Embodied Cognition in Berkeley and Kant: The Body's Own Space

In Miranda Richardson, George Rousseau & Mike Wheeler (eds.), Distributed Cognition in Enlightenment and Romantic Culture. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press. pp. 74-94 (2019)
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Berkeley and Kant are known for having developed philosophical critiques of materialism, critiques leading them to propose instead an epistemology based on the coherence of our mental representations. For all that the two had in common, however, Kant was adamant in distinguishing his own " empirical realism " from the immaterialist consequences entailed by Berkeley's attack on abstract ideas. Kant focused his most explicit criticisms on Berkeley's account of space, and commentators have for the most part decided that Kant either misunderstood or was simply unfamiliar with the Bishop's actual position. Rather than demonstrate that Kant understood Berkeley perfectly well—an argument that has already been forcefully made by Colin Turbayne—I want to take a different tack altogether. For it is by paying attention to Berkeley's actual account of space, an account oriented by his rejection of spatial " geometers " like Descartes, and spatial " absolutists " like Newton, that we discover an account of embodied cognition, of spatial distance and size that can only be known by way of the body's motion and touch. Perhaps even more striking, I will want to suggest, is the manner in which Kant's approach to the problem of incongruent counterparts will equally need to rely on a proprioceptive cognition, one requiring a different geometry of position altogether. My discussion proceeds in three stages, with stage one focused on Kant's efforts to distinguish his philosophical project from Berkeley's own idealist system, and stages two and three describing the manner in which their approach to spatial orientation both challenges and extends the traditional narrative of their differences as laid out in stage one.

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Jennifer Mensch
Western Sydney University


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