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Kant and the Subject of Critique: On the Regulative Role of the Psychological Idea

Kant and the Subject of Critique: On the Regulative Role of the Psychological Idea

by Avery Goldman

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Immanuel Kant is strict about the limits of self-knowledge: our inner sense gives us only appearances, never the reality, of ourselves. Kant may seem to begin his inquiries with an uncritical conception of cognitive limits, but in Kant and the Subject of Critique, Avery Goldman argues that, even for Kant, a reflective act must take place before any judgment


Immanuel Kant is strict about the limits of self-knowledge: our inner sense gives us only appearances, never the reality, of ourselves. Kant may seem to begin his inquiries with an uncritical conception of cognitive limits, but in Kant and the Subject of Critique, Avery Goldman argues that, even for Kant, a reflective act must take place before any judgment occurs. Building on Kant’s metaphysics, which uses the soul, the world, and God as regulative principles, Goldman demonstrates how Kant can open doors to reflection, analysis, language, sensibility, and understanding. By establishing a regulative self, Goldman offers a way to bring unity to the subject through Kant’s seemingly circular reasoning, allowing for critique and, ultimately, knowledge.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"... original, interesting, important...." —Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"... original, interesting, important...." —Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Journal of the History of Philosophy

"Goldman deserves credit for providing a sustained and resourceful argument that shows the importance of the notion of the subject for comprehending Kant’s transcendental method. For this reason, the present volume should interest both Kant scholars and those interested in the German idealist tradition." —Journal of the History of Philosophy

David Farrell Krell

"Kant is strict about the limits of self-knowledge: our inner sense give us only appearances—never the reality—of ourselves. Avery Goldman shows lucidly and brilliantly how the regulative use of a psychological idea—the idea of a critical, thinking self—can resolve this paradox." —David Farrell Krell, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität

Bernard Freydberg

"Original and expertly executed.... the regulative idea of the soul both makes possible the undertaking of critique and follows from it." —Bernard Freydberg, Duquesne University

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Indiana University Press
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Studies in Continental Thought Series
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6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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Kant and the Subject of Critique

On The Regulative Role of the Psychological Idea

By Avery Goldman

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2012 Avery Goldman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35711-3


The Ideas of Reason

I. The Subject of Critique

What, in the end, does Kant have to say about the self, the subject as the locus of both cognition and action, the I whose reason tends toward both theoretical and practical pursuits? Such a question is more elusive than one might expect from a writer who so carefully addresses the intricwacies of our cognitive faculties. The difficulty of such a task, as well as Kant's ambivalence toward it, is summed up in the opening pages of his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht), where he explains:

He who ponders natural phenomena, for example, what the causes of the faculty of memory [Erinnerungsvermögen] rest on, can speculate back and forth (like Descartes) over the traces of impressions remaining in the brain, but in doing so he must admit that in this play of his representations he is a mere spectator [bloßer Zuschauer] and must let nature run its course, for he does not know the cranial nerves and fibers, nor does he understand how to put them to use for his purposes.

Even after the exhaustive analysis of the cognitive faculties undertaken in the three critiques, the workings of the mind remain elusive. Kant explains that we cannot trace our sensory experience to its source, offering the example of the faculty of memory, but his point is intended more generally: the attempt to examine our thought is confounded by the problem that we can only speculate on the sources of that which appears, and doing so, Kant concludes, is a "pure waste of time."

More than two hundred years after Kant offered this criticism of what he calls "physiological anthropology" in his Anthropology, corresponding to empirical psychology in the Critique of Pure Reason, there has no doubt been progress made in the way that we are able to investigate the mind and so map its varied powers. Yet Kant's criticism of empirical psychology is not that he found himself in the unfortunate position of lacking some data or tool that could at some later point be found, offering a solution for the vexing difficulties concerning self-knowledge; rather, Kant addresses self-knowledge in the same way that he addresses knowledge of objects outside us. What philosophy lacks is any criteria that could offer us proof that our claims about the world, however seemingly well founded, however much progress they may appear to offer, actually correspond to the truth of the world. And the truths that transcendental philosophy calls into question include that of the self.

Kant's Copernican turn famously begins his transcendental undertaking by setting aside all question of things in themselves, as they would exist apart from us, and investigates instead the way that objects appear (Bxvi). Like Copernicus, who conceived of the motion of the earth from the apparent motion of the solar system, Kant distinguishes the cognitive faculties that are required for the manner in which objects appear. In this way Kant can be seen to have embraced rather than responded to Hume's skepticism, accepting that causal necessity is not to be found apart from human thought. Hume famously describes the mind as a theater, offering ever more discrete impressions. Kant, in his Anthropology, calls us, in a like way, "mere spectator[s]" when we attempt to offer an account of the mind solely from our representations. This is a Humean insight: we are but spectators in the theater of the mind, forever removed from not only the truth of that which appears, but also from the manner of its presentation.

