On Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’: Making Honours of Men’s Impossibilities — Part Three
by John Clare (1793–1864)
I am — yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes -
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live — like vapours tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange — nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below — above the vaulted sky.
Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804), in the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, deduces twelve pure concepts of the understanding, which he designates categories, from the logical form of judgements. This is the metaphysical deduction that I discuss in my article The Seventh Degree of Wisdom — part four and is followed by a transcendental deduction wherein he will go on to argue that these categories are conditions of all thought in general. Indeed, they are conditions of all possible experience, for all representations have to have some common ground if they are to be the source of possible knowledge, because extracting knowledge from experience requires the ability to compare and contrast representations that may occur at different times or in different places. This ground of all experience is the self-consciousness of the experiencing subject and the constitution of the subject is such that all thought is rule-governed in accordance with the categories, ergo, the categories feature as necessary components in any possible experience.
And what are we to make of that? Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), was attune to the significance for the transcendental deduction of Kant’s distinction between the faculty of original or transcendental apperception and the ‘I’ that, as he says, ‘accompanies all representations’. (Transcendental unity of apperception: the ability to tie all appearances together into one experience, it forms out of all possible appearances, which can stand alongside one another in one experience, a connection of all these representations according to laws). And he was attune to the fact that it is the original synthetic unity of apperception, on Kant’s account, that performs the function of connecting the manifold and the ‘I think’. (The manifold: the unorganized flux presented to the senses but not experienced since experience results from the mind structuring the manifold by means of concepts. The nature of the unstructured manifold is unknowable (transcendental) … so how do we know about it then?). In connecting the manifold and the ‘I think’ the original synthetic unity of apperception makes possible our apprehension of the manifold as a unity, it is that which allows me to ‘find myself ‘ as an identical self-consciousness in ‘all my representations’.
Without synthetic unity of apperception, according to Kant: ‘the manifold would not be unified in one consciousness’, or as Hegel characterised it what Kant calls ‘pure apperception’ is to be considered the ‘activity of making [the object] mine’ (as he says in the ‘Lesser Logic’). And further, of the two forms of self-consciousness Hegel singles out the faculty of original apperception as the ‘absolute identity’ which may suggest to you that Hegel’s conception of transcendental apperception departs significantly from Kant’s, and you’d be correct. Hegel apparently sought to make something out of the idea that transcendental apperception is, as Kant himself characterizes it, an originally synthetic unity, and as such, as Hegel views it, it is neither a faculty of spontaneity nor of receptivity, and therefore productive neither merely of concepts nor merely of intuitions, and somehow transcendental apperception is a faculty upon which both concepts and intuitions depend and out of which they first emerge.
Hegel compares Kant with John Locke, (1632–1704), believing their programs shared in common the ‘consideration of the finite intellect’, but Kant’s results are ‘entirely different’, (this is from Hegel’s ‘Faith and Knowledge’. Interesting connection, Lockean empiricism and Kantian transcendental idealism. For the Lockean empiricist colours, tastes, and smells depend for their existence upon (among other things) the particular constitution of the sense organs of the perceiver. For Kant there is a sense in which what is perceiver dependent are not just these sensible properties, but also the objects themselves, there are subjective conditions that determine the form of anything that can be given to us as an object of perception at all, this subjective form being the a priori forms of intuition, space and time). For a feature unique to Kant’s transcendental philosophy is its preoccupation with the question: how are synthetic judgments a priori possible? (Judgments known to be true on a priori grounds, they are factual but universally and necessarily true. Kant conceived of the basic propositions of geometry as synthetic a priori, though Gottlob Frege, (1848–1925), was to demonstrate many years later that they are analytic). He goes on to review in considerable detail Kant’s account of the role of the original synthetic unity of apperception, and of the faculty of productive imagination in applying the categories to the manifold given in space and time. There is no evidence in these remarks that Hegel fails to acknowledge the difference between Kant’s transcendental deduction of the categories and an empiricist account of the origin of our concepts.
