In the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant frames his theory of experience in terms of a finite subject’s (a subject that is not omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent) movement towards a comprehensive knowledge of the world that outstrips the limits of that subject’s possible experience. Experience, for Kant, is “the sum of all cognition wherein objects may be given to us” (CPR B296). In obtaining a comprehensive experience of the world, the finite subject’s movement can be called transcendental because it is an attempt to move beyond the concrete experience of particular objects and situations toward knowledge of the world as such. Pure reason, that framework within which possible experience is regulated, provides the limits to which we must adhere when engaging in this activity. Kant’s project in the Critique has therefore often been interpreted as an epistemological one, which delineates the extent to which we can discuss knowledge and certainty within the bounds of philosophy, and of metaphysics in particular. Martin Heidegger radically reinterprets Kant’s project, claiming in his book Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics that the project is not epistemological but rather ontological. Ontology, as Heidegger puts it, is “the endeavor to make being manifest itself” (IM 41). The fundamental importance of ontology in Heidegger’s reading of Kant comes from Heidegger’s conviction (as we will see later) that the ontological status of the human in the world is the foundation for the possibility of metaphysics itself.
Heidegger relocates the seat of experience, placing it in the transcendental imagination rather than in the understanding and pure reason. He does this for a number of reasons. First, Heidegger thinks that the prominence of time in Kant’s philosophy makes it seemingly obvious that the transcendental imagination should be more central to experience than reason. All syntheses performed by the imagination take place according to determinations of time, and “all empirical cognition,” writes Kant, “involves the synthesis of the manifold by the imagination” (Ibid. B246). The imagination has the power of not only presenting (or calling to mind) images of objects that are and have been experienced, but also objects that have not yet been experienced. Because of this, the imagination makes the anticipation of future experiences possible, and links those possible experiences with previous ones. Secondly, Kant’s doctrine of schematism posits the imposition of a condition according to which concepts are collectively organized and applied to empirical experiences, thus providing a space in which individual empirical experiences meet with a web of possible experiences and past experiences in such a way that we develop a unified view of the world.
Again, all of this occurs in accordance with determinations of time. Since Heidegger’s philosophy is founded on the notion that Dasein (Heidegger’s reformulation of the self, which complicates and blurs distinctions in the traditional opposition between subject and object, mind and world, and so on) is constituted temporally, he sees an important ontological argument at work in the Critique. It is the temporal character of the pure imagination that shows us the true constitution of the self, which in turn shows us the nature of experience and the foundations for metaphysics. Second, Heidegger redeploys Kant’s Copernican turn, according to which experience of the world occurs in conjunction and conformity with the constitution of the knowing subject.
On Heidegger’s reading this also speaks to the notion of Dasein and what he calls being-in-the-world, which identifies experience not as that which can occur within the bounds of some epistemic limits, but rather according to the way in which Dasein engages with the world and “opens” it up, so to speak. The structure of the world is inherently tied to the structure of Dasein for Heidegger; there is no infinite leap to be made towards the outstripping of possible experience except in terms of death. While Kant employs the limits of pure reason to discuss the possibility of morality, for Heidegger morality can only be conceived in terms of concrete existence or being-in-the-world. If we are to agree with and follow Heidegger’s reinterpretation of Kant, then we lose the backdrop against which the possibility of morality appears in the Critique. This is because while Kant’s pure reason provides us with a shared sphere in which we can all participate, while Heidegger’s Dasein can only experience the world on its own in each individual case.
The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to discuss both Kant’s and Heidegger’s theories of experience in relation to one another and then to evaluate the possible consequences of going along with Heidegger’s reading. Finally, we will discuss possible alternatives for moral thought after Heidegger’s ontologization of Kant. I would like to suggest that Heidegger’s reformulation of finitude leaves us with the task of seeking out another space for morality in our experience of the world; this issue is not fully discussed in the early Heidegger (with which I will be dealing in this paper). In response to the difficulty created by Heidegger’s appropriation of Kant, I will examine Pierre Kerszberg’s objections to Heidegger’s project as well as Frank Schalow’s attempt in The Renewal of the Heidegger-Kant Dialogue to retrieve an ethical domain in the wake of that appropriation. Schalow argues that concrete human praxis1 can provide us with a space to talk about moral and ethical goals (HKD 387). Picking up on Heidegger’s emphasis on the temporal, Schalow tries to show how the very constitution of Dasein can provide us with a framework in which moral thought and responsibility emerges.
