WAYNE WAXMAN | Kant’s Anatomy of the Intelligent Mind | Oxford UP 2014


By Colin McLear

Perhaps no distinction is more central to the Critical philosophy than that between sensibility and the ‘higher’ cognitive faculties of the intellect (e.g. understanding, judgement, reason) broadly construed.[1] Upon this distinction in faculties Kant founds a central epistemological insight, namely, that cognition “in its proper sense” (A78/B103) comes only with the combination or unity of representations made possible by their joint cooperation. The seemingly deep dichotomy between these two faculties, whose functions “cannot be exchanged” (A51/B75) seems to present a problem for Kant, and the post-Kantian Germanic tradition in philosophy quickly strove to overcome or undermine it, with Hegel famously reading Kant as saying that,

the original synthetic unity of apperception is recognized also as the principle of the figurative synthesis, i.e., of the forms of intuition; space and time are themselves conceived as synthetic unities, and spontaneity, the absolute synthetic activity of the productive imagination, is conceived as the principle of the very sensibility which was previously characterized only as receptivity. (Hegel 1977:69–70)[2]

While Hegel takes himself to merely be presenting Kant’s true view—a view he construes as somewhat misleadingly presented by Kant himself—the interpretative and philosophical issues surrounding Kant’s distinction have reverberated down to the present day. It is not at all obvious that Hegel is right, either about Kant, or about sensibility.

Wayne Waxman, in his rich and thought-provoking recent book Kant’s Anatomy of the Intelligent Mind, focuses on this core issue by radically rethinking what it is for apperception to be the “highest point” and “supreme principle” of Kant’s theory of the understanding (p. 6). Waxman argues for two claims. First, that the categories are not necessary conditions for apperception as such, but rather only for its role in constituting the unity of “objective” experience or cognition proper (p. 5). This means that apperception is non-discursive or “prediscursive” in some of the forms of activity it effects. Call this the ‘Non-Discursivity Thesis’. Second, that accepting this thesis results in a “transformation” of sorts for our understanding of Kant’s position in the Transcendental Analytic and its relation to the conception of ‘pure’ intuition mooted in the Transcendental Aesthetic. The book is extremely ambitious, including not only detailed discussions of Kant’s views regarding intuition, conceptual representation, and their underlying faculties, but also an interpretation of the argument of the Transcendental Deduction as a whole (Chapters 12–14), a category-by-category “elucidation” of their role in the transcendental synthesis of pure intuition (Chapter 15), an examination of the schematism (Chapter 16), and an extensive discussion of the analogies (Chapter 17).

While I found much of Waxman’s discussion insightful and rewarding I focus here somewhat narrowly on his thesis that pure apperception engages in a non- or pre-discursive form of activity, that this activity is central to resolving a problem concerning the “unity of sensibility”, and that such activity is ultimately what makes possible the pure intuitions of space and time. Waxman’s position, which relies on and extends views put forward in Waxman (1991) and (2005), is broadly in sympathy with that of Hegel (quoted above) in arguing for a deep unity of the sensible and intellectual faculties in the face of Kant’s seemingly dichotomous conception of them. I found Waxman’s argument for this position interesting but somewhat elusive.

Here is a reconstruction of what I take to be Waxman’s central argument for the Non-Discursivity Thesis:

1. The concept of a sensibility requires that there be a “unity of sensibility”, which is a necessary condition of all other mental acts for relating representations (e.g. all reproduction, association, combination, etc.) and of sensibility itself;

2. The unity of sensibility can only be accomplished by positing ‘pure’ intuitions that effect this unity;

3. Pure intuition depends for its existence on a synthesis by the (spontaneous) imagination;

4. The ‘original synthetic unity’ of consciousness in the synthesis of imagination is non-discursively constituted by the faculty of apperception qua understanding;

5. Therefore, pure intuition and the unity of sensibility depends on a non-discursive synthesis by the ‘higher’ and spontaneous, though non-discursive, understanding.

My discussion of this argument proceeds in three parts. First, I present the problem of the “unity of sensibility” as Waxman understands it (premise 1), as well as how Kant’s conception of a pure intuition is taken by Waxman to resolve this problem (premise 2). Second, I discuss the conditions Waxman considers necessary for pure intuition, which he construes in terms of a synthesis via the imagination (premise 3). Third, I examine why Waxman thinks this imaginative synthesis requires positing a non-discursive form of activity effected by apperception (premise 4). Along the way I critically discuss the view and raise a few questions. I make three objections: (i) the problem of unity in sensibility is not sufficiently motivated; (ii) the dependence of the unity of the pure intuitions on synthesis, even a ‘non-discursive’ one, is incompatible with the structure of the representation of space and time; (iii) the connection between apperception and the understanding, and thus the understanding’s role in the constitution of the pure forms of intuition, is unconvincing.

1. Sensibility and the Problem of Unity in Sensibility

The problematic that sets Waxman on the road to the Non-Discursivity Thesis concerns sensibility. Waxman argues that the very concept of a sensibility, or a receptive sensory faculty, raises an important problem, ignored by Kant’s empiricist predecessors, and resolved by Kant only with the innovation of postulating a ‘pure form’ for sensibility.

