Consciousness and its Transcendental Conditions: Kant’s Anti-Cartesian Revolt

In Lähteenmäki & Remes Heinämaa (ed.), Consciousness: From Perception to Reflection in the History of Philosophy. Springer (2007)
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Abstract

Kant was the first great anti-Cartesian in epistemology and philosophy of mind. He criticised five central tenets of Cartesianism and developed sophisticated alternatives to them. His transcendental analysis of the necessary a priori conditions for the very possibility of self-conscious human experience invokes externalism about justification and proves externalism about mental content. Semantic concern with the unity of the proposition—required for propositionally structured awareness and self-awareness—is central to Kant’s account of the unity of any cognitive judgment. The perceptual ‘binding problem’ is central to Kant’s account of the unity of the object in perception. This paper outlines Kant’s development and justification of his a rationalist account of our active intellect and its roles in perceptual consciousness and in rational judgment, including our consciousness of our rational freedom, all through a radically innovative transcendental inquiry into the necessary a priori conditions for us to be conscious at all. Kant’s anti-Cartesianism is a major philosophical breakthrough far surpassing contemporary anti-Cartesian efforts. It behoves us to give Kant his due and avail ourselves of his profound insights into the nature of human mindedness.

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Kenneth R. Westphal
Bogazici University

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