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Is the Feeling of Unity That Kant Identifies in his Third Critique a Type of Inexpressible Knowledge?

  • A.W. Moore (a1)

Kant, in his third Critique, confronts the issue of how rule-governed objective judgement is possible. He argues that it requires a particular kind of aesthetic response to one's experience. I dub this response ‘the Feeling of Unity’, and I raise the question whether it is a type of inexpressible knowledge. Using David Bell's account of these matters as a touchstone, I argue that it is.

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1 David Bell, ‘The Art of Judgement’, Mind 96 (1987). (See also David Bell, ‘Some Kantian Thoughts on Propositional Unity’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 75 (2001), §IV, for a very useful summary.) My essay is derived from a lecture that I gave at a conference in honour of David Bell at the University of Sheffield in July 2006. I am grateful to participants at that conference for their extremely helpful comments.

2 Kant Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. Guyer Paul and Wood Allen W. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

3 Kant Immanuel, Critique of the Power of Judgement, trans. Guyer Paul and Matthews Eric and ed. Guyer Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Note: both in the title given here and in all subsequent quotations from Kant I have inserted an ‘e’ in ‘judgement’ to conform with the spelling used in the rest of this essay.

4 Op. cit. note 1, 226–227 and §7 respectively.

5 Op. cit. note 2, A78/B103.

6 Wittgenstein Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, trans. Anscombe G.E.M., revised edn (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974), Pt I, §219, his emphasis.

7 Op. cit. note 2, A51/B75.

8 This label is not meant to signal any special homogeneity: the Feeling of Unity has many disparate instances.

9 Op. cit. note 1, §5.

10 Ibid., 237, his emphasis.

11 See ibid., 239–240, together with references given there.

12 Op. cit. note 6, 213; and, more generally, Pt II, §xi, passim. See also Kant, op. cit. note 3, §35, for the importance of imagination in Kant.

13 This is of course an allusion to the philosophical quagmire which is the concept of grueness: see Goodman Nelson, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, 3rd ed. (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1979), esp. ch. III.

14 See esp. Moore A.W., Points of View (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), ch. 8.

15 Unsurprisingly! I acknowledge the influence of Kant in ibid., 186, note 13.

16 Somewhat more precisely, are instances of the Feeling of Unity appropriately regarded as states of inexpressible knowledge?

17 Op. cit. note 2, A133/B172. Note: ‘practised’ was originally spelt with a ‘c’; I have used the British spelling.

18 See Kant's own reference to training, and his discussion of examples, shortly after the material quoted in the previous footnote, in ibid., A134/B173–174.

19 Op. cit. note 6, 277, his emphasis. Cf. Pt I, §232.

20 On their involving predicates see op. cit. note 3, §§36–37; on their communicability see ibid., 5:217–218, 231–232, and 292–293; on the demands that Kant places on concepts see ibid., 5:174.

21 For an excellent discussion of Kant's attitude to intuitions without concepts, focusing primarily on his first Critique, see Lucy Allais, ‘Kant's Account of Non-Conceptual Content’ (unpublished).

22 Op. cit. note 3, 5:286.

23 See e.g. op. cit. note 2, A312–338/B368–396; and Kant Immanuel, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Gregor Mary J., in his Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), Pt One, Bk II, Ch. II, §VII.

24 Op. cit. note 3, 5:314, emphasis removed.

26 Op. cit. note 2, A50/B74. Note: the translations in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant render ‘Erkenntnis’ as ‘cognition’ rather than as ‘knowledge’, but nothing of philosophical substance hangs on my tacit departure from that, either here or elsewhere in this essay.

27 Expressible knowledge which is not knowledge that this or that is the case is ‘tacit’ knowledge: see Davies Martin, ‘Tacit Knowledge and Subdoxastic States’, in George Alexander (ed.), Reflections on Chomsky (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989).

28 See e.g. op. cit. note 23, 5:103; and op. cit. note 3, 5:195.

29 Op. cit. note 3, 5:206. (To understand the force of this passage, note that Kant counts intuitions as a kind of representation: see op. cit. note 2, A320/B376–377.)

30 Op. cit. note 3, 5:314.

33 There are, however, some further connections with my own view which I want to take a brief digression to consider. This interplay between ideas of reason and aesthetic ideas is just the sort of thing that is liable to result from the (necessarily forlorn) attempt to express inexpressible knowledge, or at least inexpressible knowledge of a certain kind. I have in mind our knowledge of how to act in accord with what Kant calls regulative principles, or more specifically our knowledge of how to act as if ideas of reason applied within the sphere of possible experience (op. cit. note 2, A508–515/B536–543 and A669/B697 ff.), knowledge which I take to be, indeed, inexpressible. In attempting to express an item of knowledge of this kind, we are liable to say that the idea in question does so apply. And we are liable to exercise our imagination in an attempt to produce an intuition that is adequate to the idea; in other words we are liable to create an aesthetic idea. Suppose, for example, that we have inexpressible knowledge of how to act as if God is always at hand. And suppose that the attempt to express this results in our saying that God is always at hand (cf. ibid., A674/B702 ff.). Then we shall naturally try to ‘picture’ God as some ubiquitous Being. This will involve us in creating an aesthetic idea which will ‘let [us] think more than [we] can express in a concept determined by words;… [and will serve the idea of God] by opening up for [the mind] the prospect of an immeasurable field of related representations’, (op. cit. note 3, 5:315). (Cf. Deleuze Gilles, Kant's Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties, trans. Tomlinson Hugh and Habberjam Barbara (London: The Athlone Press, 1984), 57.)—Not that the connections between Kant's aesthetics and the attempt to express what cannot be expressed stop there. For what will make these various contrivances seem ‘apt’ for their respective (impossible) tasks is surely something like the Feeling of Unity: a feeling that certain concepts, intuitions, and linguistic items belong together and give life to one another; a feeling which is, in Kant's words, ‘of much that is unnameable’, and which, again in his words, ‘animates the cognitive faculties and combines spirit with the mere letter of language’, (op. cit. note 3, 5:316).

34 Op. cit. note 1, 243 and 239 respectively.

35 ibid., 243.

36 Sellars Wilfrid, ‘Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind’, reprinted in his Science, Perception and Reality (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), 169.

37 I am here summarizing views that I have defended elsewhere: see op. cit. note 14, ch. 8.

38 Op. cit. note 1, 238, discussing Kant, op. cit. note 3, 5:240–241.

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