The Critique of Pure Reason is written from such a theoretically skeptical perspective, from, that is to say, the recognition that we cannot conceive of the mind in its actual workings, and that if we are to avoid limiting ourselves to a Humean investigation of our habits, which is to say to a "pragmatic anthropology," if we are to say something about our faculties, including the elusive imagination, in an a priori fashion, then we must embrace the experiment of transcendental inquiry. And yet, within the "turn" that initiates Kant's transcendental inquiry, he retains the distinction between the perceiving subject and the objects such a subject perceives, importing into this inside the very confidence in the distinction between subject and object that the Copernican turn would have us reject. To explain that such a distinction now holds only for appearances, and so the rationalist certainty that Hume challenged has been overturned, does not explain why this reinstated distinction is valid even for appearances.

One need only look at the first edition's preface, where Kant explains that his analysis offers the completion of metaphysics, describing it as "the inventory of all that we possess through pure reason" (Axx), to see Kant's confidence in his analysis from his newfound perspective. Such confidence is particularly surprising when one takes into consideration the first edition's Third Paralogism, where Kant proposes a skepticism much more radical than that of the Humean/ Cartesian variety. Kant raises the possibility that the self, rather than being the unity of the temporal moments that consciousness offers, might in fact be an unconnected succession, a series of discrete moments in the manner of balls striking one another, with no stable identity for the whole of this temporal chain (A363-64n); and so the appearance of temporal unity, the subject of inner sense, the Cartesian cogito, or even, one could say, the Humean "theater" or "bundle," might in fact be illusory. Kant was clearly aware that the self as conceived in inner sense could be challenged, that its temporal unity could be illusory, and yet he maintained the identity of such an inside, even going so far as marking off within this inner temporal continuity a region of outer appearances. While one might be tempted to explain away Kant's first-edition confidence in reason as his initial enthusiasm for his undertaking, which was tempered in the second edition, even the second edition maintains the distinction between inner and outer within the Copernican-inspired self. The question then is twofold: What justifies this continued commitment to the distinction between the thinking subject and the appearances it perceives, between an inside and an outside that, because of the Copernican turn, is no longer conceived as properly outside us but is now merely a property of that which appears within us? And further, what can be said about the self that is so conceived?

In the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, among other changes and additions offered six years after this work's initial publication, Kant returns repeatedly to the question concerning the sort of claim that he has offered on behalf of the self, the subject of critique. Kant finds it necessary to include three reminders to the reader that the self that this work offers is but appearance and so offers no cognition of what it is in itself. This is to say that the phenomenal appearance of the subject to itself in inner sense, the temporal self-affection of the subject, does not offer the cognition of subjectivity as it is in itself, as it would appear if its faculty of intuition were intellectual. In this way, the second edition confirms the claims made in the first edition, where Kant, in the Transcendental Aesthetic, briefly remarks that the self, the object of inner sense, is but appearance (A36/B53); and such a claim is made as well in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason chapter of the Transcendental Dialectic, where Kant explains that we can no more infer the "actuality [Wirklichkeit] of external objects" than we can the self or soul, "the objects of my inner sense" (A371). In the second edition Kant returns to these issues concerning the limits of our self-knowledge, doing so in a way that highlights the importance of this question for the overall project of his transcendental system.

In the Transcendental Aesthetic of the second edition, in concluding his discussion of inner sense, Kant explains that it must be understood as "the way in which the mind is affected by its own activity" (B68), and such a self-representation remains but appearance and cannot be thought to offer the self as it is in itself, as it would if our intuition were intellectual. Kant repeats this claim in the second edition's rewritten Transcendental Deduction, describing such temporal self-affection as the empirical consciousness that offers "no cognition of myself as I am, but only as I appear to myself" (B158). And even earlier in the rewritten Transcendental Deduction, Kant adds a much lengthier warning against misconceiving the nature of the empirical claim about the self, and he does so in a way that hints at the importance of this question for his critical project.

Kant describes the issue concerning how inner sense "presents [darstelle]" us to ourselves only as appearance as a "paradox" (B152). The "paradox" concerns the way that we affect ourselves. If, as Kant explains, we "intuit ourselves only as we are internally affected" then we "would have to relate passively to ourselves" (B153). This is to say that if we accept the critical limits on our cognition, then we need to understand ourselves as both affecting and affected, as the active agent through which we are given to ourselves and as the passive recipient of the self. This dilemma might lead us to conflate these two roles. To do so, Kant writes, would be "to treat inner sense as the same as the faculty of apperception" (ibid.), and so to proclaim the possibility of an intellectual intuition by means of which we would know ourselves, not as we appear, but as we are in ourselves. To avoid such metaphysical speculation, Kant carefully maintains the distinction between the passivity of inner sense and the activity of the understanding and its transcendental apperception through which sensibility is affected by the self. Transcendental apperception brings unity to the sensible manifold, unifying the given that is offered through the categories (A108). Our inner sense is affected by means of this cognitive act of unification, but such a cognitive activity occurs only in relation to outer sense and its spatial appearances, which are determined by the categories, while inner sense and its merely temporal appearances offer no such possibility of cognition, so evading the determination of the categories. Kant explains that this is clear to us when we attempt to think about the temporal intuition of our inner sense, for time, as a succession, can only be represented through the image of a line, the spatial determination that permits us any representation of temporal unity (B156). This is the case, Kant implies, for all determinations of inner sense: they can be determined only in relation to spatial appearances through which inner sense is affected by the understanding, and so by outer sense; the I is determined in this relation of inner to outer sense. In this way we are offered the appearance of the self insofar as inner sense is passively affected by the unity of apperception. Our self-affection is thus constituted in relation to the spatial objects of experience.

