… Who can deny that millions of things that don’t exist in reality are only possible by all the predicates that they would have possessed if they had existed; that in a view that the supreme being shares about them there are no missing definitions, though existence is not among them, for the supreme being conceives then as merely possible things… If God wanted to create a different set of things, another world, then this world would exist with all of the definitions (and no more) that God cognizes in it, even though it is just a possible world [8, S. 401].
Thus, by the end of the 50’s — early 60’s (R 3706 dates back to this time) Kant’s metaphysical views changed significantly. He departed from Spinozian point of view towards Leibniz’ concept of “possible worlds” (the reasons for this change are still not known).
Kant: “If existence could be counted among various predicates that may be immanent to a thing, then, of course, one would not require any other proof of God’s existence, more convincing and understandable than the Cartesian. Because of all possible things, there is only one in which all things that can be assembled together are connected into one. These realities, i.e., true positive predicates, also include existence; therefore, the most real of all the being in its internal capabilities presupposes existence”.
Decartes: “…each time I happen to think of a first and sovereign being, and to draw, so to speak, the idea of him from the storehouse of the mind, I am necessitated to attribute to him all kinds of perfections, though I may not then enumerate them all, nor think of each of them in particular. And this necessity is sufficient, as soon as I discover that existence is a perfection, to cause me to infer the existence of this first and sovereign being”.
Kant: “It doesn’t make much sense arguing that such a possible thing only assumes existence, that is only because the very thing exists in the mind rather than out of it, the same could be said about all the predicates that are inherent in any possible thing: they are not present in reality but are assumed. The latter is indeed the case when something is randomly linked with a property which is not necessarily entailed by this particular thing, for example, if some horse is mentally attributed with wings to make it a Pegasus, the wings are inherent in some horse but just mentally”.
Decartes: “Indeed such a doctrine may at first sight appear to contain more sophistry than truth. <…> I cannot conceive God unless as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from him, and therefore that he really exists: not that this is brought about by my thought, or that it imposes any necessity on things, but, on the contrary, the necessity which lies in the thing itself, that is, the necessity of the existence of God, determines me to think in this way: for it is not in my power to conceive a God without existence, that is, a being supremely perfect, and yet devoid of an absolute perfection, as I am free to imagine a horse with or without wings…”
Kant: “On the contrary, where the connection of the predicate with a thing is not arbitrary, but is determined by the essence of the thing itself, the predicate is inherent in thing, not because we assume it, but it is necessary to suppose this predicate as a part of this entity because it is inherent to it by its nature”.
Decartes: “For indeed I discern on many grounds that this idea is not factitious depending simply on my thought, but that it is the representation of a true and immutable nature: in the first place because I can conceive no other being, except God, to whose essence existence [necessarily] pertains…”
Kant: ” So I cannot say that the fact that the total sum of triangle’s angles is equal to two right angles exists only in thought, but I must say that it is inherent to a triangle by itself. This feature is not disturbed by the fact that this possibility is only assumed by my mind: for it is something in itself, even when it is not conceived, the predicate would exist by itself anyway even though no one would make any connections between the two”.
Decartes: “And what I find of most importance is, that I discover in my mind innumerable ideas of certain objects, which cannot be esteemed pure negations, although perhaps they possess no reality beyond my thought, and which are not framed by me though it may be in my power to think, or not to think them, but possess true and immutable natures of their own. As, for example, when I imagine a triangle, although there is not perhaps and never was in any place in the universe apart from my thought one such figure, it remains true nevertheless that this figure possesses a certain determinate nature, form, or essence, which is immutable and eternal, and not framed by me, nor in any degree dependent on my thought; as appears from the circumstance, that diverse properties of the triangle may be demonstrated, viz, that its three angles are equal to two right ones…”
Kant: ” The same is true of the existence, if it could be considered as a predicate of things. For it would have been inherent in the necessary manner to the single possible being, which contains all reality, that is the essence of most real being would exist necessarily, and its possibility would include its reality. And if without my or anyone else’s thought the most real being didn’t have inherent existence, the idea of this being would have been all false. For if it is correct, then it can’t be of any other predicates, except for those that belong to this thing even apart from the thoughts of it”.
