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Does Kant's View of the Self Represent an Advance on Hume's?
examined life ^ | Robert Goldsworth

Posted on 04/08/2003 3:33:00 PM PDT by Maedhros

The exclusive character of the experiencing or epistemic self is a fundamental philosophical concern whose issues are skilfully demonstrated by both Hume and Kant. Are we to adopt a non-substantival account of ourselves as a sequence of impressions based on the empirical data available to us or are we to maintain that certain a priori truths about the self can be deduced? These issues can be approached by analysing two theories as they are presented by Hume in his ‘Treatise of Human Nature’ and Kant in his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’.

Hume’s account of the self is discussed in his chapter ‘Of Personal Identity’; the theory he expounds is now more commonly referred to as the ‘Bundle Theory’. He begins by referring to ‘some philosophers’ who believe that they are conscious of what they call their ‘SELF’; these philosophers claim to ‘feel its existence and its continuance in existence’. Hume quickly goes on to deny the validity of their claim, for ‘self or person is not any one impression’. Hume reaches epistemological conclusions based on an empirical approach to knowledge; if we are to say that the self exists then we require some empirical data to substantiate this claim. If there is to be such a thing as self then it must manifest itself in the form of an impression or idea, but ‘there is no such idea’. Hume conducts an introspective thought-experiment and discovers that nothing can be found from observing his own consciousness other than perceptions themselves; this leads him to conclude that there is no independent ontological entity that transcends the given:

‘For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception’.

Hume maintains that we have no grounds to claim that the mind is composed of anything other than these perceptions, and ‘setting aside some metaphysicians’ he makes this claim on behalf of ‘the rest of mankind’. He asserts that we are ‘nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity’. Hume then goes on to propose his metaphor of the actors; he states that ‘The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations’. It is evident that Hume conceives self or mind in terms of constantly changing causal relations, and he maintains that this causal succession of perceptions exists independently of any transcendent ego. However, the implication is that any ‘bundle of perceptions’ requires something that bundles them together, just as the actors require the same stage on which to perform. Hume realises this as he states that ‘The comparison of the theatre must not mislead us. They are the successive perceptions only, that constitute the mind’; we must disregard the stage for we have only a ‘distant notion of the place’. Hume then goes on to argue that the mind is nothing more than a collection of perceptions that are united by the relations of resemblance, contiguity and causation; he claims to have given an account of the self that avoids the epistemic problems of postulating a transcendent ego.

The problem with Hume’s account of personal identity is that he presents the reader with a succession of premises that deny the existence of a transcendent ego – by referring to one. When Hume enters ‘most intimately into what I call myself’, what exactly is it that observes these perceptions? What is this thing that Hume constantly refers to with the pronoun ‘I’? Hume’s denial of a self-substance implies its very existence. The idea of a ‘bundle of perceptions’ requires that there be some entity available to bundle the perceptions together, yet Hume states categorically that no such entity exists, claiming that ‘perceptions are distinct existences’ and that ‘no connexions among distinct existences are ever discoverable by human understanding’. Mental states that include perceiving, believing, remembering and imagining must by Hume’s account be included in a succession of perceptions that constitute the essence of the mind. Since the empirical data available to us is limited only to knowledge of these perceptions, we are not entitled to ‘suppose the whole train of perceptions to be united by identity’. The self to Hume is therefore a sequence of perceptions; it is not a continuant substance. There is no unitary self that can be encountered in experience because it simply does not exist. Given Hume’s categorical denial of a continuant self, we must assume that any references he makes to ‘my thoughts’ or ‘my perceptions’ represents nothing more than a façon de parler.

