Laruelle’s “Reflections on the Meaning of Finitude in the Critique of Pure Reason”

Laruelle, Francois. “Reflections sur la sens de la finitude dans la Critique de la Raison Pure.” Revue International de Philosophie 35 (1981): 269-83.

Reflections on the Meaning of Finitude in the Critique of Pure Reason

François Laruelle

“Finitude” designates human knowledge’s positive nature of not creating its object which it nevertheless determines as object, of having to receive it so as to determine it. The Critique of Pure Reason modifies the theological problematic of finitude which, in the classical age, instead designates man’s being created, transposing it into the problematic of the intuitive relation of repraesentatio to the object and in fact the powerlessness of man to create the latter. We must make three preliminary yet essential distinctions. Finitude primarily and essentially is said of (human) intuition and secondarily, not essentially, of the imagination, the understanding and reason which are simultaneously finite and infinite. Furthermore, we must distinguish the finitude of intuition and its infinite (synthetic) condition in intuition: finally, we must distinguish these limited places [1] of finitude in accordance with certain parts of the Critique, simultaneously in accordance with the faculties and relations of one space of “form” to another—in accordance with finitude as the general principle of interpretation which is then globally opposed to an interpretation which would take for its guiding-thread the rise of Reflection throughout the Critique towards the highest instance of rational determination, the infinite and ideal. The first supposes that Reason can be liberated from the bondage of its initial finitude in “sensible” intuition, the second supposes this liberation without, however, its bonds with receptivity being fully broken.


We often oppose the Heideggerian and idealist (Hegelian or neo-Kantian) interpretations of these problems. On one side, finitude as irreducible and unsurpassable becomes the principle interpretation of Reason itself as pure finite Reason. On the other, finitude is simply an initial, limited and surpassed moment, either of the pure Idea, or of the transcendental reflection of infinite Reason. And it is true from the one to the other, from the directing primacy of Intuition to that of Reason and its ends, from the primacy of reception to that of phenomenal, then intelligible determination, from the primacy of sensibility to that of the intelligible (the universal moral Law in the solution to the third antinomy), there is seemingly a reciprocal reversal of perspectives which are rendered irreconcilable, thus changing their particular sense (that of sensibility to the understanding) and their critical value (their relation to the Whole or to the architectonic of the Critique). The adversaries themselves are bound to be carried away in these somewhat excessive debates and in oppositions which are all too often unilateral. Finitude becomes a problem, acquiring sense and value, when the preliminary or prefatory position of the texts which indicate and program it are recognized. Like any threshold, finitude can also be crossed “unproblematically” since it leads to the tabernacle of the moral Law, which detains its visitors in its folds indefinitely. Hence the two necessary interpretations mentioned above. This essay endeavors to rediscover their co-belonging and to stop opposing what the threshold itself never opposes: the simple indication or transition, and the program.

We will not struggle against these appearances head on but take them from behind. Under the title of hypothesis of work to be experimented upon, first we will seek, against the most obvious oppositions, for what these two interpretations of finitude have in common so as to extract the residue or site of their divergence, the veritable differential digression which renders both of them possible within the interior of a common field, i.e. the ensemble of theoretical choices and decisions through which they are divided upon the object of interpretation. Above all what should be comprehended is the origin and possibility of this type of massive reversal of primacy between finite reason and infinite reason. Here we pose a problem of sense and value, we do not interrogate the treatment of the parts of doctrine like a historian (the imagination and the schema, pure time and originary time) but this reversal itself which creates the space for a change of the sense and the value of these parts. And here we will avoid believing too quickly that there was, between “infinite Reason” and “finite Reason,” something like a simply “theoretical,” indeed “psychological” choice, in any case one which would be at the free disposal of the interpreters. We will regroup these simple reflections around three possible “oppositions” whose scope will have to be limited.

First Opposition: Psychologism or Epistemology?

