STEFANIE GRÜNE | Blinde Anschauung. Die Rolle von Begriffen in Kants Theorie sinnlicher Synthesis | Klostermann 2009


By Thomas Land

I would like to respond to some of the points Grüne makes in her reply to my comments on her book. Although I don’t think this will settle any issues, I hope it will serve to make my original comments seem less implausible than Grüne takes them to be. Unfortunately, I cannot address all relevant points here. But let me at least comment on the following five points (subdivided in Sections I-V).


Grüne rejects my claim that for Kant the understanding is at bottom a capacity to judge, which functions as a premise in my argument for the thesis that the primary use of the categories is accounted for neither by obscure concept-possession nor by clear concept-possession (as Grüne defines these). She argues that the understanding for Kant is not just a capacity for judgement, but also a capacity for sensible synthesis, which is distinct from judgement. In support, she offers the following three considerations:

(i) An important passage in which Kant says that the understanding is a capacity to judge is entitled ‘On the logical use of the understanding’ (see A67/B92). Since we must distinguish the real use from the logical use, this leaves it open that the real use of the understanding does not consist in judgement. Consequently, it is false to say that the understanding is at bottom a capacity for judgement.

(ii) She quotes a passage from B129ff., in which Kant distinguishes between the combination of concepts, on the one hand, and the combination of the manifold of intuition, on the other, as acts of the understanding.

(iii) She refers to a passage at A126, in which Kant characterizes the understanding as the capacity for rules and claims that this characterization is more fruitful than other characterizations he has given, including that of being a capacity to judge.

I agree that the understanding for Kant is a capacity that admits of two distinct kinds of exercise, viz. judgement and sensible synthesis. But I believe that the first of these is prior to the second in the order of explanation. For this reason it is correct to say that the understanding is at bottom, or most fundamentally, a capacity to judge.

I hold that judgement is prior to sensible synthesis because I believe that the unity for which sensible synthesis accounts has to be specified by reference to the unity of judgement (but not vice versa). There is a lot more to say about this, but for now I wish only to argue that the three pieces of evidence Grüne gives in support of her claim do not establish that claim. I will discuss them in order.

(i) The characterizations Kant gives of the distinction between logical use and real use, in both the Inaugural Dissertation (§23, AA 2:410ff.) and the Critique (A299/B355; A305–9/B362–6), strongly suggest that the real use of the understanding does not consist in sensible synthesis. It consists, rather, in a certain kind of cognition (in Grüne’s strong sense), viz. cognition through representations that arise purely in the capacity in question. Thus, reason has a real use if it gives rise to pure concepts of reason, which serve to cognize objects. Similarly, the understanding’s real use consists in the application of pure concepts of the understanding in the cognition of objects; that is, in the cognitions tabulated in the Pure Principles. To be sure, on my reading of Kant he is committed to holding that the understanding has a real use only if it can also be exercised in sensible synthesis. But this does not license the identification of its real use with its exercise in sensible synthesis.[1]

(ii) The passage from B129ff. supports the claim that the understanding admits of an exercise in sensible synthesis, which is distinct from judgement, with which I agree. But it does not speak to the issue of whether or not judgement is more basic than sensible synthesis.

(iii) The context of the passage from A126 suggests that, when Kant speaks of rules here, he does not have in mind the function of the categories as rules for sensible synthesis; at least not primarily. His concern in the immediate context of the passage is with the thesis that the understanding is the source of the most general laws of nature. The notion of a rule is introduced in connection with the idea of a law of nature. For, Kant says, “rules, so far as they are objective […], are called laws” (B126). In the first instance, the understanding is a capacity for rules because it is a capacity for giving laws to nature:

The understanding is thus not merely a faculty for making rules through the comparison of the appearances: it is itself the legislation for nature, i.e., without understanding there would not be any nature at all, i.e., synthetic unity of the manifold of appearances in accordance with rules (B126–7).

