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Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument1

by Nicholas Everitt, Norwich

1. Introduction

Many commentators have applauded Kant's discussion of the ontological argu-


ment in the Critique of Pure Reason.2 Ewing remarks that "the only unfortunate
feature of Kant's refutation of the argument is his illustration of the 100 dollars
which is rather misleading"; Walsh asserts that Kant's criticisms of speculative the-
ology, which include his criticism of the ontological argument, are "devastating";
Malcolm claims that Kant's objections are fatal to one version of the argument.
Hick describes Kant as "the author of the most thorough and damaging critique
of the ontological argument in its Cartesian form"; Broad maintains that "Kant's
objections to the ontological argument are quite conclusive". Strawson follows
Broad in calling Kant's refutation of the argument "really conclusive"; Wilkerson
admits that there are "minor blemishes" in Kant's discussion, but says that Kant's
"main objections to the argument are admirable". Even Bennett, usually a severe
critic, admits that Kant's discussion "contains something important which may be

1
In writing this paper, I have benefited from discussions with Dr. Howard Caygill, Dr. Timo-
thy O'Hagan, Mr. Martin Scott-Taggart, and also from the comments of an anonymous
referee. I should also like to thank the Editor of Kant-Studien, Dr. Manfred Kleinschnieder,
for some helpful suggestions.
2
I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, tr. Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan 1963, hereafter re-
ferred to as the Critique. Subsequent A and B page references are to this work.
3
A. C. Ewing, A Short Commentary on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Methuen, 1938,
p. 241; W. H. Walsh, entry under "Kant" in P. Edwards (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Philosophy,
Macmillan and The Free Press 1967; N. Malcolm, Anselm's Ontological Argument, Philo-
sophical Review vol. LXIX 1960, reprinted in his Knowledge and Certainty, Prentice Hall,
1964; J. Hick (ed.), The Existence of God, Macmillan, 1964, p. 39; C. D. Broad, Kant: An
Introduction, Cambridge University Press 1978, p. 297; P. E Strawson, The Bounds of Sense,
Methuen, 1966, p. 225; T. E. Wilkerson, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Oxford, 1976,
p. 146; J. E Bennett, Kant's Dialectic, Cambridge University Press, 1974, p. 230. A rather
more nuanced discussion can be found in Dieter Henrich, Der Ontologische Gottesbeweis,
Tbingen 1961, while for altogether more hostile views of Kant's achievement, see Jerome
Shaffer, Existence, Predication and the Ontological Argument, Mind 1962, pp. 307325,
reprinted in Terence Penelhum and J. J. Macintosh (eds.), The first Critique, Wadsworth
Publishing Company, 1969; Allen W. Wood, Kant's Rational Theology, Cornell University
Press 1978; and J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, Clarendon Press 1982. In view of the
significant body of commentators referred to above (Ewing to Bennett) who take substan-
tively the same view of what Kant is doing in his discussion of the ontological argument, I

Kant-Studien 86. Jahrg., S. 385-405


Walter de Gruyter 1995
ISSN 0022-8877
386 Nicholas Everitt

This widespread endorsement of Kant's criticisms assumes that he argues that the
idea of logically necessary existence is logically flawed, either because the concept is
self-contradictory, or because there is really no such a concept. Both interpretations
see Kant as an important staging post in a tradition running from Hume to Frege
and Russell. Hume at the start of the tradition said that there is no idea of existence
separate from the ideas of particular objects.4 Kant is believed to have extended
this line of thought by arguing that existence is not a real predicate, that existential
judgements are not subject-predicate in form, and hence that existence is not a
property that a thing has, even less one that it has necessarily. Thus Bennett, for
example, refers to "the Kant-Frege view" of existence5, and Green claims Kant
believed that the very phrase "an absolutely necessary yet unconditioned Being" is
self-contradictory.6
I believe that this misreads Kant's discussion. He is not trying to do what his
admirers suppose; and if he were, he would be doing it badly. This misunderstand-
ing of the argument stems from two sources. First, Kant's discussion has not been
set in the context of his philosophy of religion as a whole. When placed in this
context, it is clear that his objections cannot be the logical ones which the tradi-
tional interpretation requires. He is, on the contrary, presupposing that there is a
self-consistent concept of necessary existence, and questioning only its epistemol-
ogy. He thus stands apart from the Hume-Frege-Russell tradition, and in fact rejects
the central claims of that tradition.7
Secondly, there has been a lack of close analysis of particular passages in the
Critique of Pure Reason, and several important issues have consequently been left
unresolved. They include the question of whether Kant regards his claim that all
existential judgements are synthetic as itself analytic or synthetic; of what the rela-
tion is between the concept of a "supreme being" which A 601/B 629 describes as
"a very useful idea", and the concept of a necessary being, which the rest of the
discussion has supposedly exposed as intellectual confusion; and of the significance
of the epistemological criticism at A 601/B 629.
In what follows, I start by assuming that Kant is doing what he is traditionally
represented as doing, and I construct for this view the best arguments which can

will refer in what follows to "the traditional interpretation". But I am not of course thereby
implying that it is an interpretation which is universally shared.
4
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part ii, Section 6.
5
Op. cit. p. 228.
6
Theodore M. Green, in his Introduction to Kant's Religion Within The Limits of Reason
Alone, Harper Torchbooks, 1960, p. xlii, fn. 2.
7
The commentator who comes closest to the interpretation offered here is Henrich (op. cit.).
Henrich distinguishes two versions of the ontological argument, and in relation to the se-
cond version, he attributes to Kant a view very close to what I am suggesting, namely that
Kant's objections are epistemological. Where I differ from Henrich is first, in denying that
Kant is concerned with two versions of the ontological argument, and secondly, in the
interpretation of the details of Kant's criticisms, particularly as it occurs in the Critique
A 593/B 621 - A 602/B 630.
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 387

