considerations-regarding-apperception by xiaohuicaicai


									Considerations Regarding Apperception
Raleigh Miller
GSU, May 2008

                                    O. Introduction
To my reader‟s consideration, I offer two problems. Each of these problems is a center
for dispute in Kant scholarship.
       (1) The Sellars-McDowell Problem (henceforward SM):
       Sensible intuitions are subsumed under concepts such that they may be employed
       in judgments by the understanding. This raises the question of the status of
       sensible intuitions in the understanding. Properly speaking, do intuitions play a
       direct role in judging?     Sellars has resoundingly answered this question
       negatively, arguing that “sense-datum”, conceived as sensible impressions capable
       of entering directly into our judgments, are not epistemically efficacious. That is,
       there is no sensible “given”, experienced pre-conceptually by unacquired sensory
       abilities, that figures directly into our judgments. Alternatively, McDowell has
       suggested that sensible intuitions are always-already conceptually loaded, and as
       such they may properly figure into judgments employed in the understanding.
       This move is essential, says McDowell, in order to prevent our judgments from
       spinning in a frictionless void. By allowing perceptual contents to be always-
       already conceptual, we rescue Kant‟s epistemology from the threat of
       coherentism. Coherentism is the belief that to know X is to recognize X‟s
       consistency within an epistemic system. For McDowell, coherentism is prima
       facie unacceptable, because it provides no possibility of our judgments‟ making
       contact with the world, and consequently bearing on that world directly. The
       problem to which I draw attention is this: How are we to understand perceptual
       contents as Kantian sensible intuitions in such a way that allows for our
       perceptual access to the world to figure directly in judgments?

       (2) The Apperception Problem (henceforward AP):
       In the Transcendental Deduction, Kant outlines the principle of Synthetic Unity of
       Apperception. This principle offers the condition of the possibility of being a

       knowing subject at all. The manifold of appearances may be given solely in
       sensible intuition, (See B129) but before a manifold of appearance may be known
       as object there must be an original synthesis.        This synthesis upon sensible
       intuitions is the act of combining intuitions into a single manifold for a single,
       persisting, unified cognitive subject. Because this activity is a prerequisite for any
       cognition by a unified subject, and thus a prerequisite for experience, the activity
       cannot arise out of experience. This a priori synthesis is the central, foundational
       argument of Kant‟s project in the first critique. In the B-deduction, Kant
       explicitly writes, twice, that the principle of Synthetic Unity of Apperception is an
       analytic principle. That is, the synthetic unity of apperception is contained within
       the concept of a knower, a representer. Whether Kant was right about this latter
       claim is a matter of dispute. The problem: how are we to understand the act of
       combining intuitions into a unified manifold, represented as object, with respect to
       the minimal, conceptually necessary conditions of being a thinking subject?

This paper will not aim to resolve these disputes. Rather, I approach these problems as
problems. I suggest, without addressing the solubility of such perplexities, that the
problematic nature of SM and AP reflects a salient ambiguity within Kant‟s system, and
as such, a salient ambiguity within the very status of human beings qua knowers upon
which these competing positions are purported to shed light. More specifically, I will
suggest that the ambiguity to which AP draws our attention is fundamental to the
apperception principle, and fundamental to the status of human beings as knowers.
Understanding this ambiguity and its essentiality to our cognitive lives will provide a way
of approaching SM. That is, understanding how it is that apperception principle invites
dissent with respect to its analyticity will assist us in understanding the relationship
between perception and conceptualization which is at the heart of SM.
           The paper will proceed as follows. I will begin (Section I) by introducing the
project of the transcendental deduction and the role that the Apperception Principle plays
in the deduction. I will then draw attention to the passages in which Kant identifies the
Apperception Principle as an analytic principle, and I will comment on these passages.
Second, (Section II) I will relate a dispute over the status of the apperception principle as

analytic. The interlocutors will be Henry Allison, who defends the principle as analytic
and Paul Guyer, who argues for the principle‟s being synthetic. I will not aim to act
arbiter between these scholars, though I may not succeed in avoiding an indication of the
side to which I lean. My objective, however, will be to bring out the ambiguity upon
which their dispute rests, and to draw attention to that ambiguity as fundamental to the
structure and status of the apperception principle itself. In section III I will re-introduce
what I have called SM. I will present the positions of Sellars and Mcdowell, aiming to
draw attention to their fundamental disagreement.          My aim in characterizing this
disagreement will be to indicate its source, a source that it shares with the ambiguity of
the apperception principle. I will conclude (Section IV) by showing that my analysis of
AP can inform our encounter with SM, by virtue of a fundamental ambiguity which
provides the source for both problems, and which is fundamental to our status as
                        I. The Synthetic Unity of Apperception
       Descartes‟ foundationalist epistemology begins with a single proposition: “I
think.” Believing this to be indubitable, Descartes proceeds to a range of robust
metaphysical claims which he believes follows from “I think” with deductive certainty.
Kant‟s methodology in the deduction proceeds in a recognizable fashion, though we will
see that Kant‟s own exploitation of the “I think” is quite different from Descartes‟. For
Kant, the “I think” is indubitable not as a metaphysical claim (that there exists an I, such
that the I thinks) but rather the “I think” is a condition of the possibility of a
representation.   “It must be possible for the „I think‟ to accompany all my
representations; for otherwise something would be represented in me which could not be
thought at all..” (B131-2). Descartes concluded “I think” to be true, on the grounds that
to doubt that one thinks is to be thinking, making “I doubt that I think” a contradiction.
Kant would want to say something quite similar; doubting that one thinks is indeed a
contradiction, and for the same reason. But to proceed from here to the assertion that the
thinking I exists in itself is to move beyond the bounds of possible experience, as the
unified “I” is a noumena which cannot be given in experience. Instead, for Kant, the “I
think” is a condition, and all cognitive activity is conditioned upon it. The “I think” is the
condition for the possibility of experience. But to condition cognitive activity upon the “I

