Lecture Notes for Class 11
The Transcendental Deduction and the “I think”
(1) The Transcendental Deduction Outlined
The ground of proof of the validity of a priori concepts, of course, must be a priori. Kant seems to hold that, in order to prove that the application of a priori concepts is valid objectively or about reality (not just by convention, say), the a priori ground of proof must have a constitutive-existential character. That is, the proof must consist in establishing that a priori concepts make exist (individuate and ground) what they are applied to. However, since the distinction of concepts and intuitions must be preserved (otherwise, apriority and analyticity would be the same), the constitutive-existential condition must not regard objects, which can exist without being individuated and conceptualized. 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 contentful and intelligible by us, must be present as some sort of unity (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 (152)
This indicates a constitutive-existential condition. The idea of unity renders the conception of the conjunction of a manifold (the representation of a complex of representation) possible, makes it exist. Therefore, if we would to understand the ground of proof of the transcendental deduction of a priori concepts, we must understand the nature and grounds of this unity (which must not be located within the objects, as if it were a part of it). We will see this. Right now, we can say that the logical level of the ground of proof must be higher than that defined by a priori concepts or categories.
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)
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 idea 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 indicates a constitutive-existential condition, which is of the right general sort to ground a transcendental proof. The understanding, as a function or capacity we manifestly have, has a reciprocal connection with an intelligible, empirical world, a represented conjunction of representations. The first is the right kind of representational faculty for the second; the second is the right kind of content for the first (this is derived from the analysis of experience). The idea of unity is thus a condition of possibility, counts as (B), in both regards.
(ii) We will examine C, the nature and grounds of the constitutive-existential condition, and its relation to B later. The completing step of the argument is that the unity of the synthetic activity that produces the primitive combination of representations in a worldview and the possibility of the understanding 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, derived as (D) or at the step from (C) to (D), 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). The constitutive-existential condition of possibility comes in view as (C), what makes (B) and therefore (A) possible, because and insofar as it entails (D), the application of a priori concepts. This latter is thereby justified.
(2) The Subjective Constitutive-Existential Condition
It is now well time that we address (C). The nature of the pre-categorial principle of the unity of conjunction, synthesis, and a priori concepts or categories is that of an a priori, necessary first-personal condition on the possibility of any sort of representation, either intuitive or conceptual. More exactly, and to anticipate: the pre-categorial principle of unity consists of two, logically and functionally distinct (one is analytic and one is synthetic; one relates to awareness and one to thinking activity) a priori first personal conditions on the possibility of representing.
The two conditions are internally and indissolubly connected and together they define a necessary condition for the possibility of thinking and cognition, for the possibility of the understanding in its logical use. This must be understood both in regard of the possibility of a subject of thinking and representation and in regard of the possibility of there being anything represented to it. Again, together they define a constitutive-existential requirement, which according to Kant comes to expression and to realization in the application of a priori concepts to objects of experience and thus is the ground of proof of the validity of such application.
This is quite a mouthful but it indicates to the way in which Kant identifies first personal thinking at the deepest foundational level of his theory and engages into an account of its character.
(3) “I think”
Kant introduces the analytic first person, as the core of the argument of the second Transcendental Deduction, with the claim that all representations that can constitute thought and cognition must be present to the thinking and cognizing subject in such a way that he can recognize them as its own. This means that they must be present to the subject, to the understanding, in an indirect-reflexive way, which (as we have seen with Locke) is internally related to and especially expressive of self-consciousness.
The first-personal presence of representations and apperception or self-consciousness constitutes one dimension of the pre-categorial unity that is the ground of proof in the Transcendental Deduction and that is implied both by being a thinking and cognizing subject and by counting ass a representation.