be extracted from the text. But as I maintain that this involves a misreading of the
text, and that the arguments are not in fact Kant's own, I attribute them to a figure
whom I call Kant*. I show (sections 25) that if Kant and Kant* are the same, then
Kant is unsuccessful. Throughout, he either produces no supporting argument, or
else he begs the question against the supporter of the ontological argument (let us
call this person the ontologist). Section 6 summarises the problems confronting
Kant*, and hence confronting the view that Kant is Kant*. Section 7 argues that
these problems are insoluble, and thus paves the way for an alternative interpreta-
tion, which is presented in sections 810.
In making the strongest case for the traditional view, I distinguish four strands
in Kant*'s discussion. First, he offers an account of necessity which implies that no
existential judgement can be necessary (paragraphs 14, A 592/B 620 A 5947
B 622)8. Secondly, he provides an explanation of contradiction designed to show
that no negative existential proposition is self-contradictory, and hence that "God
does not exist" is not self-contradictory (paragraph 5, A 594/B 622 - A 595/B 623).
He then considers two objections. First, there is the objection that "there are some
subjects which cannot be removed", and hence that some self-contradictions do not
fit his account. He examines this objection in paragraph 6 (A 595/B 623 A 5967
B 624). The second objection is that the ens realissimum is a special case to which
his account of contradiction will not apply (paragraph 7, A 596/B 624 A 597/
B 625). To rebut this objection, he first accuses the ontologist of a contradiction,
and then confronts him with successive destructive dilemmas (paragraph 8, A 5977
B 625 - A598/B626). In the third strand of his account, he offers a theory of
existential judgements, which distinguishes between logical and determining predi-
cates (paragraph 9, A598/B626). He argues that existence is not a determining
predicate, as it would be if the ontological argument were sound (paragraph 10,
A 598/B 626 - A 599/B 627), since if it were, paradoxes would result. These para-
doxes are illustrated by the example of the thalers (paragraph 10), and then general-
ised (paragraph 11, A 600/B 628 - A 601/B 629). Fourthly, he produces an episte-
mological objection to the ontologist, according to which although existence out-
side the field of experience cannot be declared "absolutely impossible", it is some-
thing about which we cannot have justified belief or knowledge (paragraph 12,
A 601/B 629). The claim that we cannot gain knowledge of the existence of a su-
preme being is then reiterated in paragraphs 13 and 14 (A 601/B 629 A 602/
B 630).
In what follows, it will be a convenient heuristic device to test Kant's remarks
(construed as logical objections to necessary existence) against the views of a mathe-
matical Platonist who thinks that e. g. the existence of infinitely many prime num-

8
Since Kant's argument is structured by paragraphs rather than by pages, and since there are
only fourteen paragraphs in the whole of the section which discusses the ontological argu-
ment, it will be convenient in what follows to refer to the text by paragraph number as
well as by the more conventional A and B pagination.
388 Nicholas Everitt

bers is a necessary truth. The point of this strategy is to test the argumentative
pressure Kant's criticisms would exert on the idea of necessary existence. I am not
suggesting that such Platonism is correct, but only that if it is not, then Kant's
remarks ought to put the Platonist under pressure. If Kant's remarks do not have
that effect, they are unlikely to be effective against the ontologist either.
I will now consider in turn the four strands which I have detected in Kant's
discussion.

2. The account of necessity (paragraphs 14)

Kant concedes (paragraph 22) that one can provide a merely verbal definition of
"necessary being" as one whose non-existence is impossible. But he says that this
definition cannot help the ontological argument. It gives us no understanding of
how non-existence can be impossible, or necessary existence possible. It therefore
leaves open the possibility that in trying to think of a necessary being, we are in
reality thinking "nothing at all" (A 593/B 621). What Kant means by this last phrase
is unclear. Three interpretations are possible, and which is chosen will depend on
one's reading of the whole Kantian critique of the ontological argument. He might
mean, first, that there is no concept of a necessary being at all, i. e. that the phrase
"necessary being" is literally senseless; or, secondly, that there is a genuine concept
of a necessary being, but that it is a self-contradictory concept; or thirdly, that the
concept, although not self-contradictory, lacks criteria for its correct application to
anything. Although the distinction between these would in some philosophies be
insignificant, for Kant, the distinction between the first and the second on the one
hand, and the third on the other, is very important. The concept of a noumenon is
precisely one which is free from self-contradiction, and yet for which we have no
criteria of application. Given that Kant's explanation of the possibility of synthetic
a priori judgements, and his views about free will and morality, all depend essen-
tially on there being a noumenal realm, the distinction is one which he must take
seriously. Since the meaning which we attach to the phrase "thinking nothing at
all" depends on an interpretation of the rest of Kant's argument, let us defer judge-
ment on this issue until section 9, when we will have a fuller view of the whole
argument.
Kant also says that other more familiar examples of necessary statements, such
as "A triangle has three sides", do not clarify how necessary existence is possible.
To explain whyj Kant advances his account of necessity. He draws a distinction
between judgements on the one hand, and things and their existence on the other.
Uncontentious examples of necessary truths, he says, all concern the necessity of
judgements, whereas the ontological argument concerns the necessity of things. But,
he says, these are not equivalent, and he explains the difference as follows:
"(...) the absolute necessity of the judgement is only a conditioned necessity of the thing,
or of the predicate in the judgement." (ibid.)
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 389

But Kant is wrong in suggesting that geometry displays only the necessity of
judgements whereas the ontological argument focuses on the necessity of things.
There is no sense in which the ontological argument is concerned with the necessity
of things, which is not captured by saying that it maintains that "God exists" is a
necessary truth. So the ontologist, just as much as the mathematician, is concerned
with the necessity of judgements. This much can be agreed by the ontologist and
his opponent, even if they disagree on the kind of necessity possessed by "God
exists". So there is no contrast, of the kind that Kant alleges, between the necessity
of judgements and of things, since there is no way of understanding the latter except
as an elliptical reference to the former.

3. The account of contradiction (paragraphs 58)


Kant* argues here that if "God is existent" is necessary, then "God does not
exist" would be self-contradictory. So he gives an account of contradiction which
implies that no judgement of the form "X does not exist" can be self-contradictory.
So no statement of the form "X is existent" can be necessary, and hence the ontolo-
gist is wrong.
The account of contradiction says that contradiction arises if "A is B" is a neces-
sary judgement and I accept A while rejecting B. Thus, with "All brothers are
male", I contradict myself if I accept brotherhood but reject maleness, e. g. by
saying "There are brothers but there are no males". But if I reject both subject
and predicate, there is no contradiction. There is, as it were, nothing left to be in
contradiction with anything else. So if I say "There are neither brothers nor males",
I reject both subject and predicate and do not contradict myself.
Let us apply this account to "God is existent". If I reject both subject and predi-
cate, I judge "There is no God and there is nothing existent". Kant assumes that
no such a judgement is self-contradictory. There cannot be, he implies, a relevant
external contradiction (i. e. between my judgement and some other judgement)
since the necessity of the rejected judgement is supposed to be an internal feature
of it. Hence the supposed contradictoriness must be an internal feature. But there
can be no internal contradiction (i. e. a se//-contradiction) since "in rejecting the
thing (i. e. the subject) we have at the same time rejected all its internal properties"
(A595/B623).
Kant then claims (paragraph 6) that this argument could be undermined only if
there are some "subjects which cannot be removed and must always remain", that
is to say "absolutely necessary subjects". But, he says, it would be question-begging
for his opponents to presuppose in their criticism that there are such beings, for
the possibility of such beings is the very point at issue.
But as before, Kant's argument here is weak. As a theory of contradiction in
general, his account is unacceptable, for it applies only to subject-predicate judge-
ments. So the ontologist can reply that he is concerned with existential judgements,
not subject-predicate ones, and that Kant's account cannot be applied to existential
390 Nicholas Everitt