It is Hume’s denial of a unitary self that is said to have awoken Kant from his ‘dogmatic slumber’. Kant maintains that we must acknowledge a necessary condition of the self given the nature of our experiences, believing that Hume was wrong to deny any necessary connection among mental states. He states that ‘There must be a condition which precedes all experience and which makes experience itself possible’ (A107); for experiences to be brought together as mine, they must ‘synthetically bring into being a determinate combination of the given manifold’ (B138). Kant believes that there is a logically necessary condition that must be acknowledged given the nature of our experience; that we cannot attribute mental states unless we acknowledge a relation of existential dependence among them. He agrees with Hume in so far as the self cannot be encountered through experience but maintains that we must accept the epistemic connectedness of the unitary self: ‘The proposition of the identity of myself in all the manifold whereof I am conscious is likewise a proposition that lies in the concepts themselves and hence is analytic’ (B408). It is the logically necessary function of the self that Kant proposes in his Transcendental Deduction.

Kant establishes necessary connections among mental states in response to Hume’s scepticism; in establishing the transcendental necessity of mental unity he legitimises references to an individual’s identity over time. Kant talks about a relation of synthesis between mental states as a necessary condition of experience; he refers to this necessary transcendental synthesis as the ‘transcendental unity of apperception’. Kant forces Hume either to accept the necessary unity among mental states as a prerequisite for experience or to admit that his talk of experience is inaccurate. For experience to be possible, it must be organised and unified by the mind, for ‘If each representation were completely foreign to every other, standing apart in isolation, no such thing as knowledge would ever arise. For knowledge is a whole in which representations stand compared and connected’ (A97). The possibility of knowledge and the intelligibility of experience are therefore dependent on their being brought together in a synthesis that relates to one single unified subject.

It is essential that Kant’s distinction between empirical and transcendental apperception is made clear. With empirical apperception, ‘No fixed and abiding self can present itself in this flux of inner appearances’ (A107). Empirical apperception allows the mind to have knowledge of itself as a succession of perceptions, but cannot yield any idea of the self. It is in fact the same as Hume’s ‘Bundle’ theory of the mind. Where Hume argues for the impossibility of the self’s identity on the basis of no real connections among mental states, Kant takes it one stage further by maintaining that mental states are existentially dependent. This leads Kant to categorise what he calls ‘the unity of this apperception the transcendental unity of self-consciousness, in order to indicate that a priori cognition can be obtained from it’ (B132). He goes on to state that this analytic unity of apperception ‘is possible only under the presupposition of some synthetic unity of apperception’ (B134). Kant believes that the understanding must have the ability to combine a priori and to ‘bring the manifold of given intuitions under the unity of apperception’ (B135). By transcendental unity of apperception, Kant means that there is a necessary relation of synthesis among representations which is a necessary condition of experience. With regard to his presentations, Kant claims that he is ‘conscious of a necessary a priori synthesis of them’ (B135). Kant does not reject Hume’s view of the mind; he accepts his conclusions as far as they go. Kant himself maintained that no fixed or abiding self can be found from empirical speculation, he just thought Hume had missed the ‘necessary unity’ (B142) among presentations. He simply felt that given the nature of our experience, it is a necessary condition of making judgements about mental states that they be contentually causally connected. This leads Kant to postulate a necessary a priori synthesis, namely the transcendental unity of apperception.

In reaction to Hume’s ‘bundle of perceptions’, Kant acknowledges the irreducible aspect of experience; that it must be had by an experiencing subject. Since it is a truism that experience requires a subject, it seems illogical for Hume to talk about experience at all without acknowledging this fact. Although Hume clearly leaves this fact out of his discussion on personal identity, it must be stressed that his own account denies any knowledge of the existence of the self through experiential encounters. Hume’s denial of the authority of a priori knowledge forces him to conclude at a point where Kant postulates further necessary rational truths. Kant is aware that Hume’s analysis of self must stop short of postulating a transcendent ego as he states: ‘Hume, believing that he had uncovered so universal a delusion - regarded as reason - of our cognitive power, surrendered entirely to skepticism’ (B128). Hume therefore doesn’t so much deny the possibility of a continuant subject of experiences, he denies the possibility of knowledge of the self as a continuant subject of experiences; we can only have knowledge of ourselves as a ‘bundle of perceptions’ on the basis of the empirical evidence available to us.

