Kant’s Schemata as Semantical Rules

  • Robert E. Butts
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 155)


In this paper I will sketch briefly a model for understanding the connection, in Kant’s system, between categories, principles of the understanding, schemata, and the empirical instances to which the categorial framework is supposed to apply. I hope that the model will illuminate the general features of Kant’s entire epistemological enterprise, although in the present context I am mainly interested in providing a way of removing the notorious obscurities of the Schematism passage in the Critique of pure reason.


Conceptual System Categorial Framework Semantical Rule Schematism Passage Empirical Concept 
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  1. 1.
    Seilars, 1967, p. 634.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Butts, 1961, p. 167. For a more recent discussion, see (Butts, 1984, ch. 8).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Sellars, 1967, p. 641.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A position like this is developed at length by P. K. Feyerabend. See, for example, (Feyerabend, 1965).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bennett, 1966, p. 143.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Körner, 1955, pp. 71-72.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bennett, 1966, p. 145.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    I assume throughout that what Kant calls “sensible concepts” would all be expressible as observation predicates.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    In all these examples, the ‘must’ has merely legal or regulative force.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kant writes: “This schematism of our understanding, in its application to appearances and their mere form, is an art concealed in the depths of the human soul, whose real modes of activity nature is hardly likely ever to allow us to discover, and to have open to our gaze [A 141 = B 180-181].Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    I may be criticized at this point for trying to turn Kant into a pragmatist. My reply is that Kant made himself into a kind of pragmatist, and I am only trying to be faithful to the insight resulting from recognizing that he did so. If we are to employ principles regulatively (and thus to employ schematized categories regulatively also) in the construction of sciences, we are quite at liberty to specify the range of entities that a given science will take as values of its variables. It is precisely because this is so that we can now abandon the vexatious problem of the application of concepts to experiences, where the concepts are empirical concepts ingredient in the observation language of a science. Briefly: just insofar as we use rules for selecting permitted observation predicates, and just insofar as we choose the range of entities which semantically interprets a formalism, we are applying the system, and in the only manner that makes epistemological sense. There is no question remaining that requires for its solution the introduction of curious ontological or psychological entities that mediate between sensation and conception. If space permitted I would also argue that this view of Kant’s pragmatism regarding the regulative employment of principles is vastly more faithful to the major features of his system than is the facile als ob theory.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The matter cannot be discussed in detail here, but consideration should be given to the evidence for my interpretation that comes from Kant’s discussion of mechanism as one preferred regulative scheme to be used in the study of biological phenomena. (Too often, Kant’s philosophy of biology gets left out of discussions of his general philosophy of science, which discussions normally—and unjustifiably— stress the physical sciences.) In the Critique Of Judgment pt. 2, Sec. 17 Kant insists that mechanical forms of explanation must be pursued to their utmost limits in the study of organisms. Why? I would suggest that the answer is given by my account above: if the general epistemological framework dictates categories, law forms, and a preferred general semantics, then the mathematization of experience must be realized in every science, i.e., in every conceptual sub-system legalized by the general epistemological system. Mechanical forms of explanation are paradigms of mathematical explanation; therefore, mechanical forms of explanation must at least be attempted (the ‘must’ is again regulative) in all sciences, including biology.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Butts, 1961, pp. 160-67. Though I think that ‘categorical subsumption’ is still a pretty fair term for expressing what is involved in applying categories to instances, my account of this procedure in the earlier paper is imperfect and partly wrong. I hope to have made good these defects in the present account. See also Butts (1984, ch. 8).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert E. Butts
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe University of Western OntarioCanada

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