In modern philosophy before Kant, experience was generally thought to be the product of the effect of objects on the sensible or sensitive faculty of the human mind. Typically, the effect is called “sensation” or “impression of sense.” According to “empiricist” philosophers (e.g., Locke and Hume), experience is the origin of all the content of the mind.
On Kant’s view, experience is more complex than the bare affection of the mind in sensation. Sensory affection begins the process of the production of experience, but it lacks a reference to objects characteristic of experience. In Kant’s terminology, a “manifold” of sensations or mere perceptions is not intuition. Intuition requires order and form, but “that in which alone sensations can be ordered or put into a certain form cannot itself be sensation again” (A20/B34). To be organized into intuition, sensations must be “synthesized.” It is characteristic of Kant’s philosophy that the required synthesis must take place according to a priori rules.
Experience is an empirical cognition, i.e., a cognition that determines an object through perceptions. Hence experience is a synthesis of perceptions that itself is not contained in perception but contains the synthetic unity of the manifold of perceptions in one consciousness. This unity amounts to what is essential for a cognition of objects of the senses, i.e., for experience (rather than merely intuition or sensation of the senses). (B218-219)
This account of experience allows Kant to criticize the empiricists on the grounds that their accounts of human cognition cannot explain the unity needed to present objects of the senses, and not a mere bundle of sensations. Their problem was that they could not provide the basis for the synthesis of the manifold of sensation. The only power of the mind capable of organizing sensations is the imagination, but the imagination cannot bind sensations in a way such that they present objects. An a priori synthesis is required, as described in the Transcendental Analytic.
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