Kant explains that the apparent contradiction that surrounds inner sense, which relates to the question of how we can be passively affected by ourselves, is answered by conceiving of space as "a mere pure form of the appearances of outer sense" through which objects of both inner and outer sense remain but appearances (B156). Our empirical apperception thus includes both passive and active elements: the passive reception of inner sense and the active affection of this sense, performed by the transcendental unity of apperception in relation to spatial appearances. It is thus clear why Kant explains that the answer to the question of how we can be an object for ourselves is just as difficult as the question of "how the I that I think is to differ from the I that intuits itself ... and yet be identical with the latter as the same subject" (B155). Kant answers the question of how we can be an object for ourselves, that is to say, how it is that passivity and activity can coexist not only in a single self but in a single act, by distinguishing between our inner sense and the cognition that determines it. While describing the self in this dualistic manner allows Kant to argue that passivity and activity need not contradict, the self or subject that is so distinguished remains elusive. This is to say that the contradiction of passive and active elements is only apparent, but the paradox that they entail, a disparate self that is in some sense unified, is real.

Perhaps one could say that such an emphasis on our empirical self-awareness in the search for the nature of the subject of critique yields only appearance, and points toward the self's paradoxical nature, but one would be overlooking Kant's true accomplishment. To begin such an inquiry with the conception of the self as empirically self-affected may in this way exaggerate the importance for Kant of the empirical self, and in this way minimize the transcendental analysis of the subjective faculties that is grounded in the deduction of the categories of the understanding as the conditions of the possibility of objects of experience. Is not the faculty of understanding, constituted by the categories, the twelve a priori concepts of the understanding, the true self of the Kantian system? And yet, Kant explains, in themselves these categories are empty, requiring sensible givenness in order to offer determinate cognition; their universality must be paired with particularity if they are to avoid being empty abstractions. These categories comprise the faculty of understanding insofar as they afford us the cognition of "objects [Gegenstände]." This is to say that their authority follows from the initial presupposition that such objects constitute the limited terrain of cognition. While it is clear that such a faculty dictates the subjective sources of the cognition of objects, it is not nearly so clear, even after Kant's meticulous analysis, what can be said of the subject that is composed of such faculties. Kant has analyzed the cognitive faculties that are needed for the experience of objects—the faculties of sensibility and understanding, and the imagination that connects them—and yet we are no nearer to the elucidation of the subject, or self, of critique, for the self of such categories is dependent upon the distinction of inner and outer sense, and the analysis of its faculties in relation to the spatial objects deemed external to it. In pursuing the structure of phenomenal experience, while avoiding all claim to noumenal reality, it is not obvious what sort of assertion Kant is making on behalf of these faculties, the a priori conditions of phenomenal appearances.

And if such an inquiry into the subject of critique turns to the transcendental unity of apperception that underlies all cognitive synthesis as the thinking self, the I that Kant recognizes must be presupposed in all thinking, what we find is that this unifying "I think" of self- consciousness has no attendant intuition and is thus utterly empty of all cognitive content (A401- 402). Kant explains that this "I think" cannot be an object for itself and thus cannot be known phenomenally because it is the presupposition of all cognition. In order to analyze the conditions of the possibility of experience we must presuppose the unity of apperception. Nothing more can be said of the thinking self, "this I, or He, or It (the thing) [dieses Ich, oder Er, oder Es (das Ding)], which thinks," than that it is the "transcendental subject of thoughts = x"; and such a subject, as the unity of apperception, can be conceived only through the thoughts that it permits (B404/A346). Kant explains that our philosophical inquiries uncover in this way a "perpetual circle [beständigen Zirkel]" (ibid.): in order to say something about this subject, the transcendental unity of apperception, to make an empirical judgment about it which would synthetically fill out our merely analytic claim, we would need to make use of the very unity that we want to explain. And for this reason, Kant explains, "the subject of the categories cannot, by thinking them, obtain a concept of itself as an object [Objekt] of the categories" (B422).


Excerpted from Kant and the Subject of Critique by Avery Goldman. Copyright © 2012 Avery Goldman. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author

Avery Goldman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University.

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