Thursday, August 20, 2015

Kant’s ‘confusing’ terminology

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is divided into two main sections: I. Transcendental Doctrine of Elements (Transzendentale Elementarlehre), II. Transcendental Doctrine of Method (Transzendentale Methodenlehre). The first section is divided into two parts: 1. Transcendental Aesthetic (Die transzendentale Ästhetik) and 2. Transcendental Logic (Die transzendentale Logik), the ‘Introduction’ (Einleitung) to which is called ‘Idea of a Transcendental Logic’ (Idee einer transzendentalen Logik). The first subdivision of the second part is devoted to ‘Transcendental Analytic’ (Die transcendentale Analytic) … Obviously, the adjective ‘transcendental’ is a pivotal concept in Kant’s Critique, yet it may appear confusing. I shall articulate this ‘confusion’ within the framework of the 1st part of the 1st section, i.e. on the basis of his ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’, for in my present reading I have not got any further. As far as I can remember, in my previous two readings of the Critique (some thirty and forty years ago respectively) Kant’s ‘transcendental’ left me confused.

In his ‘General Remarks on Transcendental Aesthetic’ (Allgemeine Anmerkungen zur transzendentalen Ästhetik) Kant designates the ‘thing in itself’ as ‘the transcendental object’, which ‘remains for us utterly unknown’ (das transzendentale Objekt aber bleibt uns unbekannt, B63, A46). Yet ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’ is preoccupied with space and time viewed by Kant as a priori “intuitions” (Anschauungen), which make possible all our sensory perception of objects as empirical phenomena (Erscheinungen), but tell us nothing at all about ‘the transcendental object’; thus time (and space), viewed transcendentally, i.e. ‘if we abstract the subjective conditions of sensuous intuition, is nothing’ (wenn man von den subjektiven Bedingungen der sinnlichen Anschauung abstrahiert, gar nichts ist, B52, A36, tr. Meiklejohn).

The following passage may provide the key to this ‘confusing’ use of the term ‘transcendental’. ‘Both (beide) [space and time], without question of their reality as representations (ohne dass man ihre Wirklichkeit als Vorstellungen bestreiten darf), belong only to the genus phenomenon (gleichwohl nur zur Erscheinung gehören,), which has always two aspects (welche jederzeit zwei Seiten hat), the one (die eine), the object considered as a thing in itself (da das Objekt an sich selbst betrachtet wird), without regard to the mode of intuiting it, and the nature of which remains for this very reason problematical (unangesehen der Art, dasselbe anzuschauen, dessen Beschaffenheit aber eben darum jederzeit problematisch bleibt), the other (die andere), the form of our intuition of the object (da auf die Form der Anschauung dieses Gegenstandes gesehen wird), which must be sought not in the object as a thing in itself, but in the subject to which it appears (welche nicht in dem Gegenstande an sich selbst, sondern im Subjekte, dem derselbe erscheint, gesucht werden muss) – which form of intuition nevertheless belongs really and necessarily to the phenomenal object (gleichwohl aber der Erscheinung dieses gegenstandes wirklich und notwendig zukommt).’ (B55, A38, tr. Meiklejohn)

Kant’s ‘transcendental critique’ (transzendentale Kritik, B26), or ‘transcendental philosophy’ (Transzendental-Philosophie, B27), takes in view and keeps in sight ‘the two aspects’ (die zwei Seiten) of ‘the genus phenomenon’ (der Erscheinung). Kant calls the question concerning the relation of the ‘representation’ (Vorstellung) to the ‘object in itself’ the transcendental question: ‘the question of the relation of the representation to the object is transcendental’ (so ist die Frage von der Beziehung der Vorstellung auf den Gegenstand transzendental). (B63, A46, tr. Meiklejohn)


I can’t help cringing each time I encounter the term ‘representation’ as an equivalent of Kant’s Vorstellung when Kant uses it to designate space and time. Time and space don’t represent anything; they belong only to phenomena (nur zur Erscheinung gehören), as the a priori forms of their sensory perception.

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