judgements. Alternatively, if Kant insists that "God is existent" is subject-predicate


in form, the ontologist can reply that Kant's account of contradiction is question-
begging, since it obviously excludes one crucial category of subject-predicate judge-
ments, namely, necessary existential judgements.
Secondly, although Kant is right that the ontologist begs the question if he argues
that since "there are subjects which cannot be removed", there are necessary exis-
tential judgements, it is equally true that Kant must not presuppose that there are
no such subjects. For that is the very point at issue between Kant and ontologist.
So for Kant to assume that "There is no God and there is nothing existent" is not
self-contradictory begs the question. If the ontologist is right, "There is no God" is
by itself self-contradictory, and so "There is no God and there is nothing existent"
is self-contradictory too.
Kant now imagines a second objection to his account of contradiction (para-
graph 7), although it is perhaps meant as a development of his preceding remarks
about a subject which cannot be removed. He imagines the ontologist as claiming
that although in nearly every case, Kant's account of contradiction is acceptable,
there is one special concept for which it is inoperative, namely the concept of the
ens realissimum (ER for short). Kant then imagines the ontologist as asserting:
(a) the concept of the ER is by definition the concept of that which
possesses all reality
(b) the concept of the ER is not self-contradictory
(c) "all reality" must include existence
so (d) the concept of the ER includes existence (from (a) and (b))
so (e) the ER lacks existence only if the concept of the ER is self-contradictory
(from (d))
so (f) the ER exists (from (b) and (e))
so (g) if we say "There is no ER" or "The ER does not exist", we are
contradicting ourselves (from (a) and (f)).
The contradiction mentioned in (g) would have arisen not because we had ac-
cepted the subject and rejected the predicate, but because we had rejected the sub-
ject. It would thus be a counter-example to the account of contradiction which
Kant has just given. By establishing that Kant's account was not comprehensive,
the above argument would show that Kant could not criticise the ontological argu-
ment for failing to fit his account. And in doing this, the argument would also yield
the conclusion "The ER exists" as a necessary truth. It is thus essential for Kant's
enterprise that he should show how such a powerful set of claims by the ontologist
is mistaken; and this he undertakes in paragraph 8.
We know from Kant's earlier discussion of the ER (A 576/B 604 - A 590/B 618)
that he is likely to oppose the use of the concept in connection with the ontological
argument. He has already declared that even if the ER is the best candidate for
matching the concept of a necessarily existing being, "it is not completely adequate
to it" (A586/B614). In criticising the ontologist's use of the concept of the ER,
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 391

Kant invokes two lines of reply. First, he says that the premises of the ER argument
above are not merely false but contradictory:
"There is already a contradiction in introducing the concept of existence (...) into the
concept of a thing which we profess to be thinking solely in reference to its possibility."
(A 597/B 625)

The contradiction apparently arises because in thinking of the ER, the ontologist
is supposed to form a concept of X while remaining neutral whether the concept
has application. Hence "There is an X" and "There is no X" must both be logically
possible. But the ontologist, while apparently accepting this limitation on his con-
cept-forming activities, tacitly includes existence as part of his concept of the ER.
So he is forming a concept such that "There is no X" is not possible, and thus his
project is a self-contradictory one.
If this is what Kant* is here saying, it does not threaten the ontologist. The
ontologist holds that for at least one value of X, from the mere concept of X, X's
existence is deducible. So he will deny that X can be thought "solely in reference
to its possibility", if that phrase is understood as above. He will of course agree
that the concept can be thought "solely in reference to its possibility" in the sense
that one may consider only whether the concept is self-consistent without asking
what else is true of it. But in this sense of the phrase, Kant's accusation that the
ontologist is contradicting himself at once collapses. There is no contradiction in
both including the concept of existence in my concept of X, and in asking merely
whether the resulting concept is self-consistent. At the very least, if there is a contra-
diction, Kant* has not exposed it.
Kant's second objection to the ER argument poses a destructive dilemma. "God
exists" is either analytic or synthetic. Each horn forces the ontologist into a suppos-
edly impossible position. If "God exists" is analytic, then (says Kant), "the assertion
of the existence of a thing adds nothing to the thought of the thing" (A 597/B 625).
What this means, and hence whether it is damaging to the ontologist, is unclear. It
uses the unexplained metaphor of one concept "adding to" another, an idea which
reappears in the immediately following paragraphs (paragraphs 9, 10, and 11),
where Kant distinguishes between real and logical predicates. I will consider how
we should understand the metaphor when I look at those further paragraphs. The
other horn of the dilemma accepts that "God exists" is synthetic. But then it will
not be true that "the predicate of existence cannot be rejected without contradic-
tion" (A 598/B 626). In other words, "God is not existent" will not be self-contra-
dictory, a conclusion which (Kant assumes) will be unacceptable to the ontologist.
If, confronted by this dilemma, the ontologist opts for the first horn, a second
dilemma arises. The first horn of this second dilemma is that "the thought, which
is in us, is the thing itself" (ibid.). Applied to the ontological argument, this would
mean that God is in us. Kant assumes, and we can here agree, that the ontologist
will reject this conclusion. But if he avoids that conclusion, he then faces the second
horn of the second dilemma. This alleges that he has "presupposed an existence as
392 Nicholas Everitt

