Pure vs. non-pure a priori propositions in Kant

Reply Sat 19 Feb, 2011 09:05 pm
I'm reading the Norman Kemp Smith translation of Critique of Pure Reason. Kant is famous for his analytic/synthetic distinction, but he also subdivides a priori propositions into pure and non-pure. I am trying to understand this distinction. My difficulty is that Kant seems to contradict himself regarding his paradigmatic example of a non-pure a priori proposition.

In the Introduction (B 3, end of Section I), Kant defines a pure a priori proposition to be one which has "no admixture of anything empirical". As an example of a non-pure proposition, he gives "every alteration has its cause". Alteration, he says, is a concept that one derives from experience. Evidently, involving alteration constitutes an admixture of something empirical.

Okay, fine. But then, a couple of paragraphs later (B 4–5), he gives the proposition "every alteration must have a cause" as an example of a pure a priori proposition! Here is the relevant quote:

Now it is easy to show that there actually are in human knowledge judgments which are necessary and in the strictest sense universal, and which are therefore pure a priori judgments. If an example from the sciences be desired, we have only to look to any of the propositions of mathematics; if we seek an example from the understanding in its quite ordinary employment, the proposition, 'every alteration must have a cause', will serve our purpose.

(Emphasis added.)

How can these claims be reconciled? How can "every alteration must have a cause" be pure when it involves alteration, which, a page earlier, meant that a proposition was not pure?

I've read a 150 or so pages beyond this point, and I'm enjoying the book, but this contradiction right at the beginning just won't stop bugging me Confused. I'm hoping that someone here can straighten me out Smile.
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Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2011 11:49 am
@Tyrrell McAllister,
Kant is infamous for being a horrid writer, so that's the easiest excuse. But two less indolent possibilities might be: Either he's murkily contending that it is actually dependent on context as to whether the proposition is pure or unpure (the latter arising when using Hume's approach). Or he's stripping down to the "concept of cause" and what it contains being what is a pure a priori judgement in the proposition, and "every alteration must have a cause" is merely the corrupt starting vehicle. In which case, it would be sloppiness on either his part or the translation in not making it clear that "every alteration..." is not really the example, but the necessity which he's digging-out of it.
Fil Albuquerque
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2011 02:08 pm
@G H,
It seams to me that the last example you mention is the correct assumption. The requirement for cause seams to be the requirement for logical justification...
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