think” is to condition cognitive activity upon an “I” and the “I” is a unified subject.
Standing before the manifold of sensible intuitions, the cognitive subject experiences
objects, and those objects only become objects by virtue of a combination of sensible
intuition into a unity. This act of combination cannot be found in sensible intuition itself,
but is only possible by virtue of a synthesis of intuition by a unified subject. In order for
objects (combined unities of intuition) to exist to a unified subject is for them to exist for
a unified subject, or, as Kant writes, “[t]he thought that the representations given in
intuition one and all belong to me, is therefore equivalent to the thought that I unite them
in one self-consciousness” (B134). To experience a unity of intuitions as an object is to
experience a single unity of a manifold of intuitions as presented to a unified self. We
recall that for Descartes a unified I (that is, one which exists in itself) is a pre-requisite for
thinking. Kant‟s refinement of this principle is to say that the experience of a unified I, a
self-consciousness, is a pre-requisite for representing. This “transcendental ground of the
unity of consciousness in the synthesis of the manifold of all our intuitions” (A106) is
called transcendental apperception. This ground is the combining of intuitions into a
single unified manifold, an object, and that combining is not to be found in the intuition
itself. This combination is only possible by virtue of an act upon intuitions by the
understanding. The province of the understanding is judgment.                   In the act of
understanding that we have been elucidating, what is produced is not already contained in
intuitions but is only possible by an addition, a combining; it is called synthetic. For this
reason, “the supreme principle of the …possibility [of all intuition] in its relation to the
understanding is that all manifold intuition should be subject to conditions of the original
synthetic unity of the apperception”(B136). The apperception principle, as I have been
calling it, is the fundamental condition of the possibility of experience. The mind is
capable of a synthetic act by which intuitions are combined into a unified manifold of
        Kant argues that the principle of synthetic unity of apperception, outlined above,
is an analytic principle. He makes this explicit twice in the text of the B-deduction. Both
passages containing this claim follow:

        This principle of the necessary unity of apperception is itself, indeed, an identical,

       and therefore analytic, proposition; nevertheless it reveals the necessity of a
       synthesis of the manifold given in intuition, without which the thoroughgoing
       identity of self-consciousness cannot be thought. For through the „I‟ as simple
       representation, nothing manifold is given; only in intuition, which is distinct from
       the „I‟, can a manifold be given; and only through combination in one
       consciousness can it be thought. (B 135)

       Although this proposition makes synthetic unity a condition of all thought, it is, as
       already stated, itself analytic. For it says no more than that 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, and so can comprehend
       them as synthetically combined in one apperception through the general
       expression, „I think‟. (B138)

The principle of synthetic unity of apperception is said here to be an analytic principle.
That is, to say that a cognitive subject, qua cognitive subject, acts upon intuitions through
the understanding by combining a disparate manifold of intuitions into unified objects is
to merely unpack the concept of a cognitive, representing subject. For the subject to be
cognitive, she must combine intuitions into unified objects in order to form thoughts
concerning those representations. They must be her representations, and their being her
representations requires the synthetic act of the understanding upon those intuitions.
       How are we to understand the concepts of analysis and synthesis at work in this
claim? In the introduction to the deduction, Kant submits that:

       …[a representation] is originally one and is equipollent for all combination, and
       that its dissolution, namely, analysis, which appears to be its opposite, yet always
       presupposes it. For where the understanding has not previously combined, it
       cannot dissolve, since only as having been combined by the understanding can
       anything that allows of analysis be given to the faculty of representation. (B130)

