Monday, 4 February 2008

McDowell's Kant (Part IV)

In my previous post I adumbrated the three-tiered approach to (Q1):
(Q1): How are we to reconcile the Kantian claim that experience involves making judgements with the Lockean conception of experience as the means by which objects are given to us?
If we adopt the three-tiered account, the problem raised by (Q1) begins to take a slightly different form. Commentators such as Strawson and Sellars have suggested that by Kant’s lights, we come to see some object α as φ by forming an image of α in accordance with the rule or concept φ. On this view, when one comes to see something as red, one is forming an image of that thing in accordance with the rule or concept red. However, the question quickly arises as to what determines which rule the imagination applies in its synthesis of the sensory manifold and what role (if any) does the manifold itself play in its own synthesis?

In the case of the “pure concepts of the understanding”, or the categories, the answer is relatively straightforward. Since all human experience is subject to the categories, then it is the understanding, and the understanding alone, that determines which rules the imagination applies to the sensory manifold. However, the above question becomes most relevant, not with regards to the pure concepts, but with respect to what Kant calls “empirical concepts”, such as red cube or green sphere. For example, we may ask: when confronted by a red cube, what directs the imagination to synthesise the sensory manifold according to the red-rule and cube-rule as opposed to, say, the green-rule and sphere-rule? If our perceptual experiences are going to be of or about mind-independent objects, then it would seem that the sensory manifold must play some role in determining which empirical concepts the imagination employs in its synthesis.

Clearly, if we are preserve the receptivity of experience, then the sensory manifold must play some part in determining which rule the imagination applies in its synthesis. This means that the manifold must, in some sense, be able to “tell” the understanding which rule the understanding should apply in synthesising the manifold. But therein lays the problem. In the “Transcendental Logic” Kant notes that “intuitions without concepts are blind.”(A51/B75) The blindness of the unsynthesised intuitions (i.e., before they have been brought under a concept) seems to preclude them being able to play any guiding role in which rule the imagination applies in its synthesis. But if unconceptualised intuition is able to guide the understanding in its rule application, then it would seem that unconceptualised intuition is not really blind after all. The question that now faces the three-tier approach may be put as follows:
(Q2): How are we to reconcile the idea that sensible intuition determines the content of experience (such that it serves as its matter) with Kant’s insistence that unconceptualised intuitions are blind?
I believe (Q1) and (Q2) are the questions that serve as the backdrop for McDowell’s appropriation of Kant in Mind and World. There, McDowell frames the present questions in terms of “the idea that experience must constitute a tribunal, mediating the way our thinking is answerable to how things are"(Mind and World, p. xii). According to McDowell’s Kant, we can only make sense of the sensory manifold playing a role in determining which rule the understanding applies in its synthesis by conceiving of the manifold as in some sense “justifying” the application of one rule as opposed to another. I will have more to say on McDowell’s conception in my next post.

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