Kant, Animal Minds, and Conceptualism

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 50 (8):981-998 (2020)
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Kant holds that some nonhuman animals “are acquainted with” objects, despite lacking conceptual capacities. What does this tell us about his theory of human cognition? Numerous authors have argued that this is a significant point in favour of Nonconceptualism—the claim that, for Kant, sensible representations of objects do not depend on the understanding. Against this, I argue that Kant’s views about animal minds can readily be accommodated by a certain kind of Conceptualism. It remains viable to think that, for Kant, humans’ sensible representations necessarily represent objects as temporally structured in ways that allow us to have thoughts about them, and such representations are produced, and could only be produced, by the understanding. This allows Conceptualists to maintain that humans’ sensible representations depend on the understanding, while accepting that animals have sensible representations of objects too. We must, therefore, reassess both the warrant for Nonconceptualism and the shape Conceptualist readings must take.
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