5 Feb 2009

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, The Transcendental Aesthetic, §1

by Corry Shores
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The Critique of Pure Reason
I. Transcendental Doctrine of Elements
Part 1: The Transcendental Aesthetic
[We may think about an apple by considering the word "apple." In this way, our thought about the apple is mediated by its concept or sign. However, we can see the apple. We thereby also have it in our mind as well. Our mind directly "grasps" the apple before us. This then is an immediate relation between the apple we see and the apple in our mind.]

We have cognitions. And there are objects. Our cognitions relate to these objects. They relate in different ways and by different means. One relation is sensation. When we sense the object, our mind immediately grasps it. So it is by means of our sensibility that we immediately grasp objects. And that immediate relation between the cognition and the sensed-object is an intuition. The only way we may obtain intuitions is through sensibility. And when we sense objects, they are said to be given to us.

But, our understanding might have thoughts about the object. Concepts of the object arise from these thoughts. Yet, the only way that objects are given to us in the first place is through sensibility. Thus all thoughts, whether direct or indirect, must relate to intuitions that our sensibility provides. (172b.c) [see Hume's Treatise §17 where he claims that all ideas are derived from impressions.]

When an object affects us, and causes us to have [an impression or] representation of it, we thereby have a sensation. We call empirical those intuitions that relate to the objects by means of sensation. [The objects might not yet determine everything about the object while we sense it. So at first it is undetermined.] We call an appearance the undetermined object of empirical intuition.

[We see red, and roundness, and sheen, and a little green. Something keeps these qualities together rather than letting them be grouped with all the other properties in our field of vision. Something organizes these impressions into a single fruit. But we do not sense the organizational principle. Our sensation just gives us the qualities.] We call matter whatever it is in the appearance that corresponds to the sensation [that is, the qualities.] The appearance is made up of many parts. We call the form of the appearance whatever it is in the appearance that allows its manifold [of qualities] to be ordered in certain relations. (172-173)

As we noted, we do not sense the organizing principles that group the appearance's manifold. In other words, we never sense the object's form. And as we also noted, all concepts in the understanding may be traced back to immediate impressions or sensations. So the qualities of objects are only given to us through sensation.

When a second thing follows after a first thing, the second one is 'posterior' to the 'prior' one. We do not know apples are red until we see one. So when we learn something from experience, our knowledge comes after we have the experience. Hence we call such knowledge from experience a posteriori. But consider instead that the apple is not a unicorn. No, rather, the apple is the apple, not the unicorn. Hence something is identical to itself. This is the principle of identity, expressed A = A. Experience cannot tell us such a thing. In fact, imagine that all we had were sense impressions, but we never could make-out any definite things. Just as soon as colors group with shapes, they break off and begin new relations with other things. And suppose that never do the qualities we see ever remain in a group for even a moment. No things become formed. There is never any one thing that is clearly what it is, and clearly not everything else. Now, if we did not inherently presuppose that things are self-identical, then we might actually experience such an unorderable chaos of sensation. So the principle of identity is knowledge that we must have prior to experience. It is a priori.

We noted that an appearance's matter [its qualities] can only come from sensation. Hence matter is always given a posteriori.
But the appearance's form is not given in experience. Rather, it must somehow already be there in our minds. Hence form must "lie ready" in the mind a priori.

Now, we said that all concepts trace back to sensations. But there can still be something in a representation that has nothing to do with sensation.

Imagine the apple falling from the tree. The parts of the event have things we sense, and as well we attribute to it forces, notions of substance, and other properties that we do not sense. Now start removing parts of this representation. Subtract all its visual qualities that our senses gave. What's left? We can still think abstractly about the event in terms of the forces involved, and the directions of the forces, and so on. But now remove these things that our mind attributes to the event. What's left now? Kant says there is still something left in the representation. We could not have begun forming this representation unless we "pre-presented" so to speak the time and space through which the apple extended. In other words, extension is something that is not related to our senses, but is rather something that exists a priori in our minds. Also, if we did not presuppose that the representation's elements could be organized into things, then we could not have had the representation. So form is another thing that we "pre-present." It also is not related to the senses.
Kant calls pure such components of representations that have nothing to do with sensation. And his specific examples are extension and form. And he means pure in the sense that they are not dependent on the representations, but the representations are dependent on them. In other words, Kant means pure in the transcendental sense.
So we have sensations that produce intuitions. But these intuitions have elements that are not sensory. So sensibility has as its basis a "pure form." Kant calls it pure intuition.

Now, we may study our a priori sensibility. Such a science Kant terms the transcendental aesthetic.