The subject of the imagination is a complex and somewhat tortuous one, I once attended an entire module at university devoted to that one topic. ‘Imagination’, said Kant, ‘is […] a faculty which determines the sensibility a priori; and its synthesis of intuitions, conforming as it does to the categories must be the transcendental synthesis of imagination’. Hegel identified Kant’s account of productive imagination as ‘a truly speculative idea’. What does that mean? Well we need to understand the special usage Hegel gives to ‘speculative’, it has nothing to do with its etymological roots, (Latin, speculum, a mirror. ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’. 1 ‘Corinthians’ 13:12). Nor is it to do with resorting to conjectures without any firm evidence. For Kant theoretical cognition is speculative if it aims at an object or at concepts of an object to which one cannot attain in any experience, in contrasts with natural, that is, primarily causal cognition, which aims only at objects, or predicates of them, that can be given in a possible experience. He associates it with speculative reason, which is responsible,for instance, for the proofs of God’s existence. But for Hegel speculation is a conceptual process, he is averse to the idea that God or anything else is inaccessible to direct cognition and can be discerned only in an image, hence he does not associate speculation with a mirror, rather he contrasts speculative philosophy with the philosophy of reflection, albeit the reflection of opposites and of other determinations of reflection into each other is involved in speculation such reflection is only one phase of speculative logic such speculation going beyond what is immediately present and making objective what is initially subjective with no implication of risk or uncertainty, for a central feature of Hegelian speculation is that it unifies opposed and apparently distinct thoughts and things.
Thus in contrast to the analytical understanding it is akin to the poetic imagination and to mysticism but it differs from them in that it is conceptual and presupposes the work of the understanding. It is at odds with the dogmatism of pre-Kantian metaphysics which insists upon applying only one of a pair of contrasting predicates to objects, insisting, for instance, that the world is either finite or infinite and cannot be both. Speculative thought, by contrast, unifies the two concepts and thus regards the world as both finite and infinite. The speculative or the positively rational is only the third phase of Hegel’s thought, contrasting with the understanding, which sets up sharp distinctions, and the negatively rational or dialectic, which breaks them down again. But since it is the final and most distinctive phase of his thought and since speculation also has a wider sense he often refers to his philosophy and logic and soon as speculative. Speculation is not merely subjective, it sublates the opposition between subjectivity and objectivity, along with other oppositions, and it is thus intimately associated with philosophical idealism. (Sublation: a concept is both preserved and changed through its dialectical interplay with another concept).
Apparently Hegel thought that Kant came very close to articulating productive imagination as a speculative idea in the ‘Transcendental Deduction’. According to Hegel transcendental apperception is an ‘absolute identity’ productive imagination can be characterised in the same way for we can unearth speculative elements in a number of doctrines of the Critical philosophy. Kant came close to recognizing and perhaps even endorsing the speculative implications of his own system, this happens in the ‘Transcendental Deduction’ but in Kant’s treatment of the ideas of the intuitive intellect and of nature as an organism as well. One may wonder why Kant introduces the faculty of productive or transcendental imagination into the argument of the ‘Transcendental Deduction’ for his objective is to demonstrate that without the original acts of unity or synthesis performed by the faculty of transcendental apperception there could be no apprehension or empirical consciousness of a given manifold. A manifold can be perceived or apprehended in Kant’s view only if it is given as a unity and Kant holds that the representation of a manifold as a unity requires an original act of synthesis. So original synthetic unity of apperception is necessary for the apprehension of any given manifold, whether the manifold is given via our forms of sensible intuition or any other. Kant believed that he had demonstrated that this prior synthesis is governed by a priori rules or categories and that the categories are therefore necessary for the apprehension of objects of sensible intuition in general. And he refers to the synthesis they perform as intellectual (synthesis intellectualis) in order to indicate that it is a synthesis requiring the operation of the faculty of understanding alone.
