The notion of apperception is introduced in the Transcendental Deduction of the categories of the understanding and plays a central role therein.
The term appears at three points in Leibniz’s New Essays Concerning Human Understanding (published posthumously in 1765). It was intended to signify perception of “that which is in us” (Book I, Chapter I). Lack of apperception was used to explain the possibility of unperceived perceptions, or perceptions of which we are not conscious. These would be innate ideas before they come to our awareness and “little perceptions” which we do not notice.
Generically, apperception for Kant is self-consciousness. It may be either empirical or pure. In the first-edition (A) Deduction (A107), Kant equates empirical self-consciousness with inner perception or inner sense, whose object is succession of states of ourselves in time. “This consciousness of oneself is merely empirical and always mutable; it can give us no constant or enduring self in the flow of inner appearances.”
By contrast, pure apperception does not have anything experienced as its object. Moreover, unlike empirical intuition it is productive. In the second-edition (B) Deduction, Kant claims that it “produces the presentation I think” (B132). It is also “immutable” (in contrast to empirical apperception as described at A107). It is “numerically identical” (A132) or “one and the same in all consciousness” (B132). A further feature is that “it cannot be accompanied by any further presentation” (B132). Because of these features, pure apperception is also called “original” apperception.
One crucial feature of pure apperception is its unity or thoroughgoing identity. The unity of pure apperception is described as “transcendental” because it is an a priori condition for the presentation of objects. The second key feature of pure apperception is its necessity. The unity of apperception can be either analytic or synthetic.
Kant declares at B135 that “it is true that this principle of the necessary unity of apperception is itself merely an identical and hence an analytic proposition.“ That is, necessarily, I must be a unified identical self in order to be able to be conscious of more than one of my presentations as mine. They would not be mine were they not referred to my identical self.
There is a second principle of the necessary unity of apperception which is not analytic but synthetic. The principle is that necessarily I am able to refer my presentations to my identical self because it is possible for me to combine or synthesize them. “The thought that these presentations given in intuition belong one and all to me is, . . . tantamount to the thought that I unite them, or at least can unite them, in one self-consciousness” (B134). Kant claims that ability to synthesize my presentations is a necessary condition for being able to be conscious of them as belonging to my unified consciousness. The analytic unity of apperception “does declare as necessary a synthesis of the manifold given in an intuition, a synthesis without which that thoroughgoing identity of self-consciousness cannot be thought” (B135).
The principle of the necessary synthetic unity of apperception is the supreme principle of the human understanding, “the primary pure cognition of understanding, on which the entire remaining use of the understanding is based” (B136). Kant mobilizes this principle in his attempt to prove the objective validity of the pure concepts of the understanding. The specific argument (or perhaps arguments) Kant deploys are beyond the scope of this entry.
In the Paralogisms of Pure Reason, Kant considers the possibility of drawing metaphysical conclusions from the unity, simplicity, and identity of pure apperception. Rational psychology has as its object the soul and declares it to be a simple permanent substance. Kant argues this use of the characteristics of pure apperception is fallacious. The result is a “discipline” which keeps us away from metaphysical assertions about the self, including those of materialism and of “spiritualism” (B421).
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