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Kant’s Third Antinomy in Philosophical Thought Term Paper


Kant’s third antinomy pays attention to the link between two major assumptions shaping the modern philosophical thought. The first antimony considers causation as an approach deployable to explain all motions of natural beings. The second assumption holds that people are self-moving and free. The first assumption finds relevance in modern science while the second assumption finds application in the interpretation of modern morality. At superficial value, the two assumptions appear to contradict. However, Kant “attempts to show that this contradiction only arises when reason transgresses its limits and seeks to grasp the infinite” (Gillespie 1). This way, reason takes a dialectic form. It is submerged in the illusion with imagination coupled with rhetoric acquiring noble roles in guiding it.

The reason should not be exposed to subversion. Kant believes that this problem can be resolved only by subjecting the power of reason to criticism in the endeavor to establish its limits. This aspect constitutes the main objective of Kant’s book, Critique of Pure Reason. Kant argues that the critique of reason creates room for the possibility of establishing a distinction between legitimate deployments of reason in philosophy and rhetoric coupled with dialectical use. Hence, the foundation for rationality in science and rooms for religion coupled with morality are also excluded. This paper starts with a description of the Kant’s antinomies in general before introducing the third antinomy, which is “on freedom”, and finally providing the writer’s interpretation of the third antinomy.

General Description of the Kant’s antinomies

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant discusses four antinomies or metaphysical propositions, which seems contradictory. The first proposition deals with definiteness of the beginning and the end of the world in comparison to the infiniteness of the world (Moore 480). The second antinomy introduces the claim that everything available in the world constitutes simple indivisible elements, which are indestructible (Radner 413). The antithesis for this claim is that all things available in the universe constitute infinitely divisible and composite elements.

The third metaphysical proposition’s thesis is the claim that people act in a manner determined by their free will while the antithesis is the claim that all things done by people are within the control of nature. The last antinomy encompasses the thesis that there “is a necessary cause vis-à-vis the antithesis that nothing is necessary and everything is contingent” (Kitcher 36). Kant dogmatically assumes on one hand that the thesis for each antinomy is true and he uses it to prove the antithesis. In the second instance, he dogmatically assumes that the antithesis is true and thus he used it to prove the thesis. Through this methodology, Kant depicts that each of the antinomies arises from people’s misunderstanding of issues under discussion. Major misunderstandings arise from the non-verifiability of the antinomies through experience so that people are compelled to conceive that they “deal not with appearance, but with things in them” (Kitcher 43). In this end, appearance becomes deceiving and a major impediment to the deployment of the power of reason in establishing the truth.

First antinomy’s chief challenges emanate from mistreatments of time coupled with space. Moore posits, “Its treatment of times and space as constituting things by themselves as opposed to the sensibility of faculty institutions” (482). Time and space comprise key features of people’s experience. This assertion implies that their isolation from experiences constitutes impossibility since they cannot exist as independent entities in the absence of experience (Moore 483). When subjected to reason, the interrogative on the capacity of time coupled with space to offer a limitation to the world makes logical sense. Such limitation “would require the existence of outside realms of people’s experience” (Moore 483). The second antinomy introduces a major philosophical puzzle when Kant treats the refutation coupled with proof of bodies as being constituted of simple elements.

Schmiege joins and relies on Jonathan Bennett’s argument that no person has ever interpreted the second antinomy so that the “thesis and antithesis arguments come out valid and to constitute genuine antimony” (Schmiege 272). These complaints come up while Kant states that all antinomies constitute valid arguments. Radner quotes Kant claiming that antinomy “proofs are not deceptions, but are well-founded under the supposition that appearance or a sensible world comprehends that they all are things in themselves” (413). In this regard, when people talk of parts, as sub-elements comprising one single homogeneous object, presumption emerges that the sub-elements are already are in existence, but residing within the homogeneous object. In this sense, the object is not a single whole; rather, it constitutes an illusion of parts.

