Empirical Consciousness

Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason uses difficult language, and I found myself constantly referencing the introduction or making a quick google search to help guide me through this piece. One word that stuck out was “empirical” because I had seen it before in chemistry classes referring to the “empirical formula” of a compound. This piqued my curiosity and so I went searching for what this word was doing in a philosophical piece, because I had only seen it in a scientific context.Type the word “empirical” into google search engine and the definition it spits out is, “based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.”  So instead of knowledge that is purely formed in the mind or consciousness, empirical implies that we gain knowledge through “presentations” or experiences. This echoes what was said in the introduction with the Macbeth’s dagger, because the dagger is only his imagination and exists in his mind, Macbeth can dismiss it because it is not an actual presentation.

“For the empirical consciousness that accompanies different presentations is intrinsically sporadic and without any reference to the subjects identity. Hence this reference comes about not through my merely accompanying each presentation with consciousness, but through adding one presentation to another and being conscious of their synthesis” (B 133).

This excerpt from the text further argues Kant’s point that empirical methods are how people gain knowledge. The synthesis of different experiences is what causes “references” or knowledge, rather than the consciousness combining with presentations.

However, I know Kant references Leibniz and Hume who rationalists, the opposite of empiricists. So I am rather confused whether Kant is on the side of empiricist, rationalist, or somewhere in between. But from what I’ve read so far, Kant seems to argue in favor of empirical knowledge.

2 responses to “Empirical Consciousness

  1. I think that Kant’s arguments are hard to categorize. On one hand they seem to have some ground in the total theory and logic realm, but on the other hand his arguments can also be classified as empirical.

    I would say that his arguments lean more on the non-empirical side because the ideas he puts forward about the synthesis of apperception are hard to qualify using observations and experience. Unlike examples such as the Ship of Theseus, which is a tangible example, his idea of apperception and thought are very theoretical and based on reasoning. Therefore I would say he is a more rational thinker.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I definitely agree that he is hard to categorize. I hope in class we talk about some of the other philosophical minds of the time and why they are categorized as rationalist vs. empiricist and how Kant seems to tackle both sides.

    At first when I read this piece, the tangible examples are what stuck out at me because they were easiest to understand, so that is why I considered him an empiricist. However, after close reading in class getting a better understanding the concept of synthesis of apperception, I agree with your proposition that he is a rational thinker, because many of his ideas I went back and read were inspired theoretically rather than based off of experience.

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