Decartes: “But, nevertheless, when I think of it more attentively, it appears that the existence can no more be separated from the essence of God, than the idea of the equality of its three angles to two right angles, from the essence of a [rectilinear] triangle; so that it is not less impossible to conceive a God, that is, a being supremely perfect, to whom existence is a wanting…”
Even more similarities (even up to the order of presentation) can be found between the reasoning of Kant and Spinoza’s remarks on the first chapter of the “Short Treatise on God, Man and his Well-being.” Thus, in the second note Spinoza says:
From the definition which will be given in Chapter 2 and according to which God has infinite attributes, we can prove his existence as follows: everything that we clearly and distinctly discern as belonging to nature of things, we can truly say of a thing itself, but the nature of a being with infinite attributes, also includes an attribute that indicates the existence; therefore, the objection that such a statement is true only about the idea, but not the thing itself, would be false, because the idea of an attribute belonging to a thing does not exist, and therefore the mentioned above assumption of an idea has nothing to do with either a thing or what is told about it; then there is a big difference between an idea and its object, that is why the opinion about the object is not applicable to the idea and vice versa [20, S. 17—18]10.
In the third note Spinoza discusses the question whether the idea of God is fictitious. His reasoning is based on the distinction between the ideas that are created by our mind, and those that exist independently of our thinking (Kant’s reasoning is based on the same distinction).
Suppose, however, that this idea of [God] is a fiction, but then we have to consider all our other ideas as fictions.
If that were the case, then why would ideas differ so greatly? For we see some [ideas], the existence of which is impossible to suppose, for example, all the monsters [mythical animals], which seem to consist of two natures, such as, for example, an animal that represents a bird and a horse, and similar creatures that do not exist [whose existence is impossible] in nature, which we find arranged quite differently.
In addition to these there is a third idea, and, moreover, the only one: it embodies the necessary existence in a different way compared to the previous one, which can only exist, because it was only essence that was necessary but not existence; this one needs both existence and essence inseparably.
Thus, I see that neither truth, nor essence or existence of a thing depend on me; for as it has been proven for the second group of ideas, they are what they are, regardless of me, either by their essence alone, or by their essence and existence together. Even more it holds true to the third, only idea, namely: not only does it not depend on me, but on the contrary, God alone should be the subject of what I’m saying about him. So, if it did not exist, I couldn’t state anything about him, as it is still possible about other things, even if they did not exist [11, S. 80, revised].
** For other ideas existence is possible, though it is not absolutely necessary, while their essence is always needed, whether they exist or not, just like the idea of a triangle and the idea of love in a soul separated from the body, etc.; so, even assuming first that they are invented, I then will be forced to admit that they, nevertheless, have the essence, even if neither I nor any other person has ever thought of them. That is why they are not created by my imagination, but beyond me they should have a subject that is not me, and without which they can’t exist.
This comparison clearly shows that supporting the Cartesian argument, Kant does not state anything new. His reasoning is completely consistent with the arguments of Descartes, and the sequence of presentation is very similar to the one we find in the “Short Treatise” by Spinoza.
