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«  ®   ® ¤    ¤    ® ¤   ¦   ¬ ¦-   ®   ©  µ  ®   

In Kant and the demands of self-consciousness, Pierre Keller examines
Kant™s theory of self-consciousness and argues that it succeeds in
explaining how both subjective and objective experience are poss-
ible. Previous interpretations of Kant™s theory have held that he
treats all self-consciousness as knowledge of objective states of
a¬airs, and also, often, that self-consciousness can be interpreted as
knowledge of personal identity. By contrast, Keller argues for a
new understanding of Kant™s conception of self-consciousness as
the capacity to abstract not only from what one happens to be
experiencing, but also from one™s own personal identity. By devel-
oping this new interpretation, Keller is able to argue that transcen-
dental self-consciousness underwrites a general theory of objectiv-
ity and subjectivity at the same time.

° ©     «  ¬ ¬   is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Uni-
versity of California, Riverside. He has published a number of
articles on Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, and Husserl.

University of California, Riverside
°µ¬©¤   ° ®¤© ¦  µ®©© ¦ ©¤§
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

©¤§ µ®©© °
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA
477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia
Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa


© Pierre Keller 2004

First published in printed format 1999

ISBN 0-511-04009-1 eBook (netLibrary)
ISBN 0-521-63077-0 hardback
ISBN 0-521-00469-1 paperback

Acknowledgments page vi

± Introduction ±
 ±
Introducing apperception
 µ
Concepts, laws, and the recognition of objects
 Self-consciousness and the demands of judgment in the
µ Self-consciousness and the unity of intuition: completing
the B-Deduction
 Time-consciousness in the Analogies ±±
· Causal laws ±±
 Self-consciousness and the pseudo-discipline of
transcendental psychology
 ±
How independent is the self from its body?
±° The argument against idealism ±
±± Empirical realism and transcendental idealism ±·



The contents of this book have germinated in a long process going back
to my ¬rst Kant seminar with Dieter Henrich in Heidelberg. Although I
sometimes criticize his views, his in¬‚uence is obvious in my work. I am
also strongly indebted to discussions with Georg Picht, Enno Rudolph,
Harald Pilot, and, especially, Ru
¨diger Bittner, dating back to my under-
graduate days in Heidelberg. As a student at Columbia, I was lucky to
be able to take on a new set of intellectual debts. After going to
Columbia to work with Charles Parsons, whose in¬‚uence on my work
on Kant is also patent in this book, I was fortunate to ¬nd Charles
Larmore, Thomas Pogge, Sydney Morgenbesser, and, somewhat later,
Raymond Geuss willing and very challenging participants in discussions
about Kant™s philosophy. I owe a particular debt to Charles Parsons,
Charles Larmore, and especially Raymond Geuss for their helpful
comments on various drafts of this book. Without Raymond Geuss™s
constant criticism, encouragement, and prodding, I am certain that this
book would never have appeared at all. I owe an almost comparable
debt of gratitude to my editor, Hilary Gaskin, who has helped me to see
where the book could be improved and kept at me ¬nally to complete it.
I also wish to thank Gillian Maude for patient help with the copy
Among my colleagues at the University of California at Riverside, I
would be remiss if I did not mention Andrews Reath, David Glidden,
Bernd Magnus, and Larry Wright, each of whom was generous in his
critical comments on my work, in his support, and in his willingness to
engage with Kant™s thought. Fred Neuhouser, Steve Yalowitz, and
David Weberman have also provided much helpful input, as have the
members of the Southern California Kant group, Ed McCann, Patricia
Kitcher, Jill Buroker, Martin Schwab, and Michelle Greer. I am es-
pecially indebted to many discussions with Henry Allison, who has
undoubtedly in¬‚uenced me more strongly than some of my criticisms of
Acknowledgments vii
his views might suggest. My new colleague Allen Wood™s helpful criti-
cisms have led me to make a number of signi¬cant changes. My students
have also led me to rethink a number of things. I wish especially to
mention John Fischer and Laura Bruce, who also helped me with the
proofs and the index.
Finally, I want to thank my parents who instilled an early respect for
Kant and love of philosophy in me, and my brother, Gregory, and
sisters, Karen and Catherine, for having been so supportive of my
projects over the years. My philosophical discussions with Catherine
have also undoubtedly had an impact on the present work. My greatest
debt is to my wife Edith, who has provided me with invaluable criticism
of every draft, and much-needed intellectual and emotional support.
° ±