Analysis is the dissolution of a concept into its constituent parts. In order for a concept to
be analyzed, it must be present to the understanding primarily as a synthetic unity of
disparate concepts. We cannot dissolve the concept of bachelor into its constituent parts
(unmarried, male, adult, human, etc.) unless we possess the concept of bachelor as
synthesis of those constituent parts. If the principle of synthetic unity of apperception is
an analytic principle it suggests that we have the synthetic concept of a cognitive subject
as that which synthetically unifies the manifold of intuitions into an object originally,

such that the concept may be dissolved into its constituent parts. The analyticity of the
principle requires a prior synthesis of the concept of cognitive subject as acting upon the
manifold of intuitions in this way. We must understand the apperception principle
combining representations that are originally distinct. The child who asks what a
bachelor is and learns that a bachelor is unmarried only has learned a synthetic truth
insofar as she has learned something about a word. Her learning that unmarried males
are unmarried would be analytic, though her learning that the word “bachelor” means
such and such, or that such and such is called a “bachelor” is synthetic. By claiming that
the principle of synthetic unity of apperception is an analytic principle, Kant does not rule
out our learning that a cognitive agent necessarily acts upon a manifold of intuitions by
combining them into a unified representation as her representation. Rather, Kant will
say, the principle of synthetic unity of apperception shows us, just as no man can be a
bachelor but for being unmarried, by virtue of the nature of our bachelor concept, so
should we recognize that our concept of a cognitive agent requires, by virtue of
everything already recognized in our understanding of a cognitive agent, that no
organism could be such an agent but for their capacity to combine a manifold of
intuitions into a unified representation of an object.
           But this should not entirely satisfy us. There is indeed something quite strange
in the idea that in establishing the apperception principle as identifying the conditions for
the possibility of a thinking subject, we are simply parsing out the already present
constituents of our already full-bodied concept of a thinking subject.             This very
strangeness has inspired scholarly discussion over the merit of the claim that the
apperception principle is analytic. I turn to this discussion in the following section.
    In this section I have introduced the principle of the synthetic unity of apperception
as the fundamental condition of the possibility of the understanding, as possessed by a
cognitive agent. I have introduced Kant‟s claim, and his argument for the claim, that the
principle of synthetic unity of apperception is an analytic principle. Below I will turn to
the scholarly discussion over whether this is the appropriate status to assign to this
fundamental principle.
                       II. The Analyticity of Kant’s Fundamental
                      Principle of the Possibility of Understanding

       In this section I will consider two arguments advanced in response to AP. The
arguments that I will consider, respectively advanced by Paul Guyer and Henry Allison,
react to Kant‟s B-deduction claim that the principle of synthetic unity of apperception is
an analytic principle. Kant argues that the principle by which we claim that any cognitive
agent engages in a synthesis of a manifold of intuitions an analytic principle. That is, to
discover that a cognitive subject engages in such combination is simply to unpack what is
already contained within the concept of a representing thinking subject.
     Paul Guyer rejects this argument, and does so quite bluntly:

       But isn‟t the interpretation of Kant‟s principle of apperception as synthetic
       precluded by his own repeated assertion that the “principle of the necessary unity
       of apperception is itself indeed an identical, therefore analytical proposition”
       (B135; cf B 138)? No, for his assertion is false. (Guyer 208)

           On what grounds are we to reject Kant‟s explicit characterization of his own
principle? According to Guyer, the B-deduction establishes “the a priori certainty of the
numerical identity of the self.”(Ibid.) That is, Kant is justified in taking it as a priori, as a
proper condition of the possibility of experience, that representations occur within a
single self, and that this self persists over time through its heterogeneous representations.
If we are to move from this to the proposition that the agent engages in a combining
synthesis of disparate intuitions into objects in a manifold, there are two ways that we
could understand this latter claim. First, we could understand the principle of synthetic
unity of apperception “as the conceptual truth that whatever representations one ascribes
to oneself must be ascribed to the same continuing set of representations to which belong
all other representations ascribed to oneself” (Ibid). This is simply to say that any of my
representations must belong to the set of my representations, just as any X must belong to
the set of all X's. This straightforwardly analytic claim does not have the capacity to
yield any interesting inferences. If this is indeed the analytic principle that Kant is
pointing to, we would rightly wonder with Henry Allison, how it is "that this principle is
not sterile." As the crux of the transcendental dialectic, the apperception principle had
better be the sort of thing from which we may infer nontrivial conclusions. This trivially
analytic reading of the apperception principle does not amount to the robust claim of the

