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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Classical German Philosophy

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Department of Philosophy | Classical German Philosophy | Research | A Systematic Survey of the Functions of Objectivity in Kant

A Systematic Survey of the Functions of Objectivity in Kant


Marco Santi

PhD Project


This project investigates the role which Kant assigns to certain different, but related, notions of objectivity in the cognitive lives of human subjects. Though the concept of objectivity (and the evaluative predicate 'objective', applied to representations) is generally acknowledged as central both for Kant's theory of knowledge and for his transcendental concerns, there is disagreement among the interpreters as to the meaning and systematic relations of several more specific notions. This dissertation's contribution will consist in singling out four different Kantian notions which go by the name 'objectivity' and in arguing that they must be clearly distinguished, analogously to the kinds of representations to which they respectively ascribe objective value. The kinds of objectivity at issue are the following four: the reference to objects which is proper to perception, the objective form displayed by discursive thought as such, the semantic features of the categories which enable the representation of subject-independent objects, and the claim to universal acceptance made by adequately justified assertions. This classification does not constitute a linear hierarchy, whose levels build each on the previous ones to attain increasing degrees of objective value, but it rather presents a more complex net of interdependencies. Part of this project's work will hence consist in spelling out the ways in which the four notions are not only distinct from, but also to some extent independent of one another.

One important instance of these complex systematic relations is Kant's judgment of perception. Such a judgment is based on objective perceptions (intuitions referring to a given object) and partakes of the objective logical form of judgment as such; nevertheless, it does not contain an application of the categories and therefore remains subjective on the level of the ontological determination (it does not ascribe subject-independent properties to its object). The use of judgmental forms is thus shown to be independent of the application of the categories.

The mutual independence of the objectivity of perception and that of judgment provides another significant object of study for the chosen analysis. Kant's doctrine of the duality of sensibility and the understanding entails that 'aesthetic' and 'logical' objectivity are orthogonal properties, and that perception can, in its peculiar way, represent objects irrespective of its employment for concepts and judgments. The same thesis will be substantiated with an analysis of Kant's account of animal “cognition”. Both arguments will indicate the stand to be taken in the debate on perception sparked by McDowell's strong conceptualist theses: on Kant's moderate non-conceptualism, the aesthetic kind of reference to objects does not require the use of concepts.

The project's thematic focus will also indicate the appropriate textual choice. Along with Kant's major Critical works, his extensive corpus on logic and anthropology (mostly unpublished in his lifetime) deserves close attention, because it provides insight into his theory of the functions through which subjects, in the course of their factual cognitive lives, can attain solid empirical knowledge. Moreover, these two disciplines form the broader epistemological context in which Kant understood his own transcendental logic and prove to be the real source of some of the objectivity predicates.


E-mail: mail.marco.santi(at)gmail.com