Kant's View of the Mind and Consciousness of Self
Andrew Brook, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

At the heart of this method is inference to the best explanation.


Only the introspective observer distinguishes the items one from another; there are no real distinctions among the items themselves. [...] And most damningly, “even the observation itself alters and distorts the state of the object observed” (1786, Ak. IV:471).


“Concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” (A51=B75).


Three kinds of synthesis are required to organize information, namely apprehending in intuition, reproducing in imagination, and recognizing in concepts (A97-A105).


Prior to synthesis and conceptual organization, a manifold of intuitions would be an undifferentiated unit, a seamless, buzzing confusion. Thus, to distinguish one impression from another, we must give them separate locations. Kant speaks only of temporal location but he may very well have had spatial location in mind, too.


Synthesis into an object by an act of recognition requires two things. One is memory. The other is that something in the past representations must be recognized as related to present ones. And to recognize that earlier and later representations are both representing a single object, we must use a concept, a rule (A121, A126). In fact, we must use a number of concepts: number, quality, modality, and, of course, the specific empirical concept of the object we are recognizing.


Objects of representation share a general structure. They are all some number of something, they all have qualities, and they all have an existence-status. (Put this way, Kant's claim that the categories are required for knowledge looks quite plausible.)


The introduction of unified consciousness opens up an important new opportunity. Kant can now explore the necessary conditions of conscious content being unified in this way. To make a long story short, Kant now argues that conscious content could have the unity that it does only if the contents themselves are tied together causally.


Being a single integrated group of experiences (roughly, one person's experiences) requires two kinds of unity.

1. The experiences must have a single common subject (A350);
2. The consciousness that this subject has of represented objects and/or representations must be unified.


The need for a subject arises from two straight-forward considerations: representations not only represent something, they represent it to someone; and, representations are not given to us – to become a representation, sensory inputs must be processed by an integrated cognitive system.


Seven Theses about Consciousness of and Knowledge of Self

1. There are two kinds of consciousness of self: consciousness of oneself and one's psychological states in inner sense and consciousness of oneself and one's states via performing acts of apperception.

"… the I that I think is distinct from the I that it, itself, intuits …; I am given to myself beyond that which is given in intuition, and yet know myself, like other phenomena, only as I appear to myself, not as I am …" [B155]

2. Most ordinary representations generated by most ordinary acts of synthesis provide the representational base of consciousness of oneself and one's states.

The way in which one becomes conscious of an act of representing is not by receiving intuitions but by doing it [...] Equally, we can be conscious of ourselves as subject merely by doing acts of representing. No further representation is needed.


I am conscious of myself as the single common subject of a certain group of experiences by being conscious of “the identity of the consciousness in … conjoined … representations” (B133).

3. In inner sense, one is conscious of oneself only as one appears to oneself, not as one is.

4. The referential machinery used to obtain consciousness of self as subject requires no identifying (or other) ascription of properties to oneself.

One standard argument for (1) goes as follows:

"My use of the word ‘I’ as the subject of [statements such as ‘I feel pain’ or ‘I see a canary’] is not due to my having identified as myself something [otherwise recognized] of which I know, or believe, or wish to say, that the predicate of my statement applies to it" [Shoemaker 1968, pp.558].

A standard argument for (2), that certain indexicals are essential, goes as follows. To know that I wrote a certain book a few years ago, it is not enough to know that someone over six feet tall wrote that book, or that someone who teaches philosophy at a particular university wrote that book, or … or … or … , for I could know all these things without knowing that it was me who has these properties (and I could know that it was me who wrote that book and not know that any of these things are properties of me). As Shoemaker puts it,

"… no matter how detailed a token-reflexive-free description of a person is, … it cannot possibly entail that I am that person." [1968, pp. 560]

Kant unquestionably articulated the argument for (1):

"In attaching ‘I’ to our thoughts, we designate the subject only transcendentally … without noting in it any quality whatsoever—in fact, without knowing anything of it either directly or by inference." [A355]


“any judgment upon it has always already made use of its representation”. Kant seems to be saying that to know that anything is true of me, I must first know that it is me of whom it is true. This is something very like the essential indexical claim.

5. When one is conscious of oneself as subject, one has a bare consciousness of self in which “nothing manifold is given.”

6. When one is conscious of oneself as subject, one's bare consciousness of self yields no knowledge of self.

7. When we are conscious of ourselves as subject, we are conscious of ourselves as the “single common subject” [CPR, A350] of a number of representations.
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