To make finitude not only into a theme or a moment of transcendental Reflection but even its principle would be to succumb to psychologism. One could only go beyond it through the passage to the legislative understanding and to the primacy of the objective transcendental Deduction as the “heart” of the Critique. The reflection of understanding would set the limitation and the sense of sensibility, the thing-in-itself even being posited by reflection, but in some way still as a dogmatic form of the noumenon and correlative with sensibility. [2] And since the determination by the understanding alone can assure the objectivity of knowledge, the real object (in the phenomenon) would not be in any way what is simply given by intuition, in other words the “existent” which always risks being a simple perceived, but the object of knowledge determined by the laws of science. The primacy of the intuition interpreted as reception of the existent in general would fall into psychologism and dreamy or visionary idealism.

This argument supposes:

1. That the perspective of finitude is not simply posited but exhausted by the primacy of the Intuition. In fact, if it discovers its essence in this primacy, it never excludes the intervention of determination. Finitude—this will be a constant related from the neo-Kantian point of view—always surpasses itself towards the all of finitude, here towards thinking or determining intuition, towards the unity-of-root of sensibility and the understanding (in the imagination as time).

2. That by substituting the existent in general for the scientifically known object, objectivity is abandoned as the definition of the real. This is on behalf of reducing all objectivity to the fact of scientific laws, reducing the determination or the essence of objectivity to a model or to a determined “cultural” type. By positing the contradictory identity of the existent which is received as object and of the existent in-itself, on the contrary the irreducibility and the objectivity of the object are assured in their fullest extent. It is reflected in the “subjective” conditions of determination under the form of the contradiction of an a priori power rendered necessary by an ontic powerlessness. Therefore, the new contradiction to which it gives rise is resolved by the a priori “form,” the horizon of objectivity which must itself be received and not simply produced. Being as objectivity of the object is offered in turn as exteriority and resistance of thought in thought. Ontic receptivity is reflected via the form of an ontological receptivity or finitude. What is received is no longer simply the existent—as object which affects sensibility—but its truly a priori “objectivity.” Receptivity does not necessarily have an empirical and psychological signification. Having become ontological, it makes it possible on the contrary to both eliminate dreamy or visionary idealism and the prejudices of a perception of the in-itself and empirical affection. In order to have the scientific status of law, this horizon is no less a priori and responds to the criteria of universality and necessity. It is even necessary to go further. Far from succumbing to a return of psychologism or reducing Reason to the state of perceiving Reason, the perspective of Intuition as the essence of Reason—an essence which does not exhaust its functions—instead attempts to acquire the universal of universality and give to the a priori the entire extension of its essence. The constitution of a chain of receptivities or states of passivity which would be related to one another in the hierarchy of the faculties signifies that, posited once again, finitude can no longer be limited and circumscribed, that it invades every edifice. This is precisely the continued co-belonging of receptivity and the “form” which is only creative as form, which takes the a priori to its limits and gives it its signification. The second constant of this “method” now appears: it refuses the rationalist and mathematizing dilemma (Cohen, Cassirer, Husserl) of physico-mathematical science or better of psychologism and claims to push back the limits of the a priori beyond its scientific and ethical contents without losing anything from the sense of the objectivity of the object, which instead becomes its privileged theme beginning from which it combines with the dimension of historicity. On these two points we will thus keep from opposing the two types of interpretations too hastily. Their ultimate goal is to always avoid overly unilateral reductions and to restore civil peace, hierarchy and perfect harmony between the faculties.

Second Opposition: Finite Reception or Infinite Determination?

“Finitude” designates an interpretation of entirety, unifying the whole of the Critique, but has ended up by wrongly designating an exclusion: that of “creation” or creative determination insofar as it is the mark of the infinite. That which only designates a primacy, that of reception over determination—not even of affection over synthesis, but of the synthesis in the intuition over the synthesis in the understanding—has wound up designating an exclusion of synthesis as infinite creation. This is obviously an error of complete interpretation. On the one hand, as we have seen, it is always the “determining reception” which must be taken into account. On the other hand, the reception of the object supposes the gift of a capacity of being manifested in the existent. This gift is nothing other than the formation of the a priori form, the synthesis (that of originary time) which traverses the intuition and the understanding while uniting them in this transversal itself. The synthetic pro-jection of the a priori objectivity of the object is the necessary condition for the reception of the existent, the imagination being creative and synthetic because it is also receptive. Finally, the finitude of the intuition supposes the infinitude of the imagination. The Heideggarian interpretation notes and registers that which subsists very classically in the imagination and the understanding reduced to its empirical usage from a creation of the existent and its being by the divine understanding as “originary intuition.” It is impossible to ignore this aspect of determination and synthesis, even their increasing importance across the rise of Reflection towards the “cornerstone” of the third antinomy and the ethical intelligible determination of the sensible world.

