Philosophy of Mind Continued 4

In previous weeks of talking about mind, we have noted how the empirical account of what a mind is depends upon some presuppositions. We have talked about how Kant recognized both the power of empiricism to overthrow “dogmatic” rationalism, but also how he recognized that empiricism had missed the most important considerations of what “experience” is in the first place.

For empiricism, sensory experiences are the “foundation” upon which everything else we know about reality must be built up. So, both science and metaphysics must take as the “rawest” of “raw data” the sensory impressions we all have from the world. For empiricism, we wait on the world. It provides impressions, which in turn give us ideas about the world from the world. And we thus come to knowledge of the world through our experiences of it.

We have talked quite a bit about Kant’s conclusions that the empiricist account fails to recognize that even sensory impressions necessarily depend upon “prior processing” of some sort, and experience itself is constrained by not only this prior sensory processing but also the activities of the “unity of apperception” that “packages” discrete “impressions” into whole objects, whole experiences of objects, and even the unity of consciousness itself.

Thus, Kant turns metaphysics on its head! Empiricists do metaphysics by waiting on the world to “experience” what it is like, and then by making inferences from these experiences. By contrast, Kant says that we do not “wait on the world” to see what it is like; instead we contribute the most significant features of reality to the world. In some fundamental and important ways, we really make the world as it is for us.

For our purposes in this seminar, the most important implication of Kant’s conclusions is that there is something that is each of us, that something is forever unknowable by us, that something is what enables us to have experiences at all (including experiences of our own minds), and that something is necessarily non-material and non-natural. That something is forever beyond the scope of science and even metaphysics (other than to demonstrate its mere existence). We can say nothing more of such “things in themselves” than that they exist and do not exist in the forms in which we have experiences of “the world.” Thus, really, when we talk about “mind,” we must be careful to distinguish between our empirical self-consciousness and the “unity of apperception” that underlies all experiences.

If Kant is correct, he has thereby proved that whatever “we” really are, we are something much more than just our empirical selves. And this, in turn, proves that the evolutionary account of our development and existence is not just “incorrect.” It is worse than “incorrect,” as it is literally irrelevant! Trying to use science to do metaphysics of mind is worse than trying to use a tire-iron to do neurosurgery! At least a tire iron is a steel “implement” somewhat like a scalpel is!

No, trying to use science to do metaphysics of mind is more like trying to use the Hubble Space Telescope to see a particular electron or quark.

No, it is even worse than that, because even that comparison uses the word “see” in the proper sense. Really, there is no adequate comparison, because the flagrant category error of using science to do metaphysics of mind is too great.

But all of these apparently impressive results depend upon Kant being able to sustain his arguments, and we really have not looked at his arguments yet. We have looked at his conclusions and the implications from them. But we must consider how Kant actually derives these conclusions.

Let me hasten to say that we are not going to look at the vast majority of Kant’s arguments in the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant goes into such depth and with a detail that is absolutely mind-boggling unless you happen to find this sort of thing fascinating, as I do. For our purposes, we can focus on just two primary conclusions and the arguments from which they follow:

1) Space and Time are only the forms of intuition, which means they are the “filters” through which all data from things in themselves flows to us; they are not features of things in themselves.

2) The unity of apperception is the necessary condition of all experience and itself can never be experienced; it (the “soul”) is a thing in itself.

The first condition of all of Kant’s arguments is to distinguish between the attributes of a priori and a posteriori (empirical) knowledge.


The attributes of a priori and a posteriori (empirical) knowledge

A small grid will be helpful here:


Some examples will make the attributes even more clear.

A particular shade of blue

Let’s take a particular shade of blue as an example like Hume does. If I was born blind and had never experienced colors at all, I could use “blue” as a predicate and say grammatically correct things about it. But I would literally have no idea what I was talking about. However, give me just one second of sight, in which I see only the blue sky, and then my sight is shut back off. In that second, for the first time, I have an experience of “blue.” Now, can I start talking about “shades of blue” or have any general concept of blue?

No, just as before, I can use “shades” correctly in a sentence, but I cannot have any real idea of what the word signifies. I have seen only one shade of blue. Somebody could tell me, “Just imagine it darker,” but I have never experienced “darker” or any mixtures of colors. I literally have no idea what “shades” or “darker” means.

