Reflection, Enlightenment, and the Significance of Spontaneity in Kant

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17 (5):981-1010 (2009)
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Abstract

Existing interpretations of Kant’s appeal to the spontaneity of the mind focus almost exclusively on the discussion of pure apperception in the Transcendental Deduction. The risk of such a strategy lies in the considerable degree of abstraction at which the argument of the Deduction is carried out: existing interpretations fail to reconnect adequately with any ground-level perspective on our cognitive lives. This paper works in the opposite direction. Drawing on Kant’s suggestion that the most basic picture we can have of our cognitive capacity already makes reference to its state of excellence, or health (“sound understanding”), I set out by assembling Kant’s normative ground-level view of our cognitive lives, and then search for the fundamental condition of its possibility. This leads me to Kant’s conception of reflection as a normative requirement of judgment. Through examination of Kant’s remarks on reflection, I connect Kant’s preoccupation with the enlightenment ideal of originality (thinking for oneself) with his central appeal to the spontaneity of the mind.

Author's Profile

Melissa M Merritt
University of New South Wales

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