But here and previously, what is it that really distinguishes the two interpretations of finitude and its function? There is no doubt that one of them subordinates determination to reception while the other does the opposite: we will return to this point later. But first of all, it is clear that one subordinates determination to synthesis, the understanding to the imagination. What does this thesis signify?

An affirmation of the primacy of the “real” cause (the imagination-as-time) of the objectivity of the object on its factors of ideal determination. Psychologism is no more present here than previously, but there is a will to break with the psychologism of the faculties and their empiricist and external architectonic. Perhaps it will be estimated that the ideal determination of sensible syntheses by the “I think” and above all the syntheses of knowledge through the infinite moral rule, the ideal of the Ought as “intelligible,” is the veritable real determination and that ideal infinity alone is “real,” in the sense that the transcendental condition is said to be real and not logical. But this point is easily controvertible: such a determination is then only real through its transcendental function and because it determines the real: the phenomen, but never through its internal nature which is that of the intelligible or ideality. After Kant, the problem remains entirely that of a real transcendental and not simply ideal condition, if at least “real possibility” (in its opposition to “logical possibility”) is not enclosed in the Kantian and Platonic opposition of the real as empirical phenomenon and the real as intelligible ideality.

This would be above all to deny the penetrating sense of the real which animates the concern of finitude and its ability to surpass anthropology from this interior and this exterior at the same time that the anthropological which (finite-infinite) Being is as a priori henceforth subtracts the empirico-rationalist conditions from the simple opposition of psychological affection and intellectual determination. If the imagination is the real synthesis, it is also the infinite production of the horizon that makes receptivity or finitude possible: receptivity, which is the index of finitude, is habitually confused with its condition from which this finitude is wrongly extrapolated. In both interpretations and for reasons which pertain to Kant’s classicism, the real is finally sought on the side of the infinite. If the understanding is subordinated to the imagination and not the other way around, this is not to return to psychologism but to attach the real itself onto its idealist-absolute (Hegel) or idealist-methodical (Cohen) reduction to the Idea. Instead it is a question of attaching the real as synthesis, the co-belonging of opposites, to scientific determination which is only ideal and which remains conditioned or relative, obviously not only in relation to Ideas, but in a more profound sense in relation to this instance of a real conceived as a priori synthesis of the empirical and ideality, yet which is itself no longer subordinated to the reified and sedimented nature of these oppositions. This folding of transcendence as finite onto receptivity in turn has attached the orginary and formative imagination to a simple beyond of opposition: in order to be subtracted from the understanding, it can only return to time and become enrooted in an originary temporality (and non-temporalized or pure like the object of a transcendental Aesthetic).

Hence the will in fact completely limits its scope to the idea of the a priori, of extracting an a priori which no longer falls into the empirico-rationalist conflict and complementarity of sensibility and the understanding. Neither in the cut to which thought is constrained when it takes this conflict for the leading thread of a scientific a priori raised upon an aprioritic field which its essence would further extend. Nor in the empirical conception of the real from which critical rationalism is inseparable even in its distinction between the faculties upon which it is founded despite everything, even if this is in order to go beyond them or raise them up (Aufhebung). The objection of psychologism is always reciprocal or strategic. Its circulation is continuously observed in the somewhat reciprocal debates between Kant, Fichte, Cohen, Husserl and Heidegger. But it is always the index of the effort to extract an a priori which traverses and really overflows—without simply interiorizing them or raising them up—the empiricist and somewhat rationalist cuts, a real instance of determination which is irreducible to the simply given. Thus we will be careful not to oppose Heidegger too brutally to Cohen. Within the interior of a similar project and a similar concern—that of objective determination—the veritable difference is instead justifiably in the limitation of the a priori to the sciences or better yet in its extension beyond the sciences, in the more or less narrow or extended definition of the real which is given and consequently of its determining essence. If the same project is fulfilled either by the accentuation of the methodical—unilateral—nature of the instance of the determination of the object, or by the accentuation of the ontico-ontological—reciprocal rather than unilateral—nature of the determination of the object, it is the origin of this great opposition—the determination of the object by the a priori either in a unilateral way or in a reciprocal (yet never entirely reciprocal) way—which must be more fully explained.