belonging to the realm of the possible and (has) then inferred its existence from its
internal possibility" (ibid.) and in that case, it follows that "God exists" is "a mi-
serable tautology". The meaning of this charge is unclear. It seems to hark back to
the argument at in paragraph 8 (A 598/B 625) about thinking a concept solely in
reference to its possibility. The charge again seems to be that the ontologist pro-
fesses to think of something as merely possible, but then illegitimately includes the
concept of existence in his thought.
How should we assess these dilemmas for the ontologist? I shall argue that he
can accept the first horn of the first dilemma, and the second horn of the second.
Consider first whether he should say that "God exists" is analytic or synthetic.
Kant* says that a judgement is analytic if "the predicate B belongs to the subject A,
as something which is covertly contained in this concept A" (A 6/B 10). He de-
scribes analytic judgement as "adding nothing through the predicate to the concept
of the subject, but merely breaking it up into those constituent concepts that have
all along been thought in it, although confusedly" (A 7/B 11). A little later he adds:
"The proposition that no predicate contradictory of a thing can belong to it, is entitled the
principle of contradiction (...) if the judgement is analytic, whether negative or affirmative,
its truth can always be adequately known in accordance with the principle of contradiction."
(A 151/B 190, Kant's emphasis)
Given this account of analytic judgements, and even granted the familiar criticism
that the account is informal and metaphorical, the ontologist must agree that "God
exists" is analytic. He does think that the concept of existence is "covertly con-
tained" in the concept of God; he can accept that the judgement "God exists"
merely "breaks up" the subject concept to reveal one of its constituent concepts; he
does think that "does not exist" is a predicate which, combined with the subject
"God", yields a contradiction. When Kant continues
"(...) if (...) we admit, as every reasonable person must, that all existential propositions
are synthetic (...)" (A 598/B 626)
he is resorting to bluster. He has so far given no good reason to think that all
existential propositions are synthetic, and he is supposed to be arguing against
someone who thinks that at least one existential proposition is analytic. So he
cannot at this stage in the argument simply assume that all existential judgements
are synthetic: that is the very point at issue.
Given, then, that the ontologist accepts the first horn of the first dilemma (that
"God exists" is analytic), how destructive is the second dilemma? We have agreed
for the sake of argument that the first horn of the second dilemma (that God is in
us) is unacceptable. But what about the second horn? It is clear, first, that if the
above interpretation of Kant*'s charge that the ontologist has "presupposed an exis-
tence as belonging to the realm of the possible" etc. is correct, then the criticism is
no stronger here than at the start of the paragraph. Naturally, someone who thinks
that "God exists" is necessary will also think that if God's existence is possible, it
will follow immediately that he exists. Kant cannot make this point as a criticism
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 393

of the ontologist: it is simply another way of stating what the ontologist is claiming.
So the ontologist can accept this second horn of the second dilemma. So Kant's
account of contradiction, and his attempt to apply it to the claims of the ontologist
remains unsubstantiated.

4. The account of existential judgements (paragraphs 911)


Having tried to convict the ontologist of misunderstanding necessity and contra-
diction, Kant now argues that the ontologist is also confused about existence. He
introduces a distinction between logical predicates on the one hand, and real or
determining predicates on the other, and argues that the ontologist treats "is exis-
tent" as a real predicate when in fact it is only a logical one.
What a logical predicate is, Kant does not specify. He says that "anything we
please can be made to serve as a logical predicate" (A 598/B 626, my emphasis).
But he does not then describe what it is "to serve as" such a predicate. However,
his reference to serving as a logical predicate suggests that his distinction is not
between kinds of predicate, but between kinds of uses of predicate. It suggests that
a single predicate might be "made to serve as" a logical predicate in one sentence
and as a real predicate in another. To discover more about what being used as a
logical predicate is, we need to focus on the contrasting notion of a real or deter-
mining concept.
Of real predicates, Kant makes three claims, all in paragraph 9: they are predi-
cates which
1. determine a thing
2. are added to the concept of the subject and enlarge it
3. are not already contained in the concept of the subject
Given that the idea of real predicate is really the idea of the use of a predicate,
and developing Kant's brief remarks, we can say that "round", for example, is a
real predicate in "This plate is round", since "round" is not contained in the concept
of the subject, but on the contrary enlarges it. But by contrast, it is not a real
predicate in "Circles are round", since there it is contained in the subject concept.
This in turn suggests the following criterion: B is being used as a real predicate and
hence adds to a subject A if and only if "A is B" is synthetic.
But however natural this interpretation of Kant's distinction between logical and
real predicates seems initially, it faces insuperable problems. For Kant insists that
"Being is obviously not a real predicate" (A 598/B 626). If the logical/real distinc-
tion is really between uses of predicates, this claim at A 598/B 626 must mean that
"exists" can never be used as a real predicate. And this entails that the criterion of
"adding to" suggested above would imply that all existential judgements were ana-
lytic. For take any judgement of the form "X exists", and assume that "exists" can
never be used as a real predicate. It then follows that "exists" is a logical predicate
and hence that it "adds nothing" to the concept of X. It must therefore already be
394 Nicholas Everitt

contained in the concept of X, and hence the judgement that X exists would have
to be analytic.
But the idea that existential judgements are not analytic seems to be one which
runs through the whole of Kant*'s discussion of the ontological argument. I shall
argue later that we should take this in an epistemological sense. But if we take it
at face value, as the traditional interpretation does, we must find some alternative
account of the thought that the predicate can add to or enlarge the subject, if Kant's
whole discussion is not to be based on an evident contradiction. The problem is to
reconcile three claims which Kant wants to make:
(i) "is existent" can be used only as a logical predicate, and hence can add
nothing to, nor enlarge, the concept of the subject
(ii) "is existent" occurs only in synthetic judgements
(iii) in synthetic judgements, the predicate always adds something to the concept
of the subject.
Here is a possible solution. There are two ways in which "B adds nothing to A"
can be true. It might be true because "A is B" is analytic; or because "There is an
A" entails "There is an A which is B". In many cases, claims of the two sorts will
be logically equivalent. Thus "Brothers are male" is analytic, and that judgement
is logically equivalent to saying that "There is a brother" entails "There is a brother
who is male". But in judgements where the predicate is "is existent", Kant main-
tains that the predicate adds nothing to the subject, and yet denies that such judge-
ments are analytic. The second way in which "B adds nothing to A" can be true
outlined above allows him to do precisely that. For when the predicate is "is exis-
tent", the second way will read "There is an A" entails "There is an A which is
existent". Since this entailment holds, existential and analytic judgements can be
classed together as those in which the predicate does not add to or enlarge the
subject concept. Although the predicate plays this role for different reasons in the
two cases, the fact that it does play a similar non-enlarging role explains why Kant
groups analytic and existential judgements together.
This suggests, then, that the best interpretation of Kant*'s meaning is that:
In judgements of the form "A is B", B is being used as a real predicate and hence
adds something to A if and only if
(i) "A is B" is synthetic, and
(ii) "There is an A" does not entail "There is an A which is B"
By this criterion, in "Tigers are heavy", the predicate "is heavy" adds to the
concept because (a) the judgement is synthetic, and (b) "There is a tiger" does not
entail "There is a tiger which is heavy". But in "Tigers are existent", the predicate
does not add something to the subject. Although it passes condition (i) since it is
synthetic, it fails condition (ii) since "There are tigers" does entail "There are tigers
which are existent". We can then add that in "A is B", B is being used as a logical
predicate if it does not add to A.
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 395