According to Waxman, Kant notices what previous philosophers do not, namely that

one cannot simply take for granted but must instead explain the unity of all possible sense affections in one and the same consciousness, ahead of all association and propositional thought. It is this problem, I believe, that obliged Kant to rethink the nature of sensibility from the ground up and led eventually to the notion of a pure yet sensible intuition as the only means of solving it. (p. 96)

Call the problem of explaining the “unity of all possible sense affections in one and the same consciousness” the problem of unity in sensibility. Ignoring, for the moment, the historical question of whether Kant in fact is motivated by this problem, what exactly is the problem? Waxman presents it as a problem concerning how the distinctive sensory qualities presented by different sense modalities could all be presented in one conscious sensory experience. As Waxman puts it,

although I am able to perceive a green immediately beside a red and a yellow immediately beside a green in the visual field, I cannot set a smell, sound, or tactual feel immediately beside that yellow in it. The unity of visual sensibility thus has no place for any but visual data. Where then is there a field—a prediscursive, purely sensible consciousness—in which these nonvisual data can be set immediately together with visual, a field in which all data of the senses are immediately contained, representable as a single homogeneous manifold of sensible appearances? (p. 96)

Note that the problem Waxman presents here is not one concerning the unity of representations within a particular sense modality. It is specifically an inter-modal problem. Nor is it a ‘binding’ problem, as that is standardly discussed in literature on perception or in Kant.[3] The question, as I understand it, is not how, for example, the sound of a pencil tapping on a desk is bound with the visual and tactile perceptions of it into the experience of a single cross-modally perceived object. Rather, the question is how one could have a conscious form of awareness of these distinct sensory qualities as one and all ‘together’, irrespective of their being ‘bound’ into discrete objects, in the first place.

Now, the fact that this question of unity is prior to the question of binding does not make it wholly separate. For example, one might think that Berkeley’s associationist view concerning the binding of visual and tactile perceptions to generate the (fictional/constructed) perception of distance is relevant, for it seems that Berkeley’s view simply denies the existence of a ‘pre-discursive’ (or in Berkeley’s theory, a ‘pre-associationist’) sensory ‘field’ that makes possible our unitary experience.

Berkeley argues in the New Theory of Vision that the objects and properties sensed via the differing sense modalities are different (§47). Hence there is no one thing which is both seen and touched. He writes:

[I]f we take a close and accurate view of things, it must be acknowledged that we never see and feel one and the same object. That which is seen is one thing, and that which is felt is another; if the visible figure and extension be not the same with the tangible figure and extension, we are not to infer that one and the same thing has diverse extensions. The true consequence is, that the objects of sight and touch are two distinct things. (NTV §49)

Berkeley’s discussion hinges on what he construes as the immediate objects of sense, namely the proper sensibles associated with each sense modality—e.g. colour for vision, sound for hearing, and texture for touch. Berkeley thus argues that while we may commonly think that we hear or see an object as far away, what we really do is hear a sound or visually sense a coloured array, which we then associate with tactile cues suggesting distance. Hence there is no single unitary consciousness that contains these ideas as connected prior to our associative processes beginning their work. Berkeley thus motivates his associationist binding view by means of a denial of an original ‘unity’ of sensibility. Our ‘experience’ of sensed qualities as one and all related to one another in objects is merely a construction out of associated and immediately perceived tactile and visual qualities.

I also take it that Berkeley would deny Waxman’s position that such association could not take place without the pre-discursive sensory field Waxman posits. The associations I (or my perceptual system) make between visual and tactile sensory representations does not require that I perceive the visual and tactile qualities within one broader field. Rather, it requires only that when I have tactile representations of such and such kind I also have visual representations of such and such kind. Perhaps Berkeley is wrong in holding this position. But I don’t see that we can determine this merely by analysing the concept of sensibility. Rather, the truth of Berkeley’s view (or a contemporary version of it) seems to be an empirical question to be answered by the cognitive sciences.

If that is correct then there is no motivating the problem of unity merely via the concept of sensibility, though there may perhaps be a way of motivating that problem via a particular conception of sensibility. Specifically, Kant’s notion of sensibility as having a ‘form’ that sets universal and necessary conditions on all appearances that may be presented through that sensibility.

If we restrict the problem of the unity of sensibility to a conception of sensibility according to which there must be a priori knowable principles governing all possible appearances, would Waxman’s conclusion—that there must be a unitary ‘form’ that makes possible the presentation of all appearances in one consciousness—result? Even here there seem to be alternatives.

First, one could argue, as Strawson does, that for our conceptual scheme,

[s]patio-temporal position provides the fundamental ground of distinction between one particular item and another of the same general type, hence the fundamental ground of identity of particular items. (1966:49)

This approach makes no appeal to a specific conception of sensibility, but rather to our conception of a ‘particular’ and to the metaphysical and epistemological conditions for distinguishing one particular from another. If cogent though it would get us to the desired result of explaining why there must be a universal and necessary condition or form for all possible appearances.

