On one occasion when Robert Schumann was asked the meaning in a composition, he played it again. An exegetical exercise that commented on the meaning of a philosophical text by merely repeating it in an analogous fashion might be regarded as unhelpful . Yet commentary relies, somewhat at least, on the repetition of parts of the original texts. Through the bricolage of aptly chosen quotes, an essay can amplify a theme, drawing out elements of an argument that might have posed difficulty or been hard to discern in the original, and moreover such essays can make the philosophical texts of an earlier age present testimony to a later time, or finally they can set the original work a new task by setting the historical text side-by-side with the work of the commentator. Heidegger’s late essay Kant’s Thesis on Being (KTB) is by no means merely exegetical; nonetheless, it attempts to clarify Kant’s scattered comments on Being across several texts. To do this, of course, necessitates the repetition of Kant’s statements concerning Being. Of particular significance is the following statement from the Critique of Pure Reason (CPR):
'Being' is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations in and of themselves.” (A 598,B 626)
Heidegger both amplifies upon and discerns the difficulties posed by this compressed statement; he presents testimony regarding its relevance both within Kant’s critical project, and for the larger discussion about Being through which “the tradition speaks”, and finally he sets Kant’s thesis on Being to work alongside his own perennial question concerning Being, this question that, he had claimed as early as 1927, “has today been forgotten”.
In Kant’s Thesis about Being, Heidegger marshals Kant’s episodic statements about Being in a manner that demonstrates both their consistent elements and their progression. Finally, he says “we can make clear to ourselves what is unavoidable in Kant’s ultimate step” and do so by means of certain reflections. What Heidegger hopes to achieve, it seems to me, is not simply a presentation of Kant’s results; rather, he suggests, our approach should be that of “following Kant’s path”. Since “episodic statements about being as positing, belong to the style of his [Kant’s] work” and since these statements are pressed by Heidegger beyond the limits “[i.e., the most] Kant can say about being,” it therefore is valuable to remind ourselves of the context in which any given episodic statement was made. That is, one goal of a meta-commentary such as mine can be to provide a sort of philosophical “hyperlink” back to the textual context in which any one of the episodic statement was made.
So here I attempt a disarticulation of one small piece of the brickwork of Heidegger’s commentary on Being in Kant’s work – that is, his use of §76 of the Critique of Judgement. §76 is an important section and has attracted considerable critical attention – from Schelling as Heidegger reminds us, but also from Hegel and from contemporary writers like Derrida. I say little more about the use to which these writers put the section – but it serves to remind us that there is some pedigree to resorting to this short and at first glance only barely remarkable section. The way I proceed here is to remind us first of how, in the most proximate way, the section is put to use in Heidegger’s essay – what parts does he quote and what themes does he take up from that section?; that is, to what purpose is it put in commenting on Kant’s thesis? After these initial comments, I will unmoor §76 from Heidegger’s immediate use of it, and place the section back into the play of the Third Critique. When replaced into its original dock in the Critique of Judgement, the work of the section can only be adequately assessed by reference to its preceding section upon which §76 follows as a “remark”. The substance of the “remark” brings forward some commentary on the peculiarities of the human cognitive faculties which Kant comments on in §77. Minimally, therefore, even an economical comment on §76, requires a nod towards the proceeding section and the one that follows on from it. Taken together the three sections can be seen as important cogs in the machinery of the Dialectic of Teleological Judgment though more perplexingly still, they serve an important functional role in a reflection of the entire critical project. Clearly, the task of commentary on the role of §76 in Heidegger’s essay could quickly ripple beyond the useful limits of the present task. Therefore, I more simply reinsert §76 into the Third Critique and comment on the local significance of the passage for the work of the Dialectic. After this, I provide commentary on the details of the remark before returning finally to Heidegger’s use of this section, but this time freighted with a secure grasp on the textual environment in which our section originally did its work.
To what proximate use is the §76 applied?