This interpretation clarifies several things that Kant says. It elucidates the distinc-
tion between logical and real predicates; it explains Kant's claims that "exists" is
not a determining predicate but a merely logical one; and it explains how some
predicates, unlike "exists", can be used as determining predicates on one occasion
and as logical predicates on another.
But now it seems that Kant has no real argument against the ontologist. For on
this explanation of the real/logical distinction, he is saying that in "God exists",
"exists" is being used as a logical not a real predicate, i. e. "exists" adds nothing
to the subject concept, i. e. it is not true both that "God exists" is synthetic and
that "There is a God" entails "There is a God who exists". The ontologist can
agree that in "God exists", "exists" is not a real predicate, though he will differ
from Kant on why this is so. He will say that it is because in "God exists", "exists"
fails both of Kant's tests for being a real predicate, whereas Kant will say that it
fails the second test only. This means that the real point of disagreement is whether
"God exists" is analytic or synthetic. So Kant is here simply relying on his earlier
claim that all existential judgements are synthetic, for which as we have seen, he
has no supporting argument. So the famous Kantian "insight" that "Being is not a
real predicate" comes down to a claim for which Kant provides no support.
Do Kant's subsequent remarks about existence give him any purchase against
the ontologist? In explaining how existential judgements work, Kant says that "be-
ing" is
"merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves ...
[In existential judgements, I] only posit the subject with all its predicates, and indeed posit it
as being an object that stands in relation to my concept.n (A 509/B 627, paragraph 9, Kant's
emphasis)
But since Kant offers us no independent account of what positing a thing or a
subject is, this simply says in more obscure language that existential judgements
assert the existence of objects corresponding to some concept or other.
Kant then tries further to illustrate his view of existential judgements by contrast-
ing (a) God is omnipotent, and (b) God is (i. e. God is existent, or exists). He says
that in (a), God is the subject, omnipotence the predicate, and "is" is not a predicate
at all. It only "posits the predicate in relation to the subject". Similarly, he says, in
(b), God is the subject and "is" is not a predicate it only "posit(s) the subject in
itself with all its predicates".
But this line of thought is weak. First, it confuses the "is" of predication and of
existence. It may be true that the "is" in "God is" is not a predicate, by some
criterion of predicatehood. But even if this is true, it cannot be shown to be so by
facts about the "is" in "God is omnipotent".
Secondly, given that Kant is illustrating the logical behaviour of existential judge-
menu, and in particular how "exists" is only ever used as a logical predicate, it is
unhelpful to contrast (a) in particular with (b). For in (a), "is omnipotent" is being
used as a logical predicate, just as (according to Kant*) "is" is being used as a
logical predicate in (b). (I am here assuming the orthodox view that omnipotence
396 Nicholas Everitt

is one of the defining features of God, as Kant himself accepts A 595/B 623). So on
Kant's own account, there should be no contrast between the behaviour of the
predicates in (a) and (b): they are both being used as logical predicates. It is true
that Kant* can point to a difference between (a) and (b). In (b) but not in (a) we
"posit the subject in itself with all its predicates, and indeed posit it as being an object that
stands in relation to my concept" (ibid.)

But, as shown above, Kant supplies no explanation of "positing a subject": and in


the absence of such an explanation, we can only take it to mean "asserting the
existence of a subject". So Kant is saying merely that (b) does and (a) does not
assert the existence of God. But this, if true, is independent of the distinction be-
tween logical and real predicates that Kant is here illustrating, and is anyway some-
thing that Kant's opponents need not deny.
Kant* then explains how existential judgements do function. In such judgements,
he says:
"The content of both [i. e. of object and concept] must be one and the same. Nothing can
have been added to the concept, which expresses merely what is possible, by my thinking its
object (through the expression "it is") (...) Otherwide stated, the real contains no more than
the merely possible." (ibid.)

This introduces the strange-sounding idea that we can compare the content of
an object and of a concept and find them to be the same (or, presumably, different).
It connects with the topic of existential judgements via Kant's assumption that only
when the content of object and concept coincide is an existential judgement pos-
sible. But what could it mean to say that the content of concept and object are the
same? What could the content of an object be, and how could it have a content in
the same sense that a concept has a content? I suggest that Kant's meaning, hinted
at in his claim that "nothing can have been added to the concept, which expresses
merely what is possible, by my thinking its object", is that in the two judgements
"X may exist" and "X does exist", the concept of X must be the same. More
generally, the concept of X is the same, whether it occurs in existential or in non-
existential judgements. This is the thought behind Kant's unfortunate discussion of
the one hundred thalers unfortunate in that it tries to compare objects and con-
cepts, by claiming that the former must not "contain more" than the latter. But, if
I am right, the relevant comparison is not an object/concept one, but a concept/
concept one.
If this is Kant's meaning, then his thesis is right. If I deny that X exists, you
assert that X exists, John wonders whether X exists, Mary hopes that X exists, and
so on, the very same concept of X can appear in all these propositional attitudes.
But Kant errs in thinking that this undermines the ontologist. It makes no difference
whether for "X" in the above sentences we substitute "God" or "the prime number
between 25 and 30". The fact that the concept of God needs to have the same
content in "God does exist" and "God does not exist" if e. g. the two judgements
are to be incompatible does not imply that existence cannot be part of the concept
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 397

of God. All that would then follow is that the first judgement was a necessary truth
and the second a necessary falsehood.
Kant* tries to explain why he thinks that his observations refute the ontologist
in paragraph 11 (A 600/B 628). After repeating the point that concepts can have
the same content in both existential and non-existential judgements, he continues:
"When, therefore, I think a being as the supreme reality, without any defect, the question
still remains whether it exists or not. For though, in my concept nothing may be lacking of
the possible real content of a thing in general, something is still lacking in its relation to my
whole state of thought, namely, (in so far as I am unable to assert) that knowledge of this
object is also possible a posteriori. And here we find the source of our present difficulty."
(brackets in original)

