Kant’s analytic-geometric revolution : ostensive judgment as algebraic time–state relation in the Critique of pure reason

Heftler, Christopher Scott
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In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant defends the mathematically deterministic world of physics by arguing that its essential features arise necessarily from innate forms of intuition and rules of understanding through combinatory acts of imagination. Knowing is active: it constructs the unity of nature by combining appearances in certain mandatory ways. What is mandated is that sensible awareness provide objects that conform to the structure of ostensive judgment: “This (S) is P.” Sensibility alone provides no such objects, so the imagination compensates by combining passing point-data into “pure” referents for the subject-position, predicate-position, and copula. The result is a cognitive encounter with a generic physical object whose characteristics—magnitude, substance, property, quality, and causality—are abstracted as the Kantian categories. Each characteristic is a product of “sensible synthesis” that has been “determined” by a “function of unity” in judgment. Understanding the possibility of such determination by judgment is the chief difficulty for any rehabilitative reconstruction of Kant’s theory. I will show that Kant conceives of figurative synthesis as an act of line-drawing, and of the functions of unity as rules for attending to this act. The subject-position refers to substance, identified as the objective time-continuum; the predicate-position, to quality, identified as the continuum of property values (constituting the second-order type named by the predicate concept). The upshot is that both positions refer to continuous magnitudes, related so that one (time-value) is the condition of the other (property-value). Kant’s theory of physically constructive grammar is thus equivalent to the analytic-geometric formalism at work in the practice of mathematical physics, which schematizes time and state as lines related by an algebraic formula. Kant theorizes the subject–predicate relation in ostensive judgment as an algebraic time–state function. When aimed towards sensibility, “S is P” functions as the algebraic relation “t → ƒ(t).”