Kant's Thinker

Kant's Thinker

Kant's Thinker

Kant's Thinker

Synopsis

Kant's discussion of the relations between cognition and self-consciousness lie at the heart of the Critique of Pure Reason, in the celebrated transcendental deduction. Although this section of Kant's masterpiece is widely believed to contain important insights into cognition and self-consciousness, it has long been viewed as unusually obscure. Many philosophers have tried to avoid the transcendental psychology that Kant employed. By contrast, Patricia Kitcher follows Kant's careful delineation of the necessary conditions for knowledge and his intricate argument that knowledge requires self-consciousness. She argues that far from being an exercise in armchair psychology, the thesis that thinkers must be aware of the connections among their mental states offers an astute analysis of the requirements of rational thought. The book opens by situating Kant's theories in the then contemporary debates about 'apperception,' personal identity and the relations between object cognition and self-consciousness. After laying out Kant's argument that the distinctive kind of knowledge that humans have requires a unified self- consciousness, Kitcher considers the implications of his theory for current problems in the philosophy of mind. If Kant is right that rational cognition requires acts of thought that are at least implicitly conscious, then theories of consciousness face a second 'hard problem' beyond the familiar difficulties with the qualities of sensations. How isconscious reasoning to be understood? Kitcher shows that current accounts of the self-ascription of belief have great trouble in explaining the case where subjects know their reasons for the belief. She presents a 'new' Kantian approach to handling this problem. In this way, the book reveals Kant as a thinker of great relevance to contemporary philosophy, one whose allegedly obscure achievements provide solutions to problems that are still with us.

Excerpt

After arguing in 1990 that Kant’s theory of cognition could not be fully understood or appreciated without taking his ‘transcendental psychology’ seriously, I thought that it would be the work of a few years to fill out the sketch of his theory offered there. When I took up the problems of working out how Kant thought the categorial principles arose from the (a priori) activities of the mind and why he believed that conscious synthesizing was necessary for cognition, however, I found that I could not produce interpretations that were faithful to the text, and reasonably detailed and consistent. Agreeing to do more administrative work than was wise in the 1990s and 2000s made it difficult to find time to work on the large, interconnected set of problems that need to be considered in interpreting the transcendental deduction where the cognitive theory is laid out. This book does not offer a complete interpretation of the deduction, but it aims at a reasonably thorough account of the deduction’s theory of the unity of apperception.

Although I wrote up various pieces over the years, I was able to engage in the sustained effort required to make significant progress on the whole only on a sabbatical leave from Columbia University that I spent at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in 2007–8. I am very grateful to both these wonderful institutions for support during that year. Having finally figured out how I thought Kant’s account of mental activity, conscious synthesis, and rational cognition went, I read pilot versions of the central elements of the book to a number of helpful audiences. I’m very grateful to Joel Smith and to the late Mark Sacks for inviting me to participate in their series on transcendental philosophy, naturalism, and the mind in November of 2007 where I met Sebastian Rödl. We were both surprised to discover that we had been thinking along similar lines on a number of topics that are central to my interpretation of Kant’s theory of cognition. It’s been enormously helpful to discuss these issues with Sebastian on later occasions that brought us together.

I’m also grateful to Bernard Thöle for pressing me very hard on some central claims at a session organized by Thomas Sturm at the Max Planck institute in Berlin in December 2007 and to Tobias Rosefeldt for offering a clear and insightful challenge to . . .

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