«ABSTRACT I argue that Kant’s distinction between the cognitive roles of sensibility and understanding raises a question concerning the conditions ...»
3. discursive unity I have thus far given a largely negative argument concerning the nature of the unity of intuition. This “aesthetic unity,” as I have called it, is had both by the pure intuitions of time and space and individual empirical intuitions, insofar as they possess spatial and temporal form, and cannot be accounted for by intellectual synthesis. Kant claims further that intuition and conceptual judgment are both forms of objective representation (A320/B376–77). So if what I have argued thus far is correct, then intuition is a form of objective representation independent of any form of intellectual (or imaginative) synthesis.
This conclusion raises an immediate problem. Kant is clearly committed to the understanding’s having an integral role in synthesizing intuitive representations, and in particular, empirical representations. But if, as I have argued, intuition has its own form of unity, it is not clear what is left for categorical synthesis to do.
What is needed is an account of how this second form of unity—namely, discursive unity—interacts with aesthetic unity and what this means for understanding the argument of the Deduction. In what follows I articulate the relationship between aesthetic and discursive unity and show why a discursive unity of representation is necessary for empirical cognition, even if we grant that intuition alone Exactly which subject, the empirical or the transcendental, constitutes the ground for this dependence is perhaps more difﬁcult to say. However, since the empirical subject is herself in space, it seems more promising to identify the subjectivity of intuition with dependence upon the transcendental subject. For a phenomenologically inspired interpretation of the nature of space, see Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation. For a related interpretation that construes space and time as special sorts of intentional objects, see Aquila, “Inﬁnitude.” For criticism of the idea that space and time could be primitively “given” to the subject, see Messina, “Kant on the Unity of Space.” 98 journal of the history of philosophy 53:1 January 2015 counts as a form of objective representation.50 I examine various passages from the B-Deduction, and especially from §26, where Kant explicitly claims that perception requires categorical synthesis. I show how these texts are compatible with intuition’s possession of an independent aesthetic unity, and thus its status as an objective representation independent of any synthesis. Since these texts are, of Kant’s writings, among those most suggestive of Intellectualism, my hope is that their discussion will go some way toward vindicating a Sensibilist reading of the Deduction.
3.1 Discursive Unity and Combination We can begin to see the special role that the understanding plays in cognition by noting a key difference between the consciousness marked by the occurrence of an intuition, and the consciousness of that which is given in such an occurrence as combined (particularly as combined with other intuitions). Kant explicitly discusses the possibility of the former, episodic, form of consciousness in a 1789 letter to Herz. He says, [A]ll sense data for a possible cognition would never, without those conditions [exempliﬁed by the a priori categories], represent objects. They would not even reach that unity of consciousness that is necessary for knowledge of myself (as object of inner sense). I would not even be able to know that I have sense data;
consequently for me, as a knowing being, they would be absolutely nothing. They could still (if I imagine myself to be an animal) carry on their play in an orderly fashion, as representations connected according to empirical laws of association, and thus even have an inﬂuence on my feeling and desire, without my being aware of them (assuming that I am even conscious of each individual representation, but not of their relation to the unity of representation of their object, by means of the synthetic unity of their apperception). (C 11:52; my emphasis) The key point in this text is that Kant allows for the possibility that a nonrational animal, lacking a faculty of understanding capable of synthesizing its representations, could still have a sort of episodic consciousness in which individual representational states nevertheless count as states of awareness. The kind of awareness here is extremely limited, encompassing only the immediate content of the representation. As Kant points out in the above passage, such states could causally interact with one another, and there may be other associative mechanisms governing their interaction as well, but there is no awareness, on the part of the subject having such states, that it is having them. We can presumably allow the possibility that such states are phenomenally conscious (there is something it is like to have them), and that a train of such associatively connected states provides a limited sort of viewpoint on the world, but Kant is clear in the passage above that no unitary and self-aware subject arises from a collection of such states.
‘Empirical cognition’ is a translation of Kant’s ‘empirische Erkenntnis.’ We should not confuse it with knowledge, understood as a propositional attitude. Kant has a separate term for that: ‘Wissen.’ As I understand the phrase ‘empirical cognition,’ it denotes thoughts with empirical content, perhaps even true content (though this is less clear, since Kant may allow for false cognition; cf. A58/B83). See also the discussion in note 54 below.
two kinds of unity in the CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON One may wonder whether such representational states (in which anything more than this fragmented episodic consciousness is possible) really deserve to be called intuitions. While I will not discuss the matter here, elsewhere I have argued that serious difﬁculties result for Kant if we take him as denying such episodic unsynthesized representations the status of intuitions.51 Moreover, if the arguments of §2 above are correct, then we have good reason to believe Kant recognizes not only the possibility of unsynthesized intuition, but also its actuality. However, there is a further worry. Even if one grants me that intuitions may occur apart from the capacity for any unitary form of consciousness, Kant nevertheless explicitly states at the beginning of the passage above that such representations could never represent objects. This problem is mitigated by recognizing an important ambiguity. Kant could be claiming here either that such uncombined representations lack any objective signiﬁcance whatsoever, or merely that though they are representations of objects (or features thereof), they do not represent them as objects.52 It is for this latter reading that I shall argue.
Hence, according to my preferred reading, intuitive representations— speciﬁcally, empirical intuitions—uncombined by any act of synthesis, nevertheless provide episodic consciousness of some sensory quality of an object (e.g. its color, shape, location), but do not represent that quality in any way such that the subject is conscious of it as inhering in or otherwise predicated of an object.53 Intuition is thus a form of objective representation, but it is not yet a representation of an object. In Kant’s terms, it is not yet an ‘empirical cognition.’54 For that, combination is necessary. We turn now to why Kant thinks this is so.