The above argument implies that parts making up an object are appearances whose existence is only possible when they are experienced. Schmiege notes that Kant’s second antinomy makes people “try to extend their knowledge of phenomena they have experienced beyond their experience of them” (286). However, Kant reminds people that experienced objects constitute mere appearances. He claims that the elements of time and space, under which people perceive objects of appearance, make up pure institutions possessed by people. The major argument advanced here is that objects of experience cannot exist in the absence of people’s experience of the objects. Hence, people’s experience on objects creates the perception of the objects in their mind, which means that the perception of objects resides in the mind of people. Thus, the physical existence of objects arises from contention in mind that the object indeed exists in the physical world, whose existence is also a philosophical subject of convincing the mind about its existence.

The third Kant’s antinomy is perhaps the most interesting. The antinomy makes freedom and necessity seem contradictory while they fit into each other. Time coupled with space limits is essential for the probabilities for the action of nature’s rules and laws. This realization means they are only valid as appearances. Get argues, “Freedom is the ability to be outside the confines of causality, and so to exist outside the confines of experience” (85). Hence, freedom only applies to things themselves. People’s faculty of reason fails to incorporate experience, which implies that people are free and rational beings. However, freedom is manifested through overall principles operating independently from time, causal influences, and space. Consequently, in the effort to obey the general maxims, people still find themselves following regular laws guiding the world characterized by appearances, which implies that while people are free, they can also be subjects of nature’s laws.

Superficially, a contradiction in the fourth antinomy is amply resolved if the thesis is interpreted as handling objects in themselves while the antithesis is interpreted as being concerned with appearances. Unfortunately, in the world full of appearances, interpreting the antimony this way introduces errors in reason. All causal relations have probabilities for being contingent. This implies things can occur in contradiction to anticipations. Thus, a probability exists for appearances to link up objects.

The main question arising in the proofs of the fourth antinomy is whether things occur in the fashion they should or they need to occur differently. In the attempt to provide reconciliation for the antinomy, Kant presents two varying types of causations, viz. necessary and contingency causations. The contingency causation “determines how causes work in the world of appearances while necessary causation determines how things in themselves cause the appearances we experience” (Inwagen 103). Kant describes objects as acting themselves as causes and as necessary. However, he argues that necessities coupled with causes are the province of appearances. They comprise pure paradigms for the enhancement of understanding.

Analysis of the third antinomy

In the discipline of philosophy, problems encompass the building blocks for utilization of the power of the mind in reasoning. Through an interrogative process and without committing fallacies, philosophers explore various solutions to a problem. The best and the most reasonable solutions are selected based on coherent and substantive arguments on all developed possible solutions. The third antinomy of Kant is an attempt to offer solutions to philosophical problems of necessity and freedom. In this section, the statement of the thesis and the antithesis for the Kant’s third antinomy is provided. An attempt is also made to examine the proof of the antithesis and the thesis.

Kant’s third antinomy addresses the question of necessity and freedom of human beings. His thesis states, “Causality by laws of nature is not the only causality from which the appearances of the world can one and all be derived, but to explain these appearances it is necessary to assume that there is also another causality, that of freedom” (Priest 5). In his proof for this thesis, points of departure from contention arise on the subject whether the antinomy amounts to conflicting nature’s laws. However, Kant fails in capturing such disagreements. The antithesis corresponding to the thesis in the third antinomy is that freedom does not exist so that all things in the world happen through the action of laws of nature (Priest 5). The antimony places an interrogative on the actual implication of causality through discussion of relationships existing between a series of events.

The thesis takes a rationalist position (described as dogmatism by Kant). This invokes Descartes and Wolff’s position on the reasoning process to unveil the truth. The thesis does not categorically argue that all events in their totality are rested on platforms of freedom; rather, “it is necessary to assume causality through freedom” (Sassen 81). The antinomy draws from two main theoretical arguments to attempt to explain states of the derivation of events existing in the world about nature’s laws. These are the uncaused cause, what Kant refers to as spontaneity, and causality. The Kant’s antithesis for the third antinomy encompasses a counter-argument on empiricism as advanced by philosophers such as Hobbes, Hume, and Bacon. It “denies all causality through freedom and asserts that everything in the world happens according to natural necessity” (Inwagen 105). In the proof of the antithesis, Kant struggles with the interrogative on whether events solely depend on the natural necessity or whether people, through freedom, are responsible for the courses of events.

