Maimon Reading Group: Digression on Kant’s Transcendental Deduction


Although most of those who will be reading Maimon’s Essay here over the next several weeks will be familiar with the intricacies of Kant’s philosophy, I think it would be appropriate to quickly mention Maimon’s main target in the Critique of Pure Reason – Kant’s complex and controversial Transcendental Deduction (TD). This is just a quick outline of Kant’s presentation of the subject matter, I hope that those interested will read the TD again to get the sense of Maimon’s critique. There have been many excellent interpretations of TD and I will not even attempt to present a summary.

Kant rewrote the section on TD in the second edition of the first Critique, so it is customary to speak of A Deduction (A95-130) and B Deduction (B129-168). For the sake of clarity, I think it would be easier to attempt to understand the main points of TD as a whole, but due to some philosophical differences between versions A and B, it’s worth mentioning, at the very least (it’s quite obvious in the text as well).

§§13 and 14 are the same for both editions, and state the main problem:

“Thus a difficult is revealed here that we did not encounter in the field of sensibility, namely how subjective conditions of thinking should have objective validity, i.e., yield conditions of the possibility of all cognition of objects; for appearances can certainly be given in intuition without functions of the understanding…  For that objects of sensible intuition must accord with the formal conditions of sensibility that lie in the mind a priori is clear from the fact that otherwise they would not be objects for us; but that they must also accord with the conditions that the understanding requires for the synthetic unity of thinking is a conclusion that is not so easily seen.” [A90/B123]

Kant illustrates the problem by giving the example of causality – nothing in the appearances (as objects of empirical intuition) allows for a judgment that one appearance must necessarily follow another appearance.  This is, of course, the substance of Hume’s argument – constant conjunction of something A with something B does not give us the necessity required of the concept of causality.  “The strict universality of the rule is therefore not any property of empirical rules, which cannot acquire anything more through induction than comparative universality, i.e., widespread usefulness.  But now the use of the pure concepts of the understanding would be entirely altered if one were to treat them only as empirical products.” [A92/B124]

So we need a transcendental deduction to demonstrate the objective validity of the categories: “the objective validity of the categories, as a priori concepts, rests on the fact that through them alone is experience possible (as far as the form of thinking is concerned).” [A93/B126]

TD, as Maimon will point out, attempts to provide us with an argument against Humean skepticism (among other things) and begins with the premise that we have experience (something Maimon will ultimately doubt) – this experience can be shown to be the experience of an objective world. It is, in a sense, intended to vindicate objectivity, to show what objectivity must be so that we can have objective experience of objects: “[Categories] are concepts of an object in general, by means of which its intuition is regarded as determined with regard to one of the logical functions of judgments.” [A95/B128] To put it shortly, TD is supposed to show that a priori concepts fit the objects given to us in intuition (objects of experience) because they make experience possible (are transcendental) – both A and B Deductions then will attempt to analyze this a priori foundation of the possibility of experience.

A Deduction proceeds in first giving its arguments “separately and individually” (doing a kind of presentation of subsequent layers of synthetic operations of various cognitive powers) – synthesis of apprehension in intuition, synthesis of reproduction in imagination, and synthesis of recognition in the concept – and then as “unified and in connection” [A115].  In the first run of the arguments, we get important ideas like “the transcendental object” and “the transcendental unity of apperception”. The second take proceeds in a more systematic fashion: the synthetic unity of apperception provides us with “inner ground” that connects all representations in a series of various synthetic operations that this unity presupposes.

The conclusion is in support of Kant’s transcendental idealism:

“If the objects with which our cognition has to do were things in themselves, then we would not be able to have any a priori concepts of them at all.  For whence should we obtain them? If we take them from the object (without even investigating here how the latter could become known to us), then our concepts would be merely empirical and not a priori concepts.  If we take them from ourselves, then that which is merely in us cannot determine the constitution of an object distinct from our representations, i.e., be a ground why there should be a thing that corresponds to something we have in our thoughts, and why all this representation should not instead by empty.  But if, on the contrary, we have to do everywhere only with appearances, then it is not only possible but also necessary that certain a priori concepts precede the empirical cognition of objects.  For as appearances they constitute an object that is merely in us, since a mere modification of our sensibility is not to be encountered outside us at all.” [A128-9]

B Deduction does not dedicate as much time to the various synthetic operations, but spells out the transcendental conditions of experience without reference to the subject’s cognitive powers. Kant begins with the need for synthetic unity (§15), argues for the need for transcendental unity of apperception (§16), states that this synthetic requirement is the condition for any object to be thought (§17), introduces the idea of objective and necessary unity of self-consciousness (§18) and connects it to the objectively valid judgment (§19), and concludes (§20) that what is subject to the categories is not the things in themselves (of course) but the manifold given in a single empirical intuition.

