it must be regarded as convertible. I assume, therefore, that Kant would not have refused to regard "Body is heavy" as an empirical proposition. It would seem certainly to come under his class of "rules drawn from experience," whereas "All bodies are heavy," regarded solely as extensional, cannot be called a rule. The use of this example would seem to lead to important results with regard to the true definition of empirical propositions. (¶ 20)

But let us first return to "All bodies are heavy"; since even this would seem to involve in its very meaning an assertion of necessity. If it be taken purely in extension, it must be resolved into "This body, and that body, and that body, ad infinitum, are, have been and will be heavy". It involves, therefore, the proposition "This body is heavy". But in any proposition of this simple categorical form the notion of substance and attribute is already involved.[2] Wherever a predicate is asserted of a subject, it is implied that the subject is a thing; that it is something marked by the possession of certain attributes and capable of possessing others. "This body is heavy" presupposes, therefore, "body is a thing, and heaviness is a mere attribute". For we could not convert the proposition into "Heaviness is corporeal". But that "Body is a thing," and that "Heaviness is an attribute," would seem to be necessary propositions. We may indeed be mistaken in supposing that they are true; but if we were ever to find that heaviness was not an attribute, we should be bound to conclude that it never had been and never would be, not that it was so once but had ceased so to be. All such judgments are truly "thought along with their necessity". They are as necessary as that 2+2=4. The difference between the two forms of proposition lies not in that the former lacks necessity, nor even that it implies the proposition "Heaviness exists"; for even if heaviness did not exist, the proposition would be true. The proposition means that heaviness could not be other than an attribute; and hence, if Kant’s words (p. 34) are to be taken strictly, it cannot be empirical. In this respect, therefore, it is quite on a level with 2+2=4; which also would be true even if there were no two things. The difference seems to lie rather in the nature of the concepts of which the necessary relation is predicated. "Heaviness can exist"; it is not meaningless to say "Heaviness exists here and now"; whereas "attribute," "two," and other like conceptions can only claim a precarious sort of existence in so far as they are necessarily related to these other notions of which alone properly existential propositions can be made. (¶ 21)

If, therefore, we wish to find propositions involving no necessity[3], we must descend to purely existential propositions—propositions which do not involve the notions of substance and attribute. These alone can be truly taught us by experience, if experience "cannot teach us that a thing could not be otherwise" (p. 34). And even these are free from necessity, only if they are understood to assert something with regard to an actual part of actual time. They must involve necessity as soon as the distinction between "This is" and "This was" is disregarded. It would seem, in fact, to be a mark of the sort of existence which they predicate that it is in time. They may affirm "This exists," or "This has existed," but if they take the general form "This is," that must always be understood to mean no more than "This always has been, is now, and always will be," and can be strictly analysed into as many different judgments as time is divisble into separate moments. (¶ 22)

If, therefore, the difference between the empirical and a priori lay primarily, as Kant implies, in the nature of the judgment, not the nature of the concept, only existential propositions could be empirical. In order to represent even "This body is heavy" as an empirical proposition, it would be necessary to analyse it into the form "Heaviness and the marks of body exist here and now". But this is certainly not its whole meaning. We must, therefore, suppose that in order to obtain a clear definition of what Kant meant by empirical propositions, we must base it upon the nature of the concepts used in them. Empirical concepts are those which can exist in parts of time. This would seem to be the only manner of distinguishing them. And any proposition into which an empirical concept enters may be called empirical. (¶ 23)