Furthermore, because Dasein occurs in the world as much as the world occurs in Dasein, Schalow thinks that it is possible for the realm of ethics to open itself up to us because of concrete existence and our comportment in the world towards others. The paper will therefore proceed as follows: first, I will give an account of Kant’s theory of experience, focusing in particular on the imagination and the doctrine of schematism; this will be followed with Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant’s project based on Heidegger’s emphasis on the imagination over reason. Then I will discuss the ways in which Heidegger’s interpretation problematizes morality in Kant’s philosophy. Finally, I will turn to Kerszberg’s criticism of Heidegger in order to question Heidegger’s conclusions, and Schalow’s work in order to discuss ways of rethinking morality after Heidegger’s appropriation of the Kantian project.
Kant’s theory of experience
As we see in the Critique of Pure Reason, the cornerstone of experience is cognition. Cognition is the act of combining presentations given to us in sensible intuition with concepts provided according to our faculty of understanding in order to produce what Kant calls objects. Presentations given in intuition are nothing more than raw, undifferentiated sense data2 ; they are the content or matter of an object. Concepts of the understanding, on the other hand, are the logical forms that correspond to presentations so that objects are produced or cognized. Kant says,
Our cognition arises from two basic sources of mind. The first is (our ability) to receive presentations (and is our receptivity for impressions); the second is our ability to cognize an object through these presentations (and is the spontaneity of concepts). Through receptivity an object is given to us; through spontaneity an object is thought in relation to that (given) presentation (which otherwise is a mere determination of the mind). Intuitions and concepts, therefore, constitute the elements of all our cognitions. (Ibid. B74)
For Kant, experience occurs according to the relationship between two separate faculties found in the subject: sensibility and understanding (Ibid. B75). The demarcation between the two is very clear, and cognition cannot occur without the relationship between them described above. This differentiation can be described as being between the aesthetic (sensibility) and the logical (understanding). In all cognition, the process is the same: receive a manifold of presentations in intuition and it is given a coherent structural form according to the concepts of understanding so that we experience unified objects rather than a tangle of contingent, meaningless, and undifferentiated sensations.
An important point here is the role of the original synthetic unity of apperception in cognition. This is what Kant identifies as the “I think” that “must be capable of accompanying all my presentations” (Ibid. B132). It performs the organizational or transcendental role of providing an a priori unity that provides the a priori possibility of cognizing an object as unified. Essentially, the unity of apperception is the presentation that there is an I doing the thinking and cognizing instead of a scattered collection of faculties. Kant says that this unity is itself synthetic, because we can only experience ourselves as appearance3 and not an already-combined unity that presents itself as itself and in itself to us. Nonetheless, the original unity of apperception becomes part and parcel of any other combination of intuitions in cognition and is not considered analytic as opposed to synthetic. “I also call the unity of this apperception the transcendental unity of self-consciousness, in order to indicate that a priori cognition can be obtained from it. For the manifold presentations given me in a certain intuition would not one and all be my presentations, if they did not one and all belong to one self-consciousness” (Ibid.).
The unity of apperception is different from what Kant calls inner sense. Inner sense is “the intuiting we do of ourselves and of our inner state” (Ibid. B49); in other words, it is our sense of ourselves as individuals with personal attributes, histories, inclinations, and so on. This sense of self is founded upon a multiplicity of facets that is presented to us; it is a manifold of presentations. The original unity of apperception, on the other hand, is (as Kant says) the I think that unifies even this manifold of presentations into an object of experience. Now we come to an absolutely crucial point in the discussion of Kant’s theory of experience: that time is the form of our inner sense (Ibid.). Time, writes Kant,
cannot be a determination of outer appearances, (because) it does not belong to any shape or position, etc., but rather determines the relation of presentations in our inner state. And precisely because this inner intuition gives us no shape, do we try to make up for this deficiency by means of analogies. We present time sequence by a line progressing ad infinitum, a line in which the manifold constitutes a series of only one dimension. And from the properties of that line we infer all the properties of time, except for the one difference that the parts of the line are simultaneous whereas the parts of time are always sequential. This fact, moreover, that all relations of time can be expressed by means of outer intuition, shows that the presentation of time is itself intuition. (Ibid. B50)
The temporal constitution of the subject will be important for our later examination of the pure imagination, judgment and schematism; indeed, it foreshadows the way in which Heidegger will be able to prioritize the imagination in terms of reinterpreting Kant’s theory of experience4 .