deduction, that the same “self” which persists in the reception of intuitions likewise
engages in a synthetic combination of those intuitions into the objects of the manifold.
This reading of the apperception principle is clearly unacceptable.
       Alternatively, Guyer suggests, we could understand the apperception principle as
“the very different proposition that no matter what representations one has, one will
always be capable of self-ascribing them” (208). Insofar as one is capable of self-
ascribing representations, it must be the case that those representations are combined into
a synthetic manifold. Thus, this understanding of the apperception principle is properly
robust for the grounding of the apperception principle. But, as Guyer points out, this
proposition is no longer analytically contained within the apperception principle. To
move from the unity of the single representing subject to the capacity of ascribing any
representation to oneself is a genuinely synthetic move. Surely Guyer is right about this;
we assume of many representers that they are incapable of self ascription, such as infants
and animals. Further, we know of many representations that they occur in subjects that
cannot ascribe the representation to themselves because they are unaware of the
representation, such as unconscious drives. If Kant is claiming that every representation
occurs under the condition such that the particular subject in which the representation
occurs may consciously ascribe the representation to a single unified self, then surely we
must reject, not only that the apperception principle is analytic, but that it is plausible.
Guyer's complaint is "that Kant does not confine himself to the inference from the self-
ascribability of particular representations to the satisfaction of the conditions for their self
ascription by those representations, but instead commits himself to the quite distinct,
synthetic proposition that whatever is to count as a representation at all must be fit for
self ascription." The distinction Guyer draws is between two formulations of the
apperception principle, found in B135 and B138 quoted above. Guyer likens the B135
formulation as akin to the properly analytic but argumentatively empty version suggested
above. In B138, Guyer suggests, Kant moves to the synthetic claim that all my
representations must be subject to the conditions of apperception. On this reading, Kant
rules out the possibility of a representation occurring within a subject that is incapable of
       I will suggest below that Guyer raises an important question that is worthy of our

consideration, but for now I want to point out an ambiguity that may prove problematic to
his account. Guyer makes frequent use of the concept of "capability." He represents
Kant as claiming in B138 that I must be capable of self-ascription. But it is important to
read Kant carefully, and not to ascribe to him views that his text does not justify. We note
that Kant never makes reference to capability, or any proper synonym. Rather, where
Guyer takes Kant to be talking about capability, he is talking about possibility. According
to the B138 formulation of the principle, all of my representations “must be subject to
that condition under which alone I can ascribe them” to myself. This is not to say that I,
or any representing subject, must be capable of ascribing them to myself (itself), but
merely says that the representation must satisfy the conditions under which a
representation could possibly be self-ascribed. Being extended in space is a condition
under which something might be a square. Likewise, the possibility of an object‟s being
being a window is subject to the same condition, extension. Thus, in order for something
to be a square it must be subject to that condition, extension, under which alone
something can be a window. This is not to say that all squares are windows or vis versa,
but simply to say that a general condition of extension in space is a prerequisite for any
thing's being a square or a window, and that being extended in space is conceptually
contained within both squareness and windowness. Allison makes this explicit:

       This principle affirms only the necessity of the possibility of attaching the 'I think',
       not the necessity of actually doing so. In other words, it does not affirm that I
       must actually perform a reflective act in order to represent (think) anything.
       (Allison 137; my emphasis)

In order to have any representation, the representation must have the proper form such
that it may be self-ascribed by a single unified persisting subject. That is, the possibility
for self ascription is a condition for the possibility of representation. Representations, in
order to be representations, must be subject to that possibility. That is not to say they
must be self-ascribed, but rather that they must have the form of a thing which could
possibly be ascribed. Suppose you unconsciously desire to sleep with your mother. You
cannot ascribe your desire to sleep with your mother to yourself, because you do not have
conscious access to your representation. However, your unconscious desire has a
propositional content: “that I sleep with my mother.” This is the sort of thing that could

be consciously self-ascribed by a single unified subject, though it may rarely be so
ascribed. The claim of the apperception principle is that this very possibility, the
possibility of ascribing a representation to a single unified subject, is precisely the sort of
thing that makes a representation a representation.
       We may be yet unsatisfied; we may think that this formulation of the apperception
principle lies too closely to the analytic but impotent formulation that Guyer formulates
above. And indeed, we may have a hard time getting away from this worry entirely.
Allison comments on the “perplexing” feature of the Transcendental Deduction, such that
Kant “in spite of his insistence on the analyticity of the principle of the necessary unity or
identity of apperception, he also maintains that this principle is not sterile.” How are we
to understand the productivity of the apperception principle as compatible with its
analyticity? Of a cognitive subject for whom the manifold is given, it is conceptually
necessary that the givenness of that manifold is subject to the conditions of the
representation of the manifolds being thought by a single, unified, persisting subject. That
is, representations to a cognitive subject must be of the form that they can possibly be
thought, which requires the idea of a multiplicity of representations grasped as a single
unity. Without the possibility of such unification in self-consciousness, we would not be
able to have a thought.
       That is, for a single complex thought to occur in a single subject, in which a
number of disparate representations are unified into a single object, it must be the case
that a single “I think” can possibly be attached to the different representations which are
to figure into to the representation of the thought. In order for it to be possible that a
single “I think” can be attached to different representations, it must “possible [even if not
actual] for this thinking subject to be aware of the numerical identity of the 'I think'”
(Allison 138; my addition in brackets). The upshot? The representation of a single
complex thought already contains the possible representation of a single unified subject
in which disparate intuitions may be combined into objects which may be the subject of
such a thought.
       It will be clear that I am more sympathetic with Allison's account than Guyer's,
but I emphasize that this is not the goal in this paper. The preceding is offered not as a
refutation of Guyer or a defense of Allison, but instead as a relation of a particular