When he speaks of rules here, Kant seems to have in mind both observed regularities in nature and the laws that the understanding prescribes to nature; that is, the pure principles of the understanding. But this does nothing to show that the understanding is not at bottom a capacity for judgement.

We should also note that Kant has a technical use of the term ‘rule’, according to which the major premise of a syllogism is referred to as a rule (see e.g. A304/B360ff.). Whatever exactly this comes to, it’s clear that the term is used here for a judgement of a certain kind. Note further that Kant associates the major premise of a syllogism with the understanding. According to this usage, then, the understanding is a capacity of rules because it is a capacity for providing judgements that can function as major premises of syllogisms.


In my contribution, I argued that to understand a judgement one must have a grasp of its logical structure, and that to have this grasp amounts to applying categories. Grüne finds this line of reasoning obscure. So let me try to make clearer what I have in mind. Let me begin with an example Grüne gives: To grasp the logical structure of the judgement “This table is brown”, Grüne says, is to understand that this is a singular, affirmative, categorical judgement. I agree. Now, Grüne suggests that it is hard to see what this kind of grasp could consist in if not the entertaining of what we might call a second-order proposition expressible by ‘”This table is brown” is a singular, affirmative, categorical judgement’. But this seems to me problematic, for the following reason: For Kant, the judgements “All Fs are G” and “Some Fs are G” contain the same concepts, but differ in logical form. This difference in form accounts for a difference in content, in the sense (if you like) that the judgements have different truth-conditions. It seems to follow from this that, to understand each judgement, one must understand its logical form. What does this understanding consist in? It cannot, it seems to me, consist in a second-order judgement to the effect, e.g., that the judgement “All Fs are G” is a universal, affirmative, categorical judgement. Here’s why: For the second-order judgement to constitute a subject’s understanding of the logical structure of the first-order judgement, the subject needs to understand the second-order judgement. But now the same considerations apply, and this leads to a regress: The subject must understand the logical structure of the second-order judgement, etc.

Grüne claims that it’s hard to see what grasping that a is F could consist in other than entertaining the proposition that a is F. I agree, up to a point. Grasping that the table is brown consists in entertaining the proposition that the table is brown (or, in Kant’s terminology, judging that the table is brown). But when it comes to things that go to constitute the very capacity to entertain propositions, matters are not so straightforward. If understanding the logical form of a proposition is part of what one must be able to do to entertain a proposition, then it seems that this understanding cannot consist in entertaining another proposition.

In any case, the main point is this: The logical form of a judgement makes a contribution to its content. That is, the logical form makes a contribution to what is represented by the judgement. And it seems to me that it is Kant’s view that the categories capture this contribution. That is, a judgement of e.g. particular, affirmative, categorical form represents its object as falling under the categories of multiplicity, reality, and substance-accident, and does so in virtue of possessing this logical form.

In this connection, I should note that I find Grüne’s claim that the categories enter into a judgement in virtue of being part of the intensional content of the concepts contained in it unconvincing. Consider again two judgements containing the same concepts, but being different in logical form, such as “All Fs are G” and “Some Fs are not G”. On Grüne’s account, the same categories would be involved in both. But Kant seems to think that an affirmative judgement represents its objects as instantiating the category of reality, while a negative one represents it as instantiating negation, and that this is an exclusive alternative (see e.g. A245ff.).


Grüne asks for textual evidence for the claim that understanding the logical structure of a judgement requires application of the categories. So let me provide some.

In §19 of the B-Deduction Kant seeks to establish the claim that “[t]he logical form of all judgments consists in the objective unity of the apperception of the concepts contained therein” (B140; heading). So objective unity of apperception of the concepts contained in a judgement is something that characterizes judgements as such, irrespective of their particular content (judgements of the kind he is concerned with in this context, at any rate). It seems to be implied by this that to understand the logical structure of a judgement is to understand that the concepts contained in it exhibit (or “have been brought to”) the objective unity of apperception. Now, what is it to bring representations to the objective unity of apperception? At B143 Kant says that the

action of the understanding […] through which the manifold of given representations (whether they be intuitions or concepts) is brought under an apperception in general is the logical function of judgments.

