Critical Notice

Kant's Intuitionism: A Commentary on the Transcendental Aesthetic



(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995)

pp. xxiii, 465. $70.00

Andrew Brook

Kant's Intuitionism is the best book length study of Kant's views of space, time and sensible input in existence. Unfortunately, it is also one of the few such studies. However, it is an excellent piece of Kant scholarship by any standard. And it is highly original.

After usefully introducing intuitionism and the issues in the background of Kant's theory (nativism and empiricism, intuitionism and constructivism), Falkenstein divides his large book up into three parts. Part I is a long, thorough study of Kant's terminology. Part II takes up Kant's Expositions, one by one and in great detail. This Part is the heart of the book. Part III is called, and draws, Conclusions from the Above Concepts for Kant's big metaphysical and epistemological claims: that things as they are in themselves are neither spatial nor temporal; that we have no knowledge of things as they are in themselves (these two claims are in some tension, of course); that space and time are merely aspects of human cognition; that our spatiotemporal experience is nevertheless affected in some way by things as they are in themselves; and so on (the last two views are also in some tension).

Most studies of Kant on space and time focus on these big issues. By contrast, Falkenstein holds that,

There is ... a theory of space and time cognition to be found in the Critique of Pure Reason [that is] more fundamental than the theory of affection and stands independently of any problems there may be with it. [p. 142]

More fundamental than Kant's other big theses, too. Falkenstein presents Kant as developing an information-processing model of the mind, one in which the deliverances of the senses and the cognitive activities of the central systems work together to produce representations (pp. 138-42 give a nice summary). Falkenstein is not the first to argue that Kant's model of the mind still has things to teach us, nor to seek to separate that model from the big conclusions. Many people would like to have a Kantian model of cognition that is free of Kant's specific problems, Kitcher (1990) and Brook (1994) for example. What makes Falkenstein's book unique is that he thinks that he can isolate and extract something sensible and interesting from the most idiosyncratic part of Kant's model and the one part that has always seemed to be inextricably enmeshed in his overall system, namely, his account of cognition in time and space.

Falkenstein's interpretation is as original as his approach. On the standard interpretation, Kant starts from two theses:

1. Intuitions, the raw material of sensible experience and the content of the faculty that Kant called Sensibility, arrive in a totally unorganized state, a mere `booming, buzzing confusion' to use James' phrase. This view Falkenstein calls the `heap thesis' (p. 79).

2. Even though sensible experience is in the faculty of Sensibility, it is the Understanding that organizes it spatiotemporally, via acts of synthesis.

As Falkenstein sees it, both attributions to Kant are mistaken. Against (1), he argues that, though the organizing spatial and temporal structures are properties of the person, not the objects being intuited, a point on which Kant insisted, intuitions are nevertheless structured on arrival. Against (2), he holds that for Kant, organizing particular sensory inputs into a temporal and, many of them, a spatial array is not an act of synthesis. Rather, as Falkenstein puts it,

Sensory impression and the constitution of the subject [are] joint causes operating prior to any cognitive processing to deliver an integrated spatiotemporal sensory manifold as originally intuited representation. [p.93]

Originally intuited: our intuitions are arrayed in space and time as we receive them.

Not only is spatiotemporal structuring not an act of synthesis, Falkenstein tells us, synthesis requires that such structuring already be in place. Falkenstein usefully distinguishes two forms of synthesis, pattern recognition and assembly of sensible material into objects. To find a pattern in a manifold of items and a fortiori to assemble them into integrated, persisting objects, the items in the array must already be spatiotemporally located. In fact, according to Falkenstein, Kant went so far with the idea that intuitions are immediately given as spatiotemporally organized that he held this organizing to be "physiological," not "psychic" (by which Falkenstein means, not done by the central, concept-using systems) (p. 123).

Making this case against the standard interpretation is the burden of Parts I and II of the book. Falkenstein's account is extremely generative; it led me to rethink many long-held views and throws new light on topic after obscure topic:

1. 1. There is also the Synthesis of Reproduction in the Imagination. It places little role either in Falkenstein's account or in my comments--probably too little role.

2. 2. Kant, I. (1781/1787). Critique of Pure Reason (trans. N. Kemp Smith in 1927 as Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. London: Macmillan Co. Ltd., 1963).

