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«Stefanie Grüne’s book, Blinde Anschauung, is a rich, deep, and wonderfully concise ...»

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Stefanie Grüne’s Blinde Anschauung

Colin McLear

Online version at Critique

August 19, 2014

Stefanie Grüne’s book, Blinde Anschauung, is a rich, deep, and wonderfully concise

examination of issues pertaining to Kant’s theory of cognition in general, and his view

on perception in particular. In the course of articulating her argument, she does a great

deal to advance our understanding of the structure of Kant’s views on cognition, the

nuance and variety of positions he expresses (concerning which she provides a heroic amount of clarification and regimentation), and their ultimate unity and coherence. In what follows I focus on only a limited part of the area that she covers, and primarily only on aspects of her positive view. First, however, I provide some summary of relevant portions of Grüne’s argument.

1 The Inconsistent Triad Grüne argues (17) that there are sound textual grounds for reading Kant as endorsing

an inconsistent triad of positions:1

1. The Independence Thesis concerning the independence of sensibility from understanding

• Intuitions and concepts are representations, for which two distinct cognitive capacities are responsible. Sensibility provides intuitions. The understanding provides concepts.

2. The Genetic Primacy of Intuition Thesis

• The understanding can only construct concepts under the condition that sensibility has previously provided intuitions

3. The Genetic Primacy of Concepts Thesis

• Sensibility provides intuition only in cooperation with the understanding.

Intuitions arise only when one already possesses concepts, which function as rules for the sensible synthesis of sensory representations into intuitions I cite Kant’s works parenthetically in the text according to the Akademie edition and page number, with the first Critique cited according to the standard A/B pagination. Grüne’s book is also cited parenthetically by page number. All other citations are in footnotes.

Colin McLear Stefanie Grüne’s Blinde Anschauung Grüne sees non-conceptualist readings as rejecting (3), and conceptualist readings as rejecting (2), or (in the case of ginsborg2006) arguing that there is no primacy claim in Kant at all. Grüne’s solution is to say that we need to distinguish different ways in which a concept or intuition might have primacy. Her proposal is that Kant posits a distinction between obscure (dunkel) concepts, clear (klar) concepts, and distinct (deutlich) concepts. Obscure concepts are genetically prior to intuition, but clear and distinct concepts are not. The possession conditions for obscure concepts are extremely liberal.

This allows Grüne to articulate an intermediary position between traditional forms of conceptualism and non-conceptualism. On the one side, she can recognize the (in one sense) primitive nature of intuition. On the other side she can show that conceptual capacities are necessary for having any intuitions at all. This position thus encompasses a wide variety of texts and seemingly harmonizes the two strongest forces in the opposing interpretive stances towards Kant’s cognitive theory, providing a version of conceptualism (“obscure conceptualism) that has much in common with non-conceptualism, seemingly without its supposed vices.

2 Grüne on Intuition Grüne thinks that all empirical intuitions are generated by means of a synthesis performed on purely subjective sensory states (equivalent to “raw feels” such as pains or pleasures). (40f, 63 note 62, 153 note 8).

Intuitions are conscious (39) objective representations (40-1) that are inherently complex (61, 70) and may be had independently of the existence of any object they might represent (42-3).

The conscious character of intuition is understood specifically in terms of clarity.

An intuition is clear when it allows the subject to distinguish the object occupying one spatial or temporal region from another, be it another object, or simply another part of the subject’s environment (74, 81).

The objective character of an intuition is understood in terms its being a kind of intentional state (40). Grüne bases this claim on the canonical “Stufenleiter” passage in which Kant distinguishes different types of representation (A320/B376–7). However, she also cites (41) an important note from Kant’s Nachlaß where he says, What is an object? That whose representation is a sum of several predicates belonging to it. The plate is round, warm, made of tin, etc. Warm, round, being made of tin, etc., are not objects, although the warmth, the tin, etc., indeed [are]. An object is that in the representation of which various others can be thought as synthetically combined… (R6350, 18:676)

Colin McLearStefanie Grüne’s Blinde Anschauung

According to Grüne, relation to an object thus consists in the representation of particular features as unified in one subject. Neither this subject (nor its features) need exist (42-3).

If intuitions may be had independently of the existence of their objects, we need some characterization of how we determine what an intuition is an intuition of. This, Grüne argues, is done by means of the content of the intuition. Intuitions represent their objects via “marks” understood in terms of the intentional content of a mental state (53). The content of intuition consists of “intuitive marks” glossed in terms of the representation of tropes (65-71), singular features which only one object may have.

Thus, the central difference between the content of an intuition and that of a concept is that intuitions represent objects by means of their tropes while concepts represent objects by means of general characteristics which one or more objects may share. One thus intuits the particular greenesss of a tree, in contrast to thinking of this particular bit of greeness in terms of the predicate green, which is instanced in grass and mint ice-cream, among other things.

This account of intuition plays two central roles in Grüne’s overall interpretation.

First, against “judgment-theoretic” conceptualist accounts, it presses the claim that the representational content of intuition is importantly different from that of conceptual thought or judgment. For this reason intuition (and thus perceptual experience) cannot and should not be assimilated to any form of conceptual thought. This is an important step towards vindicating the genetic primacy of intuition (54).

