An Evaluation of Kant’s Arguments in the Analogies of Experience

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant throughout his book Critique of Pure Reason argued that time and substance are permanent, this being the case then they must be the foundations for an objective understanding of the world as opposed to the subjective understanding we are currently following based on our perceptions of phenomena. He also argues that for us to make the connection between the manifold of subjective perceptions and objective understanding we require a synthetic unity which comes to us in the form of cause and effect a tool of cognition which combines phenomena with a priori reasoning. But just how valid are Kant’s arguments? It would seem the evidence supports his claims although a small number of philosophers fear what would happen should we gain access to an objective understanding of the world and try to put us off any attempt from moving towards it.

Kant established a set of three analogies named the ‘analogies of experience’ in order to demonstrate that “experience is possible only through the presentation of a necessary connection of perceptions”[1], or in words experience is the a posteriori synthetic unity of all our perceptions merged into one single consciousness. Kant goes about proving this by making three arguments revolving around the three aspects of what he terms the ‘inner sense’ or ‘inner intuition’, to which we commonly refer to as time. These three aspects of time are thus; permanence, succession and community, with each relying on the former aspects in order for the whole argument to remain valid. Before evaluating Kant’s arguments within the analogies it is best to first give a brief summary of the arguments.

Throughout the first analogy Kant argues “in all variation by appearances substance is permanent, and its quantum in nature is neither increased nor decreased”[2] the reasoning behind this claim is that all our appearances occur within, and only within, time, therefore time must itself be a permanent fixture in the universe allowing substance to flow in sequence or form unities leading to the ever changing appearances we have. He also adds that even though time itself cannot be perceived only conceived as it is the inner sense then it must be a priori to the universe and all substance within it both of which must therefore be a posteriori by necessity. Kant also argues that substance is permanent by referring to an example about smoke, “substance endures and only the accidents vary”[3] as when wood is burnt it leaves smoke and ash but the total mass of the smoke and ash will always be equal to the mass of the wood prior to it being burnt, hence substance is a permanent fixture yet its form changes in time. Since it is only accidents that vary then it must be the case that, for Kant at least, “our apprehension of the manifold of appearance is always successive, and therefore is always varying. Hence…apprehension alone…can never determine whether this manifold considered as experience is simultaneous or sequential…unless something underlying in experience is there always.” Or in other words, the combination of our perceptions will change from moment to moment so our understanding of the world alone is not enough to construct knowledge of how the external world really is as it fails to grasp the constants hiding within it. So the first analogy Kant has argued that substance and time are the only constants in the universe with all other things undergoing change and for this reason we cannot understand the world by empirical means alone.

The second analogy is dedicated to the temporal mode of succession in which Kant tries to convince us that “All changes occur according to the law of the connection of cause and effect”[4] because all appearances succeed one another because we apply our cognition to connect our perceptions in time, thus cause and effect is a synthesising product born out of our cognition. However Kant later adds to this point “But a concept carrying with it a necessity of synthetic unity can only be a pure concept of understanding”[5] thus cause and effect is a key part of our faculty of understanding and therefore needed if we our to obtain knowledge of phenomena, this is because when we perceive phenomena we never actually perceive the object in itself. For example say you were to read the analogies within Critique of Pure Reason you would not actually be perceiving the book itself, only the manifold of all the appearances it presents to your sense of perception, thus objects in themselves remain unknown to us. This isn’t the only thing Kant believes to be beyond our comprehension he also states that “an actuality succeeding in empty time…cannot be apprehended any more than empty time”[6] the reasoning behind this is that to have empty time there must be non-existence yet in the previous analogy he concluded that substance is permanent, hence persists in every point of time making the notion of empty time absurd, from this we can make the inductive leap that cause and effect (probably) relies on substance being permanent. To conclude Kant has argued that cause and effect is the necessary synthetic unity binding time to phenomena via succession which relies on the permanence of substance if a posteriori knowledge of phenomena is to be possible.

