«ABSTRACT I argue that Kant’s distinction between the cognitive roles of sensibility and understanding raises a question concerning the conditions ...»
(B161) These passages apparently indicate that perception itself—namely, the apprehension of an appearance—depends on synthesis in general and the categories in particular. This would seem to indicate the correctness of the Intellectualist interpretation and thereby threaten my proposal concerning the independence of aesthetic unity. But the important point to notice about these passages is that Kant is concerned with our consciousness of the composition of the manifold of an intuition, not the consciousness marked by the occurrence of the intuition itself. So the notion of “perception” (Wahrnehmung) that Kant has in mind is the apprehension in consciousness of what is given in intuition (i.e. the “manifold”) as a single unitary, though complex, representation. Thus when Kant says that a synthesis of apprehension is necessary for perception, and that, more generally, categorical synthesis is necessary for perception, what he means is that categorical synthesis is necessary for the empirical consciousness, not of what is intuited, but rather of what is intuited as combined into a complex whole.
Once again, we can accept Kant’s claim here without going so far as to agree with Intellectualism that there is no objective representation without combination.
Kant’s claim that the consciousness of combination requires synthesis is compatible with a subject’s being capable of enjoying a merely episodic consciousness, where such episodes consist of occurrences of unsynthesized intuitions.
If this is correct, then Kant’s argument demonstrating the legitimacy of the categories is not meant to show that conscious sensory apprehension of the world is made possible by the categories, but rather only that the apprehension of what is given in intuition as combined—what Kant terms “perception”—is made possible by the categories and the syntheses they effect. The categories make possible the having of unitary but nevertheless complex representations, which govern our grasp of objects as complex entities. But the categories are not required for establishing a cognitive connection with the world in general. That this is nevertheless a substantive claim can be seen when we contrast Kant’s view with that of Locke, to which we will now turn.
3.2 Locke and Kant on Complex Representation According to Locke, at the basis of all our ideas or representations of things are socalled “simple” ideas, the sources of which are sensation (ideas of external things) and reﬂection (ideas of the mind’s own operations) (Essay, II.ii.2; cf. II.i.2–5).
Sensation and reﬂection convey only simple ideas. The mind is then able to act upon these ideas and form, by acts of combination, “complex” ideas such as those of substance and obligation (Essay, II.xii.1–3). As Locke puts it, As simple Ideas are observed to exist in several Combinations united together, so the Mind has a power to consider several of them united together as one Idea; and that 102 journal of the history of philosophy 53:1 January 2015 not only as they are united in external Objects, but as itself has joined them together.
Ideas thus made up of several simple ones put together, I call Complex;—such as are Beauty, Gratitude, a Man, an Army, the Universe; which, though complicated of various simple Ideas, or complex Ideas made up of simple ones, yet are, when the Mind pleases, considered each by it self, as one entire thing, and signiﬁed by one name. (Essay, II.xii.1; cf. II.xi.6, II.xii.2–3) In some ways Kant can agree with this basic picture, for he, like Locke, maintains that our empirical concepts are all constructed by reﬂection on and abstraction from experience (cf. JL 9:94–95). Kant also agrees that the representation of complex entities requires having complex representations. What separates Kant and Locke are their accounts of the unity of these complex representations.58
Locke construes the unity as psychological and linguistic:
Every mixed Mode [i.e. complex idea composed of two or more distinct kinds of simple ideas] consisting of many distinct simple Ideas, it seems reasonable to inquire, whence it has its Unity; and how such a precise multitude comes to make but one Idea, since that Combination does not always exist together in Nature. To which I answer, it is plain it has its Unity from an Act of the Mind combining those several simple Ideas together, and considering them as one complex one, consisting of those parts; and the mark of this Union, or that which is looked on generally to complete it, is one name given to that Combination. (Essay, II.xxii.4) Kant agrees that the requisite unity is mind-dependent, but denies that this entails that it is merely psychological or linguistic. He instead argues that if scientiﬁc knowledge is to be possible, then this unity must be universal and necessary, which entails that it must be based on a priori principles (Bxvii–xviii, B3–4, B139–40).
For Kant, a body of knowledge constitutes a science (Wissenschaft) when there is some principle that organizes it as a whole (MFNS 4:467) and grounds it with apodeictic certainty (MFNS 4:468). Such apodeictic certainty comes only with the a priori nature of the principles constituting the foundation of the science.
These a priori principles are not merely prior to the complex representation of objects, but more signiﬁcantly, they ground and explain why particular complex representations are as they are. Otherwise the unity of the complex would be merely subjective, local, and contingent. There thus must be necessary principles, which Kant locates in the logical laws of judgment (A70–83/B95–109), that govern the sorts of combination that are allowed. Since Kant describes an object as the most basic sort of complex—namely, “the concept in which the manifold of a given intuition is united” (B137)—the categories, as a priori concepts, are then understood as the most general ways in which thought of an object may occur.
Kant makes this clear when he says, The highest concept from which one is accustomed to begin a transcendental philosophy, is usually the division between the possible and the impossible. But since every division presupposes the concept that is to be divided, a still higher one must be given, and this is the concept of an object in general (taken problematically, leaving undecided whether it is something or nothing). Since the categories are the only concepts that relate to objects in general, the differentiation of an object, as to its being something or Here again the issue of non-rational representation in animals is relevant; see McLear, “Kant
nothing, must proceed in accordance with the order and guidance of the categories.
