Spontaneity before the Critical Turn: Crusius, Tetens, and the Pre-Critical Kant on the Spontaneity of the Mind

Journal of the History of Philosophy 54 (4):625-648 (2016)
Kant’s introduction in the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (KrV) of a spontaneity proper to the understanding is often thought to be one of the central innovations of his Critical philosophy. As I show in this paper, however, a number of thinkers within the 18th century German tradition in the time before the KrV (including the pre-Critical Kant himself) had already developed a robust conception of the spontaneity of the mind, a conception which, in many respects lays the groundwork for Kant’s later, rather more influential account. To illustrate this, I consider three accounts of the spontaneity of the mind—those of Crusius, the pre-Critical Kant, and Tetens—which, while distinct, nonetheless relate to and explicitly draw upon one another in important ways, forming as it were the interconnected and, thus far, largely overlooked pre-Critical context for Kant’s discussion of the spontaneity of the understanding in the KrV. As I conclude, while Kant’s own account of the spontaneity of the understanding, and particularly of the I think clearly departs from these accounts, it nonetheless continues to connect in significant ways with the trailblazing discussions of his immediate predecessors.
Keywords Kant  Tetens  Crusius  Spontaneity  Understanding  Apperception
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DOI 10.1353/hph.2016.0073
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