Kitcher, P. (1990): Kant’s Transcendental Psychology

Kant, German Idealism, Functionalism, Substance and Power
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author = {Kitcher, Patricia},
title = {Kant’s Transcendental Psychology},
shorttitle = {Kant’s Transcendental Psychology},
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publisher = {Oxford University Press},
address = {New York},
year = {1990},
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doi = {},
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beref = {46481},
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keywords = {kant; commentary; transcendental deduction}}

Kitcher on Kant’s Faculty Psychology

Kitcher charges Kant with “weak psychologism”, which is the view that “psychological facts may be important to philosophical or normative claims, even though they cannot establish such claims” [(Kitcher 1990), 9].

She does not construe this as a significant problem for Kant or for his views, but from our perspective it seems like an uncritical acceptance of ‘logical’, ‘psychological’, and ‘normative’. It is not at all obvious that these notions have close correlates in Kant’s work, which is perhaps why Strawson’s objection to transcendental psychology seems so unfair.

Here’s how Kitcher thinks the faculty psychology is justified:

I argue that transcendental psychology analyzes cognitive tasks to determine the general specifications for a mind capable of performing those tasks. That is how Kant is going to show that certain aspects of our knowledge are grounded in our faculties: by showing that any faculty that can perform the task at all must meet certain specifications and that the knowledge produced by a faculty with those specifications will always include certain elements. ((Kitcher 1990), pp. 13-14)

This seems totally reasonable to me, though it makes Kant’s analysis more into a cog sci one of breaking down the various tasks characteristic of thinking and reasoning and then giving the psychological account of how they are accomplished.

It certainly seems plausible that this is at least part of what Kant is doing. It’s just that he also seems to deny that a specification of how these tasks are accomplished is compatible with their being wholly natural—i.e. part of the causal mechanism of nature. So obviously Kant’s position regarding how are to understand the mind is going ultimately to differ from the cog sci perspective of various cognitive “mechanisms” that achieve or accomplish discrete cognitive “tasks”.

TODO Mechanism vs Power

So one key issue then is to give an explanation of the mind and its faculties or capacities as powers that does not push us toward a conception of the mind as a bundle of “mechanisms” (what’s a “mechanism” anyway) that operate to solve cognitive tasks.

Can one then explain Kant’s psychology, in terms of the powers of a substance, without committing that view to a contemporary mechanistic cognitive psychology (and can one clearly explain the difference between the views)?

I should say that it isn’t clear to me that Kitcher is attributing something like a search for psychological mechanisms to Kant. Indeed, she at times seems to deny that he is engaged in this practice at all, instead only articulating very abstract functional features of the mind that may have a variety of different “mechanisms” that are needed to implement it.

Time-stamp: <Last modified on 2020-1210-21:13:20>


Kitcher, Patricia. 1990. Kant’s Transcendental Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

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