This is a study of the Transcendental Deduction in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. The framework of Kant’s theory of cognition in that work, and of consciousness generally, is provided by the distinction between matter and form in cognition. The distinction is doubly important for Kant. It is important in the Transcendental Aesthetic, where Kant regards sensation (Empfindung) as the material of sensory intuition (Anschauung). And it is important in the Transcendental Logic, of which the Deduction is a part, where Kant then regards the latter as material for even higher forming. The higher forming occurs by means of something that Kant calls “synthesis.” He claims that it provides the foundation for any act of conceptualization, or for any exercise of understanding, that is directed toward any object of sensory intuition:
Transcendental Logic, on the other hand, has a manifold of sensibility lying before it a priori, presented to it by the transcendental aesthetic, in order to give material to the pure concepts of understanding. . . . But the spontaneity of our thought requires that this manifold first be gone through in a certain way, taken up, and connected, in order that a cognition be made out of it. This act I name synthesis. (A76-7/B102)
Apparently interchangeably, Kant regards the higher forming in question as constitutive of a “unity of consciousness” in regard to the corresponding material:
Thus the mode in which the manifold of sensible representation (intuition) belongs to one consciousness precedes all cognition of the object, as its intellectual form. . . . (A129)
Two components of cognition take place a priori 1. Intuitions, 2. Unity of consciousness of the manifold of intuitions (even of empirical intuitions). This unity of consciousness constitutes the form of experience as objective empirical cognition.1
A number of additional passages to the effect will be examined throughout this study.
It may seem that Kant is confused in these notions, or perhaps he draws a legitimate distinction in a confusing pair of ways. One might distinguish, for example, between the variety of sensory impingements upon a subject at any moment, and that subject’s capacity for a more or less unitary cognitive response to them. That response provides the subject with its own “representation” of a world from which those impingements might have arisen in the first place. We might therefore say that the distinction in question is a distinction between a matter and a form in any experience of a world. But why do we need to distinguish, in addition, between two different levels of experience (or at least of “experience”)? One may feel that the distinction of levels, if not arbitrary, could be of purely pragmatic significance. For purely pragmatic purposes, some types of cognitive response will be considered to be less sophisticated, or less cognitively demanding, than others. I argue against this sort of approach, both in interpreting Kant and independently. I argue that any appreciation of the role of understanding in experience requires that we first take seriously the more basic notions of matter and form on the level of mere intuition, where the “form” of the latter needs to be introduced as a primitive in the philosophy of mind. On the level of understanding of what is then “given” in intuition, the basic claims will be two: (a) that concepts are always made out of a certain kind of material, in a sense that is importantly analogous to the way in which sensory intuitions are made out of sensations, and (b) that, at least in the case of concepts other than “categories,” the material out of which a concept is made must in its own turn be ingredient as a material in intuitions—in just the sense in which sensations are. (The categories, in this view, could be nothing other than the intellectual forms for the transformation of the given material, precisely in their role as applied to that material.) The additional material is provided by, or by a species of, what Kant calls imagination.
Unfortunately, Kant’s choice of the title imagination is misleading, and so is his insistence that its bearer is a kind of intuition in its own right. I argue that his concern is with anticipations and retentions of a sort that I try to characterize. The title anticipation in this context is natural; I speak of retention partly for convenience and partly on account of Kant’s own concern with Reproduktion in the first edition. I take that concern, and that version of the Transcendental Deduction, more seriously than is generally the case. However, Chapter Five provides a detailed examination of the second edition Deduction. The notion of anticipation should become clear fairly quickly. The role of retention will finally be made clearer in Chapter Six.
It is important to distinguish between different kinds of anticipation and retention. What we ordinarily associate with these terms is an essentially “conceptual” affair, in the sense of that notion that Kant attempts to elucidate in the Deduction. So construed, to appeal to anticipation and retention as the material of conceptualization would be circular. To highlight a central feature of Kant’s theory, I shall occasionally speak of merely “animal” anticipation and retention. The feature that I have in mind concerns Kant’s attempt to account for the distinction, but also to account for a kind of harmony, between the purely animal and the distinctively human in consciousness. This aspect of Kant’s endeavor is universally acknowledged to be central to his ethics. In his theory of mind and knowledge, it is generally recognized only in his view that “sensation” provides the material of intuition. Its counterpart in the theory of understanding is overlooked. Distinctively human conception and judgment rests on a kind of second, though not necessarily temporally second, forming of a body of material that we might as well regard, though Kant was reluctant to do so in so many words, as constitutive of purely animal conception and judgment. Though there are senses in which it is nonsense to say so, I go so far as to defend a sense in which non-categorial concepts, not just conceptions and judgments, are nothing but such formings of “imaginative” matter.