And yet Kant also argued that unless the categories are applied to the manifold given via our forms of sensible intuition in particular, they remain for our form of understanding ‘empty’, the categories remain, then, ‘mere forms of thought without objective reality’. That is to say the categories can only serve for our form of understanding as necessary conditions of knowledge if they are applied to the manifold as it must appear to us through our forms of sensible intuition (space and time) and he subsequently narrow his focus in the deduction to consider the application of transcendental apperception and its rules to objects given via our forms of intuition, namely, to appearances. Although the categories are functions of the understanding, and although their synthesis, considered in this light, is ‘intellectual’, they require in their application to appearances another faculty, a faculty Kant identifies as that of productive or transcendental imagination.
Productive or transcendental imagination applies the categories to objects given via our particular forms of sensible intuition (to appearances), it does so by means of a special act of figurative synthesis. Kant contends that it is ‘only by means of the imagination’ that concepts can be ‘brought into relation to sensible intuition’. He characterizes figurative synthesis as the ‘transcendental synthesis of the imagination’. Hegel’s praise for the speculative insight of Kant’s idea of productive imagination seems simply to replay his treatment of the speculative implications of the faculty of transcendental apperception. Hegel describes transcendental apperception as that original unity out of which the distinction between the ‘I think’ and the manifold first comes to be and he characterizes productive imagination in much the same way. Productive imagination, Hegel writes, is ‘that out of which subjective I and objective world first sunder themselves’. Its synthesis is ‘absolute’ because ‘it is not an aggregate of manifolds which are first picked up’ and only afterwards combined together or synthesized. Productive imagination achieves the status of absolute identity because like transcendental apperception it is an original identity of opposites. Kant’s account of productive imagination and its figurative synthesis carries with it speculative implications.
What does Hegel mean by original identity? What does he intend by the absolute or original identity of productive imagination? Is productive imagination an original identity because it demonstrates in its synthesis of the sensible manifold that given intuitions are in fact merely products of and in this sense identical to concepts and that receptivity is simply a species or mode of the faculty of spontaneity? Hardly. The original identity Hegel unearths in Kant’s discussions of productive imagination is not equivalent to the thesis that intuitions reduce to or are mere species of concepts, Hegel by no means wishes to defend any such reduction. Au contraire, he appreciates Kant’s insistence upon the necessary role of both intuitions and concepts (of both receptivity and spontaneity) as conditions of human experience, and appears convinced that if we have properly grasped this fact about the respective contributions of the two faculties, in particular, about their interdependence as conditions of knowledge, we will be led to dispense with the Kantian thesis of their original heterogeneity and will come to appreciate that in abstraction from each other concepts and intuitions, spontaneity and receptivity, are quite nothing at all.
‘The Kantian philosophy’, said Hegel, ‘has the merit of being idealism insofar as it demonstrates that neither the concept alone nor intuition alone is anything at all; the intuition by itself is blind and the concept by itself is empty’.
On the issue of productive imagination and figurative synthesis in the deduction it is not Hegel’s objective to demonstrate that Kant either attempted or should have attempted to reduce intuitions to concepts and the speculative lesson of the deduction draws inspiration from Kant’s insistence upon the cooperating roles of the two faculties in making experience possible. Hegel said of the deduction that in it ‘the original synthetic unity of apperception is recognized … as the principle of the figurative synthesis or of the forms of intuition; space and time themselves are understood as synthetic unities; and productive imagination, spontaneity and absolute synthetic activity, is conceived as the principle of sensibility that previously was only characterized as receptivity’. To argue thus Hegel begins by informing us that ‘the original synthetic unity is recognized [in the ‘Transcendental Deduction’] … as the principle of the figurative synthesis or of the forms of intuition’. Thereby figurative synthesis and forms of intuition are connected by Hegel, for it is in the deduction that Kant introduces the idea of figurative synthesis (synthesis speciosa) and distinguishes it from intellectual synthesis (synthesis intellectualis).