The "I think" must accompany all my representations, for otherwise something would be represented in me which could not be thought; in other words, the representation would either be impossible, or at least be, in relation to me, nothing. That representation which can be given previously to all thought is called intuition. All the diversity or manifold content of intuition, has, therefore, a necessary relation to the "I think," in the subject in which this diversity is found. But this representation, "I think," is an act of spontaneity; that is to say, it cannot be regarded as belonging to mere sensibility. I call it pure apperception, in order to distinguish it from empirical; or primitive apperception, because it is self-consciousness which, whilst it gives birth to the representation "I think," must necessarily be capable of accompanying all our representations. It is in all acts of consciousness one and the same, and unaccompanied by it, no representation can exist for me. The unity of this apperception I call the transcendental unity of self-consciousness, in order to indicate the possibility of a priori cognition arising from it. For the manifold representations which are given in an intuition would not all of them be my representations, if they did not all belong to one self-consciousness, that is, as my representations (even although I am not conscious of them as such), they must conform to the condition under which alone they can exist together in a common self-consciousness, because otherwise they would not all without exception belong to me. From this primitive conjunction follow many important results (152-153)
The constitutive-existential condition that is the ground of proof is expressed in the modal assertion or principle: «The "I think" must accompany all my representations». This is the form in which the condition of unity, B, the unity of synthesis/conjunction, can be realized; it is one dimension of C.
In order to understand its role in the Transcendental Deduction and, thereby, its role in the Paralogisms, I will proceed to discuss (i) the character of “I think”; (ii) why Kant resorts to first-personal consciousness; (iii) its logical and epistemological status; (iv) its constitutive import; and (v) its normative import.
(i) Character of “I think” As he explicitly says and his use of quotation marks indicates, Kant’s demand is that an occurrent, first-personal representation of one’s own thinking accompany all of one’s own representations. This is an indirect reflexive, essentially first-personal representation: representing myself thinking my representation must accompany all of them. The force of this “must” is that the possibility of such an occurrent first-personal thought about my thinking is required for the possibility of there being representations that are my representations at all and for the possibility that I am a representing subject at all. This suggests a constitutive-existential condition.
Kant is here considering representations not as to their contents (empirical objects, phenomena) but as to their presence or existence in the mind. His point is that, even if I am not conscious of my representations «as such», qua representations, but only as to their contents (qua sensible objects, appearances), they can exist in my mind as representations only if they satisfy the condition under which they exist together in one self-consciousness.
The representation “I think” is not the representation whose content is a specification or description of one’s own self or subject. Kant denies that we have any such representation, unless it is an empirical one: the representation of ourselves as we appear in inner sense. This, as we will see, is one of his main claims in the Paralogisms. Such an empirical representation, however, would make nothing to the present context, which is that of the pre-categorial, first personal unity of self-consciousness and of the very possibility of any representation.
In relation to the self or subject, what “I” stands for, however, we should say that “I think” is identification-free. It does not include any distinct description or specification of self or subject, which would allow making reference to it, to the I, as an object; that, as something on which we can have an independent cognitive take. The representational import of “I” in “I think” should rather be understood in terms of a first-personal conceptual perspective, under which representations are present. What takes the place of any identification of the subject is the indirect reflexive mode of presentation, the consciousness that we ourselves are thinking these representations. At the same time, the representation “I” in “I think” is not undetermined: to perform its function of qualitative, higher, a priori unity, it must be meaningfully related to myself, it must be individual (self-consciousness) and re-identifiable (one common consciousness).
The constitutive-existential condition, which is the ground of conceptual thinking, is therefore self-constituting.
(ii) Why first personal consciousness Kant does not only shift from objects to representations and from representational contents as of objects to manners in which objects are represented; but, more determinately, to the first-personal mode in which representations are present in the mind and to awareness. This is explained by Kant’s theoretical context, which is individuating a constitutive-existential ground of proof for the validity of the application to objects of a priori concepts.
The ground of proof for the validity of the application to objects of a priori concepts must be sought after in the fundamental unity deployed in thought and in intuition by all representations. This unity is pre-categorial: it is presupposed by the validity of categories. This means not only that it is subjective (as anything a priori is) but that it cannot consist in and be understood as any formal dimension of the constitution and specification of objects.