In the Critique of Pure Reason (henceforth Critique), Kant draws a famous
but elusive distinction between transcendental and empirical appercep-
tion. He interprets the distinction between transcendental and empirical
apperception as a distinction between transcendental and empirical self-
consciousness. He argues that empirical self-consciousness is parasitic
on transcendental self-consciousness, and that any empirical conscious-
ness that has any cognitive relevance for us depends for its cognitive
content on its potential relation to transcendental self-consciousness.
These are strong, but, I want to argue, defensible claims once one
understands the nature of transcendental self-consciousness, as it is
understood by Kant.
The central aim of this book is to provide a new understanding of the
notion of transcendental self-consciousness and show its implications for
an understanding of experience. I develop and defend Kant™s central
thesis that self-consciousness puts demands on experience that make it
possible for us to integrate our various experiences into a single compre-
hensive, objective, spatio-temporal point of view. My interpretation of
his conception of self-consciousness as the capacity to abstract not only
from what one happens to be experiencing, but also from one™s own
personal identity, while giving content to whatever one represents,
shows how transcendental self-consciousness underwrites a general the-
ory of objectivity and subjectivity at the same time.
The leading interpretations seem to be in broad agreement that Kant™s
notion of transcendental apperception is largely a disappointing failure.
Perhaps the dominant tendency has been to dismiss his notion of
transcendental self-consciousness as at best implausible and at worst
incoherent. But even those interpreters who have been sympathetic to the
notion of transcendental self-consciousness have endeavored to give it an
anodyne interpretation that renders it largely irrelevant to a defense of
objectivity or even subjectivity. By simply identifying transcendental
 Kant and the demands of self-consciousness
self-consciousness with objective experience, those interpreters deprive
transcendental self-consciousness of any substantive role in justifying the
claim that our experience is at least sometimes objective, and make it
di¬cult to understand how it could sometimes be merely subjective.
It is not surprising that interpreters have had their problems with
transcendental self-consciousness, despite the fact that it is undeniably a
central notion in Kant™s philosophy. Part of the problem is that Kant™s
notion of transcendental self-consciousness requires a subject of self-
consciousness that is somehow distinct from any subject that we can
experience. The only kind of subject that we seem to be acquainted with
in any sense is a subject that we can experience, an empirical subject,
and so the notion of a non-empirical subject that we could become
conscious of seems to be based on an illegitimate abstraction from actual
experience.± And, even if one concedes that it might be possible to be
conscious of a non-empirical subject of experience, it seems that the only
way we have of making sense of such a subject is by thinking of it as a
mere abstraction from actual experience, in which case it is di¬cult to
see how it could support any substantive claims about what the nature of
experience must be.
Skepticism about whether it is possible to be conscious of a subject of
thought that is somehow distinguishable from the kind of subject that is
knowable through experience leads interpreters to look to consciousness
of personal identity as the only kind of consciousness of self that we
have. Commentators who have resisted the tendency to collapse tran-
scendental self-consciousness into consciousness of personal identity
have often gone to the other extreme of treating all self-consciousness as
a consciousness of judgments that are objectively valid, thus denying
that transcendental self-consciousness is a necessary condition for con-
sciousness of one™s subjective point of view. And even those commenta-
tors who have tried to conceive of transcendental self-consciousness as a
necessary condition of empirical self-consciousness have not had much
to say about how transcendental self-consciousness could be involved in
empirical self-consciousness.
I claim that Kant™s notion of transcendental self-consciousness is
more robust than it has generally been thought to be, but also more
commonsensical than most commentators have allowed it to be. I argue
that the key to a proper understanding of the thesis that our experience
is subject to the demands of self-consciousness is a proper understanding
of the fundamentally impersonal character of our representation of self.
We have an impersonal or transpersonal representation of self which is