Those of us that have been sighted and not significantly color blind throughout our lives take so much for granted in our use of such “simple” terms as “blue,” “shades,” and notions like “lighter” and “darker.” We have all of these ideas with a wide range of gradations and subtlety, so we think (incorrectly) that we “derive” our general terms from our particular experiences. But we really cannot. All we ever sense (empirical knowledge) are particulars. We experience this shade of blue, then that one. We experience this mixture of colors, then that one. We do not “fill in the gaps,” so to speak. Instead, we categorize our experiences of blueness by recognizing the similarity in particular shades of blue. But we do not, and cannot, have any experience of the “blueness” that is the general concept of the “similarity” itself.

All of our empirical knowledge of the color “blue” is particular. And it is contingent: some things are blue, and others are not. We have to experience a particular blue thing to recognize it, as blue. But we perform that “blue” categorization by reference to a general concept that is not in the particular blue thing itself. We never “experience” blueness as a general concept. We only, ever, experience particular blue things having a particular shade of blue.

A particular number of chairs

I’ve used this example many times, so I’ll only briefly reiterate it here. I count the chairs in a room and come up with the number 36. That number is contingent: it could have been a different number than it is, say 20 or 38. And that number is particular. Is is the particular number of the chairs in a particular room at a particular point in time. Change the room or the time, and the number of chairs in the room can (and probably will) change. To know the number of chairs in the room, I must experience them in the room (empirical knowledge). I can never know before all experience what the number of chairs will be in that room, much less the number of chairs in all rooms at all times. My knowledge of the number of chairs in a room is always empirical, and so is always contingent and particular.

All a posteriori (empirical) knowledge has these two features. It is only of particulars, and it is not necessarily always the way we happen to discover it. A empirical knowledge is “changeable,” and it is always changing. This is why inductive arguments can only have likely-true conclusions; they can never act as proofs, because at one point in time, the conclusion might be true, but in other circumstances or other points in time the conclusion might be false.

By contrast, all a priori knowledge is necessarily and universally true. Akin to deductive certainty, a priori knowledge can be proved.


Geometrical truths are necessarily true. The whole reason that the Pythagorean Theorem can be proved is that it could not be any other way than it is. The Pythagorean Theorem is necessarily true. It is also universally true; it is a correct statement regarding all right triangles without exception. It is not “more or less” true of all right triangles. It is absolutely true of all right triangles.

Notice that we can never have experience of all right triangles, any more than we can have experience of all possible shades of blue. Our experiences are all particular; we experience this particular thing, then that one. We never experience “all” of any set of things. So, we can never experience all right triangles, and our knowledge of some feature of the whole set of right triangles cannot possibly be from experience (empirical)! Yet, we know that the Pythagorean Theorem is indeed true of all of them. We know this fact with absolute certainty, and that is because this knowledge is necessarily and universally true of all right triangles. But those two features of our knowledge, universality and necessity, just are the attributes of all a priori knowledge. Whatever we know a priori, we know with certainty, because all such knowledge is necessarily and universally true.

Now that we are solid upon the knowledge-attributes Kant will employ in his distinctions, let us turn our attention to the arguments supporting the major Kantian conclusions.



Space and Time are only the forms of intuition; they are not features of things in themselves.

Argument 1 for Space Being a priori

Remember that in Kant’s terminology, “intuition” is our faculty of sensibility. Just as we can immediately distinguish between our “sensations” and our “judgments” about those sensations, Kant also distinguishes between our faculty of sensibility (the intuition) and our faculty of judgment/synthesis (the understanding). So, the question is: Are space and time features of the “real world,” or are they instead like “filters” through we we receive the raw data of things in themselves and with which we therefore “shape” the world as it is for us? Kant argues for the latter, as follows:

1) There can be completely similar things (twins) that can only be distinguished from each other by spatial location.

2) In order to represent something as “outside” me (something as other than me), I must represent it as in a different spatial location from me.

3) So, spatial location is a necessary condition of recognizing objects as different from each other and from me.

4) So, to experience numerically distinct objects (be able to count chairs, etc.) I must be able to experience particular objects as being in distinct and particular spaces.

5) Experiencing distinct and particular spaces, however, presupposes spatiality itself. We cannot derive spatiality from particular spaces. Instead, all particular spaces are spatial because they are parts of space.