Second, one could pursue the desired conclusion concerning sensibility via consideration of the conditions necessary for explanation of the possibility of our knowledge of synthetic a priori statements. For example, if intuition is—by definition for Kant—a relational form of consciousness in which some actuality is present to the mind, and one assumes that synthetic truth is such as to depend on intuition, then it would seem that there could be no knowledge of a priori synthetic truths.[4] Kant’s alternative, which is most explicitly presented in §§ 8–10 of the Prolegomena, is that an a priori intuition is only possible if it presents some constitutive feature of our own subjectivity, namely the very way in which anything might appear to us.[5] That this is a strategy pursued by Kant seems to be acknowledged by Waxman when he says:

Kant’s focus on pure intuition, in the Critique of Pure Reason and elsewhere, was almost entirely on the indispensable role it plays in effecting his ‘Copernican revolution’ in metaphysics, together with its consequence, transcendental idealism as the inescapable price of making synthetic a priori judgments of any kind possible at all. (p. 96)

Perhaps, then, Waxman is unconcerned with whether there are alternative ways to arrive at principles governing the ‘form’ of appearances, and is simply looking for an argument from sensibility itself.

Waxman goes on to say that “sensibility’s own immanent need for pure intuition” is given “short shrift”, though it is not clear to me whether this “short shrift” is due to the nature of the way Kant’s arguments progress or simply to their subsequent scholarly interpretation. But as we have just seen, it is in fact not at all clear that there is such an “immanent need”, either as acknowledged by Kant or as required for interpretation of his doctrines.

There is, however, one further set of claims Waxman posits that might serve as a kind of regressive transcendental argument for the unity of sensibility in terms of a form that necessarily and universally conditions all appearances in the manner that Waxman describes. He says:

[I]n the absence of the unity that pure intuition alone can confer on the synoptic manifold, it seems doubtful that one could any longer speak of ‘sensibility’ at all. […] [S]ensibility is, and must be, a multisensory consciousness in which data of all the senses are represented as given immediately together, a single homogeneous manifold of data, completely a priori. Only when apprehended in this preassociative, prediscursive unity of consciousness can these data become available to the imagination in the form of a single manifold required by that faculty if it is then to perform any of the operations credited to it by pre-Kantians: separately reproduce any representations that are apprehended together and reproduce together any representations that are apprehended separately so as to compare or associate any with any other. (pp. 98–9)

As Waxman presents the unity of sensibility here, it is a condition for all further mental acts including those of reproduction (as in the case of episodic memory), comparison, and association. Unfortunately, this comes off rather as an assertion than an argument. For one, the unity of sensibility cannot be necessary for association or comparison in general, since the unity of sensibility is not necessary for intra-modal unity, and there are certainly acts of comparing and associating sensory representations within a single sense modality. A similar point holds for reproduction. Second, there is nothing in the concept of sensibility that requires it to be a “multisensory” consciousness. For example, there is seemingly no contradiction in positing a being whose sensibility involves or consists in one sense modality only. Third, I see no conceptual requirement concerning the imagination’s need for a united manifold if it is to combine distinct sense modal channels. It seems just as possible that the imagination creates a unitary manifold in virtue of its combinatorial activity. I thus find little reason to accept the first premise of Waxman’s argument, that the concept of sensibility itself entails that all relations between appearances necessarily depend on a ‘pure form’ as the basis for an overarching unity.

2. Pure Intuition and the Synthesis of the Imagination

According to Waxman, unity of sensibility is provided by the forms of intuition. These forms, however, are themselves a product of the transcendental synthesis of the (spontaneous and productive) imagination. Waxman summarises his argument for this position as follows. I have put letters in brackets for ease of reference.

[A] [T]here is no one consciousness in which all sensations are originally given; such a consciousness is possible only through the mediation of pure intuition and the homogeneous manifold of appearances it makes possible. What else can this mean but that unity of sensibility is impossible given sense alone in its original receptivity? Yet to concede that it is possible only through the mediation of pure intuition is as much as to say that [B] this consciousness has to be made and is in no sense a given. And since its production is the immediate result of intuiting, through heterogeneous sensations, a manifold of homogeneous appearances contained in a pure intuition that is “essentially one” (A25/B39), this can only mean that both [C] pure intuition itself and the appearances it makes possible are products of synthesis in imagination rather than givens of sense. (p. 101)

We have already examined elements of Waxman’s argument for (A). Here I am interested in (B) and (C). That is, I am interested in two inferences. The first is the inference from the claim that pure intuition solves the problem of the unity of sensibility (which we can assume for the sake of argument) to the conclusion that pure intuition must “be made and is in no sense a given”.[6] The second is the inference from pure intuition as being ‘made’ rather than ‘given’ to the conclusion that pure intuition is a product of a synthesis of imagination. The second inference paves the way for Waxman’s Non-Discursivity Thesis, and will largely be the focus of the next section. Below I raise two objections to the first inference. These concern, respectively, the mereological structure of pure intuition, and the nature of non-rational animal (or just ‘animal’ for short) representation. I shall take these objections in turn, but first we need to discuss a bit more thoroughly what it is for a representation to be ‘given’ rather than ‘made’.

2.1 Givenness as Passive and as Active

One might initially try to conceive of the given/made distinction via the distinction between what is the outcome of affection and what is the outcome of one’s own activity. Kant clearly thinks that sensory experience is not wholly the product of the mind’s activity. It can arise only upon being affected by something, be it either an independent object or the mind itself. Thus, one sense in which a representation is ‘given’ is that it arises via a process of affection. This is also one of the central ways in which Kant distinguishes our sensible intuition from God’s intellectual intuition. Sensible intuition begins with affection, while God’s intellectual intuition is wholly initiated through God’s activity, an activity moreover that does not require or result in God acting on itself (B72, B145). Affection is thus a necessary condition of givenness.

