Positio contra complementum possibilitatis – Kant and Baumgarten on Existence

Kant-Studien 107 (2):291-313 (2016)
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In the course of his philosophy, in various contexts, Kant comes to reject three theses about existence: (i) that the thoroughgoing determination of a thing implies its existence, (ii) that existence is a real predicate or determination of a thing, and (iii) that existence is the complement of inner possibility or essence. Kant’s target here is Baumgarten, who advocates these theses as the criterion, classification, and definition of existence. In this article I seek to clarify Kant’s elusive theory of existence through its opposition to Baumgarten. I will show that Kant’s refutation of (i)–(iii) does not stand alone but is grounded on his own definition of existence as (absolute) positing. Thus contrary to common practice, Kant’s negative claims about what existence is not cannot be understood in isolation but must be taken as jointly dependent on Kant’s positive claim of what existence is. I will show that the theses (i)–(iii) fail because they presuppose that existence contributes to the intension or content of a concept, whereas according to Kant existence in fact posits a (non-empty) extension to the concept.
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