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will have established that we can only conceive of a presentational order
by appeal to our sensibility, he will not have established the stronger
claim that space and time cannot exist independently of our sensibility.
Kant assumes that because space and time are forms of our sensibility
they cannot be forms which also exist independently of the way in which
we order objects. But this claim, that because space and time are forms
of our sensibility they can only be mere forms of our sensibility, raises
precisely the neglected alternative suggestion made by Trendelenburg.
Perhaps the most direct approach to the loophole, that taken by
Guyer, has a di¬erent, although related di¬culty. Guyer argues that the
 Kant and the demands of self-consciousness
loophole is closed by Kant™s assumption that the necessity and universal-
ity involved in the a priori must be coextensive ( ), so that, if something
is known to be necessarily thus and such, it must belong to the same
domain with respect to which we are able to make universal claims.±
This provides an answer as to why Kant would rule out the idea that
space and time might turn out independently of us contingently to have
the features that we necessarily represent them as having; it does
nothing, however, to show why they cannot necessarily have the proper-
ties that we represent them as having independently of us. And it raises
the question as to whether the contrast between the way things must
appear to us and things as they are in themselves is itself intelligible to us.
For the very generality of the (necessary) a priori knowledge that we
have, including, as it does, purely conceptual knowledge as well, seems
then to preclude us from having any notion of an object that is not
subject to necessary constraints.

 © ®§  © ®    ¬   ® ¤ ®  µ ® 
There are a priori conditions for Kant governing even the concept of an
object in general. These a priori conditions are provided by formal
logic. If an object were necessarily mind-dependent in virtue of being
subject to a priori conditions for thought in general, then the very notion
of an object which exists independently of being represented by us
would entail a logical contradiction. But then the distinction between an
object which appears to us and an object as it is in itself would amount to
just the distinction between an intelligible and an unintelligible object.
In this case, the very claim that we can know only appearances but not
things as they are in themselves would collapse into the trivial point that
we cannot know what is unintelligible. Thinking of things as they are in
themselves as unintelligible would con¬‚ict with Kant™s tendency to
identify things as they are in themselves with noumena or intelligible
objects, objects of understanding alone. The problem with such objects
is that they are vacuous for us, not that they are unintelligible. Kant™s
view, by contrast, is that the range of the logical a priori determines
what is intelligible.
Since Kant does not think that there can be alternative logics to the
term logic of his time, he does not think that there can be alternative
logics with more or less equal claims to plausibility. It is thus reasonable
for him to take the a priori of general or, rather, universal, logic
(˜˜allgemeine Logik™™) to determine what can intelligibly be said to be. It

Empirical realism and transcendental idealism
thus has a general criteriological character for ontology. This assign-
ment of a general criteriological function to logic in ontology is reason-
able even from a more contemporary point of view that is bound to be
more skeptical about the neo-Aristotelian and Stoic term logic which
Kant thought to be largely, but not wholly, immune to revision. Some-
thing resembling ¬rst-order quanti¬cation theory with identity seems to
be very close to any adequate way of ¬‚eshing out basic assumptions
governing thought. At the very least, logic is that part of our corpus of
beliefs which we must hold to be most resistant to revision in the face of
experience.
It seems reasonable to look to general logic for the concept of an
object that can be thought independently of any sensible intuition. And,
given the completely general character of logic, we might hope that
logical notions would provide us with some representation of a thing
that is independent of sensibility. But here we run up against the limits
of what reason can provide us with. We do have the general idea of an
object that could be grasped by reason without appeal to experience.
