Dyck, C. W. (2016): The scope of inner sense: the development of kant's psychology in the silent decade

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An interesting and useful discussion of Kant’s pre-critical views on inner sense and self-consciousness, particularly in the Inaugural Dissertation and in the metaphysics lectures of the 70s. Dyck argues that:

  1. an important development in the 1770s consists in the extension of the scope of inner sense to the soul and its acts after their apparent exclusion from it in the Dissertation
  2. The extension of the scope of inner sense in the 70s accounts for Kant’s revitalized interest in rational psychology in the mid-1770’s
  3. But, even in the ML1 (i.e. the Metaphysik Pölitz) notes, Kant is careful to circumscribe the limits of what can be known of the soul and, in light of this, that his subsequent discovery of the Paralogisms should be understood not as a radical break but as the last stage of a fairly continuous line of thinking running through his pre-Critical metaphysics.

A crucial part of Dyck’s interpretation turns on his view that Kant is committed, in the Dissertation, to our having intellectual intuitions of the soul or subject, by means of which we acquire the pure concepts of metaphysics. His argument hinges on two claims. First, that there are clear texts showing that Kant denies that sensible laws (i.e. of time and space) apply to immaterial substances, and that Kant construes the mind/soul as an immaterial substance (330). Second, that Kant’s conception of the acquisition of the pure concepts of metaphysics depends on the existence of intellectual intuition (330-1).

However, neither of these points are particularly compelling. Against the first, it is relatively clear from the context of Kant’s statements regarding immaterial substance that he denies that the principles of the corporeal world apply to such substances (ID §27, 2:414). That would mean that principles belonging to substances understood as bodies. But this is compatible with the conception of the mind as nevertheless (and thus at least some immaterial substance) governed by time. Moreover, Kant explicitly states that there are no intellectual intuitions (§10, 2:396-7) and that “the accidents which are not included in the relations of space, such as the thoughts of the mind” are in time (Corollary, 2:406).

Things are more complicated, or equivocal, with respect to the second issue. Kant does say that,

the concepts met with in metaphysics are not to be sought in the senses but in the very nature of the pure understanding, and that not as innate concepts but as concepts abstracted from the laws inherent in the mind (by attending to its actions on the occasion of an experience)…(ID §8, 2:395)

This might suggest that the concepts of metaphysics are acquired on the basis of abstraction from the content of an intellectual intuition of the mind itself. Kant might also be taken to confirm that it is abstraction that is in play when he says of the concepts of space and time (which discursively describe the fundamental laws of phenomena) that

each of the concepts [of space and time] has, without any doubt, been acquired, not, indeed, by abstraction from the sensing of objects (for sensation gives the matter and not the form of human cognition), but from the very action of the mind, which coordinates what is sensed by it, doing so in accordance with permanent laws. Each of the concepts is like an immutable image and, thus, each is to be cognised intuitively. (ID Corollary, 2:406)

Kant might be taken as saying that the concepts are acquired, not via abstraction from the sensing of (outer) objects, but abstraction from the mind’s activity. This might then commit Kant to construing such concepts as “sensitive” or “empirical” because they have been formed via relation to intuition (which, if free of sensation is not “sensible”, but will nevertheless still be “sensitive” (ID §5, 2:393)). This is especially true if the concepts thus formed provide cognition of the subject, since Kant says that cognitions are “called sensitive on account of their genesis” (ID §5, 2:393). However, this latter passage is about cognition not concepts. And it is not clear whether Kant construes concept formation as subject to the same principle.

But the question remains, from what is it that the metaphysical concepts are abstracted? Is it the content of a sensory intuition or an intellectual one? Dyck construes Kant as committed to the existence of intellectual intuitions. But it seems to me that Kant is equally, if not more so, committed to denying that we have intellectual intuitions. So I take it that what Kant is committed to is saying that inner intuition is unlike outer intuition in important ways. FOr example, that inner intuition is not of mere appearance or relations, but of the mind itself. But what explains this difference from outer intuition? And if there is such a difference then how are intuitions sensible rather than intellectual? To the latter question Kant might reply that all intuitions in inner sense are still marked by their passivity, which would differentiate them from intellectual intuition (ID §10, 2:296-7). But if true then it is difficult to understand why awareness via affection ends up having a special content with regard to our own minds that it does not have with regard to objects of outer sense.

Further, being passively aware of our mental activity does not explain how inner sense is connected with the concept of oneself (the ‘I’ as Kant often says) and of one’s mental states as one’s own (the ‘mineness’ of self-consciousness).

One thing that really perplexes me about this paper is that Dyck’s third point, that Kant’s view is continuous with his prior position rather than revolutionary, seems to completely ignore the ‘revolutionary’ change in Kant’s late-stage denial that we have an intuition of the subject or the ‘I’. This revision of Kant’s view is completely unexplained by Dyck (he simply acknowledges that Kant does change his view in this way, p. 340). But this change is a big deal, and central to the kinds of criticisms that Kant goes on to make of rational psychology. I take it that the story I want to tell about pure apperception is much more of a ‘continuous not revolutionary’ story than the one Dyck tells. This is because I take pure apperception as roughly providing what the intuition of the subject did in his pre-critical work, only not in a way that grounds cognition. But the key is that Kant retains a version of the Difference Thesis, and with it the Source and Priority Theses.

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