Heward Wilkinson – Two Iconic Mindsets: German Magicianry versus English Commonsense

Date(s) - 02/06/2024
12:30 pm - 2:30 pm

The Crown Lavender Hill

Heward Wilkinson says
‘I realise that the Kant extracts may seem intimidatingly dense and I want to assure everyone I am going to try my best to ‘translate’ what the issues are in graphic and accessible terms.
Jonathan Bennett, author of Kant’s Analytic, wrote:
“Kant has a natural subliminal sensitivity to philosophical problems, so that even where he argues badly his writing is rich in hints and suggestions which can lead one to insights which Kant himself did not have.”
This will be the spirit of my talk.’



Is there a Great Gulf Fixed between the Heidegger and Strawson Commentaries on the meaning of Kant’s Concept of the Transcendental in Critique of Pure Reason (CPR)?

In Naturalism and Scepticism, Strawson gives a qualified endorsement of Heidegger’s claim in Being and Time that the ‘scandal to philosophy’ is that proofs like Kant’s of the External World dare to be demanded at all. On the other hand, Heidegger appeals to Kant’s understanding of Imagination (source of ‘synthesis’) standing between Intuition (or Sense) and Understanding in the first edition of CPR, whereas Strawson dismisses this as part of ‘the imaginary subject of transcendental psychology’. Broadly, Heidegger appeals more to the first edition of CPR and Strawson to the second edition. Heidegger argues that Kant, without fully realising it, is doing ‘Fundamental Ontology’ through the understanding of Temporality, whilst Strawson gives us a Kant who is doing conceptual analysis underpinned by linguistic commonsense on the Oxford ‘ordinary language’ model.

Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics
And also
Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

The Bounds of Sense: An essay on Kant’s
Critique of Pure Reason
And also
Individuals: an Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics

So, what can we say about all this? Many themes and issues are entwined. We have in the background to ask what Kant’s ‘Transcendental Idealism’ amounts to and achieves.

Here the first extract below leans in a Heideggerian direction, with the prioritisation of Imagination, and the hint that ‘a priori’ here carries its temporal meaning:

“If cinnabar were sometimes red, sometimes black, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, if a man changed sometimes into this and sometimes into that animal form, if the country on the longest day were sometimes covered with fruit, sometimes with ice and snow, my empirical imagination would never find opportunity when representing red colour to bring to mind heavy cinnabar.  Nor could there be an empirical synthesis of reproduction, if a certain name were sometimes given to this, sometimes to that object, or were one and the same thing named sometimes in one way, sometimes in another, independently of any rule to which appearances are in themselves subject.
There must then be something which, as the a priori ground of a necessary synthetic unity of appearances, makes their reproduction possible. What that something is we soon discover when we reflect that appearances are not things in themselves but are the mere play of our representations and in the end reduce to determinations of inner sense. For if we show that even our purest a priori intuitions yield no knowledge, save as far as they contain a combination of the manifold such as renders a thoroughgoing synthesis of reproduction possible, then this synthesis of imagination is likewise grounded, antecedently to all experience, upon a priori principles; and we must assume a pure transcendental synthesis of imagination as conditioning the very possibility of experience. For experience as such presupposes the reproducibility of experiences.” (Kant, 1964, 1st Edition – A100-101)

And the second, also from the first edition, leans in a Strawsonian direction of the Unity of Consciousness made possible by the experience of a world, in which we individuals carve a pathway to differentiate ourselves.

“This transcendental unity of apperception forms out of all possible appearances, which can stand alongside one another in one experience, a connection of all these representations according to laws.  For this unity of consciousness would be impossible if the mind in knowledge of the manifold could not become conscious of the identity of function whereby it synthetically combines it in one knowledge.  The original and necessary consciousness of the identity of the self is thus at the same time a consciousness of an equally necessary unity of the synthesis of all appearances according to concepts [my italic – HW], that is, according to rules, which not only make them necessarily reproducible but also in so doing determine an object for their intuition, that is, the concept of something wherein they are necessarily interconnectedFor the mind could never think its identity in the manifoldness of its representations, and indeed think this identity a priori, if it did not have before its eyes the identity of its act, whereby it subordinates all synthesis of apprehension (which is empirical) to a transcendental unity, thereby rendering possible their interconnection according to a priori rules.” (Kant, 1964, A 108)

So, this is Kant’s core argument for how the unity of self-consciousness is made possible by the possibility of differentiating out a constructed phenomenal objectivity in Critique of Pure Reason.

In his talk Heward will try to unpack these hints and pointers

We meet in The Crown, 102 Lavender Hill, London, SW11 5RD but Heward Wilkinson is not London based and will present his talk on Zoom.  For details see SLPC Zoom Meeting

We always welcome new speakers.  If you would like to give a talk on a philosopher or a philosophical topic please contact Adrian Carter at southlondonphilosophy@gmail.com

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