Skip to content

KAIM: Preface

Preface to Kant’s Anatomy of the Intelligent Mind

According to current philosophical lore, Kant rejected the notion that philosophy can progress by psychological means and endeavored to restrict it, his own included, to non-psychological theses, evidence, and arguments. While his reliance on a theory of pure sensible intuition in his account of a priori knowledge may cast doubt on how successful he was, Kant is honored for having set psychological philosophy firmly on the road to extinction, and begun the process of strictly demarcating philosophy (including the philosophy of psychology) from psychology – a process that would eventually see Kant’s approach to the a priori eclipsed by advanced analytical techniques unknown in his day.

The aim of this book is to show that the lore has Kant backwards. The Kant presented here is (1) a committed proponent of psychological philosophy, indeed (2) its preeminent exponent (surpassing even Hume), (3) whose positions should not be lightly dismissed even today, when psychological philosophy is generally regarded as beyond the pale.

My case for (1) – (3) has two sides. First, I show that those passages in Kant’s writings that have traditionally been taken as arguments against the introduction of psychology into philosophy turn out, on closer inspection, to be directed against introducing empiricism into psychological philosophy but not against psychological philosophy as such. The reason one finds no arguments directed specifically against the latter is that there are none. Instead, Kant’s actual view was that so long as psychology is kept strictly non-empirical – “pure” in his nomenclature – it is the ideal vehicle for resolving the issues addressed in the Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason. For how else, other than in the capacity of psychological philosopher, could he have both rejected empiricism in all its forms and unqualifiedly endorsed Hume’s insistence on the philosophical priority of psychological origins and irrelevance of normative indispensability (in the Preface of the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics)? The lore is conspicuously silent on that one.

Second, there can be no dispute that Kant set pure self-consciousness, explicated as original apperception, at the heart of the doctrine of the Transcendental Analytic. To this manifestly psychological notion, it variously assigns the place of supreme principle, highest unity, original source, and fundamental ground. Clearly, apperception is not something one can afford to misinterpret and still hope to understand Kant. Yet, I will show that just such a misinterpretation is enshrined in the lore and universally accepted by scholars: the supposition that Kant regarded the categories as necessary for apperception, and apperception as sufficient for the categories. I present multiple, mutually reinforcing lines of evidence to show that Kant’s view was the converse – apperception necessary but not sufficient for the categories, the categories sufficient but not necessary for apperception – a view that, by explaining these (indeed, all) concepts through self-consciousness and not (as commonly supposed) self-consciousness through these concepts, can only be characterized as psychologism. I argue further that the Transcendental Analytic places original apperception in the same psychologizing relation vis à vis space, time, nature, mathematics, and even logic. By examining each psychologization in turn, I use the cumulative result to show that the Analytic is not only deeply psychological but essentially so, in conception and execution alike. Acceptance of the case presented in this book therefore reverses the frame from Kant the anti-psychological critic of psychological philosophy to Kant the psychological critic of anti-psychological philosophy. It thus would oblige scholars, students, and admirers of his philosophy generally to unlearn virtually everything they think they know about the doctrines of the Transcendental Analytic and their role in the critical philosophy as a whole.

My “psychological” approach to Kant should not be confused with others that have been similarly labeled (Patricia Kitcher, Andrew Brook, Lorne Falkenstein, etc.). To my knowledge, none of these challenges the lore’s assumption that Kant used space, time, nature, mathematics, and logic to explain the constitution of our psychology, not vice versa. Since psychology consequently does not take philosophical pride of place in any of these readings, mine should be understood as “psychological” in a quite different, more fundamental sense, the effect of which is to set Kant in direct succession to Hume rather than in the line leading to contemporary nativist scientific psychology (practitioners of which sometimes flag Kant as a forerunner, e.g. John O’Keefe). At the same time, my approach suggests entirely new ways of relating Kant to contemporary philosophy and science of mind, which I will explore in the conclusion of this book.


This book is written to stand alone, presupposing no knowledge of any of my previous publications. For those familiar with them, however, Kant’s Anatomy of the Intelligent Mind both completes my work on Kant’s model of the mind begun in my 1991 book of that name and constitutes the second and concluding volume of a single, larger work whose first volume, Kant and the Empiricists. Understanding Understanding, appeared in 2005.

