The Coherence of Kants Transcendental Idealism (Studies in German Idealism)

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Attention therefore constitutes a new determination of the object, and this new determination is then read back into the previous relations with the object. This different account of the nature of experience necessitates a different notion of synthesis.

How does this alternative view of the nature of experience affect its constitution? Once we make this claim, we are left in a position whereby it must be the understanding that unites within the object the aspects under which the object presents itself. In relating a series of passive representations to the concept of an object, Kant therefore draws on the kind of synthesis we use when making judgments: By synthesis, in its most general sense, I understand the act of putting different representations together, and of grasping what is manifold in them in one [act of] knowledge.

The kind of synthesis one finds in judgment involves bringing together representations that are in themselves distinct into a unity. Here, whilst the judgment itself is based on the reciprocal determination of these representations through the structure of the subordination of the predicate to the subject, the two representations, in themselves, are still fully determined. This leads to the result that the unity of the object is governed by the categories, and hence, as Kant shows in the second analogy, that this unity in turn implies that the object can be understood as participating in a field of objective determinate objects systematically integrated into a set of relations of cause and effect.

Consciousness, thematised by reflection, is existence for itself. Once the nature of the world is understood in terms of relations of knowledge, it is no surprise that there is no place for perception as something prior to the objective and universal structures of the categories. Toward the end of the deduction, however, Kant notes that in fact even perception is structured according to the categories insofar as it requires the space that perception takes place in to be determined according to the category of magnitude.

I will return to the significance of the imagination at the end of the section. They simply do not stand on their own as distinct elements to be combined into the form of a judgment. Furthermore, the fact that there is a sense, or organization, to perception that differs in kind from that of judgment implies that there may be another form of synthesis that differs in kind from categorial synthesis.

This notion of synthesis has two key characteristics.


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First, as its name suggests, the transition synthesis operates through the transformation of a perspective rather than the constitution of one. Second, rather than relying on a series of determinate elements, it relies on the relationship between the determinate and the indeterminate. Since the Kantian synthesizing subject is prior to the constitution of this space, we cannot explain its orientation within it.

The question is not one of how space is constituted, but rather how a subject that is always already encountered in relation to a spatial world comes to change the directionality of that world. The second claim is that synthesis does not operate in terms of determinate moments. Rather, the different perspectives of my perception are only distinguished from one another through my reflection on them.

It is only when I transpose my perspectival experience into the structures of reflection that it becomes individuated into moments. As such, there was a fundamental indeterminacy at the heart of perception, since spatial structures were determined by context. This holds true for temporal structures as well, and individual perspectives on the objects to use the language of reflection pass into one another without definite borders.

If perception organizes itself, then there is no need to posit a transcendental subject responsible for the organization of experience. In this sense, perception is primary, and prior to the subject. In the Phenomenology of Perception , the lived body is often taken to be the center of synthesis, often as playing the same functional role as the transcendental unity of apperception. It is an open question as to whether the later work is a break with the Phenomenology of Perception , or a clearer formulation of its aims outside of the language of consciousness.

As Matherne notes, however, Kant also gives a prominent role to the imagination in the A deduction. Here, the imagination mediates between the synthesis or intuition and the synthesis of the understanding. He then argues that this empirical law requires a regularity in the appearances themselves.

This is provided by the transcendental synthesis of the imagination, which organizes the manifold of intuition in such a way that past moments in time or in a sequence are preserved to be related to present moments.

Kant 2: Transcendental Idealism

The imagination therefore lays the ground for the synthesis of recognition in the concept by the understanding, by providing a sequence of representations that can be brought together by judgment. As Allison , —97 argues, it therefore performs its functions according to the categories, albeit not in a subsumptive manner. First, the imagination still plays a constitutive role in giving time a sense, and thus precedes it, rather than developing the sense of time within time itself.

Second, as with the understanding, the imagination relates together determinate representations, whether representations of moments of time, or numbers when counting. As such, even in this instance, synthesis for Kant still fails to recognize indeterminacy. I want to raise a final question—why does Kant mischaracterize something that should be as immediately transparent as experience? To answer this question, we need to turn to the question of how we characterize the world as a whole.

