Following this question asking about whether we are born 'critically thinking'; which suggested this question asking whether we are born with Kants categories.

Expanding further on the original question in a Kantian trajectory, one can ask about the nature of the synthesising Intellect which takes the categories and sensual intuition to synthesise for example the concept of 'red'.

Is this Intellect critical, logical (and imaginative) in some sense?

One might say yes, because it doesn't synthesise the concept 'tall' when it should synthesise the concept 'red'.

Is this Intellect conscious?

One might say no, because by force of will I can't see a 'red' thing as a 'blue' thing; one might say yes, since by a force of will I can synthesise the concept 'coordinate geometry'.

  • 1
    Two great questions! My short take on that is Kantian epistemology is very crude and downright wrong on the roots of categories. But al-Farabi the muslim philosopher who predated Kant by 8 centuries has a very rich and highly elaborated theory on origins and different levels of rational thinking. I may provide a summary later when I have time. But if you read my answer to the first question and later comments, I provided a rough gist of his idea.
    – infatuated
    Sep 20, 2014 at 5:00
  • @infatuated: please do; Kantian epistemology may be 'wrong' but one can hardly call it 'crude'; Sep 20, 2014 at 5:42

2 Answers 2


Is it critical, logical, and imaginative? Sure. This is nowhere more evident than when comparing the ability of a baby to recognize and respond to faces and the ability of a computer programmed to attempt to do the same things. The machine learning side of the problem shows how ferociously difficult it is, and the baby shows that we humans do it innately and with considerable talent. Synthesizing "red" isn't such a great example because it's so simple (and so low-level: you literally need your eyes to produce different proteins to be able to effectively distinguish red and green, so it's more automatic than many other syntheses).

Is it conscious? Sometimes. One can show this even with colors; although much of western Europe divides things into "yellow", "green", "blue", "purple", in Russia there is a pale blueish color (transliterated "goluboy", голубо́й) that is considered part of the normal spectrum between green and (a darker) blue. It is not something exotic like "azure" or "teal". This difference in synthesis of visual inputs is entirely a product of culture, so it stands to reason that similar distinctions are within reach of intention. (This does not mean that everything is within reach of intent, only that some things are.)


I think there is a point in life where one realizes that one can be critical. So I would have to say that to some degree that initial intellect is entirely uncritically synthesizing.

There is an age before language truly adheres (up to, on average, 18 months) when there is little evidence that negation applies to infants. Experiences can be positive or negative, but only as they are biologically so. To the extent language works, before that, it seems to be entirely operant conditioning without symbolic content. Memory works in terms of the evocative function of the hind-brain but without the calming-and-resolving intervention of the frontal cortex.

Evidence for this phenomenon come from studies of early memory, where people find that experiences before that cutoff can generally not be considered analytically, and cognitive approaches to addressing their effects backfire, because invoking them either negatively or positively has the same effect.

If this frontal function really does, as it appears, start development at a given age (instead of developing more continuously, sneaking on and only getting noticed at a certain point) then before that, I would say one cannot be critical or analytic, and we all have the experience somewhere of an entirely synthetic world.

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