Kant on Modality

In Anil Gomes & Andrew Stephenson (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Kant. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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This chapter analyzes several key themes in Kant’s views about modality. We begin with the pre-critical Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God, in which Kant distinguishes between formal and material elements of possibility, claims that all possibility requires an actual ground, and argues for the existence of a single necessary being. We then briefly consider how Kant’s views change in his mature period, especially concerning the role of form and thought in defining modality. Kant’s mature views, however, present two difficult interpretive puzzles. The first puzzle concerns whether Kant has a generally reductive view of modality. While Kant’s views on logical modality, the role of actuality in grounding possibility, and the relation of modality to cognition all suggest reduction, we argue that the categorial status of modal concepts and the difficulty in even identifying amodal grounds for modal facts all suggest a non-reductive view. The second puzzle concerns whether Kant accepts modal facts or properties at the noumenal level. While Kant’s appeal to noumenal necessary connections, the contingency of noumenal willing, and the idea of a necessary noumenal being suggest that he endorses noumenal modality, his claims that modal concepts express only relations to the faculty of cognition and his claim that modal concepts arise from our distinctive psychological structures, we argue, suggest that he rejects noumenal modality. We conclude by considering potential solutions to these puzzles.

Author Profiles

Aaron Barker
University of Washington
Colin Marshall
University of Washington


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