6) Space itself is not particular; only spaces are particular. Space is presupposed by spaces, as space is universally extensive.

7) Space is not contingent; only spaces are contingent. Space is necessary to all outer sense, as all outer representations presume it (per (2) above).


8) Space is not derived from experience; it is necessarily and universally presupposed by all outer experience, meaning that it is intuited a priori rather than a posteriori.


Argument 1 for Time Being a priori

1) There can be identical thoughts/experiences that can only be distinguished from each other by temporal sequence.

2) So, temporal sequence is a necessary condition of distinguishing thoughts from each other.

3) So, to recognize numerically distinct thoughts, I must be able to experience particular thoughts as being in distinct and particular times.

4) Experiencing distinct and particular times, however, presupposes time itself. We cannot derive time from particular times. Instead, all particular times are in time because they are parts of time.

5) Time itself is not particular; only times are particular. Time is presupposed by times, as time is universally extensive.

6) Time is not contingent; only times are contingent. Time is necessary to all inner and outer sense, as all inner and outer experiences presume it.


8) Time is not derived from experience; it is necessarily and universally presupposed by all experience, meaning that it is intuited a priori rather than a posteriori.


Argument  2 for Space Being a priori

1) We can imagine time without any thoughts/experiences in it, but we cannot imagine thoughts/experiences as not in time.

2) A representation of time is necessary for all representations of particular objects; but particular representations of objects are not necessary for our representation of time.

3) Time is necessary, because we cannot imagine no time while still imagining objects.

4) Time is universal, because all objects are represented in time, although not in “the same time”.


5) Time is a priori rather than a posteriori. It is not derived from experience. Instead, all experience is represented in terms of it.


Argument for Space/Time being a priori intuitions (emphasis on “intuitions”)

1) Space and time are singulars (not particulars!); we can represent only one space/time.

2) The different parts of space/time are parts of the same (singular) all-encompassing space/time.

3) We must represent any two particular spaces as themselves contained in a larger, all-encompassing space.

4) Any two particular spaces can be qualitatively indistinguishable but numerically distinct only by virtue of being parts of the same space.

5) Both space and time are infinitely divisible; the “sets” of space and time are composed of the infinity of particulars.

6) Concepts can have an  infinity of particulars falling under them (or possibly also subordinate concepts or species falling under them). However, concepts cannot be thought of as being composed of an infinity of representations.

7) The relation of “parts” to the “whole” is qualitatively different between intuitions in space/time and concepts in the understanding.

8) Only intuitions can give us particular parts composing a singular whole. Concepts are never a “whole,” as they are always general rather than singular (Hume was wrong about “ideas”).


9) Space and time are features of the intuition/sensibility rather than the understanding. They are represented to us as the forms of sensibility rather than features of the understanding.


As features of the intuition/sensibility, space and time are more properly described as “filters,” as they are “passive” rather than “active.” The intuition/sensibility “passively receives” data, that data is “filtered” through space/time, and the result is the content of intuition that the understanding then “conceptualizes” and “packages” (actively) into the objects of our experience.

These results guarantee the absolute unities of space and time as the forms of all intuition, which in turn guarantees that all of our experiences will be located in a single, unified spatio/temporal framework.

But how can we now know that things in themselves are not in space and/or time? How can we know that we are not perceiving things as they really are as spatial/temporal things?


Argument for Space/Time being the forms of our intuition/sensibility rather than features of things in themselves

1) If we intuited features of things in themselves, those features would necessarily produce only empirical intuitions.

2) However, space and time are intuited a priori, not empirically!


3) Space and time are not features of things in themselves.

This argument can appear to be so stripped-down as to be almost unbelievable in its “bang for the buck.” Can Kant really be proving such a substantive conclusion with so little “material” to work with?

Actually, Kant spends hundreds of pages of argumentation to establish the terminology/definitions that we have been so blithely and even superficially skipping across the surface of. So, if this argument appears “too simple,” that is only because Kant has already done the terminological heavy lifting prior to his presentation of this argument. In fact, if you follow Kant’s terminological arguments, you have no escape from this argument!

The first premise might seem a bit strange at first, so we’ll spend a moment on it. But notice that the second premise has been entirely established by the arguments previously given that prove that space and time are the a priori forms of intuition. So, if you grasp/accept the first premise here, the conclusion is inevitable.