Are the pure forms of intuition given in this sense? It depends on what we mean by ‘pure form’. As Waxman rightly notes, “Kant’s anti-innatism is directed not against innate faculties but innate representations” (p. 249). This means that at least the content of pure intuition (e.g. that it contains an infinite manifold) might stand as given, since it is not ‘in the mind’ prior to any instance of affection. But the pure intuitions, as forms of sensibility, cannot be given, for these forms are at least partly constitutive of our receptivity—they are the ways in which finite discursive beings (or at least humans) are receptive.

But it seems fairly clear that Waxman is concerned with pure intuition as an “individual representation that contains all its manifold (possible as well as actual) within it” (p. 91). Waxman’s point, presumably, is that this representation cannot be the result of affection since its content is a condition of any appearance we can be conscious of through affection. But is this enough to say that the representation is ‘made’? Not if ‘made’ is supposed to mean ‘generated through the mind’s spontaneous activity’. It is certainly true that the pure forms of intuition are due to facts about us as cognising subjects (i.e. facts about the nature of our receptivity) and not due to objects. It is also true that Kant tends to contrast sensibility with the ‘higher’ cognitive capacities in terms of the passivity of sensibility and the spontaneous activity of the productive imagination, understanding, judgement, and reason. But we cannot conclude from these two points that if something is not the product of (passive) affection then it is (actively) made, in the sense of being a product of synthesis.[7] We have already seen that such a broad inference fails with respect to the pure forms as capacities. In the next subsection I present an argument as to why it must also fail with respect to the content of pure intuition as well.

2.2 Synthesis and the Mereology of Intuition

The problem with construing the pure forms as the product of acts of synthesis is that Kant’s characterisation of the structure of a representation produced by such a synthesis is at odds with his characterisation of the structure of the content of the pure intuitions. Here, in brief, is the argument[8]:

1. The structure of pure intuition (or its content) is one according to which the parts of the representation are determined by the whole;

2. The structure of a representation that depends for its generation on an act of synthesis is one according to which the whole is determined by its parts;

3. Therefore, the pure representations of space and time cannot be dependent on synthetic acts for their generation.

The evidence for premise 1 comes in part from the third argument in the Metaphysical Exposition of space (fourth in the case of time):

[I]f one speaks of many spaces, one understands by that only parts of one and the same unique space. And these parts cannot as it were precede the single all-encompassing space as its components (from which its composition would be possible), but rather are only thought in it. It is essentially single [einig]; the manifold in it, thus also the general concept of spaces in general, rests merely on limitations. (A24–5/B39)

Evidence for premise 2) comes in consideration of both Kant’s positive characterisation of our intellectual activity (this is meant to include the activity of the productive imagination) and his contrast of our intellectual forms of representation with God’s intuitive intellect.

Kant characterises our intellectual activity as ‘discursive’ to denote the manner in which the understanding acts—viz. moving to and fro, from part to part—rather than merely as a synonym for ‘conceptual’, ‘linguistic’, or ‘rational’. It is this notion he means to indicate in his talk of “running through and gathering together” (A99) representations.[9]

Kant contrasts our discursive intellect with God’s intuitive intellect in this mereological manner:

[W]e can also conceive of an understanding which, since it is not discursive like ours but is intuitive, goes from the synthetically universal (of the intuition of a whole as such) to the particular, i.e., from the whole to the parts, in which, therefore, and in whose representation of the whole, there is no contingency in the combination of the parts, in order to make possible a determinate form of the whole, which is needed by our understanding, which must progress from the parts, as universally conceived grounds, to the different possible forms, as consequences, that can be subsumed under it. (KU, AA 5:407)

It is this activity of moving from part to part in the connection of representations that also informs Kant’s general characterisation of synthesis:

By synthesis in the most general sense, however, I understand the action of putting different representations together with each other and comprehending their manifoldness in one cognition. (A77/B103)

Thus, if the content of pure intuition is such that the (intuited) whole is prior to its parts, and synthesis is a process resulting in the reverse mereological relation, it cannot be the case that the pure intuitions result from a synthesis.

Presumably, Waxman’s response will be to deny that all ‘higher’ cognitive activity should be understood as ‘discursive’ in the sense for which I have argued. Hence, the central issue is whether it makes sense to say that there is a form of synthesis that is non-discursive in a manner that does not threaten Kant’s characterisation of the structure of pure intuition. But before I turn to that argument I want to briefly raise another, independent, objection.

2.3 Animals and Intuition

Kant is laudable for not falling into the error of construing animals as mere machines. He is on record in various places as saying that animals have sensory representations of their environment (KU, AA 5:464; V-Met/Volckmann [1784–85], AA 28:449; cf. Anth, AA 7:212), that they have intuitions (V-Lo/Dohna [c. 1792], AA 24:702), and that they are acquainted with objects though they do not cognise them (Log, AA 9:64–5; cf. V-Lo/Dohna, AA 24:730–1; V-Lo/Wiener [1780], AA 24:846; V-Lo/Blomberg [c. 1771], AA 24:132–3, 134–5, 136).

