Apperception and Self-Consciousness in Kant and German Idealism
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Apperception and Self-Consciousness in Kant and German Idealism

Dennis Schulting

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eBook - ePub

Apperception and Self-Consciousness in Kant and German Idealism

Dennis Schulting

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In Apperception and Self-Consciousness in Kant and German Idealism, Dennis Schulting examines the themes of reflexivity, self-consciousness, representation and apperception in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and German Idealism more widely. Central to Schulting's argument is the claim that all human experience is inherently self-referential and that this is part of a self-reflexivity of thought, or what is called transcendental apperception, a Kantian insight that was first apparent in the work of Christian Wolff and came to inform all of German Idealism. In this rigorous text, Schulting establishes the historical roots of Kant's thought and traces it through to his immediate successors, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He specifically examines the cognitive role of selfconsciousness and its relation to idealism and situates it in a clear and coherent history of rationalist philosophy.

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Introduction: Ineliminably Reflexive Human Experience

When I experience a particular object that is in front of me, the screen of the laptop on which I am currently typing these words, say, I can justifiably assert that I am the one experiencing the screen, or more precisely, the window in which I type those words. I need not be explicitly aware of my typing words on the keyboard and seeing them appear on the screen—it would be impractical if I were constantly aware of my typing and the letters appearing in the window as I type. But I must at least be able to be explicitly aware of my so typing and seeing the words appear on the screen. That is, I must be able to think of myself as being engaged in the activity of typing and reading. This reminds us of the well-known and oft-cited phrase at the start of the actual argument for the deduction of the categories of experience in the B-Deduction of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, namely that ‘the I think must be able to accompany all my representations’ (B131). This phrase has often been misinterpreted as to its scope1 but what is at any rate clear is that it expresses Kant’s principle of transcendental apperception, which basically says that
all my representations … must stand under the condition under which alone I can ascribe them to the identical self as my representations, and thus can grasp them together, as synthetically combined in an apperception, through the general expression I think.
This is a trivially true, ‘analytical proposition’ (B135): it does not say that I must grasp all representations that are had (those which occur in someone’s mind) as my representations, but rather it says that I can say of those representations occurring in someone’s mind that they are mine only under a certain condition under which these representations share an identical element which makes them mine in the strict sense (of being all together my representations). To put this differently, any set of representations that I have, such as a representation of the keyboard of my laptop, a representation of the white window or interface of my word processor, or a representation of the various words that appear in the window as I type, is not just a set of consecutive representations occurring during a specific time interval, but they are representations that I take to be mine just in case I apprehend them together to indicate the activity of typewriting that I am undertaking. What is conspicuous about this way of looking at representing is that a kind of self-awareness of one’s representing is always in principle involved in the first-order representing that is going on. Note that I say ‘in principle’. Representations need not be apprehended in such a way that I always apprehend them together by ‘ascrib[ing] them to the identical self as my representations’; representations could just be varyingly prompted over time without myself noticing that they constitute a unitary representation of ‘all my representations’ together. For example, I could just, while looking up from my screen, find myself staring into the distance, momentarily lost for words; that is, more precisely, I could just be staring. In that case, various representational goings-on—catching a glimpse of the clear sky outside, detecting the smell of the coffee I had made earlier etc.—occur in my mind without them having a unitary focal point, that is, without them sharing the mark of an identical self to which I would necessarily ascribe them if they were to have that unitary focal point. This implies that representations being represented would not constitute a necessary unitary representation of ‘all my representations’ together if I didn’t notice it: the noticing and the necessary unity among my representations hang together.
What is important here is to realize that Kant is not making a simple claim as to the fact that all representations necessarily share an identical representing ‘I’, an identical self, just in virtue of being representations. Nor, even, does he claim that, while not all representations need actually share the same self, they nonetheless necessarily entail sharing the same self; in other words, that representations could not fail to be accompanied by a same self at least at some point in time, or that they have a necessary disposition to being accompanied by a same self. The principle of apperception is not a psychological principle that stipulates the necessary conditions under which one can have representations simpliciter. The relevance of Kant’s point lies rather in the fact that in order to have a unitary representation of some object or objective event, a representation that is objectively valid, for it to be something for one, the representations that make up this unitary representation must stand under a condition of them belonging together necessarily, and this condition is precisely the condition of ascribing them to an identical self that takes these representations together.
Kant’s argument operates at a very general level, of course, but it is clear that self-consciousness in some form is, at least potentially, involved in our representing of objects. More precisely, whenever we represent something as an object or objective event, self-consciousness is at least involved as an awareness of our so representing. We could call this, in Robert Pippin’s words (1997a:39), the ‘ineliminably reflexive’ aspect of human representing or experience. Every possible instance of human experience of some object or event is accompanied by an element of reflection or self-awareness. The self-awareness here does not concern a specific consciousness of oneself as oneself, a numerically stable self-substance or person, but rather a consciousness of oneself as an agent of doing something, namely thinking or representing something. This reflexive aspect is not entirely unique or original to Kant’s thought, since already his predecessors Leibniz and Wolff entertained a view of consciousness as having in some sense to do with the second-order accompanying of one’s first-order perceptions of objects. Kant’s term for the self-reflexiveness of representing, ‘apperception’, is also directly inherited from Leibniz, who first coined it (though it appears already in Descartes). But unlike his predecessors, Kant made self-consciousness into the central pillar of his system. It is even present in the very title of his chef d’œuvre: the Critique of Pure Reason. The genitive in the title can and must be read as a subjective as well as an objective genitive. In the preface to the first edition, Kant also speaks strikingly of the ‘self-knowledge’ of reason (Axi), by which he means that the critique of dogmatic metaphysics, which is the central project of the Critique, is not just an objective account of what is wrong with the metaphysics of his predecessors, including Hume and Locke, but also a subjective reflection on reason itself, a self-reflection by reason itself, or a reflection on the origin and bounds of metaphysical claims in reason itself. The critique of metaphysics is thus first and foremost an inner reflection on the question of what reason itself is and, importantly, what it can and cannot accomplish in terms of the acquisition of knowledge.
