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Kant's Critical Model of the Experiencing Subject

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1995

Publication Source

Idealistic Studies


In an appendix to the Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant remarks

  • Leibniz intellectualized appearances, just as Locke ... sensualized all concepts or the understanding, i.e. interpreted them as nothing more than empirical or abstracted concepts of reflection. ... each of these great men holds to one only of the two, viewing it as in immediate relation to things in themselves. The other faculty is then regarded as serving only to confuse or to order the representations which this selected faculty yields (A27 1=B327).

Kant, in rejecting the positions of Leibniz and Locke, presents his own alternative 10 the picture he describes here. His alternative, of course, makes room for both pure intellectual concepts and an ineliminable sensible component, and it is this I will refer to as Kant's "critical model" of the experiencing subject. This model must be, at the very least, plausible if Kant's project is to have any chance of success, yet nowhere does Kant directly argue that it is. In what follows, I want to piece together, from various things Kant says. such an argument .

The fact that Kant's model of the experiencing subject is crucial for his philosophical approach is, perhaps, obvious. To support his central (transcendentally) idealistic appeal, the mind must make an active contribution in its experience. To maintain its realistic commitment, an account must be given of that aspect of experience the mind doesn't create. On Kant's view, only the model he provides gives both features of experience their due.

Furthermore, without this model much of what Kant attempts becomes incoherent. Indeed, his most radical strategic move—what has become known as the "Copernican Revolution"—rests squarely upon this model, because at the heart of this revolution is the active subject supplying universal and necessary conceptual order relative to a passively received sensible manifold. Given Kant's claim that "all necessity, without exception, lies in a transcendental condition" (A 106), he will otherwise be unable to carve out the special intellectual space that makes this necessity possible. For the transcendental condition a1 stake here is manifestly the articulation of that structure this subject imposes a priori on the sensible manifold.

In turn, what is so original about Kant's proposals becomes at best uninteresting and at worst untenable, for it is precisely the necessity that accompanies the judging subject's contribution that provides the force to Kant's claims, among others, in the Transcendental Aesthetic, the Transcendental Deduction, the Analogies of Experience, and the Refutation of Idealism, as well as the critical attacks mounted in the Transcendental Dialectic.

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