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The Explanatory Structure of the Transcendental Deduction and a Cognitive Interpretation of the First Critique

From: Canadian Journal of Philosophy
Volume 40, Number 2, June 2010
pp. 285-314 | 10.1353/cjp.2010.0007

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I Two Interpretations of the First Critique

Consider two competing interpretations of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason: the epistemic and cognitive interpretations. The epistemic interpretation presents the first Critique as a work of epistemology, but what is more, it sees Kant as an early proponent of anti-psychologism—the view that descriptions of how the mind works are irrelevant for epistemology. Even if Kant does not always manage to purge certain psychological-sounding idioms from his writing, the epistemic interpretation has it, he is perfectly clear that he means his evaluation of knowledge to be carried out independently of psychology. In contrast, the cognitive interpretation presents the first Critique as a description of the operation of human cognitive faculties—sensibility, the understanding, and reason. Whatever else the first Critique might be on this interpretation, it is at least Kant's articulation of a theory of mind.

I want to argue that the cognitive interpretation is the right one. However, my argument will be somewhat indirect, and will take us deep into the woods of the Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding: I argue that the dissolution of a long-standing interpretive problem about the second edition version of the Deduction is available only on the cognitive interpretation. That problem is one of understanding the second edition Deduction's division into apparently redundant parts. (I will call this problem the division problem). It is a problem about the interpretation of the Deduction's gross structure, and without a solution to it, we have no way even to identify which sections of the Deduction carry out its central tasks.

While disagreeing about how exactly to divide the Deduction into its different parts, and about what the tasks of those different parts are, many interpreters have agreed that the Deduction is an argument somehow divided into two parts. In §II, I consider one such interpretation, and show how it fails to solve the division problem.

In §§III-X, I argue that we can dissolve the division problem by recognizing that in fact the Deduction is a series of three descriptions of a single cognitive operation, the understanding's synthesis of the manifold of intuition. Together, these descriptions constitute a three-part explanation of how the understanding synthesizes the manifold of intuition. The three parts thereby explain the possibility of objects in intuition conforming to the understanding's categorial structure. In so doing, I will argue, they both carry out the Deduction's positive task and entail certain negative consequences for the possibility of metaphysical cognition. On the positive side, they explain the validity of pure concepts of the understanding for objects appearing in a faculty that is entirely distinct from the understanding, namely, sensibility. On the negative side, and as a consequence of the details of this explanation, they limit the categories' validity to objects of experience.

Subsequently, and crucially for my purposes, I argue in §XI that just those features of my interpretation that resolve the division problem entail that the cognitive interpretation is right. Finally, in §§XII-XIII, I draw attention to some points that the epistemic interpretation gets right, and I indicate how we must understand the cognitive interpretation so as to accommodate those points.

II The Deduction as an Argument and the Division Problem

The division problem concerns why Kant divides the Deduction into apparently redundant parts. In particular, it is a problem of understanding the relation between the conclusions in §§20 and 26, which at first glance seem to establish the very same thing: namely, the categories' validity for objects of intuition. By Kant's account, what he establishes in §20 is that we have, through the categories, a priori cognition of objects of an intuition in general (Kant, 1997 [1787], B159). In other words, he has explained the possibility of objects of an intuition in general conforming to the categories. Since the task of the Deduction is to explain the possibility of objects conforming to the categories, Kant seems to have completed that task. Yet the Deduction contains a further seven sections. Kant does not take himself to be done at §20; instead, he says that his results there constitute only a 'beginning...

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