“Presentation” is one of the key notions in Kant’s account of the activity of the human mind. It is the most generic way of describing a cognitive act of the mind. Thus, perception, sensation, cognition, intuition, concept, and idea are all species of presentation (A320/B376).
The term is most commonly translated as “representation,” which is the English cognate of the Latin word ‘repræsentatio,’ which Kant sometimes associated with ‘Vorstellung.’
In Descartes’s account of mental activity in the Second Meditation, the genus is thinking (in Latin, cogitatio). Christian Wolff, in his Empirical Psychology, cites Descartes in the Principles of Philosophy, Part I, Section 9: “By the word ‘thought,’ I understand all those things which occur in us while we are conscious, insofar as consciousness of them is in us.” Wolff also treated thinking as the genus, which involves the conscious representation of something (§23). Baumgarten, in his Metaphysics, also associated thinking with representation: “Thoughts are representations” (“Cogitationes sunt repræsentationes”) §506.
Kant broke with this tradition in that he took thinking to be specific to the understanding, so that a sensation is not a thought, although it is a presentation. This is direct opposition to Descartes, who held that “what is called ‘having a sensory perception’ . . . is simply thinking” (Second Meditation). For Kant, both thoughts (including concepts and ideas) and sensations are kinds of presentations. Moreover, Kant does not require that presentation be conscious, as he classifies perception as a species of presentation, namely “perception with consciousness” (A320/B377).
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