However, Kant is clear that animals cannot achieve the kind of self-consciousness characteristic of mastery of the first-person concept:

Of all the creatures on earth, the human being alone has a representation of his I or of his person. This also makes him a rational being. Animals indeed have representations of the world, but not of their I; thus they are also not rational beings. (V-Anth/Mron [c. 1784–5], AA 25:1215; cf. Anth, AA 7:127)

Kant is also quite clear that animals lack the capacity for first-person self-consciousness because they lack the ‘higher’ intellectual faculties altogether, viz. understanding, judgement, and reason. For example, he says:

[W]e ascribe to these beings a faculty of sensation, reproductive imagination, etc., but all only sensible as a lower faculty, and not connected with consciousness. (V-Met-L1/Pölitz [c. 1777–80], AA 28:277)

The combination of Kant’s expressed views with Waxman’s interpretative claim concerning the (productive, spontaneous) imagination’s role in generating unity of the pure forms results in a contradiction. Kant would have to be construed as saying both that animals have representations via their sensible faculty and that no such representations would be possible for them, since they lack a faculty capable of generating the ‘unity’ requisite for sensibility.

The problem for Waxman is much more acute then it is for standard ‘conceptualist’ readings of Kant, which deny that animals could have intuitions or objective representations more broadly.[10] The issue stems from Waxman’s claims concerning the capacities that are constitutive of sensibility itself. He writes:

[I]mplicit in the notion of ‘sensibility’ is not simply that a manifold of affections be given in the synopsis of sense but, in addition, that there be a means of representing that manifold as a manifold (A99) […] the two together […] constitute sensibility: the a priori synopsis through which a manifold of senses affections is given and the pure synthesis of apprehension whereby that manifold is exhibited as a homogeneous manifold of appearances in pure intuition […] without either sensibility is impossible. (p. 99)

While animals may possess the capacity for an a priori “synopsis” of sensory affections, on Waxman’s view they must lack the capacity to represent the manifold “as” as manifold, i.e., they lack the ability to “exhibit” a priori a “homogenous manifold of appearances” in pure intuition, because such pure intuitions are produced in the synthetic unity of apperception. But since this is a necessary condition of sensibility, and animals lack any synthetic unity of apperception, animals must then altogether lack a sensibility. This result strikes me as deeply problematic. Whatever else Kant thinks about animals, he thinks that they possess a sensibility (e.g. A546/B574, A802/B830; Anth, AA 7:196), and that this is something we, as rational beings, hold with them in common.

Moreover, even if Waxman allows that animals somehow possess pure intuitions, they surely have cognitively available to them more determinacy in the relations between their sensible representations than that of mere juxtaposition and succession, the sole relations that Waxman allows to the pure forms, understood independently of further discursive determination (pp. 94, 106, 117). But if that is right then, since animals lack any higher cognitive capacities that could be the basis of determining intuition, and so form the basis for representing relations other than these very basic and coarse-grained ones, there must be more to the determinate nature of (pure) intuition than just these basic relations.

One might try to dismiss the animals case as one with which Kant is largely unconcerned, but Kant seemed to think that there was some advantage to the investigation of the question of animal representation. Consideration of the cognitive lives of animals allows a view of the mind, as it were, ‘from below’, whereas in contrast most of our time is spent at a position ‘from above’, dealing with the cognitive faculties of reason and the understanding.[11] This alternative viewpoint gives us, Kant thinks, a better sense of what is gained as one moves up the cognitive ladder to rational thought. Waxman’s interpretative position, in contrast, renders Kant’s conception of animal cognition and the vantage point it posits, unintelligible.

3. The Non-Discursive Intellect

I have argued that neither the pure forms as capacities, nor their a priori content, can be accounted for by synthesis, due to the mereological whole-on-part dependence structure of representations generated via synthesis. The content of the pure forms, in contrast, has a part-on-whole dependence, and so cannot be explained through any processes carried out by faculties distinct from sensibility.

Waxman’s position might seem to be well-situated to avoid this objection, however, because it holds that the synthetic activity of the imagination is due to a non-discursive synthesis. Specifically, there is an activity according to which representations are unified in one consciousness that is not itself an activity employing or depending on the use of the categories. Thus, according to Waxman, the necessary synthetic unity of the pure forms of space and time just is the synthetic unity of apperception in non-discursive form. The resulting picture, as Waxman puts it, shows that

the original synthetic unity of apperception underlies not only the categories and logical functions but the unity of sensibility effected by pure intuitions as well, and so constitutes the apex of Kantian transcendental psychology: the unique point at which the fundamental a priori representations of sensibility and understanding converge, each a distinct expression of this apperception, the one prediscursive and the others discursive. (p. 132)

However, I do not see how an appeal to non-discursive synthesis really avoids the problem posed by the mereological argument, for as long as one thinks that synthesis involves a ‘putting together’ of anything at all, then I do not see how synthesis is compatible with kind of part-on-whole dependence exhibited by the content of the pure intuitions of space and time.[12] If the pure intuitions have the mereological structure articulated in the Aesthetic, then they cannot be the result of a synthetic process.

