Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Problem of the a Priori in Sensibility: Revisiting Kant's and Hegel's Theories of the Senses

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Problem of the a Priori in Sensibility: Revisiting Kant's and Hegel's Theories of the Senses

Article excerpt

KANT AND HEGEL FIND THEMSELVES ON SIMILAR PATHS toward their respective goals to give a total account of reality. They share a deep commitment to science, Wissenschaftlichkeit, and raise the question: Where does science begin? Similarly, they answer: It begins with sense knowledge yet it is not founded in the senses.(1) This essay attempts to reflect on, with the aim of cautiously reassessing, the nonsensible, universal features of sense experience from an idealist perspective. A study of the "science of sensibility," raised to new levels of interest in recent debates of how the mind works, seems to have lost nothing of its fascination, indeed urgency in contemporary discussions, in the Kant-Hegel scholarship, in the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science as well as the natural and cognitive sciences in general.(2)

The purpose of this paper is to revisit and confront, through the two foremost idealists, Kant and Hegel, what has been referred to as the "most perplexing, hard problem" in philosophy: how to explain the nature of sensibility and its contact with thought.(3) I add my own inquiry to the chorus of questioners: What is the proper place and role of sense experience in knowledge acquisition, particularly what is the nature of the knowability of the senses in their contact with the physical world? My pretext for this essay is a curiosity about two questions that are repeatedly raised in the scholarship. First, since a scientific account of observed and/or unobserved entities must include an adequate account of the role of our receptive sense apparatus, what is non-sensible about the senses? Secondly, have idealist accounts of the senses still something important to contribute to the debate, particularly for the empirical sciences? My own idealist tendency also asks the question: Would it be fruitful and not an exercise in futility to reexamine and possibly conjoin Hegel and Kant in their theories and methods for determining the a priori, non-sensible structures of the senses for a viable metaphysics for the empirical sciences? I suggest that revisiting the insights of these thinkers as they reciprocally support each another will add considerable explanatory force to contemporary debates about the nature of sense experience. I am encouraged to strike out on this path by recent scholarship which has ever so cautiously moved away from strictly materialistic, "neurophilosophical" explanations of human consciousness(4) toward a more non-reductive stance, allowing the possibility of certain fixed features of the mental faculties in conscious experience. One witnesses a return to Kant's psychology of the a priori elements of consciousness. For example, Patricia Kitcher holds such a strategy useful "to combat skeptical challenges" and as a "new enlightening model of the human epistemic situation."(5) Two recent works, John McDowell's Mind and World and Laurence BonJour's In Defense of Pure Reason, invoke the Kantian apriority in sensible consciousness, appealing to a priori cognitive content in sensuous receptivity. Such a direction seems to eschew materialistic, logico-reductive conceptions of the mind and move toward what one might describe as psycho-ontological justifications of the mind.(6)

The relation of Hegel and Kant has on the whole not been well understood and disputes about their differences or affinities remain.(7) The narrow context of this essay precludes an assessment of the extent of Hegel's debt to Kant, how much Hegel's theories depend on transcendental philosophy, whether or not Hegel's criticisms of Kant are justified, and whether or not Hegel expanded and improved on Kant. Despite Hegel's extensive critique it is generally agreed that he embraced, explicitly or implicitly, significant features of transcendental philosophy. He acknowledged his debt to Kant and lauds his accomplishments. In what follows I will focus on both thinkers' expositions of sense knowledge, revealing an affinity between them that strengthens the idealist contribution to the discussion. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.