Recollections of Idealism [Wiedererrinerter Idealismus]

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Recollections of Idealism

[Wiedererrinerter Idealismus]

Robert B. Brandom

Recollections of Idealism

Part One: A Semantic Sonata in Kant and Hegel

  1. Norms, Selves, and Concepts

  1. Autonomy, Community, and Freedom

  1. History, Reason, and Reality

Part Two: Knowing and Representing:

Reading (between the lines of) Hegel’s Introduction to the Phenomenology

  1. Conceptual Realism and the Semantic Possibility of Knowledge

  1. Representation and the Experience of Error:

A Functionalist Approach to the Distinction between Appearance and Reality

  1. Following the Path of Despair to a Bacchanalian Revel:

The Emergence of the Second, True, Object

Part Three: Recollecting Hegel

  1. Sketch of a Program for a Critical Reading of Hegel:

Comparing Empirical and Logical Concepts

  1. Some Pragmatist Themes in Hegel’s Idealism:

Negotiation and Administration in Hegel’s Account of the

Structure and Content of Conceptual Norms

  1. Holism and Idealism in Hegel’s Phenomenology

Part One

A Semantic Sonata in Kant and Hegel

Chapter One
Norms, Selves, and Concepts
I. Introduction

1. In the first three chapters I consider some of the ideas that animated the philosophical tradition, anchored and epitomized by Kant and Hegel, which they called ‘idealism.’ My aim is to reanimate some of those ideas, breathing new life into them by exhibiting a new perspective from which they show up as worthy of our interest and attention today. I do that by retrospectively rationally reconstructing a coherent, cumulative trajectory of thought, carving it out of the context in which it is embedded, ruthlessly ignoring elements near and dear to Kant and Hegel that are not essential to the line of thought on which I am focusing. This will seem to some a perverse sort of enterprise. At the end of Chapter Three I assemble conceptual raw materials drawn from all three chpaters, in order to address the methodological issue of how to think about the nature, justification, and possible value of this sort of undertaking.

II. Problems with Early Modern Semantics
2. At the heart of Descartes’ innovations in epistemology and the philosophy of mind lies a revolutionary semantic idea. He saw that the rising new science required giving up the old ways of thinking about the relations between appearance and reality. Since the Greeks, the idea had been that, at least when things go well, the way things appear to us resembles the way they really are. Resemblance in this sense is a matter of sharing properties (or some more general sort of form), as a realistic picture shares some elements of shape and perhaps color with what it pictures. But on Copernicus’s account, the reality behind the appearance of a stationary Earth and a revolving Sun is a rotating Earth and stationary Sun. No resemblance there. And Galileo’s reading of what he calls the “book of nature, written in the language of mathematics” finds the best way of getting a grip on the reality of motion to be by manipulating geometrical appearances, in which a period of time shows up as the length of a line, and acceleration as the area of triangle. The category of resemblance is of little help in understanding the connections that are being exploited. And in Descartes’ own algebraized geometry, the equations of lines and circles do not at all resemble the geometrical figures about which they let us reason so effectively. Descartes sees that a more abstract notion of representation is needed. We’ve been worrying about it ever since.1
For Descartes, the way discursive algebraic equations represent geometrical figures serves as a paradigm of representational relations generally, and in particular of the relation between appearance and reality—between the concept-manipulating mind and the geometrical Galilean world of extended things in motion that mind thinks about by representing it. What makes it possible to use algebraic formulae to reason about geometrical objects—the phenomenon I am claiming provided Descartes with his semantic paradigm—is the global isomorphism between the two systems. One can, if one likes, still think of a formula and the figure it represents as sharing something or being alike in some way. But what they share must be thought about in terms of the role each plays in the system of which it is a part: the structure-preserving way in which a formula’s relations to other formulae can be mapped onto a figure’s relations to other figures. Apart from those horizontal relations between representings and other representings, the vertical semantic relations between representings and representeds are invisible and unintelligible. This holistic character of the new notion of representation was not lost on Spinoza, for whom thought of the world is possible only because “the order and connection of things is the same as the order and connection of ideas,” nor on Leibniz, who required each monad to represent its whole universe in order to represent any of it.2
3. Where Descartes’ semantic concerns center on the nature of representational success, Kant addresses more fundamental questions about the nature of representational purport. What is it, he wants to know, for our ideas so much as to seem to be about something? What is it for us to take or treat them as, for them to show up to us as, representings, in the sense of something that answers for its correctness to what thereby counts as being represented?3 This issue is the core around which cluster the other elements of Kant’s concern with what he calls “objectivity.” The line of thought he develops to answer these questions begins with the identification of a critical shortcoming of the account of judgment he inherited. That account finds its place as part of the traditional classificatory theory of consciousness. This is the idea that to be aware of something is to take it as something: paradigmatically, to classify something particular as being of some general kind. In its form as a theory of judgment, it becomes the view that judging is predicating one concept of another: putting two concepts into a relation, marked by a copula, whose paradigm once again is bringing a particular concept under a general one, or subordinating a less general to a more general one.
In a radical break with the whole of the logical tradition he inherited, Kant rejects this way of thinking about judgment. The reason he gives is that it does not apply to logically compound judgments:

