Friday, October 19, 2012

Why We Need Intuitions AND Concepts

OK, says Kant in the first Critique.  You could say that appearances that we get from our senses chunked together with intuitions are all there is.  Just as Hume suggests with his "associationism."  That's the point of his setup before the Transcendental Deduction:
Appearances might very well be so constituted that the understanding should not find them to be in accordance with the conditions of its unity.  And everything might lie in such confusion that, e.g., in the succession of appearances nothing would offer itself that would furnish a rule of synthesis and thus answer to the concept of cause and effect, so that this concept therefore would be entirely empty, nugatory, and without significance.  Appearances would nonetheless offer objects to our intuition, for intuition by no means requires the functions of thinking. (B123/A90)
Sorry to punch all that out, but it's important.  Kant here is making Hume's argument.  Hey, maybe our mind just gathers up appearances in a bundle and reads the patterns therein.  So maybe we just note the patterns and say, wow, there's a pattern here!  First the sun rose yesterday, and then it rose today!  Maybe there's a pattern here.  No need for analysis; no need for thinking; no need for concepts.

But Kant cannot accept this.  When we "cognize" an object, he claims, we do more than make a reactive burp in response to sense impressions.  And  so he lurches into the Transcendental Deduction to prove that we synthesize our bundle of intuitions using the forms of intuition in space and time and concepts derived from the categories, and then we unify the synthesis into a judgment about an object in an act of apperception, of a self-conscious validity claim.

Kant calls this objective validity, which is a bit of a push, since he's talking about a "valid" cognizing of a unity of synthesized intuitions with the help of the concepts of the understanding into a unified "object."  The notion of "objective validity" is obtained by calling things by the conveniently right names.

For us, the interesting thing about Kant's argument is its foreshadowing of the modern approach to reality.  Kant is claiming that we are not really passive consumers of appearances, but purposeful actors.  We take the stuff coming in over the transom and organize it in our minds in a strategic effort to understand and judge what is going on out there in the tough and challenging world.  We process our sense data and then construct in our minds a picture of what we have seen.  We "think" what we see and advance our claim of what we have seen and what we judge we have seen.

Forget Hume, Kant says.  I offer you a whole new world of active, purposeful "cognizing."

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