Lecture Notes for Class 10

            Kant and the “I think”
 
            (1) Summary
            I am providing a quick and focused summary of Kant’s philosophy in the first Critique because I want to locate with precision where and how the need arises in his philosophy for a conception of self-constituting subjectivity.
            This is also what we did with Locke and his theory of self and personal identity. As we will see, also in Kant concern for self-constituting subjectivity takes a first personal form and raises some of the same concerns, about emptiness and indispensability, which it raises in Locke. This is interesting, because Kant’s philosophy is systematically and deeply committed to explain objectivity: theoretical, practical, and aesthetic objectivity. It is a question worth enquiring why, in this context, a role for the first-personal subject arises and is important; and what are the implications of this.
            To sum up, what we have seen so far is:
            (i) The central problem of the first Critique is the possibility of knowledge, as a normatively grounded correspondence between our representations and their objects.
            (ii) The normative grounding is in terms of objectivity, that is, of the necessity and universality of such correspondence; this requires that some constitutive conditions of knowledge are a priori.
            (iii) The relevant notion of the a priori is not analytic, not by conceptual analysis; a priority must be synthetic, have content as of and epistemic bearing for the objects.
            (iv) This is because cognitive content is in general dual in kind: it is conceptual (descriptive and inferential) and intuitive (immediately object-related). In the case of our cognitive nature, immediate acquaintance with objects is only sensible, by sense-experience.
            (v) The problem with this dual kind of cognitive content is that, if both kinds are necessarily constitutive of knowledge and knowledge is constitutively the a priori correspondence of objects (intuitions) and representations (concepts), sensibility should involve an a priori element.
            (vi) This is possible by distinguishing a material (qualitative) and formal (relational) dimension in sensible content (the second is a priori) and by interpreting the a priori as subjective (coming from the mind and not from the objects).
            (vii) If the a priori or the forms of sensibility are subjective, a problem arises as to how they can apply to objects of experience. The answer is that there would be no such objects, unless the a priori forms applied to them. This means that empirical objects are mind-dependent.
 
            (2) A Priori Concepts
            The question now becomes how mind-dependent empirical contents (objects) can attain objectivity and thereby be knowable at all (not just present, but known). Kant’s answer is that this may be because we possess and master a priori concepts. Such concepts are independent of experience and, if applied to objects of experience, allow us to come to know and to assert something objective about them. Say, if we apply the concept of substance to an object of experience, we can say that it has a certain kind of persistence in time and a certain kind of priority on other objects (its properties, for instance). If his claim is true, then we know something objective about it (if it is false, we are objectively mistaken about it).
            For Kant it is not problematic that we have and apply a priori concepts. Already Hume had given principled arguments to establish that some concepts (cause, substance, for instance) cannot be derived from experience and yet have a role in our cognitive practices. He also had explained this by their having a subjective source, a source in mental activity. Kant systematizes Hume’s insight, giving a table of categories; and interprets such mental activity in terms of judgment and reasoning, that is, of intellectual, rational capacities (not the imagination).
            Keep present the complex cognitive structure and epistemic import of empirical cognition as we have it, which both go way beyond sensible acquaintance with particulars. «Now all experience does indeed contain, in addition to the intuition of the senses through which something is given, a concept of an object as being thereby given, that is to say, as appearing. Concepts of objects in general thus underlie all empirical knowledge as its a priori conditions» (126). Kant is assuming that objects of empirical cognition are taken and treated as persisting individuals, endued with properties and connected causally, in a determined order of temporal succession and coexistence. Objects of experience or empirical cognition are not only given but thought and judged – and in this way only can be known.
            The possession and application of a priori concepts is a fact. But, for the theoretical aims of Kant’s philosophy, this is not sufficient. The analysis of the experience in which the a priori is met with is not a proof of the validity of its application. «Concepts which yield the objective ground of the possibility of experience are for this reason [on account of their making experience itself possible] necessary. But the unfolding of the experience wherein they are encountered is not their deduction; it is only their illustration. For on any such exposition they would be merely accidental» (126-127). Knowledge is not a fact, it is the satisfaction of certain normative conditions. Therefore, just as it was with the a priori forms of sensibility, the account of knowledge is not complete until it has been explained that a priori concepts are validly applied to objects; that their application can be universally and necessarily justified. It is only at this condition that we can say that the correspondence of representations and objects is objective.
            The problem, again, is with the subjective character and source of the a priori (sensible or intellectual subjectivity): how can subjective conditions deliver objective cognition? However, the problem of subjectivity/objectivity raised by a priori concepts is different from that of a priori intuitions. It is here that things become really interesting for us.
 