Moreover, the style of a person or of a town does not remain constant for me. After ten years of friendship, and without even taking into account changes from growing older, it seems to be a relationship with a different person; after ten years of living in a neighbourhood, it seems to be a different neighbourhood.

Yet it is only the knowledge of things that varies. Almost unnoticeable upon my first glance, this knowledge is transformed through the unfolding of perception.

German Idealism — Frederick C. Beiser | Harvard University Press

As the horizon of all horizons is the ultimate horizon of our world, it cannot itself be made a figure, since there is no horizon against which it could appear. This illusion has some basis in the nature of the transition synthesis, which allows us to shift between perspectives and hence change those aspects of an object that are foregrounded as determinate: Each object, then, is the mirror of all the others.

While there is a tendency to see the lamp as a unity, in fact, in attending to aspects of the object, others fall away into the indeterminate horizon. In this sense, perception gives us a constant transitional interplay between determinacy and indeterminacy. The implication of this is that the object cannot be given in its absolute density, as attending to one moment of the object involves others falling back into indeterminacy.

The error emerges when we fail to recognize this necessary horizonal nature of perspectives, and see each effectively as a possible representation of the object. The world is thus seen to contain all perspectives simultaneously. Once we have intellectually constructed the notion of an absolute object, we see this as the basis of our perception of the world, and thus in turn deduce our experience from the relations between objects.

There is a tendency in perception toward giving us a determinate object.

Bibliographic Information

The actual transition from perspective to perspective entails a continual shift in the horizon: it is a presumptive synthesis. It is only by effectively treating perspectives as things that can be placed alongside each other that we can make sense of simultaneously occupying a number of different perspectives. An inability to take seriously the possibility of synthesis which does not have its roots in determination and constitution makes Kant a figure to be surpassed. Nonetheless, Kant recognizes the centrality of our experience of the world and shows that our understanding of experience cannot presuppose the kind of theocentric view of it at the heart of both empiricism and rationalism.

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Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. He wrote major works in metaphysics, logic, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of religion and pedagogy. Beiser provides very helpful and lucid summaries of these works, relating Trendelenburg's view to those of the tradition, and occasionally raising valuable critical points.

Beiser describes Trendelenburg as a shrouded colossus, a major thinker and influential professor in Berlin for nearly 40 years, but forgotten soon after his death. He also wrote polemical essays against Hegel's logic, various articles on Aristotle, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Johann Friedrich Herbart another shrouded colossus of the 19 th century , and on aesthetics, politics, pedagogy, and history.

He was initially educated as a classicist, and Plato and Aristotle remained his reference points when he switched to philosophy. Dissatisfied with the speculative excesses of German idealism, but also the positivism of his day that made philosophy merely a servant of the sciences, he aimed for a middle ground, turning philosophy into a theory of science Wissenschaftslehre , essentially a second-order discipline reflecting its most general, tacit presuppositions.

As Bratuschek summarised Trendelenburg: 'Philosophy is the religion of the sciences: it has a purifying power, rising to the sempiternal'.

Kant’s Transcendental Idealism

This betrays an Aristotelian conception of philosophy, Beiser contends, since it aims to identify the general in the particular the individual sciences , which will eventually help understand the particular in a better way. It also betrays a Platonic conception, since Trendelenburg takes all of our knowledge to form an organic, coherent whole, whose articulation is the task of metaphysics. We are, however, finite minds, and thus the 'whole of knowledge', the 'sempiternal', remains a regulative ideal, 'a system both necessary and impossible' 30 , an unstable position already found in Romantics such as Friedrich Schlegel, who, Beiser suggests, influenced Trendelenburg.

We may wonder, however, whether Trendelenburg's position can really work out. What exactly are the tacit presuppositions of, e. Would the former not still contain chemical concepts and the latter political concepts? In what sense can they then form an organic whole, i.

And how do we know that they belong to this whole, if the whole can never be reached? Finally, how can metaphysics express an organic, teleological view of the world, if a segment of it, the presuppositions of physics, contain mechanical and non-teleological concepts? Beiser presents Trendelenburg's metaphysics in four steps, comprising the organic worldview, the metaphysics of motion, the defense of teleology, and the combination of idealism and realism.

