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Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

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Evaluate and analyze Kant's synthetic unity of apperception as it relates to the self. The structure of the paper should be spelled out in the introduction. Please briefly discuss in the introduction Descartes' and Hume's concept of the self and how it relates to Kant's. Use Kant's Critique of Pure Reason as your source. Outside sources aren't required, but can be used.

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Descartes thought that through the cogito one can have a representation of the self just as easily as one can have representations of chairs, tables, and God. Hume, however, argues that no matter how much you introspect you can never get an impression of the self, rather what you get is a succession of perceptions, or “bundle of perceptions”. Even though we cannot get an impression of the self, Hume still could not account for self-consciousness. Kant, however, thinks we can account for self-consciousness by adopting the transcendental perspective, that is, abstracting from our form of sensibility. He acknowledges the fact that even though we cannot get an intuition of the self (which is at par with Hume); if we are to be self conscious then we must be conscious of the unity among our representations, that is, the synthetic unity of apperception. In other words, self-consciousness amounts to the synthetic unity of apperception. He uses this clue to answer what it means for something as constituting an object. Later in the deduction Kant claims, “unity of consciousness… constitutes the relation of representations to an object”. We can set up a general structure to the argument in the following way: 1) self-consciousness consists in the synthetic unity of apperception; 2) an object is that which you take yourself to be representing when your representations are in synthetic unity; 3) “all unification of representations requires unity of consciousness”; 4) objects fall under the unity of consciousness (from 2,3); 5) for my representations to relate to an object is for them to stand in synthetic unity (from 4); 6) therefore, “unity of consciousness… constitutes the relation of representation to an object” (from 1,5).

I will now try to explain what Kant means when he says that self-consciousness consists in the synthetic unity of apperception (proposition 1). For a representation to belong to me, it must be possible for me to attach the “I think” to the representation. Similarly, for representations xyz to belong to me, it must be possible for the “I think” to be linked to each of them. Kant takes this description as the analytic unity of apperception. Furthermore, the “I think” does not count as belonging to the sensibility, rather it seems that it belongs to the understanding (possibly the imagination). Contrary to analytic unity, for my representations to stand in synthetic unity is for them to be related in such a way as to form this “super spatial-temporal complex representation”. That is, synthetic unity consists in a web of representations that are all interconnected in such a way as to form a single whole.

Kant argues that analytic unity presupposes synthetic unity. The following example illustrates this: analytic unity is that in which a common feature belongs to the representations. That is, the fact that different representations of, say, a house all have something in common, namely, the concept house, is for my representations to stand in analytic unity. But analytic unity presupposes synthetic unity since to be able to form the concept of a house, we must first unite the components of the “house” such as the windows, doors, and roof, into a whole. A similar account can be given with self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is possible in virtue of the possibility of consciousness through the unity among our representations. Furthermore, what it is for my representations to be in synthetic unity is for me to take them as serving as normative grounds for one another. So for me to have a representation of say a walking cane is for me to take it as I ought to have it as that rather than as a representation of a tree branch. We can state that self-consciousness simply consists in the “ought” that goes with my representations. This is all to say that self-consciousness consists in the normatively grounded relations among my representations (synthetic unity of apperception). An objection can be raised by inquiring: 1) how exactly do we go about ever obtaining a representation of the relations themselves; and more fundamentally, 2) how is it that the relations amongst the representations give rise to talk about self-consciousness? I will leave this objection aside side for now. I will now turn to Kant’s notion of objectivity.

Kant defines an object as, “that in the concept of which the manifold of a given intuition is united” [B137]. That is, in virtue of my awareness of this synthetic unity of the manifold, I take myself to be representing an object. An object is that which one takes oneself to be representing when ones representations are in synthetic unity (prop 2). Kant is redefining the notion of object differently from his predecessors. One only has to recall that for Locke and Descartes cognition must conform to the objects. To say that X is an object is to say that objectivity consists in a certain relation between the idea of X and X itself. They took the concept of object priori to the relation to an object. That is, the idea was of the object. Kant however reverses the order; he argues that objects must conform to our cognition [Bxvi]. Instead of defining objectivity in terms of a previously understood notion of an object, Kant defines the notion of an object in terms of the notion of objectivity, where an object is defined in terms of the synthetic unity of apperception. Another fine point that distinguishes Kant’s new construal of an object with the pre-Kantian notion of object is that “…talk about objects is replaced by talk about the conception of an object…”[Allison 145]. In other words, Kant is making an implicit claim about objects; namely, that they are grounded by concepts. Evidence for this can also be found in the A Deduction, “[cognitions] must have that unity that constitutes the concept of an object”[A105]. Kant seems to be arguing that the concept of object is defined in terms of the concept of objectivity (relation to an object), which in turn is defined in terms of the synthetic unity of apperception. Furthermore, we are to think of this concept as being normatively necessitated in a similar way that the relations of my representations are normatively necessitated. This Kantian interpretation of an object is what essentially completes the Copernican revolution. Our cognitions are partly responsible for constituting objects insofar as they stand in synthetic unity.

Kant also claims, “all unification of representations requires unity of consciousness…”(prop 3). That is, for my representations to stand united is for them to stand in the synthetic unity of apperception (consciousness). Furthermore, we should think of objects as falling under the unity of consciousness (prop 4), because if we did not we would not be able to make sense out of them. Consequently, for my representations to relate to an object is for them to stand in synthetic unity (prop 5). That is, what it is to take my representation of objects is to take them as standing in synthetic normatively necessary relations to one another. Hence, “the unity of consciousness…constitutes the relation of representations to an object…”(prop 6) That is to say, the synthetic unity of consciousness is the all-encompassing condition of all our cognitions, and this alone allows us to make sense of objects as normative relations standing in synthetic unity. As Kant states “the first pure cognition of the understanding…is the principle of the original synthetic unity of apperception” [B137]. Kant thinks that we have no cognitive access to objects distinct from our representations, rather we only have our representations. Furthermore, if my representations are to count as being objective, we can only explain this by the relations among my representations as standing in synthetic unity.

Bibliography

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. (1781)


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