"Kant concludes §17 by contrasting the human understanding, which requires an act of synthesis to establish its unity, with another possible kind of understanding. This would be an understanding in which a manifold of intuition, and indeed the objects of that intuition, are given in its self-consciousness rather than being required for its self-consciousness. This would be an intuitive understanding, in contrast to the discursive understanding of humans, which only applies concepts to intuitions that are generated by sensibility. Kant says that we can frame no concept of such an understanding, or of an understanding whose material is intuitions not in space and time." (Critique of Pure Reason Lecture Notes: Transcendental Deduction G. J. Mattey)

I do not understand how there can be another kind of understanding apart from the first kind - "an act of synthesis to establish its unity". How can understanding be anything of understanding than the act of synthesis? I put in bold two phrases that I have been specifically trying to wrap my head around. The second one makes sense to me. We have self-consciousness only in relation to the world around us. How do we have self-consciousness by merely intuiting the world? That seems to be an absurdity!

Kant seems to contradict himself,

"In §18, Kant claims that, “Only the original unity of apperception is valid objectively” (B140). This means that the unity of apperception is a necessary condition for the presentation of an object." (Critique of Pure Reason Lecture Notes: Transcendental Deduction G. J. Mattey)

If I understand correctly that "unity of apperception" is only an active working of the understanding that brings the object to cognition to the perceiving subject.

  • Related, as the two kinds of understanding are depicted in the quote of my answer: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/31683/…
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 3, 2016 at 19:56
  • The unity of apperception is something different. It is what he calls the transcendental self and a necessary condition for the presentation of objects as objects as there has to be the (transcendental) unity of the self to perceive objects, because even if the synthesis (sensuality and understanding mediated by productive imagination) would be able to present conceptually ordered intuitions, as long as the self does not stay the same over time, they could not be apprehended as an object, as this has to be persistent in time.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 3, 2016 at 20:38
  • And the objective validity of it is shown by our obvious ability to perceive objects. By virtue of conditioning this, the objective validity of transcendental apperception/self is shown. In Kant, it is always and can only be shown by experience.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 3, 2016 at 21:09
  • But what exactly is your question, anyway? There are some reflections meddled in and at least two questions I could make out of it.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jun 3, 2016 at 21:09

1 Answer 1


In the section to which Mattey is referring, Kant says the following:

"But this principle is not to be regarded as a principle for every possible understanding, but only for the understanding by means of whose pure apperception in the thought I am, no manifold content is given. The understanding or mind which contained the manifold in intuition, in and through the act itself of its own self-consciousness, in other words, an understanding by and in the representation of which the objects of the representation should at the same time exist, would not require a special act of synthesis of the manifold as the condition of the unity of its consciousness, an act of which the human understanding, which thinks only and cannot intuite, has absolute need." (Critique of Pure Reason, B137. emphasis added)

Kant is contrasting the human understanding with an understanding whose source of intuitions comes from within rather than from without. He is claiming that such an understanding would have no need of a unifying principle, because the objects of such an understanding would already possess the necessary coherence and unity that apperception provides.

In another passage, he returns to this topic, but this time he specifically speaks of divine understanding. In other words, he is supposing that God may perceive the world differently from us, not as dependent upon receiving intuitions from an outside source; but rather, those intuitions are dependent upon God as their source:

"For if I cogitate an understanding which was itself intuitive (as, for example, a divine understanding which should not represent given objects, but by whose representation the objects themselves should be given or produced), the categories would possess no significance in relation to such a faculty of cognition." (Critique of Pure Reason, B144 emphasis added)

In contrast with this, the human mind, not possessing any such creative power, is in a dependent relation with respect to its intuitions and is thus in need of a unifying principle:

"[The categories] are merely rules for an understanding, whose whole power consists in thought, that is, in the act of submitting the synthesis of the manifold which is presented to it in intuition from a very different quarter, to the unity of apperception; a faculty, therefore, which cognizes nothing per se, but only connects and arranges the material of cognition, the intuition, namely, which must be presented to it by means of the object." (Critique of Pure Reason, B144 emphasis added)

  • If I understand correctly B137 from the Critique, this understanding refers to object that we that are in the mind, the representations of objects that are external. Am I correct? Jun 5, 2016 at 20:35
  • Normally I would say yes if it were referring to human understanding, but I don't know how it can be interpreted with respect to God's understanding, nor do I want to speculate about that. Kant himself said in the same section, "...we cannot form the least conception of any other possible understanding [than our own]..."
    – user3017
    Jun 5, 2016 at 20:59

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