Assuming that “bringing representations under an apperception in general” is equivalent to “bringing representations to the objective unity of apperception” (which is required for the argument Kant is in the process of giving to be valid), what Kant is saying here is that what accounts for the representation of the logical structure of a judgement (including, presumably, one’s comprehension of this structure) is an application, or exercise, of the logical functions of judgements. But the categories, Kant goes on to say, “are nothing other than these very functions for judging, insofar as the manifold of a given intuition is determined with regard to them” (ibid.). This suggests that exercises of the functions of judgement amount to applications of the categories.


Grüne is unconvinced by my claim that the categories can be regarded, at a first approximation, as concepts of modes of predication. She argues that the categories are characterized by Kant as concepts of an object in general. But since the concept ‘mode of predication’ is distinct extensionally and intensionally from the concept ‘object in general’, my claim cannot be right.

My response is as follows: When I said that, at a first approximation, the categories can be regarded as concepts of modes of predication, I was not talking about the vehicle of representation, but rather about the content represented thereby (and I was taking it that the comparison with Frege had made this clear). A category is a concept of a mode of predication in the sense that it is a concept of what is represented by the relevant mode of predication. This, it seems to me, fits the “Erklärung” Kant gives of the categories at B128, when he says that they are concepts of an object in general, by means of which the intuition of an object is regarded as determined in respect of one of the logical functions for judgements. The crucial point is that a category characterizes what falls under it only in terms of the logical functions through which it is represented in judgement. And this, I think, amounts to saying that a category characterizes what falls under it in terms of the logical form of the judgements through which one represents it.


A fundamental point of disagreement between me and Grüne concerns the question whether or not the unity in virtue of which an intuition is a representation of an object (call it categorial unity) is something that a thinker must in some sense be aware of. Grüne maintains that this is not the case; that it is sufficient for the object-representing character of intuition that it de facto exhibit categorial unity. By contrast, I hold that subjects enjoying intuitions understand (however inchoately) that intuition exhibits categorial unity. Grüne finds this claim implausible and sees no evidence for it in Kant’s work. So let me explain very briefly where I take this evidence to come from.[2] In a nutshell, I take it to consist in the doctrine of apperception. To elaborate just a tiny bit, Kant holds (as Grüne agrees) that the representation of combination, including combination in sensible synthesis, is an act of spontaneity (B130). But spontaneous combination, for Kant, is essentially self-conscious. As he argues in §15, “combination is the representation of the synthetic unity of the manifold” (B130–1). This unity, however, is not one that arises through the act of combining. On the contrary, this unity first makes possible the concept of combination (B131). So what is this unity? As §16 makes clear, it is the synthetic unity of apperception; that is, the unity of self-consciousness.

So this constitutes evidence for the claim that spontaneous synthesis is essentially self-conscious. There are many questions, of course, about how to interpret the doctrine of the synthetic unity of apperception, and Grüne and I are likely to give different answers to at least some of these. I cannot possibly offer an interpretation of this doctrine here. All I can do is to say that I interpret it as saying that the kind of unity in question is one that depends essentially on being represented. That is, representations exhibit this kind of unity only if they are, in some sense, represented as exhibiting it. But this amounts to saying that the subject representing a unified representational manifold is (again, in some sense) aware of its unity—no unity of consciousness without consciousness of unity, as the slogan has it. Accordingly, a determinate intuition will depend for its unity on “the consciousness of the determination of the manifold […], which I have named the figurative synthesis” (B154).


[1] I say more about this in my ‘No Other Use than in Judgment? Kant on Concepts and Sensible Synthesis’, forthcoming in Journal of the History of Philosophy.

[2] For some more discussion, see my ‘Nonconceptualist Readings of Kant and the Transcendental Deduction’, Kantian Review, forthcoming.

© 2014, Thomas Land

Thomas Land received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 2010. He is currently Donnelley Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge. His primary research interest is in Kant, analytic Kantianism, and German Idealism, on which he has published various articles and essays.