            (3) By What Title?
            In the case of the sensible a priori, the problem of validity is solved by resorting to its domain and mode of application. The domain is that of empirical reality, of objects of experience with which we are acquainted (and of course we would not be acquainted with them, if they were not present). The mode is distinctive as well: the a priori forms are not concepts, which have semantic application to objects. They are intuitions in their turn, a priori objects; and their relations to objects is mereological: they are parts of objects and objects are parts of them. The a priori forms of space and time therefore contribute to the constitution or composition of objects of experiences or intuitions; there would not be such objects without such forms; this makes them mind dependent but also secures that the forms validly apply to intuitions and objects: they constitute and make them exist.
We have been able, with very little trouble, to make it comprehensible how the conceptions of space and time, although a priori cognitions, must necessarily apply to external objects, and render a synthetical cognition of these possible, independently of all experience. For inasmuch as only by means of such pure form of sensibility an object can appear to us, that is, be an object of empirical intuition, space and time are pure intuitions, which contain a priori the condition of the possibility of objects as phenomena, and an a priori synthesis in these intuitions possesses objective validity.
 
            In the case of intuition, as we have already seen, the ground for the valid application of a priori forms to objects of sense is a constitutive or existential one: if such forms did not apply to such objects, these latter, or intuitions, would not exist at all. Since objects are sensibly present or intuitions are enjoyed in experience, such forms must apply with objective validity. Since this conclusion is a matter of self-evidence rather than of inference, Kant regards it as a transcendental exposition rather than an argument. (Possible objection.)
However, this argument cannot apply to a priori concepts. If it applied, it would erase any difference between intuitions and concepts; and this would make pointless resorting to the construct of the synthetic a priori (we would know reality by analysis). A different argument or ground is required, which is the task of Transcendental Logic to provide.The way a priori concepts figure in the «grand problem» and how they contribute to its solution are markedly different. Kant remarks that the existence of objects of sense, intuitions, or phenomena, does not depend on understanding and its functions, a priori concepts or categories.
 
On the other hand, the categories of the understanding do not represent the conditions under which objects are given to us in intuition; objects can consequently appear to us without necessarily connecting themselves with these, and consequently without any necessity binding on the understanding to contain a priori the conditions of these objects. Thus we find ourselves involved in a difficulty which did not present itself in the sphere of sensibility, that is to say, we cannot discover how the subjective conditions of thought can have objective validity, in other words, can become conditions of the possibility of all cognition of objects; for phenomena may certainly be given to us in intuition without any help from the functions of the understanding (124-125)
 
If subjective conditions (representations, concepts) do not constitutively contribute to the existence of their objects, the ground of their objectively valid application to objects and, therefore, the possibility of their normative contribution to knowledge, remain elusive.
 