Third Opposition: Analytic or Entirety of Pure Reason?

Is the thought of finitude condemned to cramming its research of the infinite into the Analytic, to being unable to surpass the level of the understanding and to renounce the interpretation of the transcendental Dialectic, thus owning up to its partiality and its incpacaity to recognize the sense and value of the theory of Reason, which it would simply leave by the wayside? On the one hand, not only does the infinite intervene in the real instance of the creative imagination, but it also intervenes as Reason which, so as to be finite human reason, completely lacks the mark of the infinite as long as it has this capacity of being finite. On the other hand, the integration of the transcendental Dialectic within the whole of finitude is Heidegger’s constant project. Already formulated in all the letters of the Kantbuch (pg. 300-301 of the French translation), then in the discussion with Cassirer [3] which previews the inclusion of the Dialectic, of the transcendental appearance in the perspective of finitude, and, finally, which is too often forgotten, in Vom Wesen des Grundes, which contains the most extended and most complete “ontological destruction” of infinite Reason as finite-sensible. [4]

The idea of an all of finitude is perhaps a paradox to be resolved (in reality a classical paradox), but it signifies that finitude must be surpassed in order for it to become the true architectonic principle which does not exclude but includes the system in the ends of Reason, and that it effectively surpasses itself by transcending towards the entirety of the conditions of the determining reception of the object. This unconditioned whole, the reduction of phenomena to the objectivity of the existent in general and the reduction of determination to the unique unifying synthesis of the temporal imagination, is also forced to be reduced in its three branches to the “world” as infinite totality characteristic of the finite reception of the existent. But if we agree to suspend—provisionally, so as to then construct a genesis—the oppositions of the first model between the two treatments of finitude, we find within them a common schema which is not the whole of the Critique, which is nothing but the most traditional gesture, the ground or horizon: in the transcendental Reflection, the finite transcendence of the “subject” towards itself, which is always finite because it is relative (for example, the understanding towards itself beginning from sensibility, or reason towards itself beginning from the understanding), is always simultaneously transcendence towards the infinite. The thought of finitude, at least such that it can be expressed in an interpretation of Kantianism, is also entirely subordinated to this schema concerning which we have seen immediately that, if it no longer exhausts historical Platonism, it constitutes what should be called the Platonizing essence of Platonism. The Idea only relatively (relatively to a given to be received) transcends towards itself (for example, towards the hypothetico-deductive network of mathematical relations beginning from the sensible or becoming) because it also absolutely transcends towards itself as well as towards the all or the anhypothetical system of Ideas, towards the Good or towards the ends of Reason, as unconditioned determination of conditioned theoretical syntheses. The illusion of the Platonic flight (vol) of the dove ceases when its flight is nothing but a double takeoff (envol). This double and unique transcending which bifurcates into two branches while still remaining solitary—and if the Idea while transcending is condemned to bifurcate, it is because it is suspended towards itself by surpassing the received existent or sensibility, which it cannot outline (contourner) because it is itself boundless (incontournable) or absolute as well as finite—such is the common essence which the two interpretations cannot express and which they have just now come to specify.