The second part of B Deduction (§§21-26) deals with the problem of assuming that the intuitions to which the categories apply are already conceived as possessing unity – Kant must show that categories have objective validity, that is, that they are required for there to be objects of intuition in the first place, not just for those objects to represented (subjective condition of cognition).  The conclusion here is similar to the conclusion of A Deduction:

“We cannot think any object expect through categories; we cannot cognize any object that is thought except through intuitions that correspond to those concepts.  Now all our intuitions are sensible, and this cognition, so far as its object is given, is empirical.  Empirical cognition, however, is experience.  Consequently no a priori cognition is possible for us except solely of objects of possible experience.

But this cognition, which is limited merely to objects of experience, is not on that account all borrowed from experience; rather, with regard to the pure intuitions as well as the pure concepts of understanding, there are elements of cognition that are to be encountered in us a priori. Now there are only two ways in which a necessary agreement of experience with the concepts of its objects can be thought: either the experience makes these concepts possible or these concepts make the experience possible.” [B166-67]

Kant, of course, argues for the second option: categories contain the grounds of possibility of all experience in general.

Hope this helps situate Maimon’s critique.

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6 thoughts on “Maimon Reading Group: Digression on Kant’s Transcendental Deduction

  1. Pingback: Maimon Reading Group (Summer 2010) « Perverse Egalitarianism

  2. Mikhail,

    Anyone who studies Kant gets used to seeing “A” and “B” in parentheses after citations. But is there a consensus in the scholarship about what motivated the revision in this case? Is he responding to a criticism? Trying to head off a possible misunderstanding?

  3. Yes, he was (responding to criticism). This is a large question, because there are several issues that are quite interesting: 1) we tend not to think about it today, but the second edition was supposed to be the definitive edition, i.e. Kant didn’t think that we’ll be reading a combined version with A and B (at least I’ve never seen anything suggesting he would actually be fine with it). If you get some old versions of the first Critique, you can still either the first edition in full or the second, not the usual business of A/B; 2) with the amount of evidence available (letters, notes, drafts etc etc and reviews, reactions), we tend to read the first Critique as a kind of work-in-progress since it not only had to be completely rewritten (some sections, like TD, so thoroughly that we get A Deduction published separately from B Deduction), but one might argue it also produced the second and the third Critiques as, again, attempts to answer questions and plug in some obvious gaps.

    So to answer your question directly, qualifying that this is as much as I know, Kant rewrote the first Critique in response to some criticisms that he felt were completely missing the point (say, identifying him as a sort of Berkeley follower), but also because he was still working some of the aspects out.

    As a parenthetical remark I’d like to add that rereading Kant is such a pleasure after all of my recent attempts to penetrate some recent forms of metaphysics – not only is he pretty accessible, but there are sections that address the resurgent interest in metaphysics better than anything I’ve read. I think once we get into Maimon, it would be fruitful to attempt a kind of “What would Kant respond to this?” perspective, because as interesting as Maimon’s criticisms are, it seems that Kant spent quite a lot of time thinking about all sorts of possible ways and likely had a response ready.

    P.S. I can dig up more stuff regarding which critique he was addressing where – there is a number of studies comparing the two editions precisely from this angle – but I’m a bit preoccupied with things at the moment.

    • In his Schopenhauer book, Safranski claims that the A edition was out of print in the 1900s and was only brought back into print because of a concerted effort by Schopenhauer.

      In any case, please do more posts like this as we go along Mikhail. That was really helpful for me.

      • Thanks, Jon. I’m still very much confused about this subject matter, but as far as I can tell, for example, German edition of Kant’s work publishes first and second editions as separate volumes (III is second, IV is first). I think it is important (the first edition that is) as a historical document the way we read Kant’s notes and letters, but the second edition should take precedence in terms of Kant’s own intention. But then again, we might think that he did something better the first time around and disagree with his editorial decisions. In the case of the deduction, being the essential part of the argument, it’s an issues we can’t overlook.

  4. I think once we get into Maimon, it would be fruitful to attempt a kind of “What would Kant respond to this?” perspective
    ————————————-
    Just to say I totally support this idea. It would be very interesting. Maybe we could also (without falling into a teleological reading) wind-forward to think about how subsequent writers, Hegel for instance, might have explicitly or implicitly responded to Maimon. I don’t think we lessen Maimon’s import if we do this as a sort of parenthesis as we go along.

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