Immanuel Kant on Intellectual Property

I was warned that Kant is difficult to read, but I was skeptical of these claims. Turns out, the warnings were pretty well founded. Here’s what I got from reading the first few pages of his Critique of Pure Reason.

In a nutshell, Kant says that if you formulate a thought in your mind, you say something along the lines of “I think” in your mind. In his words, this is pure apperception. He then distinguishes between the “I think” category, or pure apperception, with the non-“I think” category, the latter which he distinguishes as intuition. He then says that any thoughts or presentations that he has must be part of his consciousness and therefore possessed by him. Or at least, that’s what I think he said.

The second of his points is what I find the most interesting. What I got from his logic was that if it was a thought that he had, then that thought belongs to him. That makes me wonder what his stance on intellectual property would be. For ideas are not often solely created by one mind, but the collective power of many minds. Take an intellectual collaboration such as a group project, for example. Perhaps one group member suggests that they do a presentation, another suggests that the presentation should be on dogs, and another suggests that the presentation on dogs should focus on their olfactory senses, or something like that. In that case, to whom does the idea of the presentation belong to? They all thought of different things to add onto the ideas of others, but the idea of the presentation does not technically solely belong to any of them. To Kant, since they were each able to have a conscious thought process of the entire idea of the presentation, they each have ownership over the thought. But how would Kant decide who is the true owner of the idea in a court of law? How would you?

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