I have never been able to accept the interpretation which logicians give of judgment in general. It is, they declare, the representation of a relation between two concepts…(W)hat is defective in this interpretation…(is) that it applies only to categorical, not to hypothetical and disjunctive judgments (the two latter containing a relation not of concepts but of judgments), an oversight from which many troublesome consequences have followed. [CPR B140-1]

It will be instructive to fill in some of those “troublesome consequences.” The same logical tradition distinguishes between mental acts and their contents—that is, between the two sides of what Sellars calls the “notorious ‘ing’/‘ed’ ambiguity,” which affects concepts such as judgment, representation, experience, and perception—between what one is doing in judging, representing, experiencing, or perceiving, on the one hand, and what is judged, represented, experienced, or perceived, on the other. Sensitivity to that distinction should prompt the question whether understanding judgment as consisting in predication or the relation of two concepts is intended to address the activity of judging or the propositional contents of such acts. It is in the context of that question that the invocation of the sorts of compound judgment that populate Kant’s Table of Judgments—negative, hypothetical, disjunctive, and modal judgments—makes most visible the inadequacy of the traditional way of thinking about judgment.
For it then becomes clear that in the traditional theory, the notion of predication is being asked to do two incompatible jobs. On the one hand, it serves as a structural way of building up new judgeable contents. On the other hand, it is thought of as a kind of doing that has the significance of endorsing such contents. The collision between these two senses in which predication is an ‘operation’ is clearest when one thinks about judgeable contents appearing as unasserted (unendorsed) components of more complex sentences (judgments). The conditional is a paradigm. When I assert “If Pa then Pb,” I have not asserted Pa. Have I predicated P of a? If so, then predication does not amount to endorsement: predicating is not judging. If not, then it looks as though there is an equivocation when I detach from the conditional, reasoning:

If Pa then Pb


So: Pb

For the second premise is a predication, and the antecedent of the first premise is not a predication.
Geach picks up this Kant-Frege point, using it in his masterful, gem-like essay “Ascriptivism,” to argue against emotivist semantic analyses of terms of moral evaluation.4 His target is theories that understand the normative significance of terms such as ‘good’ not as part of the content of what is said about an act, not as specifying a characteristic that is being attributed, but rather as marking the force of the speech act. Calling something good is thought of as doing something distinctive: commending. Geach first asks what the limits of this ploy are. He points to the lovely archaic English verb “to macarize”, which means to characterize someone as happy. Does the possibility of understanding calling someone happy as macarizing her mean that happiness is not a property being invoked in specifying the content of the claim that someone is happy, because in saying that we are really doing something else, namely performing the special speech act of macarizing? If we can do that with ‘happy’, why not with ‘mass’ or ‘red’? What are the rules of this game? He then suggests the embedding test: look to see if an expression can be used to construct a judgeable content that is not directly used to perform a speech act, paradigmatically in the antecedent of a conditional. Because imperatival force is grammatically marked, we cannot say:

*“If shut the door, then….”