expressed in our use of the expression ˜˜I™™ to refer to ourselves. When
each of us refers to him- or herself by means of the expression ˜˜I,™™ each
of us refers to him- or herself in a way that could, in principle, apply to
any one of us. This is the basic, minimal, idea that Kant tries to express
with his notion of transcendental self-consciousness.
I attribute to Kant and defend several further claims about transcen-
dental self-consciousness that are very controversial. I claim that empiri-
cal or personal self-consciousness is parasitic on transcendental or im-
personal self-consciousness. I argue that this amounts to the claim that
we are only able to grasp our own individual identity by contrast with
other possible lives that we might have led. Then I argue that our very
ability to form concepts in general is based on our capacity for transcen-
dental self-consciousness. This capacity for concept formation and use is
displayed in judgments and inferences that themselves depend on our
capacity for representing ourselves impersonally. I then go on to make
the even stronger claim that the very notion of a representational
content that has any cognitive relevance is parasitic on our ability to
form an impersonal consciousness of self. Thus, even representations of
the world and the self that are independent of thought, representations
that Kant refers to as intuitions, have cognitive relevance for us only
insofar as we are able to take them as potential candidates for I thoughts.
This claim is the ultimate basis for the Kantian thesis that experience is
only intelligible to us to the extent that it is a potential content of
impersonal self-consciousness that is systematically linked to other po-
tential contents. It is also the basis for his famous thesis that there are
non-empirical conditions on all experience.
For Kant, non-empirical conditions on all experience are conditions
under which a self-conscious being is able to represent itself in any
arbitrary experience as the numerically identical point of view. This
representationof the self-consciousness as a numerically identical point of
view through di¬erent experiences connects di¬erent experiences to-
gether in a single possible representation. This representation of the self is
the same regardless of the di¬erent standpoints within experience that the
self-conscious individual might be occupying. In this way, the conditions
governing the representation of the numerical identity of the self pro-
vide one with constraints on the way that any objective experience must
be. And, insofar as these constraints also operate on one™s representation
of one™s personal identity as constituted by a certain sequence of points
of view within experience, they also provide the basis for an account of
 Kant and the demands of self-consciousness
©°  ® ¬  ®¤ °   ®¬  ¬ ¦ - ®   ©  µ  ®   
Personal self-consciousness involves an awareness of the distinction
between me and my representations and other persons and their repre-
sentations. In order for me to have some understanding of the distinc-
tion between me and my representations, and other persons and their
representations, I must have some way of comparing and contrasting
my identity as a person with a certain set of representations with that of
other possible persons with their own distinctive sets of representations.µ
In order to be able to compare and contrast my representations with
those of other persons, I must be able to abstract from the particular
identity, the particular set of beliefs and desires, that distinguishes me
from other persons. For I must be able to represent what it would be like
for me had I had a di¬erent set of representations than the ones that I
actually ascribe to myself:
It is obvious that: if one wants to represent a thinking being, one must put
oneself in its place, and place ones own subject under the object that one wants
to consider (which is not the case in any other kind of investigation), and that we
can only require an absolute unity of a subject for a thought because one could
not otherwise say: I think (the manifold in a representation). ( µ)*
The fact that I am able to represent the point of view of another rational
being does not mean that I am no longer the particular individual that I
am. But it does mean that I represent myself and other persons in an
impersonal manner. For, in representing what it might have been like
for things to appear to me in the way that they appear to the other being
to which I wish to attribute rationality, I represent myself as an arbitrary
self-consciousness, that is, just one person among many possible other
persons. But at the same time I am also able to represent myself as the
particular individual who I happen to be. For it is only in this way that I
can compare the representations that I might have had from the point of
view of another rational being with the representations that I have from
my own actual point of view.
If I come to have doubts about the states that I am ascribing to myself,
or if someone else challenges me concerning my past, I will feel the need
to consider the possibility that I might be mistaken in what states I think
* References to Kant™s Critique of Pure Reason (henceforth Critique) will be to the pagination of the ¬rst
and second editions of the Critique indicated by the letters A and B respectively. I follow the text
edited by Raymund Schmidt (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, ±°) except where otherwise noted.
All other citations of Kant™s work are based on the volume and page numbers of the critical edition
published by the Prussian Academy of Sciences and later by the German Academy of Sciences
(henceforth Ak.) (Berlin: de Gruyter: ±°“). Translations are mine throughout.
belong to my own history and even in who I am. I can only do so to the
extent that I am able to abstract from my actual personal identity, and
evaluate the reasons for ascribing certain states to myself in a manner
that would have weight for other persons as well. Thus, in order for each
of us to understand what it is to be a person with beliefs, emotions, and
desires, we must have an understanding of what it might have been like
to have a di¬erent set of beliefs, emotions, and desires. The possibility of
the point of view that we must take in order to go through these
alternative sets of beliefs, emotions, and desires gives self-consciousness
its transcendental dimension, that is, it makes self-consciousness a con-
dition under which we can recognize an object that is distinct from our
individual momentary representations of the world.
We can refer to the self that functions as a variable in self-conscious-
ness as the transcendental self:
We presuppose nothing other than the simple and in itself completely empty of
content representation: I; of which one cannot even say that it is a concept, but
rather a mere consciousness, that accompanies all concepts. Through this I, or
he, or it (the thing) that thinks nothing other than a transcendental subject = x is
represented. This transcendental subject is known only through the thoughts
that are its predicates. ( µ“/ °)
It might seem that the idea of a transcendental self commits one to a
featureless bearer of experience. But the dummy sortal x that stands in for
di¬erent individual constants would be misunderstood if taken to mean
that when we represent ourselves by means of I thoughts we are then
mere bare particulars, or egos bare of any properties that one could
come to know through experience. The notion of a transpersonal and
standpoint-neutral bearer of experience would be incoherent. In order
to be able to represent something, it would have to have some kind of
standpoint from which it represents things or at least some determinate
set of capacities with which it represents, but, in order to be a transper-
sonal and standpoint-neutral subject, it would have to have no proper-
ties in particular.
Fortunately, Kant does not think of the subject of transcendental
self-consciousness as a particular that has no particular properties,
although he thinks that this is a view to which Descartes was attracted in
trying to infer substantial properties of thinking beings in general from
the conditions under which we ascribe thoughts. For Kant, transcen-
dental self-consciousness is a representation of oneself that abstracts
from what distinguishes one from other persons, not a representation of
a bare particular:
 Kant and the demands of self-consciousness
It means a something in general (transcendental subject) the representation of
which must indeed be simple, precisely for this reason, since nothing is deter-
mined with respect to it, for certainly nothing simpler can be represented than
the concept of a mere something. The simplicity of the representation of a
subject is not therefore a cognition of the simplicity of the subject itself, for one
has completely abstracted from its properties, when it is merely designated by
the completely empty of content expression: I think (which I can apply to any
thinking subject). ( µ)

