Kant Lexicon


The attempt to use the categories of the understanding to refer beyond possible given experiences is a “transcendent” use. A negative result of the Critique is that the categories do not admit of legitimate transcendent use.

According to Kant, possible experience is a boundary which defines the limits of the legitimate use of the understanding. Certain principles, however, are “overreaching” (A643/B671) in that they command us to go beyond those limits. “But a principle that removes these limits—indeed, even commands us to step beyond them—is called transcendent” (A 296/B352).

The fundamental transcendent principle is that every series of “conditioned” objects must be completed by an object which is “unconditioned.” (For a statement of this principle, see A307-8/B364.) For example, Kant held that any change in sensible objects is contingent upon a cause of that change (Second Analogy). This condition holds for all possible objects of experience. But reason naturally applies the transcendent principle just stated. Here, the conditioned is what is contingent, and the unconditioned is what is not contingent, i.e., is necessary. Then the series of changes must terminate in a being which is not contingent, but rather is necessary, in order to bring the series to completion, or to arrive at the unconditioned. So there is a necessary being. Since (as Kant held) only contingent beings can be met with in experience, the necessary being is not an object of possible experience, and the principle which requires a necessary being is transcendent. (Fourth Antinomy, Thesis)

The transcendent use of the understanding is opposed to its immanent use, which is restricted to possible experience and is legitimate.

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