Prior to this section of the deduction Kant had argued that the categories synthesize or combine the manifold of objects of sensible intuition in general whether that sensible intuition be ours or any other, and this synthesis performed by the categories is so far ‘intellectual’ and the categories mere ‘forms of thought’ without ‘objective reality’ or ‘sense and meaning’. The categories obtain objective reality only when the manifold they synthesize or unify is given through our forms of intuition, only, that is, when they serve for us as conditions of objects of our form of experience. When they serve to synthesize this manifold, namely, the manifold of ‘appearances’ or of objects given in space and time, their synthesis is ‘figurative’. And this is why Hegel associates figurative synthesis and forms of intuition albeit his reference is to ‘forms of intuition’, that is, in general, and his subsequent reference to space and time suggests that he is aware that for Kant figurative synthesis refers to the synthesis of the manifold given via our particular forms of sensible intuition, space and time.
Why does Hegel go on to contend that according to the argument of the ‘Transcendental Deduction’ the ‘original synthesis of apperception’ is ‘the principle of the figurative synthesis, or of the forms of intuition’? What is the role that he attributes to the original synthesis of apperception in relation to ‘figurative synthesis, or . . . the forms of intuition’? Kant holds that in figurative synthesis the categories are applied to objects given via our forms of sensible intuition, applied, that is, to appearances. Although applied to appearances in figurative synthesis by the faculty of productive imagination the categories are a priori rules of the transcendental unity of apperception, and so when Hegel states that the ‘original synthetic unity of apperception’ is the ‘principle of the figurative synthesis’ he means to suggest that for Kant figurative synthesis is a synthesis of appearances determined by the rules or categories of the faculty of transcendental apperception.
So let us grant that such an interpretation is true to Kant’s intentions in the deduction, how are we from this to understand Hegel’s claim to have unearthed there traces of ‘speculative’ philosophy? Where is there any ‘original identity of opposites’? What is there to suggest that the faculty of productive or transcendental imagination achieves a synthesis that is prior to Kant’s distinction between the categories and forms of intuition, or between the faculties of spontaneity and receptivity? As it happens Hegel identifies figurative synthesis both as Kantian and as unspeculative and far from an ‘original identity of opposites’, imagination is for Kant merely the faculty that in figurative synthesis makes contact between ‘opposites’. As Hegel puts it, productive imagination on Kant’s account, is the ‘middle term that gets inserted between an absolute existing subject and an absolute existing world’.
And yet Hegel does claim to have unearthed something ‘speculative’ in them. What? Well, he writes of the ‘Transcendental Deduction’ that ‘space and time themselves are understood as synthetic unities; and productive imagination, spontaneity and absolute synthetic activity, is conceived as the principle of sensibility that previously was only characterized as receptivity’. What does Hegel mean by referring to space and time as ‘synthetic unities’? The reference is Kant’s informing us that space and time are ‘first given as intuitions … by means of’ synthetic unity. For Kant the function of unity or combination ‘has its seat in the understanding’ (and is governed by the categories) and so in declaring that space and time are ‘first given as intuitions … ‘by means of’ synthetic unity, Kant is perhaps suggesting that our forms of sensible intuition (of receptivity) themselves have their seat in (and so are derived from) the faculty of understanding or spontaneity. That is to say he is relinquishing a former commitment to the central thesis of the ‘Introduction’ to his ‘Transcendental Logic’, that our knowledge springs from ‘two fundamental sources’, receptivity and spontaneity, neither of which can perform the function of the other or bring the other into being.
Kant may well not be suggesting that our forms of receptivity are themselves given by means of or produced out of spontaneity, for he stresses enough that he is concerned to explain the relation, not of space and time as forms of intuition to synthetic unity, but of space and time as ‘themselves intuitions’ to synthetic unity. (Perhaps space and time are products of figurative synthesis both as formal intuitions and as forms of intuition). Kant stresses that is that his concern is to draw attention to the role of synthesis or combination in making possible, not the forms of intuition themselves, but our objective representation of space and time, which is to say, he wants to draw attention to the way in which we represent spatial and temporal relations in our perception of appearances. For Kant perception requires more than that a manifold be given to us through our a priori forms of intuition, we perceive or apprehend the sensible manifold in space and time, but perception or apprehension requires in addition acts of combination and these acts of combination provide the synthetic unity by means of which space and time are ‘first given’ not as forms of intuition but as ‘themselves intuitions’, that is to say, as themselves objects either of empirical or pure intuition).
