Kant and the Demands of Self-Consciousness

By Pierre Keller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Introduction

In the Critique of Pure Reason (henceforth Critique), Kant draws a famous but elusive distinction between transcendental and empirical apperception. He interprets the distinction between transcendental and empirical apperception as a distinction between transcendental and empirical self consciousness. He argues that empirical self-consciousness is parasitic on transcendental self-consciousness, and that any empirical consciousness that has any cognitive relevance for us depends for its cognitive content on its potential relation to transcendental self-consciousness. These are strong, but, I want to argue, defensible claims once one understands the nature of transcendental self-consciousness, as it is understood by Kant.

The central aim of this book is to provide a new understanding of the notion of transcendental self-consciousness and show its implications for an understanding of experience. I develop and defend Kant's central thesis that self-consciousness puts demands on experience that make it possible for us to integrate our various experiences into a single comprehensive, objective, spatio-temporal point of view. My interpretation of his conception of self-consciousness as the capacity to abstract not only from what one happens to be experiencing, but also from one's own personal identity, while giving content to whatever one represents, shows how transcendental self-consciousness underwrites a general theory of objectivity and subjectivity at the same time.

The leading interpretations seem to be in broad agreementthat Kant's notion of transcendental apperception is largely a disappointing failure. Perhaps the dominant tendency has been to dismiss his notion of transcendental self-consciousness as at best implausible and at worst incoherent. But even those interpreters who have been sympathetic to the notion of transcendental self-consciousness have end eavored to give it an anodyne interpretation that renders it largely irrelevant to a defense of objectivity or even subjectivity. By simply identifying transcendental

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