By now we have a rough picture of how experience occurs in particular instances. We are given presentations in intuition and we make sense of them through the concepts of understanding. The question thus arises: how are these individual cognitions organized so that they themselves do not amount to nothing more than a collection of divergent and senseless instances? Obviously, if we consider the way in which experience actually occurs to us, it is normal to have a coherent sense of the world in which things fit together logically and in relation to one another. Furthermore, what governs the proper application of concepts to presentations? How do we negotiate the cognition of new objects and add new experiences to the whole with which we are already working? To answer these questions, we must look to Kant’s treatment of the power of judgment, the pure imagination, and the doctrine of schematism. It is here that we will begin to see how cognition is not only organized into a unified and coherent framework for possible experience, but also made possible in the first place. By this I mean that we will see the conditions according to which cognition operates, which also means the conditions according to which we can anticipate the correct functioning of cognition throughout our ongoing engagement with the world.
ii. Imagination, judgment, schematism
The power of imagination is that of “presenting an object in intuition even without the object’s being present” (Ibid. B151). According to the imagination, the application of concepts to intuitions becomes possible as such. As Kant puts it, “the imagination is a power of determining sensibility a priori; and its synthesis of intuitions in accordance with the categories must be the transcendental synthesis of imagination. This synthesis is an action of the understanding upon sensibility, and is the understanding’s first application (and at the same time the basis of all its other applications) to objects of the intuition that is possible for us” (Ibid. B152). Because the imagination can cause the synthesis of objects of possible experience in addition to objects that we are currently experiencing, its synthesis is not only spontaneous (as an act of the understanding) but also productive (Ibid.). Of course, the imagination can also act reproductively, in that it can recall past cognitions and bring them to mind once more. “The synthesis of the reproductive imagination,” says Kant, “is subject solely to empirical laws, viz., to the laws of association. Therefore this synthesis contributes nothing to the explanation of the possibility of a priori cognition, and hence belongs not in transcendental philosophy but in psychology” (Ibid.).
The imagination also produces three other types of synthesis: figurative synthesis, intellectual synthesis (synthesis of the understanding) and transcendental synthesis of the imagination (Ibid. B151). All three types of synthesis are transcendental in that they provide the a priori bases for various types of cognition, but the transcendental synthesis of the imagination is the synthesis of the original apperception itself. It is the original unity of apperception itself that the a priori condition of possibility for cognition as such. Keeping in mind the discussion of Heidegger later in the paper, it is important to note the presence of time and temporality in Kant’s formulation of the imagination and its various syntheses. Both the productive and reproductive syntheses of imagination are temporally oriented; the former is anticipatory in character whereas the latter is retrospective and has to do with memory5 . Both the figurative and intellectual syntheses of imagination are temporally determined insofar as they are made possible by the synthetic unity of original apperception. The imagination, therefore, is utterly marked by temporal determinations and relations. Once again, this will be important when we are looking at Heidegger’s account.
The power of judgment is the power to make an accurate decision as to whether “something does or does not fall under a given rule” (Ibid. B171). As Kant says, the power of judgment is the “ability to subsume under rules” (Ibid.). Given that in cognition the concepts of understanding are the rules under which intuitions are subsumed, the power of judgment is therefore the power to determine the correct application of concepts to intuitions in cognition.
Interestingly, the power of judgment is referred to as a talent or skill that must be developed rather than learned or taught. For example, one cannot simply lay out a table that would enable correct judgments about how to hit a certain musical note at a certain pitch. To make that judgment, experience is required. Examples, such as those found in a textbook, are of little or no service because they “often weaken the understanding’s effort to gain insight into rules, as to their adequacy, in a universal way and independently of the particular circumstances of experience; hence they ultimately accustom us to use rules more as formulas than as principles. Examples are thus merely the power of judgment’s walker” (Ibid. B173). The power of judgment cannot be employed properly when dealing with abstractions from actual experience. We learn how to judge properly based on our engagement with the world and skill at making good decisions.
