"The unity of time's measure": Kant's reply to Locke

Philosophers' Imprint 9 (4):1-31 (2009)
Abstract
In a crucial passage of the second-edition Transcendental Deduction, Kant claims that the concept of motion is central to our understanding of change and temporal order. I show that this seemingly idle claim is really integral to the Deduction, understood as a replacement for Locke’s “physiological” epistemology (cf. A86-7/B119). Béatrice Longuenesse has shown that Kant’s notion of distinctively inner receptivity derives from Locke. To explain the a priori application of concepts such as succession to this mode of sensibility, Kant construes the mind as receptive to its own activity. As Longuenesse understands Kant’s response to Locke, “motion” becomes little more than a metaphor for the action of understanding on inner sense. For Michael Friedman, in contrast, this passage evidences Kant’s deep concern with the foundations of Newtonian science. He reads it as a reference to inertial motion, the standard by which temporal intervals are measured. I show that Longuenesse’s and Friedman’s interpretations are in fact complementary. Both Locke and Kant are deeply concerned with the quantification of time. So Longuenesse is right that §24 is meant to supplant Locke’s account, and Friedman correctly takes it as the foundation of Kant’s account of the application of quantitative concepts to time. Kant aims, specifically, to explain cognition of time as continuous magnitude. However, Longuenesse leaves Kant without an answer to Locke’s challenge that continuous magnitude cannot be understood on the basis of discrete magnitude. And on Friedman’s view Kant’s account of the understanding’s activity presupposes, and thus cannot explain, the achievements of the mathematical sciences (such as the representation of temporal continuity). On my reading, Kant’s key contention is that we must regard the segregation of temporally ordered representation into units as the work of the understanding, rather than (as Locke views it) of sensibility. By giving the understanding this role, Kant succeeds where he takes Locke to fail. I show how the power to unify temporal representation can be ascribed to the understanding on the basis, not of assumed mathematical or scientific knowledge, but of its characterization as the power of judgment.
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