After reading about transcendental Aesthetics and transcendental logic, I perceive three kinds of unity in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason:

  1. Unity of properties of an object which is sensed through apperception, followed by combination/unification

  2. Unity of empirical ego which enables the first unity and reflection

  3. Unity of pure ego (transcendental ego) which exists in every situation and basically enables reflection and any other unification

Are these categorizations right? Or did I misunderstand anything fundamental?

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    You have identified one of the stable triads of Alchemy: Fixed. Mutable and Cardinal -- Body, Mind and Spirit. It appears to be a common intuition that people map onto all kinds of things from modal verbs, to the parts of Freud's mind, to the abstract virtues, to the Persons of God. It is not at all odd that it should be possible to map it onto several aspects of Kant's system. It may help with organizing your thinking, but what philosophical content do you think this triad has?
    – user9166
    May 20, 2015 at 16:15
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    Hello. How do you understand the term 'unity'? May 20, 2015 at 20:02
  • Very timely post for me, I was just doing a deep read of this section in Kant's 1st Critique this morning. Like @ramtobolski I need help with intended use of 'unity' here but also 'unification' and 'ego'. Can be very helpful to look at a conceptual framework in multiple contexts. Was thrilled to see Kant actually invites this.
    – sourcepov
    Dec 5, 2015 at 19:16
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    @jobermark Hegel's dialectic: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Lacan's three psychoanalytic orders: Symbolic, Real, Imaginary. Peirce's cenopythagorean categories: firstness, secondness, thirdness. Kant's tables of judgments and categories run through with triads :)
    – igravious
    May 19, 2016 at 23:52
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    @jobemark I did an internet search on the triad: cardinal/fixed/mutable. they are categories of astrology. while i can see how these categories were stumbled upon in astrology (hey, if you throw enough mud at a wall some of it's going to stick, right?) they have no place in a philosophical discussion. the thing is, people think that philosophy is a moveable feast of signs and signification. it really isn't. i'm happy to engage you but you have to acknowledge that you're posting in a philosophy forum so the onus is on you to translate your thoughts into philosophical terms.
    – igravious
    May 22, 2016 at 1:46

3 Answers 3


It's kind of hard guess which passages you're referring to. Are you talking of §16 of the transcendental deduction (B-Edition)?

In it Kant speaks of the Original Synthetic Unity of Apperception. Here the unity of consciousness is explored as a synthetic unity, which is constituted by the accompaniment of all our thoughts by "I think". Only by recognizing each representation as my own they do appear linked, The "I think" in itself appears as an act of spontaneity, transcendental "act of the mind" as introduced on page A102.

The "I" in this concept or judgement "I think" is the transcendental subject. We find it in any given thought 'as' thought without adding to the thought content, but in the realization that this is something we experience. Since that means the thought and the representations in it have to be constituted form a multitude of sensations and affectations by bringing them into the order of spacetime, we have to acknowledge that unity is synthetic. That means any object we're conscious off is in itself a synthetic unity (is that your #3)?

While consciousness itself (that is, any given empirical consciousness =? #2) is in itself a synthetic unity, falling under the same quasi-concept of "I-think", each representation we'e conscious of must be understood as in itself containing a multitude of sub-notions that are themselves again in our consciousness, with more or less awareness. This is the unity of the object (=? #1).

Since any concept is - as an act of thought - itself an act of combination (=synthesis) but also an analytical unity to the notions and representations that contain it as a property, the same holds for "I think" - although Kant states that this notion has "no special designation" (A341)


I think one could distinguish :

  • unity as a special category ( unity, plurality, totality)

  • unity as " originally synthetic unity of aperception"; this unity is " transcendental" in the original sense, that is, above all categories

  • unity as Idea of Reason ( imaginary focus at which Reason is aiming in its effort directed at the " unconditionned " or "absolute")


It's important to distinguish between the "thinking I" and the "thought I." Most of the time, when we talk about the phenomena associated with "I think," we're talking about the I that has already been objectively synthesized, the second unity in the first edition of CPR. There has to exist some fundamental ground or condition that allows me to synthesize or conceive objects in the first place, the unity of apperception, an inferred unity, transcendentally deduced and related to the transcendental subject. It is not something we are conscious of but something that makes it possible to be conscious of something. It requires the transcendental subject and the transcendental object (which may turn out to be the same thing).

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