Division I. Transcendental Analytic
Book I. Analytic of Concepts
Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding
In this section of the Transcendental Analytic, Kant will elucidate the role of the understanding in cognition, and attempt to provide that understanding with firm a priori (necessary and certain) bases. In addition, he will connect more elaborately the understanding with the other subjective sources of cognition (e.g., sensibility and apperception). The bulk of this section will be devoted to a very detailed elucidation of the processes and bases of synthesis through which we arrive at cognition.
Kant begins by enumerating three elements of the mind: sense, imagination and apperception. He then describes, very briefly, their individual functions in cognition. Sense (intuition) is what gives us the a priori ‘synopsis’ of the manifold. In other words, sense is what originally gives us our presentations of the manifold. Imagination then performs a synthesis on these presentations, allowing us to individuate, form, and conceptualize the manifold. Finally, apperception is what provides us with the unity of this synthesis through the unity of our consciousness (our ‘I’). Each of these aspects of cognition has an empirical and a transcendental use. The empirical use obviously deals with the actual deliverances of sensation (our presentations of the world). The transcendental use “deals solely with form and is possible a priori” (A95). In other words, the transcendental use deals with the conditions under which the empirical is made possible; with the necessary formal conditions of the empirical.
On the A Priori Bases for the Possibility of Experience
Here, as elsewhere, Kant is interested in clarifying further the a priori bases which make experience possible. He begins this section by discussing the nature of concepts and their role in cognizing experience. He writes:
It is wholly contradictory and impossible that a concept should be produced completely a priori and yet refer to an object, if that concept neither were itself included in the concept of possible experience nor consisted of elements of a possible experience (A95).
In other words, we can never have an a priori concept with content (i.e., a concept which refers to some object) which is outside either the elements of possible experience or possible experience itself. If such a concept were to exist it would not truly deserve the name concept, because it would not be a concept of anything but merely an empty form. Concepts, thinks Kant, must necessarily refer to possible experience in order to have content; thus, they must refer to some intuition (which ‘gives’ us the manifold to be conceptualized). Kant writes, “An a priori concept that did not refer to experience would be only the logical form for a concept, but would not be the concept itself through which something is thought” (A95).
So, in order to find out how pure concepts are possible we have to first be clear about the conditions for possible experience because concepts are necessarily dependent upon possible experience. Kant writes, “A concept expressing, universally and sufficiently, this formal and objective condition of experience would be called a pure concept of understanding” (A96). In other words, a pure concept is a concept whose content is not an empirical intuition, but one whose content is a formal constraint on possible experience.
Kant notes that we can think things that “are in themselves possible but cannot be given in any experience” (A96) and that pure concepts of the understanding are like this. Rather than referring to our possible experience, they refer to the conditions which ‘frame’ this possible experience. These ‘elements’ of our a priori cognition (i.e., those elements which make cognition and experience possible) cannot themselves be taken from experience: they are already present in the very possibility of experience. Instead, “they must always contain the pure a priori conditions of a possible experience and of an object of possible experience” (A96). If these elements do not refer to these conditions then they remain, of necessity, empty and therefore can never be thought or cognized at all.
Kant writes: “these concepts, which contain a priori the pure thought in every experience, we find to be the categories” (A97). In other words, the categories which Kant has described in some detail in earlier sections are found to be precisely those ‘pure concepts’ which make possible the synthesis of the manifold via concepts.
In order to fit this suggestion into his larger system, Kant has show not only that these categories are the concepts which make the synthesis of the manifold possible, but also that they are the only way that this synthesis (and thus cognition in general) is possible. “Hence we must first examine, in terms not of their empirical, but of their transcendental character, the subjective sources that make up the a priori foundation for the possibility of experience” (A97). In other words, we must engage (as Kant has been doing somewhat informally) in an elucidation of the transcendental character and relationship of the elements of the mind which make cognition possible (i.e., sense, imagination, and apperception).
Kant here proceeds to briefly reiterate how these elements are related and how they function in the process of cognition. He notes that “cognition is a whole consisting of compared and connected presentations” (A97) and not simply of separate and individualized presentations. Thus, the unifying element of apperception is necessary in order to present ourselves with the synthesis of the manifold given to us by the imagination. He notes, again, that the receptivity of intuition cannot by itself give us cognition, but can do so “only when combined with spontaneity” (A97), that is, the spontaneity of the imagination.
Again Kant reiterates, from a somewhat different angle, the nature of the synthesis required for cognition. He writes:
Now, this spontaneity is the basis of the threefold synthesis that necessarily occurs in all cognition: viz., the synthesis of the apprehension of presentations that are modifications of the mind in intuition; the synthesis of the reproduction of these presentation in imagination; and the synthesis of their recognition in the concept (A97).
