Heidegger’s Derivation of Kant’s Schematism and the Threefold Syntheses


Heidegger publishes Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics in 1929, two years after the publication of Being and Time, these two great works are not only chronological related to each other, but they share a common feature, namely, the attempt to ground the chief role of time in determining the Being. Heidegger’s reading of Kant renders its transcendental aspects into an onto-phenomenological philosophy which culminates in the notions of horizon and originary temporality. This page will not satisfy the broader motivation from which it has been written – addressing the ontological essence for the ‘thingness’ of a thing in Heidegger’s eyes throughout his reading of Kant. But it might, however, satisfy a less pretentious but not less significant topic. Although a vast literature of around one thousand pages devotes to Kant by Heidegger between 1927 and 1936 (Sacha, 2012, p.1), Heidegger shows a special interest with eleven pages of the Critique which “form the heart of the whole work” (GA3, p.93), namely, the Schematism and uses Kant’s own notions of the chief role of time as a point of departure to his own phenomenological theme.

In this paper, I aim to address Heidegger’s interpretation for Kant in respect to two fundamental features, the process of the intuitive cognition as articulated by Kant in the transcendental deduction and boiled down to the threefold syntheses, and the eleven-pages chapter on Schematism under The Transcendental Doctrine of the Power of Judgment. First I will explicate the threefold syntheses with its higher-level prerequisite syntheses of the unity of consciousness and time and will illustrate its significance with Junes’ scarce case as told by Jorge Luis Borges. Then I will discuss the Schematism and the transcendental schemata in respect to the threefold syntheses and raise questions about their mutual interface. Finally, I will discuss Heidegger’s notion of the possible reduction to time-determination with respect to the phenomenological notion of the horizon. With this, I hope, I will be able to seize Heidegger’s core critique and thus hold more than explicitly discussed.

Kant’s Threefold Syntheses
After introducing the twelve pure concepts of the understanding (the categories) in the transcendental metaphysics, Kant’s aim in the transcendental deduction, the chapter that follows, is to show that the pure concepts are prerequisite to any empirical perception. By doing so Kant emphasis the necessity of the pure concepts as constructive in the process of cognition. Empirical perception is conducted according to Kant by a three steps process: The first consists of collecting or ‘absorbing’ all representations from the senses1, the second is reproducing a corresponding image in the imagination, and the third is subsuming the object under a corresponding concept, namely, their ‘recognition in the concept’.

Heidegger provides an analogy to this process of ‘synthesizing’ on his work ‘Greek ontology’ in which a potter that forms a vase out of clay is described. The potter forms (synthesizes) the vase by imagining a prototype that provides a ‘guiding thread and standard’ throughout the creation process (Sacha, 2012, p.13). This analogy illustrates Heidegger’s claim that Kant and the Greeks share common ground by their perception of being of things as being-produced. Nevertheless, insofar as the analogy illustrates a common ground, it also stresses a significant difference. To Heidegger, Kant’s theory of image reproduction as being-produced, lacks a significant dimension, which “does not receive explicit expression” (Ibid, p.13; Ga 24, 214). In order to seize the lacking dimension, we shall continue following the trails of Heidegger’s criticism.

Any given manifold of arbitrary impressions must be ordered by the cognition in order to make any sense to us. As an example, a sequence of words in a text can be interpreted as meaningful concept only if the mind knows how to put forward in front of itself a successive sequence of impressions, one by one, as a unity, without losing former impressions, these impressions thus consolidate to a single ‘synthesis of apprehension in intuition’ (Critique, A 99). However, a further step is necessary, the iteration through the successive sequence requires reproducing the former impressions into corresponding representations on a common par, that is the second step of reproduction in imagination. Now, with a unity of representations on a common par, the cognizing process can take place as the third final step. Cognizing a manifold of representations means matching it to the corresponding concept out of the pure concepts, but it also means applying few rules on the manifold of representations in order to extract meaning out of it. Only by applying a rule from the categories the mind is able to interpret a manifold of representations and to determine rational relationships between the different components on a common par.

