«ABSTRACT I argue that Kant’s distinction between the cognitive roles of sensibility and understanding raises a question concerning the conditions ...»
two kinds of unity in the CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON experience. These features consist in the spatial and temporal manner in which things are sensorily presented (A20/B34).
The Intellectualist argument I am about to discuss is an abstraction. Nevertheless I believe it accurately captures the interpretive positions of a wide group.10 The textual basis for the argument comes primarily from the Metaphysical and Transcendental Deductions, and concludes that a necessary condition for an intuition’s being an intuition—namely, a “uniﬁed” objective representation of some entity (either a property, object, or state-of-affairs)—is the activation of the subject’s discursive capacities in an act of synthesis.
I understand the Intellectualist argument as follows:
1. An intuition must have unity if it is to present a particular to a conscious subject.
2. Both intuition and judgment have a common source of unity, namely, discursive synthesis.
3. The categories are the most general expressions of this discursive unity.
4. ∴The unity of an intuition requires the unity provided by the categories.
I want to note two caveats about this argument.
First, the argument concerns only the intuitions of discursive beings. God’s intuition is intellectual but it is not discursive. Hence God’s intuitive cognition does not rely on a discursive synthesis.11 Second, there may be questions concerning the notion of “unity” at work in this argument. Kant often speaks of the “unity of the manifold” of intuition (cf.
A105, B136, B137–38, B139, B140, B154, A145/B185, A157/B196, A401).12 By this he means the connection or relatedness of individual representational elements together in one consciousness. So an intuition must have unity insofar as it is a single—though perhaps complex—sensory representation of an object, property, or state-of-affairs.
In a key passage from the Metaphysical Deduction, Kant claims that the unity of judgment—itself a form of objective representation—and the unity of intuition have a common ground or explanation.13 He says, The same function that gives unity to the different representations in a judgment also gives unity to the mere synthesis of different representations in an intuition, which, expressed generally, is called the pure concept of understanding. The same Some examples of versions of this argument include Strawson, The Bounds of Sense, 56–57;
McDowell, “Hegel and the Myth,” 80–83; Guyer, “The Deduction of the Categories,” 146. For other examples, see the sources cited in note 4 above.
Kant links discursivity to conceptual articulation in countless places. See, for example, Axvii– xviii, A24–5/B39, A31–32/B47, A230/B283, A719/B747; CJ 5:406. He discusses the non-discursive intuitive intellect of God most strikingly in CJ §77, 5:407–8. One might pursue an argument against conceptualism on the basis of this view of intellectual intuition, since intellectual intuition does not depend for its unity on concepts, but I will not do so here.
The emphasis on the unity of the manifold makes it potentially ambiguous as to whether what requires unity is the form of an intuition or the intuition’s matter. I take it that Intellectualism argues that the unity issue applies to both. Longuenesse, for example, is clear that the form of an intuition (i.e. its spatial and temporal nature) relies on intellectual activity (speciﬁcally affection of sensibility by the understanding), while the unity of its matter, as a sensory image, relies on rule-governed construction in imagination; see Longuenesse, Capacity to Judge, ch. 3; and Human Standpoint, chs. 2 & 3.
For discussion of intuition and judgment as forms of objective representation, see A68/B93, A320/B376–77.