Both Descartes and Spinoza emphasize that the possible things exist and possess some properties independently of our mind. This argument is a logical response to the objection, stating that although the proposition “God exists” is a priori true, it is such only because of an imagined concept of God and therefore has only an ideal meaning. Such a response (in connection with the issue of judgments emanating from arbitrary definitions) is clearly articulated by Leibniz in his letter to Fouche:
First of all, it is undeniable that the very truth of hypothetical propositions is something outside of us and independent of us. For all hypothetical proposals assert what would be or would not be, if something or its contrary were posited; consequently, they assume two things at the same time which agree with each other, or the possibility or impossibility, necessity or indifference, of something. But this possibility, impossibility or necessity (for the necessity of one thing is the impossibility of its contrary) is not a chimera which we create, since all that we do consists in recignizing them, in spite of ourselves and in a consistent manner. Thus, considering all existing things, this very possibility or impossibility of their existence becomes primary. In its turn, the opportunity and the need form and compose what is called essences or natures, and make up the truths, which are commonly referred to as eternal. And they deserve this name, because nothing is ever as eternal as the necessary. For example, the nature of a circle with its properties is something real and eternal. In other words, there is some permanent cause outside of us, which operates so that anyone who thinks about it, find the same. It is not a simple coincidence of thoughts, which could be explained by the nature of the human spirit… [10, p. 268].
The logical objection, as it is already mentioned, is also given by Leibniz in the article on the Cartesian argument (“De la démonstration cartésienne…”). Thus, the first part of fragment R 3706 does not contain any new reasons in favor of the Cartesian argument. Kant is simply reproduces the line of thought, known since the time of Descartes. And, most likely, this explains why the wording of the first part of the fragment is so clear unlike the wording of the second part.
4. The problem of “true” and “imagined” essences
Apart from criticism of logical objections, there is another line of reasoning in the text of R 3706. It concerns the issue of the “true” and “fictional” ideas. From the point of view of the “unifying” interpretation this issue is the main one in ND argument11. In the scholium to Theorem VI Kant points to the need to justify the validity of the concept of the most real thing. Moreover, the truth here is understood as the correspondence of the actual (objectively) possible instance to the concept rather than a match to something actually existing. In Kant’s argument (in this viewpoint) distinction between “apparent” and “true” possibility plays a crucial role. In ND Kant does not explain this difference, limiting himself to the evidence that the rationale of true possibilities of the most real thing depends on the proof of its existence.
In 3706 R Kant views another argument against the truth (in this sense) of the concept of the all-real being. This argument refers to M. Cather, first reviewer of Decartes’ “Reflections.” It is to indicate to the random nature of concept of the perfect being, and to oppose it to other concepts, all the elements of which are necessarily connected to each other. Kant rejects this argument insisting that the concept of the most real thing represents a unity.
Before continuing the analysis of Kant’s argument, let us recall the debate around this issue at the time of Descartes.
Playful (as recognized by the author) remark by M. Cather is in fact one of the most serious objections to the Cartesian argument. According to M. Cather, following Descartes’ reasoning, we can prove a priori the existence of anything, such as the existence of a lion:
…let me just make a little joke: a complex concept existing lion includes, and includes essentially, two parts, namely, the lion and the mode of existence; and if we withdraw any of these parts, it would cease being a complex concept. Then: did God understand clearly and distinctly this compound word? Did the idea of this complex concept — being difficult in itself — include essentially the both components? In other words, does existence have anything to do with the essence of this word-combination — the existing lion? [1, p. 81].
This seems to lead to the fact that the existing lion certainly exists, and if the existing lion exists then a lion also exists.
Descartes replied that such ideas (a winged horse, an existing lion) do not contain a “true and immutable” essences, but only “imaginary and created by intellect”, according to him it proceeds from the possibility to mentally dismember such ideas, unlike the ideas of a triangle or a square [1, p. 94—95].
The issue of the complex (composite) character of the idea of God was also raised in conversations between Descartes and Gassendi. While criticizing the idea of the perfect being, Gassendi observed that “the idea of these [divine] perfections that you have got was not revealed to you by God, but was perceived by you from perfect things and then increased… It is thus the way to represent the Pandora as the goddess adorned with all the gifts and perfections as well as a perfect republic, perfect speaker, etc. [1, p. 239]. Descartes objected to this, that “the idea of God is not constructed gradually by us on the basis of increasing perfection of creation, but is formed at once by the fact that we touch mentally the infinite being, which doesn’t allow any increase” [1, p. 290].
