A novice, I do not feel prepared yet to, but shall in future, read Kant; please tell me if Kant's originals answer my question.
Source: p 255, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (1 ed, 1999) by Simon Blackburn

  For Kant the priority is to get away from this "inner theatre" model. We already met some of his approach in Chapter 4, on the self. There, we saw that various quite complex feats of organization are needed for self-consciousness.

[1.] We have to organize our experience not as what Kant calls a mere "rhapsody" or kaleidoscope of perceptions, but in terms of a temporal and spatial order.

Only so can we get a concept of ourselves as moving amongst an independent world of objects situated in a space. How does Kant use this insight to surmount the impasse left by the tradition from Descartes onwards?
  Part of Kant's achievement was seeing that Locke is involved in an untenable conception of understanding. For Locke the paradigm of understanding would be to have something in the mind that "resembles" the features of things that cause it, like a picture. Berkeley shared this ideal. True, he thought that the resemblance could not really obtain ("An idea can resemble nothing but another idea"). But he drew the consequence that we only understand the world of our own ideas.

[2.] Kant sees that when it comes to space and time, size, shape, and the objective order, to have a concept is not to have a mental picture. It is to have an organizing principle or rule; a way of handling the flux of data. Having the same organizing principles or rules could give us the same understanding of the world in spite of differences of subjective experience.

How are the following pairs not already interconnected? I do not understand Kant's distinctions between:   1. 'perceptions' vs 'temporal and spatial order';
2. 'mental picture' vs 'organizing principle or rule'.

  1. Even when viewing rhapsodies or kaleidoscopes, do not humans interpret them spatially and temporally?

Here is my more realistic example: Observation of a beauteous waterfall presupposes organisation by time and space; by time because the observer must think of time as increasing to observe (the beauty of) the falling water (otherwise, she will not see the water as falling); by space because she must be standing away (at a safe distance) to observe.

4 Answers 4


Observation of a beauteous waterfall presupposes organisation by time and space; by time because the observer must think of time as increasing to observe (the beauty of) the falling water (otherwise, she will not see the water as falling); by space because she must be standing away (at a safe distance) to observe.

This is a great example of exactly what Kant means by the term 'Transcendental philosophy'. According to Kant (see the chapter titled 'Transcendental Aesthetic' in The Critique of Pure Reason), the true aim of philosophy is to understand a thing, not by analyzing that thing itself (for this is the role of science) but by thinking about what it is that the existence or possiblity of that thing presupposes. From the introduction to The Critique of Pure Reason:

I entitle transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects in so far as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori [Kant's emphases]

In the 'Transcendental Aesthetic', Kant shows that space is the form of appearances and time is the form of (inner) experience. They are both required in order for any experience to be possible. So you are right in noting that

Even when viewing rhapsodies or kaleidoscopes, do not humans interpret them spatially and temporally?

The precise relationship between perceptions and space and time (or perhaps more accurately, experience and space and time) is in fact a logical one:

Experience is possible => Space and Time exist

where the '=>' means logical implication, in a 'special' form which we might call 'transcendental deduction'. So, if we can grant that we can have experience, then we can conclude that Space and Time exist and pre-exist things or actual bodies, which was quite a novel concept at the time, as space (following Leibniz) was considered to be nothing other than a relationship between bodies.

In regards to the second question about the distinction between 'mental pictures' and 'organizing principle or rule': the author seems to be getting at Kant's distinction between intuition and concepts. Intuitions are original and relate directly to appearances, being caused by sensation of them. Concepts, on the other hand, are derivative and are derived from intuitions.

  • This answer is good, the points I would add is that perception would be at the level of the manifold, how space and time are necessary (things that are not identical with us [space] and intuitions that are synthesis of perceptions in the very same self to be of the same thing [time]) and the role of synthesis under concepts in their function of rules of synthesis. Adding this and actual sources in the CPR would make this a great answer.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 4, 2016 at 10:11
  • @PhilipKlöcking Agreed - I'll edit my answer according to these suggestions.
    – M. le Fou
    Feb 4, 2016 at 15:40

For your second question about:

mental picture vs organising principle

Consider an actual real painting that hangs in a gallery; what organises it as a painting is its frame - within which the painting is hung; and the canvas underneath on which the painting is painted.