But we can say things like “If he is happy, then I am glad,” and “If that is a good thing to do, then you have reason to do it.” In the first of these, I have not macarized anyone, and in the second, I have not commended any action. So the terms ‘good’ and ‘happy’ contribute to the specification of content, and are not to be understood as mere force indicators. (I called this essay “masterful” and “gem-like.” Geach exhibits a deep fault-line in an entire philosophical approach, nails down his point, and leaves it at that. The essay is five pages long.5)
Worrying about compound forms of judgment containing unendorsed judgeable contents as components required Kant to distinguish the operations by which such contents are constructed from the activity of endorsing the results of those operations. Further, once we see that the doctrine of judgment as predication is trying to have things both ways, and that no single ‘operation’ can be taken both to form contents and to be the adoption of an attitude towards those contents, the need to deal with compound judgements shows that predication is inadequate for both purposes. Endorsing hypothetical (conditional) judgeable contents is not happily thought of as predicating, and those contents are not happily thought of as formed by predication.6
III. Kant’s Most Basic Idea

4. For this reason, Kant could not take over the traditional classificatory theory of consciousness, which depends on understanding judging as predicating. But what can go in its place? Here is perhaps Kant’s deepest and most original idea, the axis around which I see all of his thought as revolving. What distinguishes judging and intentional doing from the activities of non-sapient creatures is not that they involve some special sort of mental processes, but that they are things knowers and agents are in a distinctive way responsible for. Judging and acting involve commitments. They are endorsements, exercises of authority. Responsibility, commitment, endorsement, authority—these are all normative notions. Judgments and actions make knowers and agents liable to characteristic kinds of normative assessment. Kant’s most basic idea is that minded creatures are to be distinguished from un-minded ones not by a matter-of-fact ontological distinction (the presence of mind-stuff), but by a normative deontological one. This is his normative characterization of the mental.

Drawing on a jurisprudential tradition that includes Grotius, Pufendorf, and Crusius, Kant talks about norms in the form of rules. Judging and acting—endorsing claims and maxims, committing ourselves as to what is or shall be true—is binding ourselves by norms. It is making ourselves subject to assessment according to rules that articulate the contents of those commitments. Those norms, those rules, he calls ‘concepts’. In a strict sense, all a Kantian subject can do is apply concepts, either theoretically, in judging, or practically, in acting. Discursive, that is to say, concept-mongering creatures, are normative creatures—creatures who live, and move, and have their being in a normative space.
It follows that the most urgent philosophical task is to understand the nature of this normativity, the bindingness or validity (Verbindlichkeit, Gültigkeit) of conceptual norms. For Descartes, the question was how to think about our grip on our concepts, thoughts, or ideas (Is it clear? Is it distinct?). For Kant the question is rather how to understand their grip on us: the conditions of the intelligibility of our being bound by conceptual norms.
5. This master idea has some of Kant’s most characteristic innovations as relatively immediate consequences. The logical tradition that understood judging as predicating did so as part of an order of semantic explanation that starts with concepts or terms, particular and general, advances on that basis to an understanding of judgments (judgeables) as applications of general to particular terms, and builds on that basis an account of inferences or consequences, construed syllogistically in terms of the sort of predication or classification exhibited by the judgments that appear as premises and conclusions. In a radical break with this tradition, Kant takes the whole judgment to be the conceptually and explanatorily basic unit at once of meaning, cognition, awareness, and experience.7 Concepts and their contents are to be understood only in terms of the contribution they make to judgments: concepts are functions of judgment. Why? Kant adopts this order of semantic explanation because judgments are the minimal units of responsibility—the smallest semantic items that can express commitments. The semantic primacy of the propositional is a consequence of the central role he accords to the normative significance of our conceptually articulated doings. In Frege this thought shows up as the claim that judgeable contents are the smallest units to which pragmatic force can attach: paradigmatically, assertional force. In the later Wittgenstein, it shows up as the claim that sentences are the smallest linguistic units with which one can make a move in the language game.
Understanding judging in normative terms, as undertaking a distinctive kind of responsibility, is also responsible for the most general features of Kant’s account of the form of judgment. The subjective form of judgment is the ‘I think”, which, we are told, can accompany all our judgings, and so, in its pure formality, is the emptiest of all representations. Thought of in terms of the normative pragmatics of judgment, it is the mark of who is responsible for the judgment. (A corresponding point applies to the endorsement of practical maxims.) It indicates the relation of a judging to the “original synthetic unity of apperception” to which it belongs. I will say something more soon about the use Kant makes of this central concept. But the idea behind it is that the sorting of endorsements into co-responsibility classes is a basic condition of the normative significance of commitments. Committing myself to the animal being a fox, or to driving you to the airport tomorrow morning normatively preclude me from committing myself to its being a rabbit, or to my sleeping in tomorrow (in the sense that I cannot be entitled to such commitments), but they do not in the same way constrain the commitments others might undertake.
The objective form of judgment, Kant says, is “the object=X” to which judgments always, by their very form as judgments, make implicit reference. Thought of in terms of the normative pragmatics of judgment, it is the mark of what one has made oneself responsible to by making a judgment. It expresses the objectivity of judgments, in the sense of their having intentional objects: what they purport to represent. The understanding of the intentional directedness of judgments—the fact that they represent or are about something—is through-and-through a normative one. What the judgment is about is the object that determines the correctness of the commitment one has undertaken by endorsing it. (On the practical side, it is normative assessments of the success of an action for which the object to which one has made oneself responsible by endorsing a maxim must be addressed.) In endorsing a judgment one has made oneself liable to distinctive kinds of normative assessment. What one is thinking and talking about is what plays a special role, exercises a special sort of authority in such assessments. Representing something, talking about or thinking of it, is acknowledging its semantic authority over the correctness of the commitments one is making in judging. Representational purport is a normative phenomenon. As we shall see, representational content is to be understood in terms of it.
IV. The Normative Pragmatics of Judgment and the Nature of Judgeable Contents
6. Besides who is responsible for a judging, and what that judging is responsible to, there are two other elements a normative pragmatics of judgment should address:

