Note: * ... * denotes italics.

+ ... + denotes diacritic



[For MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences]



Kant, Immanuel (1724-1804)

Andrew Brook

Carleton University

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada



Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is perhaps the single most influential figure in the pre-20th century history of cognitive research. He was a devoutly religious man from a very humble background: his father was a saddle-maker. Though one-quarter Scottish (it is said that `Kant' is a Germanization of `Candt'), he lived his whole life in K+ö+nigsberg (now Kaliningrad), just below Lithuania. By his death he was virtually the official philosopher of the German-speaking world.

Until middle age, he was a prominent rationalist in the tradition of Leibniz and Wolff. Then David Hume, as he put it, "awoke me from my dogmatic slumbers". The Critical philosophy ensued. One of its fundamental questions was, what must we be like to have the experiences we have? The view of the mind that Kant developed to answer this question framed virtually all subsequent cognitive research until very recently.

Philosophy of mind and knowledge were by no means the only areas in which Kant made seminal contributions. He founded physical geometry. (Field work must not be have been too important--he is said never to have travelled more the 50 kilometres from K+ö+nigsberg in his whole life!) His work on political philosophy grounds modern liberal democratic theory. And his deontology put ethics on a new footing, one that remains influential to this day.

It is his view of the mind, however, that influenced cognitive research. Four things in particular shaped subsequent thought:

1. MENTAL REPRESENTATION requires both CONCEPTS and SENSATIONS (intuitions). As Kant put it, `concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind'. To represent something, we require both acts of judgment and material from the senses. Put another way, to discriminate, we need information; but we also need the ability to discriminate. This doctrine is now orthodoxy in cognitive science.

2. The method of transcendental argument. Kant's central methodological innovation, transcendental arguments are inferences from phenomena of a certain kind to what must be the case for those phenomena to exist. Applied to MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS, such arguments are about what must be true of the thing that has those representations. Because this move allows us to infer the unobservable psychological antecedents of observed behaviour, it is now central to most experimental cognitive science.

3. The mind as a system of functions. Kant was the first theorist to think of the mind as a system of functions, conceptual functions transforming (`taking') percepts into representations, at any rate in the modern era. (Aristotle may have had the same idea much earlier.) FUNCTIONALISM is by far the most influential philosophy of mind in cognitive science. Even the recent antisententialism of ELIMINATIVE MATERIALISM and CONNECTIONISM still see the mind as a system of functions.

Indeed, Kant's notorious `noumenalism' about the mind might be simply an early expression of FUNCTIONALISM. Noumenalism is the idea that we cannot know what the mind is like, not even something as basic as whether it is simple or complex. Part of Kant's argument is that we cannot infer how the mind is built from how it functions: function does not determine form. The other part is a rejection of INTROSPECTION that is equally contemporary. Both arguments occur in his most important treatment of the mind, the chapter attacking rationalism's Paralogisms of Pure Reason in the *Critique of Pure Reason*.

4. Kant developed a theory of mental faculties that strongly anticipates Fodor's (1983) well-known MODULARITY account.

Kant also developed important ideas about the mind that have not played much of a role in subsequent cognitive research, though perhaps they should have. Two of them concern mental unity.

5. Synthesis. Kant urged that to represent the world, we must perform two kinds of synthesis. First we must synthesize colours, edges, textures, etc., into representations of single objects. Then we must tie the various represented objects together into a single representation of a world. Under the name `BINDING', the first kind of synthesis is now studied (e.g., Treisman and Gelade 1980). The second receives little attention, though it would appear to be equally central to cognition.

6. Unity of CONSCIOUSNESS. The unity of consciousness is our ability to be aware of a great many things at the same time, or better, as parts of a single global representation.

Finally, Kant articulated some striking ideas about:

7. CONSCIOUSNESS and THE SELF. The awareness that we have of ourselves is one form of unified consciousness; we are aware of ourselves as the `single common subject' of our representations. But Kant had insights into it that go well beyond that. He had highly original ideas about the peculiar barrenness of one form of consciousness of self and about the referential apparatus that we use to attain it, ideas that did not reappear until Castañeda (1966) and Shoemaker (1968).

In sum, Kant articulated the view of the mind behind most of cognitive science (Brook 1994).



Brook, A. (1994) *Kant and the Mind.* New York: Cambridge University Press.

Castañeda, H.-N. (1966) `"He": A Study in the Logic of Self-Consciousness.' *Ratio* 8, pp. 130-57.

Fodor, J. (1983). *Modularity of Mind* Cambridge: MIT Press.

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).

Shoemaker, S. (1968) `Self-reference and self-awareness.' *Journal of Philosophy* 65 no. 20, 555-567.

Treisman, A., and Gelade, G. (1980) `A feature-integration theory of attention.' *Cognitive Psychology* 12, 97-136.



Further reading



Ameriks, K. (1983) *Kant's Theory of the Mind.* Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brook, A. (1994) *Kant and the Mind.* New York: Cambridge University Press.

Falkenstein, L. (1996) *Kant's Intuitionism: A Commentary on the Transcendental Aesthetic.* Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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).

Kant, I. (1798) *Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View* (trans. Mary Gregor). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974.

Kitcher, P. (1990) *Kant's Transcendental Psychology.* New York: Oxford University

Press.

Sellars, W. (1968). *Science and Metaphysics.* New York: Humanities Press.