Heidegger’s essay is fairly seamlessly wrought, so much so that it is difficult to discern where one component of the reflection on Kant’s Thesis on Being leaves off and where another component begins. This is the sense in which Heidegger’s essay gathers up the episodic commentary on Being from Kant and shows both its consistency and development, and ultimately shows what this path may lead to. In the early passages of his essay, Heidegger discounts a view that Kant’s thesis on Being is “abstract, meager, and pale”. The thesis “contains two assertions”, a negative one denying to Being “the character of a predicate in general” and a positive one where Being is characterized as “merely the positing”. “Merely” here, according to Heidegger, means “purely”; the term “pure”, of course, being a highly significant one for Kant, and providing us with a clue that Kant’s thesis will assert for Being “nothing thing-like”; that is, Heidegger claims “Being” and “is” are “for Kant, nothing objective”. So, Being is not concerned exclusively with “the thing in the sense of the thing in and for itself”. Kant thinks being “in relation to capacities of our understanding”. Of course, matters are more complex than this, since it “must be possible for being and its modes to be determined from their relation to the understanding.” The understanding is limited in its use to “to the determination of that which is given through sensuous intuitions and its pure forms.” (KTB 350). But the recognizing this limitation invites “a more primordial determination of the essence of the understanding itself”.
It is in working towards this more primordial determination and its relation to Being that Heidegger resorts to §76 of CJ. “According to Kant’s interpretation of the “is” there speaks in it a connecting of subject and predicate of the sentence in the object.” This unity must be sought “higher up” which leads him into substantive comment on transcendental apperception, and its role as “the Supreme Principle of All Employment of the Understanding.” CRP B 136. In its turn this leads us, as it must, to an exposition of the role of the postulates, since “in these principles the guiding concept of being as positing shows through.” As schematized versions of the categories of modality, the postulates are not principles of the content of experience; rather they relate experience to the “faculty of knowledge”. In doing so, they transform the modal categories of possibility, existence (actuality) and necessity. In the explanation of the postulates Kant, as Heidegger reminds us does not “even [ask] wherein the basis for the distinction for the distinction between being possible and being actual might lie.” It is precisely to answer that “wherein” that Heidegger makes recourse to §76. We turn now to that section.
The context and content of §76
In his account of teleological judgment what Kant has in mind are patterns of nature, such as “the structure of a bird, the hollowness of its bones, the disposition of its wings for motion and of its tails for steering,” (§61) that cannot be adequately analyzed without being considered as subject to the causality of purpose or ends. The assumption of purpose is not necessarily employed to explain; rather it is used as an analogy, which assists us in our inquiry of nature. This is the sense of teleology intended here – things designed with their end or purpose in mind. Purposiveness is defined in §10 in the following technical manner: “the causality of a concept in respect of its Object is its purposiveness (forma finalis).” We cannot, of course, rule out the possibility that blind mechanical forces produce seemingly purposive outcomes, nor can we answer the question of whether some other sort of causality must lie as the basis of “things which we must necessarily judge as natural purposes.”
The “remark” that constitutes §76 is occasioned most immediately by considerations raised in the final paragraph of §75. There Kant restates the conflict between the “necessary maxims of reflective judgment” upon which a dialectic of teleological judgments emerges. Neither organized beings, such as living things, nor their “inner possibility” can be cognized, or even explained by “mere mechanical principles.” On the other hand, we cannot rule out “a Being acting according to design” which is the basis for natural purposes and is consequently “author” of the world. In this iteration of the tension that comes from the consideration of natural purposes, Kant clearly indicates the resolution for this tension comes, not from any optimism we might have about the emergence of a Newton who “shall make comprehensible by us the production of a blade of grass”, but rather by placing the possibility of an intelligent Being which can serve regulatively to cognize the design of nature.
The remark thus presents some “passing comments” on the consideration, but it does not, as Kant tells us, amount to a proof of the foregoing. Before examining the substance of these passing comments though, it is worth, I think, saying just a little more about the dialectic that Kant has identified in teleological judgment since the resolution of the antinomy then recalls for reflection on the peculiarity of human cognition, reflections that are the substance of the remark.
