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Nonconceptualism, Hume’s Problem, and the Deduction

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Lucy Allais seeks to provide a reading of the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories which is compatible with a nonconceptualist account of Kant’s theory of intuition. According to her interpretation, the aim of the Deduction is to show that a priori concept application is required for empirical concept application. I argue that once we distinguish the application of the categories from the instantiation of the categories, we see that Allais’s reconstruction of the Deduction cannot provide an answer to Hume’s problem about our entitlement to use a priori concepts when thinking about the objects of empirical intuition. If the Deduction is to provide a response to Hume, Allais’s interpretation must be rejected.

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  1. The term ‘successful empirical concept application’ is ambiguous. On one reading, empirical concept application is an achievement at which one can succeed or fail. Successful empirical concept application, on this reading, does not entail that one’s application of the concept is correct. On another reading, successful empirical concept application requires that one apply the concept correctly. Conditions on the former will be conditions on the latter but not vice versa. Allais talks sometimes of what is required for empirical cognition (pp. 262-263) which might suggest the latter reading, but whilst her account of cognition involves the claim that cognizing an object requires that the object exists, it doesn’t commit her to the claim that cognizing an object requires that the attributes one predicates of the object be true. I won’t pursue this issue here, though it raises issues structurally comparable to those discussed below.

  2. Given that (TI) holds that all spatio-temporal objects are possible objects of empirical cognition, we’re actually entitled only to a slightly weaker claim: namely, that it is possible for us to apply the categories to all spatio-temporal objects. I’ll ignore this complication.

  3. It’s an interesting question why this is so: perhaps there are restrictions on the terms which can occupy the X-position in sentences of the form ‘X is a condition of Y’.

  4. Cassam (1987), Gomes (2010, 2014), Rorty (1970), Stroud (1968) and Van Cleve (1999).

  5. Kant’s texts are cited by the volume and page number in the Academy Edition of Immanuel Kant, Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter and predecessors, 1900-), with the exception of the Critique of Pure Reason which is cited in the standard A/B format. Translations are taken from the Cambridge Edition of the Work of Immanuel Kant: Kant (1998, 1999, 2002a, 2002b).

  6. Citations of Hume′s works are to the Clarendon Edition of the Works of David Hume (2000, 2007). References to A Treatise of Human Nature (THU) are by book, part, section, and paragraph; references to the An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (EHU) are by section and paragraph.

  7. I have in mind Strawson’s tendency to see such claims as, in a sense, tacitly inconsistent since their assertion contradicts claims which are conditions on the possibility of asserting such claims.

  8. Gomes (2014) and Land (2015) develop this line of thought.


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Thanks to Andrew Stephenson for helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Anil Gomes.

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Gomes, A. Nonconceptualism, Hume’s Problem, and the Deduction. Philos Stud 174, 1687–1698 (2017).

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