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Kant’s Prolegomena Concerning Any Future Metaphysics Response Essay

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Updated: Dec 27th, 2019


This paper is a discussion on the topic of Kant’s prolegomena concerning any future metaphysics. It explores the prolegomena in general and pays special attention to part two of the prolegomena, which deals with Kant’s views on judgments of perception versus judgments of experience.

The paper starts with an overview of Kant’s views on metaphysics then goes on to prolegomena in general. This is followed by a discussion on the judgements of perception as compared to judgements of experience. The paper is based on an online academic resource.

The Philosopher Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher. He is considered by many philosophy commentators as a controversial and complicated philosopher of his time. It is good to mention that both ancient and modern philosophers can be classified into two categories, namely rationalists and empiricists.

Rationalists are those philosophers who argued that pure reason was capable of explaining nature. They were of the view that the human intellect alone was capable of discovering metaphysically objective truth regarding the nature of the universe and life in general. Examples of rationalists include Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes.

Empiricists on the other hand had the view that the best knowledge was that which was obtained through experience. They confined human intellect to the peripheral role of making sense of the experience. Examples of empiricists include David Hume, Berkeley and John Locke.

Due to his controversial nature, Kant seems to take a neutral position regarding the nature of life and the universe. He is not an empiricist nor is he a rationalist. Instead, he is a critic of both camps and sees their stand as flawed.

He is critical of the rationalists for their content that intellect alone can provide some insights into the nature or essence of ‘things in themselves’.

He attacks the empiricists on grounds that experience does not consist only of sensations but it’s wider in scope to include impressions received by neutral observers on daily basis (Kant and Carus 13).

These two categories of philosophers (empiricists and rationalists) appear to shape the debate on the nature of universe thereby raising the very pertinent question of which of the two (the body and the mind) has a greater influence over the other.

The debate is further characterized by other approaches which are based on whether reality exists or it is our minds which construct reality through perceptions. These two approaches include idealism and materialism.

Idealism can be attributed to Immanuel Kant, who argued that what comprises knowledge is nothing else other than ideas. The ideas about the world constitute reality and therefore according to realists like Immanuel Kant, everything we see and experience is based on mental activities or processes.

Kant does believe that the mind, which is partly independent and partly part of the body (brain), has a greater influence on the physiological processes or functions of the body.

Psychologists bring another dimension in the relationship between the mind and the body, that of consciousness, which works together with the partly independent mind to influence the physiological processes of the body.

The point here according to Kant is that the mind, through consciousness, may affect physiological processes or functioning of the body as a whole.

Kant is also associated with the formalist theory, an ethical model of reasoning which is based on rules or duties of a person. He argues that it is not possible to quantify good and thus, the only moral and ethical acts or deeds are those which are both good and right. Right in this sense taken to mean one’s duty.

He emphasizes on the motive of an action rather than the consequences of the action. In this regard therefore, a good act may be done with the wrong motive either by omission or commission. Similarly, an act may be done with a bad motive and produce good or desirable results.

The theory is the opposite of utilitarianism in the sense that it considers both the means and the end, as opposed to utilitarianism which focuses only on the end.

The theory can therefore be said to reinforce the argument that the means must justify the end, meaning that the end should only be considered as good; only of it is arrived at using morally correct actions or deeds.

The theory has been explained as an absolutist perspective in the sense that it considers something to be either good or bad and does not allow for conditions under which a good thing may be considered as bad or a bad thing to be considered as good.

For example, if killing one person is morally wrong, the saving of hundred lives does not have any intrinsic value because it would result to the violation of the moral code of not to kill.

Prolegomena Concerning any Future Metaphysics

This is the second edition of Immanuel Kant‘s book, published in the 1973 as a follow up to his first edition titled ‘Critique of Pure Reason’. Basically, the book is a summary of the first edition, with the introduction of new arguments not found in the first edition.

In this book, Kant claims to examine faculties of the human mind in an analytic manner, as opposed to the synthetic approach applied in the first edition.

The book is arguably one of the shortest works by Immanuel Kant. In writing the book, Kant seemed a bit embarrassed by the poor fairing of the first edition, especially with regard to its inability to convince people about the existence of metaphysics as a science by itself (Kant and Carus 16).

Kant describes the prolegomena as a special way of discovering the science of metaphysics and recommends it to both teachers ad learners.

According to him, metaphysics does not have permanent and universally accepted knowledge like the other sciences because the standards of distinguishing error from truth do not exist, and he therefore wonders how metaphysics can be a possibility (Kant and Carus 17).

Kant appears to differ significantly with empiricists like David Hume, especially with regard to the concept of causality, which Hume had attempted to investigate in some detail to establish whether causality is learned from experience or it’s completely independent of experience.

In his investigations, Hume attempted to derive causality from experience, which was later found to be a mistake because he actually though that the concept of causality was founded on two objects found together in past experience.

On his part, Kant was of the view that concepts such as causality originated from understanding and not from experience. In order to explain this fact, he attempted to analytically handle the question of the possibility of metaphysics by dividing the question into three parts which follow each other in a logical manner.