Since the determinant Judgment has no autonomy and subsumes only under the principles of the understanding, it cannot be in conflict. Therefore, the antinomy can only occur in the Reflective Judgment. That is, the law under which reflective judgment does its work is not given – that is, “reflective judgment must in such cases serve as a principle for itself.” (§69) The antinomy is represented in the following pair of regulative propositions:
The first maxim of Judgment is the proposition: all production of material things and their forms must be judged to be possible according to merely mechanical laws.
The second maxim is the counter-proposition: some products of material nature cannot be judged to be possible according to merely mechanical laws. (To judge them requires quite a different law of causality, namely, that of final causes.) (§70).
These regulative propositions can be converted in a type of cognitive algebra into constitutive principles:
Proposition: All production of material things is possible according to merely mechanical laws.
Counter-proposition: Some production of material things is not possible according to merely mechanical laws. (§70).
Expressed constitutively clearly both propositions cannot be true. These propositions emerge in reference to a consideration of objective purposiveness in nature. The antinomy rests upon a failure to distinguish between propositions of reflective versus the determinate judgment. Reflective judgment is autonomous in the sense that since it does not regulate according to the laws of understanding, reflective judgment reflects upon particulars without subsuming them under laws. Thus the idea of a design guiding purposiveness in nature can guide us without us needing to assume that this is actually the case.
The substance of the comment then is a reflection on the implications of the forgoing account of the antinomy for Kant’s depiction of our cognitive structures. In doing so he recapitulates, in the context of teleological judgment, material from the earlier critiques. The remark can be usefully compared with a statement from the A preface:
[Reason] begins from principles [Grundsätzen] whose use is unavoidable in the course of experience and at the same time sufficiently warranted by it. With these principles it rises (as its nature also requires) ever higher, to more remote conditions. But since it becomes aware in this way that its business must a1ways remain incomplete because the questions never cease, reason sees itself necessitated to take refuge in principles that overstep all possible use in experience, and yet seem so unsuspicious that even ordinary common sense agrees with them. But it thereby falls into obscurity and contradictions… (CPR Avii – viii).
Reason, since its operation is not restricted to conditions of possible experience, may function regulatively rather than constitutively. Because of the regulative role of reason contrasted with the constitutive role of the Understanding it is “indispensably necessary” that understanding distinguishes between the possibility and the actuality of things. The very fact of this distinction is a hallmark of the peculiarity of human cognition with its elements of understanding for concepts and the intuition for Objects. A non-intuitive Understanding would, naturally, only have actual objects. So if our cognitive peculiarities allow for the distinction between the possible and the actual how do we account for the difference in terms of the these cognitive elements? The possible signifies “the positing of the representation of a thing in respect of our concept,” whereas the actual “signifies the positing of the thing in itself.” For humans therefore the mere possibility of a thing does not ensure its actuality. The “irrepressible demand” of Reason which can overrun the distinction between the actual and the possibly can therefore assume something for which the Understanding has no concept. Thus the concept of an absolutely necessary Being is problematic for the understanding. What should one make of this capacity of Reason to surpass the understanding? Kant assures us that such judgments cannot be constitutive principles but are regulative.
In this way the Idea of an unconditioned necessity is supposed in the same way that freedom is presupposed in the practical realm. In this realm there is a distinction to be made between “ought to do” and “does”, that is, between a law that is “possible through us” and one that is “actual through us”.
Our understanding proceeds from the universal to the particular – it subsumes the particular materials of given by the sensibility under a rule. It is thereby a “lawgiver” thus making experience possible. Determinant judgment cannot cognize purposiveness; but since “Reason requires unity and conformity to law in the combination of particular laws of nature” this conformity is provided by notion of purposiveness. Though clearly this notion is regulative, it is nevertheless “just as necessarily valid for our human Judgment as if it were an objective principle.”
Importing §76 into Heidegger’s Kant’s Thesis on Being
As we have seen Heidegger employs §76 to enquire into the basis for the distinction between “being possible” and “being actual”, doing so with the caveat that again Kant addresses the issue “episodically”. On the one hand, Heidegger stresses the importance of the section for his own unfolding of Kant’s thesis, doing so, for instance, by quoting Schelling exclamation on the profundity of the Kant’s thoughts in §76; however, on the other hand, he employs rather little of this profound thought in the subsequent sections of KTB. The key components of the section for Heidegger and the following ones:
The reason [for the distinction –] which is unavoidably necessary to the human understanding [– between the possibility and the actuality of things] lies in the subject and in the nature of its cognitive faculties].