One is then examining then the frame, and the canvas; the conditions which make the painting possible.

Likewise, Kant examines the conditions of possible experience; this is the vantage point from which he looks at the problematics associated with Idealism.


ad 1: According ot Kant the question is how to deal with our perceptions:

  • Either unordered (rhapsody, i.e.not regular)
  • or arranged in the order of space and time

ad 2: We do not have mental pictures in the sense of a copy of external objects. Instead we construct experience according to organizing rules. These rules are the categories, see B102ff "On the Pure Concepts of the Understanding or Categories" from Critique of Pure Reason.


I certainly agree with @User259242 that you yourself describe something of what Kant means.

To get a good grasp of Kant's concepts of space and time is really quite difficult. He differentiates between concepts, intuitions, representation, and much more, in very precise, elaborate, and sometimes overlapping terminology.

To begin with, everything appearing to consciousness is a representation. What of? Of "things-in-themselves," as he calls them, which can never be directly "present" to us or "immediately" known. So Kant judges that something indeed exists "independent of" the mind, setting its limits. But obviously the mind can never "know" this side of things... things as they "really" are "when minds aren't around," so to speak.

The closest we get to some immediate or "unmediated" idea of things is the sensory "intuition" of something. For example, we "see" something: A waterfall. But of course we can only see it or "make sense of it" through the elaborate structure of our eyes. So the waterfall is already "represented": by our eyes, but also by a whole structure of "intuitions" and formal "concepts." The same for every sensibly intuited thing. The waterfall is "synthesized" out of this portfolio of representations.

(Note: Kant does not mean this in the psychological sense of constructions of "neurons" or "instincts," which only begs the question of what these "things" are. He is trying to infer the logical conditions for the very possibility of any "experience." By carefully analyzing experiences or appearances, he attempts to deduce what must already be entailed for all of them to be possible. Hence a priori, or what is prior to the experience.)

Now, Kant identifies a number of primary, irreducible concepts (such as "substance" and "cause") that must always already be part of an experience. He calls these "categorical" concepts or "categories." We might say that "space" and "time" are among these irreducible categories. But, in fact, it is a little more difficult than that. Space and time are even more fundamental.

Kant argues that we cannot conceive of any object without thinking of it "outside" of us "in" space, for example. Yet we can, sort of, think of space without things "in" it: Pure "outer space." Thus space cannot be abstracted from the empirical idea of "things"; we cannot start with "things," then imagine "space." Instead, things are "represented," mediated, and formed through spatialization: the empirical theory that ideas are all caused by sensations "from outside" presupposes this "outside."

So space and time are the very deepest "forms" of the very possibility of anything "appearing" to us. Personally, I tend to picture them as the (0,0) ("origin point") of a Cartesian grid that opens up into the coordinate system in which everything can appear and also be measured. I can only repeat, Kant is not easy. He is attempting to restructure the modern view of mind to resolve problems with Descartes' rationalism, Hume's empiricism, Newtonian determinism, Enlightenment freedom, and more. So don't be discouraged if it seems hard to "get."

  • 1
    While it is true that in CPR space and time are pure forms, these have developed and more meaning that could be of use for understanding the full meaning of Blackburn's point. Because what seems to be more important here is the schematism of space and time (for sensual experience), because this explains how they are more likely to be understood as rules. This is clarified in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science rather than CPR.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 4, 2016 at 15:36
  • I'm sure you are right. I am actually reading this stuff solo at the moment, so when I say it's "hard to get," that is purely autobiographical. I sort of wanted to write to sketch out my own thoughts so far in the simplest "over-a-beer" explanation, but probably posted prematurely. I have not read MFNS. I can see now why you say "rules" might be better here than "forms," but may I suggest, in English, "instructions" might be even better. Feb 4, 2016 at 21:41
  • 1
    Don't get me wrong, your sketch is quite good. It is more of a suggestion for digging deeper if you want to fully understand what Blackburn is pointing at ;)
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 4, 2016 at 22:08

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