The first sentence here is ambiguous. When Kant says "the question still re-
mains", he might mean this in the sense
(i) that / as thinker do not know the answer to it; or
(ii) that no answer to it is entailed by the thought that I am having.
The ontologist can allow that (for some people) the question remains open in
the first sense, just as for some people the question remains open of whether there
really is a prime number between 125 and 130 when they have the thought of such
a number. It is only in the second sense that the ontologist would be refuted if,
when I had the thought of "the supreme reality", the question of its existence
remained open. But Kant has done nothing to show that the question of existence
is left open in this second sense when I think of such a being. The assertion that it
is left open just is the claim that God's existence is not implicit in the concept of
God; and as we have seen, Kant has not justified this claim.
However, the second sentence quoted above introduces the new thought that
when I think of the supreme reality, I must be able to assert that "knowledge of
this object is also possible a posteriori". Prima facie, the ontologist can accept this
further condition. This would be the position of someone (like, for example, Des-
cartes) who accepted the ontological argument and who also thought that God's
existence was provable a posteriori. So Descartes could accept Kant's requirement
that a posteriori knowledge of the object must also be possible in spite of the
fact that Kant describes this point as "the source of our present difficulty".
But why should we accept that knowledge of the object must be possible a poste-
riori? This requirement has not appeared previously in Kant's discussion, and Kant
offers no justification here from which it follows that the ontologist is under no
pressure to accept that requirement either. It could be linked in Kant's mind with
his earlier insistence that existence cannot be part of the concept of anything, hence
that existential judgements cannot be analytic, and hence that they must be a poste-
riori. If this were subconsciously in Kant's mind, it is useless as a justification. For
even in his own terms, being non-analytic does not imply being a posteriori. His
insistence that there are many uncontroversial examples of synthetic a priori judge-
ments is well-known.
398 Nicholas Everitt

5. The epistemological argument (paragraphs 1213)


The argument of paragraph 12 concerns the epistemology of existential judge-
ments. In the case of objects of the senses, says Kant, we must rely on our senses
for knowledge of them. But when it comes to objects of pure thought, "we have
no means whatsoever of knowing their existence" (A 601/B 629). That any such
objects exist would be "an assumption which we can never be in a position to
justify". But nevertheless, we cannot say that the existence of any such object is
"absolutely impossible". Applied to the idea of a necessarily existent being such as
God, the conclusion would be that there might or might not be such a being but
that if there were, we could not know it, nor have a justified belief that there was.

6. Problems with the traditional interpretation


Given the traditional interpretation, this is a surprising line of criticism to find
at this stage in the discussion. For on that interpretation, Kant* has so far exposed
fatal logical flaws in the ontological argument. His objections (according to this
tradition) have all been that the argument rests on a series of logical misunderstand-
ings about necessity, about contradiction, about existence. This is how Kant's
criticisms are viewed by those commentators quoted earlier who believe that Kant
made a significant contribution to the refutation of the ontological argument. Cer-
tainly it must be the view of those who see Kant as taking the first steps towards
the Fregean analysis of existential judgements. Further, if Kant's objections are co-
gent, then the conclusion must be that the ontological argument is totally without
force. It is not merely that the argument is less powerful than its proponents have
thought, nor that its conclusion could be true, even if it does not follow from the
usual premises.
But why then should Kant in paragraph 12 deploy an epistemological argument?
If "necessarily existing being" is either literally meaningless, or expresses a self-
contradictory concept, a fortiori we cannot know that such a being exists. So an
epistemological argument for this conclusion is superfluous. Yet it is clearly episte-
mology which dominates paragraphs 12 and 13. In paragraph 13, the idea of a
supreme being is said to be "in many respects a very useful idea". It is true that
Kant continues that this idea "is not even competent to enlighten us as to the
possibility of any existence beyond that which is known in and through experi-
ence". But he is here utilising his familiar distinction between real and logical possi-
bility; for he immediately goes on to say that the concept of a supreme being does
pass "the analytic criterion of possibility" in other words, it is a self-consistent
concept, and hence it is logically possible that such a being exists. So what Kant
here declares to be impossible is our coming to know of the existence of any such
being.
The position defended in paragraphs 12 and 13, then, is this: the concept of a
supreme being is a self-consistent one, although one for which we have no empirical
criteria of application. We are thus unable to know whether this being exists, or
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 399

even to have a justified belief on the matter. But it is certainly possible to wonder
whether this being exists, and to believe that it does. How can we reconcile these
two divergent tendencies in Kant's discussion on the one hand, a series of claims
and arguments apparently seeking to establish that the concept of necessary exis-
tence is logically incoherent, and on the other, two paragraphs that explicitly say
the opposite?

7. Trying to save the traditional interpretation


One possibility is that Kant* is talking about two different concepts.9 It could
be that the bulk of his discussion is meant to show that the concept of necessary
existence is logically impossible, and that the concept of a supreme being whose
consistency he allows is a different concept. The earlier discussion, after all, is
couched in terms of "an absolutely necessary being" (paragraphs 1, 2, 4, 6) and not
in terms of "a supreme being". And in his later discussion, Kant toys with the idea
that the ontologist is not using the concept of God but only of "an original being
or supreme cause" (A 633/B 661).
In support of this interpretation, we can allow that Kant's terminology in this
area is confusing. From the start of his theological discussions (A 567/B 596), he
uses a bewildering variety of terms (omnitudo realitatis, ens realissimum, primor-
dial being, highest being, absolutely necessary being, etc.) whose mutual relations
are unclear. So Kant* may mean that some of these concepts are logically flawed
and others are not. Further, it is clear that Kant regards the concepts of the ER and
of a necessary being as distinct. He explicitly distinguishes them at A 586/B 614,
and sees the need to argue from one to the other. So again it looks as if Kant might
mean that the concept of a necessary being is logically flawed, and the concept of
the ER is epistemologically flawed.
But this reading faces serious problems. First, if this is Kant*'s position, it is very
inexplicit in the text. Paragraph 12 which, on this interpretation, advances a dif-
ferent line of argument from what has gone before, about a different concept from
the one hitherto discussed, gives no indication of this double change of tactic and
topic. Since Kant's whole point (on this reading) is to contrast the two concepts
and the two lines of argument, this would be a very surprising omission.
Secondly, paragraph 1 does introduce "a being as the supreme reality" (which
seems to differ only stylistically from "a supreme being"), and implies that this is
merely another description of the "absolutely necessary being". So the supposed
distinction between the "very useful" idea of a supreme being and the logically
flawed idea of a "necessary being" fails.

9
Henrich mentions this possibility (op. cit.). He argues that Kant distinguishes between omni-
tudo realitatis and ens necessarium. Although I agree that Kant does in places suggest that
this is so, I do not think (for reasons given in the text) that this distinction is enough to
explain the epistemological aspect of Kant's argument in paragraph 12.
400 Nicholas Everitt

Thirdly, paragraph 14 speaks of "the attempt to establish the existence of a su-


preme being by means of the famous ontological argument of Descartes". This
suggests that Kant thinks that the conclusion of the ontological argument does use
the concept of a supreme being, and hence that there is no difference between an
unacceptable concept of a necessarily existing being and an acceptable concept of
a supreme being.
Kant's discussion, then, cannot be rescued by the assumption that he is advancing
two different lines of argument about two different concepts. Some alternative in-
terpretation must be sought.