At this deepest, pre-categorial level of the Transcendental Logic, Kant is left with a characterization of a priori subjectivity only in the bare terms of the first-person and must reconstruct the a priori validity of the application of concepts to objects on the ground of a constitutive-existential condition framed only in first-personal terms. Pure apperception, primitive perception, the transcendental unity of self-consciousness, the pre-categorial subjectivity that comes to expression in “I think”, can only be first-personal, reducible to indirect reflexive manner of representation, because all the formal dimensions (space, time, categories) that otherwise articulate our thinking and cognizing subjectivity have been overstepped.
The “I think” can be the ground of a priori conceptualization and judgment and thereby of objective epistemic validity but only by not including anything objective itself: only the distinctness, identity, and authority of the first-personal perspective. This is also the thought that comes to the fore in Kant’s claim that “I think” is «an act of spontaneity»: it is not conditioned by any presupposed formal condition.
This also is an insight of self-constitution.
(iii) Logical status and constitutive role On the proposed, strictly first-personal and thin reading of Kant’s “I think”, the modal principle «The "I think" must accompany all my representations» turns out to be analytic. «This principle of the necessary unity of apperception is itself, indeed, an identical, and therefore analytic, proposition» (154-155), «this proposition […] is, as already stated, itself analytic. For it says no more than all my representations in any given intuition must be subject to that condition under which alone I can ascribe them to the identical self as my representations» (157). This is the Cartesian basis for Kant’s argument in the Transcendental Deduction: I am thinking; my thinking consists in my having representations; such representations would not be my representations if I were not conscious of them as mine (if consciousness of representations did not include self-consciousness); therefore, The “I think”, etc.
Notice this. The pre-categorial status of pure, or primitive, or transcendental subjectivity is the reason of its necessary and irreducible first-personal character; of its consisting of apperception or self-conscious thinking alone. However, “I think”, no matter how thinly representational and how strictly a matter of modes and not of objects of conception, must still be such as to make possible susceptible to re-identification and therefore to some form of individuality.
The first person (“I think”) thus includes a referential role, since it secures the relation of acts of thinking to their subject (to the subjective I). But only by referring to one self as “I” and with “I think”, rather than by any uniquely (even necessarily uniquely) satisfied description, the subject can relate to his thoughts so as to be conscious of them as his own and of himself as their subject. This means that self-reference in the first person, as it is deployed at the pre-categorial level, is not self-knowledge. At the same time, to perform its logical role, “I think”, fist-personal consciousness, must be the same in all acts of representation of a subject; and this means that it must be individual and first-personally individual. These mandatory features of the first person, taken together with its independence from acquaintance and description, point to a deep tension in Kant’s and ours conception of it, something in the area of the problems of emptiness and of indispensability.
(4) The Synthetic Unity of Apperception
The second dimension of the first-personal constitutive-existential condition, the ground of proof of the Transcendental Deduction, is explicitly self-constitutive. The analysis of the understanding delivers the conclusion that it is possible only if representations exist together in a common first-personal consciousness. This is the condition for subjects to engage in thinking with representations and for representations to belong to a subject. The sine qua non of understanding and of the unity of conjunctions.
We must see what can put in place a condition that satisfies this analysis, making it so that representations are first-personally mine and that the same “I think” characterizes their consciousness. This is strictly a question about existence: about the obtaining of a first personal condition. In this way we can parse Kant’s account of the ground of proof into a strictly constitutive dimension: the analysis of the pre-categorial unity of the conjunction of representations; and a strictly existential one: the obtaining of the conditions individuated by such analysis. The «identical, and therefore analytical» unity of apperception «explains» (manifests, expresses) the «necessity for a synthesis of the manifold», «without which the identity of self-consciousness would be incogitable» (154-155).
Such existential condition can only be identified as an act of synthesis, an «act of spontaneity» (154). The necessity of the first person, in the foundational context of the Transcendental Deduction, is not only formal or logical but transcendental: an act of synthesis, the consciousness of which can only be first-personal and, being first personal, can be unitary.