dispute within Kant scholarship which must be confronted. I want to now divert from the
particular accounts that I have been considering and to discuss a basic ambiguity
concerning the apperception principle. I will exploit this ambiguity in considering the
Sellars-Mcdowell problem discussed above. In what follows, I will draw out this
ambiguity and emphasize its implications by back-tracking some, and considering the
goal of Kant's project as a whole.
       Kant's project in the first Critique is to establish how we may have objective
knowledge of material nature. Particularly, Kant is responding to the empiricism of David
Hume. By limiting our proper epistemology to ideas and impressions, Hume established
that empirical a posteriori knowledge can never give us proper epistemological
justification for claims regarding regularities in the natural world Kant's transcendental
project aim's to establish certain forms of regularity (embodied in the categories of the
understanding). Such categories may properly figure into judgments, not because we
know them through experience, but because in their absence no experience is possible.
As the categories cannot arise out of experience (because, to the contrary, experience
rises out of the categories) these principles are a priori, but as they provide the
conceptual machinery to make substantive claims about nature that transcend conceptual
analysis, they are synthetic. The task of the transcendental deduction is to justify our
employment of the categories as conditions for the possibility of experience. The
apperception principle is that justification. Consider the quantitative categories of unity,
plurality, and totality. How do we come to know that such ideas apply to the natural
world? As the apperception principle establishes, in order for the thinking subject to have
the beginnings of a concept of the world, the subject must first be able to unify disparate
intuitions into objects, such that objects may appear as represented to a single unified
subject, in which thoughts concerning such objects may be thought. Thus, we may see
without much difficulty how the categories of unity, plurality, and totality are already
implied in the conditions of a thinking subject. Thus, insofar as knowledge of material is
sought by thinking subjects, it is necessarily sought in accordance with the structure of
the categories, which are in turn implied by the conditions of a single thinking subject.
       The debate above considers the status of the apperception principle itself. That is,
it asks whether the possibility of the unification of disparate intuitions into a single

unified object for consideration by a single unified subject is analytically contained in the
idea of a representation, or else requires the additional information that such
representation occurs in such-and-such a way. That is, when we seek to understand the
subject as that which can capably combine intuitions into objects, do we go further than
what is immediately supplied by the concept of a subject as such, or do we add to the
concept something not yet contained within it. I submit that what is at stake is friction;
the question we ask ourselves when considering the status of the apperception principle
regards friction faced by our conceptual system.
       We may ask of a bachelor whether he is married. To answer this question we need
not consult experience, for we have already answered our question by employing the
concept of the bachelor. Our judgment is frictionless; it need not run up against the
world, but need only consider the interplay of players in a semantic game. On the other
hand, suppose we ask of a given bachelor whether he is tall. This we are not capable of
answering until we know something additional about the bachelor, namely his height. We
must consult the experience, and our hypothesis “that this bachelor is tall” is falsifiable
by a real bachelor in the real world. This synthetic proposition runs up against the world;
it encounters friction. It necessarily looks outside of its conceptual system in order to
verify or falsify its propositional content.
       Consider, now, the story told by Kant's epistemology. We experience sensible
intuitions, and we encounter an external world via these receptive impressions. These
intuitions are made possible by the a priori forms of intuition, space and time. When
these intuitions are received, they are organized by the understanding into concepts which
may figure into judgments. This organization is made possible by the categories of the
understanding, which structure the experienced world (and as such, are synthetic) in
accordance with the conditions of any possible experience. That is, the condition of the
activity of the understanding is a synthesis, by which a manifold of receptive intuitions
are combined into unified objects as perceived by unified thinking subjects. But what are
we to say of the status of these thinking subjects as the sorts of things which combine
intuitions into unified objects, which stands as the condition of the possibility of the
understanding's encountering the world as organized according to the formal restraints of
the categories of intuition? Are we to say that their status as potentially synthetic agents,

who combine intuitions into objects, is contained within the concept of their being
thinking agents at all? Or are we to say that their being such subjects is to be a thinking
agent in a particular way, and thus to add to the concept of a thinking agent simpliciter.
We ought to be conflicted in this dilemma, given considerations above. If the capacity of
the thinking agent to combine intuitions into representations that appear to the subject as
unified objects is contained within the sole concept of a thinking subject, that is, if it is
analytic, then the basic fact underlying my identity as a thinking subject is the
consequence of the interplay of concepts, and need not look to the world for its
falisification or verification. The fundamental principle that underlies our capacity for
thought presents itself as the frictionless consequence of unpacking potentially impotent
conceptual presuppositions. On the other hand, if to say this of the unified thinking
subject, that it is the sort of thing that combines intuitions into objects of understanding,
is to give additional information our deliberations on what it is to be a thinking subject,
then the transcendental deduction demands of itself a deduction. By what right to we say
such to be true of the thinking subject if not by conceptual necessity? In the face of such a
difficulty, we seem to have two options. First, we could say that this information is given
of the thinking subject via the experience of the thinking subject. This will clearly be
unacceptable, as it will fall to Hume's classic criticism and will run contrary to Kant's
goal of establishing the a priori conditions of thought. Second, we could posit that we are
justified in saying of the thinking subject that he experiences the world as unified in
apperception simply because the consequence of such a supposition is the vindication of
successful predictive practices in the sciences. This, however, would be to beg the
question against the Humean, who doubts our epistemological justification for such
assumptions of regularity. We cannot justify a scientific epistemology with a principle
whose justification is that it properly justifies scientific epistemology.
       I suggest that the dilemma of AP reveals to us a fundamental ambiguity of the
basic ontology of the human thinking subject, and the fact that this ambiguity is reflected
in the apperception principle itself is appropriate. Recall that Allison's criticism of
Guyer's argument that the apperception principle is synthetic was grounded in a
confusion. The confusion was rooted in an ambiguity between the capable and the
possible, particularly with respect to thought (pertaining to the unified object as actified

