Kant on Pure Reason and Plato on Sunday

A plant, an animal, the orderly arrangement
of the cosmos -- presumably therefore the entire natural world
-- clearly show that they are possible only according to ideas,
and that though no single creature in the conditions of its
individual existence coincides with the idea of what is most
perfect in its kind -- just as little as does any human being
with the idea of humanity, which he yet carries in his soul
as the archetype of his actions -- these ideas are none the
less completely determined in the Supreme Understanding,
each as an individual and each as unchangeable, and are
the original causes of things. But only the totality of things,
in their interconnection as constituting the universe, is
completely adequate to the idea. If we set aside the
exaggerations in Plato's methods of expression, the philosopher's
spiritual flight from the ectypal mode of reflecting upon the
physical world-order to the architectonic ordering of it
according to ends, that is, according to ideas, is an enterprise
which calls for respect and imitation. It is, however, in regard
to the principles of morality, legislation, and religion, where
the experience, in this case of the good, is itself made possible
only by the ideas -- incomplete as their empirical expression
must always remain -- that Plato's teaching exhibits its quite
peculiar merits. When it fails to obtain recognition, this is due
to its having been judged in accordance with precisely those
empirical rules, the invalidity of which, regarded as principles,
it has itself demonstrated. For whereas, so far as nature is
concerned, experience supplies the rules and is the source of
truth, in respect of the moral laws it is, alas, the mother of
illusion! Nothing is more reprehensible than to derive the laws
prescribing what ought to be done from what is done, or to
impose upon them the limits by which the latter is

But though the following out of these considerations is
what gives to philosophy its peculiar dignity, we must meantime
occupy ourselves with a less resplendent, but still meritorious
task, namely, to level the ground, and to render it
sufficiently secure for moral edifices of these majestic
dimensions. For this ground has been honeycombed by subterranean
workings which reason, in its confident but fruitless search
for hidden treasures, has carried out in all directions, and
which threaten the security of the superstructures.

Our present duty is to obtain insight into the transcendental employment
of pure reason, its principles and ideas, that we may be in a
position to determine and estimate its influence and true value.
Yet, before closing these introductory remarks, I beseech
those who have the interests of philosophy at heart (which is
more than is the case with most people) that, if they find
themselves convinced by these and the following considerations,
they be careful to preserve the expression 'idea' in
its original meaning, that it may not become one of those
expressions which are commonly used to indicate any and
every species of representation, in a happy-go-lucky confusion,
to the consequent detriment of science. There is no lack
of terms suitable for each kind of representation, that we
should thus needlessly encroach upon the province of any one
of them. Their serial arrangement is as follows. The genus
is representation in general (repraesentatio). Subordinate to
it stands representation with consciousness (perceptio). A
perception which relates solely to the subject as the modification
of its state is sensation (sensatio), an objective perception
is knowledge (cognitio). This is either intuition or concept
(intuitus vel conceptus). The former relates immediately to the
object and is single, the latter refers to it immediately by means
of a feature which several things may have in common. The
concept is either an empirical or a pure concept. The pure
concept, in so far as it has its origin in the understanding alone
(not in the pure image of sensibility), is called a notion. A
concept formed from notions and transcending the possibility
of experience is an idea or concept of reason. Anyone who
has familiarised himself with these distinctions must find it
intolerable to hear the representation of the colour, red, called
an idea. It ought not even to be called a concept of
understanding, a notion.


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