Kant introduces the noumenon as a thing ˜˜that ought to be thought of
not at all as an object of the senses, but rather as a thing in itself (merely
through the pure understanding)™™ ( µµ/ ±°). The identi¬cation of
what would be represented by a pure understanding in abstraction
from sensibility with a thing in itself ¬ts his view that it is because space
and time and their objects are given to us by our forms of sensibility that
they cannot be things as they exist in themselves. This notion of a
noumenon is not itself self-contradictory, Kant maintains, since one
cannot say of sensibility that it is the only possible form of intuition. But
he does argue that our concepts are restricted in their meaning and
application to the domain of sensibility. Even general logic can only be
applied to objects if those objects are somehow given to us. This means
for him that a noumenon, or a thing represented as it is in itself, cannot
be an intelligible object for our understanding. We are to think of a
thing in itself as something which could only be thought by a radically
di¬erent kind of intuition than our own, a non-sensible intuition (
µ/ ±). For such an intuition, there is no distinction to be drawn
anymore between the way objects are given and the conditions under
which they can be thought. Indeed, the very notion of objects being
given to such an intuition loses any meaning. Kant admits that the very
possibility of such an intuition is problematic. This leads Kant to
conclude that the notion of a noumenon involves the representation of
a thing of which we can neither say that it is possible nor that it is
° Kant and the demands of self-consciousness
impossible, since we do not have the kind of intuition required to make
sense of it ( ·/ ).
Kant denies in many places that we do or can know whether there
could be objects which are not spatial or temporal. This is the dominant
view in the sections on Phenomena and Noumena ( µµ/ ±°) and the
Amphiboly of Concepts of Re¬‚ection ( ·“··/ “). He thus
leaves the question open whether there could be things which exist as
they are in themselves independently of the way we represent things
spatially and temporally. So interpreted, the thing in itself is a limiting
concept for theoretical reason of which we have no theoretical knowl-
edge. The question of whether things in themselves are spatio-temporal
or not is meaningless, since it requires resources outstripping the en-
abling conditions of meaningful discourse. Space and time cannot be
taken by us to exist independently of the mind because we have no
concept of them that would make their mind-independent existence
intelligible. If we cannot have a concept of space and time that is
independent of the way objects must be given to us by the contingent
fact that we must represent the inner“outer distinction as we do, then we
cannot make sense of the idea that space and time themselves exist
completely independently of us. Kant is clearly right that, even though
space and time may be necessary to the way we experience the world,
we cannot regard their existence as logically necessary. Still, even if this
is true, it is too weak a claim to establish that space and time cannot be
things as they exist in themselves or properties or relations of those
things. The best that Kant can hope for is that he has established that
space and time are not the kind of things that can be regarded by us as
things in themselves or their properties or relations. This interpretation
¬ts Kant™s tendency to refer to the distinction between things in them-
selves and appearances as two ways that we have of regarding things,
rather than as a distinction that applies to things completely indepen-
dently of our re¬‚ection.
Most of our beliefs might turn out to be false, and the best standards
of knowledge we have might turn out to be inadequate by the lights of
the noumena presented to an intellectual intuition. But we do not even
know that the perspective of intellectual intuition is possible. It is not
really intelligible to us and might turn out to be unintelligible in a more
general sense. Here we ¬nd the basis for a modest version of transcen-
dental idealism, according to which there is a way in which together we
must understand and experience the world, although we cannot be
certain that this way of experiencing the world is compelling for abso-
±
Empirical realism and transcendental idealism
lutely all creatures. This anodyne notion of transcendental idealism
leaves it an open question whether there can be things that are intelli-
gible independently of the conditions of our spatial and temporal repre-
sentations of them. This epistemically modest version of transcendental
idealism is a view which should be very attractive for anyone who thinks
that there can be transcendental arguments in the theory of knowledge
which compel us to think of the world as structured in a certain way.
Those passages in which Kant pushes the idea that the notion of a
noumenon is necessarily empty for us, make it di¬cult to understand
how Kant can think that ˜˜it is indubitably certain and not just possible
or probable™™ that space and time are forms only of appearances rather
than things in themselves ( / ). The epistemically modest notion
of transcendental idealism allows for the logical possibility of something
that is distinct from the way objects must appear to us, and thus provides
us with a purely negative notion of a thing in itself, but Kant often wants
something much stronger:

In fact, when we regard objects of the senses as mere appearances, as is
appropriate, then we admit that a thing in itself is their ground, although we
know it not as it is in itself, but only its appearance, i.e. the way our senses are
a¬ected by an unknown something. The understanding therefore in assuming
appearances also admits the existence :das Dasein9 of things in themselves,
and in this respect we can say that the representation of such beings that are the
ground of appearances, that is, mere beings of the understanding, is not only
admissible, but also unavoidable. (Prolegomena, Ak. ©, section , pp. ±“±µ)

If space and time are merely subjective in contrast to things in them-
selves, then we can conclude from the existence of space and time as
mere subjective forms that there must be things in themselves. For
without the existence of things in themselves there would be no justi¬ca-
tion in claiming that space and time are merely subjective. The notion of
a ˜˜mere appearance™™ requires some form of real distinction between
appearances and things in themselves, and some thing that exists in itself
to which what appears merely appears to be thus and such. To establish
a real distinction between appearances and things in themselves one
would need some knowledge or at least some conception of how things
are or might be in themselves apart from the pre-conditions of our
knowledge. This would commit one to a substantive concept of a thing
as it exists in itself.