Falkenstein quotes this passage, too, and discusses the Synthesis of Apprehension briefly. However, he does not examine whether it might be a counter-example to his general thesis. His suggestion that it was deleted from the B-edition and therefore cannot be considered canonical is not altogether sound, incidentally. The passage was deleted but the notion of Synthesis of Apprehension most assuredly was not, and there is no reason to think that Kant changed his mind about its character (B-edition, §26). In fairness I must allow, however, that some of what Kant says about it there supports Falkenstein's general view.

3. 3. Interestingly, Falkenstein worries that Kant himself backs into this problem without noticing it (p. 68).

4. 4. Falkenstein considers the relationship of Kant's early view of space and time in the Inaugural Dissertation to the Transcendental Deduction but not his own view (pp. 68-9).

5. 5. As I argue elsewhere xx, this observation that we are aware of only intuitions of the present moment may also help to explain Kant's strange notion that "time ... cannot be a determination of outer appearance" (A33=B49; see A23=B37).

6. 6. The same argument holds, mutatis mutandis, for conceptual organization using the categories: there has to be something that resists some conceptualizations and facilitates others.

7. 7. Falkenstein's own thoughts on the matter may be taking a similar direction (`Response to Commentators', North American Kant Society/Canadian Philosophical Association Symposium on his book, Memorial University, June 3, 1997, and personal communications). As Falkenstein notes (p. 110), Kant says nothing directly to the point but Aquila (1989) is a recent commentator who urges that for Kant intuitions as they arrive already have something that allows their spatiotemporal placement (the issue has been around for a long time). Unfortunately, supporting texts are scarce. However, if intuitions prior to our contribution provided no information useful for sorting them spatiotemporally and conceptually, the result would be some form of solipsistic relativism, about the farthest thing from Kant's mind (though the risk of solipsism is real on some versions of the unknowability thesis and seems nearby at some points in Falkenstein's analysis [p. 316 for example]). In fact, contrary to Kant, this information may itself have to be temporal. As Falkenstein notes, Kant talks about becoming aware of intuitions only after they have been spatiotemporally organized, subject to synthesis, etc. (p. 141).

8. 8. In fact, Kant offers more than these four (or five) ways. He also maintains that intuitions are singular representations whereas products of the understanding can be common to a number of particulars. Falkenstein argues, convincingly to my mind, that this difference falls out of more basic differences between intuition and understanding and is not definitive in its own right. He also argues, again persuasively, that Kant equivocates over `intuition' here. In any case, singular representations could clearly be the result of a lot of cognitive processing and so are not at all the kind of thing that Falkenstein needs.

9. 9. Falkenstein's contrast between the physical and the cognitive is unfortunate; for any materialist, cognition will be just as physical as anything intuitional. This move does suggest that by `physical' here Falkenstein means `sensible', however. (He tries to avoid begging the question of whether the cognitive is physical [p. 119] but his terms belies his effort. The same is true of his attempt to treat the intuitional as physiological: all cognition is physiological for a materialist.)

10. 10. This point also raises a question about whether reception and distribution of particular intuitions are intuitional processes as Falkenstein defines the latter. "If you believe that a certain output is already contained in the input to a processor, ... then you are what I call `an intuitionist'." (p. 7) By this definition, Kant was not an intuitionist about sensible intuition. I think that this is merely a terminological problem and will say no more about it.

11. 11. Actually we can distinguish a third, too, though it is not relevant to Falkenstein's analysis:

3. What is immediately given to consciousness.

For Kant, these items would be the results of what is done to items of type 2. They are the immediately given of those things that are `something to me' (A111, A116, A120, B131-2).

12. 12. Falkenstein also takes me to task for advocating this reading (p. 378 n.3; I make the claim in 1994, p. 197 and elsewhere).

13. 13. Falkenstein's reading is clarified and perhaps modified in `Response to Commentators', North American Kant Society/Canadian Philosophical Association Symposium.

14. 14. Falkenstein may have the Refutation of Idealism wrong when he says that Kant maintains in it that we are aware even of ourselves only as we appear but my views on it are controversial (Brook, 1995).

15. 15. I would like to thank Lorne Falkenstein, Robert Stainton and two anonymous referees for this Journal for many helpful comments and suggestions. Lorne Falkenstein's contribution has been particularly important. Given how hard I push him on some issues, his willingness to push back again and again until I finally got clear about what I wanted to say was exceptionally valuable.