Consider a simplified sample of viewing only two frames in a sequence which together compose a ‘pure concept’ of some plot. In the first frame, two men are seen standing next to each other while one holds a gun against the other with clear signs of sparks around the gun. The second frame shows the man who was standing next to the man with the gun now lays down on the floor flooded with blood all around him. Now, if we ask a viewer the question ‘what is the plot that you see here?’ He most likely to provide the following response – ‘The man with the gun has shot/murdered the other man.’ The question of whether the concept of a murder will be applied is a more subtle and subjective question that depends on a second-level interpretation of the smallest details and the viewer personal moral preferences. However, it is highly plausible to assert that all viewers will cognize this visual sequence with a causative association. The viewer will apply causality as the reason for the laying man on the second frame and will associate it with the gun on the first frame due to the sense of a unequivocal evidence – the sparks around the gun.

This example aptly illustrates what Kant argues to be the projective nature of causality upon the manifold representations, namely, two, in this specific case, since the provided matter does not satisfy any evidence for the mere proposition ‘The man with the gun has shot the other man’. No bullet or neither any successive sequence of frames implies any association between the gun in the first frame and the laying man in the second. Moreover, even if this sequence was enhanced with a higher magnitude of frames, there could not possibly be any evidential matter that would satisfy the proposition. In this sense, the status of these two frames and any other longer sequence stays identical as a mere manifold of mute representations that ‘tells’ no plot in itself rather than what is projected upon apriori by the cognition, “thus the concept of a cause is nothing other than a synthesis“ (Critique, A112).

Hence casualty and any other association or rule that may be applied may only be valid as an inference qua inference. However, Kant discusses the threefold synthesis merely for the sake of arguing that no empirical recognition as apprehension is possible without holding apriori pure concepts as being actively involved in the recognition process.

The Unities of Time and Consciousness and Funes’ Scarce Case
Furthermore, Kant argues that two more unities are presupposed for the third synthesis – the unity of time and the unity of consciousness (‘transcendental apprehension’, Critique, A107). To illustrate the necessity of these further synthesis on top of the threefold syntheses, we shall consider the case of Ireneo Junes, a boy that lost most of his cognizing abilities, as described by Jorge Luis Borges in “Funes the Memorious,” and discussed in our context by David E. Johnson (Johnson, 2004; Jorge Luis; 1962). An accident that occurred to Funes has led that he could no longer apprehend an inner sense of time, rather he was able to calculate time precisely on any given moment, “What’s the time, Ireneo? Without looking up, without stopping, Ireneo replied: ‘In ten minutes it will be eight o’clock'” (Jorge Luis, 1962, p.108), though it seems that Ireneo had an outstanding sense of time, “except his time consciousness is figured on the basis of a mechanical, ostensibly, external device: a watch”, “but without the need to consult a watch or any other external technology” (Johnson, 2004, p.21). Funes’ incapability of the synthesis necessary to calculate time as a unity, that forms an inner sense, is interwoven with his incapability of generalization and conceptualization and goes hand in hand with the inability to forget which results in phenomenal memorization abilities.

He was disturbed by the fact that a dog at three-fourteen (seen in profile) should have the same name as the dog at three-fifteen (seen from the front). His own face in the mirror, his own hands, surprised him on every occasion […] He was the solitary and lucid spectator of a multiform world which was instantaneously and almost intolerably exact.” (Jorge Luis, 1962, p.114).

Without the ability to conduct the synthesis that forms the unity of consciousness, the transcendental apprehension in Kant, Funes also lack the ability to identifies between two different instances of the dog, “in Funes’s eyes the dog can never be identical to itself […] not a second goes by in which the appears as ‘itself’. For Funes, there can be no identity if identity is understood as being-in-itself or as being-self-identical. This means that the concept ‘dog’ is also impossible, for in order to regulate – subsume or comprehend – the manifold of sense data, the concept must be self-identical” (Johnson, 2004, p.23)