Beiser gives a helpful historical overview of the organic worldview from Plato to Schelling, which Trendelenburg, and Lotze, recast in modern terms. Berger had not only defended an organicist and teleological conception of nature, but also stressed the primacy of motion in mind and matter, one of Trendelenburg's key metaphysical assumptions. Trendelenburg's reliance on motion as a fundamental metaphysical notion might make him appear to be a materialist, like Hobbes.

But as Beiser explains, Trendelenburg's motion is really Aristotelian, which means it is not simply change of place, but also growth, substantial change, coming into being, passing away, hence a feature of life. Motion was held by Trendelenburg to take place also in the mind, for concepts arise through mental constructions, as Kant had already shown with respect to mathematics. Hence, motion is what bridges the inner and the outer, and it underlies, or indeed makes up, the whole of reality. Motion is the common source of space and time. Logical Investigations , vol.

It will suffice to focus on Trendelenburg in what follows. Beiser devotes six chapters to Trendelenburg, one concerning his place in history, another about his early years , three on his mature philosophy, and one concerning Trendelenburg's debate with Kuno Fischer about the neglected alternative objection.

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Trendelenburg is mostly known today, in Kant studies, for this debate, although it was only an episode in his career. He wrote major works in metaphysics, logic, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of religion and pedagogy. Beiser provides very helpful and lucid summaries of these works, relating Trendelenburg's view to those of the tradition, and occasionally raising valuable critical points. Beiser describes Trendelenburg as a shrouded colossus, a major thinker and influential professor in Berlin for nearly 40 years, but forgotten soon after his death.

He also wrote polemical essays against Hegel's logic, various articles on Aristotle, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Johann Friedrich Herbart another shrouded colossus of the 19 th century , and on aesthetics, politics, pedagogy, and history. He was initially educated as a classicist, and Plato and Aristotle remained his reference points when he switched to philosophy. Dissatisfied with the speculative excesses of German idealism, but also the positivism of his day that made philosophy merely a servant of the sciences, he aimed for a middle ground, turning philosophy into a theory of science Wissenschaftslehre , essentially a second-order discipline reflecting its most general, tacit presuppositions.

As Bratuschek summarised Trendelenburg: 'Philosophy is the religion of the sciences: it has a purifying power, rising to the sempiternal'. This betrays an Aristotelian conception of philosophy, Beiser contends, since it aims to identify the general in the particular the individual sciences , which will eventually help understand the particular in a better way.

It also betrays a Platonic conception, since Trendelenburg takes all of our knowledge to form an organic, coherent whole, whose articulation is the task of metaphysics. We are, however, finite minds, and thus the 'whole of knowledge', the 'sempiternal', remains a regulative ideal, 'a system both necessary and impossible' 30 , an unstable position already found in Romantics such as Friedrich Schlegel, who, Beiser suggests, influenced Trendelenburg.

We may wonder, however, whether Trendelenburg's position can really work out. What exactly are the tacit presuppositions of, e. Would the former not still contain chemical concepts and the latter political concepts? In what sense can they then form an organic whole, i. And how do we know that they belong to this whole, if the whole can never be reached? Finally, how can metaphysics express an organic, teleological view of the world, if a segment of it, the presuppositions of physics, contain mechanical and non-teleological concepts? Beiser presents Trendelenburg's metaphysics in four steps, comprising the organic worldview, the metaphysics of motion, the defense of teleology, and the combination of idealism and realism.

Beiser gives a helpful historical overview of the organic worldview from Plato to Schelling, which Trendelenburg, and Lotze, recast in modern terms. Berger had not only defended an organicist and teleological conception of nature, but also stressed the primacy of motion in mind and matter, one of Trendelenburg's key metaphysical assumptions. Trendelenburg's reliance on motion as a fundamental metaphysical notion might make him appear to be a materialist, like Hobbes. But as Beiser explains, Trendelenburg's motion is really Aristotelian, which means it is not simply change of place, but also growth, substantial change, coming into being, passing away, hence a feature of life.

Motion was held by Trendelenburg to take place also in the mind, for concepts arise through mental constructions, as Kant had already shown with respect to mathematics.