By elucidating and analyzing the three elements of this greater synthesis Kant believes we will be led to the subjective sources of all cognition. He also foreshadows the results of this analysis when he writes that these sources are what “make possible the understanding itself and, through it, all experience, which is an empirical product of the understanding” (A97).
This ‘preliminary notice’ consists of four parts. Three of which will analyses of the individual aspects of the larger synthesis which makes cognition possible (apprehension, reproduction and recognition). The fourth and final part is an explanation of the connection between the categories and this synthesis. This section is ‘preliminary’ because it treats the elements of the synthesis separately and not as a coherent whole. In the following section (Section III of the Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding) the same synthesis will again be explicated, but this time coherently and holistically.
1. On the Synthesis of Apprehension in Intuition
Kant begins by reminding us that “No matter from where our presentations arise, as modifications of the mind they yet belong to inner sense” (A99). In other words, even though we are actually experiencing the external world, we can only ever do so through the medium of inner sense. Thus, all cognitions are ultimately subject to time as the inner sense’s formal condition. “In time they must one and all be ordered, connected, and brought into relations” (A99). So, though “Every intuition contains a manifold” (A99), we can never present the manifold ‘as it is in itself’ without the formalizing constraint of time. This is because “any presentation as contained in one instant can never be anything but absolute unity” (A99), in other words: we can’t experience the manifold as such but only as a particular moment of our inner sense.
“Now in order for this manifold to become unity of intuition (as, e.g., in the presentation of space) it must first be gone through and gathered together” (A99). In other words, intuition itself can never contain the manifold as such unless there is already a synthesis of apprehension in place. Such a synthesis must be a priori (and not merely empirical) because we could never even have the a priori pure intuitions (time and space) without this synthesis. We have to ‘gather together’ the manifold already before it can be presented to us. Though it is only a preliminary formulation, Kant gives an excellent description of this synthesis of apprehension when he writes, “For these presentations can be produced only through the synthesis of the manifold that sensibility offers in its original receptivity” (A100).
2. On the Synthesis of Reproduction in Imagination
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In order to be able to connect and associate presentations there must be a connection between those presentations. The synthesis of reproduction in imagination is what provides that connection.
Kant surmises that if the world of objects were totally chaotic and irregular, there would be nothing to connect insofar as there would be no regularities to cognize (the sky wouldn’t remain blue, so associating ‘sky’ with ‘blue’ would be done without any basis).
But things are not like that, Kant argues. Hence there must be something that makes possible this reproduction of appearances by being the a priori basis of a necessary synthetic unity of those appearances. Kant clarifies the role of this synthesis:
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Now, obviously, if I want to draw a line of thought, or to think the time from one noon to the next, or even just to present a certain number, then I must, first of all, necessarily apprehend in thought one of these manifold presentations after the other. But if I always lost from my thoughts the preceding presentations (the first parts of the line, the preceding parts of the time, or the sequentially presented units) and did not reproduce them as I proceeded to the following ones, then there could never arise a whole presentation (A102).
In other words, if I want to associate the presentation of ‘instant one’ with the presentation of ‘instant two’ I must be able, somehow, to hold or reproduce the first presentation in my mind while I associate it with the following presentation. This is the case even for a priori presentations. The imagination is that part of the mind which allows us to perform this synthesis; this synthesis is the transcendental power of the imagination. (It is transcendental insofar as it must necessarily be in place before any possible presentation can take place).
At the end of this section Kant points out that the synthesis of apprehension and the synthesis of reproduction are (as may be obvious) inseparably linked. Without the gathered presentation of the manifold via apprehension, we would have nothing to reproduce in imagination. And, without the reproduction of presentations via the imagination, whatever we had gathered in apprehension would be lost the second it was gathered, thus making cognition impossible.
3. On the Synthesis of Recognition in the Concept
But even the combination of these two syntheses is not enough to give us cognition. Kant notes “Without the consciousness that what we are thinking is the same as what we thought an instant before, all reproduction in the series of presentations would be futile” (A103). In other words, if the reproductions of imagination are not themselves brought together in front of us, in consciousness, then they, again, will be lost to cognition; they will be thought as different presentations and not a continuation of the original act of cognition from whence they have arisen. “Hence the manifold of the presentation would never make up a whole ((((and Kant has remarked above that cognition is always a unity))), because it would lack the unity that only consciousness can impart to it” (A103). This is a difficult thought, and one which Kant will spend considerably more space elaborating than he has the other two syntheses.
