Sensibility, Understanding, and Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: From Epistemic Compositionalism to Epistemic Hylomorphism

Review of Metaphysics 77 (1):57-85 (2023)
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Can sensibility, as our capacity to be sensibly presented with objects, be understood independently of the understanding, as the capacity to form judgments about those objects? It is a truism that for judgments to be empirical knowledge they must agree with what sensibility presents. Moreover, it is a familiar thought that objectivity involves absolute independence from intellectual acts. The author argues that together these thoughts motivate a common reading of Kant on which operations of sensibility are conceived as intelligible independently of acts of the understanding, so that their supposed objectivity can validate judgments as empirical knowledge. He contends that there are two reasons why this epistemic compositionalism is implausible both as a reading of Kant and in itself. First, read compositionally, Kant’s Transcendental Deduction is unable to fulfill its stated aim of showing that the categories are objectively valid, that is, exemplified by the objects that sensibility presents. Second, Kant sees that sensibility by itself cannot be understood to even purport to present objects, thus undermining the very intelligibility of compositionalism. The author argues that, given these challenges, Kant’s Deduction develops an alternative account, on which operations of sensibility and acts of the understanding can be understood only together. He contends that this epistemic hylomorphism transforms the familiar thought underlying compositionalism: objectivity simultaneously involves formal agreement with intellectual acts in general and material independence from any specific such act. He thus shows how Kant reconceives our conception of objectivity by overcoming compositionalism in favor of hylomorphism.

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Maximilian Tegtmeyer
National University of Singapore


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