The Schematism and the Transcendental Schemata
It follows by either Kant’s arguments in The Deduction of the Pure Concepts of The Understanding (the transcendental deduction) an either by the sample illustrated by Borges and Johnson, that these two further syntheses, of the unity of consciousness and the unity of time, are prerequisite conditions for the possibility of any cognitive conceptualization on top of the threefold syntheses and closely related to each other. However, the ability to conduct time-determinations and forming time inner sense is not quite articulated by Kant within the Transcendental Deduction, rather devoted to a different section, namely On the Schematism of the Pure Concepts of Understanding under the chapter The Transcendental Doctrine of the Power of Judgment, which raises some obscurity and ambiguity that one cannot easily resolve. Kant specifies the role of the Schematism to address the common ground of “all subsumptions of an object under a concept” so that all “representations of the former [object] must be homogeneous with the latter [concept]” (Critique, A137/B176). However, it is far from clear to address the exact interface between the threefold synthesis, which to Kant “make possible even the understanding and, through the latter, all experience as an empirical product of understanding” (Critique, A98).

In other words, if Kant strives to present a mechanism with which the pure concepts are apriori condition to any experience, it necessarily has to include the interface between the empirical content, i.e., experience, and the pure concepts. Otherwise, Kant’s argument would be futile. Indeed, Kant allegedly does supply such interface when presenting the threefold synthesis of which has two polar ends of the different realms. The one end, as ‘of the apprehension of the representations, as modifications of the mind in intuition’ (Critique, A97) is none but the empirical realm, initialized by the reception of the senses. The other end, as ‘of their recognition in the concept’ (Ibid.) is none but the epistemological realm of the ‘pure concepts.’

Therefore, if the threefold mechanism successfully satisfies the initial motivation to lay down the means as infrastructure for the possibility of empirical cognition, why does Kant is required to the Schematism and how do these two mechanisms relate to each other?

Heidegger notices this ambiguity and wisely uses it as his point of departure from Kant, Heidegger identifies a fundamental fallacy which he aims to revise, “The Schematism chapter is not ‘confused’, but rather is constructed in an incomparably lucid way […it] rather leads […] into the core of the whole problematic of the Critique of Pure Reason” (GA 3, p.80). But why is Heidegger considers the Schematism as the mechanism that lies at the heart of Kant’s critical project and precedes its significance as prior in respect to the transcendental deduction? It is because, in Heidegger’s view, only the Schematism is capable of providing a sense to the categories as pure concepts. Kant uses the term schemata as a general term that functions as a mediator between the pure concepts of the understanding and the empirical concepts. Schemata are like adapters with which the mind is capable of conducting the correspondence between the manifold of representations and a generalized concept. As such, schemata could not be a particular image rather an image-producer, e.g., a rule, so that subsumption is made possible to classify a specific manifold of representations to its corresponding concept. However, this implies that there must be a more fundamental mechanism that enables the association in a similar manner by which two syntheses of the consciousness and time take place on top of the mechanism of the threefold synthesis. The intuitive, e.g, empirical form that corresponds to the unity of the self as ‘I’, must be mediated with some special kind of schemata, or to put it in Heidegger words, “The pure concepts of the understanding which are thought in the pure ‘I think’ require an essentially pure intuitive, […] Pure concepts must be grounded in pure schemata which procure an image for these concepts” (GA 3, p.72), this is the role of the transcendental schemata. However, both Heidegger and Kant suggest that the transcendental schemata can be reduced to mere time-determination, “Hence an application of the category to appearances becomes possible by means of the transcendental time-determination which, as the schema of the concept of the understanding mediates the subsumption of the latter under the former” (Critique, A139). For Heidegger, that is a key-concept on which he develops the notion of originary temporality.

The Possible Reduction of Pure Concepts as Schemata to Time Determinations
But how exactly are these schematas as production-rules made possible by the transcendental schemata as an essentially mere time-determination? Stephan Käufer provides a clear elucidation on this topic (Käufer, 2003). Consider the case of looking at a house, aside from its empirical properties which projected as impressions such as color and matter, the perception of the house is also grounded on a sense of the house’s persistence.