The parts include pure mathematics as a possibility, pure natural science as a possibility and the possibility of metaphysics as a science.

In the second part which explains the possibility of natural science, he attempted to handle the question of the judgments of perception versus judgments of experience as explained in the following section (Kant and Carus 23).

Judgments of Perception versus Judgments of Experience

According to Kant, what we call natural science is nothing more than contemporary science, which deals with the explanation of nature. He puts the argument that when we talk about nature, we are referring to objects as they appear to us through experience but not things in themselves.

He observes that there is interplay of perceptions and experience, with a very thin line existing between perception and experience (Kant and Carus 25).

Just like David Hume, Kant puts forth the argument that the self is nothing but a bundle of perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity.

He goes ahead to argue that despite the fact that the self is composed of different perceptions which succeed each other, we always ascribe our identity to those perceptions. These perceptions are distinct and actually form separate identities.

But since we keep on perceiving, the collection of the perceptions which succeed each other can be used to define the “self”.

To put it another way, when we do not perceive, we are either asleep or dead and the self is not present. Although the perceptions are different, they are united by their qualities which give us our identity (Kant and Carus 30).

The fact that we are dominated by perceptions, which alternate and replace each other depending on time and space and also the fact that the mind is like a theatre for different perceptions makes Kant’s argument not only valid and logical but also philosophical.

Kant argues that judgements of perception comprise more than one empirical intuition and they are only subjectively valid. He gives the example of two intuitions of a shining sun and a warm rock, which are joined together by applying the concept of understanding to make an empirical intuition.

However, he cautions that the two separate intuitions are only valid for the individual making the observations but they become objectively valid when the concepts of understanding and causality are applied, that is, the understanding enables us to attribute the warmness of the rock to the heat of the sun, thus, the heat of the sun causes an effect of warming the rock (Kant and Carus 37).

Kant argues and demonstrates that judgements of perception and judgements of experience do not exist in isolation to each other but they rather occur in a continuum, that is, one is transformed into the other either by the application or lack of application of a concept.

Since the judgements of perception are subjectively valid, they can be transformed into judgements of experience by applying the relevant concept(s).

In the above example of a shining sun and a warm rock, it can be argued that the application of the concept of causality to the two empirical intuitions can transform a subjectively valid law into an objectively valid law of nature.

The objectivity is based on the application of the concept of causality, that is, it is a well known fact that the heat of the sun can cause a rock to be warm (Kant and Carus 40).

But what constitutes pure concepts? Kant argues that pure concepts such as understandings are not found in experience but rather, they are concepts which we use to organize our understanding of our experiences.

Pure concepts are described as a priori in the sense that we use them to understand and make sense of various judgements of perception. On the other hand, Kant notes that judgements of experience are in a sense synthetic a priori and they make natural science a possibility (Kant and Carus 42).

Perception is about our senses. Judgments of perception therefore have to do with what we intuit or sense with our senses. On the other hand, judgments of experience have to do with what we conclude or deduce from our perceptions.

Therefore, judgments of perception cannot be disputed for the mere fact that they are subjective while judgments of experience can be disputed for the mere fact that they are supposed to be objective in nature (Kant and Carus 44).

Kant is of the view that it is not possible for us to perceive things in themselves, that is, our mind is not capable of perceiving things which are external to it. However, our mind is capable of perceiving the impressions which things in themselves make to our senses.

After perceiving these sensations in form of impressions of things in themselves, our mind has to apply a kind of form to make sense of these sensations and make them intelligible. He argues that the best sorts of form to be applied to these sensations are space and time, which form part of our intuitions.

When sensations are subjected to our intuitions of space and time, we arrive at empirical intuitions, which are otherwise referred to as ‘sense data’ in the sense that they are based on the senses of sight, hearing, feelings and touch (Kant and Carus 45).

In our minds, the faculty of understanding has to do with our thoughts and formation of concepts. In order to transform our judgments of perception to objectively valid judgments, we have to subject the judgments of perception to the faculty of understanding.

Kant argues that empirical intuitions, which are purely subjective in nature, cannot be generalized and therefore in order to transform judgments of perception into judgments of experience, we have to apply the concept of pure understanding (Kant and Carus 45).

To some extent, I agree with Kant’s explanations of the nature of being and how human beings make sense of the world. Indeed, he is able to demonstrate that intellect alone cannot constitute knowledge because it has to be based on some intuitions, which form part of experience.

He also managed to demonstrate that experience alone cannot constitute knowledge because someone has to make sense of an experience to qualify it as knowledge. His decision not to be a rationalist or an empiricist therefore shows his independent kind of thinking.

The prolegomena, though a bit complex in a way has managed to demonstrate that perception alone cannot constitute understanding of nature and also experience alone is incapacitated to explain how human beings make sense of the world.

A blend of human perception and experience does the trick in an attempt to explain how we make sense of the world. By applying pure concepts such as causality and understanding, we are able to turn judgments of perception into judgments of experience, which are objective and conform to laws of natural science.

Work Cited

Kant, Immanuel and Carus, Paul. Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2005.13-45.Print.

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