Proof for the thesis is initiated by the refutation of antithesis. Kant argues that an assumption that the antithesis is true only leads to the conclusion that all things must be in themselves causes and effects. This assertion implies that since the “series continues ad infinitum, there is ultimately no way to distinguish a true cause or a true effect, and thus everything is merely mediation and the whole is nothing other than a self-medicating motion, a pure process with no ground in being” (Pippin 461). In this context, Kant’s antithesis has a major failure for it does not satisfy the principles of adequate reason. The truthfulness of the antithesis implies that there exists no limitation of cause series, hence no sufficiency in reason.

Kant’s main concern is on causality sufficiency as a composite or simply as a mechanism of synthesizing the composite (Ginet 93). Hence, the main challenge is on whether natural causality can explain a whole in itself as opposed to an explanation of the causation of successive events. Therefore, it turns out that no significant difference exists between immediate causes of events with events preceding them. Hence, causality fails to convince the power of reason for it cannot be sufficiently determined. This observation means that no explanation for causation can be derived entirely without the creation of necessity for an additional explanation in case there are chains of infinite causes. The proof “concludes that if there is only natural causality, the sequence of events cannot be a whole” (Inwagen 107). Therefore, only transcendental freedom combined with natural necessity can make conceivability of wholeness for various realizable causal events. The noble question emerging here is whether the “assumption is inconsistent or incompatible with the initial assumption on causality’s universality” (Inwagen 98). More importantly, does it create a greater disaster to affirm the thesis than when it is denied?

Kant attempts to prove the antithesis by refuting his thesis. According to him, in case the thesis is held as true, a condition emerges for no contradictory causal series. It also means that free “actions would redirect the series or the series would interrupt itself” (Inwagen 107). Hence, accepting the thesis implies that the world only constitutes a collection of isolated events whose interlinks cannot be established. Hence, “the assumption of freedom as a determinative cause in addition to natural causality makes the unity and the wholeness of the wholly impossible” (Ginet 93). Additionally, the assumption undermines various natural laws and the essential rules accompanying the laws.

Hence, the restoration of rules and laws’ guidance becomes attainable when freedom of causality is presumed. In turn, the freedom would establish and ensure the maintenance of its invariable rules and would only differentiate its self from natural necessity by its name. Then it implies that if “everything took place by such a will, which while nominally free was bound to its own rules, then this will would not be free in our ordinary sense of the term” (Ginet 94). In this context, real freedom is best described as lawlessness. In the conclusion of the proof, Kant argues that it is necessary to look after causes higher in the series of events. Such causes should ensure not only conditional but also conductive cohesiveness of experiences. Assuming that freedom exists only leads to the destruction of rules, which creates the possibility of the experiences’ cohesion (Ginet 95).

Author’s interpretation of the third antinomy

The challenge of freedom and free will comprises one of the major interesting debates in philosophy. In the context of Kant’s third antimony, the question of free human beings becomes important. Kant’s thesis to the third antinomy supports the view that people are held responsible for their actions simply because they have free will. In the absence of this free will, it is possible that people can excuse themselves and run away from the assumption of accountability for their wrong actions for they do not have choices. This assertion means that the power to act oppositely does not reside within themselves, but it is subject to control by some external agents or forces. Hence, freedom essentially entails having the ability to make choices in the manner in which makes a person act without relying on external forces to predetermine and coerce a free-thinking person to act in a particular way, which is not justified by reason.

Principles of nature and causation of events compromise the freedom of people, which introduces the need for acting in a manner that meets requirements for necessity. In this line of argument, Clarke notes that nature’s laws “dictate that every event is caused by some previous event and that every event, in turn, acts as a cause for some subsequent event” (43). How can then people act freely and independently without compromising the natural laws? Kant responds this interrogative through holding the position that causes, while not negating effects constituting understanding faculties possessed by different people, and which are valid strictly to appearances. In contrast, freedom comprises the faculty of people’s power of reason, hence inapplicable to appearances. The alienation of freedom from appearance implies that it exists outside the confinements of space and time. In this context, “a free act cannot be contingent on the particularities of what is happening at a particular time or in a particular place” (Ginet 86). This assertion means that free acts need to comply with general maxims’ laws. Here, freedom is not subject to spontaneity. It implies compliance with people’s established laws and manifests itself through order, which makes it not to compromise nature’s laws that apply to appearances.