The claim that things as they appear to us cannot be things as they
exist in themselves is the basis for Kant™s rejection of transcendental
 Kant and the demands of self-consciousness
realism ˜˜which regards space and time as something given in them-
selves, independently of our sensibility™™ ( ·°). The contrast between
transcendental realism and idealism thus depends on a distinction
between things in themselves and appearances that seems only to be
articulable by rejecting the very epistemological criterion of reality upon
which that distinction might be founded. Kant maintains that we cannot
have bona ¬de theoretical knowledge of things as they are in themselves,
except in the manner in which they must appear to us. But then the
worry is that we have no way of knowing that they must, indeed, be
distinct from the way that things must appear to us. If we cannot know
that things in themselves must be distinct from the way things must
appear to us, we cannot know that transcendental idealism is true.
There is an inherent ambiguity in Kant™s notion of a thing in itself
even when one disregards what he calls the physical or empirical notion
of a thing in itself. In one sense, a thing in itself is an object of an
intellectual intuition, a kind of intuition which we cannot have as ¬nite
rational beings. In this sense, Kant consistently denies that we can have
a concept or cognition of things in themselves. Even our understanding
of an intellectual intuition is purely negative. It has powers of compre-
hension that our intellect and our intuition do not have. On the other
hand, Kant also thinks of moral properties and the individuals to which
they belong as existing in and of themselves. The Aesthetic, for instance,
contrasts the notion of space, belonging only to appearances, with the
notion of right, that belongs to things in themselves; the contrast with
space makes it clear that Kant does not have in mind the claim that right
is a property of things in themselves in the empirical sense: ˜˜right cannot
appear at all, its concept lies rather in the understanding and represents
a property (the moral one) of actions which belongs to those actions in
themselves™™ ( / ±).
In the Critique, Kant no longer allows for any grasp of things in purely
conceptual terms by theoretical reason, as he seems to in the Dissertation
where he identi¬es purely conceptual knowledge of things with meta-
physics (Ak. ©©, pp. µ“). But he continues to think that, from a
purely practical or moral point of view, we can say that there are real
things that are not spatial and temporal. Thus the passage in the
Aesthetic is very much in the spirit of a similar passage in the Dissertation
where Kant also notes that our moral concepts may be confused, that is,
not such that we could pick out their objects by means of necessary and
su¬cient conditions, but that their objects are known by the pure
intellect itself (Ak. ©©, p. µ). Kant tends to regard the practical notion of

Empirical realism and transcendental idealism
a thing in itself as something that we merely postulate as ultimately real
in order to express the primacy of moral agency. Things in themselves in
this sense are not objects of an intellectual intuition, but rather a way of
looking at the sensible world in abstraction from what is sensibly
determined about it and, hence, as an object of pure practical reason (
°/ ). When we relate to the world in moral terms, we relate to it
in a way which abstracts from the sensible conditions which govern
what must merely appear to us. This purely intellectual conception of
the world also grasps the world as it is in itself in abstraction from
sensibility. But the notion of a thing in itself is not, in this case,
independent of our practices, although it is something substantive.
The assumption that we understand the way the world really is from
the moral point of view has some force. It is hard to ¬nd it completely
compelling, since this primacy of the moral point of view is something
that can only be understood once one has already accepted the moral
point of view. Also, its bearing on most objects of theoretical re¬‚ection is
indirect. Nature is connected to rights and the moral point of view only
indirectly. For instance, when we take a natural object to be something
we regard as property, we are conceiving of nature in the framework of
rights. But some sense can be given to the initially implausible assump-
tion that moral agency must be somehow independent of the spatial and
temporal conditions otherwise governing agency. The categorical im-
perative articulated in Kant™s moral theory spells out a procedure for
universalizing the maxims that we derive from everyday deliberations.