84 journal of the history of philosophy 53:1 January 2015 understanding, therefore, and indeed by means of the very same actions through which it brings the logical form of a judgment into concepts by means of the analytical unity, also brings a transcendental content into its [the understanding’s] representations by means of the synthetic unity of the manifold in intuition in general, on account of which they are called pure concepts of the understanding that pertain to objects a priori. (A79/B104–5) Though this is a difﬁcult passage, the important point for the Intellectualist interpretation is that Kant here links the manner of uniting representations (speciﬁcally, concepts) in a judgment with the manner of uniting representations (perhaps understood by the Intellectualist as sensations) in an intuition. The Intellectualist interpretation of the passage thus construes the notion of judgmental unity in terms of the presence of a logical form (e.g. subject-predicate form), which distinguishes a judgment (e.g. ‘The ball is red’) from a mere list of concepts (e.g. the ball, red). Since, according to the passage, the very same function is involved in giving unity to both intuition and judgment as forms of objective representation, the claim seems to be that logical form is present in both judgment and intuition due to the intellectual or conceptual activity of the subject. It is the presence of this logical form that is necessary for crediting the subject with an objective awareness (in both thought and experience) of her environment.14 The Intellectualist thus construes the A79/B104–5 passage as direct evidence for Kant’s endorsing premise (2). Kant is then taken as arguing for premises (2) and (3) through the course of the Transcendental Deduction, in order to demonstrate that the categories are necessary even in the case of the unity of intuition.
The argument of the Deduction comes to a head in §26, where Kant again explicitly connects the unity of intuition to the categories. He says, Space and time are not merely forms of sensory intuition, rather they are intuitions themselves (which contain a manifold), and therefore are represented with the determination of the unity of this manifold in them a priori (see the Transcendental Aesthetic). Hence, everything without or within us, consequently also the combination of all that shall be represented as determined in space or time, must conform to the unity of the synthesis of the manifold as a condition of the synthesis of all apprehension already given a priori with (not in) this intuition. This synthetic unity can be none other than the combination of the manifold of a given intuition in general in an original consciousness, in conformity with the categories, only applied to our sensory intuition.
It follows that all synthesis, through which perception itself becomes possible, stands under the categories, and since experience is cognition through connected perceptions, the categories are the conditions of the possibility of experience, and are therefore also valid a priori for all objects of experience. (B161–62; my emphasis) According to Intellectualism, Kant argues here that space and time are not merely the forms of intuition, they are also individuals represented in intuition, whose multiplicity of representational parts (i.e. discrete times and spaces) stand in need of uniﬁcation. Here and in a crucial, though much debated, footnote to the For interpretations of this passage along these lines, see e.g. Longuenesse, Capacity to Judge;
McDowell, “Hegel and the Myth.” Land argues for a “two-species” notion of discursive unity as encompassing both judgmental and sensible synthesis. Land thinks that intuition must be “determined” according to one of the logical forms of judgment in order to count as a form of objective awareness (“Kant’s Spontaneity Thesis,” 200).
two kinds of unity in the CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON passage (on which more below), Kant is taken to argue that the categories play an essential role in the representational unity of time and space as forms of intuition.
Since these forms are necessary for anything that may perceptually appear to us, by showing that the categories are necessary for the unity of the forms of intuition, Kant thereby demonstrates their necessity for perceptual representation more generally.15 In sum, the Intellectualist interprets Kant as arguing that the unity of an intuition depends on its having a logical form or structure, and that the same process that gives structure to judgment also structures intuition. Note that this need not require that judgment itself structures intuition, that is, that intuition be taken as a form of judgment or as propositional in structure. Instead, Intellectualism can claim, more broadly, that no mental state counts as a form of objective representation unless the subject has discursive capacities that are brought to bear in synthesizing some bit of given sensible data into a uniﬁed representation of the subject’s environment.