Kant is very clear, at the start of the B-Deduction (§15), that all combination comes from the understanding and can never be given in an intuition (B129–30).55 Cf. McLear, “Kant on Animal Consciousness” for discussion of this, as well as further discussion of the distinct senses in which such beings might enjoy consciousness.
Cf. Allais, “Non-Conceptual Content,” 405.
Cf. Allais, “Non-Conceptual Content” for exposition of a similar view regarding the content of intuition.
Though ‘cognition’ has become the standard translation of ‘Erkenntnis,’ and is certainly an improvement over Kemp Smith’s translation of it as ‘knowledge,’ it does not sit especially well with my characterization of intuition as itself a form of objective representation. The worry is that, according to my view, intuition itself might seem to be cognition, and thus in violation of Kant’s many statements that cognition requires a cooperation between sensibility and understanding. Against readings of Erkenntnis as a kind of knowledge, it is important to keep in mind Kant’s occasional turns of phrase involving ‘false cognition’ (falsche Erkenntnis) (A58/B83, A709/B737). In any case, if ‘cognition’ is to be the favored translation of ‘Erkenntnis,’ we should avoid jumping to a conclusion, driven merely by choice of language, that an Erkenntnis is the most basic form of mind-world relation. Kant’s actual philosophical views should be established independently of any single point of translation. In light of this, I think it is important to distinguish between ‘cognition’ in Kant’s sense and a mental state’s being cognitive or cognitively signiﬁcant. The latter are states in which there is mind-world rapport and not simply causal contact. But the cognitive status of such states is compatible with their being impoverished in a variety of ways, such that it is only through the activity of the understanding that such a mental state comes to stand as a full-blown “cognition” in Kant’s sense. For a prominent alternative translation of ‘Erkenntnis’ as ‘reference,’ see George, “Kant’s Sensationism.” I should note here that I understand Kant’s notion of “combination” (Verbindung) as synonymous with “synthesis.” This is justiﬁed by Kant’s tendency to characterize all acts of synthesis as acts of combination (e.g. A77/B102, A162/B201, note). It is also justiﬁed by his denial, noted above, that combination cannot be given, and that it must always be brought about via an act of the understanding.
100 journal of the history of philosophy 53:1 January 2015 Here he is simply agreeing with a widespread assumption, common among both moderns and scholastics, that only the manifest features of an individual are presented in sensibility, while the manner in which those features are related to one another in one individual is not. As Kant puts it in the Inaugural Dissertation, [O]bjects do not strike the senses in virtue of their form or aspect. Accordingly, if the various factors in an object which affect the senses are to coalesce into some representational whole there is needed an internal principle in the mind, in virtue of which those various factors may be clothed with a certain aspect, in accordance with stable and innate laws. (ID 2:292–93) Though it is, of course, controversial as to how exactly the Dissertation relates to Kant’s position in the critical period, this view seems remarkably in sync with the assumptions of the B-Deduction.
Moreover, Kant is actually fairly clear, at two different places in the B-Deduction, that it is the awareness of relations holding between elements given in an intuition with which he is primarily concerned, rather than the having of an intuition itself.
We must now explain how it is possible, through categories, to cognize a priori whatever objects may come before our senses—to so cognize them as regards not the form of their intuition, but the laws of their combination—and hence, as it were, to prescribe laws to nature, and even to make nature possible. (B159–60; my emphasis) Therefore all possible perceptions, and hence also everything whatever that can reach empirical consciousness, i.e., all appearances of nature, must in regard to their combination be subject to the categories. Nature (regarded merely as nature as such) depends (as natura formaliter spectata) on the categories as the original basis of its necessary law-governedness. (B164–65; my emphasis) In both of these passages Kant speciﬁes that what is subject to the categories is everything that can reach empirical consciousness with regard to its combination (ihrer Verbindung nach). But this position is clearly compatible with the position regarding intuition that I discussed above.56 The difference is one between a primitive episodic consciousness of the qualities of objects, arrayed in space and over time, and the more sophisticated representation of complexes, such as a temporally persisting spatial array whose different qualities are all represented as grounded in one individual.57 Keeping in mind the fact that it is this consciousness of combination that Kant is concerned with in the Deduction helps clarify some otherwise extremely Intellectualist-sounding passages from §26. For example, Kant says, First and foremost I note that by the synthesis of apprehension I understand the composition of the manifold in an empirical intuition [die Zusammensetzung des Mannigfaltigen in einer empirischen Anschauung], through which perception, i.e. the empirical consciousness of the same [derselben] (as appearance) ﬁrst becomes possible. (B160) For a similar reading of these passages, see Tolley, “The NonConceptuality of the Content of Intuitions,” §6.
I should emphasize here that I am construing primitive episodic consciousness, despite its simple structure, as itself a form of objective representation. This is in sharp contrast to positions where such episodic consciousness is of purely subjective qualia, which at best causally co-vary with mind-independent entities; cf. George, “Kant’s Sensationism”; Pereboom, “Kant on Intentionality.” two kinds of unity in the CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON Further on Kant reiterates this claim in connection with the categories.
It follows that all synthesis, through which perception itself becomes possible, stands under the categories, and since experience [Erfahrung] is cognition through connected [verknüpfte] perceptions, the categories are thereby the conditions of the possibility of experience, and are thus also valid a priori for all objects of experience.