As it happens, while Kant himself comes at least close to saying that imagination provides the material of concepts, he does not, to my knowledge, ever explicitly say that imagination functions as material in intuition. Implausibly, as I have noted, he insists that imagination is always a kind of intuition itself. He even says, at one point, that it is always defined by form, not matter.2 In addition, Kant sometimes appears to hold that the only relevant distinction between matter and form, on the level of understanding, is such that the former is provided by the objects of understanding, not by anything literally ingredient in understanding itself.3 It will be important to see that it is nonetheless necessary to regard a kind of imagination as providing material capable of serving as material in intuitions. Unlike mere “sensations,” there will not be a sense in which such material could be the material of intuitions. Unlike sensations, it cannot provide the material requisite for the constitution of an intuition (or at least a non-“pure” one) as an intuition in the first place. But that is not the claim that I intend to defend. The suggestion is not that imagination provides the material of intuitions as such. It is rather that, in order to provide the material for a grasp of anything through intuitions, imagination must provide something that, at least on those occasions, is as intrinsically ingredient within intuitions as sensations ever are.
The notion of understanding and perceiving “through” a body of material will be crucial throughout this study. I utilize it in connection with a related phenomenological distinction. This is the distinction between the matter and form of a subject’s cognitive acts—on the noetic side of cognition—and the intentional correlates of that matter and form in objects or appearances—on the correlative noematic side of cognition. For example, a certain sensory quality apprehended as spread through regions of intuitional space is the intentional correlate of the ingredience of mere sensations in cognition. In Chapter One, I elaborate this claim in a way that avoids objections to similar claims. In Chapter Four, I argue that Kant’s doctrine of the “affinity” of appearances embodies his extension of these notions to the relationship between imagination and understanding. The affinity of appearances is the intentional correlate of the imaginative material through which those appearances are originally apprehended in experience. These distinctions will also shed some light on some aspects of Kant’s account of aesthetic judgment in the Critique of Judgment.
In Chapter Six, I extend these notions to Kant’s account of self-consciousness. It may seem unwise to have abstracted from such questions up to that point. It is clear that the problem of unity of consciousness, and of self-consciousness, is central to both of the versions of the Deduction. However, it is typical to regard the problem of unity of consciousness in the Deduction in too simplistic a way. It is typical to regard it as a problem concerning the capacity of a single subject for ascribing a set of distinct subjective states to itself. I argue that this problem is secondary to a different one. The overall structure of Kant’s reflection is this: (1) Any conceptualization of experience requires the formation of objective concepts out of a body of anticipative and retentive material that is ingredient as material in (would-be) experiences themselves. (2) The intellectual forms that are required for the formation of objective concepts out of the anticipative and retentive material ingredient in experiences must embody anticipations and retentions, which need not otherwise have been so embodied, into a structure of anticipations and retentions concerning the actual and the possible courses of one’s own experience. (3) One’s original self-conception, as of a subject to which a set of distinct subjective states are ascribable, is derivative from the resulting anticipative and retentive structure. The preparation for an account of self-consciousness thus requires a prior appreciation of the general problems to which the first of these three claims refers us.
I argue that the upshot is an account of self-consciousness that is much more Sartrean than generally realized: the Kantian self is originally self-conscious only through consciousness of the noematic correlate, in the world of appearances, of its own noetic structuring of experience. Appreciation of this point requires greater appreciation of a distinction between levels and structures within one’s consciousness of appearances themselves. In an important sense, Kantian consciousness is not in the first instance self-consciousness. It is consciousness of self only through its consciousness of the world. In Chapter Seven, I finally turn to consider the more specific bearing of this reading on Kant’s attempt to specify particular “categories” presupposed in this way by both self-consciousness and consciousness of objects.
In a sense, the doctrine of understanding that I ascribe to Kant is reductionistic. It is, at least, reductionistic with respect to the existence of concepts as quasilinguistic terms, supposed to be “applied’’ to intuitions or to objects, and to be employed or utilized in judgments. Obviously, my account will not be reductionistic in some other, more obvious ways. For example, I do not reduce concepts to rules, or to dispositions, or to aspects of functional states. I take more seriously than all such approaches the role of concepts as aspects of cognitive acts. The central idea will be that, apart from legitimate but irrelevant senses in which concepts may be said to be rules, dispositions, or aspects of functional states, a concept is an aspect of cognitive activity that needs to be originally formed by that activity on each occasion of its use. It follows that the notion of applying or using a concept is misleading. The “forms of judgment” that, in the Metaphysical Deduction, Kant regards as constitutive of relations among the concepts one employs in a judgment are in the Transcendental Deduction recognized to be essential to the formation of the concepts employed in any judgment in the first place. The upshot is a way of acknowledging that “meaning is use.” But it is a way that does not suffer from the usual failings of that truism. In Chapter Three, after a general account of the distinction between the “application” of concepts to some material (subject) in a conception or in a judgment, and the sort of “application” of understanding that forms a concept out of some material in the first place, I show how all of these claims cohere with what may seem to have spoken for a much cruder variety of reductionism, namely, with Kant’s claim that (non-categorial) concepts essentially are, or “serve as,” rules.
