Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Kantian Interlude

For phenomenologists, truth is given to the subject. Indeed truth is nothing but the givenness of that which is given; it is this doctrine to which we refer when we speak of the “aesthetic disclosure of truth” (Cutrofello, 31). In this phrase the word “aesthetic” refers not merely to the experience of easily recognizable works of art such as paintings, novels, and theatrical performances, but rather more peculiarly to a particular reading by Heidegger of a central Kantian problematic, the celebrated “threefold synthesis” of mental experience.

This problematic is as follows: Kant separates the human cognitive capacity into three elements. He starts by identifying Sinnlichkeit (sensibility), which is not an active faculty; rather it is the passive receptivity through which the mind acquires Anschauungen (intuitions), that is, Vorstellungen (representations) of objects in space and time. The source of each Anschauung is its ding-an-sich (thing-in-itself), about which nothing whatsoever may be known other than that it must exist in order to give rise to our intuitions, which are nonetheless not intuitions of the ding-an-sich itself but only of the Erscheinung (appearance) of that ding-an-sich, a.k.a. its phenomenon.* Sinnlichkeit is thus defined as a receptivity to phenomena, which are given to Sinnlichkeit as a complex sensible manifold (a.k.a. “manifold of intuition”). “In order to recognize this complexity, we must apprehend the parts [of the manifold] successively, at distinct times. The process of unifying the successively apprehended parts into one representation is the synthesis of apprehension in intuition,” which is the first step in the threefold synthesis (Buroker, 108).

The second step in the threefold synthesis is known as the reproduction of the manifold in the imagination. Einbildungskraft (the imagination), an active faculty which mediates between Sinnlichkeit and der Verstand (which we will deal with in the third step), has two functions. On the one hand, Einbildungskraft is “the capacity to have a sense-like representation of an object not currently present” (Guyer 375); it reproduces earlier Vorstellungen while apprehending later ones (as Anschauungen), “so that we can even raise the question of whether the earlier ones represent the same object as the later ones do” (Guyer 83). This is the function of reproductive imagination. But Einbildungskraft has a more basic role, too, as productive imagination. Before the activity of productive imagination intervenes, the mind cannot distinguish between an object of representation and the representation of that object. As Pinkard puts it, the synthesis of apprehension in intuition alone “would only give us an indeterminate intuition of a multiplicity of ‘items’ in space and time” (28). As productive imagination, Einbildungskraft therefore unifies that “intuitive, experiential multiplicity of items” according to rules that render the multiplicity regular enough to proceed to the third step. These rules are called schemata, and the process of applying them to the Anschauungen is known as the schematism, “the primordial synthesis by which the imagination relates the pure concepts of the understanding [a.k.a. the categories] to pure determinations of time” (Cutrofello 20). This notion of the schematism will become clearer later on, and indeed will be crucial to the Analytic/Continental divide, as we shall see. For now, let us say that in the schematism, productive imagination “unif[ies] the pure manifold into a representation of one global time” (Buroker, 128). Time, for Kant, is famously “the form of inner sense,” that is to say, the form by which we intuit our own representations. The productive imagination is responsible for the transcendental synthesis of the a priori sensible manifold (ibid). Our awareness of space is a similar construction of Einbildungskraft. Through productive imagination, the mind transforms momentary representations (which is all that Sinnlichkeit provides) into temporally enduring Vorstellungen of objects that are conceived as equally temporally enduring as well as spatially extended.

Thus regularized and rendered lasting, Vorstellungen are ready for the third step, conceptual recognition of the unitary object. As Guyer somewhat contortedly puts it, in this step we “recognize that our several intuitions constitute knowledge of a single object because it follows from some concept of the object that it must have just the sorts of properties that those successive intuitions represent it as having” (83-84). Such recognition constitutes a judgment, produced in the faculty of der Verstand (the understanding, a.k.a. the intellect). Pinkard points out that the Begriffen (concepts) upon which judgments rely are not simply abstractions from intuitions. Rather, a Begriff is “a rule for synthesis in judgments” (32). A Begriff is, Kant says, “a unity of the act of bringing various representations under one common representation” (cited in Pinkard, 32). An association is simply a matter of fact (e.g. thinking of a cat when someone says “sidewalk” because you tripped over a cat on the sidewalk yesterday). Associations are non-normative; they do not depend upon rules for combining Vorstellungen, as do judgments. “To make a judgment is to do something that is subject to standards of correctness” (31); “Having a concept is more like having an ability—an ability to combine representations according to certain norms—than it is like having any kind of internal mental state” (32). The most basic of all concepts are the famous Kantian categories, also known as “pure concepts of the understanding,” which number twelve, three for each of the four headings quality, quantity, relation, and modality. Note that the schemata are linked to the categories: schemata, like the categories, constitute a special kind of Begriffen; each schema corresponds to a category and constitutes the condition of relating that category to spatiotemporal objects. That is to say, the schematism, governed by Einbildungskraft, mediates between Sinnlichkeit and der Verstand (this will become crucial later on).

