Obscure representations from a pragmatic point of view

European Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Kant's most sustained discussion of obscure representations can be found in the first book of his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. What is puzzling is that in the middle of the section devoted to the topic, Kant asserts that “because this field can only be perceived in his passive side as a play of sensations, the theory of obscure representations belongs only to physiological anthropology, and so it is properly disregarded here.” So, do obscure representations belong to pragmatic anthropology or not? Kant's official position is that they do not, yet the textual evidence—we find discussions of obscure representations in 20 years of his work on pragmatic anthropology—suggests that they do, in fact, belong here. Most of the literature on obscure representations focuses on their contribution to cognition and none has clarified what it would mean to assume a “pragmatic point of view” on obscure representations, and to study them in the context of pragmatic anthropology. My aim in this paper is to provide such clarification, focusing on Kant's discussion of our propensity to “play with” obscure representations and what he calls our “art of obscuring.”

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Francey Russell
Barnard College

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