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Roughly, what he suggests is that even if we have successfully arrived at a reproduction of presentations (his example is counting), this reproduction won’t make sense as a reproduction (as a ‘sum’ for instance) unless we are conscious of having reproduced it for ourselves. He notes that this consciousness needn’t be the sort of straightforward ‘noticing’ that we normally think of when we think of conscious thought; he argues that “even if it lacks striking clarity” (A103) some sort of consciousness is necessary.
Here Kant begins a rather difficult clarification of what he means “by the expression an object of presentations” (A104). To quote Kant extensively here may prove helpful:
We said above that appearances themselves are nothing but sensible presentations. But presentations in themselves must not in the same way be regarded as objects (outside the power of presentation). What, then, do we mean when we talk about an object corresponding to, and hence also distinct from, cognition? We can easily see that this object must be thought only as something as such = x. For, after all, outside our cognition we have nothing that we could contrast with this cognition as something corresponding to it (A104).
What Kant wants us to be absolutely clear about here is that objects as such (objects ‘in themselves’) are “never at issue in experience” (B45). Which is to say, even ‘appearances’ (the direct deliverances of intuition) never directly point to the object as such. Rather, what is at issue in experience is only something distinct from cognition, some x which is not a distinct thing in itself but only a sort of placeholder to which our cognitions must necessarily refer. This ‘object’ occupies a strange place: it makes all cognition possible but it is nevertheless merely ‘something’ about which we can say very little indeed! Roughly, this x is not itself an object but the concept of an object as such; this x gives our cognitions the ability to refer to objects by presenting us with the unity of the concept of an object as such.
Kant now ends his digression by stating that: “We are, however, dealing only with the manifold of our presentations. And since that x (the object) which corresponds to them is to be something distinct from all of our presentations, this object is nothing for us” (A105). In other words, it can never be thought or presented even though it provides the necessary concept of the object at such which grounds the ability of our consciousness to synthesize the reproductions of imagination. Kant further suggests that, in fact, the unity provided by this object is precisely that synthesis he has been looking for: it is “the formal unity of consciousness in the synthesis of the manifold of presentations” (A105).
Kant’s example is illustrative:
…when we think of a triangle as an object, we do so by being conscious of the assembly of three straight lines according to a rule whereby such an intuition can always be exhibited. Now this unity of the rule determines all that is manifold, and limits it to conditions that make possible the unity of apperception. And the concept of this unity is the presentation of the object = x, i.e., the object that I think through the mentioned predicates of a triangle (A105).
So Kant has described this x from another angle. Here it is not thought of as the formal unity of consciousness but as that which is thought when we think ‘through’ a concept. In other words: what we think (i.e., the ‘content’ of the thought) when we think of something as an object (via a ‘rule’ or a concept) is precisely this x! It is the formal conscious unity supplied to concepts which makes concepts possible in the first place. It is the ‘unity of a rule’ which makes the concept triangle (for example) consistently the ‘same’ concept.
Kant returns from his diversion (which has, of course proved both necessary and instructive) to a description of the synthesis itself. He reminds us that “All cognition requires a concept” (A106) and that “a concept, in terms of its form, is always something that is universal and that serves as a rule” (A106). But concepts serve as rules only by showing us the necessity of synthesis of reproduction through the unity provided by consciousness. So, Kant points out, there must be some non-empirical (necessity can never be empirical) basis for the regulatory nature of concepts, “and hence a transcendental basis also of the concept of objects as such” (A107). This transcendental basis will, of course, be the final form of the synthesis of recognition in the concept.
Kant writes, “This original and transcendental condition of referring our cognitions to ‘x’ is none other than transcendental apperception” (A107). This cannot just be the unity of ‘empirical’ apperception (i.e., the feeling that we are a unified ‘I’). Rather it must be the basis for what is necessarily presented as a unity (as we necessarily require the unifying aspect of consciousness in order to utilize the concepts which make experience possible in the first place). Such a unity can only be transcendental, and this
“pure, original, and immutable consciousness I shall call transcendental apperception” (A107). Kant further justifies the appellation: “That this apperception deserves this name is evident already from the fact that even the purest objective unity, viz., that of the a priori concepts (space and time), is possible only by referring the intuitions to this apperception” (A107).