  • What is it that one makes oneself responsible for by judging?


  • What is it that one is doing in making oneself responsible, committing oneself, endorsing?

The first is a question of how to understand judgeable contents. The second is the challenge to fill in the bare-bones picture of judging as a normative doing, the alteration of one’s normative status, the undertaking of some sort of responsibility. This is the key issue, for it is in terms of the answer to this question that we will have to understand both dimensions of content—what one makes oneself responsible for in judging, and what one makes oneself responsible to—as well as the nature of the subject of those responsibilities. Here, I think, we get Kant’s next big idea.
That is that the responsibility one undertakes in judging (and there is a parallel story about endorsing a practical maxim) is generically a kind of task responsibility: the responsibility to do something. Specifically, it is the responsibility to integrate the judgment into a unity of apperception. Synthesizing a unity of apperception is the activity that provides the background and the context in which episodes can have the significance of judgings. Engaging in that activity produces, sustains, and develops a synthetic unity of apperception: a self or subject. What must one do to be doing that? One must integrate new endorsements into the whole that comprises one’s previous endorsements. Synthesis by successive integration can be thought of as involving three sorts of activity: critical, ampliative, and justificatory. One’s critical responsibility is to weed out materially incompatible commitments.8 This means rejecting candidate judgments that are incompatible with what one is already committed to and responsible for, or relinquishing the offending prior commitments. Judgers as such are obliged to renounce commitment to contents that are incompatible with their other commitments, or which have such commitments as their consequences. For if two commitments are incompatible, each serves as a reason to give up the other.
One’s ampliative responsibility is to extract the material inferential consequences of each commitment, including new ones, in the context of the auxiliary hypotheses and collateral premises provided by the rest of one’s commitments. Each commitment gives one reason to accept others, which one ought to accept in the sense that one has already implicitly committed oneself to them by acknowledging the commitment from which they follow. One’s justificatory responsibility is to be prepared to offer reasons for the commitments (both theoretical and practical) that one acknowledges, by citing prior commitments (or undertaking further commitments) that inferentially entitle one to those new commitments. Seeking to fulfill the first sort of responsibility is aiming at a whole constellation of commitments that is consistent. Seeking to fulfill the second is aiming at one that is complete. And seeking to fulfill the third is aiming at a constellation of commitments that is warranted. (Perhaps it will be clear at this point how it is that Kant can take it that the systematic obligations of philosophers are merely the explicit form of the very same obligations that are implicitly incumbent on rational knower and agents as such.)
What is produced, sustained, and developed by practically acknowledging these critical, ampliative, and justificatory integrative task responsibilities is a unity precisely in the sense of being governed by, subject to assessment according to, those norms of integration. It is a synthetic unity in that it is produced by the activity of synthesis that is integrating disparate commitments into such a unity.9 It is an original synthetic unity of apperception because what makes an act or episode a judging in the first place is just its being subject to the normative demand that it be integrated into such a systematically unified whole10, and awareness in the sense of apperception (a matter of sapience, rather than mere sentience) is judgment (apperceiving is judging).11 Kant also, tellingly, calls the product of this synthetic activity a transcendental unity of apperception. It is transcendental in that it is that in terms of which we must understand the relation to objects—representation—which is an essential dimension of the content of judgments. The key to Kant’s account of representation is to be found in the story about how representational purport is to be understood in terms of the activity of synthesizing an original unity of apperception, as I have described it so far. It will help to approach that story in stages.
7. So far I have attributed to Kant two positive moves in response to his principled rejection of traditional accounts of judgment as predication:

