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"Space is not an empirical concept that has been drawn from outer experiences. For in order for certain sensations to be relatedd to some thing outside me, . . thus in order for me to represent them as out side one another,. . the representation of space must already be their ground. Thus the representation of space cannot be obtained from the relations of outer appearance through experience, but this outer experience is itself first possible only through this representation" (B38).

The first premise that space is not an empirical concept seems precisely what needs to be proven. It is a conclusion, not a premise. So, too, the second premise, that in order for me to perceive something outside of myself the intuition of space must be pre-empirical. Isn't that precisely what needs to be proven? All three sentences seem to be saying the same thing in different ways. They are all assertions disguised as an argument.

Can anyone explain what Kant is up to? Is he blind to the circularity of his argument?

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  • Possible you like to read what has been discussed on this platform some years ago concerning Kant's concept of space philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/32513/…
    – Jo Wehler
    Jan 16 at 4:16
  • Thank you for that link. It seems their contest trying to provide a different "proof" of his argument using an example from geometry. Even if that argument is compelling the one he gives here may not be. So maybe my question is more about his process than his conclusions. But this link does help. Thank you
    – Gerry
    Jan 16 at 7:27

4 Answers 4

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You are being confused by the presentation of the argument. The first sentence,

A. Space is not an empirical concept that has been drawn from outer experiences.

is not a premise, but the conclusion of the argument. That's what the following word "for" in the next sentence indicates. It means: "here comes an argument for the claim I just made". The second premise you suggest is not a premise either, but just a rewording of the conclusion. The argument is here:

B. For in order for certain sensations to be related to some thing outside me, . . thus in order for me to represent them as out side one another,. . the representation of space must already be their ground.

The following clause is a restatement of the conclusion:

C. Thus the representation of space cannot be obtained from the relations of outer appearance through experience,

And then an abbreviated restatement of the argument:

D. but this outer experience is itself first possible only through this representation" (B38).

The argument is basically this:

  1. In order for the concept of space to be learned from observation, we must be able to observe space before we have a concept of space.

  2. In order to observe space, we need to observe that some things are in some sense "outside" of ourselves.

  3. Observing that something is outside of ourselves requires that we be have a concept of space.

  4. Therefore, the concept of space proceeds observation of space.

  5. Therefore, space cannot be a concept learned from observation.

  6. Therefore, space must be a pure intuition.

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Transcendental arguments have this feature of appealing circular, because they do not progress in a linear manner such as assuming a set of premises and deducing the conclusions. Taken as a whole, some arguments in the CPR may be construed in such a way, but much of Kant's project involves identifying necessary presuppositions of experience. This, Kant thinks, is the only way we can employ synthetic a priori cognition in establishing the foundational principles of metaphysics.

As for the argument itself. Kant is not exactly saying space is not an empirical concept, rather, he is saying that the empirical concept of space does not contain the full reality of space itself. This is evidenced by the fact that the very possibility of empirical concepts hinges on the idea of an external given-- a 'sense' of an outside. This, Kant says, is given through a 'pure intuition' of space.

Space, as well as time, are presupposed by the very nature of experience. Not only is experience organized spatio-temporally for Kant, but our very understanding of the knowing act presupposes inner and outer sense, which themselves presuppose spatio-temporal relations. As presuppositions of the knowing act itself, space and time cannot be concepts because concepts arise from the function of thought, which itself presupposes space and time as its fundamental form.

Furthermore, Kant is motivated to understand space and time as a form of intuition because Kant does not believe concepts can disclose reality . Concepts for Kant serve a purely discursive function in clarifying the meaning of a given manifold of intuition, but ultimately, concepts must refer to a given intuition. If space and time were merely concepts, we would derive them from the relationships between objects of experience. But the status of objects, as objects of experience, would already presuppose space and time as the basic constitution of thought.

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  • Kant gives no 'transcendental arguments' in the Aesthetic.
    – user71009
    Jan 16 at 14:48
  • Just because it is not part of the transcendental deduction, does not mean it is not a transcendental argument.
    – Charles
    Jan 16 at 17:23
  • What's the "transcendental argument" then? In your answer you seem to be mistaking many notions: Indeed, for Kant, space and time are the forms of the external sense but it doesn't mean that the notion of an "outside" is important in this context (at least I don't find anything like that in the aesthetic). Space being a concept wouldn't mean you could derive all the object-determinations from it or at least I cannot see why would that be so significant. It is at least puzzling to me what you mean "full reality" because the notion of reality is for Kant related to matter, not form.
    – user71009
    Jan 16 at 17:33
  • A transcendental argument would be any argument which moves from self-evident claims about our experience (that we perceive an 'outside' world) to a priori truths (that external relations are only possible through an a priori presentation of space.
    – Charles
    Jan 16 at 17:41
  • I find that definition arguable because whenever someone invokes self-evidence it is at least suspicious (and that's why the Aesthetic is suspicious anyway). But I see how under that definition the Aesthetic involves a transcendental argument.
    – user71009
    Jan 16 at 17:54
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The question is based on a logical misunderstanding: there's no positive argument (explanation, assertion, "premise" in your words) here.

Negations are not arguments (in such sense), pay attention to them:

Space is not...

... the representation of space cannot be...

Since there's no argument, therefore there's no circular argument.

Instead, the selection of the choice follows a logical elimination process: space as an empirical concept lacks of logical consistency, then space is necessarily an intuition (an a priori representation).

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In the Transcendental Aesthetic Kant proceeds fully empirically, psychologically, he doesn't really give arguments for his claims other than the following:

  1. Experience is only possible if we already possess formal intuitions which make it intelligible.
  2. We can acquire empirical concepts only through experience.
  3. Space and time are formal intutions which make human experience possible.
  4. Conclusion: Space and time are not empirical concepts.

(this, of course, isn't a strict argument; more premises have to be assumed to go from them to the conclusion - I just wanted to illustrate what Kant aims at in general)

The first premise perhaps contains an insight, but the third premise is entirely empirico-psychological (in a bad sense of 'empirical' and 'psychological'), it only tells us that certain features of our experience we're willing to consider basic. These self-descriptions may be unreliable or incomplete and Kant doesn't consider that.

It's, in my (although not just mine - Hegel calls Kant's argument for the a priori status of space and time 'barbaric') humble opinion, the most confused part of the book and its unfortunate that it comes first. The formal nature of space and time is a valuable insight and the proto-constructivist philosophy of mathematics which Kant elaborates in the chapter is also valuable. But it should be read through the Transcendental Analytic and only then the more successful parts can be separated from the unsuccesful ones.

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