Kant’s Critique of the Cosmological Argument

Excerpted from Epistemics of Divine Reality (2009, 2011), pp.105-107

b. The Cosmological Argument: As stated by Kant himself the cosmological argument runs as follows: If anything exists, an absolutely necessary being must also exist. Now I, at least, exist. Therefore, an absolutely necessary being exists.[1] Since an infinite series of contingent causal relations is impossible an uncaused, unconditioned, necessary cause must be posited as the cause of the universe. However, Kant reasons that this argument too, as the former one, attempts to prove the existence of the transcendent from the empirical, which is impossible. If God were a link or beginning of the series then He could not be separated from it and thus also conditioned by causality. However, on the other hand if it were argued that He is separate from the series, there remains no way reason can find to span the gap between pure and contingent existence.[2] Nothing beyond the world of senses can be definitely known to us. This argument is epistemically flawed since it misapplies the transcendental principle of causality beyond the bounds of the phenomenal world. In Kant’s own words:

This principle is applicable only in the sensible world; outside that world it has no meaning whatsoever. For the mere intellectual concept of the contingent cannot give rise to any synthetic proposition, such as that of causality. The principle of causality has no meaning and no criterion for its application save only in the sensible world. But in the cosmological proof it is precisely in order to enable us to advance beyond the sensible world that it is employed.[3]

The chief error of both the ontological and the cosmological arguments is that of projecting the subjective transcendental principles on to reality. Thus, infinity and causality are misconstrued as physical or external conditions of reality while in reality they are concepts of the mind by means of which objective reality is subjectively apprehended. Moreover, one cannot attribute necessity to anything in the phenomenal world, as the cosmological argument does in its inference of the necessity of an uncaused cause, since necessity is a formal condition of thought found in our reason and not applicable to external reality. In the words of Kant, ‘The concept of necessity is only to be found in our reason, as a formal condition of thought; it does not allow of being hypostatised as a material condition of existence.’[4]


[1] The Critique of Pure Reason (trans. N.K. Smith), p. 508
[2] Ibid, p. 519
[3] Ibid, p. 511
[4] Ibid, p. 518

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