Schematism is the functional framework in which the concepts of understanding are applied in judgment to empirical intuitions. It is “the understanding’s procedure with … schemata” (Ibid.) B179). But what are schemata? What role do they play in schematism? A schema is a sensible condition, produced by the imagination, under which objects can be given in experience according to concepts. It “aims not at an individual intuition but at unity in the determination of sensibility” (Ibid.). In essence, it is a collection, held in thought, of possible images or cognitive determinations according to concepts. Kant uses the example of the triangle:
No image whatever of a triangle would ever be adequate to the concept of a triangle as such. For it would never reach the concept’s universality that makes the concept hold for all triangles (whether right-angled or oblique-angled, etc.), but would always be limited to only a part of this sphere. The schema of the triangle can never exist anywhere but in thoughts, and is a rule for the synthesis of imagination, this schema being a rule for determining our intuition in accordance with such and such a general concept. (Ibid. B180)
How does schematism work? We learn to affiliate a certain number of images or objects with a certain concept, thus creating a structure in which the engagement with particular new experiences becomes possible and manageable. The schema contains as many images as we have in our imagination, and because of the ability of the imagination to carry out productive syntheses, we can anticipate future experiences. This is what enables us to properly judge in cognition even when we are encountering new objects, “without being limited to any single and particular shape offered to me by experience, or even to all possible images that I can exhibit in concreto” (Ibid.). Thus, schemata are organized as a collection of images that exist not only as a conglomerate based on past experience but also as a rather open-ended system which can be expanded with new experiences by the power of judgment. Schematism amounts to being “a product of the productive imagination’s empirical ability” (Ibid. B181); Kant characterizes it as a mysterious skill. Experience as a whole occurs in the faculty of the imagination; its entire character appears in the form of possibility as much as it does in actuality. Here again, Kant ties the notion of time and temporality into schematism. The schemata, says Kant, “are nothing but a priori time determinations according to rules; these rules, according to the categories, deal with the time series, the time order, and finally the time sum total in regard to all possible objects” (Ibid. B185).
By this he means that a) we produce the empirical sense of time through the sequential engagement with objects in experience, b) we fill that time with content due to our experiences, and c) we conceive time as the backdrop against which all determinations of objects take place. We must remember, however, that this is only the case because the subject itself senses time as a pure intuition: the subject is the source of all temporality in experience. Experience is thus temporally constituted and ordered; moreover, this temporal constitution of experience is inextricably linked to the pure intuition of time, the transcendental time determination that produces the inner sense, and the synthetic unity of original apperception that accompanies the inner sense. In schematism, we lay the foundation for the possibility of possible experience itself, because of the imagination’s ability to utilize the temporal character of the self and thus anticipate possible experience on the basis of current and past experience.
iii. The understanding, reason, freedom, and morality
Despite the importance that Kant places on the imagination and schematism, he ultimately roots overall the organization of experience in pure reason. For Kant, reason is tantamount to the idea of the greatest systematic unity of thought and experience (Ibid. B723). It is the legislator of possibility in relation to our possibility as finite subjects that it “is the power that provides us with the principles of a priori cognition … that reason which contains the principles for cognizing something absolutely a priori” (Ibid. B24). Reason provides us with regulative principles according to which our situation in the world can make sense. If experience itself is the immediate and concrete mode of existence in which we partake, the principles of reason are those which have developed out of that mode of existence and which serve as a collection of guidelines that stand atop the concepts of the understanding.
Manifoldness of rules and unity of principles is indeed a demand of reason. Reason makes this demand in order to bring the understanding into thoroughgoing coherence with itself, just as the understanding beings the manifold of intuition under concepts and thereby brings the intuition into connection. But such a principle prescribes no law to objects, and does not contain the basis for the possibility of cognizing and determining them as objects at all. It is, rather, a merely subjective law for the management of understanding’s supplies, instructing understanding to reduce the universal use of its concepts––by comparing them––to their smallest possible number. (Ibid. B362)
Reason is a system of unity that supposedly prepares the way for the possibility of an overall unity of experience. Of course, the principles of reason, and indeed the notion of reason itself are synthetically produced, but Kant reminds us that reason does not provide us with constitutive principles. Thus, when reason calls us to view the world as a whole, it does not determine the world as a unified world for us. Instead, it provides the principles according to which we may think and act as if there is thoroughgoing systematic unity in the world as such, apart from our form of cognition. To put it another way, we project reason onto the world in a sense, because we ourselves demand the unity that reason can provide. On this view, we can see the importance of Kant’s critical project: the demand for rational principles by reason can overshoot the limits of our possibilities as finite subjects and thus produce the kind of problematic metaphysics of which Kant is very suspicious.