(4) The Transcendental Deduction
The general background of Kant’s demand for a transcendental deduction (transcendental: a necessity/possibility/necessity argument; deduction: an argument establishing the validity of a concept-application) is his fundamental conception of knowledge as the strictly universal and necessary correspondence between representation and object. «There are only two possible ways in which synthetic representations and their objects can establish connection, obtain necessary relation to one another, and, as it were, meet one another. Either the object alone must make the representation possible, or the representation must make the object possible» (125). The first of these two modal conditions obtains a posteriori with regard of the empirical matter of cognition (sensation). The second obtains with regard to the formal, a priori element of cognition, either for what concerns intuition or for what concerns concept (125-126; see 134-135). But how is this making-possible possible in the case of a priori concepts, which do not make objects exist?
A priori concepts are only necessary in order for empirical objects to be thought and, thereby, to be known; but not for them to be given or present (126). Therefore, we must look for a ground of proof that,
(a) is constitutively existential (so as to provide a necessary ground for application);
(b) is normative in an epistemic sense (so as to secure that the quid iuris, the validity of the application of concepts is addressed);
(c) is not referred to the existence of objects of experience (which can exist without being conceptualized).
            Kant looks for this ground of proof in the concept of possibility of experience, as a «third», a mediating concept, between a priori concepts and objects. «Save through their original relation to possible experience, in which all objects of knowledge are found, their relation to any one object would be quite incomprehensible» (127). But in what respect a constitutive role with regard to the possibility of experience can be a ground of proof for the validity of the application of a priori concepts? What else is implied by the possibility of experience, besides the possible existence of its objects? In some way, the constitutive condition that figures as ground of proof must refer to the subjective side of the epistemic relations, not (or not directly and primarily, as it is with space and time) with the conditions for the existence of its objects. The TD develops this insight.  
            The line of the argument is more or less as follows:
            (i) B is a certain necessary feature of A (something that is beyond doubt);
            (ii) C is a subjective condition necessary for the possibility of B;
            (iii) D is what makes it so that C brings about B.
            Therefore, D holds of, because constitutively explains, A.
            The key to this is: A, our experience, our having representations; B, the unity of experience and representations; C, a first-personal, subjective condition; D, the application of a priori concepts. C is what really interest us; but we have to put in place some background.
            (i) We have a view of the empirical world, the manifest image; a complex of particulars, arranged in space and time, related causally, persisting; this is phenomenologically unquestionable (A). This worldview, given its analysis, can only be a combination of representations, a synthesis. This synthesis, in order for it to give a worldview, to be understandable or intelligible, must be present as some sort of unity. This is a constitutive-existential condition. Since the understanding is inextricably connected with the intelligible, empirical world, this is also a condition of possibility of the understanding (B).
The concept of combination includes, besides the concept of the manifold and of the synthesis of it, that of the unity of it also. Conjunction is the representation of the synthetical unity of the manifold. This idea of unity, therefore, cannot arise out of that of conjunction; much rather does that idea, by combining itself with the representation of the manifold, render the conception of conjunction possible. This unity, which a priori precedes all conceptions of conjunction, is not the category of unity; for all the categories are based upon logical functions of judgment, and in these functions we already have conjunction, and consequently unity of given conceptions. It is therefore evident that the category of unity presupposes conjunction. We must therefore look still higher for this unity (as qualitative, in that, namely, which contains the ground of the unity of diverse conceptions in judgments, the ground, consequently, of the possibility of the existence of the understanding, even in regard to its logical use) (152)
           
            (ii) We will examine C and its relation to B later. But the conclusion of the quoted text makes clear what is its logical level. The unity here in question is the qualitative unity that grounds all synthesis or conjunction and all concepts applied in judgment, including the a priori ones. The concept of this unity is therefore at the right logical level for Kant’s attempted proof, since it would ground, rather than be grounded on, the application of a priori concepts. Kant also says, if only allusively, that this unity is the «ground» of the «possibility of the existence of the understanding, even in regard to its logical use». This points to a constitutive-existential condition, which is of the right general sort to ground a transcendental proof. The logical force of the conclusion is its role in securing a constitutive-existential condition that invests the possibility of knowledge (synthesis of representation).
 
            (iii)  The completing step of the argument is that unity of the synthetic activity that constitutes the primitive, transcendental unity of the combination of representations in a worldview has the logical character of act of judgment, which in its turn consists in the application of a priori concepts or categories to the manifold of intuition (D).
The manifold content given in a sensuous intuition comes necessarily under the original synthetical unity of apperception, because thereby alone is the unity of intuition possible (§ 17). But that act of the understanding, by which the manifold content of given representations (whether intuitions or conceptions) is brought under one apperception, is the logical function of judgments (§ 19). All the manifold, therefore, in so far as it is given in one empirical intuition, is determined in relation to one of the logical functions of judgment, by means of which it is brought into union in one consciousness. Now the categories are nothing else than these functions of judgment so far as the manifold in a given intuition is determined in relation to them (§ 13). Consequently, the manifold in a given intuition is necessarily subject to the categories of the understanding (160)
 
            The last sentence is the QED of all the Transcendental Deduction. Kant’s proof of the objectively valid application of a priori concept to intuitions, and thereby to objects of experience hinges on both the possibility of a certain kind of a cognitive faculty (understanding), of a cognitive state (experience), and of a certain kind of content (an empirical world).

Data inizio: 
Mercoledì, 10 Novembre, 2021
Data fine: 
Giovedì, 10 Novembre, 2022

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