However, persistence as such, as in respect to causality, could be derived neither from the object itself nor from its ‘actuality’ or ‘existence’ in the same manner of its other projected properties such as color and shape, rather it must be attributed by cognition itself and thus originated in the pure concepts, or the categories. Hence, the categories are related to the perception of the object so they “are ‘pictured’ in the temporal aspects it is possible for the objects to present” (Ibid., p.83). Each category has corresponding schemata which use it as its means for implementation for the sake of cognition, but the schemata can be only manifested by different time-determination which attributes to it various possible modalities as a sense of temporality. So that the perception of ‘moving,’ ‘changing’ and ‘persisting’ takes place by different determinations of time sequences, or in Heidegger, as ‘now sequences’ (Ibid.). That might explain why all forms of schemata could be boiled down or essentially reduced to time as different forms of time-determinations.

Originary Temporality and the Horizon in Heidegger
Where Kant sees two fundamental syntheses, namely, unity of consciousness and unity of time on top of the threefold syntheses in the transcendental deduction, Heidegger sees only one synthesis as preceding in both ontological and transcendental senses, which hence allows him to revise Kant’s threefold syntheses correspondingly. As a result, Heidegger assigns a different time dimension to each part of the threefold syntheses. The first apprehension of representations in intuition is related to the present, the second reproduction in imagination is related to the past as it conducts a series of reproductions from memory as the past into a common par as the present. The third step, recognition in a concept, should be thus related to the future as a conduct of inference by which the cognition is ‘looking ahead’ or aiming towards a pure concept (Ibid., p.82). The third step is closely related to Heidegger’s notion of horizon as we shall see.

Armed with these insights, we are now allowed to go back to Heidegger’s analogy of the potter to shed new light upon and extract a new meaning out of it. The potter analogy should thus stand in accordance with Heidegger’s revised model of Kant’s threefold syntheses converged with the Schematism as the chief mechanism by which cognition takes place. It has said that Kant’s theory of reproduction is reminiscent of the Greek model of holding that the being of things seizes being as being-produced. In fact, Heidegger claims that Kant’s understanding adequate that of the Greeks2 but still lacks ‘an explicit expression’ (Ibid). That lacking expression is what differs Kant’s pure concepts and the Greek image-prototype as being-produced, that is the temporal-spatial aspect of being as being-produced. Since Heidegger’s revised model precedes the transcendental schemata as the prior element of the whole cognition and it is said to be essentially reductable to time-determination (originary temporality in Heidegger), hence being as being-produced as the analogical component is also reductable to time-determination. However, as time-determination it is opened into the horizon which determines its scope and contextual-content. The notion of horizon is employed in phenomenological discourse and designates the range of possible projected intentionalities by the subject within the world as its context, a projection that takes place with Heidegger’s interpretation of the third step of the threefold synthesis as relating to the future. By referencing Kant’s transcendental schemata to a time-horizon semantic field, Heidegger is rendering Kant’s transcendental philosophy or transplanting into onto-phenomenological discourse, a reading that is not only radically critical, but also uses Kant as a departure point to articulate his own thesis.

References List

• Käufer, Stephan; 2003, Schemata, Hammers, and Time: Heidegger’s Two Derivations of Judgment, in Topoi 22: pp. 79-91.
• Kant, Immanuel; 1998, Critique of Pure Reason, Translated and Edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, Cambridge University Press.
• Heidegger, Martin; 1962, Kant and the Problems of Metaphysics (GA3), Translated by James S. Churchill, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
• Heidegger, Martin; 1982 The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (GA 24). Translated by Albert Hofstadter, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
• Heidegger, Martin; 2002, The Essence of Human Freedom (GA 31). Translated by Ted Sadler, London, Continuum.
• E. Johnson, David; 2004, Kant’s Dog, In Diacritics, Vol. 34, No. 1, Spring 2004, pp. 18-39.
• Borges, Jorge Luis; 1962, Ficcones, Edited by Anthony Kerrigan, Grove Press, New York.
• Golob, Sacha; 2012, Heidegger on Kant, Time and the ‘Form’ of Intentionality.

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