Understanding and sensibility

Inquiry 49 (1):2 – 25 (2006)
Abstract
Kant holds that the human cognitive power is divided into two "stems", understanding and sensibility. This doctrine has seemed objectionably dualistic to many critics, who see these stems as distinct parts, each able on its own to produce representations, which must somehow interact, determining or constraining one another, in order to secure the fit, requisite for cognition, between concept and intuition. This reading cannot be squared, however, with what Kant actually says about theoretical cognition and the way understanding and sensibility cooperate in it. Such cognition, as Kant conceives of it, satisfies two conditions: it has unity, and it depends on the existence of its object. The first of these conditions entails that the cognitive power must lie in spontaneity, or understanding, while the second implies that this spontaneity depends on receptivity, or sensibility, to be the cognitive power that it is. Consideration of how these capacities must be conceived as cooperating in cognition reveals them to be related, not as interacting parts, but as form and matter. Such a conception of their relation may at first glance seem to be merely another version of dualistic thinking; in fact, however, a proper appreciation of it eliminates the appearance of dualism and helps allay an associated concern that Kant's distinction would taint our cognition with an unacceptable subjectivism.
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Hannah Ginsborg (2008). Was Kant a Nonconceptualist? Philosophical Studies 137 (1):65 - 77.
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