Kant and the Objectivity of Experience

(This is a rough gloss on Strawson’s exposition of Kant’s doctrines of unity and objectivity in ‘The Bounds of Sense’)

– Kant notes that our experience has to include the awareness of objects distinct from the state of being aware of them – call this the objective reference of experience. Put differently, experience has the objective reference of objects conceived as distinct from the particular experience (or representation) of said object.

– This is, in effect, the statement that we have to be aware of the thing-in-itself in order to have an objective reference. Our experience, if it is to have an objective reference, must be unified for it to be a representation of the objective world.

– Our empirical concepts, if they are to be employed at all, depend on this unified, coherent and connected experience.

– The issue here can be seen clearly: the objective world, the world of things-in-themselves apart from any perceptual activity or cognition of the knowing subject, must be known for our experience to have an objective reference, or for our representations to be of the real world. The things-in-themselves, however, lie outside our experience entirely – we are not aware of them. All we are aware of are appearances.

– Thus, if we are to use empirical concepts, we have to have a substitute objective reference. This substitute is, simply, the rule-governed connected-ness of our experience and our representations. Strawson notes:

‘This surrogate is precisely that rule-governed connectedness of our representations which is reflected in our employment of concepts of empirical objects conceived of as together forming a unified natural world, with its own order, distinct from, and controlling, the subjective order of perceptions. Really, nothing comes within the scope of our experience but those subjective perceptions themselves; so that all that can be really understood by empirical knowledge of objects is the existence of such rule and order among those perceptions as is involved in our being able to count them as perceptions of an objective world, having its own independent order, to which we can ascribe, as a consequence, the order of our perceptions.’ (‘The Bounds of Sense’, p. 104)

– In other words, if I’m reading Strawson/Kant right, our perceptual experiences, being rule-governed and connected, give us empirical knowledge of objects, that is, knowledge of objects of experience, which we can ‘count’ as perception of the objective world.

20 thoughts on “Kant and the Objectivity of Experience

  1. ontologicalrealist May 28, 2015 / 10:51 pm

    Hi, I am referring to your last paragraph:-

    What do you mean by “object of experience” ? How does it differ from plain old “object” ?


    • whitefrozen May 29, 2015 / 8:08 am

      As its being used here, an ‘object’ is a thing in itself, and an object of our experience is simply an object as we know it in experience.


  2. M. Joelle May 28, 2015 / 11:05 pm

    I rather think that your first note and last paragraph ought to be read together – I’m always puzzled by the idea that we can have awareness of objects that exist without our awareness of them. In practice, it’s a simple concept, but logically it ties me up in knots.


    • whitefrozen May 29, 2015 / 8:21 am

      If I’m understanding you right, Kant more or less agrees – we can’t know things unless we are aware of them so as to bring them under our concepts, and since the noumenon can’t be brought under our concepts, we can’t be aware of them – but the unity of our experience has as a condition of its possibility this objective reference to things we aren’t aware of – granting of course that I’m reading Kant right here. But this was the source for his idea that we can’t break out of our conceptual schemes, though the extent to which his ideas here are coherent is a matter of some debate, as I noted in my post on Kant and his brand of naturalism.

      Liked by 1 person

    • whitefrozen May 29, 2015 / 8:24 am

      This is actually the topic of a conversation I had with a friend recently – he noted this as a consequence of the idea that there is no awareness or knowledge without our concepts:

      ‘…after Rorty’s Myth of the Given walled off non-conceptuals as foundational to propositions (justification on this view requiring logical relations non-conceptuals lack), the return to a Hegelian “rational as the real” -despite that hanging in mid-air so to speak- was taken in some quarters as a stop-gap to an alternate reaction of deeming/allowing concept application to remain utterly unconstrained (“The trouble we have been running into is that the justification seems to depend on the awareness, which is just another belief… The relation between a sensation and a belief cannot be logical, since sensations are not beliefs or other propositional attitudes” (Donald Davidson, “A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge,” in Dieter Henrich, ed., Kant or Hegel?)

      Liked by 1 person

    • ontologicalrealist May 29, 2015 / 7:52 pm

      Do you accept that we can have awareness of objects that exist without our awareness of objects that exist?


      • whitefrozen May 29, 2015 / 8:05 pm

        I don’t accept Kant’s dualism between things in themselves and things as we know them, so the question is a moot point to me.


  3. PeterJ May 29, 2015 / 11:49 am

    It would not be easy to prove that there is any object apart from the object of our experience. The independent object seems to be merely an assumption or theory. This seems pretty obvious from the unfalsifiability of solipsism.


    • whitefrozen May 29, 2015 / 12:12 pm

      Unless, of course, what we experience is the object itself.

      Solipsism is falsifiable though, if Wittgenstein’s private language argument means anything at all.


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