(A290/B346; my emphasis) Though Kant’s explicit point here is one against traditional scholastic and German metaphysics (cf. Baumgarten, Metaphysica, §§7–8) it is also applicable to Locke, since it illustrates Kant’s understanding of the categories as the most general ways of thinking objectively, and with respect to complexes, the most general means of unifying them.59 So pace Locke, at least some of modes of combination are a priori rather than derived empirically from received simple ideas. The most obvious example here, with respect to Locke, is the idea of a substance. Locke thinks this idea is an a posteriori one, while Kant argues that it is a priori and plays a structural role in the determination of what elements given in experience may be considered properties or predicates and what can count only as a subject. For example, Kant says in his transition to the argument of the Deduction, In preparation I wish only to explain the categories. They are concepts of an object in general, by means of which its intuition is regarded as determined with respect to one of the logical functions for judgments. Thus, the function of the categorical judgment was that of the relationship of the subject to the predicate, e.g. ”All bodies are divisible.” Yet in regard to the merely logical use of the understanding it would remain undetermined which of these two concepts will be given the function of the subject and which will be given that of the predicate. For one can also say: “Something divisible is a body.” Through the category of substance, however, if I bring the concept of a body under it, it is determined that its empirical intuition in experience must always be considered as subject, never as mere predicate; and likewise with all the other categories. (B128–29; my emphasis) With the contrast between Locke and Kant’s positions in view, we can see how Kant could take his strategy in the B-Deduction as an effective argument against British empiricism (and Locke in particular). By linking the categories with combination (§15) and apperception (§§16–18), he can feasibly (though not necessarily successfully) argue that the possibility of a proper science depends on our possession of a priori concepts that ground the construction of complex representations or ideas (in Locke’s sense of ‘idea’).
Thus, Kant’s argument for the legitimacy of the a priori categories is broadly compatible with an interpretation of the Transcendental Deduction that does not make the unity of intuition as a form of objective representation dependent upon categorical synthesis. The categories make possible the having of complex representations, which govern our grasp of the objects given through intuition, but they need not be understood as making possible our fundamental cognitive connection to the world via intuition.
3.3 Sense Experience and Discursive Unity Let me summarize the ground covered thus far. I have argued that we should ﬁrmly distinguish, as Kant himself does, between the form of episodic consciousness marked by the occurrence of an intuition, and the more sophisticated form of For discussion of the role of the categories as the highest forms of conceptual representation of objects see also Tolley, “The Generality of Kant’s Transcendental Logic,” esp. §7.
104 journal of the history of philosophy 53:1 January 2015 consciousness of combination of whatever is presented in intuition. The former, though a form of objective representation, is not yet a representation of an object as an object. Hence it is not yet a form of cognition. In order for representation of an object as an object to occur, the subject must combine or otherwise synthesize her intuitive representations such that they may be held together in one consciousness.
In the discussion of Locke above, I argued that both Kant and Locke agree that complex unities cannot be represented in sense experience without some act of the mind that generates unitary representational complexes from otherwise discrete sensory representations of which there is nothing more than episodic consciousness. For Locke, a paradigmatic complex unity is that of a representation of a substance, which requires the representation of a thing (we know not what) that supports qualities (Essay, II.xxiii.2).
Locke’s exact view concerning both the nature of substance and our representation of it is contested, but the important point for our purposes is that Kant may be understood to agree with the Lockean position that sense perception gives a subject access to the sensory qualities of objects and thus allows a subject to be, to use a contemporary turn of phrase, “en rapport” with her environment.60 Kant disagrees with Locke’s account of complex representation by arguing that the proper account of complex ideas requires more than positing a merely psychological and linguistic combination of simple ones. This criticism shows us how the notions of discursive and aesthetic unity interact in Kant’s thought.61 As I see it, Kant’s conception of empirical intuition is one according to which a conscious subject is acquainted with the manifest sensory qualities of objects.62 These include such things as shape, hardness, location, color, and so on. These are qualities of objects, and being aware of them allows a subject to be en rapport with the objects in which they inhere, but they are not representations that present an object as having the relevant quality. Consider the sensory grasp of the particular redness of a particular rose, in contrast with the grasp of a particular rose as being red. One can apprehend the redness of the particular rose without thereby apprehending that the rose is red. In apprehending this bit of the rose’s redness, Here I have in mind the capacity for minds to perceptually represent in a manner that extends beyond a mere existential speciﬁcation of features (e.g. “there is something red and round to my left”), and instead involves a direct representation of a speciﬁc object, property, or state-of-affairs (e.g.
“that red round patch”). For the contemporary notion of being en rapport with an object or property instantiation, see Kaplan,“Quantifying In”; cf. Bach, Thought and Reference, ch. 1.1. However, I do not consider the content of mental states that exemplify such rapport as necessarily being structured “Russellian” propositions. If we understand perception as an acquaintance relation with the surrounding environment, then the “content” of a perceptual experience is just the particular tract of the environment so experienced. For further discussion of this issue see McLear, “Kant on Perceptual Content.” Stern (Structure of the Object, ch. 1) makes a similar argument concerning what is at issue between Kant and Locke (and empiricism more generally). However, I do not agree with Stern regarding his claim that for Kant, all relations are ideal, mind-dependent, and thus merely phenomenal (14, 17), for it seems clear that at least some relations, e.g. moral relations, hold between things in themselves (cf. Ameriks, “Short Arguments”). Hence I disagree with Stern concerning the nature of Kant’s argument concerning the role of concepts in cognition.
This use of ‘acquaintance’ is not necessarily meant to ascribe a Russellian view to Kant; cf. Russell, “Acquaintance and Description.” But it is meant to indicate a kind of cognitive relation where a concrete individual is present to the subject in a particularly intimate and immediate way. See McLear, “Kant on Perceptual Content” for further discussion.