Curiously, as a result of various changes of title, the whole comprised of the two volumes has ended up a book without a name. Its working title was “Self and Understanding in Kant and British Empiricism. Volume 1: Understanding Understanding. Volume 2: Time Out Of Mind.” But because the two volumes are written so that the second can be read independently of the first, I accepted the publisher’s advice to change the title and omit mention of a volume number. My plan then was to call the second volume “Kant and the Empiricists: Time Out of Mind” to indicate its continuity with Understanding Understanding, and I referred to it as such in the 2005 volume. Although another title change was deemed advisable with its publication now, it retains its special relationship to Understanding Understanding, and I would recommend anyone who feels they have learned something from this volume to read its predecessor as well.

My one regret is mistitling the 2005 volume. Because only Kant’s name is mentioned, review editors sent it to Kant specialists, who, in addition to being ill-equipped to comment on a work of Empiricist scholarship, focused almost exclusively on the preliminary discussions of Kant in the four-chapter General Introduction and typically neglected to make clear that my treatment of Kant was not in Kant and the Empiricists. Understanding Understanding at all but destined for a follow-up volume. As a result, the book was mistaken for a contribution to Kant scholarship and never reached its intended audience of Empiricist scholars and students. This could all have been avoided had it been titled (e.g.) Locke, Berkeley, and Hume on Human Understanding. The Path to Kant.

Secondary Literature

As in Kant and the Empiricists: Understanding Understanding, I have kept discussion of secondary literature to a minimum. For such discussion to serve a purpose, there must be a literature focused on the same or similar questions dealt with here in the same or similar ways. But psychological interpretations of Kant that present his transcendental philosophy as psychological in the same sense as Hume’s are exceedingly rare, perhaps non-existent, and no one, to my knowledge, has treated their relation in anything like the way (or detail) I have in these volumes. Consequently, my aim is rather to start a discussion that I believe Kant scholars need to have rather than to contribute to an existing one. Indeed, in view of the magnitude of the challenge of simply spelling out what Kant’s pure psychology is and justifying my interpretations in the face of alternatives, the inclusion of large numbers of examples drawn from the secondary literature risked making the book too long and unwieldly for even the most stalwart readers.

There is another, more substantive reason for keeping discussions of secondary literature to a minimum. Since interpreting Kant’s theory of understanding as psychologistic to the same extent and in the same way as Hume’s consists in treating it as a response to questions and challenges that exponents of other interpretations tend not to pose at all, much less prioritize, there is, to that extent, little or no apposite secondary literature to discuss. A list of these questions and challenges is given in the “Memo to the Reader” that precedes part I. Here I will confine myself to mentioning the one that leads to the others and most obviously sets my approach apart form previous ones: the issue of whether apperception is necessary for the categories or vice versa. As mentioned earlier, I affirm the priority of apperception against what seems to be the universal view of Kant scholars that the categories have priority (indeed, I know of none who has even considered the converse, much less identified and weighed up the principal arguments pro and con). Given the status of apperception as the “supreme principle” and “highest point” of Kant’s theory of the understanding, it should come as no surprise that adopting the position I do should bring to the fore questions that are peripheral or do not even arise for those who take the categories to be necessary for apperception, and, conversely, shunt to the margins or render irrelevant questions of the first importance for those who prioritize the categories. Because this means that there are few points of contact between my interpretation and others (and those few relate to comparatively superficial matters), there is neither the occasion nor the need to inflate the book with extensive discussion of secondary literature (nevertheless, I have commented extensively on secondary literature in other publications, some of which are referenced here).

There is, however, one author with whose interpretation mine has a close affinity: Béatrice Longuenesse. She and I developed our readings of Kant side by side during the 1980s (I am the grateful dedicatee of the original French version of her Kant and the Capacity to Judge). Our influence on one another’s readings during that period was extensive and, for me at least, hugely productive. Although we approached Kant from a different starting point, she from the logical functions of judgment, I from sensibility and its psychology, the resulting interpretations of the Critique of Pure Reason agree on most fundamentals and are certainly closer to one another than either is to others. The very pervasiveness of our influence on one another during that time, however, makes it difficult to single out particular debts. For that reason, while I mention her work only seldom in this volume, that should be seen as the inverse of the magnitude of my esteem for it.

Mount Maunganui, New Zealand