Norman Kemp Smith.

A commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' online

. (page 36 of 72)
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towards which he is feeling his way. The synthetic processes
which in the subjective and objective deductions are proved
to condition all experience may be interpreted either as
conscious or as non-conscious activities, and may be ascribed
either to the agency of the individual self or to noumenal
conditions which fall outside the realm of possible definition.
Now, though Kant's own expositions remain thoroughly
ambiguous, the results of the Critical enquiry would seem
at least so long as the fundamental distinction between matter
and form is held to and the temporally sequent aspect of
experience is kept in view to be decisive in favour of the
latter alternative in each case. The synthetic processes must
take place and complete themselves before any consciousness
can exist at all. And as they thus precondition consciousness,
they cannot themselves be known to be conscious ; and not
being known to be conscious, it is not even certain that they
may legitimately be described as mental. We have, indeed,
to conceive them on the analogy of our mental processes, but
that may only be because of the limitation of our knowledge
to the data of experience. Further, we have no right to
conceive them as the activities of a noumenal self. We
know the self only as conscious, and the synthetic processes,
being the generating conditions of consciousness, are also
the generating conditions of the only self for which our
experience can vouch. Kant, viewing as he does the tem-
poral aspect of human experience as fundamental, would
seem to be justified in naming these processes " synthetic."
For consciousness in its very nature would seem to involve
the carrying over of content from one time to other times,
and the construction of a more comprehensive total con-
sciousness from the elements thus combined. Kant is
here analysing in its simplest and most fundamental form
that aspect of consciousness which William James has

1 Cf. below, pp. 279-80, and pp. 293-4, on inner sense.


described in the Principles of Psychology^ and which we
may entitle the telescoping of earlier mental states into the
successive experiences that include them. They telescope in
a manner which can never befall the successive events in a
causal series, and which is not explicable by any scheme of
relations derivable from the physical sphere.

Obviously, what Kant does is to apply to the interpreta-
tion of the noumenal conditions of our conscious experience
a distinction derived by analogy from conscious experience
itself the distinction, namely, between our mental processes
and the sensuous material with which they deal. The
application of such a distinction may be inevitable in any
attempt to explain human experience ; but it can very
easily, unless carefully guarded, prove a source of serious
misunderstanding. Just as the synthetic processes which
generate consciousness are not known to be themselves
conscious, so also the manifold cannot be identified with
the sensations of the bodily senses. These last are events
in time, and are effects not of noumenal but of mechanical

Kant's conclusion when developed on consistent Critical
lines, and therefore in phenomenalist terms, is twofold :
positive, to the effect that consciousness, for all that our
analysis can prove to the contrary, may be merely a resultant,
derivative from and dependent upon a complexity of con-
ditions ; and negative, to the effect that though these
conditions may by analogy be described as consisting of
synthetic processes acting upon a given material, they are
in their real nature unknowable by us. Even their bare
possibility we cannot profess to comprehend. We postulate
them only because given experience is demonstrably not
self-explanatory and would seem to refer us for explanation to
some such antecedent generative grounds.

Kant, as we have already emphasised, obscures his
position by the way in which he frequently speaks of the
transcendental unity of apperception as the supreme condition
of our experience. At times he even speaks as if it were the
source of the synthetic processes. That cannot, however, be

1 i- P- 339' "Each pulse of cognitive consciousness, each Thought, dies
away and is replaced by another. . . . Each later Thought, knowing and
including thus the Thoughts which went before, is the final receptacle and
appropriating them is the final owner of all that they contain and own. Each
Thought is thus born an owner, and dies owned, transmitting whatever it realized
as its Self to its own later proprietor. As Kant says [cf. below, pp. 461-2], it is as if
elastic balls were to have not only motion but knowledge of it, and a first ball
were to transmit both its motion and its consciousness to a second, which took
both up into its consciousness and passed them to a third, until the last ball held
all that the other balls had held, and realized it as its own."


