From New World Encyclopedia
Not to be confused with antimony, a chemical element.

Antinomy (Greek αντι-, against, plus νομος, law) literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term often used in logic and epistemology, when describing a paradox or unresolvable contradiction. The term antinomy is best known for its use in Kant's arguments in the “Transcendental Dialectic” of the Critique of Pure Reason. The concept of antinomy is also discussed in the other two of three critiques (Critique of Practical Reason and Critique of Judgment). Kant tried to show that the faculty of reason can necessarily fall into a contradiction, or an antinomy, unless one takes Kant's perspective. The idea of antinomy is, thus, built into Kant's arguments themselves. In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant presented the antinomy of morality and happiness. Simply stated, a morally good life does not necessarily bring about happiness on earth. Moral goodness can result in persecution and even death. Kant argued that the existence of God and the immortality of the soul in the afterlife are be necessarily postulated in order to satisfy the conditions for "supreme goodness" (realization of both moral goodness and happiness).

Historical background

The term antinomy is found in the works of Plutarch (46 – 127), but it became a key philosophical term with Kant. The term was used as a legal term since the seventeenth century and it meant a contradiction among laws. Kant adopted this legal term as well as other legal terms and concepts into philosophy. With the term "antinomy," Kant tried to present that the faculty of reason can establish an equally sound, but incompatible or contradictory claim. With this concept of the antinomy, Kant attempted show the limits of the valid use of the capacity of reason.

"Ideas" in Kant's critical works

Kant carried out the critique of the faculty of reason in his three critical works, Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgment. He tried to present the limits of how reason can be used by presenting the antinomies or contradictory claims reached by reason. These critical works dealt with issues of epistemology, or theory of knowledge, Ethics, and Aesthetics respectively. In the Critique of Pure Reason, he examined reason as a faculty of knowledge or cognition. In the Critique of Practical Reason, he dealt with reason as a faculty of moral judgment and action, and in the Critique of Judgment, he examined reason as a faculty of aesthetic judgment. For Kant, a critique meant a critical examination of reason as a faculty of judgment. Kant discussed antinomies in all of these critical works. The antinomy discussed in the Critique of Pure Reason is, however, best known.

Antinomy in the Critique of Pure Reason

The faculty of reason naturally pursues the unconditioned from the conditioned, or the premise from the conclusion. Kant called the unconditioned, "Ideas." There are three "Ideas," which are the soul, the world, and God.

When we have an internal experience, we try to think of the totality of the internal experience, and come to have the Idea (in Kantian sense) of the “soul.” Likewise, from experiences that we have with external things, we tend to think of the totality of the external things, and thus we have the Idea of the “world.” Similarly, from experiences that we have with particular beings, we are led to think the totality of all beings and come to think of the Idea of God.

For Kant, an object of cognition must have some sensible content. We, however, tend to mistakenly conceive these Ideas (soul, world, and God) as the objects of cognition. These Ideas are, however, not the objects of cognition since they lack any sensible content such as color, shape, sound, smell, and texture. We cannot see, smell, and touch them unlike other tangible objects. The problem arises, Kant argued, when we conceive the real existence of these Ideas in the same sense that a tangible thing exists. Kant collectively called these mistakenly understood Ideas as the “transcendental illusions” or the “transcendental semblances” (in German, “transzendentaler Schein”).

For Kant, knowledge is the result of the constitution of two components: first, sensible content, such as colors and shapes, supplied by things; second, the forms that the mind is equipped with such as space, time, quality, quantity, relation, and modality. We impose these categories or forms of mind, which the mind has a priori, onto the content we acquire from things outside of us. Human experience or cognition is the result of the constitution of these forms of mind and the sensible content that exists outside of the person. These Ideas such as God, the soul, and the world, are not directly observable and do not have any sensible content (such as color, shape, smell, etc.), and so they cannot be an object of cognition. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant examined the mechanism of the process of how we gain experience and presented the limit of what is knowable.

Kant argued that these Ideas are not elements that constitute knowledge. In his words, These Ideas do not make up the “constitutive principle” (“konstitutives Prinzip”) of knowledge, but they should simply serve as the “regulative principle” (“regulatives Prinzip”), or the “heuristic principle” (“heuristisches Prinzip”) that guides our thought.

Kant refused traditional speculative metaphysics, which posited the existence of these Ideas behind and above phenomena that we can experience. Kant was accused of being a “destroyer” of metaphysics for his rejection of traditional views of metaphysicians. Kant denied metaphysicians’ approaches to these Ideas, but opened a practical approach to them in the sphere of morality. Kant argued that they are not the objects of cognition but they are postulated as necessary elements for moral reasoning.

Four Types of Antinomy in the “Transcendental Dialectic” of the Critique of Pure Reason

In the section, “Transcendental Dialectic” in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant presented four types of antinomies.

The First Antinomy

  • Thesis: The world is finite in time and space.
  • Antithesis: The world is infinite in time and space.

Kant's own formulation in the Critique of Pure Reason:

  • Thesis: The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited in terms of space.
  • Antithesis: The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite in terms of both time and space.

(Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Book II, Chapter II, Section 2. Norman Kemp-Smith's translation)

The first antinomy arises for the question of whether the world has the beginning in time or not, and whether it is spatially finite or not. Reason can argue for each position but cannot reach any conclusive position. Reason cannot decide and resolve the antinomy.

The Second Antinomy

  • Thesis: The world consists of indivisible elements.
  • Antithesis: The world does not consist of indivisible elements.