by a unified thinking subject). While Guyer reads Kant as saying that any thought must
correspond to a subject who is capable of attributing the thought to themselves, Allison
insists (rightly, I think) that the representation should instead be of the form such that it is
possible to attach the 'I think' to the representation. In a similar spirit, we might inquire
after the fundamental justification (the answer to the most basic quid juris?) of the
capacity of the subject to have knowledge pertaining to material nature. We inquire
whether such knowledge must engage with material nature herself, or must simply have
the appropriate form such that it could possibly stand as knowledge of an actual material
nature by a cognitive subject. If the former, we risk transcendental illusion; if the latter,
we risk spinning in a frictionless void. I liken this to the Kant's famous antimonies. I
suggest, perhaps prematurely, that it may be a more fundamental antinomy, a more basic
level at which human reason conflicts with itself. I suggest that the ambiguous nature of
the apperception principle, such that it admits of substantive disputes over whether the
principle is analytic or synthetic, reveals a fundamental ambiguity in the nature of a
human knower and their engagement with material nature. In what follows, I exploit this
ambiguity to address another dispute between John McDowell and Wilfred Sellars.
                  III.   Intuitions, Givenness, and Pure Apperception
       In this section I will be discussing a well-known dispute over the nature of
sensible intuitions. Above, I have labeled this dispute SM (the Sellars-Mcdowell
problem). I will be briefly outlining the argumentative structures of each of these well
known writers, and then swiftly moving on to what I take to be what is fundamentally at
stake in such a dispute. I will then attempt to show how my previous analysis of the
ambiguous nature of the human cognitive subject (as revealed by the fundamental
ambiguity of the apperception principle) can inform our encounter with SM.
       Wilfred Sellars‟ seminal lecture, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, draw
attention to a paradox. This paradox, it is alleged, is brought about unavoidably by the
belief in a pure sensible given which can figure in judgments. Sellars identifies this
purported given as “sense-datum,” sensible insofar as it is given by the senses and datum
by virtue of being the sort of thing that can be epistemologically salient. That is, the
allegation of the sense datum theorist is that a pure given sense-content can figure into
knowledge and thus judgments. If we acknowledge purely given sense datum as being

capable of occupying such an epistemological role, we must assume that one comes to
know things non-inferentially by encountering sensible intuitions of the world. That is,
one comes to know that X is red non-inferentially by experiencing an immediate red
sense-datum in X. Sellars submits that this draws us into the following “inconsistent

          A. x senses red sense content s entails x non-inferentially knows that s is red.
          B. The ability to sense sense contents is unacquired.
          C. The ability to know facts of the form x is ø is acquired. (Sellars §6)

          Rejecting A sacrifices the notion that immediate sense datum can figure directly
into knowledge of the world. Rejecting B, sacrifices epistemological specialness of the
given as fundamental datum from which we construct beliefs. Finally, to reject C is to
collapse into rationalism, and this is unacceptable. Sense-datum theorists are wrapped up
in empiricism; indeed the positing of sense-datum is alleged to ground an empiricist
epistemology. Sellars‟ goal is to argue that whatever qualifies as pure immediate given,
that which is non-inferentially gathered by the mind through the unacquired abilities of
the senses, cannot play any role in our judgments as cognitive agents. That is, we cannot
come to know anything through the given. That which has the qualities of immediate
sensible givenness is outside the space of reasons. The sort of knowledge we are
purported to gain from sense-data, namely observational knowledge that X is thus-and-
so, “presupposes that one knows general facts of the form X is a reliable symptom of Y.
And to admit this requires an abandonment of the traditional empiricist idea that
observational knowledge „stands on its own feet‟” (Sellars §36). To take an object to be
Y by virtue of Y‟s reliable correspondence with sense-datum X is to move outside the
realm (if such a realm exists) of non-inferential knowledge, and it begins to look as if the
only knowledge which is respectable as knowledge is the inferential awareness of the
object as Y by virtue of sense datum X.       A distinction is to be drawn between the seeing
of a red triangle, something that any seeing subject may do and which has no
epistemological commitments, and the seeing of X as a red triangle, which involves
conceptual capacities. “The essential point is that in characterizing an episode or a state
as that of knowing, we are not giving an empirical description of that episode or state; we

are placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what
one says. (Ibid.)   As Mcdowell reformulates Sellars argument,
        …the conceptual apparatus we employ when we place things in the logical space
        of reasons is irreducible to any conceptual apparatus does not serve to place things
        in the logical space of reasons. So the master thought as it were draws a line:
        above the line are placings in the logical space of reasons, and below it are
        characterizations that do not do that…Sellars is also concerned to warn against a
        particular philosophical pitfall, namely, the temptation to suppose, of certain
        below-the-line-characterizations, that they can fulfill tasks that can, in fact, be
        fulfilled only by above-the-line characterizations. (McDowell (1998) 433).