regarded as his real teaching. Self-consciousness (and the
unity of apperception, in so far as it finds expression through
self-consciousness) rests upon the same complexity of con-
ditions as does outer experience, and therefore may be
merely a product or resultant. It is, as he insists in the
Paralogisms, the emptiest of all our concepts, and can afford
no sufficient ground for asserting the self to be an abiding
personality. We cannot by theoretical analysis of the facts
of experience or of the nature of self-consciousness prove
anything whatsoever in regard to the ultimate nature of the

Now Kant is here giving a new, and quite revolutionary,
interpretation of the distinction between the subjective
and the objective. The objective is for the Cartesians the
independently real ; * the subjective is that which has an alto-
gether different kind of existence in what is entitled the field
of consciousness. Kant, on the other hand, from his phe-
nomenalist standpoint, views existences as objective when they
are determined by purely physical causes, and as subjective
when they also depend upon physiological and psychological
conditions. On this latter view the difference between the
two is no longer a difference of kind ; it becomes a differ-
ence merely of degree. Objective existences, owing to the
simplicity and recurrent character of their conditions, are
uniform. Subjective existences resting upon conditions which
are too complex to be frequently recurrent, are by contrast
extremely variable. But both types of existence are objective
in the sense that they are objects, and immediate objects, for
consciousness. Subjective states do not run parallel with the
objective system of natural existences, nor are they additional
to it. For they do not constitute our consciousness of nature ;
they are themselves part of the natural order which conscious-
ness reveals. That they contrast with physical existences
in being unextended and incapable of location in space is
what Kant would seem by implication to assert, but he
challenges Descartes' right to infer from this particular
difference a complete diversity in their whole nature. Sensa-
tions, feelings, emotions, and desires, so far as- they are
experienced by us, constitute the empirical self which is an
objective existence, integrally connected with the material
environment, in terms of which alone it can be understood.
In other words, the distinction between the subjective and
the objective is now made to fall within the system of natural

1 I here use "objective" in its modern meaning: I am not concerned with
the special meaning which Descartes himself attached to the terms objective and


law. The subjective is not opposite in nature to the objective,
but is a subspecies within it.

The revolutionary character of this reformulation of Car-
tesian distinctions may perhaps be expressed by saying that
what Kant is really doing is to substitute the distinction
between appearance and reality for the Cartesian dualism of
the mental and the material. The psychical is a title for a
certain class of known existences, i.e. of appearances ; and
they form together with the physical a single system. But
underlying this entire system, conditioning both physical and
psychical phenomena, is the realm of noumenal existence ;
and when the question of the possibility of knowledge, that
is, of the experiencing of such a comprehensive natural
system, is raised, it is to this noumenal sphere that we are
referred. Everything experienced, even a sensation or desire,
is an event ; but the experiencing of it is an act of aware-
ness, and calls for an explanation of an altogether different

Thus Kant completely restates the problem of knowledge.
The problem is not how, starting from the subjective, the
individual can come to knowledge of the independently real ;
but how, if a common world is alone immediately apprehended,
the inner private life of the self-conscious being can be possible,
and how such inner experience is to be interpreted. How does
it come about that though sensations, feelings, etc., are events
no less mechanically conditioned than motions in space, and
constitute with the latter a single system conformed to natural
law, they yet differ from all other classes of natural events in
that they can be experienced only by a single consciousness.
To this question Kant replies in terms of his fundamental
distinction between appearance and reality. Though every-
thing of which we are conscious may legitimately be studied
in terms of the natural system to which it belongs, conscious-
ness itself cannot be so regarded. In attempting to define it
we are carried beyond the phenomenal to its noumenal
conditions. In other words, it constitutes a problem, the
complete data of which are not at our disposal. This is by
itself a sufficient reason for our incapacity to explain why the
states of each empirical self can never be apprehended save
by a single consciousness, or otherwise stated, why each
consciousness is limited, as regards sensations and feelings,
exclusively to those which arise in connection with some one
animal organism. It at least precludes us from dogmatically
asserting that this is due to their being subjective in the
dualistic and Cartesian sense of that term namely, as consti-
tuting, or being states of, the knowing self.


