Conditions of All Possible Experience?

Yesterday I went to Patricia Kitcher’s very interesting talk at the CUNY Cog sci Colloquium entitled ‘Layers of Consciousness in Kantian Judgments’. Her central concern was trying to give an account of how it is that the understanding can be conscious of itself as it performs various mental activities like inference given that Kant says it is not due to inner sense…during the course of answering some questions she made the (to me) very surprising claim that Kant allowed that there could be other kinds of rational creatures that did not intuit objects via the categories, or indeed, the aesthetic (that is, did not have experiences that were of objects connected via the causal relation and in space and time) and even suggested that this was a common interpretation of Kant! When I asked her about this, saying that it was my understanding that the aesthetic and categories were the conditions for all possible experience whether ours or any rational creature, with perhaps some quibbling about whether God needs them or not, she cited the B version of the Transcendental Deduction (B145) which runs as follows

…were I to think an understanding which is itself intuitive (as, for example, a divine understanding which should not represent to itself given objects, but through whose representation the objects themselves should be given or produced), the categories would have no meaning whatsoever in respect of such a mode of knowledge. They are merely rules for an understanding whose whole power consists in thought, consists, that is, in the act whereby it brings the synthesis of a manifold, given to it from elsewhere in intuition, to the unity of apperception–a faculty, therefore, which by itself knows nothing whatsoever, but merely combines and arranges material of knowledge, that is, the intuition, which must be given to it by the object. This peculiarity of our understanding, that it can produce a priori unity of apperception solely by means of the categories, and only by such and so many, is as little capable of further explanation as why we have just these and no other functions of judgment, or why space and time are the only forms of our possible intuition.
Now it seems to me that it must be the ‘our in front of ‘understanding’ and ‘intuition’ in the last sentence that she was citing as her evidence, but this is not very strong evidence…I read this passage as saying that for any kind of being that engages in thought, whereby Kant must mean thinks about objects in the world via representing them in thought, they only do so in virtue of the categories. Does anyone else know something about this issue? Is there any where else in the Critique that is commonly thought to support this claim (i.e. that there could be rational creatures that have different categories/aesthetic?)


  1. Tony Dardis

    Hi, Richard,

    I’m no Kantian, but I think I’ve always understood that passage the way Kitcher does. My guess is that the only way around that reading is to somehow “derive” that our forms of intuition are the only ones possible, something that in this passage, anyway, Kant seems to be denying can be done, but maybe on reflection it’s something he should have tried?


  2. Marcin Miłkowski


    note that Kant clearly distinguishes between finite rational beings and the infinite rational being which is able to intuit the world without aesthetic (this is a standard reading of intellectus archetypus in the Third Critique). So in a way, it’s obvious that according to Kant it’s logically possible that there are other kinds of rational creatures.

    I think it would be more interesting to ask whether all _finite_ creatures must cognize via aesthetic judgments. I wouldn’t be so sure – Kant derives the metaphysical deduction of the aesthetics from the fact that _we_ are able to experience and build science. So he is not justified to suppose that other creatures are doing the same.

  3. Richard Brown

    Hi Tony, How’s it going? Thanks for the comment!

    Sheesh! I just wrote a nice response but the stupid blog timed out my session and so I lost it all!! DAMN!!

    Anyways,here’s the gist…

    Check out A230/B284 where Kant is very clear that we cannot really know that there are not other forms of intuition (since that would entail trancending our experience) but at the same time (A232/B285) it is not a real possibility…

  4. Richard Brown

    Hi Marcin, thanks for the comment.

    Yes, I am aware of the distinction (that is why I said there might some quibiling about whether God needed the categories)…I was interested in the claim that any creature that thinks (i.e. represents the world) must do so in virtue of the categories and aesthetic.

    I think that you may be right when you say that Kant is deducing what we do and that we cannot say for sure whether others do it differently, but at the same time I think he is confident that there aren’t any, or at least we have no reason to think so…consider what he says at A232/B285 (which I had quoted in my response to Tony, but it got erased…<blockquote>That yet another series of appearances in thoroughgoing connection with what is given in perception, and consequently that more than one all-embracing experience is possible, cannot be inferred fromwhat is given; and still less can any such inference be drawn independantly of anything given–since without material nothing whatsoever can be thought. What is possible only under conditions which themselves are merely possible is not in <i>all respects</i>possible. But such [absolute] possibility is in question when it is asked whether the possibility of things extends further than experience can reach.</blockquote> I read this as saying that it is NOT a real possibility

  5. Anonymous

    Hi Richard,

    I think that’s just the same as with the things in themselves – we have no reason to think that they are this way or another, but still there is no way to deny that they could exist. This is pertains to the core of transcendental philosophy, and I could bet Patricia Kitcher is almost always right about it…
    By the way, I’m not sure if I can follow the quote from Kant. I’ll have to find it in the German edition – I could never understand Kant First Critique in any other language, especially in my mother tongue, i.e., Polish 😉

  6. Richard Brown

    Hello, thanks for the comment.

    Yes, I think that you are right in your comparison…strictly speaking we can say nothing about noumenal objects except that they exist (though some have questioned whether Kant should be allowed to say even this about them, but I am not one since I think he has a nice trancendental argument that whatever they are like they must in fact be there) So too in the case of other forms of intuition we can not absolutely rule them out but we can give a nice trancedental argument that they do not exist…is that what you meant?

  7. BensonBear

    a27/b43: “we cannot judge at all whether the intuitions of other thinking beings are bound to the same conditions that limit our intuition and that are universally valid for us”.

  8. Richard Brown

    Hi BensonBear,


    Thanks for the comment and the quote, though I do think that you misunderstand it. An intuition for Kant is “that through which [a mode of knowledge] is in immediate relation to [objects]” (from the Transcendental Aesthetic A19). So all he is saying in the quote that you give is that there may be other forms of intuition in which the object itself is given (like, for instance, in a divine intellect). But for any creature, like us, whose intuitions invole representations, then those must occur in space…in fact in the very next sentence after the one you quote he says as much “If we add to the concept of a subject the limitation under which the judgment is made, the judgment is then uncondionally valid. The proposition, that all things are side by side in space, is valid under the limitation that these things are viewed as objects of our sensible intuition. If, now, I add the condition to the concept, and say that all things, as outer appearance, are side by side in space, the rule is valid universally and without limitation”

  9. BensonBear

    Yeah, probably. So you are saying that “the same conditions that limit our intuition” refers in a very coarse-grained sense merely to sensibility in general, and not to specific forms of sensibility?
    I guess the immediately following text does strongly suggest that. So this is the just another case of distinguishing between “finite” and “infinite” minds?

    What about b139, where the issue is instead unity of apperception? He mentions at the bottom an understanding that possesses “a sensible intuition not grounded in space and time”, but perhaps he is claiming the very idea is impossible, rather than just that we cannot conceive of how it could be possible?

    (I don’t even understand the whole idea of outer intuition in the first place — why it even is necessary…)

    (And after trying to read Kant I am also thinking that I would rather try to think about philosophical problems instead of thinking about the problem of figuring out what Kant meant…)

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