These capacities may be engaged directly, in the form of judgment, or indirectly, in the form of rules for the sensible synthesis of given sensory input. In either case, intervention on the part of a higher cognitive faculty is required for there to be objective representation in the intuition of a particular property, object, or state-of-affairs. Hence, the core Intellectualist idea is that the capacity for intuition to function as an immediate and singular objective representation depends on discursive activity in one form or another.16 The Intellectualist reading of the passages discussed above, and others like them, provides a powerful and, at least for the purposes of understanding the argument of the Deduction, seemingly fruitful reading of central elements of Kant’s critical philosophy.17 But as I shall argue, the truth of premise (2)—that both intuition and judgment have a common source of unity in the discursive activity of the understanding—is incompatible with central elements of Kant’s arguments for the intuition of space and time. Kant presents these arguments in For some representative statements of this kind of interpretive strategy, see Longuenesse, Capacity to Judge; McDowell, “Hegel and the Myth”; Grifﬁth, “Perception and the Categories”; Guyer, “The Deduction of the Categories.” Though I have emphasized textual motivations for this interpretation, there are non-textual ones as well. One motivation, broadly put, is that the only way to make sense of sensory experience as being about the world is if it has the same structure as something we unproblematically (or at least less problematically) think of as being about the world, namely thought and language. Without the logical structure inherent in our thought and language, sensory experience would be mere sensory chaos. This opposition between sensory chaos and conceptual structure is present in several of Kant’s commentators, as well as people inﬂuenced by Kant. See, for example, Lewis, Mind and the World-Order;
Sellars, “Kant’s Views”; Pereboom, “Kant on Intentionality”; Van Cleve, Problems from Kant; Haag, Erfahrung und Gegenstand; Grüne, Blinde Anschauung. McDowell (“Hegel and the Myth,” 80) argues that intuition and judgment are to be understood as reciprocally shedding light upon each other, but his exposition seems to heavily favor the intelligibility of judgment as a form of objective awareness over that of sensory consciousness.
While I do not consider the two passages quoted above to be the only passages that suggest an Intellectualist position, they are certainly two of the most signiﬁcant. I discuss a third passage—the controversial footnote to §26 of the B-Deduction—in §2.1 below. Another important passage, which I will not discuss here, appears at B137 in §17 of the B-Deduction argument. There Kant deﬁnes an object as “the concept in which the manifold of a given intuition is united.” This suggests that cognitive relation to an object must call upon an intellectual synthesis of some kind or another. I will discuss this passage in future work.
86 journal of the history of philosophy 53:1 January 2015 both editions of the Transcendental Aesthetic, though I will concentrate on the B-edition formulations.18 This will occupy us in the next section.
2. aesthetic unity and discursive grasp Kant famously argues in the Transcendental Aesthetic that space and time are a priori representations. For our purposes, the interesting characteristic of these representational forms is that we grasp them wholly non-discursively. We are aware of them as singular and inﬁnite given wholes, and this awareness is presupposed in order to account for our awareness of particular times (moments) or spaces (locations), which Kant describes as mere “limitations” (A25/B39, A32/B47) of the wholes of space and time. He claims that this demonstrates that space and time are intuitive rather than conceptual representations. In what follows, I shall consider these arguments, not as to their soundness or validity, but rather as to what they indicate about Kant’s views concerning the cognitive nature of the faculties of sensibility and understanding.
My target is premise (2) of the Intellectualist argument, that the discursive unity granted by synthesis is the fundamental explanation of the unity of intuition.
My argument against the primacy of discursive unity proceeds in two steps. In the ﬁrst step, the argument moves from claims about Kant’s conception of the form of pure intuition to a conclusion concerning the independence of this form from any discursive form of unity. If this step in the argument is correct, then premise (2) of the Intellectualist’s argument is false.
The second step extends the argument concerning pure intuition to empirical intuition or perception. The purpose of this extension is to foreclose the possible soundness of a weakened Intellectualist argument, which states that discursive unity is necessary only in empirical rather than pure intuition. If my extended argument is successful then even a modiﬁed version of premise (2)—namely, one concerned merely with empirical intuition—is false. If both steps succeed, then my arguments demonstrate the generally problematic nature of Intellectualism’s stance regarding the unity of intuition. At that point we have a choice: either concede that Kant’s view is an incoherent blend of Intellectualist and anti-Intellectualist elements or look for an alternative reading. In the ﬁnal part of the paper I propose one such alternative reading, which articulates a role for discursive unity in cognition that does not threaten the independent aesthetic unity of intuition.