  • understanding the activity of judging in normative terms, as the undertaking of a kind of responsibility or commitment; and

  • understanding that kind of responsibility as a task-responsibility, a commitment to do something, namely to integrate the judgeable content one endorses into a synthetic unity of apperception.

In light of the justificatory, ampliative, and critical dimensions of that practical synthetic-integrative responsibility, another way of putting this last point is that what one is responsible for is having reasons for one’s endorsements, using the contents one endorses as reasons for and against the endorsement of other contents, and taking into account possible countervailing reasons. And that is to say that as normative creatures, we are rational creatures—not in the sense that we always or even generally think or act as we have reason to, or that we usually have good reasons for thinking and doing what we do, but in the sense that whether we do or not, we are always liable to normative assessment concerning our reasons for thinking as we do or doing what we do. However sensitive we are in fact on any particular occasion to the normative force of reasons (that peculiar force, at once compulsory and yet not always compelling, that so fascinated and puzzled the ancient Greek philosophers), we are the kind of creatures we are—knowers and agents, creatures whose world is structured by the commitments and responsibilities we undertake—only because we are always liable to normative assessments of our reasons.
The norms that articulate the contents of judgments are concepts. The conceptual faculty, the understanding, is the faculty of judgment. Concepts articulate the contents of judgments by determining what one would make oneself responsible for, what one would be committing oneself to, were one to endorse those contents. Kant thinks of concepts as a kind of rule. What are they rules for doing? They are rules for synthesizing a unity of apperception. And that is to say that they are rules articulating what is a reason for what. The concepts being applied determine what follows from a given claim(able), hence what (else) one would have committed oneself to or made oneself responsible for by endorsing it. They determine what counts as rational evidence for or against, or justification of a judgeable content, hence would count as a reason for or against endorsing it.
The task of integrating a judgment (or practical maxim) into a synthetic unity of apperception has determinate conditions of success and failure only insofar as the judgments have contents that stand in relations of material inferential consequence and incompatibility to one another. A knower can have a determinate critical integrative task-responsibility only if it is settled which judgeable contents are materially incompatible with which others, so that endorsing some provides good reasons to reject others. And a knower can have a determinate ampliative or justificatory integrative task-responsibility only if it is settled which judgments inferentially commit or entitle one to which others, and so provide good reasons for accepting those further judgments. The concepts applied in judging articulate the content of the judgment (the judgeable content one becomes responsible for) by specifying the material inferential and incompatibility relations that content stands in to other such contents. For that is what settles what one is responsible for doing in making the judgment. Conceptual content in that sense provides the details of the synthetic-integrative responsibility one is undertaking thereby. Here the paired notions of a judgeable content and of being responsible for such a content in the sense of endorsing or committing oneself to it, are being made sense of in terms of a basic kind of task-responsibility: being responsible for doing something (namely integrating the judgment into a normative unity of apperception).
Kant’s ideas about the act or activity of judging settle how he must understand the content judged. In conditioning the semantic account of content on the pragmatic account of force (in Frege’s sense)—the way the story about what is endorsed is shaped by the story about what endorsing is—Kant exhibits a kind of methodological pragmatism. In this sense, that pragmatism consists not in the explanatory privileging of practical discursive activity over theoretical discursive activity, but in the explanatory privileging of act over content, within both the theoretical and the practical domains. Kant’s explanatory privileging of the activity of synthesizing a unity of apperception would reverberate through subsequent German Idealism, and be embraced and exploited in particular by Fichte and Hegel.
8. The argumentative and explanatory structure I have been indicating as guiding and working out (in a pragmatist spirit) Kant’s master idea of the fundamentally normative character of judging is a way of thinking about the relations between four things:

