I can't be the only one who finds this strange. Section 7 of Anthropology from a Pragmatic Perspective, entitled "On Sensibility in contrast to understanding", reads as follows:

In regard to the state of its representations, my mind is either active and exhibits a faculty (facultas), or it is passive and consists in receptivity (receptivitas). A cognition contains both joined together, and the possibility of having such a cognition bears the name of cognitive faculty - from the most distinguished part of this faculty, namely, the activity of mind in combining or separating representations from one another.

Representations in regard to which the mind behaves passively, and by means of which the subject is therefore affected (whether it *affects itself or is affected by an object), belong to the sensuous cognitive faculty. But ideas that comprise a sheer activity (thinking) belong to the intellectual cognitive faculty. The former is also called the lower, the latter, the higher cognitive faculty. The lower cognitive faculty has the character of passivity of the inner sense of sensations; the higher, of spontaneity of apperception, that is, of pure consciousness of the activity that constitutes thinking. It belongs to logic ( a system of rules of the understanding), as the former belongs to psychology (a sum of all inner perceptions under laws of nature) and establishes inner experience.

So, even when I'm just staring idly at the wall painted red, both cognitive faculties are at work, the one receiving the sensations of the red wall, the other applying all the rules of time and space, etc to it so that I can recognize that I'm looking at a red wall. That's Kant right? The gist is, affection and intellection submit to two entirely different rule sets. Affection follows the laws of nature, and so has a physiological basis, but intellection submits to the rules of logic (which is carefully defined in a separate book, appropriately titled Logic). So while in function, the two faculties are the same, structurally they are distinct. But that would mean that the laws of nature don't command all of reality, or at least, as far as Kant goes, the laws of nature are incapable of eventually accounting for intellection! Hang on, there's evidence, and this is where things get really tricky.

In the handwritten manuscript to Anthropology, Kant crossed out, and so didn't publish, a whole subsequent section which clarifies some of the ambiguities of this idea of cognition. The chunk of it deals with the weirdness of claiming, following these distinctions, that human beings can never know themselves in themselves (an-sich):

In the self-cognition of the human being through inner experience he does not make what he has perceived in himself, for this depends on impressions (the subject matter of representations) that he receives. Therefore he is so far enduring, that is, he has a representation of himself as he is affected by himself, which according to its form depends merely on the subjectivity property of his nature, which should be interpreted as belonging to the object, even though he still also has the right to attribute it to the object (here he is own person), but with the qualification that he can only recognize himself as an object through his representation in experience as he appears to himself, not as he, the observed, is in himself. - If he wished to cognize the latter way, he would have to rely on a consciousness of pure spontaneity (the concept of freedom), (which is also possible), but it would still not be perception of inner sense and the empirical cognition of his inner self (inner experience) which is based on it. Rather it can only be consciousness of the rule of his actions and omissions, without thereby acquiring a theoretical (physiological) cognition of his nature, which is what psychology actually aims at. - Empirical self-cognition therefore presents to inner sense the human being as he appears to it, not as he is in himself, because every cognition explains merely the affectability of the subject, not the inner characteristic of the subject as object.

and further on:

One must therefore distinguish pure apperception (of the understanding) from empirical apperception (of sensibility). The latter, when the subject attends to himself, is also at the same time affected and so calls out sensations in him, that is, brings representations to consciousness.

But that doesn't make any sense! If I perceive myself through inner sense, even if these are filtered as representations, the fact alone that the 'I' is self-affecting means that the distinction between pure and empirical can't hold, unless I have a soul that just happens to be hanging out with body. Like, isn't this is a solution Aristotle deemed laughable in De Anima? If pure and empirical apperception aren't the same thing then bodies are completely interchangeable. And if I'm self-affectable through inner sense, then what keeps pure apperception from being just another representation aside from Kant just asserting that it's not the case, and that something, completely unbeholden to the laws of nature, is there instead?

I'm not a grad student or professional or anything, just an amateur enthusiast for philosophy, so forgive me if I'm misreading what;s going in Kant. Thanks for the assistance, whatever it may be.

  • 3
    Hmm, this is what I expected/hoped that all the questions would be like. The others are quite disappointing. +1 Jun 7, 2011 at 22:54

2 Answers 2


Your analysis misses a bit the historical status quo and situation. Kants philosophy of Transcendental Idealism tried to yield a compromise between empirism and rationalism at this time by formulating a dualistic philosophy with inherent known contradictions.

In Kant's conception, my apperception has necessary unity since all of my representations must be grounded “in pure apperception, that is, in the thoroughgoing identity of the self in all possible representations” (B131–2, emphasis mine). By this he means that:

(The principle of the necessary unity of apperception) It must be the case that each of my representations is such that I can attribute it to my self, a subject which is the same for all of my self-attributions, which is distinct from its representations, and which can be conscious of its representations (A116, B131–2, B134–5).

