CSSH seminar: Constructing Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, by Kenneth Westphal (Boğaziçi University) on September 27

Author: CSSH

Date: 27 September 2019

Time: 15:00--17:00

Location: SOS Z27

Speaker: Kenneth Westphal (Boğaziçi University)

Title:  Constructing Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason


This paper reconstructs how Kant constructed his Critique of Pure Reason. I begin with Kant’s initial clues. There are two. One is Johann Nicolas Tetens’ innovation, to require demonstrating the genuine cognitive use of a concept or principle by ‘realising’ it in this sense: demonstratively indicating at least one relevant instance of that concept or principle. The second is Kant’s methodological challenge, to figure out how to identify credibly and accurately by philosophical reflection the structure and functioning of sub-personal cognitive processes. These are functions and conditions which must be satisfied, if we are to be at all self-conscious in the most basic ways we are. Kant departs radically from both rationalism and empiricism in this regard. I then consider briefly why Kant holds that we have any a priori concepts, taking up one of his examples: the general concept of ‘cause’. Then Kant’s issues about perceptual synthe- sis are specified by four problems of sensory ‘binding’, as it is now known. These issues are fundamental to sensory-perceptual discrimination and identification. One of Kant’s central tasks is to figure out what is required for such identification and discrimination to be at all possible for us. What functions of sensory-perceptual syntheses must there be? Which such functions can or do we exercise? Kant’s clue, of course, is Aristotle’s logic, which is now known to be both com- plete and ever so empirically useful. I elucidate these points by recounting the Square of Categorical Oppositions and briefly indicate how Aristotle’s syllogistic logic is cognitively fundamental, because it is the kind of logic of judgment and inference required to identify, de- velop, assess and use classifications and taxonomies. Aristotle’s logic provides Kant’s clue to the twelve fundamental formal aspects of judging, identified and reconstructed by Michael Wolff. I then consider, briefly, how Kant uses his Table of twelve formal aspects judging to identify twelve fundamental concepts, the Categories – plus two more: the concepts of space and of time. The functions Kant assigns to these concepts and their roles in guiding sub-personal sensory-perceptual synthesis and in enabling explicit, self-conscious cognitive judgments are dia- grammed for clarity in an Appendix: ‘Kant’s Cognitive Architecture’. Next I introduce Kant’s semantics of singular, specifically cognitive reference, which is required for experience or knowledge in any non-formal domain, such as that of spatio-temporal particulars. After stating (what I call) Kant’s Thesis of Singular Cognitive Reference, I specify a set of five cognitively quite distinct activities and achievements, crucial to both empirical knowledge and to epistemology. With these preparations in hand, I recount Kant’s constructive strategy in the Critique of Pure Reason, beginning with his (express) methodological constructivism and the four (generic) steps involved in the constructivist strategy. One important point is Kant’s indication of the two-fold use of the Categories, in sub-personal sensory-perceptual syn- thesis, and also in any explicit judgments we make about whatever we perceive or experience. I then review briefly Kant’s lead question, his most basic inventory of our cognitive capacities and his main constructive epistemological (or transcendental) question. Answering that question requires addressing five Critical sub-issues. With Kant’s agenda thus stated and summarised, I then synopsise the structure of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, focussing on his ‘Analytic of Concepts’ and ‘Analytic of Principles’. For clear conspectus, this structure and its use of Kant’s inventory of basic formal features of our cognitive capacities is tabulated. I then conclude briefly, indicating the aims and scope of this reconstruction of Kant’s construction of the Critique of Pure Reason.