In his monumental work, Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant presented four antinomies. These statements consist of a thesis and an antithesis, which contradict each other, but which Kant provides a proof for each. The idea is that if thesis and antithesis are both true, yet contradictory, then human reason is limited, and we are permanently locked into a skeptical world of not being able to know things for sure.
Kant’s first antinomy goes like this:
Thesis: The world has a beginning in time and is limited in space. As proof of the beginning of time, we cannot traverse an infinite, but we have reached the end of all the moments prior to now, so there is not an infinite number of moments prior to now. As to the limits of space, the objects in the world must have been composed together over time, and since we cannot reach the end of an infinite, could not have been added together infinitely. Thus the world is limited as to time and space.
Antithesis: The world is infinite as to time and space. As proof, if the world had a beginning, it would have had to have had void time prior to the beginning, and nothing can begin out of a void, therefore there was no beginning. As to space, the world must exist in void space, and this void space cannot be limited, therefore there is no limit to space.
Upon these proofs of contradictory statements, Kant maintains that we cannot know statements for sure, and are locked in a world of skepticism.
But Kant’s first antinomy is wrong for the following reasons:
First, Kant’s entire system is self-refuting. His antinomies are reasonable statements that we are to know for sure, saying that reasonable statements cannot be known.
Second, the antithesis is circular, assuming the conclusion but not proving it. Kant says, in proving the antithesis, “let us first take the opposite for granted- that the world is finite and limited in space; it follows that it must exist in a void space, which is not limited.” Well, whether space is limited or unlimited is what he is to prove, yet he assumes it from the start in the proof of the antithesis.
Third, the antithesis is simply untrue. It could be that an eternal being existed prior to the beginning of the universe, a being outside the universe with no time or space, yet created the universe at a beginning point. We also find it difficult to accept a proof of unlimited space and time by positing voids. Kant appears to be using nothing (voids) to prove something, speaking of void time and void space as if it were something that existed that was real.
Therefore Kant’s first antinomy fails, undermining a central tenet of his epsistemology.