Kant’s advance on Hume is to maintain that the possibility of experience requires that it be organised and unified in the mind: and this organisation and unification takes place under, among others, the category of time. For this synthesis to be at all intelligible, these experiences must correspond with the subject that experiences them. Kant acknowledges the necessity of a continuing consciousness whose experiences can all be attributed to the same subject; this continuing consciousness is the transcendental unity of apperception that grounds all our experiences. Kant’s method is therefore to refer to the synthetic unity of apperception as the basis for a necessary synthesis of experience (B133-134); he then concludes that the ‘I’ that accompanies each of these experiences is identical through time. This he calls the analytic unity of apperception (B133-134) and it relies wholly on its synthetic counterpart. These are Kant’s two main premises: the first that there must necessarily be a systematic and orderly synthesis of mental states if experience is to be possible; the second that a unitary subject must be represented for this synthesis to be possible.

The distinction between empirical and transcendental apperception is fundamental to an understanding of Kant’s view of the self, what he sometimes refers to as ‘pure apperception, in order to distinguish it from empirical apperception’ (B132). Kant maintains that it is the ‘presentation I think that must be capable of accompanying all other presentations, and is one and the same in all consciousness’ (B132). For Kant the ‘I’ that accompanies all my experiences is not encountered experientially; it is moreover the ‘I’ of transcendental apperception. The ‘I’ is its logical function in a synthesis that allows for the possibility of intelligible experience; it is the ‘I’ that unites the contents of my experience. The ‘I’ that is the essence of the transcendental unity of apperception is therefore to Kant its logically necessary role in providing unified experience as it is had by a unified subject; it is the transcendental self that underlies the self of experiential encounters and allows for its possibility. Put another way, it is the logical necessity of a unified transcendent self that allows for the possibility of Hume’s ‘bundle of perceptions’.

Both Hume and Kant reach their conclusions about the self based on what they believe to be the epistemological limits to human knowledge. Kant’s approach to knowledge allows him to ascribe certain conditions of the self as noumenon whereas Hume limits himself strictly to knowledge as phenomenon. Kant maintains that man is ‘on the one hand phenomenon, but on the other hand- viz., in regard to certain powers- a merely intelligible object’ (B575). Where Kant points to the logical necessity of ascribing a transcendent ego based on the structure of our spatio-temporal manifolds, Hume would simply point to the empirical unverifiability of his claims.

Kant points to the necessary synthetic function of the self of transcendental apperception and in doing so defuses Hume’s attack against a continuant self. For Kant, transcendental unity is a necessary condition for the possibility of a continuant and unified experiencing subject. Hume’s comments in the appendix to his ‘Treatise of Human Nature’ acknowledge the shortcomings of his strictly empirical approach to the self. He concedes that ‘I neither know how to correct my former opinions, nor how to render them consistent’, and goes on to state that ‘If perceptions are distinct existences, they form a whole only by being connected together. But no connexions among distinct existences are ever discoverable by human understanding’.

Although Hume realises that his view of the self is defective, it still functions effectively as a strictly empirical account of personal identity. Kant accepts Hume’s account of the self through his references to empirical apperception, but makes two essential further points: firstly, for experience to be possible it must be synthesised and secondly, these experiences must be brought together as the experiences of a single continuant subject. Kant accepts Hume’s conclusions as far as they go, but maintains that certain a priori truths must be acknowledged given the nature of our experience. One must therefore conclude that Kant’s account of the self does in fact represent an advance on Hume’s.



TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Miscellaneous; Philosophy; Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: hume; kant
Kant got it right.
1 posted on 04/08/2003 3:33:00 PM PDT by Maedhros
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To: Maedhros
The better question is whether the moderns improved on the ancients. Understanding the difference between the moderns and the ancients results in an education. After that distinction is made, you can make real choices.
2 posted on 04/08/2003 3:36:05 PM PDT by cornelis
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To: Maedhros
Britt Hume gets it righter.