Chapter One provides a preliminary clarification of the relevant notions in the Transcendental Aesthetic, needed for our purpose, and a defense of Kant’s use of them. In Chapter Two, I offer independent argument for extending the framework along the lines that I have suggested. This chapter relates the issues to current debates in cognitive psychology and to cognate notions in Searle (on non-representational states as co-determinative of intentional content), Husserl (on motivation, association, and the distinction between matter and form in noetic activity), and Croce (on matter and form on the several levels of “spirit”). In an earlier work, I supported my reading of the Aesthetic with a detailed analysis of the text.4 In Chapter One of the present study, I aim more directly for an independent defense of the framework that I ascribe to Kant. The viability of that framework in a reading of Kant must rest here on the fruitfulness of its extension beyond the Aesthetic. In the earlier work, I also defended in detail a particular variety of “phenomenalistic” reading of Kant’s Idealism. I tried to show how that kind of phenomenalism both arises out of the arguments of the Transcendental Aesthetic and avoids the absurdities of more standard formulations of such doctrines. In the final section of Chapter One, I show how the present approach permits a still more satisfactory formulation of Kantian phenomenalism.
Throughout, I do not claim that the views that I attribute to Kant are always clearly and unambiguously put forth by Kant himself. The main proof of my reading will have to lie in the extent to which it helps to explain some of the more notorious confusions and apparent self-contradictions in the Transcendental Deduction. I hope to show that the views in any case ought to be taken seriously.
It is reasonable to hypothesize that Kant’s own difficulty with these notions is the main source of the obscurity of the Deduction. He was rightly uncomfortable with his own claim that imaginative matter is by nature intuitional. He was also preoccupied with the role of that matter in the formation of concepts. Therefore, he sometimes obscured the pre-conceptual status of the kind of anticipation and retention that his theory of experience presupposes, and the subordinate role of such material as only the matter of conception. For the same reasons, Kant tended to formulate his claims by appeal—on the noematic side—to categorial structurings of objects or appearances, when he ought to have done so—on the noetic side—by direct appeal to the structuring of anticipations and retentions as cognitive or pre-cognitive states. Finally, Kant may have feared that the approach in question would have the absurd consequence that concepts are a kind of particular item in the mind. I show how these difficulties may be avoided.
Kant’s authority has been invoked in support of competing theories of the working of mind. In recent years, Kant’s concern with the connection between concepts and “rules” has suggested that his authority might be lent to support purely functionalistic accounts of the mind. Or if purely functionalistic accounts are not possible, then perhaps all we need, beyond Kantian concepts, would be a surd of non-functionalistically reducible sensations, to which those concepts would then constitute one’s “response.” Sensation, that we share with the animals, would resist a functionalist account. Thought, that we share with computers, would not. I hope that the present study will at least redirect the authority of Kant from a defense of such visions. Insofar as thought involves understanding, it involves the capacity, not simply for responding to some body of material for thought, but rather for the incorporation of that material into thought. It is difficult to see how such incorporation could be elucidated in terms of a model of sensory “input” and functionally characterizable “response.” The input needs to become a response.
A note on references and translations: Throughout, parenthetical references will be made to the Critique of Pure Reason by means of the standard (A. . ./B. . .) format. Unless otherwise specified, references to “the Critique” will be to this work. In general, I follow Norman Kemp Smith’s translation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965; reprint of Macmillan’s edition of 1929). However, I occasionally modify the translation. (I translate Erkenntnis as “cognition” throughout; otherwise, where the departure from Kemp Smith warrants it, I comment to the effect. For this purpose, I have followed the German edition edited by Raymund Schmidt, in the “Philosophische Bibliothek” series [Hamburg: Verlag von Felix Meiner, 1956].) For references to Kant’s writings besides the Critique, I include parenthetical notations of the form (xx.yy): this refers, first, to the volume in the Akademie-Ausgabe of Kant’s writings; second, to the page in that volume. The various Reflexionen to be found in Kant’s Nachlass, and the various sets of lecture notes to his courses on logic, are designated in a way that should be clear to the reader. I have tried to be careful not to rest my interpretative suggestions on an appeal to notes and reflections from Kant’s pre-Critical (or, for that matter, post-Critical) period.
Some of the material in Chapters Four and Six has been drawn, respectively, from my papers “Matter, Form, and Imaginative Association in Sensory Intuition” (in New Essays on Kant, ed. Bernard den Ouden and Marcia Moen [New York: Peter Lang, 1987]) and “Self-Consciousness, Self-Determination, and Imagination in Kant” (Topoi, 7 , 65-79). I thank the publishers and editors for permission to use the material.