The first premise makes more sense than it might initially appear. Think about it this way….

Let’s say that space and time were features of things in themselves. Then our intuitions of space and time would come to us from the things in themselves (as Locke thought primary qualities affected us). So, it would be just as Locke thought: space and time would be primary qualities of things in themselves, while only the secondary qualities would be “in us.”

But if space and time are primary qualities of things in themselves, then, just exactly as Locke thought (as an empiricist), space and time would be empirical intuitions: we would (and could only) get those intuitions from experiencing the things in themselves.

But that is just premise (1): our intuitions of things in themselves just are intuitions of primary qualities, and these are always (and must be) empirical intuitions.

Now, add premise (2), which Kant has proved in previous arguments, and you are deductively driven to the conclusion.

Thus, our faculty of intuition/sensibility is something non-empirical in itself, because all experiences (including of our empirical selves) is already “filtered” into space/time by that faculty prior to all experiences. Whatever the faculty of intuition/sensibility is in itself, it is related to the body in some unknowable way; but it is not reducible to a body in any empirical way!

Notice that this result is not Kant “punting” on the mind/body problem! Kant is giving the reasons why resolving the mind/body problem will necessarily be forever beyond our grasp. Nothing we know of or ever in principle can understand can explain or be the mechanism of “connection” between the mind and body. The body is a part of empirical intuition (in what way we do not know and cannot know). But the body is not all there is to empirical intuition. Our empirical intuition necessarily depends upon another part of that faculty that is not the body and is not empirical/material. That faculty provides the a priori “filters” of intuition: space and time.


The unity of apperception is the necessary condition of all experience and itself can never be experienced; it (the “soul”) is a thing in itself.

Now, as if the above arguments were not mind-expanding enough, Kant’s arguments regarding the unity of apperception are far, far beyond mind-blowing. In fact, Kant’s arguments regarding this “unity” of the understanding are too complicated to even begin to do justice to in this context. I would typically devote entire seminars to just this one conclusion. So, we cannot even begin to responsibly treat this conclusion here.

However, I will offer a brief synopsis of Kant’s main points in this regard, and we will take this as the argument establishing this conclusion. Please be aware, however, that Kant necessarily devotes hundreds of very conceptually-dense pages to rigorously establishing each of the points that we will (quite irresponsibly) “trot out” here. Kant was more penetrating here than can really be adequately described, and I cannot emphasize enough how superficial this overview is.


Argument establishing the Unity of Apperception as an unknowable thing in itself

1) The faculty of understanding has one and only one function: to judge (to synthesize).

2) Judgment/synthesis produces empirical concepts with content including the data from the faculty of sensibility.

3) The result of judgment/synthesis is all and only empirical concepts; which are all and only the representations of “objects of experience,” such as ourselves as thinking things, tables, chairs, cars, cats, dogs, etc., and all of their component parts and properties, such as arms, legs, fur, particular thoughts, pains, particular thoughts about particular thoughts, and so on.

4) To conceive of something is to apply a (general) concept  to it; to judge is to apply a concept (predicate) to representations of an object; the function of the understanding is to synthesize concepts producing subject/predicate combinations, such as “Dogs have four legs.”

5) So, concepts function solely by virtue of their capacity to unify diverse representations into representations of objects, and the employment of concepts in the unification process of synthesis is the whole capacity of the understanding.

6) The synthesis process works according to rules (which can be derived as the necessary conditions of all judgments); Kant calls these rules “the categories,” and the categories are the a priori rules by which objects of experience can ever be known.

7) So, all knowledge we have of objects of experience results from a synthesis of the data from intuition according to the a priori concepts of the understanding.

8) We experience all empirical objects as “unified wholes” strictly because we “assemble objects” in the process of synthesis according to the categories.

9) For example, all of the objects of experience are causally-related because all of them are “categorized” by the a priori concept of causality, which has the logical form (you’ll recognize now) of P ⊃ Q.

10) In order to judge/synthesize, the understanding actively brings diverse representations (data from intuition) together under a unified concept; it takes “random parts” and composes “wholes.”

11) A disparate bunch of “parts” passively “flowing” willy-nilly can never become a unity. Even the notion of “a stream” smuggles in a “unity” where there is none!

12) Unity of an object, of any experience of an object, requires synthesis, which just is the active unification of disparate “parts” that have no “relations” to each other in themselves.