Leni

3 posted on 04/08/2003 3:36:08 PM PDT by MinuteGal (THIS JUST IN ! Astonishing fare reduction for FReeps Ahoy Cruise! Check it out, pronto!)
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To: MinuteGal
Brit Hume kicks ass!! I love special report!
4 posted on 04/08/2003 3:38:02 PM PDT by ConservativeMan55
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To: cornelis
So did they improve?
5 posted on 04/08/2003 3:40:41 PM PDT by Maedhros (He hate me.)
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To: MinuteGal
(I don't think we're talking about Brit Hume here.)
6 posted on 04/08/2003 3:41:17 PM PDT by republicanwizard
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To: republicanwizard
Although Hume was a Brit.
7 posted on 04/08/2003 3:44:01 PM PDT by Maedhros (He hate me.)
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To: Maedhros
Hume was my intro to philosophy. Mainly, it seemed to be written in English and readable on the lunch-hour. Aside from that, it was sensible, easily seen, common sense. Then, too, by comparison some Kantian terms such as the unitary subject of apperception seem markedly obscure until you realize the original text was German and so: innately incomprehensible.
8 posted on 04/08/2003 3:44:04 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts)
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To: Maedhros
No.
9 posted on 04/08/2003 3:44:44 PM PDT by Boston Capitalist
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To: Maedhros
I like donuts.
10 posted on 04/08/2003 3:45:23 PM PDT by IowaHawk
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To: IowaHawk

I like donuts.

Since you admit the existence of "I" then you must reject Hume.

11 posted on 04/08/2003 3:50:12 PM PDT by Maedhros (He hate me.)
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To: Maedhros
Mmmmm, donuts.
12 posted on 04/08/2003 3:53:05 PM PDT by IowaHawk
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To: RightWhale
As Wittgenstein(the only sensible German-language philosopher imo) said, "Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent."

Good advice, I believe.
13 posted on 04/08/2003 3:54:09 PM PDT by headsonpikes
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To: IowaHawk

Mmmmm, donuts.

'I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception’.

14 posted on 04/08/2003 3:58:05 PM PDT by Maedhros (He hate me.)
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To: headsonpikes; RightWhale
You don't say.
15 posted on 04/08/2003 4:02:46 PM PDT by aposiopetic
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To: Maedhros
Interesting post, and here is my first comment.

Hume conducts an introspective thought-experiment and discovers that nothing can be found from observing his own consciousness other than perceptions themselves; this leads him to conclude that there is no independent ontological entity that transcends the given:

Truth -- the recognition of reality -- is the ultimate goal in ontological matters; and truth -- found within perceptions using the standard of reason -- transcends "given" perceptions.

Ask yourself: If perceptions are everything, what is a fact?

16 posted on 04/08/2003 4:15:43 PM PDT by thinktwice
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To: Maedhros
Well, Kant did say reading Hume awakened him from his "dogmatic slumber."
17 posted on 04/08/2003 4:21:08 PM PDT by CatoRenasci (Ceterum Censeo Mesopotamiam Esse Delendam)
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^
18 posted on 04/08/2003 4:27:17 PM PDT by Dumb_Ox
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Comment #19 Removed by Moderator

To: Maedhros
Does Kant's View of the Self Represent an Advance on Hume's?

uh... yup.

20 posted on 04/08/2003 5:56:55 PM PDT by Dr. Thorne
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To: Maedhros
Kant got it right.

Kant was unnecessary and, in the end, weak. The ones who really "got it right" are lumped int the group of "metaphysicians" that Hume dismissed with his argument. But Hume's argument as itself a logical contradiction in its roots (on an even more fundamental issue than the concept of "I"). Since Hume's argument itself does not work to begin with, it is not in need of an answer or improvement by Kant.