Kant is concerned with conditions of the possibility of our representation of appearances and hence with space and time as ‘themselves intuitions’ understood as themselves intuitions as objectively represented in perception. Appearances are objective representations of space and time and as objects of empirical intuition appearances are perceived by us as having spatial and temporal magnitude albeit inner experiences have only the latter. But although Kant focusses upon the way in which space and time are ‘themselves intuitions’ as objectively represented in perception, space and time are ‘themselves intuitions’ in another sense in that they may also be objectively represented in non-empirical or ‘pure’ intuition. For instance, the geometer’s triangle (which borrows nothing from sensation) is a representation of space in pure intuition, the triangle is ‘itself an intuition’, that is to say, itself a representation of space in the form of a non-empirical or formal intuition.
Kant illustrates the role of unity in making possible our perception of space and time as ‘themselves intuitions’ by observing that perception or empirical consciousness requires more than a manifold given in space and time, in addition it requires in addition that the empirical manifold (the so far undetermined, (not yet subject to categorial synthesis) appearances) be determined or synthesized. We perceive a house not merely in space and time but under further conditions of apprehension, and in apprehending the sensible manifold, we associate various impressions (of, say, the parts of the house). Because this act of association takes place in time, it requires memory or ‘reproductive imagination’, the faculty that retains for consciousness impressions that are no longer present. Retention, in turn, is rule-governed, its very possibility depends, according to Kant, upon the condition that ‘what we think [now] is the same as what we thought a moment before’.Retention in other words requires that even though our apprehension of impressions is necessarily successive, the objects of our apprehension abide through time. Our apprehension of the house is governed by the condition that our impressions of its various parts are reproducible, and reproducibility is possible only if we presuppose that the appearance conforms to the rule of permanence through time. Kant identifies this rule as the category of substance applied to appearances and like all categories substance is an a priori concept of the understanding. It is applied to appearances (in the act of figurative synthesis) by the faculty of productive imagination.
It is ‘only by means of the imagination’, Kant says, that concepts can be ‘brought into relation to sensible intuition’. May we conclude that when Kant writes that space and time are ‘given as intuitions … by means of’ synthetic unity he is relinquishing or contradicting his commitment to the thesis that our knowledge of appearances requires the co-operation of two independent faculties. Hardly. He does not appear to be claiming that space and time as forms of intuition themselves derive from or are given by the faculty of understanding or spontaneity. Au contraire, he means to draw attention to the fact that perception is for us more than a matter of mere receptivity to the matter of sensation given in space and time. Perception requires, in addition, the unifying or synthesizing activity of spontaneity. The pure forms of space and time are a priori conditions of the possibility of empirical intuition, but empirical intuition only becomes determinate (and so, a possible object of perception or empirical consciousness) when unified by the categories.
Hence Kant describes space and time as ‘given .. by means of” unity. So what does Hegel mean when he says that in the ‘Transcendental Deduction’ ‘space and time themselves are understood as synthetic unities’? Is it an endorsement of a view that Kant does not hold, that the forms of receptivity are themselves given or produced by spontaneity, a view that conflicts with Kant’s adherence to the strict irreducibility of the two faculties? Shall we suppose that the ‘rational’ or ‘original’ identity of receptivity and spontaneity Hegel claims to unearth here in the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ is achieved by means of a reduction of one faculty to the other? But Hegel does not identify as the speculative lesson of the deduction the point that space and time themselves ultimately derive from or are given by (and so are in that sense identical to) spontaneity. Rather the lesson to take from it is attune to Kant’s understanding of the matter, that from the standpoint of empirical consciousness (the standpoint of our perception or experience of appearances), what appears to us in space and time is already unified by acts of spontaneity.
