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Journal of the History of Philosophy 45.3 (2007) 459-484

Kant's Idealism and the Secondary Quality Analogy
Lucy Allais
Abstract

Interpretations of Kant's transcendental idealism have been dominated by two extreme views: phenomenalist and merely epistemic readings. There are serious objections to both of these extremes, and the aim of this paper is to develop a middle ground between the two. In the Prolegomena, Kant suggests that his idealism about appearances can be understood in terms of an analogy with secondary qualities like color. Commentators have rejected this option because they have assumed that the analogy should be read in terms of either a Lockean or a Berkelean account of qualities such as color, and have argued, rightly, that neither can provide the basis for a coherent interpretation of Kant's position. I argue that the account of color that the analogy requires is one within the context of a direct theory of perception, as opposed to Locke's representative account. Using this account of color, the secondary quality analogy enables us to explain how appearances can be mind-dependent without existing in the mind.

That one could, without detracting from the actual existence of outer things, say of a great many of their predicates: they belong not to these things in themselves, but only to their appearances and have no existence of their own outside our representation, is something that was generally accepted and acknowledged long before Locke's time, though more commonly thereafter. To these predicates belong warmth, color, taste, etc. That I, however, even beyond these, include (for weighty reasons) also among mere appearances the remaining qualities of bodies, which are called primarias: extension, place, and more generally space along with everything that depends on it (impenetrability or materiality, shape, etc.), is something against which not the least ground of uncertainty can be raised; and as little as someone can be called an idealist because he wants to admit colors as properties that attach not to the object in itself, but only to the sense of vision as modifications, just as little can my system be called idealist simply because I find that even more, nay, all of the properties that make up the intuition of a body belong merely to its appearance: for the existence of the thing that appears is not thereby nullified, as with real idealism, but it is only shown that through the senses we cannot cognize it at all as it is in itself.1

1

Kant's transcendental idealism distinguishes between things in themselves (Dinge an sich) and things as they appear to us or appearances (Erscheinungen), and makes a claim with respect to each side of this distinction. With respect to things as they are in themselves, Kant claims that we can have no cognition (Erkenntnis). Things as they appear to us, Kant argues, are mind-dependent, in some sense, and to some extentthey are empirically real and transcendentally ideal. This paper is concerned with one part of this positionthe mind-dependence of appearances. In the Prolegomena, Kant suggests that his idealism2 about appearances [End Page 459] can be understood in terms of an analogy with secondary qualities like color. The aim of this paper is to argue that this analogy is extremely helpful for understanding Kant's idealism, once we have the appropriate account of secondary qualities. Some commentators have rejected this option because they have assumed that the analogy should be read in terms of either a Lockean or a Berkeleian account of qualities such as color, and because they have argued, rightly, that neither account can provide the basis for a coherent interpretation of Kant's position.3 I argue that the account of color that the analogy requires is one within the context of a direct theory of perception, as opposed to Locke's representative account. I show how reading the analogy in terms of an account of color situated within a direct theory of perception allows us to give a sense...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 459-484
Launched on MUSE
2007-07-24
Open Access
No
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