The discussion of freedom put forward by Kant presupposes events’ ontology. This ontology is exemplified by his use of the phrase “that which happens” (Priest 5). This aspect suggests that events occur after the occurrence of some conditions. However, my understanding is that conditions for the occurrence of events do not imply that an event has occurred. In attempting to derive the meaning for freedom from the paradigms of self-reliance in acting, Kant thinks that people “are free if and if only respect exists in which a person’s cause for the occurrence of an event and/or events and respect in which a person is not an effect of an event exist” (Priest 5). However, this element does not comprise adequate conditions for freedom since “being the cause of some event might itself be caused, if the respect in which (putatively) I am uncaused does not preclude this” (Ginet 87). This scenario reduces people’s cause of causes or causes of anyone’s events caused by people.

The third antinomy of Kant introduces ambiguities in an attempt to understand the proofs for its thesis and antithesis. Hence, making their clarifications and removal is paramount. Priest supports the argument that there exist ambiguities in the third antinomy of Kant by claiming that Kant appraises “the claim that there exists a kind of freedom from which the world of appearance may be derived” (5). This take may create two different meanings. First, it may mean uncaused events that initiate every consecutive causal chain that exists. Secondly, it may imply uncaused events that initiate some isolated causal chain that constitutes a single member of a set of various causal chains. The first meaning of freedom principally refers to God or the principal cause for everything that exists. Freedom may also refer to finite attributes of people, but dismissing certain phrases in the first meaning. The justification for this argument is that in the third antinomy, the main concern is the self’s freedom. Kant supports this assertion when he argues in CPR 414, A450 and B478 that the “absolute first beginning of which we are here speaking is not a beginning in time but causality” (Priest 6). In CPR 414, A450, and B478, he further argues that in case an event is the cause of other following events, then it necessarily implies that the event precedes other events in space and time.

The above argument suggests that events are caused by an event, which at any particular time is the first event. This scenario opposes myriads of actions, regarded as free, executed by finite people. Such acts encompass the finite act of standing up executed by Kant. Despite the act being free, Kant’s theory suggests that cause follows events as opposed to being self-caused. In his proof for the thesis, Kant “assumes the contradictions of what is to be proved and attempts to derive a contradiction” (Priest 7). He argues that the causes of events are necessitated by temporarily preceding events, thus making it impossible to have completeness of a series of causations of events. “Put differently, determinism constitutes infinite regress for causes of events” (Priest 7).

In the context of Kant’s reasoning chain for events’ causation establish self-contradictions. He stops at this point without explicitly stating the contradiction. However, it is also possible to reorganize the self-contradictions. This can be achieved by “stating that for complete determinism to remain true, then in causation, there is both presence and absence of an initial event (per impossibile)” (Priest 7). The justification here is that any first event will have to be putatively arising from a proceeding temporally event. Nevertheless, several events would both in practice and theory fail to occur without the existence of some preceding event. However, claiming the conjunction of events precisely requires logical impossibilities (contradictions) that in time there existed and an uncaused initial event was absent.

The proof for the thesis forms the basis for people’s freedom. To my understanding of the third antinomy, the best way to run away from contradiction is through denial of the existence of total determinism. Hence, according to Clark, “We must, then, assume a causality through which something takes place, the cause of which is not itself determined by necessary laws, by another cause antecedent to it, that is to say, absolute spontaneity” (38). Here, my interpretation of spontaneity is an actor’s capacity to cause a causal chain without itself being caused by any other causal chain or even an isolated cause. Hence, absolute spontaneity is only realized when an event q is the only event after event q, where event q is both adequate and necessary condition for the occurrence of q, but not any other event(q-1) preceding q such that q-1 is an unnecessary or adequate condition for event q.

For the explanation of the origin of everything that exists to make logical sense, the postulation of absolute spontaneity is important. This assertion implies that free action and will of people does not account for part of the things existing even if human action as a free will can be described exemplarily as constituting absolute spontaneity. Hence, merits in support of third antimony are not convincing enough. Kant himself admits this challenge at A449, B476 by asserting that the “necessity of a first beginning due to freedom, of a series of appearances we have demonstrated only in so far as it is required to make an origin of the world conceivable” (Priest 11). This admission implies that more arguments are required to achieve freeness in human actions. Such arguments are raised at A448, B476-A52 and B480, where Kant divides the concept of freedom into empirical and the transcendental freedoms and calls the whole idea psychological freedom (A448, B476) (Priest 11).