A diagram may serve, though very crudely, to illustrate
int's phenomenalist interpretation of the cognitive situation.

ES A = Empirical self of the conscious Being A.
ES B = Empirical self of the conscious Being B.
NC A = Noumenal conditions of the conscious Being A.
NC B = Noumenal conditions of the conscious Being B.
1, m, n = Objects in space.

x 1 , y 1 , z 1 = Sensations caused by objects 1, m, n acting on the sense-organs of
the empirical self A.

x 2 , y' 2 , z z = Sensations caused by 1, m, n acting on the sense-organs of the
empirical self B.

NC EW = Noumenal conditions of the empirical world.

Everything in this empirical world is equally open to the
consciousness of both A and B, save only certain psychical
events that are conditioned by physiological and psycho-
logical factors, x 1 , y 1 , z 1 can be apprehended only by A ;
x 2 , y 2 , z 2 can be apprehended only by B. Otherwise A and B
experience one and the same world ; the body of B is
perceived by A in the same manner in which he perceives
his own body. This is true a fortiori of all other material
existences. Further, these material existences are known
with the same immediacy as the subjective states. As regards
the relation in which NC A , NC B , and NC EW stand to one
another, no assertions can be made, save, as above indicated, 1
such conjectural statements as may precariously be derived
through argument by analogy from distinctions that fall
within our human experience. 2

Kant's phenomenalism thus involves an objectivist view of

1 Pp. 277-8.

2 On this whole matter cf. above, p. xlv ; below, pp. 312-21 on Kant's
Refutation of Idealism ; pp. 373-4 on the Second Analogy; pp. 407 ff., 414 ff. on
Phenomena and Noumena\ p. 461 ff. on the Paralogisms ; and p. 546. Cf. also
A 277-8 = 6334.


individual selves and of their interrelations. They fall within
the single common world of space. Within this phenomenal
world they stand in external, mechanical relations to one
another. They are apprehended as embodied, with known
contents, sensations, feelings, and desires, composing their
inner experience. There is, from this point of view, no
problem of knowledge. On this plane we have to deal only
with events known, not with any process of apprehension.
Even the components of the empirical self, the subject-matter
of empirical psychology, are not processes of apprehension,
but apprehended existences. It is only when we make a
regress beyond the phenomenal as such to the conditions
which render it possible, that the problem of knowledge arises
at all. And with this regress we are brought to the real
crux of the whole question the reconciliation of this
phenomenalism with the conditions of our self-consciousness.
For we have then to take into account the fundamental fact
that each self is not only an animal existence within the
phenomenal world, but also in its powers of apprehension
coequal with it. The self known is external to the objects
known ; the self that knows is conscious of itself as compre-
hending within the field of its consciousness the wider universe
in infinite space.

Such considerations would, at first sight, seem to force
us to modify our phenomenalist standpoint in the direction of
subjectivism. For in what other manner can we hope to
unite the two aspects of the self, the known conditions of its
finite existence and the consciousness through which it corre-
lates with the universe as a whole? In the one aspect it is a
part of appearance ; in the other it connects with that which
makes appearance possible at all.

Quite frequently it is the subjectivist solution which Kant
seems to adopt. Objects known are " mere representations,"
" states of the identical self." Everything outside the indi-
vidual mind is real ; appearances are purely individual in origin.
But such a position is inconsistent with the deeper implica-
tions of Kant's Critical teaching, and would involve the entire
ignoring of the many suggestions which point to a funda-
mentally different and much more adequate standpoint.
The individual is himself known only as appearance, and
cannot, therefore, be the medium in and through which
appearances exist. Though appearances exist only in and
through consciousness, they are not due to any causes which
can legitimately be described as individual. From this stand-
point Kant would seem to distinguish between the grounds
and conditions of phenomenal existence and the special


determining causes of individual consciousness. Transcend-
ental conditions generate consciousness of the relatively
permanent and objective world in space and time ; empirical
conditions within this space and time world determine the
sensuous modes through which special portions of this infinite
and uniform world appear diversely to different minds.