The final analogy is concerned with community. Kant uses this analogy to argue that “All substances insofar as they can be perceived in space as simultaneous are in thoroughgoing interaction”[7] meaning that existents although seen to be existing individually, yet simultaneously, are actually existing within a community where they constantly affect one another within each instance in time. For Kant “Things are only simultaneous if their perception can…succeed one another reciprocally”[8] for example placing a ball on a cushion would cause an indentation in the cushion as the indentation makes room for the ball being placed upon the cushion, thus both occur within the same instance. This led to Kant arguing that “substances in space cannot be cognized in experience except under the presupposition that they interact with one another…Therefore every substance…must contain within itself the causality of certain determination in the other substance and simultaneously must contain within itself the effects of the other substance’s causality”[9], hence substance must contain every possible connection of cause and effect within it simultaneously so that they can be perceived as if they are in constant interaction with one another. In conclusion every substance affects all other substances as all other substances affect the substance first in question, thus substances are held in a community linked by cause and effect within time.

Gardner argues “The Analogies proceed to show that the…categories of substance and causality perform a transcendental function…tied specifically to the circumstance that we are subjects…in time”[10] because when thinking about objects as being things outside our representations we must think of them as existing within time, but beyond the assumed mental flow of our representations. If we cannot do this then objects, that is to say substance, falls back into the temporal flow making then vulnerable to change which goes against Kant’s argument that substance is permanent. Following from this we can assume that Gardner is trying to support Kant in the claim that substance is, in fact, permanent. Yet Kant holds that time and substance cannot be perceived only conceived making them a priori as Scruton argues “every category corresponds to a principle, whose truth is presupposed in its application”[11] and is therefore a priori, hence how the world is objective via necessity even if we cannot perceive it to be as such.

This notion of having time and substance as beyond perception, yet permanent and objective, implies that there must be something else outside, and beyond, phenomena where all objective knowledge must reside. Scruton states this to be the case as “we find causes only by postulating a realm of enduring things”[12], Kant adheres to this by referring to a realm of objective knowledge which he calls noumena, thus we now have what Gardner referred to as the ‘transcendental function’ of Kant’s analogies. The transcendental function being the analogies were set up in order to prove the existence of noumena in what would seem to be a dualistic epistemology similar to Plato’s concept of the Forms in the intelligible realm and substances in the sensible realm. Gardner also accepts the notion of an objective realm as all things are bound by a single objective nature, he argues “we inhabit a world…in which all objective empirical facts have a particular form, and all appearances collectively compose ‘one nature’”[13] or a manifold which Kant would say lights up an a priori resemblance to that form within noumena, as opposed to being a relative, and therefore subjective, manifold as Hume argues for.

One argument against Kant is ‘if this knowledge is beyond our perception maybe there is a good reason as to why this is the case’ a view held by Prymus who argues that “madmen were feared because it was supposed that they were driven crazy by stumbling upon hidden secrets of the universe…knowledge that no human could comprehend”[14] so for any of us to gain access to noumena would prove dangerous. We have been given warnings of this within popular culture, for example in the sci-fi series Doctor Who an evil villain known only as ‘The Master’ when placed in front of the temporal schism to see time for what it is in itself lost his mind and began plotting away against creation. Similarly in the video game Final Fantasy VI we encounter a clown called Kefka who after being infused with magic to enhance his knowledge of the universe becomes homicidal as he attempts to reduce creation to a state of non-existence. Prymus argues the reason as to why objective knowledge makes us act in such a way is because objective knowledge makes us ‘arational’, that is to say we become entities outside the sphere of rationality (neither rational or irrational), whilst outside this sphere we realise “most of us see existence as necessary, as an imperative…existence is really only…a hypothetical imperative”[15] meaning that existence is only necessary so long as it adheres to our idea of what we seek in the world.

However Prymus’ argument on first sight doesn’t seem to correspond to Kant’s analogies but only to his concept of there being a realm known as noumena, nor does it argues against any of Kant’s arguments as being true. But if we were to take Prymus’ use of the word existence in her essay and ask ‘what is existence?’ then we can answer it by looking at Aristotle who argued that existence is what exists and what exists is substance. Thus we can now deduce by the logical procedure that if X is equal to Y and Y is equal to Z then by necessity X must be equal to Z to state that existence is substance. Now we can see that Prymus’ argument actually relates to the first analogy where Kant argues that substance is permanent. Now if these warnings are true and someone does gain access to noumena and tries to destroy substance then they would also take down cause and effect and the interaction between substances making knowledge, be it a priori or a posteriori impossible. We can therefore conclude that we should not seek objective knowledge but be satisfied with the subjective empiricism offered to us by Hume, unless Kant is mistaken.