This promises a way of understanding what we are doing that applies
regardless of our spatio-temporal context. To the extent that we adopt
and act according to those universalized maxims solely because of their
universality, we may be said to act from motives that abstract from
spatio-temporal content. Even here there is the problem that moral law
has content only through the way it generalizes from our experience. It
is thus somewhat doubtful that we have succeeded in representing an
action in a way that is genuinely independent of our sensibility. But we
can take this to be a representation of the sensible in terms of purely
intellectual concepts, as Kant does in the Critique.
Kant™s transcendental idealism is most plausible when it presents itself
in its modest form. Otherwise it requires a compelling reason to believe
that the concept of an object which could be grasped in abstraction from
a priori intuition is not altogether empty of real content. Kant has
admittedly an initially plausible motivation for denying spatiality and
temporality to things as they exist in themselves. Our ability to know
 Kant and the demands of self-consciousness
necessary facts about space and time, and the objects that are to be
found in space and time, is based on the way the mind is constrained to
represent the world. If the features that those objects must have in virtue
of the way we must represent the world were features that those objects
might not have independently of being represented by us, then we
would be left with what might seem to be a subjective necessity of the
kind Hume attributed to our fundamental beliefs. We could not be
certain that the structures in terms of which we make the world intelli-
gible to ourselves are not mere projections on to the world of what we
must believe about the world. But this challenge could also be met by
rejecting the subjectivist interpretation of necessity in favor of the idea
that we have no reason to doubt that the necessities in question hold
independently of what we as humans must believe. Kant seems to have
been prevented from endorsing such a move by worries that ascribe
metaphysical necessity to things other than God, but this does not really
seem to be a compelling worry, even for someone with religious beliefs.
Even if the legitimacy of what we must believe about the world is, in
principle, subject to challenge, this challenge will have to come from
inside what we must believe. The worry must be taken seriously that
what we take to be facts might not be genuine facts about anything but
what we must believe. But this worry is much less serious than the more
pressing worry that we will fail altogether to identify anything that we
all, even as human beings, must believe. This is the place where Kant
needs to take a stand against Hume™s notion of psychological necessity.
Genuinely a priori knowledge is enough, if it can be had. We do not
need to worry about the way things might appear to a point of view that
we cannot even make intelligible to ourselves. Thus it seems that Kant™s
concern with how to draw the distinction between what is inner, in the
sense of private, and what is outer, in the sense of public, is ultimately
more fruitful than his attempt to work out how we are to understand the
further distinction between what is inner, in the sense that it is internal
to the experience that we all share in common, and what is outer, in the
sense that it is completely independent of us. However, despite the
reservations that are in order concerning the substantive negative claims
that Kant makes about the nature of things as they are in themselves, he
seems to be right that our conception of the world must provide for both
of these inner“outer distinctions.
°

Conclusion




I have traced a path that began with the idea that a distinction between
what is internal to one™s point of view and what is external to one™s point
of view is constitutive of the kind of consciousness that we have of
ourselves as ¬nite rational beings. I have argued that the most funda-
mental way in which we distinguish what is internal to our point of view
from what is external to our point of view is by appeal to the idea that we
experience what is internal to our point of view successively, and hence
temporally, while we experience what is external to our point of view in
spatial relations that are only contingently successive. Spatial relations,
and the objects that occupy them are ultimately the basis upon which we
are able to ascribe a determinate position even to the successive repre-
sentations that are constitutive of our individual point of view. At the
same time, we cannot make sense of objects that we experience as
outside of us without representing them temporally.
