Normativity and Representation in Kant's Theory of Cognition

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Hutton, James Stanley  ORCID logo

This dissertation examines various aspects of normativity and representation as they figure in Kant’s theory of cognition. In particular, I argue that Kant holds that certain forms of representational content constitutively depend on normative constraint. This applies to all of the kinds of content that can be captured by concepts (viz. ‘kind’-properties, and the objective temporal structures that correspond to the “categories”). Since we perceptually represent objects as exhibiting these features, even the activities that produce perceptions must be normatively constrained. Nevertheless, representation per se does not depend on normative constraint: Kant holds that non-human animals can represent objects, suggesting that he endorses forms of ‘non-conceptual content’ that don’t depend on normative constraint. Chapter 1 explores the preconditions for representing objective temporal sequence, as outlined in the Second Analogy. I argue that Kant’s notion of the “necessitation of the subjective order of perceptions” must be understood as a form of normative necessity, so representations of objective temporal sequence constitutively depend on normativity. Chapter 2 continues the discussion of the Second Analogy by exploring the connection between causation and lawfulness. I argue that Kant holds that the concept of contains the notion of lawful connection. He therefore has sound reasons for asserting the Strong Causal Principle (that every event is produced according to a universal causal law) on the basis of the Second Analogy’s argument. Chapter 3 examines the role of schemata in Kant’s theory of cognition. Assuming that schemata are rules for synthesis of the imagination, I argue that they should be understood as akin to maxims: mentally represented rules that bring our activities into contact with intersubjective normative standards. I argue that, by bringing synthesis under normative constraint, schemata enable intuitions to represent their objects as bearing ‘kind’-properties. Chapter 4 discharges the assumption that schemata are rules for synthesis of imagination, through close reading and criticism of alternative interpretations. Chapter 5 examines Kant’s views about animal minds and what they tell us about his theory of human cognition. I argue that he genuinely credits animals with intuitions of objects. Nevertheless, there are still good motivations for thinking that all human intuitions are produced by the understanding, and that it makes human and animal intuitions different in kind. The Conclusion brings together material from the preceding five chapters to discuss the extent to which Kant endorses a ‘normative theory of representation’.

Breitenbach, Angela
Philosophy, Kant, Philosophy of Mind, Intentionality, Representation, Normativity, Causation, Perception, Imagination, Laws of Nature, Conceptualism, Nonconceptualism, Animal Minds, History of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
AHRC Leverhulme Trust