Kant himself does recognise the necessity involved in such a proposition as "This body is heavy," although, for reasons which will appear hereafter, he states it in a somewhat different way. The main object of his "Analytic" is to show that any such judgment involves a 'synthesis of the manifold of sense-intuition," which is "necessary a priori" (p. 126). But he regards this synthesis rather as necessary in order to bring mere perceptions into relation with the "unity of apperception, " than as directly involved in the empirical judgment. Moreover, in order to explain how the forms of synthesis can apply to the manifold, he introduces the inner sense as mediator, and describes the judgment as converting the psychical connexion of the presentations into an objective connexion rather than as applying the categories to a mere manifold, which cannot properly be described as psychical. Accordingly he gives as the ultimate empirical judgment, out of which the application of substance and attribute produces "Bodies are heavy," the subjective judgment "When I carry a body, I feel an impression of heaviness," instead of that given above "Heaviness and the marks of body exist together".[4] He does not seem to see that his subjective judgment already fully involves the category in question. A statement about my feelings is just as "objective," in the required sense, as a statement about what is conceived as in space. (¶ 24)

With the above definition, therefore, it is obvious why "Body is heavy" should be called empirical; whereas, if absence of necessity had been the mark required, it would have been difficult to find a reason. For this proposition does not only involve, like "This body is heavy" or "All bodies are heavy," the necessary judgments that body is a thing, and heaviness an attribute; it asserts a relation between a "heaviness" and "corporeity" such as no experience can prove or disprove. If we found a body which was not heavy, that would indeed lead us to deny the truth of the proposition; but it would also entitle us at once to the opposite necessary proposition "Body cannot be heavy". And this is just what holds of 2 + 2 = 4. It is perhaps inconceivable to us now that two and two should not make four; but, when numbers were first discovered, it may well have been thought that two and two made three or five. Experience, no doubt, must have been the means of producing the conviction that this was not so, but that two and two made four. The necessity of a proposition, therefore, is not called in question by the fact that experience may lead you to think it true or untrue. The test of its necessity lies merely in the fact that it must be either true or untrue, and cannot be true now and untrue the next moment; whereas with an existential proposition it may be true that this exists now, and yet it will presently be untrue that it exists. The doubt about the truth of "Body is heavy" would seem to proceed chiefly from our uncertainty as to what we mean by "Body" and by "heavy". We cannot recognise instances of them with as great precision as we recognise instances of number; and hence we cannot be sure whether the truth of our propositions may not be overthrown. the proposition is arbitrary solely in this sense. There would seem no doubt that we mean by it to assert an absolute necessity; but between what precise concepts the necessary relation, of which we are certain, holds, we must leave to experience to discover. (¶ 25)

From the forgoing analysis it would, therefore, appear that the true distinction upon which Kant’s division of propositions into a priori and a posteriori, necessary and empirical, is based, is on the distinction between concepts which can exist in parts of time and concepts which seem to be cut off from existence altogether, but which give rise to assertions of an absolutely necessary relation. Kant would seem to include among empirical propositions all those in which an empirical concept is used; whether the proposition asserts a necessary relation between an empirical and an a priori concept, or between two empirical concepts. What it is important to emphasise is that these two kinds of proposition are not distinguished by the absence of the marks which he gives for the a priori; they both include both necessity and strict universality. Empirical propositions would therefore include a wide range of propositions, differing very much in the meaning of their assertions. They seem to extend upwards from mere assertions of the existence of this or that, of the type "Heaviness exists here and now"; through propositions of the usual categorical form "This body is heavy," which include necessary propositions in their meaning, but at the same time imply an assertion of existence; to propositions which assert existence at every time, while still retaining the element of necessity included in the last, like "All bodies are heavy"; and finally to those propositions, upon which alone the validity of the last class can be based—propositions which assert a necessary relation, without any implication of existence whatever, of the type "Body is heavy". The only common element in all these different classes would seem to be that they all make assertions with regard to some empirical concept, i.e., a concept which can exist in an actual part of time. The second and third classes are mixed and involve necessity, because there is also included in them an assertion with regard to an a priori concept. To all of them Kant would seem to oppose as purely a priori propositions, those which make an assertion solely with regard to a priori concepts and which for that reason can imply no assertion of existence, since an a priori concept is one which cannot exist in the limited sense above explained. (¶ 26)