Hegel’s understanding of space and time as ‘synthetic unities’ is in keeping with Kant’s intentions as is evident from a passage in ‘Faith and Knowledge’ where he is criticising Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, (1743–1819). With explicit reference to the deduction Hegel draws attention to a distinction in Kant that he believes Jacobi wrongly takes to imply a contradiction. The distinction in question is between the ‘form of intuition, as a purely abstract form opposed to the concept of the understanding, [that] is not an object’, and the form of intuition that ‘can be made into an object (as in geometry) on account of its inner a priori unity’. Hegel contends that when space is treated as an object (as, in his words, a ‘formal intuition’), its ‘unity’ is first made possible by the ‘understanding as transcendental synthesis of imagination’. The unity of the formal intuition of space thereby derives from the understanding and is given by means of the (figurative) synthesis performed by the imagination. Upon the heels of this remark about the unity of the formal intuition of space (‘as in geometry’) Hegel then writes that what Kant says about ‘sensibility and a priority’ is one of his ‘most important points’, the important point, that is to say, being about space as a formal intuition, not about space as a form of intuition.
Space as well as time can be objectively represented either as an object of pure intuition (‘as in geometry’) or as an object of empirical intuition (as an appearance), according to Kant. Hegel contrasts space as a ‘form of intuition’ with space as a ‘formal intuition’ in virtue of the fact that he has objects of geometry in mind as examples of the objective representation of space. And so, we may safely assume that what Hegel finds of interest in the ‘Transcendental Deduction’ are Kant’s conclusions, not about the nature of space and time as forms of intuition, but about the nature of our objective representations of space and time. According to Kant if the manifold appearing to us in space and time is an object of empirical consciousness or apprehension, it is already subject to the unifying work of spontaneity, that is to say, it is already subject to the work of transcendental or productive imagination applied to appearances, the work of figurative synthesis. And so it is the point that we perceive or apprehend the manifold only as already synthesized that Hegel wants to stress e when he writes that in the Transcendental Deduction, ‘productive imagination, spontaneity and absolute synthetic activity, is conceived [in the ‘Transcendental Deduction’] as the principle of sensibility’.
Hegel appreciates the fact that Kant treats space and time in in the deduction as ‘themselves intuitions’ and not as forms of intuition in his claim that ‘productive imagination is conceived [in the ‘Transcendental Deduction’] as the principle of sensibility that previously was only characterized as receptivity’, the reference being to Kant’s own comparison of his treatments of space and time in the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’, (where argues that space and time are pure forms of intuition inherent in our faculty of sense), and in the ‘Transcendental Analytic’, (the ‘logic of truth’ the aim of which is to discover the pure concepts which are the conditions of all thought, and are thus what makes knowledge possible). In the ‘Aesthetic’ Kant defines sensibility as ‘the capacity (receptivity) for receiving representations through the mode in which we are affected by objects …. Objects are given to us by means of sensibility, and it alone yields us intuitions; they are thought through the understanding, and from the understanding arise concepts’. That is, in the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’ Kant is concerned to argue for the role of space and time as the a priori forms of intuition through which the manifold of inner and outer sense must be given to us. Although the aim of the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’ is to argue for the role of space and time as forms of intuition Kant’s metaphysical expositions there treat space and time as objective representations, Kant is arguing from a thesis about space and time as objective representations (as ‘themselves intuitions’) to the conclusion that space and time are our pure forms of sensible intuition.
In the ‘Transcendental Analytic’ on the other hand Kant’s task becomes that of establishing the a priori conditions, not of mere receptivity, but of our perception or experience of objects. The role of the deduction is to argue for the role of the categories in our apprehension of what is given to us in space and time, that is, of their role in figurative synthesis, to specify the a priori conditions, contributed by spontaneity or the faculty of understanding, of the spatial and temporal representation of appearances (of the representation of space and time as ‘themselves intuitions’). Kant argues that the objective representation of space and time requires as a condition of its possibility the synthetic activity of spontaneity. Space and time are thus ‘first given as intuitions’ (that is, as objective representations) ‘by means of ‘ synthetic unity (whereby the ‘understanding determines sensibility’).