This, however, is a point of view which is only suggested,
and, as we have already observed, 1 the form in which
it is outlined suggests many objections and difficulties.
Consciousness of the objective world in space and time does
not exist complete with one portion of it more specifically
determined in terms of actual sense-perceptions. Rather the
consciousness of the single world in space and time is gradu-
ally developed through and out of sense experience of limited
portions of it. We have still to consider the various sections
in the Analytic of Principles (especially the section added in
the second edition on the Refutation of Idealism] and in the
Dialectic, in which Kant further develops this standpoint.
But even after doing so, we shall be forced to recognise
that Kant leaves undiscussed many of the most obvious
objections to which his phenomenalism lies open. To the
very last he fails to state in any really adequate manner how
from the phenomenalist standpoint he would regard the
world described in mechanical terms by science as being
related to the world of ordinary sense - experience, 2 or
how different individual consciousnesses are related to one
another. The new form, however, in which these old-time
problems here emerge is the best possible proof of the
revolutionary character of Kant's Critical enquiries. For

JT . ^t>/ U.

2 Though the posthumously published work of Kant's old age, his Transition
from the Metaphysical First Principles of Natural

1 p.

ough the posthumously published work of

Science to Physics^ bears the

marks of weakening powers, and is much too incomplete and obscure to allow of
any very assured deductions from its teaching, it is none the less significant that
it is largely occupied in attempting to define the relation in which the objective
world of physical science stands to the sensible world of ordinary consciousness.
As above noted (p. 275 .), it is there asserted in at least twenty-six distinct passages
that sensations are due to the action of " the moving forces of matter " upon the
sense-organs. What is even more significant is the adoption and frequent
occurrence (Altpreussische Monatsschrift (1882), pp. 236, 287, 289, 290, 292, 294,
2 95-6, 300, 308, 429, 436, 439) of the phrase " Erscheinung von der Erscheinung. "
Kant would seem to mean by "Erscheinung vom ersten Range" (op. cit. p. 436)
(i.e. appearance as such), the objective world as determined by physical science ;
and by "Erscheinung vom zweiten Range" (i.e. appearance of the appearance),
this same objective world as known in terms of the sensations which material
bodies generate by acting on the sense-organs. Kant adds that the former is
known directly, and the latter indirectly meaning, apparently, that the former
is known through a priori forms native to the understanding, and the latter only
in terms of sense-data which are mechanically conditioned (cf. loc. cit. pp. 286,
292, and 444 n. The terms latter and former on p. 30x3 have got transposed).


these problems are no longer formulated in terms of the
individualistic presuppositions which govern the thinking of
all Kant's predecessors, even that of Hume. The concealed
presuppositions are now called in question, and are made the
subject of explicit discussion. But further comment must
meantime be deferred. 1


The argument of the second edition transcendental deduc-
tion can be reduced to the following eight points :

(i) 2 It opens with the statement of a fundamental
assumption which Kant does not dream of questioning and
of which he nowhere attempts to offer proof. The repre-
sentation of combination is the one kind of representation
which can never be given through sense. It is not so given
even in the pure forms of space and time yielded by outer
and inner sense. 3 It is due to an act of spontaneity, which
as such must be performed by the understanding. As it is
one and the same for every kind of combination, it may be
called by the general name of synthesis. And as all combina-
tion, without exception, is due to this source, its dissolution,
that is, analysis, which seems to be its opposite, always
presupposes it.