8. Kant's general reliance on noumena


The alternative interpretation is that Kant's objections to the ontological argu-
ment are entirely epistemological. To establish this, I will refer first to Kant's philos-
ophy of religion in general; secondly, to his strategy in the Transcendental Dialectic
of the Critique-, and thirdly, to the detailed textual evidence in the section of the
Critique headed "The Impossibility of an Ontological Proof of the Existence of
God" (A 592/B 620 - A 602/B 630).
First, in spite of the persistent tendency by some commentators to interpret Kant
as an empiricist, he is radically different from any form of traditional empiricism.
The crucial difference which is here relevant concerns his view of noumena or
things in themselves. Kant clearly believes that there is a noumenal realm, and this
assumption underlies his explanation of how synthetic a priori knowledge is pos-
sible. Early in the Critique, he distinguishes between "objects which are merely
thought" and "all objects of experience" (B xviii, and footnote a). The former are
noumena, and Kant says of them that although we cannot know about them, they
can be thought which clearly implies that we have concepts corresponding to
them.
This general conception of a thinkable but unknowable realm is then invoked
more specifically in Kant's theism. He believes that although theoretical reasoning
cannot establish God's existence, morality presupposes that there is a "supreme
being". The Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals explores this idea more fully,
but it also appears in The Critique, shortly before the discussion of the ontological
argument. Kant writes:
"(...) there are in the idea of reason obligations which are completely valid, but which in
their application to ourselves would be lacking in all reality ... save on the assumption that
there exists a supreme being to give effect and confirmation to the practical laws." (A 5897
B 617)

This position requires that there is a content to the idea that a supreme being
exists. In more modern parlance, "There is a supreme being" is a genuine proposi-
tion: it has a truth value; it stands in relations of implication and inconsistency to
other propositions; and it is a possible object of at least some propositional atti-
tudes i. e. it is the sort of thing of which one could wonder whether it was true,
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 401

which one could hope was true, and which one could believe (however unjustifia-
bly) was true. Kant seems even to envisage that one could act as if it were true.
This may be going too far; but without going that far, we can certainly say that
Kant is committed to there being a genuine concept of a supreme being.
Further, Kant certainly means that the concept which morality presupposes is
self-consistent. In theory, morality might presuppose a proposition which was in
fact necessarily false (see, for example, Mackie's "error" theory of ethics10). But
this is not Kant's position. When he says that "if there is no supreme being, our
obligations would lack all reality", he is not agnostic about whether our obligations
do lack reality: he is convinced that they are real, and hence that there is a supreme
being. But he recognises that being convinced is different from being able to prove,
and also from having supporting evidence.
The moral that emerges, then, from Kant's philosophy of religion is that he be-
lieves "God exists" is true, even though not supportable by theoretical reason, and
hence that there is a self-consistent concept of a supreme being.
Consider, secondly, Kant's strategy in the Transcendental Dialectic. The Dialectic
argues that certain philosophers have tried to extend human knowledge beyond its
legitimate limits by using concepts "to which no corresponding object can be given
in sense experience" (A327/B383). These concepts create transcendental illusion,
that is to say illusion which "carries us altogether beyond the empirical employment
of the categories" (A 295/B 352). In modern parlance, they are concepts for which
we have no empirical criteria of application. Thus the Paralogisms expose the illu-
sions arising from a Cartesian conception of the self, a conception for which Kant
thinks that we lack empirical criteria. The Antinomies examine our lack of empiri-
cal criteria for the concepts of infinity, of free will, and of necessary existence. So
we might expect that in a parallel way, the Ideal of Pure Reason would concern
our lack of empirical criteria for the concept of God.
When we examine Kant's discussion in both the Paralogisms and the Antinomies,
we find his arguments are precisely in line with the strategy above. Thus, in the
Paralogisms, he argues not that we have no Cartesian concept of the self, or that
the concept is self-contradictory. Rather, allowing that there is a self-consistent
concept of a Cartesian self, he argues that we could never gain knowledge or justi-
fied belief about such a self. His conclusion about the concept is that it
"(...) does not give me any further knowledge of the properties of this thinking self, nor
does it enable me to determine its permanence or even that it exists independently of what
we may conjecture to be the transcendental substratum of appearances." (A 383)
In other words, his criticisms of it are epistemological. And underlining the point
that the criticisms are not logical, Kant continues:
"But it is nevertheless possible that I may find cause, on other than merely speculative
grounds, to hope for an independent and continuing existence of my thinking nature, through-

10
See e. g. J. L. Machie, Ethics, Penguin, 1977.
402 Nicholas Everitt

out all possible change of my state. In that case, much will already have been gained if, while
freely confessing to my own ignorance, I am yet in a position to repel the dogmatic assaults
of a speculative opponent, and to show him that he can never know more of the nature of
the self in denying the possibility of my expectations than I can know in clinging to them."
(ibid.)
This makes clear that whatever is wrong with the concept of the self conceived
a la Descartes, it does not prevent Kant (as he believes) from both "hoping" and
"expecting" that he has a non-physical, immortal soul. Further, given that Kant
does not credit himself with hoping for and expecting a contradictory state of
affairs, there must be a self-consistent concept of a Cartesian self. The problem
with the concept from the human point of view is our lack of empirical criteria;
and it is this which prevents us (so Kant believes) from having any knowledge of,
or justified beliefs about, such a soul.
We find the same strategy pursued in the Antinomies. The Theses of the Antino-
mies are rejected, not because they employ logically flawed concepts, but because
they transgress the limits of possible experience. By contrast, the Antitheses are
praised for reminding us of the limits the knowable, and criticised only when they
equate the limits of the knowable with the limits of reality. So the Antinomies
criticise not the truth, or even the logical coherence, of the Theses, but rather the
possibility of our knowing or rationally believing that they are true. If the Antithe-
ses merely reminded us of the limits of the knowable, then, says Kant,
"(...) we should not be cut off from employing intellectual presupposition and faith on
behalf of our practical interests; only they could never (...) assume the title (...) of science
and rational insight." (A 470/B 498, Kant's emphasis)
Since Kant has already claimed (A 466/B 494) that we have a practical interest
in the truth of the Theses, he is clearly implying that the flaw in the suspect ideas
is epistemological not logical. There is no contradiction in supposing there to be
objects which correspond to such ideas. The only difficulty is that we can have no
evidence about the existence and nature of such objects.
Kant's stand on the Antinomial concepts is particularly significant for our
purposes, since the Fourth Antinomy examines necessary existence, the very concept
which recurs in the discussion of the ontological argument. In the Fourth Antinomy,
Kant's treatment of the concept of necessary existence is parallel to his treatment
of the other Antinomial concepts: it is free from contradiction and incoherence, but
we lack empirical criteria for its application. Kant would be guilty of a very obvious
contradiction if in the Fourth Antinomy he presupposed that the concept was logi-
cally admissible, and then in the immediately following Ideal of Pure Reason, he
argued exactly the opposite.

