Kant's Theory of Images

Dissertation, University of California, San Diego (2021)
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Kant’s distinction between intuitions and concepts attracts perennial interpretive interest. To the extent that they discuss the imagination at all, most Kant scholars maintain that the imagination’s primary role is to generate intuitions. This dissertation argues that “image” (Bild, Einbildung) is an overlooked technical term in Kant’s work and that images—and not intuitions—are products of the imagination. The project explains how, for Kant, the imagination (as image-maker) and the senses (as intuition-maker) make distinct but essential contributions to cognition and perception. I begin by showing that “image” is a terminologically marked notion in Kant, and that the imagination is responsible for generating images (chapter 1). I call these claims the Image Thesis. I then show that for Kant, intuitions are representations that depend only on the senses for their essential features (chapter 2). I call this the Strong Independence Thesis. How should we understand Kant’s ubiquitous references to the imagination, then? I argue that we should understand the imagination’s activities as image-producing activities (chapter 3). I argue that images and intuitions are fundamentally distinct representations, which I label the Distinctness Thesis. Though intuitions and images are had by both rational and non-rational beings, the capacity for consciousness or apperception found in rational beings makes a difference in the structure of images but not the structure of intuitions (chapter 4). I call this the penetration view of the imagination. With this account of images in hand, I indicate why images are a necessary ingredient in theoretical cognition for Kant (chapter 5). I call this the Image-Centric Cognition Thesis. The result is a novel account of sensibility—the counterpart of the understanding—that recognizes Kant’s systematic discussion of mental imagery

Author Profiles

R. Brian Tracz
University of Pennsylvania


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