21 posted on 04/08/2003 7:20:40 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist
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To: Maedhros
Yes, but is there a teleological suspension of the ethical? And did they ever actually immanatize the eschaton? And what do you hear from Spinoza? Now that guy was a real party animal. Geez, I'm back in Philosophy 101. Quick, somebody give me your Cliff Notes for "Fear and Trembling."
22 posted on 04/08/2003 8:38:43 PM PDT by speedy
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To: speedy
I believe Kant would argue strenuously against immanentizing the eshcaton.
23 posted on 04/08/2003 8:42:04 PM PDT by Maedhros (He hate me.)
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To: Maedhros
Okay, I suspected as much. Have to dust off my copy of "Prolegomena To Any Future Metaphysics." Where DID I put that thing? Thanks for posting this -- it's been fun, in an eschatological sort of way.
24 posted on 04/08/2003 8:56:29 PM PDT by speedy
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To: headsonpikes
As per Wittgenstein, Hayek and Turing: No machine can replicate itself. No program can explain its program. No picture can be understood without references to things outside the canvass. Mind and consciousness is an idea impossible to be realized.

But from where does the ideal of mind and consciousness derive? See Bishop Berkeley.

25 posted on 04/08/2003 9:00:51 PM PDT by chinche
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To: chinche
As per Wittgenstein, Hayek and Turing: No machine can replicate itself. No program can explain its program. No picture can be understood without references to things outside the canvass.

Even Aristotle had this idea: somewhere(I've forgotten the specific place, alas) he notes how it is impossible to understand directly the faculty of understanding. As I understand it, it's rather like seeing one's own eye: only in a reflection is such a thing visible to itself.

26 posted on 04/08/2003 11:49:24 PM PDT by Dumb_Ox
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To: Maedhros
All of psychology and psychiatry is a scam, a made-up so called science. It turns a good buck for a lot of folks not fit for real work.
27 posted on 04/09/2003 12:05:51 AM PDT by JimRed (Disinformation is the leftist's and enemy's friend; consider the source before believing.)
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To: JimRed
Ok, but this is neither psychology nor psychiatry, but philosophy.
28 posted on 04/09/2003 6:53:08 AM PDT by Maedhros (Forms were too often changed by quite respectable people into formulae.)
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To: cornelis
The better question is whether the moderns improved on the ancients.

The ancients had a huge advantage: there was less raw information to process, hence things could be analysed by them in a purer, less hurried environment.

We are "more advanced" than them (in some aspects. this is clearly debatable, but i'd claim the influence of far eastern philosophies for example has improved our views of what the mind is). But, we are overwhelmed by the shear volume of crap we have to wade through.

we end up missing the forest for the trees...

29 posted on 04/09/2003 7:22:15 AM PDT by chilepepper (Gnocchi Seuton!)
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To: chilepepper
You have a point. This is a problem, especially for something like contemporary history.

But we have to remember that both moderns and ancients were aware of this quantity problem. In fact, it was the modern enterprise to pare it down and make it manageable. The whole Kantian program was built on "conditions for the possibility of" and with that the world was shrunk to bit-size quantities. The ancients were still too busy discovering to imagine such abortive procedures.

And the procedure was detrimental. Witness the political fallout of rationalism in the subsequent years. The neo-Kantians and their rampage of the ego. And finally the snide sneer of the post-modernist laughing at their "subjective program." But all that can only be understood by comparing the ancients and moderns.

30 posted on 04/09/2003 8:11:17 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: Maedhros
Ok, but this is neither psychology nor psychiatry, but philosophy.

OOPS! My bad. That's what's great about FR; I never stop learnin' stuff from you better educated FReepers!

31 posted on 04/09/2003 8:46:23 AM PDT by JimRed (Disinformation is the leftist's and enemy's friend; consider the source before believing.)
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To: drstevej
Ancient weather lore states that the wind direction on Palm Sunday is the wind direction which will prevail over the coming summer.
32 posted on 04/13/2003 9:32:22 AM PDT by Devil_Anse
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To: chinche
I didn't know you read Kant.

"Kant read," he replied. ba-dum bum!

I don't care what 'Kant' Brit Hume espouses as long as he has
Ann Coulter as a guest.
ba-dum bum! Two for one!

33 posted on 09/23/2004 10:18:03 PM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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