Kant's Schematism of the Categories: An Interpretation and Defense

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Most commentators agree that the Schematism chapter plays a very important role in the Critique of Pure Reason (CPR). But there is little agreement on what role, exactly, the Schematism is supposed to play and how successfully it plays that role. Many commentators consider it a failure. My aim in this paper is to provide an interpretation of the role of the Schematism and a qualified defense of its main doctrines. The topic of the Schematism is the “subsumption” of objects under concepts, as the first sentence announces: “in all subsumptions of an object under a concept [. . .]“ (A137/B176). Its primary aim is to explain how it is possible for sensible objects to be subsumed specifically under the pure concepts of the understanding (categories). That much is relatively clear. However, “subsumption” admits of two different readings, which previous commentators have not carefully distinguished. In one sense, an object a can be said to be subsumed under a concept F just in case some subject thinks of a that it is F. In another sense, though, an object is only said to be subsumed under a concept when it instantiates that concept, e.g. when a is F. The first notion of subsumption is neutral on the truth of subsumption, whereas, on the second reading, subsumptions as such are true. In this paper I argue that this ambiguity in “subsumption” is the key that unlocks the argument of the Schematism.
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