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The rest of this section is, in the main, a recapitulation and rephrasing of much the same point: consciousness of one’s identity is also consciousness of the necessary unity of all appearances according to concepts. Presentations themselves are appearances, and we cannot intuit the object to which they refer, but they nevertheless lead us to the object = x, which is the concept of an object ‘as such’ and not itself a determinate object. The pure concept of this object x “is what is able to provide all our empirical concepts in general with reference to an object, i.e., with objective reality” (A109); in other words, this pure concept is a condition for all possible experience. At the end of the section Kant gives us the ‘transcendental law’ which tells us that “just as appearances must in mere intuition be subject to the formal conditions of space and time, so must appearances in experience be subject to conditions of the necessary unity of apperception—indeed, this law says that through these conditions alone does any cognition first become possible” (A110).
As the title so clearly tells us, this section deals with the first explanation of the role of the categories in cognition. (Much of what Kant says here has been said or implied above).
He begins by reiterating precisely what form experience must take for us; that is, he points out how our experience must necessarily conform to the syntheses given above and, importantly, he says that it must have a unified character. He writes: “when we speak of different experiences, then these are merely so many perceptions—all such perception belonging to one and the same general experience” (A110). This follows directly from the necessary unity of apperception, of course.
Kant now suggests that there has to be more than an empirical basis for the unity of experience insofar as this unity is necessary. He then abruptly suggests that “the categories set forth above are nothing but the conditions of thought in a possible experience, just as space and time embody the conditions of intuition for that same experience” (A111). In other words, the categories have a priori, non-empirical validity insofar as they are conditions of possibility for experience itself. Kant then suggests that the necessity of these categories for experience is shown by and relies upon the reference of all possible appearances to the unity of original apperception. In other words, the necessary character of our consciousness provides the basis for these categories as a priori and necessary for any possible experience.
Kant then recapitulates the relationship between concepts and original apperception (as elucidated in the section above). He writes that in original apperception everything “must be subject to the universal functions of synthesis, viz., of that synthesis according to concepts in which alone apperception can prove a priori its thoroughgoing and necessary identity” (A112). In other words, apperception requires the synthesizing function of concepts in order to illustrate its own necessity and unity. And, again, Kant notes that without this unity and necessity we can never have experience but merely the empty play of presentations with no reference to objects whatsoever.
Kant now begins to illustrate why we can never derive pure concepts of the understanding (the categories) from the empirical. He tells us, again, that “No experience whatever can give us necessity” (A112). (And, since the categories are made necessary by the entire apparatus outlined above, they cannot be given through the empirical).
Kant now shows us that empirical affinity (the character of presentations which allows us to associate and reproduce them) must itself be based in a transcendental affinity which is necessary and a priori. He writes, “all appearances stand in a thoroughgoing connection according to necessary laws, and hence stand in a transcendental affinity of which the empirical affinity is the mere consequence” (A113).
The section ends with some further remarks upon the subjective character of this system. He reminds us, again, that there is no reference to the actual object in itself in any of this scheme, but merely to the formal characteristics of our minds.
On Understanding’s Relation to Objects as such and the possibility of cognizing them a priori
This section begins to relate in a more coherent fashion those syntheses which Kant treated separately above. As such, it is mainly (though not entirely) a recapitulation and rewording of those sections discussed above. I will, accordingly, highlight only those aspects of this ‘unified’ treatment which are instructive or illustrate in a markedly different way Kant’s aim.
Kant discusses more directly the relationship between the various syntheses. One of the most important points he makes concerns the relationship between apperception and imagination. He writes “The unity of apperception considered in reference to the synthesis of imagination is the understanding; and the same unity as referred to the transcendental synthesis of imagination is pure understanding” (A119). In other words, the understanding is the unified consciousness which treats the synthesized manifold given to us by the imagination; and pure understanding is the unified consciousness which treats only the transcendental aspect of that synthesis. So the pure understanding deals exclusively with the formal character of the synthesis and not its empirical results.
Kant then suggests that the understanding contains “pure a priori cognitions that contain the necessary unity of the pure synthesis of imagination in regard to all possible appearances” (A119); these are, of course, the categories.
The conclusion drawn from all this is that our cognition must have an understanding and that this understanding can be thought of as the original apperception (a unified consciousness) which necessarily refers to the synthesis of imagination (which in turn refers to the products of the synthesis of apprehension. And the upshot of this ‘conclusion’ is that all appearances are subject to the understanding, and, further, that pure understanding (as defined above) is, like space and time, a formal condition for all possible experience.
What follows is a lengthy illustration of “how the understanding by means of the categories coheres necessarily with appearances, and let us do so by starting from the bottom upward” (A119). Basically, Kant goes through a step-by-step recapitulation of everything he has said in the above sections.