Kant's own formulation in the Critique of Pure Reason:

  • Thesis: Every composite substance in the world is made up of simple parts, and nothing anywhere exists save the simple or what is composed of the simple.
  • Antithesis: No composite thing in the world is made up of simple parts, and nothing simple exists in the world anywhere.(Ibid.)

The question is about the divisibility of components of the world. Can we divide the component of the world into such elements as atoms or particles, and further divide into finer components indefinitely? Or do we reach the final component whose further division is impossible?

The Third Antinomy

  • Thesis: Freedom exists as a causality in the world.
  • Antithesis: There is no freedom and everything in the world takes place according to laws of nature.

Kant's own formulation in the Critique of Pure Reason:

  • Thesis: Causality in accordance with laws of nature is not the only causality from which the appearances of the world can one and all be derived. To explain these appearances it is necessary to assume that there is also another causality, that of freedom.
  • Antithesis: There is no freedom; everything in the world takes place solely in accordance with laws of nature.(Ibid)

If we trace a chain of cause and effect, do we reach the final point called freedom, which is the initial cause of the causal chain? Or do we never reach the final point, and so the chain of cause and effect continues endlessly? Is there any point outside of the causal chain of beings in the universe?

The Fourth Antinomy

  • Thesis: There is an absolutely necessary being (such as God) in the causal chain of beings
  • Antithesis: There is no absolutely necessary being.

Kant's own formulation in the Critique of Pure Reason:

  • Thesis: There belongs to the world, either as its part or as its cause, a being that is absolutely necessary.
  • Antithesis: An absolutely necessary being exists nowhere in the world, nor does it exist outside the world as its cause.


The question, here, is whether we can suppose the existence of God as the being which necessarily exists. Anselm of Canterbury formulated an ontological proof of the existence of God: God is a unique being who exists by its essence. Anselm's was based upon the idea that God is that which "is" or who He is. The validity of this ontological argument has been discussed throughout the history of philosophy. Kant argued that we cannot settle the argument conclusively through rational arguments because the faculty of reason can make two incompatible claims.

Kant's arguments

An antinomy arises, Kant argued, based upon two illegitimate presuppositions: first, that space and time are forms of existence; second, that we do not make a distinction between Phenomena and Noumena. For Kant, space and time are not forms of existence but subjective forms of the mind. When a man has certain experiences, he or she unconsciously applies these forms of the mind in order to organize the experiences. Furthermore, human cognition is limited to the sphere of phenomena which has a certain sensible content. But, things considered in themselves ("noumena" or "things in themselves") without the consideration of the human cognitive apparatus are, in principle, unknowable. (see Noumenon for further details.)

An antinomy arises when we take space and time as forms of existing objects that are conceived as forms of "things in themselves" or "noumena." According to Kant, the first two forms of an antinomy (Kant called "mathematical antinomy") are both false, and the third and the fourth forms of an antinomy (Kant called "dynamic antinomy") are both true.

Examination of the Third Antinomy

The third antinomy is often considered to be of vital importance since the question of freedom is essential to moral philosophy. When we view the issue from two difference perspectives, Kant argued, the antinomy disappears. When we view human actions as natural phenomena, we can perceive them in terms of the causal chain and all phenomena occurs according to causality. If we view the same human actions from the perspective of will, which is outside of the causal chains of beings, we can perceive that humans' actions are guided by free will. In other words, freedom can be the cause, as opposed to a natural cause.

Antinomy in the Critique of Practical Reason

Kant presents an antinomy in the Critique of Practical Reason between morality and happiness. The supreme good is realized when both moral goodness and happiness are achieved. However, even if a man tries to be morally good, he can be mistreated and lead a life of misery. The faculty of reason demands both moral perfection and the attainment of happiness at the same time, although there is no guarantee for the simultaneous attainment of both. The pursuit of happiness likewise does not necessarily guide a person to be morally good.

In order to answer this antinomy, Kant argued that we are led to postulate the existence of God and the immortality of the soul in the world after death. God guarantees the agreement of happiness and moral goodness, or the realization of the supreme good in the world after death.

Antinomy in the Critique of Judgment

In the Critique of Judgment, Kant discusses the antinomy of the teleological view of nature and the mechanical view of nature. Nature can be seen as having a built-in purpose or a mechanically organized being without purpose. Kant argued that both positions are true. The resolution can be made when we see teleology and the mechanistic view not as the objective principles of being, but as the subjective principles of judgment.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Al-Azm, J. Sadik. Origins of Kant's Arguments in the Antinomies Oxford University Press, 1972. ISBN 0198243758
  • Bransen, Jan. The Antinomy of Thought: Maimonian Skepticism and the Relation between Thoughts and Objects. Nijhoff international philosophy series, v. 43. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991. ISBN 0792313836
  • Paulsen, F. I. Kant (Eng. trans. 1902), 216 foll.
  • Guyer, Paul. Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment: Critical Essays. Critical essays on the classics. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0742514188
  • Sidgwick, H.Philos. of Kant, lectures x. and xi. (Lond., 1905)
  • John Watson, Selections from Kant. (trans. Glasgow, 1897), 155 foll.
  • Melnick, Arthur. Themes in Kant's Metaphysics and Ethics. Studies in philosophy and the history of philosophy, v. 40. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. ISBN 0813213711
  • White, D. Kant's First Antinomy: An Essay in Philosophical Cosmology. University of Edinburgh, 1982.
  • Windelband, W. A History of Philosophy. New York: Harper, 1958.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • This article was originally based on material from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, which is licensed under the GFDL.

External links

All links retrieved July 31, 2023.

General Philosophy Sources


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.