Kant on the role of the imagination (and images) in the transition from intuition to experience

In Konstantin Pollok & Gerad Gentry (eds.), Imagination in German Idealism and Romanticism. Cambridge, UK: pp. 27-47 (2019)

Clinton Tolley
University of California, San Diego
In this chapter I will argue against both of these interpretations and will begin to develop an alternate account of imagination in experience. Against those who minimize imagination’s role, I will highlight the distinctive contribution of the imagination to experience. In particular, I will foreground the specific role that the imagination plays in making possible the distinct mental act, intermediate between intuition and experience, that Kant calls “perception [Wahrnehmung]” as the “empirical consciousness [Bewußtsein]” of appearances (cf. B207). Because perception involves images essentially (cf. A120), and because Kant understands experience itself to be a “synthesis of perceptions” (cf. B218), this strongly suggests (against minimalists) that experience, too, will incorporate images into the manner in which it allows us to cognize physical objects. By highlighting the contribution of imagination prior to experience, my own account, therefore, overlaps in part with the readings that seek instead to maximize the role of imagination. Against maximalists, however, I will argue that imagination contributes only in (and after) the transition from intuition to perception, rather than already being at work in the stage of intuition itself. More specifically, I will argue that Kant takes the activity of imagination to make perception possible by acting on already-formed intuitions in order to bring about the consciousness of them, rather than to bring the intuitions about in the first place. I will also argue that this synthesis of intuitions should be kept distinct from the activity of understanding.
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