Synthesis and Intuition

  • Gary Banham


These two statements pose a fundamental problem for any interpretation of the nature of synthesis in the Critique. Whilst the first one given indicates that the unity of intuition is produced by the same function that gives unity to a judgment, the second indicates that the unity of intuition does not belong to the concept of the understanding. There would appear here to be a straight case of self-contradiction and if this impression is to be removed in the interest of a charitable reading of the Critique this would appear to require major hermeneutic work. In this chapter I will devote attention to some of the salient characteristics of what I take to be the most important ways of addressing this question of understanding the nature of the relationship between synthesis and intuition. The result of this will be to release the nature of the problem that has to be resolved by this work in terms of the account I will be giving of the transcendental psychology of the Critique and it should be the effect of the accounts offered here to persuade the reader that there is a problem that does need to be addressed.


Transcendental Philosophy Sheer Receptivity Transcendental Condition Pure Intuition Outer Sense 
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  1. 1.
    Wilfrid Sellars (1968) Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes, London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    It is worth contrasting this characterization with that Sellars gives elsewhere of receptivity where he speaks of that “that peculiar brand of the passivity of sense and the spontaneity of the understanding which is ‘receptivity’”, a brand that enables representations of “this-φ” rather than full-fledged judgments. Wilfrid Sellars (1967) “Some Remarks on Kant’s Theory of Experience” in W. Sellars (1974) Essays on Philosophy and Its History, Dordrecht and Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Company, p. 49. What this indicates is that the nature of the relationship between spontaneity and receptivity is the fundamental question in grasping Kant’s account of experience. We will return to further reflections on this problem in Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Sellars introduces this notion in §39, p. 16 of Sellars (1968) and here credits Wittgenstein for introducing this “relevant concept”. See Ludwig Wittgenstein (1945–9) Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953, §§169–78.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    John McDowell (1998) “Having the World in View: Sellars, Kant, and Intentionality”, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XCV, No. 9, p. 456. McDowell’s article is the printed version of the Woodbridge Lectures that he gave in 1997 at Columbia University. In support of this account by McDowell of the role of analogy in Sellars’ view, see the following passage from Science and Metaphysics: “By overlooking the importance of analogical concepts—save in theological contexts—and hence by failing to note the analogical character of our concepts of the attributes and relations which sense impressions must have to perform their explanatory role, Kant reduces the concepts of receptivity and sensibility to empty abstractions” (Sellars, 1968, §77, p. 30).Google Scholar
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    In footnote 23 to page 446 of the Woodbridge Lectures McDowell states that this involves a change of view from that he presented in his earlier book Mind and World. The argument of Mind and World was explicitly connected to an interpretation of Kant that was derived from Peter Strawson, via the intermediary of Gareth Evans. McDowell presented there a notion of a “transcendental framework” that basically fits the characterization of transcendental philosophy that he later came to reject: see for example John McDowell (1994) Mind and World, Cambridge, Mass. and London, Harvard University Press, p. 43. The rejection of this standpoint in the Woodbridge Lectures is accompanied by the suggestion that the adoption of this picture of transcendental philosophy was to do with the influence of Richard Rorty although it is worth noting that the vast majority of references to Rorty in Mind and World are critical. The rejection of the earlier position also leads McDowell to now see a connection between Kant and Hegel as when he writes that: “the thought that Hegel tries to capture with the image of Reason as subject to no external constraint—the rejection of a sideways-on standpoint for philosophy—is already Kant’s own thought” (McDowell, 1998, p. 490).Google Scholar
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    The “Kant book” is of course Martin Heidegger (1929) Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, translated by Richard Taft, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990. The lecture course that preceded its publication and in which Heidegger gave the first version of his interpretation was given in the winter semester of 1927–8 at the University of Marburg. This course has now been published and translated as Martin Heidegger (1927) Phenomenological Interpretation of KantsCritique of Pure Reason”, translated by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997, and will be cited hereafter as Heidegger (1927–8).Google Scholar
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    For Heidegger by contrast it is geometry that is a formal intuition and this identification of formal intuition with geometry is what leads Heidegger to speak of a different unity, a “syndotical” one that is supposed to be the one prior to concepts but this mangles the text of the note very badly. For a similar complaint, see Martin Weatherston (2002) Heideggers Interpretation of Kant: Categories, Imagination and Temporality, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 54.Google Scholar
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    Henry Allison (1983) Kants Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, pp. 96–7. In the recent re-edition of his work Allison no longer words matters in quite the same way but he still is clear in stating that the difference between forms of intuition and formal intuition is one between conceptualization and its absence. See Henry Allison (2004) Kants Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense, Revised and Enlarged Edition, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p. 115.Google Scholar
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    Wayne Waxman (1991) Kants Model of the Mind: A New Interpretation of Transcendental Idealism, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, p. 95. Whilst Waxman does agree with Heidegger that it is the notion of forms of intuition that has to be explained this does not mean that he subscribes to Heidegger’s conception of what a formal intuition consists in as whilst for Heidegger this refers us to geometry for Waxman by contrast it refers to the indeterminate unities of the Transcendental Aesthetic.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    Jaakko Hintikka (1969) “On Kant’s Notion of Intuition (Anschauung)” in T. Penelhum and J. J. Maclntosh (eds) The First Critique: Reflections on Kants Critique of Pure Reason, Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company.Google Scholar
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    Manley Thompson (1972) “Singular Terms and Intuitions in Kant’s Epistemology”, Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 26, p. 319.Google Scholar
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    Lorne Falkenstein (1991) “Kant’s Account of Intuition”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 21, No. 2. Falkenstein’s argument can be construed on the general terms he gives on page 189 of this article as proceeding in the following way: “The pattern of argument, therefore, is that of inference from what is given in the intellectual representation back to what must have been present in the data originally given to intellect prior to processing.”Google Scholar
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    Howard Caygill (1995) A KantDictionary, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, pp. 265–6.Google Scholar

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© Gary Banham 2005

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  • Gary Banham

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