Second, against the non-conceptualist, Grüne’s proposed account presses the importance of a conceptually-guided synthesis in the generation of intuition out of the purely subjective and non-intentional mental states which arise in the subject as it is affected by external objects. In this way, Grüne’s interpretation puts pressure on both sides of the traditional debate concerning the (non)conceptual structure of intuition and the sense in which, in Kant’s famous phrase, “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” (A51/B75).

In what follows, I present some issues that arise concerning various aspects of this account. First, I ask why we should think that intuition only arises as a product of synthesis (Section 3). Second, I argue that Grüne’s interpretation fails to account for one of the most pressing considerations motivating the non-conceptualist interpretation—viz., the possibility of non-rational animal perception (Section 4). Third, I provide some reasons to question a presupposition of Grüne’s account, namely, that intuitions should be understood as intentional states which relate to their object by means of correctness conditions set by their content (Section 5). Grüne is by no means alone in accepting this presupposition, but I believe there are both textual and philosophical reasons for denying that Kant held such a view. Finally, I argue that Grüne’s interpretation of (empirical) intuition as independent of the existence of its object is unconvincing (Section 6).

Colin McLearStefanie Grüne’s Blinde Anschauung

3 The Generation of Intuition In setting up her triad of inconsistent claims, one central assumption is that intuition is the product of a sensory synthesis. Certainly, if intuition depends on such a synthesis we have a clear question of the genetic priority of concepts over intuitions. But if we don’t accept the antecedent then the issue of priority is no longer very pressing, at least for the case of the existence of intuitions in general. So why should we accept the antecedent?

Grüne motivates her position textually and via broader philosophical argument. Textually, she notes that numerous passages in the A-edition of the Transcendental Deduction seem to indicate that intuitions are complex representations consisting of a multiplicity of “partial” representations [Teilvorstellungen] (61-2; 157, note 23). Kant says that “every intuition contains a manifold in itself” (A99), and that the drawing of a line in thought, or the representation of number requires that one “first grasp one of these manifold representations after another in [one’s] thoughts” (A 102).

I do not find these textual claims convincing. Against texts such as A 102, as Grüne herself notes (62), there is no mention of intuition but rather only thought and thinking.

If Kant is making a phenomenological point here about the conditions necessary for the experience of a line, he is making an implausible point. As Van Cleve trenchantly puts it, When I imagine a line, I am aware of at least some of its parts together. In Kant’s view, this can come about only through synthesizing those parts (or one’s representations of them). “We cannot think a line without drawing it in thought, or a circle without describing it” (B154). But when I imagine a line, I am aware of no such successive generation; I simply plop the whole line down at once.2 Now, Kant could indeed be making the implausible claim to which Van Cleve objects, or he could be making a less implausible claim concerning the conditions for representing a spatially unified aggregate (e.g. perceived spatially adjacent points) as a single determinate object (e.g. a line), which could then be utilized in geometrical reasoning. Kant could concede that the experience of a simultaneity of spatially adjacent points is possible without a prior synthesis while denying that this is sufficient for the perception of anything over and above this aggregate of points—viz., the line. The experience of an entity which has unity over and above the phenomenological unity of spatial closeness requires a further synthesis. Grüne might object to this proposal because it allows that there could be synthesis-independent objective representation, and thus intuition, but it seems to me to make better sense of the various texts where Kant Van Cleve (1999), 86.

Colin McLearStefanie Grüne’s Blinde Anschauung

is concerned, above all, with our representation of geometric and arithmetical unities in thought, without thereby making what seem to me phenomenologically implausible demands on perception.

As for Kant’s point at A99, it is much less obvious that Kant is making any claim about the generation of intuition from a synthesis of apprehension once the line is put in its full context.

Every intuition contains a manifold in itself, which however would not be represented as such if the mind did not distinguish [unterschiede] the time in the succession of impressions on one another; for as contained in one moment, no representation can ever by anything other than absolute unity.

(A99) As Clinton Tolley has recently noted (Tolley (2013)), Kant does not so much seem to be making a point here about the generation of intuition but rather to be signaling the difference between having an intuition and representing it to oneself in thought as a unity. The synthesis of apprehension which aims at intuition is thus not a necessary condition of the intuition’s existence, but rather only a condition of its being represented as having a particular determinate content. As Tolley puts it, Kant’s point here is thus that the synthesis of apprehension is required only if we wish to “apprehend” an intuition as containing a particular, determinate manifold – that is, only if we wish to have consciousness of a particular manifold as “contained in one representation”. In other words, while the synthesis of apprehension “in intuition” is surely a synthesis that is “aimed at intuition”, it is not at all one that makes up or puts together an intuition, or puts something “in” intuition, in the first place.3 As Tolley further points out, Kant argues only that a threefold synthesis is necessary for the consciousness of the manifold in an intuition—what Kant calls “perception” [Wahrnehmung]. Synthesis is that “through which perception, i.e., the empirical consciousness of [the manifold] (as appearance), becomes possible” (B160). So all of the relevant points Kant makes in the Transcendental Analytic concern the representation, Tolley (2013), 123

Colin McLearStefanie Grüne’s Blinde Anschauung

in thought, of intuition, not the generation of intuition itself.4 Grüne mentions this passage (161) but does not discuss the possibility of such an alternate reading. She instead takes the text to suggest that intuition—an intentional state—is generated via synthesis from a complex of non-intentional states.

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