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Fr. 435

November 11, 2013

In the “Transcendental Aesthetic”, Kant’s primary goal consists in the scientific exposition of the principles of a priori sensibility, i.e. that pure sensibility or intuition that is to be encountered as a necessary, general part of all particular intuitions and, by extension, of the mind itself.

As is well known, the pure form of sensibility is, in fact, two: space and time. (Although Kant most often contents himself with the exposition of the form of space, only then to derive time from the former.) All empirical intuitions are to be grasped and understood within the spatio-temporal framework of the pure intuition. Furthermore, to space Kant correlates the outer sense and to time the inner sense. For this reason, the philosopher considers that inner sense is necessarily temporal in its ordering of inner events to the same extent that the outer sense is necessarily spatial in its manner of proceeding. And as he himself writes:

“Inner sense, by means of which the mind intuits itself, or its inner state, gives, to be sure, no intuition of the soul itself, as an object; yet it is still a determinate form, under which the intuition of its inner state is alone possible, so that everything that belongs to the inner determinations is represented in relations of time. Time can no more be intuited externally than space can be intuited as something in us” (A22-23; B37).

Although Kant’s attention shifts at this point to revealing what precisely time and space are, suffice it to say that anything and everything that is to be entrusted to inner sense will betray, on Kant’s view, a fundamentally temporal nature, at least from the point of view of intuition and sensibility.

Yet this characterization leaves a number of questions up in the air concerning one’s understanding of certain phenomena pertaining to inner sense. One of the foremost among these is that of pain. For what is to be made of pain on the model advanced above? Might there be an exception to be made in Kant’s characterization of inner sense as inherently temporal so as to make room for pain? The reason for phrasing the question thus stems from a simple question: is pain to be grasped foremost under a temporal relation? Insofar as one would tend to relegate pain to the world of inner sense (i.e. one feels a pain, which is not an event in the outside world) and inner sense necessarily invokes all things temporal on Kant’s view, the natural conclusion would seem to be that pain is itself necessarily a temporal phenomenon.

This characterization proves, however, to be far from evident if one spends even a moment considering the way in which pain presents itself to the subject. Specifically, this fact is unclear insofar as pain seems to have some manner of locality and extension. For example, as concerns locality, one can typically point to that part of the body in which the pain is occurring or has arisen: a toe, a tooth, the temples, a rib, etc. In the case of extension, one can also indicate over how far an area the pain seems to spread or be distributed. For instance, perhaps the entire side of the individual hurts or the lower half of the forearm or the upper left side of the back or any other region of the body to which no single, obvious body part might be held to correspond. What is to be drawn from these examples of locality and extension is simply that they do not admit of a simple classification in terms of change in position, which is what otherwise constitutes the basis of time on Kant’s view (and, hence, the link to the pure form of intuition that is space).

It remains to be seen if the foregoing exposition constitutes a solid objection, but it is nevertheless important to ask ourselves how Kant might best respond to this concern. This response would likely hold that pain falls under the case of displeasure, of which he notes:

“[…] that everything in our cognition that belongs to intuition (with the exception, therefore, of the feeling of pleasure and displeasure and the will, which are not cognitions at all) contains nothing but mere relations, of places in one intuition (extension), alteration of places (motion), and laws in accordance with which this alteration is determined (moving forces)” (A49; B66-67; my emphasis).

In short, in that pain falls under the case of displeasure and displeasure is not capable of being rigorously analyzed or cognized in terms of the relations specified above, i.e. extension, motion, moving forces, pain is not capable of being analyzed or cognized, no matter its seeming relationship with intuition and inner sense. In other words, so long as pain cannot be classed under rigorous, strictly spatiotemporal relations of the sort above, pain cannot, for Kant, be considered an intuition doing some cognitive work in the understanding.

Even if this represents Kant’s best answer on the manner, one can still ask whether he would be right to exclude, in the premises, pain as mere displeasure and whether the response given above is itself satisfying, as it seems to entertain some spatial relations at the level of production, sensation and transmission. Without doubt, the question thus posed might be one worth pursuing further. And it is not clear that Kant’s further elaboration at A374 proves any more satisfying than the preceding:

“Whether we take sensations, pleasure and pain, or even external sensations, such as colors, warmth, etc., it is certain beyond doubt that it is perception through which the material must first be given for thinking objects of sensible intuition.”

Does pain not follow from perception in some form or other? Or is Kant’s answer the end of the matter? Can pain be so subsumed to displeasure or is it something more? The question seems one best saved for another day.


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