The judgments of der Verstand are of two sorts. The most common sort of judgment is a determining judgment (a.k.a. “determinative judgment”), in which the Begriff (concept) to be applied precedes the particular Vorstellungen that are subsumed under it. For example, when I see a cat, in order to think that cat as a cat, I must already have the concept of “cat.” What I intuit when I see a cat is a sensible manifold of theoretically infinitely divisible parts, situated within an even larger sensible manifold. Einbildungskraft adds unity of time and space to this Anschauung, along with the capacity for comparison with former Vorstellungen (i.e., memories). In order to recognize this new spatio-temporal Vorstellung of the cat as a cat, I must further perform a determining judgment that matches my pre-existing Begriff of “cat” to the Vorstellung thus created. That is to say, if my Verstand does not already contain a matching concept “cat,” I will apply some other concept instead (perhaps “animal” or even “black shape”). Determining judgments are characteristic of scientific cognition as well as of common sense.

But there is another possibility. Rather than subsuming particular Vorstellungen under pre-existing Begriffen, it may happen that one begins with particulars and then goes in search (mentally) of a Begriff under which to subsume them—a Begriff which did not exist prior to the confrontation with those particulars. Such activity constitutes a reflective judgment, of which there are two kinds. Teleological judgments deal with the purposes an object is judged to serve. Such judgments end up providing an important part of Kantian moral philosophy, but they are not really crucial to the point I need to make about phenomenology, so I’ll set them aside. The crux of the matter is the second kind of reflective judgment: aesthetic judgment.

In aesthetic judgment, one confronts an individual case for which in principle one cannot find a general rule. For Kant, aesthetic judgment rests upon the experience of the beautiful. The beautiful is defined as “that which pleases universally without a concept” (Kant, cited in Guyer, 313). Kant asserts that one cannot possess a conceptual Vorstellung of “the beautiful” under which one may then subsume newly acquired Vorstellungen (as in a determining judgment), because the beautiful by definition resists conceptual determination. Beauty, Kant says, simply cannot be a Begriff. Furthermore, the pleasure we derive from an encounter with a beautiful object derives from the judgment we make about it. That is to say, we don’t judge an object to be beautiful because of some distinctive pleasure we derive from it; rather, the distinctive pleasure that accompanies beauty actually derives from the very act of judging an object to be beautiful. This distinguishes the beautiful from the merely agreeable (or “pleasant”), which may result in a determining judgment but which is essentially private and subjective.

Judgments of the beautiful, by contrast, are in principle objective, public, universally communicable, and even normative. “In making a subjective judgment about the beautiful, one is making a normative statement about how oneself and all others ought to experience something, not an empirical prediction about how others actually will react to the objects in question; [by contrast], in making a subjective judgment about what pleases oneself, one is merely reporting on one’s own private mental states and, on that basis, is entitled to say nothing about what others ought to feel in experiencing the same thing” (Pinkard, 69). In his commentary on Kantian aesthetics, D.N. Rodowick provides a description of Kant’s hierarchy of art: art (Kunst) first is divided between the mechanical arts (what we call science) and the aesthetic arts. The latter further subdivide into the agreeable arts, which end in enjoyment (“an empirical, if incommunicable, sensation”), versus the fine arts (a.k.a. the “beautiful arts”), which have their end in pleasure without enjoyment (118). The pleasure of the beautiful originates from reflective judgment, “rather than sensation proper,” and it is this origin that makes such pleasure objective, normative, and universally communicable. (Rodowick is also more careful about Kant’s distinction between empirical aesthetic judgments, which are determining judgments about the agreeable, and pure aesthetic judgments, which are reflective judgments about the beautiful. The other commentators to whom I refer in this post seem to use “aesthetic judgment” as a shorthand for “pure aesthetic judgment” (Rodowick, 113-114).)