This universal identity of the apperception of the manifold given in intuition contains a synthesis of representations and is possible only by means of the consciousness of this synthesis. For the empirical consciousness which accompanies different representations is in itself fragmentary and disunited, and without relation to the identity of the subject. This relation, then, does not exist because I accompany every representation with consciousness, but because I join one representation to another, and am conscious of the synthesis of them. Consequently, only because I can connect a variety of given representations in one consciousness, is it possible that I can represent to myself the identity of consciousness in these representations; in other words, the analytical unity of apperception is possible only under the presupposition of a synthetical unity. The thought, "These representations given in intuition belong all of them to me," is accordingly just the same as, "I unite them in one self-consciousness, or can at least so unite them" (153-154)
This is Kant’s full insight of self-constitution. At the most fundamental, grounding level, the first person is articulated as a synthetic principle, a principle of intellectual agency or spontaneity, which makes sense of the “I think” as a necessary, analytic dimension of consciousness and of the understanding. The synthetic unity that underlies the unity of the analytic apperception is also essentially first-personal, but in an agential sense: it is my connecting representation, and my consciousness of my synthetic activity.
I am, therefore, conscious of my identical self, in relation to all the variety of representations given to me in an intuition, because I call all of them my representations. In other words, I am conscious myself of a necessary a priori synthesis of my representations, which is called the original synthetical unity of apperception, under which rank all the representations presented to me, but that only by means of a synthesis (155)
«The first pure knowledge of understanding, then, upon which is founded all its other exercise, and which is at the same time perfectly independent of all conditions of mere sensuous intuition, is the principle of the original synthetical unity of apperception» (156). This completes Kant’s construction of an a priori constitutive-existential condition relating to the subject of thinking and cognition (the understanding) rather than to objects give in sensible experience.
The idea of the first-personal synthetic unity of apperception is the culmination of Kant’s account of the a priori because it fully spells out its connection with subjectivity. Thinking and cognition are subjective in their highest-level, a priori conditions of possibility. The notion of subjectivity, however, is not that of a merely self-referential character or (even less) that of a restriction of thought and cognition to subjective seemings to the exclusion of objective reality (this would be empirical, not transcendental idealism).
The relevant notion of subjectivity, here, is the first personal one: what can ground the a priori dimension of discursive cognition is that any representation as such is included in first-personal consciousness or is present from the first-personal viewpoint, because any representation (this includes both intuitions and concepts) can only be of synthetic activity, of first personal intellectual agency. Ultimately, it is this agency, which is conditioned by but not grounded on sensibility that explains the a priori.
First personal intellectual agency and consciousness is all is left of the logical, theoretical domain, once we look for its pre-categorial conditions. Such first personal intellectual agency is what Kant calls spontaneity: this marks its link with the a priori and subjectivity (in the relevant sense). Kant characterizes the “I think” as an «act of spontaneity», but meaning primarily that it does not belong to sensibility (or, for that matter, to discursive cognition). But the spontaneity of the “I think” is grounded on the synthetic unity of apperception, in my being «conscious to myself a priori of a necessary synthesis of representations» - consciousness grounded on my very bringing about such synthesis (155). Self-constitution is the key explanatory notion of the a priori, of transcendental logic.
The spontaneity or self-constituting character of the synthetic activity of apperception also marks and restricts its character and contents. The synthetic activity, as we know, is through a priori concepts. At the transcendental pre-categorial level which we are considering, however, such concepts are only forms of thought: rather than referring to objects, «the synthesis or combination of the manifold in them relates only to the unity of apperception»; it is «at once transcendental and purely intellectual»; it is «the understanding, as spontaneity» (164). But if this is what is for the synthetic unity of apperception to be spontaneous, then its content, what we come to think of ourselves through it, is only my spontaneous activity. «I exist as an intelligence which is conscious solely of its power of combination» (169); «all that I can do is to represent to myself the spontaneity of my thought» (169 fn.). The threats of emptiness and of indispensability still loom.