The line of division, therefore, upon which Kant’s Transcendentalism is based, would seem to fall between propositions involving empirical concepts and those which involve none such; and an empirical concept is to be defined, not as a concept given by experience, since all concepts are so given, but as one which can exist in an actual part of time. This division is necessary in order to include all the various kinds of propositions which Kant includes under the term empirical, many of which involve a priori concepts. If the division were to be based on the nature of the propositions, as such, as Kant pretends to base it, we saw that pure existential propositions alone could be thought to have a claim to form a class by themselves, as empirical propositions. These do indeed obviously form the basis of the other division; for a simple concept cannot be known as one which could exist in time, except on the ground that it has so existed, is existing, or will exist. But we have now to point out that even existential propositions have the essential mark which Kant assigns to a priori propositions—that they are absolutly necessary. (¶ 27)

The distinction of time was said to be ultimate for an existential proposition. If this is so, it is obvious that necessary propositions, of the kind which Kant endeavours to establish in the Æsthetic, are involved in them. It was pointed out that a pure existential proposition could only assert the existence of a simple concept; all others involving the a priori concepts of substance and attribute. If now we take the existential proposition "Red exists," we have an example of the type required. It is maintained that, when I say this, my meaning is that the concept"red" and the concept "existence" stand in a specific relation both to one another and to the concept of time. I mean that "Red exists now," and thereby imply a distinction from its past and future existence. And this connexion of red and existence with the moment of time I mean by "now," would seem to be as necessary as any other connexion whatever. If it is true, it is necessarily true, and if false, necessarily false. If it is true, its contradictory is as fully impossible as the contradictory of 2 + 2 = 4. (¶ 28)

But the necessity thus involved in existential propositions does not do away with the importance of Kant’s distinction between the empirical and the a priori. So far as he attempts to base it on the fact that what is empirical alone is "given in experience" and may be referred to "sense," it must indeed be given up; but as against English philosophers, who held the same view about sense-knowledge, it retains its full weight. The Transcendental Deduction contains a perfectly valid answer to Hume’s scepticism, and to empiricism in general. Philosophers of this school generally tend to deny the validity of any propositions except those about existents. Kant may be said to have pointed out that in any of these propositions, which the empiricists considered to be the ultimate, if not the only, data of knowledge, there was involved by the very same logic on which they relied to support their views, not only the uniform and necessary succession of time, and the geometrical properties of space, but also the principles of substance and causality. He does not, indeed, thereby prove the truth of the axioms and principles in question; but he shows that they are at least equally valid with, and more ultimate than, those upon which empiricism builds. Although, therefore, it seems no longer possible to hold, as Kant held, that a reference to existents is necessary to any proposition that is to claim the title of "knowledge," and that the truth of such propositions can alone claim immediate certainty; although, on the contrary, existential propositions are only a particular class of necessary proposition: yet the transcendental deduction is still important. A deduction from the "possibility of experience" does not indeed really represent the nature of Kant’s argument. For the possibility of experience presupposes that we have experience, and this again means that certain existential propositions are true: but this does not involve the truth of any particular existential propositions; although its truth is involved in theirs. What Kant really shows is that space and time and the categories are involved in particular propositions; and this work is of greater value than a deduction from the possibility of experience would have been. He does not indeed recognise that the propositions from which he is deducing are themselves necessary, and that there may therefore be other necessary propositions, with a like claim to certainty, not to be deduced from them. He therefore imagines himself to have exhausted the field of knowledge; whereas in fact he has only shown certain logical connexions within that field. But it is not here proposed to dispute the truth of particular existential propositions; and though, unlike Kant, we admit them to be merely assumed, we may be thankful that he has shown us what can be inferred from them. (¶ 29)