Obviously, Descartes’ answers do not provide a clear distinction criterion between “true” and “imaginary” entity. As for Spinoza, he, as we have seen, declares the concept of a winged horse inconsistent, but says nothing about the concept of an existing lion; apparently, there is no room for this concept in his classification of the ideas, the problem is thus avoided and not solved.
It is worth mentioning that Crusius is extremely detailed in discussing the problem of complex and non-complex concepts proceeding to distinction between accidental and necessary essences [15, p. 62—75, 530, 548—549, 756—757]. From his point of view, it is only the idea of infinite substance (God) which turns to be really inseparable; the essences of finite things contain logically independent features, and are therefore accidental. However, Crusius’ reasoning seems to have little relevance to the issue of the Cartesian argument, because it denies the existence of the “eternal and immutable” essences beyond the real world.
I must admit that none of the above mentioned authors has given a clear definition to this metaphysical distinction of whole (indivisible) entities and complex entities (arbitrarily created by our imagination). From a logical point of view of a triangle is as much a complex idea as the idea of Pegasus, when cutting off the property of triangularity, we will get the idea of a closed shape, which can be seen as completely independent. For a polygon three angles can be seen as a random feature. Therefore, it is difficult to catch any logical (and metaphysical) distinction between the ideas of a triangle and Pegasus.
Going back to Kant’s argument, we note that the text of the R 3706 allows us to properly interpret the expression “true concept” from the scholium to Theorem VI in ND. Thus the “true concept” is the concept that expresses a whole, indivisible entity. In such an interpretation the argument in ND takes the following form: we form the concept of the most real thing, but we do not know in advance whether an essence, expressed by this notion is “true”, “necessary”, “eternal”, or if it is “artificial”, existing only because we built it due to the power of our imagination. In the first case (“if any [possible] being assembles [as required, regardless of our thoughts] all the gradations of reality”) the Cartesian argument appears to be true, in the second (“if they only appear to assemble”) it should be considered invalid.
We can see that the text of R 3706 confirms “unifying” interpretation of Kant’s argument in the scholium to Theorem VI ND. He contrasted being-in-the-mind and objectively possible-being (beyond thought). In the first case, Kant speaks of supposing “in mind” (im Verstande) or “thought” (in Gedanken); in the second case — supposing “beyond thought” (außer dem Gedanken) or “due to the essence of the thing itself” (durch das Wesen der Sachen selbst). In ND these two ways of supposing are defined as idealiter and realiter.
It is noteworthy that, saying “it makes little sense to argue that such a possible thing includes only existence in mind, that is only because the very thing that is perceived only in thought, but not beyond mind…”, Kant was originally going to use the expression “in the real sense”(im Realverstande) instead of “beyond mind”. In our view, the crossed out word can serve as evidence in favor of the “unifying” interpretation, explaining the use of the term realiter in ND.
Finally, we can directly compare the key phrase in the scholium to Theorem VI to the beginning of Fragment R 3706.
ND: “…if some being unifies without any gradation all realities, it exists…”
R3706: “If existence could be counted among various predicates that may be immanent to a thing, then, of course, one would not require any other proof of God’s existence, more convincing and understandable than the Cartesian. Because of all possible things, there is only one in which all entities that can be assembled together are connected into one”.
The meaning of these fragments, in our view, is the same (with the exception of mentioning the predicate interpretation of existence).
It’s hard to say why in ND Kant didn’t add the definition “possible” to the word “being”. This can be attributed to negligence or general brevity of the text. But to someone who learnt the argument of ND after having read R 3706, it seems natural to interpret this argument in the spirit of the latter. And only the reference to some secondary works can offer another (less convincing) interpretation.
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This article was firstly published in collected articles “Kantovsky Sbornik” (2013):
Yermolaev V. Kant on “logical objection” to ontological argument: fragment R 3706// Kantovsky Sbornik. Selected articles. 2012: academic journal. 2013. P. 51 – 63.