"Kant on Consciousness and its Limits"


Location: 131 Decio Hall (View on map.nd.edu)

Béatrice Longuenesse (NYU)


131 Decio Faculty Hall


The concepts of "consciousness," "unity of consciousness" and "self-consciousness" are omnipresent in Kant's critical system.  But what Kant means by these expressions is far from obvious.  Moreover, Kant maintains that many of our representations are "without consciousness" or representations "of which we are not conscious." He also maintains that some of our mental activities are activities of which we are not conscious.  What does he mean by those statements?
In the first part of the paper, I consider what it means for a representation to be "without consciousness" by focusing on different types of monadic representations: sensations, intuitions, and concepts.
In the second part of the paper, I consider the meaning of "consciousness" that is prevalent in Kant's system, i.e., a meaning according to which the concept does not refer to a quality of monadic representations but to an active attitude on the part of the subject.  I show that the questions asked at the beginning of this abstract find answers if one considers both meanings of "consciousness." 
In conclusion, I argue that the idea that consciousness has limits plays an important role throughout the critical system, even though that role has not been the object of a systematic account on Kant's part.  Nor has it been the object of a systematic investigation on the part of Kant's commentators.  I argue that such an investigation gives us novel insights into the contemporary  import of Kant's account of human minds.


This talk is part of the "Kant and the Self" workshop.