9. An alternative interpretation of Kant on the ontological argument


Given that this is Kant's strategy in the Paralogisms and the Antinomies, and
given that he thinks all three varieties of dialectical illusion share a common source
and structure, we should expect to find the same approach in the Ideal of Pure
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 403

Reason. So let us turn finally to Kant's explicit discussion of the ontological argu-
ment itself. In sections 26 above, I argued that if Kant's contention is, as the
traditional interpretation maintains, that the concept of necessary existence is logi-
cally flawed, his claims are extremely weak. But given the argument of section 8,
we now have antecedent reasons for thinking that this misrepresents what Kant is
attempting. He is imposing conditions on the possibility not of necessary judge-
ments, existential judgements, etc. but of knowable necessary and existential judge-
ments.
Let us grant first, that many of Kant's expressions invite the traditional inter-
pretation. He suggests initially that it is doubtful whether we can even "form a
concept" of necessary existence (A 592/B 620, paragraph 1); he says that previous
thinkers erred in not trying to "understand whether and how a (necessarily existing
thing) even allows of being thought", and that the question must arise whether in
thinking of such a thing I might really be thinking "nothing at all" (ibid., and
A 593/B 621, paragraph 2); he reminds us that any necessarily existing object "lies
entirely outside the sphere of our understanding" and that it is uncertain whether
we "understand perfectly what we intend to convey by the concept of that object"
(ibid., paragraph 3).
These remarks suggest to a modern reader that Kant is finding logical flaws in
the relevant concept either that the concept is self-inconsistent, or that really
there is no such concept and that the very phrase "necessarily existent" is literally
senseless. But this is an anachronistic reading. We need to notice, first, that when
Kant uses terms like "senseless" or "meaningless", he does not use them as they are
used by many modern philosophers. He applies them to concepts which are in
perfect logical order but for which we have no criteria of empirical application (see
e. g. A 156/B 195, and compare A 241/B 300). It would be natural, therefore, for
Kant to say that I am thinking "nothing at all" when I use a concept which is
"meaningless" i. e. for which I lack empirical criteria.
Secondly, when Kant speaks of "understanding" a judgement, what he means is
a grasp of its verification conditions, not its logical or semantic properties. Thus in
the Preface to the 2nd edition of the Critique', he says:
"Morality does not (...) require that freedom should be understood, but only that it should
not contradict itself, and so should at least allow of being thought." (B xxix)

This, he says, is enough to make it possible for "the doctrine of morality (...) (to)
make good its position" (ibid.) And the next paragraph extends this approach to
God, and concludes with Kant's famous observation:
"I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith."
(Bxxx)

This shows (i) that a concept might be self-consistent, and yet be one which we
cannot "understand"; (ii) that our not understanding a concept does not mean that
we cannot use it "to make good a position"; and (iii) that the concept of God is
404 Nicholas Everitt

precisely such a concept. So when he says that the concept of a necessarily existing
being "lies entirely outside the sphere of our understanding", and that we may not
"understand perfectly what we intend to convey by the concept of that object"
(A 593/B 621), he is criticising the concept on epistemological grounds.
The only passages where it seems that Kant must be impugning the consistency
or even the existence of the concept are those in which he questions whether we
can even think such a concept. For thought as opposed to knowledge is limited
only by the requirement of self-consistency, not by the requirement of possible
empirical use. However, against this reading of the text, we need to notice two
things: first, Kant does not explicitly say that we cannot think this concept; he says
only that previous thinkers should have tried to explain how it is possible for us to
have such a concept. Secondly, he explicitly makes assertions which commit him to
saying that we can think the concept. For example:
(i) A concept is always possible if it is not self-contradictory" (A 596/B 624 fn.).
(ii) The concept of a supreme being is not self-contradictory (A 602/B 630).
(iii) Non-self-contradictory concepts can be thought (B xxix).
These three claims commit him to:
(iv) The concept of a supreme being is possible (from (i) and (ii)).
(v) The concept of a supreme being can be thought (from (ii) and (iii)).
This makes clear that when Kant raises the question of whether we can even think
the concept of a supreme being, he is committed to an affirmative answer.
Let us return finally to a question raised in section 1 which I said had been left
unanswered by other commentators. This was whether Kant regards his claim that
all existential judgements are synthetic as itself analytic or synthetic. The traditional
interpretation would have to credit him with the view that it was analytic. For that
interpretation thinks that Kant is trying to show by a mere analysis of the concept
of an existential judgement that the predicate of being synthetic is contained in the
concept. On my reading, however, Kant regards this judgement as synthetic. It is a
synthetic a priori judgement, on a par with other such synthetic a priori judgements
as Objects are causally ordered' or Objects exist in a three-dimensional space'.
What Kant means by such claims is that objects, insofar as they are known by us,
are causally and spatially ordered. Similarly, when Kant says that existential judge-
ments are synthetic, he means that existential judgements as known by us are syn-
thetic. He is not denying that there can be true existential judgements that are
analytic. He maintains only that we cannot understand how this is possible.11

11
There are obvious echoes here of Leibniz's claim that there are some analytic propositions,
the so-called 'infinite analytics', which are such that although God can see the inclusion of
the predicate in the subject, we in principle are unable to do so (see L. E. Loemker, Leibniz:
Philosophical Papers and Letters, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1956 p. 407). But
I would not want to press the parallel far.
Kant's Discussion of the Ontological Argument 405

10. Conclusion
The position, then, is this. On the traditional interpretation of Kant's discussion,
he is attempting to show that the expression 'exists necessarily' as it occurs in the
ontological argument is a logical solecism. Either there is no such concept or if
there is such a concept, it is a self-contradictory one. Further, most commentators
in this tradition have thought that Kant produced good arguments for this conclu-
sion. This paper shows (a) that none of Kant's arguments supports the conclusion
which these commentators attribute to him, but that (b) he was not trying to pro-
duce such arguments anyway. His objections to the ontological argument are only
that we cannot know or have good reason to believe that there is a necessarily
existent being. But he combines that with a belief or faith that there is such a
being, a belief which, ironically, those who admire him from the traditional view
mistakenly think he has shown to be impossible.