And from further along from the same paragraph of §76:
“Now the whole distinction which we draw between merely possible and the actual rests upon the fact that possibility signifies only the positing of the representation of a thing relative to our concept, and, in general, to our capacity of thinking, whereas actuality signifies the positing of a thing in itself (apart from this concept).
So the “peculiarity” of human understanding, to use the language of §77 of CJ, is that it is discursive, and therefore the “substantiality of an object, its reality, is objective for us only if objectivity as sensuously given is determined by the understanding and if, conversely, that which is to be determined by the understanding is given to it.” (KTB 356). With this clarification of the basis of distinguishing possibility and actuality, it “becomes clear that in the essence of the being of beings, in positing, the articulation of the necessary difference between possibility and actuality prevails.” (KTB 356). This, Heidegger claims is all the furthest Kant gets “when we are the lookout for results.” One can, Heidegger, claims follow Kant’s “path” further, and take a further step with him “by way of an intimation.”
For the sake of brevity, we will not follow in any detail this last step all the way to its conclusion (even though it is a path that takes the scenic route by way of the Amphiboly section of CPR), and is a path that, by means of a reflection on reflection, leads us back both to the tradition – that is, back to a tradition that discusses Being starting with Parmenides – but also leads to the thinking of being that characterizes the thought of the later Heidegger. Being, Heidegger says, as he reaches his destination, “is properly that which grants presence.” I forgo this discussion mainly to open up a space to wonder, in the end, why Heidegger employs §76 in the first place. Undoubtedly, the section clarifies the basis for the distinction between the possible and the actual, thereby clarifying, in turn, the essence of the “positing” of being. This increment is not nothing, of course, and yet one wonders why Heidegger stresses the importance of the section and at the same time does not “pretend to think though this §76 adequately”.
There may not be a clear answer to this; certainly nothing more is said about the matter in the text. I make the following speculative suggestion: §76 arguably plays a role not only in the Dialectic of Teleological Judgement, but also for the entire critical project, and it is this reflective gesture that Heidegger imports into his essay. §76 allows Kant to gather up material from all phases of the critical project and provides some evidence justifying a unified reading of Kant’s critical work. This is the view of Angelica Nuzzo, for example, in a recent paper Kritik der Urteilskraft Par. 76-77 , and elsewhere. If it is the case that Heidegger intends for his essay Kant’s Thesis on Being to do the proximate work of explicating Kant’s thesis but also of allowing him to examine this in the broader context of his perennial question, that is the question of the meaning of Being, it is unsurprising that as KYB concludes it does so by reflecting back on time as the determination of where things come from. He says, “Does an unthought character of a concealed essence of time here show itself, or more exactly, conceal itself?” (KTB 362). Furthermore, “if that is the situation, then the question about being must come under the heading: Being and Time.”
The use of §76 paves the way for a gesture in Heidegger that is simultaneously prospective (going further along Kant’s path) and retrospective (going back to the Greeks, and to Heidegger’s querying of the tradition). That is, importing §76, with all its magnetized filings (from the Dialectic, from the Critique of Judgement, from its refection across the range of the critical project) provides a certain prompt, a type of literary sympathetic magic, that allows Heidegger to pursue reflections taking him back to the beginnings of his own project.
At the end of KTB, Heidegger’s makes comments that return us to his own earlier statements regarding Being in §6 of Being and Time . In that earlier writing, Heidegger discusses the “task of destroying (destructuring) the history of ontology” and, does so, as he will do again many decades later in KTB, by engaging with the tradition starting with Parmenides ending with Kant who he claims to be the “first and only person who has gone any stretch of the way towards investigating the dimension of Temporality or even let himself be drawn hither by the coercion of the phenomena themselves”. Although Kant’s Thesis about Being, might be a surprising late return by Heidegger to an interrogation of Kant’s critical project, nevertheless it facilitates a summative assessment of Heidegger’s life-long persistence in the task of a reassessment of the history of ontology.