Kant can thus conclude that the unity of our intuition of space and time ‘belongs to space and time, and not to the concept of the understanding’ without thereby contradicting his claim that the unity of the intuitions or objective representations of space and time derives from the ‘understanding’ which determines ‘sensibility’. He is not relinquishing his point that the unity of space and time as ‘themselves intuitions’ derives from the faculty of the understanding. The unity of our intuitions of space and time ‘belongs to space and time’ from which he can argue in the deduction that space and time, considered as ‘themselves intuitions’, contain unity. The emphasis is on the point that, in contrast to the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’, he is here treating space and time as ‘themselves intuitions’ rather than as a priori forms of intuition. The unity of our intuition of space and time does not belong ‘to the concept of the understanding, and what Kant is about is to establish the role of figurative synthesis in particular. Hence the distinction between figurative and intellectual synthesis. The categories relate ‘to objects of intuition in general’, whether that intuition be our own or any other. Their synthesis is so far merely ‘intellectual’ and ‘relates only to the unity of apperception’. Kant is concerned to establish the role of the categories in figurative synthesis, in the synthesis of objects given in space and time. In figurative synthesis, the unity of the categories relates not merely to the understanding but is a condition of the possibility of our perception of appearances (a condition of the possibility, that is to say, of the representation of space and time as objects of empirical intuition). The ‘unity of the synthesis of the [empirical] manifold is given a priori as a condition of the synthesis of all apprehension’. And this unity is given ‘not indeed in, but with’ the intuitions or objective representations of space and time.
Hence Hegel’s remark: the forms of sensibility characterized (in the Transcendental Aesthetic) ‘as receptivity; are conceived in the ‘Transcendental Deduction’ as having as their ‘principle’ ‘productive imagination, spontaneity and absolute synthetic activity’. Not only does this point about the role of spontaneity in determining what we may perceive or apprehend in empirical intuition appear to attune with Kant’s view Hegel also highlights Kant’s insight that intuitions without form are blind and he praises Kant for arguing that intuition by itself is insufficient to provide for the possibility of ‘seeing or being conscious’ and Hegel endorses the Kantian thesis that we can have no experience or perceptual awareness of objects unless what is given to us in empirical intuition is subject to the categories. Independent of the contribution of spontaneity, intuitions for us are, as Kant says, blind.
Is the identity that Hegel discovers in the Kantian faculty of productive imagination achieved because its operations reveal that receptivity is really nothing more than a mode of spontaneity? Hardly. Hegel sought not to demonstrate that what we take to be independently given intuitions are in fact merely species of, or derived from, concepts, he does not argue that a lesson to take from Kant’s discussion of the role of productive imagination is that, in knowing or perceiving nature, we rely upon acts of spontaneity alone. For Hegel the categories are what give the ‘infinity of sensations’ their ‘objectivity and stability’ and if abandoned by the categories the infinity of sensations becomes a ‘formless lump’ for it is by means of the categories that ‘mere perception’ gets raised to ‘objectivity, to experience’: ‘The thought-determinations or concepts of the understanding are responsible for the objectivity of our knowledge of experience’.
The productive imagination is a speculative idea akin to the poetic imagination indeed.
‘Lay of the Higher Law’ (excerpt)
by Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821–1890)
How shall the Shown pretend to ken aught of the Showman or the Show?
Why meanly bargain to believe, which only means thou ne’er canst know?
How may the passing Now contain the standing Now — Eternity? -
An endless is without a was , the be and never the to-be?
The Now, that indivisible point which studs the length of infinite line
Whose ends are nowhere, is thine all, the puny all thou callest thine.
To be continued ….