The idea that experiencing objects spatially and temporally is un-
avoidable for us, indeed the more general idea that the only grip that we
have on existence is in terms of existence in space, or at least time, leads
Kant to claim that space and time are necessary forms of our experi-
ence. The logical possibility that there might be objects that are not
spatial or temporal leads him to argue that space and time constitute
necessary forms of our experience only. In this way, we come to have the
idea of objects that might be outer to us in a very radical way; they might
be outside of the conditions governing our experience. This, in turn,
leads to the conception of objects that we experience as objects that are
inner in a new, transcendental sense; they are internal to our experi-
ence. Kant then, unfortunately, succumbs to the temptation to argue
that these objects that are completely outside of the conditions govern-
ing our experience would have to be neither spatial nor temporal. This
is an idea without much plausibility to it. And, fortunately, it is not a
view that he consistently espouses. Sometimes he opts for the more
µ
 Kant and the demands of self-consciousness
modest view that we cannot make sense of real objects that are not
spatial or temporal. It is more fruitful to think of such non-spatial or
temporal objects as mere logical possibilities, rather than as correct
descriptions of objects as they would have to be completely indepen-
dently of our experience.
We distinguish the inner from the outer within experience, and the
outer as what is completely independent of the way we must experience
the world, on the basis of the consciousness that we have of ourselves.
The consciousness that we have of ourselves has two aspects to it. On
the one hand, we are conscious of ourselves as individuals who have
distinctive experiences that distinguish us from all other individuals,
each of whom has his or her own distinctive point of view. These
experiences are distinguished on the basis of their di¬erent spatial and
temporal content. On the other hand, we are also conscious of ourselves
as individuals who have a point of view that might have been a di¬erent
point of view had our experience gone di¬erently than the way it
actually has gone. This gives us some understanding of what it is to have
a point of view in a more general sense. In the end, our only grasp of our
own distinctive point of view seems to be based on what is distinctive
about it and our ability to grasp that depends on our capacity to grasp
other possible points of view.
The capacity to grasp di¬erent points of view as possible ways in
which one might experience the world is what Kant thinks of as the
capacity for certain representation of one™s numerical identity. One
must be able to represent oneself as identical through di¬erent experien-
ces and representations in a more general sense, for this is an a priori
condition for the ascription of determinate and communicable content
both to our representations and to the representations of any other
sentient being. To regard another creature as sentient, at least in
principle, is to recognize the representations of that creature as ones that
could have belonged to one™s own experience had that experience only
been su¬ciently di¬erent. It is to treat the states of that creature as
potentially connectible together in a system of self-ascribable represen-
tations in which one™s own representations would also have a deter-
mined position. This system of di¬erent self-ascribable representations
is our best way of making sense of the notion of an object of experience
that is independent of my, or even our, particular take on what we
experience. The system in question takes its starting-point from what we
experience, so it is not completely arbitrary, but the only way we have of
getting on in understanding what we are experiencing.
·
Conclusion
Our grasp of concepts is based on the distinctive ability for self-
conscious abstraction that we have. For concepts are just capacities that
we have to represent things in ways that make sense not only to each of
us individually, but also potentially to each and all of us, collectively. We
develop and exercise our understanding of concepts in terms of our
understanding of a whole battery of concepts that we systematically
apply to our experience. And it is this systematic unity of conceptualized
reality that provides us with the very distinction between a correct and
an incorrect use or application of a given concept in a judgment. It is this
systematic unity in what we experience that thus provides the only way
we have of distinguishing what is true from what merely appears to us to
be thus and such from our own distinctive point of view.
Our capacity to use concepts to interpret what we experience as inner
or outer to us is based on our capacity for self-consciousness. But the
self-consciousness that allows us to do this must be thought of as an
impersonal one. For it is based on the capacity to stand back from or
abstract from the way things are for each of us individually. Such a
subject of thought is the condition for the possibility of the kind of
neutrality with respect to di¬erences in point of view that characterize
our conception of objectivity. The impersonal point of view gives
judgment its target of truth. We conceive of what is true as holding
independently of what each of us may happen to believe or take to be
true. But, in order for this idea of independence to be coherent, we must
assume the possibility of a point of view from which what we happen to
take to be true might turn out to be false. We can only do that to the
extent that we are willing to allow for the possibility of alternative takes
on reality, and for us to do that we must be able to consider the
possibility that our own distinctive take on things might have been, or
could be, a di¬erent one.
The very abstractness of our representation of self, expressed in
tokenings of ˜˜I,™™ makes it capable of representing both the impersonal
point of view and a particular point of view as a point of view that shares

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