This objective and universally communicable normative quality is essential to what Kant means by beauty. (From our usually relativist viewpoint today, we might say that Kant ought first to demonstrate that our “judgments of beauty” are not simply delusional egocentric projections onto others of our idiosyncratic experience of the agreeable. So far as I know, Kant simply takes his description of judgments of he beautiful as accepted and needing no demonstration; Pinkard writes that Kant considers judgments of the beautiful to be objective “prima facie,” i.e. self-evident and needing no demonstration (Pinkard, 68)). Kant declares that the only way to preserve the objectivity of beauty while respecting its other essential quality, its resistance to conceptual determination, is to consider the beautiful in terms of the “harmonious free play” of both of the mental faculties, Einbildungskraft (imagination) and der Verstand (the understanding, or “intellect”) (remember, Sinnlichkeit is technically a receptivity, not a faculty, although many commentators uncarefully refer to it as a faculty). Rodowick concisely describes the nature of this harmony: “A judgment of beauty becomes possible, then, when the harmony of form in the object is intuited as analogous to a harmony in the subject that the imagination would form with respect to the understanding if, paradoxically, the imagination were left in perfect freedom to conform itself to the lawfulness of understanding” (121).

I cannot restate Kant’s conclusion any more clearly or succinctly than does Terry Pinkard, and so I reproduce his text here:
The experience of the beautiful thus involves the imagination, although in a crucially mediated way. Although the intellect [der Verstand] is governed by the concepts (the rules) necessary for the possibility of experience, the imagination is free to combine the matters of experience according to its own plan. When, however, the imagination constructs a unity of experience that, although not guided by a concept (a rule), is nonetheless in harmony with the kinds of conceptual judgments produced by the intellect (as guided by rules), and this harmony is itself spontaneously produced without any rule to guide it, then one has the possibility of an apprehension of the beautiful. Such harmonious free play, however, is not itself directly experienced (at least not in the same way in which a feeling of agreeableness or [pleasantness] is directly experienced); it is by an act of attending to it, of reflective judgment, that the agent apprehends the harmony.

In that way, aesthetic experience combines elements of both spontaneity and passivity [receptivity]: one must have the unconstrained harmony between intellect and imagination at work, and the harmony must be spontaneously attended to; and one must apprehend something as being beautiful, as being an object of experience exhibiting itself in the same effect in which imagination and intellect would spontaneously result if they were to produce the object. In experiences of the beautiful, we encounter objects that reflective judgment judges as exhibiting the way in which imagination and intellect would have structured them if they had made them in a fully harmonious free play of each other.

Because of this, the pleasure experienced in aesthetic appreciation does not precede the judgment itself [. . .] One is reflectively judging, in effect, that this is the way that one’s experience really ought to be [. . .]

Although fine art is intentionally designed to produce such aesthetic experiences, it must not, Kant stresses, show its design on its face. For us to experience it as beautiful, it must seem to be as free from the constraints of production-according-to-rule as anything in nature that we find beautiful [. . .] The experience of nature or a natural object as beautiful is based on a reflective judgment about the purposiveness of the world around us and how that world harmoniously fits our nature as spontaneous beings. In the case of fine art, we find that purposiveness created for us by our artists, who must not allow any of the material content of purposiveness to be exhibited in the work; in the case of nature, though, we find works that, without any intentional design at all, nonetheless meet the requirements of our own powers of imagination and intellect, as if they had been designed that way [. . .]

Experience of the beautiful is thus, as Kant phrased it, an experience of “purposiveness without purpose,” a sense that things fit together according to a purpose that we cannot state. (70-72)

What does all this have to do with phenomenology? Cutrofello finds the answer in Heidegger’s first major book after the 1927 Sein und Zeit, 1929’s Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. There Heidegger rejects the dominant interpretation (held by the neo-Kantians) of Kant as rejecting ontology in favor of epistemology (or reducing the former to the latter). That neo-Kantian position interprets der Verstand as the primary locus of knowledge, giving der Verstand primacy over Sinnlichkeit in empirical cognition. By contrast, Heidegger points out that in his description of the schematism Kant subordinates der Verstand to Sinnlichkeit: “‘It is only insofar as the pure understanding as understanding is the servant of pure intuition that it can remain the master of empirical intuiton’ (Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik, 80). In other words, the fact that truth can pertain to determining judgments presupposes a prior schematization by which the categories are first ‘sensibilized’” (Cutrofello, 21). This means, Heidegger argues, that the receptive dimension of human cognition (intuition) is privileged over the spontaneous dimension (judgment). Referring to Kant’s first account of the threefold synthesis (the so-called “A Deduction,” which Kant eliminated from the second edition of the First Critique, replacing it with the “B Deduction”), Heidegger further claims that Einbildungskraft is in fact the originary cognitive faculty, the “common root” from which Sinnlichkeit and der Verstand derive.** Thus both cognition’s “spontaneous receptivity” (pure sensibility) and “receptive spontaneity” (pure understanding) are manifestations of Einbildungskraft, rather than wholly distinct faculties (note that in each of these two-term phrases coined by Heidegger, the noun takes precedence over the adjective). Given this, Cutrofello writes, Heidegger interprets the schematism’s subordination of der Verstand to Sinnlichkeit to mean that Einbildungskraft “is first and foremost a kind of spontaneous receptivity, and only secondarily—and on this basis, a kind of receptive spontaneity” (21).