The logical space of reasons being referred to is the space of conceptual involvement. It
is the space of understanding, in which intuitions have been subsumed under concepts
such that they may figure into judgments.         The space of reasons is the space of
spontaneity, in which “conceptual capacities are essentially exercisable in judging” (Ibid.
        Mcdowell is quite sympathetic with Sellars criticism of givenness. Mcdowell and
Sellars are on the same side, contra the sense-datum theorist aims to carve out an
epistemological space that is alleged to be both pre-conceptual and epistemologically
salient. Mcdowell will agree that in order to judge that the object is a red triangle, the
subject must take the object to be red and triangular, which is to involve conceptual
capacities. Mcdowell differs from Sellars, however, in the drawing a distinction “above
the line” and a “below the line” representations, one of which may figure into knowledge
and one of which may not. To the contrary, Mcdowell wants to expand the space of
reasons to include perceptual contents, the alleged grounding of givenness. That is,
Mcdowell argues that all perceptual experiences are always already fully imbued with
conceptual content. We may consider Mcdowell‟s reasons for making such a claim.
First, we seem to have the ability, immediately upon perceiving a red triangle, to
adjudicate our representations, and to ask ourselves whether or not they are properly
representative of the actual world. That is, we ask ourselves “is there actually a red
triangle there?” Our perceptual contents are subject to revision and reconsideration, but
only judgments may be true or false, and consequently only judgments may be taken to
be false and revised. Thus, our experience of the object, insofar as we are immediately
capable of revising our commitment to the object as a red triangle, must be immediately

wrapped up in the conceptual representation by which it is seen as a red triangle. We
note that when we ask ourselves whether what is before us is a red triangle, it is not only
our conceptualization of the object as thus-and-so that we are bringing under question. It
is, rather, the perceptual representation itself that stands under scrutiny. The condition of
possibility of such scrutiny, claims Mcdowell, is that the representation stands already
under the understanding, is already conceptualized. That is, the representation itself,
what the sense-datum theorist would have us take as the pre-conceptual given, is
conceptually loaded.
       I take the essential dispute between Sellars and Mcdowell to be something like the
following. As thinking subjects we are the sorts of things that engage in judgements,
which involve concepts as produced by the spontaneity of the understanding. However,
as “all our knowledge begins with experience” (B1), the concepts employed by the
understanding in the formation of judgments require a subsumption of intuitions into the
relevant concepts. What is at stake is the status of sensible intuitions with respect to pure
perceptual experience, and how we are to make sense of the employment of intuitions as
concepts in judgments. Sellars exclusion of perceptual contents by excluding them from
the space of reasons, thus forbidding the inclusion of a pure sensible given into our
conceptual judgments, seeks to save the Kantian story of the cognitive employment of the
understanding from unintelligibility.     That is, Sellars fears that we must relegate
judgment only to the clearly conceptual apparatus of the understanding, and refuse to
entertain judgments that allege to derive their contents from pure intuitions. We must do
this, at pain of confusing our epistemological story with unacquired fundamentally simple
givens, whose connection to judgment remains obscure. McDowell, by contrast, sees in
this the threat of coherentism, such that the system of our knowledge knowledge becomes
“a spinning frictionless void” (McDowell (1994) 11). Our pure sensible intuitions must
be able to figure into our judgments, simply because our knowledge about the world must
be about the world. Thus, rather than embracing Sellars eliminative approach to the
given, which demands that any talk of a basic sensible givenness be eliminated from our
judgments, McDowell advances a revisionist account of our intuitive capacities, showing
that sensible intuitions are already in a robust engagement with the understanding, such
that our perceptual receptivity of the world necessarily involves our conceptual apparatus.

