«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 one is representing a particular portion of space and a particular quality as ﬁlling or bounding that space. In this way, intuition offers only the awareness of spatially and temporally grouped manifest qualities without any further representation of their underlying unity in a particular object.
Thus, according to my reading of Kant, acquaintance with the empirical qualities of objects is not sufﬁcient for putting one in a position to have empirical knowledge precisely because the presented sensory qualities are not represented as related to one another beyond their possession of a spatial and temporal unity.
The fact that various sensible qualities are represented as having a common spatial position (e.g. color, extension, impenetrability) does not mean that there is any representation of some individual as having those qualities. The kind of synthesized empirical cognition that grounds cognition (Erkenntnis) and knowledge (Wissen), in contrast, requires that there be some represented individual grounding the unity of the manifest qualities in a relation mirroring the subject-predicate relation in a propositional judgment. It is precisely in giving this structure to our consciousness of the things with which we are acquainted that our consciousness comes to have discursive unity. Such unity allows the transition from a presentation of something in a spatially and temporally contiguous manner—for example, the perceptual presentation of shape and coextensive color—to the presentation of some particular thing as colored and shaped.
So we have two forms of unity: aesthetic and discursive. An intuition has aesthetic unity in that it presents to consciousness a shaped, located, solid, and colored region of space, the consciousness of which, though episodic, may nevertheless persist over some period of time. Here the subject is consciously en rapport with features of her environment. But she is not yet in a position to make any propositionally structured claims about this tract of her environment. Being in a position to make such claims requires that the second, discursive, form of unity be present in her experience.
Discursive unity binds together the subject’s fragmented, episodic representations of the various qualities presented in sensory experience (empirical intuition), and makes possible conscious transitions from an awareness of a sensory quality manifested by some mind-independent object to an awareness of the object manifesting those qualities, that is, a persisting substance. I do not here make any speciﬁc claim concerning the exact nature of Kant’s argument for how this is possible. That would involve a discussion of the transcendental unity of apperception, among other things. But this sketch of the position shows how Kant could consistently conceive of aesthetic unity as a distinct and independent form of unity, and allow that intuition counts as a form of objective representation despite the absence of synthesis, while nevertheless requiring discursive unity among a subject’s states if she is to acquire empirical knowledge.
Before closing I want to address the question of how to understand Kant’s claim, quoted in §1 above, that the “same function” that uniﬁes conceptual representations in a judgment also uniﬁes representations in an intuition (A79/ B104–5). Intellectualism takes this as indicating that an intuition lacks unity—and thus is not an objective representation—unless synthesized by the understanding.
But, as I have argued above, the unity in question here need not be construed as 106 journal of the history of philosophy 53:1 January 2015 one concerning the conditions required for objective representation, but rather only the conditions required for representation of some collection of perceived qualities as belonging to one and the same object. My interpretation agrees with Intellectualism that, as speciﬁed by the “same function” passage, there is one fundamental act of mind that explains the capacity both for judgment, in the bringing together of a complex of concepts into a unitary proposition, and in perception, in the bringing together of a complex of sensory representations into a unitary representation of an object as an object. But my interpretation importantly disagrees with the Intellectualist claim that the role of the understanding in generating such unities implies that intuition depends on the understanding (or the higher cognitive faculties more generally) for its status as a form of objective representation. As I argued in the ﬁrst half of this paper, intuition has its own form of unity, which grounds its status as an objective representation. Hence, on my view, Kant’s concern is not to show that the same discursive acts of mind make all forms of objective representation possible. Instead, he wants to show that the same discursive acts of mind make all representation of objects as objects possible.
Representation of an entity as an object requires a unity of consciousness, and Kant argues that such unity depends upon categorical synthesis. According to my suggested interpretation, we can acknowledge all of these points without thereby concluding, as Intellectualism does, that intuition itself, as an objective representation, requires synthesis.
This position obviously requires much ﬁlling out, and several issues, such as the necessity with which the categories apply to experience, remain unaddressed.
But I hope at least to have shown the intelligibility of a Sensibilist reading of the Transcendental Deduction, and thus the plausibility of interpreting Kant’s characterization of cognition (Erkenntnis) as requiring both intuitions and concepts, while nevertheless allowing that each makes a separate and unique contribution (cf. A50–52/B74–76).
4. summary I have argued that Kant’s distinction between the cognitive roles of sensibility and understanding raises a question concerning the conditions necessary for objective representation—representation of features of a mind-independent empirical reality. I distinguished two opposing interpretive positions—namely, Intellectualism and Sensibilism. According to Intellectualism all objective representation depends, at least in part, on the unifying synthetic activity of the mind. In contrast, Sensibilism argues that at least some forms of objective representation, speciﬁcally intuitions, do not require synthesis. I then argued that Kant’s position concerning the holistic structure of our representations of space and time is incompatible with holding that such representation depends on a synthesis, and thus is incompatible with Intellectualism. This leaves us in an interpretive bind, for though Sensibilism seems to better describe Kant’s position in the Aesthetic, Intellectualism seems much closer to his stated position in the argument of the Deduction. So either Kant maintains Sensibilism in the argument of the Aesthetic and Intellectualism in the argument of the Transcendental Deduction (resulting in an incoherent two kinds of unity in the CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON position), or we need to reject Intellectualism at the seeming cost of making the argument of the Deduction unintelligible. What is needed is an account according to which intuition has a unity independent of any synthesis, but nevertheless requires a different and further kind of uniﬁcation in order to count as a fullblown cognition of an object.
I then sketched such an account. I argued that for Kant intuitions represent particular sensory qualities of things in particular spatial and temporal locations.
Thus the aesthetic unity of an empirical intuition consists in its representation of, for example, a particular region of space as bounded and colored in speciﬁc ways. But such objective representations, though potentially quite complex, are not representations of objects as objects—namely, as individuals that ground the complex of qualities attributed to them. The possibility of this latter form of representation depends on what I have called the “discursive” unity generated by synthesizing intuition, such that a complex of sensory representations is combined into one unitary representational complex via their connection in a unitary trans-episodic state of consciousness. The possibility of knowledge of objects depends on this discursive unity being generated among merely aesthetically uniﬁed representations. I argued further that this account makes sense of the Transcendental Deduction’s aim to demonstrate the legitimacy of the a priori categories by interpreting the argument there as a reply to Locke (and empiricism more generally) concerning the capacities necessary for the generation of complex representations, including, paradigmatically, representations of substances. Since complex representation is a necessary condition of scientiﬁc knowledge of the natural world, the use of the a priori categories in bringing about such complex representations must be legitimate, for without them no knowledge of the natural world would be possible.63
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