Waxman does try to defend his position textually. He argues that Kant straightforwardly says that the pure forms are synthetic unities, and that this cries out for a (non-discursive) explanation in terms of synthesis. The relevant passage is from a note in §17 of the B-Deduction:

Space and time and all their parts are intuitions, thus individual representations along with the manifold that they contain in themselves (see the Transcendental Aesthetic), thus they are not mere concepts by means of which the same consciousness is contained in many representations, but rather are many representations that are contained in one and in the consciousness of it; they are thus found to be composite, and consequently the unity of consciousness, as synthetic and yet as original, is to be found in them. This singularity of theirs is important in its application. (B136n.)

Waxman is absolutely correct that this passage indicates the importance of synthesis in the generation of a unitary consciousness of space and time, a consciousness that is itself necessary for the generation of all concepts of space and time. But the unity of consciousness that is synthetic and “yet […] original” is not the unity of the pure intuitions themselves, but the unity of consciousness in their representation—i.e. the unity (or unifying activity) that “is aimed directly at the intuition” (A99) and makes conceptual representation of it possible.

Since the texts are not dispositive, we need to look to further elements of Waxman’s argument. But one thing that is not clear to me in Waxman’s line of argument here is how the activity of the imagination, in providing a synthesis of apprehension that brings about the unity of consciousness that Waxman then identifies with the unity of the pure intuitions, is ultimately related to the activity of apperception. My tentative interpretation of the shape of Waxman’s overall argument is that he construes the synthesis of apprehension to be a form of synthesis speciosa or ‘figurative synthesis’ (p. 139).[13] Such synthesis, like all forms of synthesis, is carried out by the understanding. But, as Waxman argues, the faculty of apperception is the understanding. So to say that a figurative synthesis is carried out by the understanding “under the name of the imagination” (B162n.) in generating the pure representations of space and time just is to say that the unifying activity of apperception is what constitutes the pure intuitive representations. Since the unity of the pure intuitions must be non-discursive, this means that apperception and thus the understanding, has a non-discursive form of activity.

Hopefully, this way of presenting the argument is broadly correct.[14] But at least one problem with the argument concerns Waxman’s identification of the faculty of apperception with the understanding.[15] To be sure, talk of a unitary consciousness that apprehends the content presented in a synthesis of apprehension is ipso facto talk of a unity of apperception. But since Waxman claims that “apperception must be conceived as an action just as distinct from the aesthetic synthesis of imagination as from any discursive action (conception, judgment, inference)” (p. 142), why think that the activity of the imagination in synthesising representations for apprehension is identical with the activity for unifying representations in one consciousness, rather than, e.g. merely being necessary for such activity? And why think that either of these is identical with a pure intuition containing an infinite given manifold whose parts are dependent on the whole?

At least one reason is that Waxman needs to make this identification in order to justify his interpretation of the distinction between form and formal intuition, based on such controversial texts as the B160–1 note.[16] On Waxman’s view, the forms of intuition are “mere capacities to exhibit the manifold data of sense as outside or after one another” (p. 144). Formal intuitions are the pure representations of space and time discussed in the Metaphysical Expositions of the Transcendental Aesthetic, “space and time as individual unities of their manifolds” (p. 138). According to Waxman,

[a] principal objective of the footnote is to justify Kant’s procedure in the Transcendental Aesthetic of ascribing to sensibility a unity that only in the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories is revealed to have its source in the understanding. […]. This means that the non-discursive character of the unity of the space and time of the Aesthetic can be preserved only if nothing involving the logical functions of judgment—which, for Kant, define discursivity (understanding as Vermögen zu urteilen: A68–9/B934), the categories included (A80–1/B106)—is in any way concerned in the action whereby the understanding produces formal intuitions. (p. 139)

Thus Waxman’s interpretation requires that the unity of consciousness constituting the pure forms of intuition be both non-discursive and an instance of the activity of the understanding. But his conception of the pure forms (or ‘formal’ intuitions) as original synthetic unities of consciousness is a conception of them as non-discursive forms of apperception. Hence Waxman’s strategy for making sense of B160–1n requires an identification of the faculty of apperception with the understanding.

Waxman argues for the identity of the faculty of apperception and the understanding in the course of arguing for the priority of apperception over the employment of the categories (pp. 132–5). I am broadly sympathetic to the view that the faculty of apperception and the unity it brings about is not explained by, grounded in, or brought about in virtue of the employment of the categories. As Waxman points out, Kant consistently characterises the unity of apperception as the unconditioned condition of all employment of concepts, including the categories (A401–2, B131, B133–4n.).

However, Waxman’s argument that these texts show that apperception is non-discursive because it grounds the possibility of categorial representation is weakened by his failure to consider an alternative reading of how the categories are ‘necessary’ for apperception. According to the way considered and rejected by Waxman, categorial representation is necessary for apperception because it explains and brings about apperception. I take this position as plausibly ruled out by the texts Waxman indicates. But on an alternative way of reading the necessity claim the categories are simply a necessary byproduct or concomitant of the activity through which the unity of consciousness is accomplished. On this reading, though apperception grounds the possibility of conceptual representation, including the categories, nevertheless, the activity through which the unity of apperception comes about always involves or entails categorial activity, and thus discursive activity more broadly. I take it that this position would need to be ruled out if Waxman’s aim to vindicate the Non-Discursivity Thesis is to be successful.