While I represent myself in a simple way when I represent myself by the
expression ˜˜I™™ or by means of the expression ˜˜I think,™™ and even
represent other thinkers simply when I represent them as individuals
that can potentially say of themselves ˜˜I think,™™ it would be a mistake to
infer from this that the ego that is the bearer of such I thoughts must
itself be a simple individual or bare particular.

© °   ® ¬  ¬¦-   ®   ©  µ  ®     ® ¤  µ ¤ §  ® 
The kind of self-consciousness expressed by the statement ˜˜I think p,™™
where p is any proposition, is, for Kant, the basis for all use of concepts,
judgments, and inferences. In using concepts, and making judgments
and inferences, we commit ourselves to a representation of what we are
representing by means of our concepts, judgments, or inferences that is
not just true for our own individual point of view, but is also true for any
arbitrary point of view. Kant refers to this notion of a representation
that is a representation for any arbitrary point of view as a representa-
tion that belongs to ˜˜a consciousness in general™™ (Bewußtsein uberhaupt), as
opposed to a representation that belongs to one consciousness alone.
Now Kant does not wish to argue that there are representations that
do not belong to the individual consciousness of distinct individuals. His
claim is rather that we understand what we are representing when we
are able to represent the content of representations that belong to our
individual consciousness in a way that, in principle, is also accessible to
other representers. The capacity to represent individual representations
in this manner that is accessible to other representers is just what Kant
regards as the capacity to use concepts. The capacity to use concepts is,
in turn, exhibited in the ability to make judgments that have determin-
able truth value, and to draw inferences on the basis of those judgments
that we can determine to be correct or incorrect.
In judgment, we may entertain the possibility that something is the
case, but we also commit ourselves to the assumption that what we judge
is or is not the case. This commitment expresses itself in a willingness to
o¬er reasons for our belief that something is or is not thus and such. In
taking on the obligation to o¬er reasons for what we judge to be the case,
we acknowledge that judgment is governed by normative principles.
These normative principles are based on the commitment to truth that
one takes on when one makes a judgment. Normative principles provide
procedures for distinguishing judgment that succeeds in articulating
truth from judgment that is false. These procedures may be articulated
in the form of rules governing the behavior of individuals. The norms
governing representation express themselves in terms of rules concern-
ing when to token a certain representation if we are to succeed in
articulating some truth. Our competence in judgment is then measured
against our ability to express truths by means of the judgments that we
Judgment actually presupposes both the kind of personal self-con-
sciousness that Kant refers to as empirical apperception and the imper-
sonal self-consciousness that he refers to as transcendental appercep-
tion. Judgment presupposes personal self-consciousness insofar as

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