[...]my ability to attribute representations to myself as subject of them is pure, as opposed to empirical apperception. This means that I have this ability not in virtue of Humean inner perception, or Kantian inner intuition, but rather independently of any such empirical faculties.(Source)

Kant was convinced that self-consciousness and cognition can only originate from a separate transcendental I, the empirical apperception is necessary, but not sufficient to explain spontaneity:

As is known, Kant’s Critique arrives at certain contradictions, the resolution of which is the motive force of classical German philosophy and leads to Hegel. In my view, foremost among these contradictions is Kant’s re-assertion (with Descartes) that human beings have innate capacities, albeit awakened by experience, but absolutely independent of experience; it is this assertion that is necessary to overcome the absolute scepticism of the final product of British Empiricism, (Berkeley &) Hume. However, these “a priori principles” are fictions. Man does not stand apart from Nature, and nor is humanity just a product of Nature, gifted with Reason. It is necessary to comprehend the origin of this intelligence, and only by understanding its origin can the dualism which Kant wished to overcome be transcended. (Source)

Also you have to consider on what knowledge of nature, animals, humans, mental disorders the reasoning of philosophers was based at this time. They thought of animals as totally mindless bio-cybernetic machines while only humans are capable of self-consciousness and spontaneity. So they were deeply biased to dualistc views, which of course based on our present knowledge in physics, evolution theory, neurophysiology is pretty laughable. We know of feral childs who behave like animals, we can control the motorics of mice with electrical brain implantations...Dualism is dead, current philosophy thinks mainly in monoistic concepts (physicalism/reductionism) of emergence and supervenience.

You can better understand and analyse this situation, when reading philosophers following Kant, like Hegel, who tried to overcome the flawed dualistic seperation of subject and object in the philosophy of Kant:

Hegel overcomes the problems of Kant’s system by revolutionising Logic. According to Hegel, Kant considers the question of knowledge solely from the point of view of the subject-object relation, and in so doing places the entire content of cognition on the side of the subject, leaving nothing to the object. Instead of seeing appearance as a barrier between subject and object, Hegel conceives of the subject and object as a single entity. Kant, he says, like all those who have gone before, first define the object and subject as separate, push them together, and then prove that their only genuine existence is as separate. For Hegel Appearance is a stage in the process of self-distinction of object into subject. Thus Hegel deals once for all with both the dualist-monist and the rationalist-empiricist problems. The abstractions of sense-perception are just as much abstractions as those of conceptual thought; but in either form, the abstractions have a content.(Source)

Side-Note: While i understand reading Kant and important former german philosophers, i think its not really productive if you are interested in todays philosophy of mind. Kant/Hegel use a very special and own terminology. Many english academic philsophers learned German, as translation of those texts is very tricky and not possible in 1:1 way. You really have to be aware in which ways philsophers at this time were biased, to understand their views, what philosophical movements competed at this time, what the historical context was. Also science is a social process according to Thomas Kuhn and cannot be analysed by pure logic, unfortunately :)

  • Are the two other long quotes ibid, from the SEP entry on "Kant's Transcendental Arguments"?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Sep 9, 2011 at 3:49
  • @joseph No, sorry forgot the link, was late :) Added it now...Apart from this i didnt answer the functional-structural aspect here. But in my opinion thats not the point here, i quoted why Kant thought he has to separate pure and empirical apperception additionally to historical context of Dualism. Why something that is functional identical, dont has to be structurally identical is another good philosophical question. To me a fallacy, look at different virtual machines/PC architectures, they can emulate same functions...But then this answer gets so long no one will read it,so i skipped this...
    – Hauser
    Sep 9, 2011 at 10:32

I am not qualified to answer this, and I can only give you my own attempt to salvage Kant's distinction, unsupported by further quotes, except that his use of the word subjectivity in the section he crossed out would seem the key.

Kant could say that the active mind can affect the passive mind, in that it can be empirically perceived by the passive mind. Some impression of how the active mind appears reaches the passive mind and makes an imprint upon it. Then the active mind can act upon this imprint and submit it to logical or other a-priori models to glean information from it a posteriori. In a way, the active mind perceives itself, there is a loop of self-reference; but it would be more accurate to say that it is a hypothetical Ding an sich in its quality of being empirically observed (and thus affecting the passive mind), while it is something different, a subject, in its quality of carrying out pure apperception.

It is like looking through glasses into a mirror: on the one hand, the glasses constitute an object whose shape I observe in the mirror; on the other, they are the instrument through which I am looking. The glasses are both, in a way, but these two aspects of the glasses are two separate qualities that do not overlap. I can also observe in the mirror that my eyes look bigger than the rest of my face; from this I may conclude that the glasses magnify. I have now observed not only their shape as an external object but also how they work as an external object (i.e. magnifying), as something that can be observed. But I have not observed the way my looking through the glasses affects my impression of the frame of the mirror: that is a different perspective that does not overlap with their quality of being observable.

So, to translate it to modern philosophy, how can the mind be both object and subject, both perceiver and perceived? I'd say we cannot know how, because for that we'd need to know the mind as a Ding an sich. All we know is that these distinct aspects of it are completely different, with clear definitions that cannot be confused. They are just both linked to some unknowable Ding an sich, somehow.

You might consider this an antinomy, just like Kant's free will: from the internal, subjective perspective of reason, we exercise free will, when we decide to move our arms; from the objective, external perspective of observed perceptions, we do not, because whatever humans do is determined by the mechanical composition of our bodies and brains. And yet both free will and determinism are useful concepts. They are just two different perspectives, which appear contradictory, but are in fact quite compatible: each deals with its own sphere, and should not be applied to the other's sphere.

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