1902 Encyclopedia > Antinomy


ANTINOMY is the word employed by Kant, in the Critical Philosophy, to mark the inevitable conflict or contradiction into which, according to his view, speculative reason falls with itself, when it seeks to conceive the complex of external phenomena, or nature, as a world or cosmos. Literally the word means a conflict or opposition of laws (Widerstreit der Gesetze). It is used by Kant both in a generic and in a specific sense; the fate that lies upon the speculative endeavour of human reason taking the form of four special contradictions. For the generic sense Kant also has the word Antithetic, each antinomy being set forth in the shape of thesis and antithesis, with corresponding demonstrations, the perfect validity of which, in all cases, he most positively guarantees. The conflicting propositions, or the cosmological ideas involved in them, are intimately, though somewhat obscurely, related to the four heads of categories of the understanding in the Kantian system, but this is not the place to enter into such details. Expressed in the shortest form, the theses run thus :-—The world (1) is limited in space and time, (2) consists of parts that are simple, (3) includes causality through freedom, (4) implies the existence of an absolutely necessary being. To these answer the antitheses :—The world (1) is without limits in space or time, (2) consists of parts always composite, (3) includes no causality but that of natural law, (4) implies the existence of no absolutely necessary being. The theses were taken by Kant from the speculative cosmology of the Wolffian school; the antitheses are the not less dogmatic assertions made or suggested by empirical thinkers. Since, according to Kant, equally valid arguments can be adduced on each side, while, as mutually contradictory in their dogmatic sense, the two sets of propositions cannot both be true, it is plain that reason must have gone beyond its powers in seeking for a speculative knowledge of that which can be given in no experience. But the function of a true philo- sophy does not stop short with the detection of this internal strife of speculative reason; the strife must be composed, and Kant, holds that none but his own critical doctrine is equal to the task. The first two antinomies he overcomes by showing that theses and antitheses, when critically understood of mere phenomena, are both alike false; the others, by showing that the opposed members, when under- stood, again critically, of noümena and phenomena respec- tively, may both be true. This amounts to saying, that in neither of the two sets of cases (though in different ways) is the contradiction real, however really it has been intended by the opposing partizans, or must appear to the mind without critical enlightenment. It is wrong, therefore, to impute to Kant, as is often done, the view that human reason is, on ultimate subjects, at war with itself, in the sense of being impelled by equally strong arguments towards alternatives contradictory of each other. Hamilton's Law of the Conditioned—that all positive knowledge lies between two extremes, neither of which we can conceive as possible, but yet, as mutual contradictories, the one or other of which we must recognise as necessary—while suggested by the Kantian doctrine of the Antinomy of Pure Reason, is dis- tinctly at variance with it. In the realm of phenomenal experience, actual or possible, when it is properly conceived, Kant allows of no conflict; and, though he denies that we can have speculative knowledge of a realm transcending experience, he is satisfied of this at least, that knowledge of the one realm may go forward without prejudice to moral conviction of another. (G. C. E.)

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