                                     IV. The Two Problems
       I have outlined two problems in Kant scholarship, and I have promised an account
of how the proposed solutions to these problems may inform one another. In this section
I offer my suggestion: that an understanding of the basic ambiguity at work in the dispute
over the analyticity of the apperception principle (AP), which in turn reflects the basic
ambiguity of our status as cognitive agents, should inform our engagement with the
dispute over the relationship between our conceptual apparatus and our perceptual
contents (SM).
       Both of the problems that I have outlined ultimately rest on a fundamental
question of the relationship between mind and world. How is it that our cognitive acts
can be properly intentional? That is, how can they reach outside of the mind and its
cognitive processes in order to be about the world? The apperception principle, which
affirms that the cognitive subject represents disparate intuitions as unified as an object
that as perceived by a single unified persisting I, presents the fundamental premise from
which we may establish the regulative principles such that we perceive the world as
ordered according to principles of regularity. This fundamental observation about the
status of the cognitive subject makes our knowledge about material nature possible. The
analyticity of the principle, as affirmed by Kant and defended by Allison, suggests that
human subjects, qua thinking subjects, simply are, by conceptual necessity, beings that
encounter the world in such a way. However, as I have shown, the argument that the
apperception principle is analytic, while strong, is not indubitably established. In order to
derive substantive claims about the regularity of the world from a particular
characterization of the thinking subject may require that such a characterization be a
substantive addition to our concept of such a subject.         This shows a fundamental
ambiguity in the basic nature of a cognitive agent. It is unclear, merely on the basis of
lived experience, whether we are the sorts of cognitive beings we are merely by virtue of
being cognitive beings, or by virtue of being cognitive beings in a particular way. That
we are the sorts of beings who synthesize intuitions into a manifold requires our
conceptual involvement of the understanding in our encountering of material nature. The
pure sensibility by which we encounter the manifold of intuitions provides the necessary
condition, but not the sufficient condition for our being thinking subjects. In order to be

such subjects, we act upon the manifold of intuitions via a combining act of synthesis, in
order to represent such intuitions as unified in objects, which form the basis for our
conceptualization. Perceptual contents are the fundamental datum by which we receive
such intuitions, but such contents may not provide the foundation for our judgments
concerning the regularity of material nature unless those contents themselves are
structured such that they may properly figure into judgments, which is to say they must
be conceptual. Whether such contents are conceptually loaded is left ambiguous by a
fundamental ambiguity in our status as cognitive subjects. If we may properly assert the
apperception principle to be true of ourselves by virtue of no other fact than that we are
representers, our capacity to brush up against the world through our judgments, to
encounter friction, is unclear. The assignment of analyticity to the fundamental principle
from which we derive our capacity, even our inescapable tendency, to order the world
according to regularities in nature, suggests that the conceptual apparatus by which we
organize the world according to such regularities is absent from the perceptual contents
themselves, and we thus are at a loss to explain how such pure sensibility can properly
figure into judgments.     On the other hand, should we assert that the apperception
principle is synthetic, and thus acknowledge that for us to be combining cognitive
subjects is for us to be cognitive subjects in a particular way, and for us to be such
subjects by virtue of no conceptual necessity but instead simply by virtue of things being
the way they are, we could begin to forge our understanding of perceptual contents as
allowing for their being originally conceptualized. We may thus find a way to show that
our judgments encounter the friction we seek. Insofar as the principle that identifies the
cognitive subject as the sort of subject that unifies intuitions into objects is a synthetic
judgment, it emerges that our experience of our being cognitive subjects in such and such
a way is a particular experience of the actual self in the actual world being in a particular
kind of being. Insofar as this claim involves conceptual apparatus as applied to a basic
substantive truth about our fundamental nature as cognitive beings, we may be able to
ground the ways in which our perceptual experiences of the world are genuinely
       As was argued above, the apperception principle is ambiguous in its status as
synthetic or analytic. By affirming it as analytic, we risk coherentism. By affirming it as

synthetic, we risk transcendental illusion.     This conflict of reason with itself has
consequences, as I hope to have shown, for our understanding of perceptual contents as
either relevant (by virtue of being conceptual) or irrelevant (by virtue of their being pre-
conceptual intuitions which do not have the proper form to figure in judgments) to
conceptual judgments as enacted by the understanding. We are left with a provisional
agnosticism, both with respect to the problems I‟ve outlined and to the solubility of such
problems. I take this provisional grey area in which we find ourselves to demonstrate a
fundamental antinomy, a conflict of reason with itself, pertaining to the fundamental
nature of the cognitive subject by virtue of nothing other than being a cognitive subject.

                                       Works Cited

Mcdowell, John. (1998) “Having the World in View: Sellars, Kant, and
        Intentionality.” The Journal of Philosophy. Volume XCV, No. 9. pp.
Mcdowell, John. (1994) Mind and World. Harvard University Press.
        Cambridge, MA.
Kant, Immanuel. (2003) Critique of Pure Reason . (trans. Kemp-Smith, Norman).
        Palgrave MacMillan, Hampshire.
Sellars, Wilfred. (1956) “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind.” Minnesota
        Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Volume I: The Foundations of
        Science and the Concepts of Psychology and Psychoanalysis (Eds. Feigl,
        Herbert and Scriven, Michael) University of Minnesota Press, pp. pp. 253-
Allison, Henry E. (1983) Kant’s Transcendental Idealism. Yale University Press.
        New Haven and London.
Guyer, Paul. (1980) “Kant on Apperception and A priori Synthesis.” American
        Philosophical Quarterly. Volume 17, Number 3. pp.205-212


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