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On Hegel’s Critique of Kant’s Subjectivism in the Transcendental Deduction

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Abstract

In this chapter, I expound Hegel’s critique of Kant, which he first and most elaborately presented in his early essay “Faith and Knowledge” (1802), by focusing on the criticism that Hegel levelled against Kant’s (supposedly) arbitrary subjectivism about the categories. This relates to the restriction thesis of Kant’s transcendental idealism: categorially governed empirical knowledge only applies to appearances, not to things in themselves, and so does not reach objective reality, according to Hegel. Hegel claims that this restriction of knowledge to appearances is unwarranted merely on the basis of Kant’s own principle of transcendental apperception, and just stems from Kant’s empiricist bias. He argues that Kant’s principle of apperception as the foundational principle of knowledge is in fact incompatible with his empiricism. Hegel rightly appraises the centrality of transcendental apperception for the constitution of objectivity. But he is wrong about its incompatibility with Kant’s empirical realism. By virtue of a misapprehension of the formal distinction between the accompanying ‘I think’, i.e. the analytical principle of apperception, and what Hegel calls “the true ‘I’” of the original-synthetic unity of apperception, Hegel unjustifiably prises apart the productive imagination, which is supposedly this “true ‘I’”, and the understanding, which is supposedly just a derivative, subjective form of the productive imagination; the latter, according to Hegel, is Reason or Being itself, and is the truly objective. This deflationary reading of the understanding, which hypostatises the imagination as the supreme principle, rests on a distortion of key elements of Kant’s theory of apperception. In this chapter, I show that Hegel’s charge of inconsistency against Kant, namely, Hegel’s claim that the principle of apperception as the highest principle of cognition does not comport with Kant’s restriction thesis, is the direct consequence of a psychological misreading of Kant’s subjectivism.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my erstwhile MA supervisor Kees Jan Brons for first introducing me to and discussing Hegel, starting with his inspiring classes on Faith and Knowledge in the early 1990s and through our many fruitful conversations afterwards about how to read Hegel ‘a-metaphysically’, also in relation to Kant. We may not agree on all of the details, but I think that with my most recent essay on the topic (Schulting 2016c) my global view on the matter of Hegel’s relation to Kant is converging with his.

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Schulting, D. (2017). On Hegel’s Critique of Kant’s Subjectivism in the Transcendental Deduction. In: Kant’s Radical Subjectivism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-43877-1_8

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