1) What one must do in order in the relevant sense to be taking responsibility for or committing oneself to a judgeable content (or practical maxim). This is engaging in the activity of synthesizing an original unity of apperception, by integrating the content in question into the whole that comprises all of one’s commitments in the light of the relations of material inferential consequence and incompatibility they stand in to one another.

2) What one creates, sustains, and develops by doing that: the constellation of commitments that is an original synthetic unity of apperception (OSUA).

3) The elements of that synthetic unity, what one takes responsibility for or commits oneself to. These are the judgeable contents that are integrated into the OSUA.

4) What one thereby makes oneself responsible to. These are the objects that one comes to represent, in the sense of making oneself answerable (for the correctness of the endorsed judgeable contents that make up the OSUA) to objects, which one in that normative sense thereby counts as thinking (talking, judging) about. It is because of this dimension of conceptual contentfulness that the synthetic unity of apperception deserves to count as a transcendental unity of apperception. For in Kant’s usage, transcendental logic differs from general logic in addressing the content, and not just the form of judgments, in the sense of their representation of, or reference (in the sense of normative answerability) to, objects.
This list amounts to an order of explanation. The strategy is to make sense of each of these elements in terms of those that precede it. Because the kind of normative unity distinctive of the synthetic unity of apperception must be understood in terms of the synthetic-integrative activity that produces it, the cognitive-practical subject or self that is identified with a synthetic unity of apperception is not happily thought of using the traditional category of substance. It is the moving, living constellation of its “affections”, that is, of the concomitant commitments that compose and articulate it. The significance of each of the component commitments that contingently and temporarily are included in a particular synthetic unity of apperception depends holistically on its rational consequential and incompatibility relations to its fellows. This reciprocal dependence of the whole and its parts, together with the dynamic character of such relational structures as sustained by rational synthetic-integrative activity made it irresistible for subsequent idealists (following Kant himself, in his Critique of Judgment) to appeal to and apply organic metaphors.
The two-sided notion of conceptual content adverted to in the last two items on the list—what one makes oneself responsible for and what one makes oneself responsible to, by judging—is also to be explained in terms of the original synthetic activity of integrating one’s commitments according to their rational relations to one another. I have claimed that we can think of this as a pragmatist explanatory strategy, in the sense that we find in contemporary philosophers of language who want to understand the meanings expressed by various locutions in terms of the use of those expressions—that is, in suitably broad senses of the terms, to give explanatory priority to pragmatics over semantics. But I have so far said nothing about the relations between the two dimensions of conceptual content that show up as the third and fourth items on the list. I have suggested that the target notion of representational purport should itself be understood as a normative (meta)concept: as a matter of taking or treating one’s commitments as subject to a distinctive kind of authority, as being responsible (for its correctness, in a characteristic sense) to things that in that normative sense count as represented by those representing states, which are what must be integrated into an original synthetic unity. What remains to be seen is how that rational synthetic integrative activity can be understood as instituting a specifically representational normative dimension of authority and responsibility. That is what is required to justify the claim that the original rational synthetic unity of apperception as so far described also deserves to be thought of as a transcendental unity of apperception, the subject studied by transcendental logic, which goes beyond general logic precisely in its concern not with the form of judgments, but of their content, in particular, their representational content.
Intentionality—semantic contentfulness—comes in two flavors: ‘of’-intentionality and ‘that’-intentionality. The first, or representational dimension, is semantic directedness at objects: what one is thinking of or talking about. The second, or expressive dimension, concerns the content of our thought and talk: what one is thinking or saying (about what one is thinking or talking about). So one can think of or about foxes, that they are nocturnal omnivores. What falls within the scope of the ‘of’ in such a specification is a term, while what follows the ‘that’ in such phrases as “I think (or John thinks) that foxes are nocturnal omnivores,” is a declarative sentence. The pre-Kantian early modern philosophical tradition took it for granted that one ought first to offer an independent account of representational, ‘of’-intentionality, of what it is to represent something, and only then, on that basis to explain expressive, ‘that’-intentionality, what it is to judge or claim that things are thus-and-so.