We will later conduct a study of the principles of pure thinking in a transcendental logic. This will serve our broader aim of articulating a "transcendental doctrine of elements." But we must take as our first step a transcendental aesthetic. (173c)

In order to conduct our transcendental aesthetic, we need first to isolate sensibility. We want to look only at empirical intuitions. We do this by stripping away all the thinking that the understanding contributes to intuitions.

Then, we take the empirical intuitions, and we strip them of all the elements that belong to sensation. This will leave us with just the pure intuition and the mere form of appearances. Hence we obtain only what sensibility gives us a priori. Regarding the principles of cognition, there are two pure forms of sensible intuition: space and time. These we now analyze.

From the text of the Meiklejohn translation:

SS 1. Introductory.
IN whatsoever mode, or by whatsoever means, our knowledge may relate to objects, it is at least quite clear that the only manner in which it immediately relates to them is by means of an intuition. To this as the indispensable groundwork, all thought points. But an intuition can take place only in so far as the object is given to us. This, again, is only possible, to man at least, on condition that the object affect the mind in a certain manner. The capacity for receiving representations (receptivity) through the mode in which we are affected by objects, objects, is called sensibility. By means of sensibility, therefore, objects are given to us, and it alone furnishes us with intuitions; by the understanding they are thought, and from it arise conceptions. But an thought must directly, or indirectly, by means of certain signs, relate ultimately to intuitions; consequently, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us.
The effect of an object upon the faculty of representation, so far as we are affected by the said object, is sensation. That sort of intuition which relates to an object by means of sensation is called an empirical intuition. The undetermined object of an empirical intuition is called phenomenon. That which in the phenomenon corresponds to the sensation, I term its matter; but that which effects that the content of the phenomenon can be arranged under certain relations, I call its form. But that in which our sensations are merely arranged, and by which they are susceptible of assuming a certain form, cannot be itself sensation. It is, then, the matter of all phenomena that is given to us a posteriori; the form must lie ready a priori for them in the mind, and consequently can be regarded separately from all sensation.
I call all representations pure, in the transcendental meaning of the word, wherein nothing is met with that belongs to sensation. And accordingly we find existing in the mind a priori, the pure form of sensuous intuitions in general, in which all the manifold content of the phenomenal world is arranged and viewed under certain relations. This pure form of sensibility I shall call pure intuition. Thus, if I take away from our representation of a body all that the understanding thinks as belonging to it, as substance, force, divisibility, &c., and also whatever belongs to sensation, as impenetrability, hardness, colour, &c.; yet there is still something left us from this empirical intuition, namely, extension and shape. These belong to pure intuition, which exists a priori in the mind, as a mere form of sensibility, and without any real object of the senses or any sensation.
The science of all the principles of sensibility a priori, I call Transcendental Æsthetic.* There must, then, be such a science forming the first part of the transcendental doctrine of elements, in contradistinction to that part which contains the principles of pure thought, and which is called transcendental logic.

* The Germans are the only people who at present use this word to indicate what others call the critique of taste. At the foundation of this term lies the disappointed hope, which the eminent analyst, Baumgarten, conceived, of subjecting the criticism of the beautiful to principles of reason, and so of elevating its rules into a science. But his endeavours were vain. For the said rules or criteria are, in respect to their chief sources, merely empirical, consequently never can serve as determinate laws a priori, by which our judgement in matters of taste is to be directed. It is rather our judgement which forms the proper test as to the correctness of the principles. On this account it is advisable to give up the use of the term as designating the critique of taste, and to apply it solely to that doctrine, which is true science -- the science of the laws of sensibility -- and thus come nearer to the language and the sense of the ancients in their well -- known division of the objects of cognition into aiotheta kai noeta, or to share it with speculative philosophy, and employ it partly in a transcendental, partly in a psychological signification.
In the science of transcendental æsthetic accordingly, we shall first isolate sensibility or the sensuous faculty, by separating from it all that is annexed to its perceptions by the conceptions of understanding, so that nothing be left but empirical intuition. In the next place we shall take away from this intuition all that belongs to sensation, so that nothing may remain but pure intuition, and the mere form of phenomena,

which is all that the sensibility can afford a priori. From this investigation it will be found that there are two pure forms of sensuous intuition, as principles of knowledge a priori, namely, space and time. To the consideration of these we shall now proceed.

Summary based on:
Kant. Critique of Pure Reason. Eds. & Transls. Paul Guyer and Allen Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Full text taken from:
Kant. Critique of Pure Reason. Transl. J.M.D Meiklejohn.
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