But even assuming that Waxman could rule out this possibility, I don’t see how the priority of apperception over the categories licenses the claim that the understanding is the faculty of apperception. Indeed, the texts Waxman points to suggest quite the opposite.[17] If the power of apperception, as the power to produce a unified consciousness, is the “ground of the possibility” of the categories (A401), and which thereby contains “the possibility of the understanding” (B131, B137), then it cannot be identified with that understanding.[18] If something grounds another thing’s possibility it cannot be identical with that thing. Thus, I don’t see how Waxman can say that the priority of apperception over discursive activity shows that the “understanding becomes first and foremost the faculty of apperception” (p. 135).

Thus, even if it were the case that the unity of apperception is at least partly constitutive of the unity of the pure forms of intuition, Waxman would not succeed in showing that the understanding thereby constitutes the pure forms. But then we no longer have a way of reading the B160–1n passage that explains the role of understanding in bringing non-discursive unity to intuition.

Hence, though Waxman’s development of a Hegelian reading of Kant’s conception of the cognitive faculties is impressive in its depth and rigour, I find the arguments for the various premises unconvincing. I don’t see that the concept of sensibility alone generates the “problem of the unity of sensibility” nor its concomitant solution. Moreover, that Waxman’s position regarding sensibility is too strong seems all the clearer when we further consider Kant’s view of non-rational animal representation. I also take the mereological argument to have shown that no form of intellectual activity of which we are capable can generate a representational whole on which its parts depend as a limitation thereof. The unity of the pure forms of intuition as infinite given manifolds cannot be the same as, or brought about through, the activity constituting the synthetic unity of apperception.

Invited: 31 August 2016. Received: 14 June 2018.


[1] Kant sometimes characterizes sensibility, as in the opening of the Transcendental Aesthetic (A19/B33) and Transcendental Logic (A50/B74), by referring to it as a Fähigkeit as opposed to a Vermögen. Both of these are translatable as ‘capacity’ or as ‘faculty’. Kant also sometimes simply equates the two terms (e.g. A51/B75) and often speaks of sensibility in terms of a “faculty of appearances” (Scheinvermögen) (AA 7:146) or “faculty of intuition” (Vermögen der Anschauung) (AA 7:153). In my discussion of sensibility and the intellect I follow Kant and typically use “power”, “faculty”, and “capacity” as all broadly synonymous.

[2] Waxman mentions this claim and thus the broad alignment of his view with Hegel’s, though he acknowledges the possibility that Hegel would not endorse the Non-Discursivity Thesis (p. 149).

[3] See e.g. Treisman & Gelade (1980, 1998), Allais (2016), and Dunlop (2017).

[4] For such a view of intuition see McLear (2016, 2017). For the relevance of this kind of view to Kant’s transcendental idealism see Allais (2010).

[5] There remains a question concerning why these constitutive forms end up being those of space and time, but I take Waxman’s question as more basic, concerning just the claim that there is a universal and necessary form to appearances at all.

[6] I confess that the exact nature of this inference is opaque to me. Waxman clearly intends (p. 102, n.14) that the reader refer to his previous book (Waxman 1991), but I have found this of little help since the prior argument also seems to move quickly from “cannot be given” (in the sense of being a product of affection, more on this below) to “is a product of synthesis”.

[7] In any case, Kant’s active/passive distinction is misleading, since he thinks that any determination in an individual is going to be the result of activity within that individual, even in the ‘passive’ case of being affected by something else. This is clear from his discussion of substantial interaction in the Metaphysics Mrongovius lectures (see V-Met/Mron II, AA 29:823 et passim). In those lectures, Kant is reported as saying that “substance suffers (passive) whose accidents inhere through another power”. He then asks: “How is this passion possible, since it was said earlier that it [i.e. the passive/suffering substance] is active insofar as its accidents inhere?” (V-Met/Mron II, AA 29:823). Kant says: “What then is genuine passivity (passio)? The acting substance (substantia agens) determines the power of the substance being acted upon (substantiae patientis) in order to produce this accident, therefore all passivity (passio) is nothing more than the determination of the power of the suffering substance by an outer power” (V-Met/Mron II, AA 29:823). In other words, all change in a substance is at least partially due to the activity of the substance. But this does not mean that all change is ‘made’ as opposed to ‘given’.

[8] For more extensive discussion of the issues in this section see McLear (2015); cf. Onof & Schulting (2015) and Messina (2014).

[9] Waxman says that “the logical functions of judgment […] for Kant, define discursivity” (p. 139). I agree that it is the fact that the understanding, for us, is a capacity to judge that makes our understanding discursive. But the emphasis on the specific forms of judgement is, in my view, too narrow. They are one and all forms of running through, gathering together, and connecting representations, and it is this more general notion of ‘discursive’ that I have in mind.

[10] For discussion see McLear (2011, 2014).

[11] See e.g. the notes on his lectures transcribed in V-Met-L1/Pölitz, AA 28:277–8 (c. 1777–80).

