In Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, he explained the difference in several knowledge claims, and in the process tried to prove the existence of cause and effect. His views were that even though we cannot explicitly see the necessary connection of events, we know that causality exists. Kant’s theories are correct because the lack of causality would mean some events are random, which is not true. Random events are impossible; everything has a cause.
In the Prolegomena, Kant first grouped knowledge claims into two categories: analytical and synthetic. Analytical claims are those that are true by definition, such as the statement “A bachelor is an unmarried man.” Synthetic claims are ones that add onto a previous definition. For example, “John Smith is a bachelor because he is unmarried,” is a synthetic claim because more information is now known about Smith. Then, Kant introduced a second set of criterion, a priori and a posteriori claims. A priori knowledge is knowledge that we have before we experience something, where as a posteriori knowledge claims have to be experienced through the senses.
The Prolegomena has a direct rebuttal to David Hume’s theories on cause and effect and necessary connection (Kant, Section 4). Though Hume’s theories started out in the right place, Kant believed that he just did not completely get the answer right. Kant explained that in order to correctly categorize knowledge, you need to cross-examine claims with the two sets of criterion. This way, it can be shown that things are either analytical a priori, synthetic a posteriori, or synthetic a priori. Analytical a posteriori does not make sense, because you cannot have knowledge of a definition that adds on to the same definition. Kant puts the idea of cause and effect in the category of synthetic a priori, under the theory that there is no arbitration in the world. Nothing is random, therefore, every cause has an effect and vice versa.
Hume’s stance was that cause and effect could not be the justification of knowledge claims because we cannot see the actual connection between two events. He asserts that this “necessary connexion [sic]” is not ever truly present (Hume, Section VII pt. 1). We only see “constant conjunction,” and assume that one event caused the second. Hume states that we use this constant conjunction in deciding the probability of something occurring, but can never conclude that the event is 100 percent likely.
Stephen Mumford considers and breaks down Hume’s point of view by explaining how to decide if cause and effect truly exists (Rouse, Section 2). He discusses how both sides of the argument start at a place that could give their view the upper hand. If one were arguing for Hume’s theories, they would base their assumptions on regular occurrences. Then, they would draw conclusions for singular events based on the general assumptions. But, Mumford states that this system cannot always be used because there may not be enough instances to categorize events as “regularities.”
“But we have seen that there is a problem with this account if there are not enough exceptionless regularities to sustain the theory,” Mumford says. “And we have also seen that it might not matter to the particular instance if there is not absolute regularity.” He goes on to explain how this theory does not exactly include the idea that a cause can have multiple effects, whereas the idea of working backwards and using singular events to create groups does include the idea of multiple effects, thus agreeing with Kant about necessary connection existing.
Though some of Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings could be seen as agreeing with Hume, further investigation shows that his views were more aligned with Kant’s (Doyle). In The Gay Science, Nietzsche breaks down several different philosophers’ views on causality, including Kant. He states that though we have not come to a complete answer yet, Kant’s way of finding the solution is rational (Nietzsche, Section 357). Kant, unlike Hume, did not completely throw out the concept of causality, but rather he gave it an outline with specific criteria.
Though Nietzsche’s views were similar, he did indicate problems with Kant’s point of view. He said that the most important and relevant part of Kant’s theory was his process, but he failed to execute the solution properly. Nietzsche rejects the idea of causality being involved with the concept of noumenon, which is knowledge without sense-perception (Doyle). This belief in this “thing-in-itself” does not signify a complete independence from perceptions, which Nietzsche disagrees with. This means that Nietzsche aligned himself with the idea that the knowledge of the thing-in-itself comes before cause and effect, meaning they are independent of each other.
Immanuel Kant’s theory that cause and effect exists is correct because there is no singular event that does not have a cause. Though we cannot see this necessary connection, we can be certain that the concept of a cause and effect relationship is real. This is possible by focusing on causes and then viewing their effects, instead of looking at the effects and then investigating the causes. Kant’s categorization of cause and effect as synthetic a priori knowledge shows that we do not need to see the relationship to know that it is actually there.
Hume, David (1993). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company.
Kant, Immanuel (1997). A Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Public Domain.
Doyle, Tsarina. (2012). The Kantian Background to Nietzsche’s Views on Causality. Journal of Nietzsche Studies, 43(1), 44–56. http://doi.org/10.5325/jnietstud.43.1.0044
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2008). The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and Appendix of Songs. (seventh edition). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Rouse, W., Boff, K., Sanderson, P., Mumford, S., & Anjum, R. L. (2011). Fundamentals of causality. Information Knowledge Systems Management, 10(1-4), 75-84.