On the Necessity of the Categories

Philosophical Review 131 (2):129–168 (2022)
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For Kant, the human cognitive faculty has two sub-faculties: sensibility and the understanding. Each has pure forms which are necessary to us as humans: space and time for sensibility; the categories for the understanding. But Kant is careful to leave open the possibility of there being creatures like us, with both sensibility and understanding, who nevertheless have different pure forms of sensibility. They would be finite rational beings and discursive cognizers. But they would not be human. And this raises a question about the pure forms of the understanding. Does Kant leave open the possibility of discursive cognizers who have different categories? Even if other discursive cognizers might not sense like us, must they at least think like us? We argue that textual and systematic considerations do not determine the answers to these questions and examine whether Kant thinks that the issue cannot be decided. Consideration of his wider views on the nature and limits of our knowledge of mind shows that Kant could indeed remain neutral on the issue but that the exact form his neutrality can take is subject to unexpected constraints. The result would be an important difference between what Kant says about discursive cognizers with other forms of sensibility and what he is in a position to say about discursive cognizers with other forms of understanding. Kantian humility here takes on a distinctive character.

Author Profiles

Anil Gomes
Oxford University
Andrew Stephenson
University of Southampton


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