(2) 4 Besides the manifold and its synthesis a further factor
is involved in the conception of combination, namely, the
representation of the unity of the manifold. The combina-
tion which is necessary to and constitutes knowledge is repre-
sentation of the synthetical unity of the manifold. This
is a factor additional to synthesis and to the manifold syn-
thesised. For such representation cannot arise out of any
antecedent consciousness of synthesis. On the contrary, it
is only through supervention upon the unitary synthesis that
the conception of the combination becomes possible. In
other words, the representation of unity conditions conscious-
ness of synthesis, and therefore cannot be the outcome or
product of it. This is an application, or rather generalisation,
of a position which in the first edition is developed only in
reference to the empirical process of recognition. Recognition
preconditions consciousness, and therefore cannot be subsequent
upon it.

(3) 5 The unity thus represented is not, however, that

1 Cf. below pp. 312-21, 373-4, 414 ff., 425 ff., 558 ff. 2 B 129.

3 B 161 n. 4 B 130-1. 5 B 131.


which is expressed through the category of unity. The
consciousness of unity which is involved in the concep-
tion of synthesis is that of apperception or transcendental
self-consciousness. This is the highest and most universal
form of unity, for it is a presupposition of the unity of all
possible concepts, whether analytic or synthetic, in the
various forms of judgment.

(4) l A manifold though given is not for that reason also
represented. It must be possible for the * I think ' to
accompany it and all my other representations :

"... for otherwise something would be represented in me which
could not be thought at all ; and that is equivalent to saying that
the representation would be impossible or at least would be nothing
to me." 2

But to ascribe a manifold as my representations to' the
identical self is to comprehend them, as synthetically con-
nected, in one apperception. 3 Only what can be combined
in one consciousness can be related to the ' I think/ The
analytic unity of self-consciousness presupposes the synthetic
unity of the manifold.

(5) 4 The unity of apperception is analytic or self-identical.
It expresses itself through the proposition, / am L But
being thus pure identity without content of its own, it cannot
be conscious of itself in and by itself. Its unity and constancy
can have meaning only through contrast to the variety and
changeableness of its specific experiences ; and yet, at the
same time, it is also true that such manifoldness will destroy
all possibility of unity unless it be reconcileable with it. The
variety can contribute to the conditioning of apperception
only in so far as it is capable of being combined into a single
consciousness. Through synthetic unifying of the manifold
the self comes to consciousness both of itself and of the

(6) 5 The transcendental original unity of apperception is
an objective, not a merely subjective, unity. Its conditions
are also the conditions in and through which we acquire
consciousness of objects. An object is that in the concep-
tion of which the manifold of given intuitions is combined.
(This point, though central to the argument, is more adequately
developed in the first than in the second edition.) Such
combination requires unity of consciousness. Thus the same
unity which conditions apperception likewise conditions the
relation of representations to an object. The unity of pure

1 B 131-4. 2 B 131. 3 Cf. B 138.

4 B 135. 5 B 136-40.


apperception may therefore be described as an objective unity
for two reasons : first, because it can apprehend its own
analytical unity only through discovery of unity in the
given, and secondly, for the reason that such synthetical
unifying of the manifold is also the process whereby representa-
tions acquire reference to objects.

(7) l Kant reinforces this conclusion, and shows its
further significance, by analysis of the act of judgment.
The logical definition of judgment, as the representation of a
relation between two concepts, has many defects. These,
however, are all traceable to its initial failure to explain, or
even to recognise, the nature of the assertion which judgment
as such claims to make, fjudgment asserts relations of a quite
unique kind, altogether different from those which exist
between ideas connected through association. If, for
instance, on seeing a body the sensations of weight due to the
attempt to raise it are suggested by association, there is nothing
but subjective sequence ; but if we form the judgment that
the body is heavy, the two representations are then con-
nected together in the object. This is what is intended by the
copula * is.' It is a relational term through which the objec-
tive unity of given representations is distinguished from the
subjective. It indicates that the representations stand in ob-

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 36 of 72)