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Kant on cognition and knowledge

  • Marcus Willaschek
  • Eric Watkins
Mini-Symposium on Kant and Cognition


Even though Kant’s theory of cognition (Erkenntnis) is central to his Critique of Pure Reason, it has rarely been asked what exactly Kant means by the term “cognition”. Against the widespread assumption that cognition (in the most relevant sense of that term) can be identified with knowledge or if not, that knowledge is at least a species of cognition, we argue that the concepts of cognition and knowledge in Kant are not only distinct, but even disjunct. To show this, we first (I) investigate Kant’s explicit characterizations of the nature of cognition. As it turns out, he introduces several different notions that must be carefully distinguished before identifying the one that is central to his project in the first Critique. We then (II) consider the basic features of Kant’s conception of knowledge, indicating both how it involves assent and objective justification and how it relates to our contemporary conception. Next (III), we compare and contrast Kant’s understanding of cognition and his conception of knowledge in a way that allows us to present their fundamental differences and connections. We argue that while cognition, in the most relevant sense, is a species of representation that differs from other representations in that it involves the conceptual determination of a sensibly given object, knowledge (for Kant) is a kind of assent to a judgment that requires consciousness of a sufficient epistemic ground. Finally (IV), by appreciating the differences between cognition and knowledge, we explain several of the implications this conception of cognition has for some of Kant’s main claims in the Critique of Pure Reason as a whole. Among other things, we show how Kant can deny cognition of specific things in themselves while allowing philosophical knowledge about things in themselves in general (e.g. that they exist, are not in space and time, etc.).


Kant Cognition Knowledge Representation Assent 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für PhilosophieJohann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am MainFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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