[12] That Waxman does think of the synthesising activity making pure intuition possible an activity of putting a multiplicity or manifold together seems fairly clear from his statement that “pure intuition of space and time involves the same three components found in discursive (concept-based) objective unities: the manifold, its synthesis, and the consciousness of that synthesis as a unity. For without the addition of the latter, neither pure space nor pure time could be represented as a single complex object (individual unity) in which all their manifold is contained” (p. 142).

[13] Waxman apparently thinks there is a discursive, categorial kind of figurative synthesis as well as a non-discursive, non-categorial kind. He writes: “Although their [i.e. the pure intuitions of space and time] being given as intuitions depends on productive imagination’s synthesis speciosa, it is evidently not the transcendental synthesis speciosa mentioned at B151–2 since the unity of the categories unquestionably does belong to that synthesis” (p. 139).

[14] I take this to be further supported by Waxman’s claim that “just as two plus two cannot go together any other way than to yield four as their sum, the pure space and time of the Aesthetic cannot be both nondiscursive and original synthetic unities of their manifold in one consciousness unless apperception has a prediscursive as well as precategorial and categorial discursive guises. And since the understanding is the faculty of apperception, this is just to say that it is a faculty that has prediscursive no less than discursive employment” (p. 151, n.12).

[15] There is a further worry, though I won’t discuss it here, as to whether it is really plausible to construe the imagination as being “as much a part of sensibility as the outer and inner senses themselves” (p. 113).

[16] The footnote is notoriously obscure in its expression, as well as its overall role in the argument of §26. For example, Lorne Falkenstein describes this footnote as “so obscure that it can be made to serve the needs of any interpretation whatsoever” because the text is “close enough to exhibiting a contradiction that it makes it possible to get virtually any conclusion one pleases out of the passage with only minor effort” (Falkenstein 1995:91).

[17] Waxman repeatedly appeals to B133–4n to support the identification of apperception and the understanding because there Kant says that the synthetic unity of apperception (or the faculty thereof) is the “understanding itself”. I think it makes much more sense to read Verstand here as ‘intellect’, i.e. as the higher cognitive power, containing within it the faculty of understanding (reflecting concepts), judgement, and reason. I take this more general sense to be what Kant typically has in mind in cases where he contrasts Verstand and ‘sensibility’. I also think the “is” here is not one of identity but rather constitution.

[18] Unless one thinks Kant accepts that the understanding grounds its own possibility. However, I take it that Kant denies that grounding relations are reflexive in this way.


Allais, L. (2010), ‘Kant’s Argument for Transcendental Idealism in the Transcendental Aesthetic’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 110(1/1): 47–75.

——— (2016), ‘Synthesis and Binding’, in A. Gomes & A. Stephenson (eds), Kant and the Philosophy of Mind. Perception, Reason, and the Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 22–45.

Dunlop, K. (2017), ‘Understanding Non-Conceptual Representation of Objects: Empirical Models of Sensibility’s Operation’, in A. Gomes & A. Stephenson (eds), Kant and the Philosophy of Mind. Perception, Reason, and the Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 46–66.

Falkenstein, L. (1995), Kant’s Intuitionism: A Commentary on the Transcendental Aesthetic (Toronto: University of Toronto Press).

Hegel, G. W. F. (1977), Faith and Knowledge: An English Translation of G. W. F. Hegel’s Glauben Und Wissen, ed. W. Cerf & H. S. Harris (Albany, NY: SUNY Press).

McLear, C. (2011), ‘Kant on Animal Consciousness’, Philosophers’ Imprint 11(15): 1–16.

——— (2014), ‘The Kantian (Non)-Conceptualism Debate’, Philosophy Compass 9(11): 769–90.

——— (2015), ‘Two Kinds of Unity in the Critique of Pure Reason‘, Journal of the History of Philosophy 53(1): 79–110.

——— (2016), ‘Kant on Perceptual Content’, Mind 125(497): 95–144.

——— (2017), ‘Intuition and Presence’, in A. Gomes & A. Stephenson (eds), Kant and the Philosophy of Mind. Perception, Reason, and the Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 86–103.

Messina, J. (2014), ‘Kant on the Unity of Space and the Synthetic Unity of Apperception’, Kant-Studien 105(1): 5–40.

Onof, C. & D. Schulting (2015), ‘Space as Form of Intuition and as Formal Intuition. On the Note to B160 in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason‘, Philosophical Review 124(1): 1–58.

Strawson, P. F. (1966) The Bounds of Sense (London: Methuen).

Treisman, A. (1998), ‘Feature Binding, Attention and Object Perception’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 353(1373): 1295–1306.

Treisman, A. & G. Gelade (1980), ‘A Feature-Integration Theory of Attention‘, Cognitive Psychology 12(1): 97–136.

Waxman, W. (1991), Kant’s Model of the Mind: A New Interpretation of Transcendental Idealism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

——— (2005), Kant and the Empiricists: Understanding Understanding (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

© Colin McLear, 2018.

Colin McLear is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA. He graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Cornell University in 2013. His work focuses on the history of modern philosophy, especially Kant, and the philosophy of mind. He has published on these topics in a variety of places, including SYNTHESEJOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY, MIND, PHILOSOPHY COMPASS, and PHILOSOPHERS’ IMPRINT.