He illustrates how each individual step requires the next necessarily: perceptions cannot be combined by the faculty (sense) which gives us perceptions to begin with. Thus, we require imagination to combine and then to reproduce perceptions. But these empirical reproductions require a rule for associating presentations: an empirical and subjective basis. But, further, this empirical basis must itself have an objective basis if it is to avoid reliance on sheer luck to accurately present objects: “For even if we had the power to associate perceptions, whether indeed these perceptions would be associable would yet remain intrinsically quite undetermined and contingent” (A122). So there must be something about perceptions themselves which allows us to associate them. In other words
there must be an objective basis… in which rests the possibility—indeed the necessity—of a law extending through all appearances: a law whereby appearances are throughout to be regarded as data of the senses that are intrinsically associable and subject, in reproduction to universal rules of a thoroughgoing connection” (A122).
Kant calls this intrinsic associability the ‘affinity’ of appearances. And the basis for this affinity cannot be found, he suggests, “except in the principle of the unity of apperception in regard to all cognitions that are to belong to us” (A122). In other words, the unity of apperception (the unity of our consciousness) is what ‘grounds’ the affinity and thus the associability of appearances in general.
Kant phrases this differently (moving back a step from the unity of apperception): “the affinity of all appearances (whether near or remote) is a necessary consequence of a synthesis in imagination that is based on rules” (A123). (Of course, this synthesis itself is necessarily predicated on the unifying aspect of original apperception).
So imagination is a “power of an a priori synthesis” (A123) and is thus “productive” (A123), it also performs a transcendental function insofar as synthesizing appearances is necessary for any experience.
Kant moves on to illustrate how the transcendental function of imagination itself rests on the unity of apperception. It is necessary because the imagination, while performing a transcendental function, must always necessarily refer (even in that function) to the sensible insofar as it deals only with appearances as given to us by intuition. The original unity of apperception, as we have seen above, is based on the unifying concept of objects as such (through its reference to the object = x), a concept which itself makes the appearance of objects possible in the first place.
So, Kant summarizes, “Actual experience consists in apprehension of appearances, their association (reproduction), and thirdly their recognition” (A125). Apprehension is made possible by the transcendental function of intuition (i.e., the formalization of appearances via space and time). Reproduction is made possible through the transcendental function of the imagination (i.e., the conceptualization of appearances). Recognition is made possible by the transcendental function of apperception (i.e., the unification in consciousness of conceptualized appearances).
Kant now returns to his previous insistence that what he has been talking about has nothing whatsoever to do with things in themselves, but that he has merely been elucidating the subjective conditions of possibility for our cognition. He takes a different line here: “the order and regularity in the appearances that we call nature are brought into them by ourselves; nor indeed could such order and regularity be found in appearances, had not we, or the nature of our mind, put them into appearances originally” (A125). He then illustrates, again, that we have necessarily to ‘put’ this order and regularity in appearances in order for them to ‘appear’ to us at all.
After this admonition, Kant returns again to a definition of the understanding. He writes that:
We have earlier explicated the understanding in various ways: as a spontaneity of cognition…; as a power to think; or as a power of concepts, or again of judgments. These explications, when inspected closely, all come to the same. We may now characterize the understanding as our power of rules. This criterion of an understanding is more fruitful and comes closer to its nature. Sensibility gives us forms…, but the understanding gives us rules (A126).
So, while sensibility is primarily a formative faculty, the understanding is primarily legislative and creative: it creates laws both for ourselves and for nature as presented to ourselves. “Hence all appearances, insofar as they are possible experiences, lie a priori in the understanding and obtain from it their formal possibility” (A127). Kant notes how absurd it sounds to say that our understanding is legislative of nature itself, but he is also quick to point out (as he always is!) that when we say ‘nature’ we can only ever be referring to appearances and never things in themselves. Thus, it isn’t that our understanding regulates things as such; rather, our understanding regulates only appearances! So, contrary to the seeming absurdity of the claim, appearances and ‘nature’ both are possible only by way of space, time, and the understanding. (He also highlights here the relationship between empirical laws—which cannot directly be derived from the understanding—and the pure laws which found all empirical laws. Basically, though we cannot derive empirical laws directly from the understanding, they all find their objective validity only in the pure laws stemming directly from the understanding: no empirical law can contradict these pure laws).
So, Kant’s objective (to connect sensibility with the understanding/the categories) has been achieved by way of an exhaustive illustration of the necessity of the syntheses which are themselves necessarily linked together to create the larger synthesis of cognition.
Summary Presentation: That This Deduction of the Pure Categories of Understanding is Correct and is the Only One Possible
This final segment of the third section of the deduction of the pure categories of the understanding is, as titled, a summary of what has preceded it. The main point of this summary is to illustrate that cognition must have subjective (and not objective) bases and that these bases must be as they are necessarily and not merely contingently.