With reference to Nietzsche, Heidegger interprets Kant’s rewriting of the A Deduction as a “shrinking back” from the truth that Kant had uncovered. The B Deduction, which rejects the A Deduction’s implicitly privileged alliance between Einbildungskraft and Sinnlichkeit in favor of an explicitly privileged alliance between Einbildungskraft and der Verstand, represents a transition “from a fundamentally ‘aesthetic’ orientation toward the world to the advent of an epistemic subject for whom knowledge is a matter of passing judgment on appearances” (Cutrofello 22). Though Cutrofello does not make explicit this final step in the argument, it seems clear to me that the aesthetic orientation Heidegger is describing here is incommensurable with pure aesthetic judgments as Kant describes them in the Third Critique. Only an epistemic subject may make pure aesthetic judgments (or empirical aesthetic judgments, for that matter). By the time such a judgment can produce its knowledge, the aesthetic subject for whom truth is givenness has been eliminated—or at least set aside. Phenomenology mistrusts this setting-aside. Analyticism considers it necessary, as the fundamental step in a project of distinguishing logically demonstrable truth from unfounded idiosyncracy.

*I am fairly certain that “Erscheinung”/“appearance” and “phenomenon” are interchangeable, though there may be some subtle distinction of which I am unaware, perhaps similar to the controversy regarding the relationship of the “noumenon” to the “ding-an-sich.” Terry Pinkard and Paul Guyer hold that “noumena” are most properly understood as “representations of certain ‘wholes’ or supersensible objects that traditional metaphysics thought could be grasped by reason alone” (Pinkard, 41), or more simply put “[positive] object[s] supposedly known by pure reason alone” (Guyer, 376), the possibility of which Kant rejects, or accepts only as “limiting concepts[,] reminders and cautions about the impossibility of extending rational accounts of the world in ways that contradict the conditions under which those accounts can be given”; whereas a “ding-an-sich” is the necessarily posited yet absolutely epistemologically unavailable (also therefore extra-spatial and extra-temporal) source of a given phenomenon. In other words, a noumenon is simply a ding-an-sich considered as knowable, which, Kant claims, is always a mistake; to treat a ding-an-sich (negative) as a noumenon (positive), as Kant claims traditional metaphysics does, is to attempt to create a positivity from a negativity by force of will. It should perhaps be further noted that this distinction between noumenon and ding-an-sich is apparently irrelevant to the “two-aspect view” of transcendental idealism influentially proposed by Henry Allison (though not yet widely accepted). Like Guyer, I adopt the more traditional “two-object view” (a.k.a. the “two-worlds view”) in which “there is a straightforward ontological distinction between two classes of entity: knowable and mind-dependent appearances [i.e., phenomena] and unknowable and mind-independent things in themselves [i.e., dingen-an-sich, or noumena in a negative sense]” (Allison, cited in Kain, 34); whereas Allison’s “two-aspect view” somewhat bafflingly holds that “Kant’s transcendental distinction is between the ways in which things (empirical objects) can be ‘considered’ at the metalevel of philosophical reflection rather than between the kinds of things that are considered in such reflection” (ibid). In any case, most commentators use “noumena” and “dingen-an-sich” interchangeably, using both terms to refer to the wholly negative sources of phenomena.

** Cutrofello notes that Kant himself “explicitly rejects the ‘common root’ hypothesis” (29). But the passage from Kant’s Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View that Cutrofello cites to demonstrate this explicit rejection takes highly tentative tone, thus merely begging the question that Heidegger claims to resolve: “Understanding and sensibility . . . join together spontaneously . . . as intimately as if one had its source in the other, or both originated from a common root. But this cannot be—at least we cannot conceive how heterogeneous things could sprout from one and the same root” (cited in ibid).

Note on sources: In every post in my present project, I rely principally upon Andrew Cutrofello’s Continental Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction. For many posts I also consult relevant sections of The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought and Simon Critchley’s Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. For the present post on Kant and Heidegger, I’ve referred to the following secondary texts:
Jae Emerling, Theory for Art History
Terry Pinkard, German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism
Paul Guyer, Kant
Jill Vance Buroker, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
Philip J. Kain, Hegel and the Other
D.N. Rodowick, Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy After the New Media

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