Concepts, Content, and Consciousness: A Kantian View of Mind

Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1998)
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Abstract

The mind is, for Kant, a functional system whereby bare sensations are combined into representations of objects and unified within a single consciousness. I argue that this picture allows for realistic mental content and provides a useful explanation of the nature of consciousness. ;However, despite its insights, a Kantian view of mind has two significant difficulties: the first concerns the relationship between mental concepts and objects in the world while the second concerns the relationship of concepts to the consciousness which makes use of them. ;The source of the problem surrounding the relationship of concepts and objects lies in Kant's emphasis on the apriori aspects of cognitive synthesis. Kant's concern is not with the empirical content of cognition, and as a result, he has difficulty explaining how thought can be about the world. Kant's emphasis on the apriori is turned upside down in Wittgenstein's explication of language as a public, rule-governed activity grounded in human practices. I maintain that this Wittgensteinian view of language serves as an external model for several important aspects of Kantian synthesis and that language provides insights into cognitive capacities that Kant maintains are inaccessible. In short, language-games are capable of illuminating the relationship between concepts and objects in a way that allows one to retain Kant's concern for realistically grounded cognitive content. ;The second problem surrounding a Kantian view of mind concerns the relationship of concepts and consciousness. For Kant concepts are entirely dependent upon mental unity, but this mental unity only results from the actual use of concepts in synthesizing representations. In other words, Kant's account of mind is circular, but I argue that it is not viciously so. In fact, Kant's account of consciousness not only avoids vicious circularity but also provides a useful model for contemporary investigations into consciousness insofar as it accounts for both mental unity and personal consciousness within a functionalist view of mind

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Deborah Heikes
University of Alabama, Huntsville

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