Transcendental freedom refers to the “kind of uncaused cause without which even in the (ordinary) course of nature, the series of appearances on the side of the causes can never be complete” (Priest 12). This position taken by Priest implies that all things that exist are uncaused. Rather, their occurrences are instigated by freedom possessed by people. This aspect suggests that some kind of freedom exists, which putatively places conditions specifically on appearances as opposed to general events. My interpretation of this argument is that transcendental freedom is necessary to be invoked whenever an attempt is considered for a description of human actions as free.

No substantive arguments on the thesis prove without any reasonable doubt that human beings are free. The philosophical proposition countering the thesis to the third antinomy of Kant is that there “is no freedom; everything in the world takes place solely by laws of nature” (Sassen 105). Freedom ensures that people get liberated from compelling pressures. It also ensures that the rules of nature do not inform their deeds. This implies that determining freedom from the paradigms of law leads to a situation where freedom does not exist at all. My interpretation of the antithesis is that it is fallacious to presume that causality has rules of freedom ingrained in it as portrayed in the nature courses so that freedom occupies the place of forces of natural laws.

According to Kant, the specific answer for problems of the third antimony is essentially transcendental idealism. In my understanding, he advises people to adopt the “distinction between things as they are in themselves, and as they appear to the human subject” (Kitcher 86). Here, the question of appearance and deception takes important roles in the creation of a perception of freedom, yet people may not be free per se. Kant argues that in noumena selves, people are free. However, they appear within themselves as determined by the principles and rules of natural laws. If Kant has responded yes to the question of whether he is free in his book, then here he says yes. To him, freedom constitutes a type of causality for free events that are causes that do not affect. Whether determined and/or natural, causality demands the existence of events that have both effects coupled with causes (Clarke 27). If freedom comprises one of such events, then it is subject to some external forces. Hence, there is no freedom and all people’s actions do not emanate from their free will, but control of natural laws.


Considering the proofs of both the thesis and the antithesis to the Kant’s third antimony, it sounds imperative and reasonable to conclude that both determinism and free will do not explain exhaustively and in a convincing manner, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they can offer true accounts on how things occur. Tracking the determinants of the occurrence of events leaves one single event whose occurrence cannot be linked to any other event preceding it. Therefore, its causation cannot be explained using the determinism or free will philosophical theoretical accounts. Perhaps the most prudent way to attribute the occurrence of such an event is to conclude that it naturally exists. This conclusion is not reasonably accurate and it only leads to making the inference that people do not have freedom, but it also implies that everything they do is under control of external forces or laws of nature. This assertion holds as the event responsible for the causation of chain of events and hence everything else in the world has no causation limited both in time and space. Does it imply that people’s conception of freedom is simply appearance, while in effect their actions are subject to control by forces of nature? If this is the case, then the question of whether ‘I am free’ remains a philosophical construct unresolved by Kant in his third antimony.

Works Cited

Clarke, Randolph. “Agent Causation and Event Causation in the Production of Free Action.” Philosophical Topics 24.7 (1996):19-48. Print.

Gillespie, Michael. Philosophy and rhetoric in Kant’s Third Antimony, 2006. Web.

Ginet, Carl. “Freedom, responsibility, and agency.” The Journal of Ethics 1.1(1997): 85-98. Print.

Inwagen, Peter. “When the Will is Not Free.” Philosophical Studies 7.5 (1994): 95-113. Print.

Kitcher, Peterson. Kant’s Transcendental Psychology, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print.

Moore, Walter. “A Note on Kant’s First Antinomy.” The Philosophical Quarterly 42.169 (1992): 480-485. Print.

Pippin, Raymond. “Kant on the spontaneity of mind.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 17.3 (1987): 449-476. Print.

Priest, Stephen. Kant’s Concept of Freedom in the Critique of Pure Reason, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

Radner, Michael. “Unlocking the Second Antinomy: Kant and Wolff.” Journal of History and Philosophy 36.3 (1998): 413-441. Print.

Sassen, Benson. Kant’s Early Critics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.

Schmiege, Oscar. “What is Kant’s Second Antinomy about?” Kant Studies, 97.3 (2006): 272-300. Print.

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