It will be objected that determination by the ought and intelligible nature is purely ideal, that the acquisition of a unifying horizon is effectuated in ideality, that the ethical transcendence of Reason towards itself or towards its own ends finally liquidates the boundless nature of a finite relation to the real, to the existent, to the “world,” and consequently to finitude, that the intelligible and its “orders” open up—beyond the “theoretical” faculties—a new orientation for Reason henceforth subjected to its autonomy alone. In fact, it is known that the relation to the world, time and finitude remains necessary as the object to be determined for the determining capacity of the intelligible. Therefore, what is meant is that the latter does not itself intrinsically depend upon finitude for its essence, but only depends on it for its exercise which is inseparable from it (passage of the moral law to the categorical imperative), and that the relation of the intelligible to the sensible is not due to reciprocal determination but only due to unilateral determination for the benefit of Reason. On the other hand, the specific trait of finitude becomes a perspective or architectonic principle by conceiving “pure finite Reason” as a unilateral determination of Reason by finite intuition within the imagination, which is unifying, no doubt, but not at all equalizing or indifferentiating. In reality, we will return to this point, in both cases determination is never rigorously and completely unilateral, for this would disrupt the Kantian equilibrium, the manner in which its architectonic sets things in the right proportions, i.e. the faculties in the hierarchies which never completely eliminate reciprocal determination, because every time that finite Intuition or infinite practical Reason is in question, the dominant authority (instance) is always taken from one of the opposed faculties in play, no doubt opposed—but only partially—in a way that attempts to do away with the play of opposites. For Kant, essence is always in the partial hierarchy and tension of a relation. In any case, Reflection is always a transcending of the empirical towards the all or absolute, bifurcating with itself following this inevitable departure, or this captivation, this finitude: an overcoming of empirico-psychological scissions, of the external and historical architectonic, towards the real and determining a prioris. In short, there is not a finite transcendence on one side and an infinite transcendence on the other. No great thinker who knew that the opposition between the finite and the infinite is a vulgar opposition, neither Cohen, nor Heidegger, would separate what can only be united in diverse proportions and hierarchies. [5] From the perspective of finitude there is a postulation of the infinite, as there is, from the perspective of infinite autonomous Reason, a postulation of finitude and a relation to sensibility.

From where then does this difference in proportions come which explains that the same schema of a co-belonging of two transcendences can give rise to the appearances of an irreducible opposition? Following this digression, within the interior of this universal horizon, do these appearances take on the figure of reality, i.e. of conflict? For example, how is it that the methodical determination of the object by the understanding and of the sensible by the intelligible gives the impression of a liberation of Reason “above” the finitude of the understanding? Is it a question, with Cohen, of the ethical return of a theological and dogmatic type of transcendence, or better yet, as is more likely, do we remain in the immanent space of transcendental determination capable of including finitude (as necessary relation of the intelligible to the sensible), but simply enlarged and distended by the introduction of an element=X to be determined? And with Heidegger, is it a question of renouncing the autonomy of Reason so as to mark the universality of a finitude which is enclosed on itself, or better yet, as is more probable, is it not to replace the autonomy of a Reason which not only is finite, but which is also made finite due to a freedom which, so as not to be ethical in the sense of a beyond of ontology, is at least not the self of the autonomy which operates at the heart of the ontology of the imagination? And if it is also immanent and hidden in Reason when it is finite, problematic and reserved because of this extreme proximity to the passivity of Reason—active passivity—is not the cause found in the absence of this element=X whose lack here would be insufficient to explain the reversal of the primacy of infinite Reason to finite intuition as well as the universality of the a priori, its expansion to its essence which we have brought to light, and the sort of counter-balancing or flattening without which the Reason/Intuition couple would necessarily be subordinated to the latter?

This element, whose presence or absence differentiates the sense and value of finitude, is well known and—this must be argued against Heidegger whose interpretation, if it is the most interesting for us, is not the most acceptable for the letter and spirit of the Critique—is inseparable from historical Kantianism: it is the mathematico-physical content of the objects and categories of the understanding and the moral content of the intelligible. The schema of double transcendence which governs transcendental Reflection is simultaneously the whole and half of Kantianism, the other half, which came to be inscribed with various links in this long traditional chain, being the modern experience of science and ethics. Conversely, Heidegger proceeds to a purification of the physico-moral contents which are inscribed in this schema, he extracts a pure Platonism from Kant by removing what would specify it, namely the Kantian forms which would correspond to historical Platonism or which would be the avatars, i.e. the empirico-rationalist hierarchy which is bound to physico-mathematical rationalism and its conflict with empiricism. This is an integral part of Kantianism and it must even be said against Heidegger that it is inseparable from it but that it does not exhaust Kantianism (“le” kantisme). There is no possible choice between an ontology and an epistemology, their relations are not of exclusion but inclusion, the epistemological being nothing but a mode or an effectuation of this ontological schema, which remains its immanent measure (sense and value).

