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Kant's Theory of Imagination: Bridging Gaps in Judgement and Experience.

Gibbons, Sarah. Oxford Philosophical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. x + 205 pp. $45.00--Sarah Gibbons's book is part of a growing literature that sees in Kant's third Critique an attempt to humanize and embody the interests of reason. As her title indicates, Gibbons approaches the problem by providing a theory of imagination that bridges gaps, including those "between concepts and intuitions, thought and sensibility, spontaneity and passivity, subject and object, and, somewhat more indirectly, nature and freedom" (p. 2). These gaps stem from the fact that we are finite discursive knowers that construct part, but not all, of our knowledge. This creates a problem, because, as Kant states, "reason can have insight only into that which it produces after a plan of its own" (p. 3). How can reason gain insight into the part that it does not contribute? In other words, concepts of reason, or categories, must be applied to intuitions that only contingently harmonize with those concepts. There must be additional subjective conditions for this harmony. These conditions cannot be supplied by further concepts without threatening a vicious regress: there cannot be rules for rule-following, because we would need further rules to apply these rules. The conditions for applying concepts to intuitions in acts of judgment require a nonconceptual order. Imagination expresses this order. However, because reason has insight only into that which it produces, imagination produces this order in cooperation with reason-not with reason's categories, but with indeterminate ideas of reason.

Gibbons finds the beginnings of her thesis in the Critique of Pure Reason. The so-called Subjective Deduction shows that there is a synthesis of imagination that is distinct from, and more basic than, conceptualization. This synthesis is part of the subjective conditions of judgment that Kant begins to work out in the schematism chapter. Schemata are expressions of the conditions for recognizing the instances of rules. They are conditions under which the spatio-temporal given is in harmony with the categories. These conditions are elaborated in Kant's discussion of kinds of reflective judgment in the Critique of Judgment.

Aesthetic reflective judgments of taste involve the same relation of the faculties as schematization: what is given in sensibility must harmonize with the understanding. Because no concepts determine the aesthetic judgment, the extra-conceptual functions of the imagination come to the fore. Gibbons turns to Kant's discussions of the ideal of beauty, genius, and fine art in order to fill out these subjective conditions of judging. She argues that imagination acts in cooperation with indeterminate concepts of reason. The harmonious relationship between imagination and understanding that Kant begins with in judgments of taste, the relationship that is also present in schematization, is one that is ultimately guided by reason. The complex relationship between reason and imagination is expanded in Kant's theory of the sublime. In judgments of the sublime, we have a nonconceptual felt grasp of the sort of unity that Kant attributes to pure intuition. Based on this comparison, Gibbons argues that reason has a role to play in the first Critique's notion of pure intuition, as well.

Gibbons completes her discussion of the relationship between reason and imagination by exploring how they are involved in the subjective conditions of moral judging. Gibbons examines Kant's notion of the highest good as a Kingdom of Ends that is an imagined commonwealth of human beings. She focuses on imagination's role in symbolically expressing this idea of reason and shaping social and historical self-understanding.

Gibbons's strength is her ability to explore and synthesize a wide range of material, both in terms of content and works, in order to elaborate a more complete picture of imagination than is available in any single work. However, in focusing on a consistent reading of imagination, tensions arise. For example, Gibbon's thesis requires that she understand productive imagination as active and as connected with reason. The central use of the productive imagination is in judgments of taste. Yet, in judgments of taste the imagination does not appear to be genuinely self-guided or guided by reason: it is a lucky chance that objects of nature harmonize with our cognitive capacities. A beautiful object offers the kind of form the imagination would design (see CJ, 241). Despite the inconsistencies which, one might argue, go with the territory, Gibbons's book is a welcome addition to the literature on Kant.
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Author:Matthews, Patricia M.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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