Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2020-04-16, 17:13 authored by Melanie SwanMelanie Swan
9 ABSTRACT Explaining appearances, the problem of specifying the relation between empirical appearances and abstract concepts, continues to confound scholars. Most thinkers concentrate on the terms to be related, as opposed to the structure of how the connection is to be made. Instead, I argue that the important focus should be on the third position that is required to connect the terms. Kant and Hegel both employ philosophical third positions, imagination and self-conscious explanation, respectively, to relate the sensibility and the intellect in the operation of cognition to explain appearances. Their accounts explain appearances by indicating how sensory representations that appear in perception are to be subsumed into abstract yet objective concepts.

At the heart of explaining appearances is the problem of time. For Kant, the linchpin is that the understanding must unify time with the categories for any appearance to appear. For Hegel, knowing is a self-developing process, which as processual, is necessarily temporalized. Time (as history) becomes a philosophical object, and both the form and the content of experience are temporalized. It is precisely the problem of time that requires the specification of a philosophical third position to explain appearances, and ultimately deliver the higher-stakes objective conditions of knowing. Kant and Hegel treat the problem of time differently, but both specify a third position to relate determinate content and abstract form. For Kant, the imagination mediates between the sensibility and the understanding. For Hegel, self-conscious explanation provides intelligibility between external appearances and mental structures (concepts). Kant’s conditions for object recognition involve the logical forms of judgment and the categories, and Hegel’s objective conditions for all knowing integrate difference, necessity, otherness, and infinity in the movement of the Concept (a thinking substance and its object).

In Chapter 1, I introduce the topic and the three main formulations of the explaining appearances problem. First is Kant’s “Letter to Herz” specification as to the agreement between sense representations and abstract concepts. Second is the contemporary Conceptualism debate’s formulation of the connection between non-conceptual sensibility and conceptual understanding. The Conceptualism debate is an argument about the degree to which the Kantian faculties of intuition (sensibility), imagination, and understanding incorporate conceptual content (the categories). Conceptual means conceptually-determined content per the involvement of the categories (the pure concepts of the understanding that Kant articulates (§10, B106, 212)). Third is the more general formulation of the Humean dilemma addressed by Hegel as the relation of determinate content and abstract form, which is a format that can be sufficiently resolved.

In Chapter 2, I argue for a conceptualist reading of Kant’s account of explaining appearances. I resolve some much-debated ambiguities that arise in §26 and the B160 note. The central issue in explaining appearances for Kant is the generation of the a priori unity of space and time, per the formal intuition of space and time as specified in §26 and the B160 note. I frame my argument in terms of the Conceptualism debate (the extent to which Kant’s notion of intuition is category-determined and how this influences the unicity of time and space). I conclude that the explaining appearances problem cannot be fully resolved when specified as the Kantian “Letter to Herz” problem of how agreement is possible between sense representations and abstract concepts. Solution is possible, though, when the explaining appearances problem is recast as the Humean dilemma of the relation between determinate content and abstract concepts.

In Chapter 3, I discuss how for Hegel, Kant fails to sufficiently surmount the problem of time (the conflict between time-bound intuitions and atemporal concepts). I argue that Hegel’s advance is to specify the understanding conceiving of itself under the concept of infinity (universality), which allows the integration of appearance and concept in the process of consciousness’s self-determination. I resolve the subjective conditions problem (the challenge of individual consciousness having only subjectively-applicable operations) that arises in Hegel’s account with a Bildung-based reading of the Consciousness chapter, that does not rely on consciousness’s progression to Self-Consciousness or external terms.

In Chapter 4, I argue that a recurrent theme extending across Kant and Hegel’s work regarding critical time enables the substantive progress that ultimately resolves the explaining appearances problem. Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic is the critical time formulation that brings time and space into subjectivity, as opposed to space and time being objective external facts. Hegel further incorporates time into subjectivity by defining history as a philosophical object, again, rather than as being external objective facts. In the same kind of structural move (internalization) that Kant and Hegel make with time, Hegel also brings the activity of explanation into subjectivity, as opposed to explanation being an external objective scientific process. Explanation is redefined as an agential self-conscious activity, whose validity (truth determination) is a function of consciousness’s own satisfaction with the explanation, not with regard to some external metric. Self-conscious explanation resolves the explaining appearances 11 problem by providing the objective conditions for all knowing (through the movement of the Concept in its principles of difference, necessity, otherness, and infinity) as opposed to merely the objective conditions for object recognition as Kant supplies. The result is a shift from representational thinking to conceptual thinking (and epistemology to phenomenology).

The important stakes of this work are that the explaining appearances problem is resolved. The solution reveals an even more crystallizing result of this analysis. This is that beyond what can be regarded as the already stunning importance of Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic in bringing time and space into subjectivity, as opposed to time being seen as objective external facts, which Hegel also similarly extends by rendering history as a philosophical object, the even more important critical benefit stemming from the Transcendental Aesthetic is as follows. The Transcendental Aesthetic forces the thinking of the conditions of possibility of experience, which also forces the thinking of the conditions of possibility for objects of experience. The implication is that there is no experience, or objects of experience, without the Transcendental Aesthetic. (Self-conscious explanation is just one of consciousness’s objects, in its phase of evolving from consciousness to self-consciousness.) The Transcendental Aesthetic not only brings time and space into subjectivity, it enables the conditions of possibility of all experience and all objects of experience. This formulation leads directly into Hegel’s articulation of the Concept as the persistent structure of the conditions of possibility for all experience and for all objects of experience. My overarching claim is that there is no Hegel without Kant, in the sense that there is no Hegelian Concept without the Kantian Transcendental Aesthetic. Hence, the Transcendental Aesthetic should be seen as a superlative critical time formulation that not only cannot be collapsed into the Transcendental Logic as some revisionist scholars propose, but whose greater philosophical import should be emphasized and further developed.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Philosophy

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Daniel W. Smith

Additional Committee Member 2

Leonard Harris

Additional Committee Member 3

William McBride

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