It is precisely within the interior of this relation of the inclusion of the “methodical” conception in the ontological conception of pure Reason that the great reversal of the for or against is inscribed, whose prestige we suspect is slightly superficial. Heidegger literally purifies the Critique of Pure Reason by depriving it of its modern historical determinations. But it is this purification of the architectonic itself, of the whole of the Critique and which will not be confused with a purification of reason alone which would be said to be separated from the sensible, that is in question rather than globally purifying the object of knowledge by rejecting its physico-moral determinations on the side of the “ontic,” which paradoxically constrains reason to rely on finite intuition or on the imagination as time, in every way on the “real.” That the return to finitude as the index of the real is made through an excess of Platonism between Kant’s epistemological and “moral” Platonism is without doubt a paradox, but only seemingly so: the schema of double transcendence is never confirmed more than in the case of finitude as principle.

The persistent and overly obvious impression that neo-Kantianism Platonizes Heidegger and that Heidegger on the contrary reverses Platonism is based on the extension of the empirico-rationalist opposition to the essence of Platonism itself, on the restriction of the latter to the former. The conservation of the physico-moral content in the object of pure Reason is here only what “pushes” the transcendence of Reason towards the intelligible Law, or rather what duplicates transcendence and gives it the appearance of finally being liberated from the infinite receptivity of the subject. The elimination of this content is here only what constrains infinite transcendence to recognize expressly—but not to create—its finitude, which it must in every way presuppose as more universal still than the unity of physico-mathematical experience and its ethical determination. In the universal schema of double transcendence, always relative to a reception or at least to a sensibility which is despite everything absolute, its physico-moral determination introduces a supplement of “dogmatic” and “empirical” transcendence which always risks transforming the transcendental and immanent determination of objects into a transcendent determination under the auspices of the moral Law and intelligible nature. Hence the possibility of an “ontological” genesis of the “methodical” content of the Critique, a content which exists so as to know the incidence of the empirico-physical correlation (among others) over a schema which it comes to fulfill and which cannot be eliminated by a sleight of hand but must simply be suspended or reduced so as to pinpoint the origin.

Correlatively, it also produces on the side of sensibility a duplication effect, a dogmatic supplement of finitude by positing sensibility, at least initially, as a factual instance which is simply supported and surpassed by infinite Reflection. On the contrary, the schema of double transcendence which Heidegger distinguishes or recognizes, by making receptivity constitutive and by elevating finitude to the state of the internal condition of the transcendence of the a priori, in one stroke eliminates this factual or factitious nature of finitude and this psychologism from which the “methodical” determination of objects is inseparable when it endeavors to “surpass” it. Psychologism, i.e. the auto-position of reception as faculty or “in-itself” (the conditions which distinguish the phenomenon from the thing-in-itself can themselves be posited in-themselves so as to then be supported by Reflection…) is a much more deceptive danger in Cohen rather than in Heidegger. And it is justifiably in the latter, in the affirmation of finitude as such and of its imperative nature, that the danger is invoked more from a psychological and dogmatic interpretation of receptivity, an interpretation concerning which it is immediately seen that what allows it to believe that Reason can be liberated from this finitude is also inadequately understood…

Can we unlock one last perspective on the historical destiny of finitude, this time outside Cohen and Heidegger? The latter rightfully eliminates the auto-position of receptivity, this supplement of finitude which embodies the “epistemological” content of the Critique and its dogmatic, i.e. moral supplement of infinity. But he conserves the principle of finitude itself and the foundation of Kantianism, the distinction of the phenomenon and the thing-in-itself. The reduction of the most reified forms of transcending, of the finite and the infinite, is no longer followed from the reduction of this distinction: the infinite turns around the finite. Although reduced in relation to its form of “methodical” determination in Cohen, there subsists a primacy of unilateral determination of one term through the other (for example Being, and its infinite synthetic element, through the existent to be received) over their reciprocal determination. Receptivity is the bearer of the spirit of hierarchy. But it is known that Hegel as well as Nietzsche (with the help of the double negation or even double affirmation) have denounced finitude, either as reified Understanding, or as Gregariousness, and that this denunciation is only the flipside of the triumph of the reciprocal determination proper to the infinite. In truth, they have not denied finitude, they have suspended its validity from the philosophical perspective, they have reduced it so as to construct a genesis beginning from the infinite as reciprocal determination. Thus it would be necessary to infer it in relation to these types of thought which liquidate finitude as perspective and only conserve it as the restlessness of the infinite or the becoming of being. Heidegger, in this interpretation at least, by recognizing a constitutive role for finitude, would conserve one last form of visible dogmatism up to the unilateral, unequal, relations of activity and passivity in the formative imagination of Being.

