In this paper, we offer an overview of the basic structure of Kant’s account of cognition, of the conditions on the notion of cognition most central to the first Critique, and how they are satisfied in the case of human beings. Our primary aim in this regard is to provide a comprehensive (albeit not exhaustive) framework for understanding Kant’s account of (theoretical) cognition. In the course of doing so, we argue for various interpretative claims, which, taken together, amount to a novel understanding of Kant’s account of cognition. First, we argue that cognition is a mental state that determines a given object by attributing general features to it. Second, we explain what it means for Kant for an object to be given: givenness in the relevant sense involves an immediate relation to an existing object. These first two claims imply that cognition (Erkenntnis) is distinct from knowledge (Wissen), both in Kant’s sense and in our modern sense. Third, we note some fundamental ambiguities about what sensibility and understanding are, and point out that purely causal interpretations of these faculties are problematic. Fourth, we distinguish between an intuition and an intuitive representation (analogous to the distinction between a concept and a discursive representation) in such a way that an intuition is one specific kind of intuitive representation. Fifth, we describe two different accounts of concepts (‘logical’ and ‘psychological’) and explain how they complement each other (despite their distinctness). Sixth, we diagnose several confusions regarding whether Kant is or is not a non-conceptualist about intuitions (though without attempting a definitive resolution to that debate). Finally, we show how our analysis of cognition clarifies what the most promising lines of argument are for Kant’s claim that we cannot have cognition of the objects of traditional metaphysics (while still allowing for limited kinds of knowledge of things in themselves).


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pp. 83-112
Launched on MUSE
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