Kant originally set up the analogies in response to Hume’s arguments of cause and effect in hope that it would disprove Hume, but just what was Hume’s argument? Hume argued that “It is evident, that there is a principle of connection between the different thoughts…in the mind…To me, there appear to be only three principles of connection among ideas…resemblance, contiguity in time and place, and cause or effect”[16]. It appears that Hume, like Kant, accepts that time must be permanent and cause and effect must also exist if knowledge derived from our perceptions is to be obtainable. However this is where the similarity draws to an end as for Hume knowledge must only be based on empirical methods, and therefore we can only hope to achieve a posteriori knowledge which is subjective due to our own relative experiences of the world, the reasoning behind this is that if “we must enquire how we arrive at the knowledge of cause and effect…knowledge of this relation is not…attained by reasonings a priori[17] it is only through our experience of phenomena that we conceive the concept of cause and effect, for example if given two billiard balls we would never accept that the first would cause the second to move if it rolled into it unless we had seen this to be the case on a number of previous occasions so that it became a fixed continuity of how things are in accordance with the laws of Newton’s physics. Yet Hume never accepts that cause and effect exists as part of phenomena as it can not be perceived, instead it is a cognitive synthesiser uniting two separate events together consistently to produce a manifold of presentations. So if we cannot perceive cause and effect yet it still does the same job as Kant believes it does, then we can say that cause and effect lies within noumena along with time and substance, thus Hume and Kant although go about it by alternative methods seem to reach similar conclusions as to the nature of time, causality and substance.

To conclude even though Kant set off to argue against the subjective empiricism of Hume he actually constructed a set of arguments similar to Hume based upon a transcendental empiricism (otherwise known as transcendental idealism). A framework supported by, to some degree, Plato, Scruton, Hume and Gardner. However as Prymus pointed out there may be hidden dangers lurking within this realm of objective knowledge, so it might be advisable to remain contented with the subjective empiricism of Hume until we know as to whether there is any truth in Prymus’ claims or if they are just scare tactics to keep us all in the dark about how the world really is.  


  • Aristotle, 2004, Metaphysics, London: Penguin Classics
  • Gardner. S, 1999, Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason, Abingdon (Oxfordshire): Routledge
  • Hume. D, 2008, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Kant. I, 1999, Critique of Pure Reason (Abridged (Translated by W. S. Pluhar)), Indianapolis: Hackett
  • Kant. I, 2007, Critique of Pure Reason (Reissued Edition (Translated by Smith)), Basingstoke (Hampshire): Palgrave Macmillan
  • Plato, 2007, The Republic (second edition), London: Penguin Classics
  • Prymus. K, 2009, ‘Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI’, in Beaulieu. M and Blahuta. J, ‘Final Fantasy and Philosophy the Ultimate Walkthrough’, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp 20-33
  • Scruton. R, 2001, Kant a Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press

[1] Kant. I, Critique of Pure Reason, 1999, B218

[2] Ibid, A182

[3] Ibid, A184

[4] Ibid, A189

[5] Ibid, B234

[6] Ibid, A192

[7] Ibid, A211

[8] Ibid, B257

[9] Ibid, B258-B259

[10] Gardner. S, Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason, 1999, Pg. 171

[11] Scruton. R, Kant a Very Short Introduction, 2001, Pg. 47

[12] Ibid, Pg. 51

[13] Gardner. S, Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason, 1999, Pg. 177

[14] Prymus. K, ‘Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI’, in Beaulieu. M and Blahuta. J, ‘Final Fantasy and Philosophy the Ultimate Walkthrough’, Pg. 24

[15] Ibid, Pg. 27

[16] Hume. D, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 2008, Pg. 16

[17] Ibid, Pg. 19

Posted on October 1, 2011, in metaphysical, philosophical and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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