That commitment is not strictly entailed by the traditional bottom-up order of logical-semantic explanation that begins with an account of concepts, builds on that an account of judgments, and on that in turn an account of inferences. For one might pursue such a three-stage account first for what expressions of the various orders of complexity express, and only then turn to consideration of what they represent (for instance: objects-and-properties, facts, and laws). So Kant’s rejection of the traditional logic, in light of the normative-pragmatic priority of judgment (which we have seen, in his hands already has a substantial inferential component)—his treating concepts as “functions of judgment”—is not tantamount to a prioritizing of the expressive over the representational dimensions of semantic content.12 But in fact, once again, Kant turns the traditional order of explanation on its head. The fact that Kant’s approach to judging appeals to integration of judgments by synthesizing them into a whole according to their rational relations to one another brings into view in the first instance a notion of the content a declarative sentence expresses, what one has become responsible for, that is understood in terms of the broadly inferential relations of inclusion and exclusion it stands in to other contents (both those included in the current synthetic unity of apperception and candidates not currently endorsed). But for what thereby becomes visible to be intelligible as a notion of conceptual content, it must exhibit also a representational dimension. Thinking about something is not a special kind of thinking. It is an aspect of all thinking.
So the question is how reference to or representation of objects (representational ‘of’-intentionality) can be made intelligible or shown to be a necessary sub-structure of inferential ‘that’-intentionality, when the latter is understood in terms of the rational synthetic integrative activity that is judging. Here is how I think that story goes (and this is really the punchline of my story in this chapter, the “one far-off, divine event” toward which this whole creation has been moving): The relations of material incompatibility and inferential consequence among judgeable contents that we have seen are a necessary condition of synthesizing a rational unity of apperception (which is to say judging) already implicitly involve commitments concerning the identity and individuation of objects they can accordingly be understood as representing or being about. Why? The judgment that A is a dog is not incompatible with the judgment that B is a fox. The judgment that A is a dog is incompatible with the judgment that A is a fox. That means that taking a dog-judgment to be materially incompatible with a fox-judgment is taking them to refer to or represent an object: the same object. And the same thing holds for relations of material inferential consequence. Taking it that A is a dog does not entail that B is a mammal. But taking it that A is a dog does entail that A is a mammal. So drawing the inference is taking it that the two judgments refer to one and the same object.13
This triangulation by acknowledging material incompatibilities and inferences is, in a nutshell, how the normative demand for a rational unity of apperception (judgments) makes intelligible representational purport: what it is to take or treat judgments as representing or being about objects. It shows how the representational dimension of conceptual content can be understood as already implicit in its articulation by relations of inference and incompatibility, which is how we understood the expressive dimension. It provides a sense in which making oneself rationally responsible for an inferentially articulated judgeable content, in the sense of being committed to integrating it into a rational unity of apperception, involves taking or treating those judgments as about objects, and so as making oneself responsible to them. It puts us in a position to understand Kant’s otherwise dark claim that “it is the unity of consciousness that alone constitutes the relation of representations to an object, and therefore their objective validity….”14 Represented objects show up as something like units of account for the inferential and incompatibility relations judgeable contents stand in to one another. If two properties are incompatible, then it is impossible for one and the same object to exhibit both, but not impossible for two different objects to do so. And if possession of one property entails possession of another, then any object that exhibits the first will necessarily exhibit the second. But it is not necessary that some other object do so.
Here, then, is an answer to the question with which we began: what is it for something so much as to seem to be a representation (a representing of something represented)? What does one have to do to count as taking or treating it as a representing of something? The answer is that treating it as standing in relations of material incompatibility and inferential consequence to other such things is taking or treating it as a representation, as being about something. This decidedly non-atomistic way of thinking about representational purport is recognizably a way of picking up Descartes’ idea (endorsed and developed by Spinoza and Leibniz) that horizontal relations among representings are what is needed to make intelligible the vertical relations between them and representeds. The account of what one must do in order to synthesize a unity of apperception provides the context in which it is possible to understand both dimensions of conceptual content: the inferential-expressive and the referential-representational.
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