Moreover, Kant’s distinction between space and time on the one hand, and the categories on the other, also retains its value, though we can no longer describe their general difference as he did. It seems rather to be this: that time alone is sufficient for some sort of experience, since it alone seems to be involved in the simplest kind of existential proposition, e.g., "Pleasure exists"; and that again time and space together will suffice to account for the possibility of other pieces of knowledge, without the use of the categories. It is necessary to make a fresh assumption of propositions such as even Hume recognised, and such as are universal in physical science, in order to find the principles of substance and accident and causality implied. In all such propositions time and space are presupposed as well, but these categories are not implied in every proposition involving time and space. (¶ 30)

The simplest existential propositions are then to be regarded as necessary propositions of a peculiar sort. In one kind the necessary properties of time are involved; in another those of space also. But though this fact, which Kant points out, is very important against empiricists, we cannot regard it with him as establishing the truth of geometry and of the corresponding propositions about time. For existential propositions which are false, as well as those which are true, involve the same propositions about space and time. No existential proposition of any sort seems discoverable, which might not thus be false; not even the famous "cogito" is indubitable. We cannot, therefore, take the "possibility of experience," in any possible sense, as sufficient warrant for our knowledge of space and time; and we must regard the truths of geometry as independently known for true, just as in the same way as some existential propositions are so known. (¶ 31)

Similarly, those propositions which involve substance and attribute are not sufficient to establish the truth of the propositions thereby involved. The permanence of substance is indeed, Kant shows us, as certain as the empirical propositions which took to be alone certain. But its truth must be known independently of these, since it is involved also in false propositions of this type. It would, in fact, be true, whether any such propositions were true or not. Kant has only taught us that, if any of them are true, it must be so likewise. He failed to see that its truth may be asserted immediately on the same ground as theirs; for he was misled by the previous course of philosophy to suppose that there was something more immediately indubitable in them. Their truth is, in fact, the last thing which common sense doubts, in spite of its familiarity with erroneous perceptions. Kant’s merit was in pointing out, what he himself did not recognise, that their being undoubted does not prove them to be indubitable; or rather, that the doubt which is cast on some of them proves conclusively, what common sense, in its contentment with rules that have exceptions, does not perceive, that they are highly doubtful. (¶ 32)

Our result then is as follows: that a judgment is universally a necessary combination of concepts, equally necessary whether it be true or false. that it must be either true or false, but that its truth or falsehood cannot depend on its relation to anything else whatever, reality, for instance, or the world in space and time. For both of these must be supposed to exist, in some sense, if the truth of our judgment is to depend upon them; and then it turns out that the turht of our judgment depends not upon them, but on the judgment that they, being such and such, exist. But this judgment cannot, in its turn, depend on anything else, for its truth or falsehood: its truth or its falsehood must be immediate properties of its own, not dependent upon any relation it may have to something else. And, if this be so, we have removed all reason for the supposition that the truth and falsehood of other judgments are not equally independent. For the existential judgment, which is presupposed in Kant’s reference to experience or in Mr. Bradley’s reference to reality, has turned out to be, as much as any other, merely a combination of concepts, for the necessity of which we can seek no ground, and which cannot be explained as an attribution to "the given". A concept is not in any intelligible sense an "adjective," as if there were something substantive, more ultimate than it. For we must, if we are to be consistent, describe what appears to be most substantive as no more than a collection of such supposed adjectives: and thus, in the end, the concept turns out to be the only substantive or subject, and no one concept either more or less an adjective than any other. From our description of a judgment, there must, then, disappear all reference either to our mind or to the world. Neither of these can furnish "ground" for anything, save in so far as they are complex judgments. The nature of the judgment is more ultimate than either, and less ultimate only than the nature of its constituents—the nature of the concept or logical idea. (¶ 33)

Notes[edit]

  1. R.V., p. 35. "Hartenstein, ed. 1867."
  2. Cf. R.V., p. 36.
  3. Even these involve the necessary properties of time; but this point may be reserved for later consideration.
  4. P. 121, cf. also Prol., p. 54 n.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1958, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.