The problem of dialectics comes to the fore here. If we do not properly critique and show the limits of reason, it becomes the pathway to the false conviction that we can know, for instance, objects in themselves, the nature of God, or the laws of nature apart from our particular kind of cognition and subjective constitution. This may, for example, take the form of exaggerating the power of logic, which can get out of control when it totally abstracts from empirical circumstances. For instance, we may posit the claim that the world had a beginning in time, because we can observe the fact that objects in the world have durations in time. But this is a logical fallacy based on the extrapolation from experiences to an idea about the world that can have no basis in experience. Kant therefore tries to contain reason and assign it to its proper role in human experience: that of a provisional signpost which posits the greatest unity possible in experience.
The understanding may be considered a power of providing unity of appearances by means of rules; reason is then the power of providing unity of the rules of understanding under principles. Hence reason initially never deals with experience or any object, but deals with the understanding in order to provide the understanding’s manifold cognitions with a priori unity through concepts. This unity may be called unity of reason, and is quite different in kind from what unity the understanding can achieve. (Ibid. B359)
Reason, of course, can take the form of making logical inferences; however, the use of greatest importance to us in this investigation is the pure use of reason. This is the source of all a priori cognitions and unity of the understanding. Here we might think of Kant’s dispute with David Hume, who argued that we cannot know that there are causal relations between events. Kant’s response is that the demand of reason causes us to posit, a priori, just such causal relations whether or not those relations are cognizable.
Because Kant claims in the Critique that reason can only serve us regulatively, he has to adopt an attitude towards pure reason and its demands that is not necessarily ironic but rather more respectful of its limits given our finite mode of subjectivity. Thus, when he talks about morality and freedom, he argues that we must act as if there is a moral order to which we can ascribe and as if there is a possible freedom over and against the determination provided by the universal laws of nature. The pure a priori ideas of reason not only set limits but also supply conditions of possibility for moral action and practical decision-making. This, he says, is the ultimate purpose of pure reason and in it is contained the answers to the questions “what can I know?” “what ought I do?” and “what can I hope for?”. These three questions are related to the three issues central to metaphysics: the freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of God (Ibid. B826).
The entire apparatus of pure reason, as considered in the treatment that may be called pure philosophy, is in fact directed only to the three mentioned problems. These problems themselves, however, have in turn their more remote aim, viz., what is to be done if the will is free, if there is a God, and if there is a future world. Now since this more remote aim concerns our conduct in reference to the highest purpose, the ultimate aim of nature––the nature that in the arrangement of our reason provides for us wisely––pertains properly only to what is moral. (Ibid. B829)
Ultimately, the demand for unity according to the principles of pure reason is not aimed at the production or accumulation of knowledge but instead at the conception of a unified world in which it makes sense to talk about the possibility of moral decision making undertaken by free rational agents who have the structured worldview of pure reason but also the ability to reason according to logical inferences. Kant’s project is an attempt to construct a worldview that coherently accompanies our embodied circumstances, questions about life, and moral dilemmas. Not wanting to postulate that enjoyment or happiness are the standard for morality, Kant provides the dictates of pure reason so that a backdrop against which our decisions, inclinations, and actions can be measured.
iv. Concluding thoughts on Kant
Kant’s theory of experience shows that experience itself occurs coherently because of the imagination’s use of schematism. The use of pure reason stands over and above experience as a condition according to which practical decisions become possible. The question here arises: is the idea of a coherent world whole possible without reason standing at the helm? Certainly, given our discussion of the way in which experience comes about, we may suppose that this is the case; however, if we move towards making the imagination central in a theory of experience, how are we to talk about a useful set of regulative principles concerning morality and freedom? In other words, if the structure of experience corresponds so closely to the structure of the subject, and if experience occurs largely in terms of a productive synthesis of the imagination, then how do we preserve any objectively valid notions of freedom and morality? If reason itself is a production, and if it only comes into the picture because of an imaginatively synthesized unified experience, then how does it really figure into our concrete experience of the world? In the following section, we will look at Heidegger’s reformulation of the Kantian theory of experience, which performs exactly this transformation, and then we will discuss the consequences of and possible responses to it.