Self-consciousness thus lies at the centre of Kant’s Critical project of examining the objective validity of metaphysical claims to knowledge about the world. The centrality of the self is first presented in the B-preface by means of a thought experiment: Kant asks whether we could not make greater advance in metaphysics just as in science and mathematics if we assumed that rather than our thinking conforming to objects, objects conformed to our mindedness, that is, to the forms of our sensibility and our understanding. Our mindedness, not objects or things, becomes the measure by which the validity of metaphysics is established. The motivation behind this thought experiment is the lack of a pure universal criterion, in metaphysical studies up until Kant’s times, in virtue of which the objective validity or truth of metaphysical claims can be assessed. Philosophers have erected whole systems of thought dealing with the conceptual analysis of all kinds of metaphysical issues and beliefs, but they failed first to properly analyse the very capacity to understand by means of which such claims are being made (A65/B90). Only through such an analysis can a pure criterion of understanding be found in virtue of which the validity of metaphysical claims can be appraised.
By instead bringing the capacity to understand itself into the focus of philosophical analysis, Kant moves metaphysics away from a direct preoccupation with the standard metaphysical topics towards a more formal approach. The result of this is an abandonment of a realist ontology, for which the concepts analysed map being itself, in favour of what Kant comes to call transcendental idealism—but in the Prolegomena, after being unfavourably compared to Berkeleyan idealism, he prefers to call it a ‘formal’ idealism (Prol, AA 4:375). Though it is often denied by commentators, there is a direct connection between, on the one hand, Kant’s formal concerns with the objective validity of knowledge claims, as a whole and not just those aspects that concern our human sensibility—that is, his epistemology—and, on the other hand, his doctrine of idealism, namely the doctrine that the objects of our knowledge are in fact nothing but representations, and not things outside these representations, namely, not things in themselves—that is, his metaphysics strictly speaking. The Copernican hypothesis thus directly entails transcendental idealism. This is because Kant’s Critical theory of knowledge is not a standard theory of knowledge but a theory of knowledge that is as much a metaphysical investigation into the very categories that determine objects as objects. Kant aims to show that the categories are constitutive of the very objectivity of objects, but since the categories are in fact nothing but the functions of our representations, more specifically, the functions of our judging, objects are therefore nothing but functions of our judging too, that is, insofar as their objectivity is concerned. These objects Kant calls appearances. Inasmuch as the objects are functions of our judging, the objects of our knowledge or cognition are limited to the appearances of things in themselves. Transcendental idealism is both an epistemology and a metaphysics, but at the same time it is not a theory about how things are in themselves, that is, an old-style ontology.
The central theme of this book is the inseparable connection between representation, idealism, objectivity and self-consciousness, whereby the latter, the representing self, is the pivot around which everything else turns. This arguably holds even more so for the post-Kantians—but, I argue, this is not despite Kant, but rather because of their Kantian heritage. Apperception, as developed by Kant, fundamentally and centrally informs not just Kant’s thought but mutatis mutandis also that of his followers Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. The central thesis of this book is that all of them should be seen as Kantians in the systematic sense of being centred on the principle of transcendental apperception, and that absent an understanding of the centrality of apperception their philosophical systems cannot be really understood.
Karl Leonard Reinhold (1757–1823) argues that what we represent of things is only the representeds as the direct objects of the representing consciousness, literally nothing about how the things are in themselves. Of all the post-Kantians, Reinhold remains closest to the spirit if not the letter of Kant, but unlike Kant he seems to base what in the Kant literature has been called the restriction thesis on a self-standing pure principle of representation. I believe Reinhold is absolutely right to emphasize the representationalism in Kant, but by seemingly basing his system on a self-standing principle of representation, rather than on an analysis of the capacity to understand, as does Kant, Reinhold thus might seem to risk making it impossible to utter true analytic statements about things in themselves such as God and the soul.
At first blush, for Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) and G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831) the idealism becomes much more radical, one that dispenses entirely with the thing in itself. For Fichte and even more for Hegel, the identity that lies in the activity of the judging subject becomes an absolute identity that is no longer constrained by pure forms of sensibility that, in Kant’s view, alone gives our concepts real possibility. Transcendental idealism has turned, with Hegel, into an absolute idealism that has no use for independently given intuitions (or things in themselves) as markers of real pos...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half-Title Page
  3. Dedication
  4. Series Page
  5. Title Page
  6. Contents
  7. Preface
  8. Key to Abbreviations of Cited Primary Works
  9. 1 Introduction: Ineliminably Reflexive Human Experience
  10. 2 The ‘Self-Knowledge’ of Reason: Kant’s Copernican Hypothesis
  11. 3 ‘A representation of my representations’: Apperception and the Leibnizian-Wolffian Background
  12. 4 Apperception, Self-Consciousness, and Self-Knowledge in Kant
  13. 5 Reflexivity, Intentionality, and Animal Perception
  14. 6 Disciple or Renegade? On Reinhold’s Representationalism, the Principle of Consciousness, and the Thing in Itself
  15. 7 Apperception and Representational Content: Fichte, Hegel, and Pippin
  16. 8 On the Kinship of Kant’s and Hegel’s Metaphysical Logics
  17. 9 Hegel, Transcendental Philosophy, and the Myth of Realism
  18. Notes
  19. Bibliography
  20. Index
  21. Copyright