13) The unification process of synthesis presupposes a unity in which the combination of parts can occur.

14) The “unity” from (13) is the “unity of apperception,” which itself “contains” the “parts” and synthesizes them.

15) The synthesis process produces empirical objects, so synthesis is logically prior to all experience.

16) So the synthesizer that is the unity of apperception is logically prior to all experience.

17) The fact of experience logically presupposes a unity of apperception in which synthesis takes place.

18) But, per (15) and (16), the unity of apperception can never itself become an object of experience. (We can think of ourselves thinking, but by the time we think such a thought, the unity of apperception has already been invisibly at work; so we can only ever know our empirical selves, never the unity of apperception as thing in itself).


19) The unity of apperception is a thing in itself, forever unknowable by us, as it underlies all of experience but can never be experienced. This “soul” processes data including that of the body, but it is not a material body. The “soul”/body connection is in principle unknowable to us.


Summary of Philosophy of Mind

Whatever the “mind” is, it has both a priori and empirical aspects. When empiricists/materialists focus on the empirical aspects, they entirely miss the necessary and underlying a priori aspects. Whatever the “mind” is, it is not entirely empirical/material!

The “mind” employs both the functions of the sensibility and the understanding. Both of those functions include a priori aspects: the sensibility produces intuitions in space/time, where space and time are the a priori forms of intuition; the understanding produces objects of experience by synthesizing the data of intuitions into unified wholes (objects) and then also performing judgments upon the empirical results. The synthesizing takes place according to a priori rules. So, there are fundamental a priori aspects to all of our experiences!

These a priori aspects of all experiences defy an empirical/scientific account, because these a priori aspects are logically prior to all experiences.

So, for us to have a “stream of experiences” at all presumes a unity of apperception in which a “stream” can even exist. And the “stream” itself becomes “a stream” only because of the preexisting unity of apperception. Thus, consciousness is not itself a “stream of experiences.” Instead, there can only be a “stream of experiences” in an already unified consciousness!

We exist as a unity of apperception, yet all we can know about that something is its results. Our knowledge is forever empirical; we know all and only empirical objects. But we can know of something that necessarily underlies all of our empirical knowledge. We can know of the existence of things in themselves, including ourselves in themselves. But we can never have experience of things in themselves, including ourselves in ourselves. We have experiences “in a box” that includes space, time, and the categories. We can never “take off the rose-colored lenses.” All we can know is that the “rosiness” is not a feature of the things in themselves, including ourselves in ourselves.

About things in themselves, science and metaphysics can say nothing substantial. Science, by its nature, must deny all of Kant’s arguments, as they lead inexorably to conclusions that limit the scope and power of science. Yet, Kant proved that science and metaphysics can only be about appearances, never about things as they are in themselves.

Kantian metaphysics can conclude that there is something that is me in myself, and that that unity of apperception that is the “real me” can never be touched or analyzed empirically/scientifically. And science will not even admit of Kant’s conclusions about that. So, science must forever strive to account for the unaccountable. And Kant has proved the limitation of the scientific method, insofar as it cannot in principle tell us anything about what Kant calls the “transcendentally real.”

Finally, notice that Kant really sidesteps the mind/body problem by effectively proving that seeking an “answer” to it cannot in principle be asking the right metaphysical questions. For us, there cannot in principle be an answer to the mind/body problem because that connection inheres in a whole realm of things in themselves that is forever beyond our reach.

Kant’s metaphysics open the logical space for Christians to feel confident in the “transcendentally real” existence of the “soul,” while they are not “punting” to recognize that only God can create such a thing and connect it to a body.

Moreover, and most importantly for our purposes, the very existence of our “minds” and of the rules by which they perform synthesis, necessarily presumes the existence of a “grander” mind that values those very rules of synthesis. “Mind” does not emerge from non-mind. “Mind” is a function of rules, and those rules are not empirically-derived or materially-grounded!

So, the evolutionary account of “mind” must forever miss the mark, as the scientific/materialistic account of “mind” must forever ignore the a priori features of experience itself.

Everybody agrees about the real existence of minds. Kant proved that they are something that cannot in principle ever be explained by science or evolutionary theory. An understanding of Kant makes the evolutionary account of people (especially given their minds) seem utterly ridiculous.