However, if the primacy of reciprocal determination is a process which can in fact be utilized against the dogmatic and anthropological forms of finitude (what Nietzsche does against the inferior and gregarious forms of Being as “existent”), it is immediately obvious that he himself reconstitutes a more subtle form of dogmatism, this different unilaterality which is the primacy of the infinite over the finite. Consequently, thought is grasped in this contradiction of being condemned to turn in the circle of the infinite and the finite, condemned to the search for a hierarchy, whatever it may be, but for a hierarchy and for a relation of unilateral determination. This is a contradictory task. Heidegger, by re-activating finitude, has sought to introduce a relation of non-dogmatic unilateral determination in the amphibology—coincidence or reciprocity—of Being and the existent which he has only wished to distend without entirely breaking for all that. Hence what can only appear as a half-measure in the search for finitude: an always infinite reason which makes itself finite, which still wants to be autonomous up to its heteronomy. This half-measure defines the Kantian sense of the measure or “pondering” of contraries, but can hardly be useful for us in the struggle—if we decide to lead it—against Hegel and Nietzsche, i.e. against those who have sought to measure our finitude by the standard of the infinite. A finally radical usage of “unilateral determination” which would be liberated from its dogmatic-rationalist form, from its scientific-moral hierarchies and from the effects which they still produce in “critical rationalism,” would be the condition for elaborating a rigorous concept of finitude as heteronomy. Finitude, no longer of sensibility in Reason, but of Reason itself or taken globally.


[1] The explicit literal basis of this problem of finitude (in the Critique of Pure Reason alone) is extremely narrow and reduced to two passages which are the following (Transcendental Aesthetic, A19; B33).

a) “In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of knowledge may relate to objects, intuition is that through which it is in immediate relation to them, and to which all thought as a means is directed.”

b) “This again is only possible, to man at least, in so far as the mind is affected in a certain way.”

[2] Cf. the wonderful interpretations of these problems by A. Philonenko, L’oeuvre de Kant, and in general all of his interpretations of Kantianism.

[3] Published by P. Aubenque with other texts: “Débat sur le kantisme et la philosophie” (Davos, March 1929), Beauchesne 1972. P. Aubenque shows well the constancy in Heidegger of this problem of a “destruction” of the Dialectic.

[4] Cf. in particular the entire second section, in Questions I, French translation, Gallimard 1968, pg. 104-139.

[5] The entire illuminating and rigorous “resumption” which H. Birault gives to the problems of finitude does justice to this co-belonging of the finite and the infinite: “Infinity changes nothing in finitude, finitude is very capable of infinity” (Heidegger et l’expérience de la pensée, p. 70).

Original translation by Taylor Adkins 7/31/08.

6 thoughts on “Laruelle’s “Reflections on the Meaning of Finitude in the Critique of Pure Reason”

  1. Thanks, there were some obvious spelling errors and one or two patchy places…but I’ve edited it and read over it several times. Any suggestions for improvement would be nice, but on the other hand this essay was both more difficult to translate and yet easy to read…It’s a very early essay, from 81…hopefully it makes sense…but if it doesn’t at least it goes with the theme of of post-Kant thinkers!

  2. Just so you know, I used the Norman Kemp Smith translation for rendering the passages in the first footnote…It’s actually (after the preface and introduction) the first and third sentences of the Critique (if you have the version, like the Smith volume, that has A and B rendered together).

  3. This looks fabulous! I must apologize for not being active in responding to all the great work you’ve been doing on this blog. It truly does look excellent. I’ve been working a lot, and have had little time for anything outside of my own reading program. I will take a look at this immediately, however, and respond with my thoughts to it post-haste.

  4. Pingback: Laruelle Bibliography (English & French) | Linguistic Capital

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