Hume and Kant: Contrasting Models of the Self


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David Nollmeyer

Two of the most influential philosophers on psychology have been David Hume and Immanuel Kant (Boeree 1999). Hume’s materialism views God, soul, matter, natural law, and any deliberation of metaphysics as products of the imagination. Hume associates external contingencies with every perception of the self-reference. To Hume, “Just as there is no mind independent of perception, there is no self independent of perceptions…” (Hergenhahn 2005).

            Kant’s position is quite different. Kant wished to define a model of the self that would acknowledge physics and mathematics while insulating God and faith. Kant also approaches grounding in physics to ascertain what has been identified as self (Brooks 2004).

            Here we can contrast the two models, Hume’s is strictly naturalistic and Kant’s is metaphysical.

David Hume

1711-1766

            Hume believed that the entire contents of the mind were drawn from experience alone. The stimulus could be external or internal. In this nexus, Hume describes what he calls impressions in contrast to ideas. Impressions are vivid perceptions and were strong and lively. “I comprehend all our sensations, passions, and emotions as they make their first appearance in the soul. Ideas were images in thinking and reason.” (Flew 1962 p. 176).

            For Hume there is no mind or self. The perceptions that one has are only active when one is conscious. “When my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep, so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist.” (Flew 1962, p.259). Hume appears to be reducing personality and cognition to a machine that may be turned on and off. Death brings with it the annihilation of the perceptions one has. Hume argues passions as the determinants of behavior. Hume also appears as a behaviorist believing that humans learn in the same manner as lower animals; that is through reward and punishment (Hergenhahn 2005).

            Skepticism is the guiding principle in what is no doubt non-recognition of meta-physics in this subject. Hume in the appendix to A Treatise on Human Nature addresses his conclusions (Hume 1789).

In short there are two principles, which I cannot render consistent; nor is it in my power to renounce either of them, viz, that all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences, and that the mind never perceives any real connexion among distinct existences.

Hume’s method of inquiry begins with his assumption that experience in the form of impressions cannot give rise to the constancy of a self in which would be constant to give reference to all future experiences. The idea of self is not one any one impression. It is several ideas and impressions in itself. There is no constant impression that endures for one’s whole life. Different sensations as pleasure and pain, or heat and cold are in a constant continuum that is invariable and not constant. “It cannot therefore be from any of these impressions, or from any other, that the idea of self is derived; and consequently there is no such idea (Hume 1789). It appears the closest thing that Hume could discuss as the self is similar to watching a film or a play of one’s life. These perceptions themselves are separate from one another and there is no unifying component as a self to organize such for long-term reference.

Hume further deliberates over a position of identity of an invariable and uninterrupted existence. Hume confirms there is no primordial substance as to where all secondary existences of individual existence exist. Everything in our conscious state is derived from impressions. Objects in the outer world exist as distinct species that are separable from the secondary qualities in conscious thought. To negate any demonstration of substance Hume posits an analogy that if life was reduced to below that of an oyster, does this entity have any one perception as thirst or hunger? The only thing that would exist is the perception. Adding a higher complex of perception would not yield any notion of substance that could yield an independent and constant self. (Hume 1789). Hume’s model of the mind simply records data when such is manifestly conscious. The model abstracts and isolates objects and secondary qualities without any metaphysics. Unity of experience is one area, which Hume found elusive in his model and with such denied any configuration of self-reference only perceptions in the conscious (Hume 1789).

Immanuel Kant

1724 - 1804

Kant’s concept of the self is a response to Hume in part. Kant wished to justify a conviction in physics as a body of universal truth. The other being to insulate religion, especially a belief in immortality and free will (Brooks 2004). In the Inaugural Dissertation of 1770, Kant corrected earlier problems of a non-material soul having localization in space. Kant used inner sense to defend the heterogeneity of body and soul: “bodies are objects of outer sense; souls are objects of inner sense” (Carpenter 2004). In Kant’s thought there are two components of the self: 1. inner-self 2. outer-self (Brooks 2004).

There are two kinds of consciousness of self: consciousness of oneself and one's psychological states in inner sense and consciousness of oneself and one's states via performing acts of apperception.

         Empirical self-consciousness is the term Kant used to describe the inner self. Transcendental apperception or (TA) is used in two manners by Kant for the term. The first being a synthetic faculty and a second as the “I” as subject. One will note that logically this function would occur in inner sense (Brooks 2004). Kant states that all representational states are in inner sense include all spatially localized outer objects. The origin or our representations regardless if they are the product of a priori or outer objects as modifications of the mind belong to inner sense. Kant presents apperception as a means to consciousness to one’s self. Inner sense is not pure apperception. It is an awareness of what we are experiencing as we are affected by thought (Brooks 2004).

         Brooks cites three types of synthesis. Kant claimed, there are three types of synthesis required to organize information, namely apprehending in intuition, reproducing in imagination, and recognizing in concepts (A97-A105). “Synthesis of apprehension concerns raw perceptual input, synthesis of recognition concerns concepts, and synthesis of reproduction in imagination allows the mind to go from the one to the other.” (Brooks 2004).

         Unity of experience and consciousness are integral to the concept of the self. Transcendental apperception has function to unite all appearances into one experience. This is a unity based on causal laws. There is a synthesis according to concepts that subordinates all to transcendental unity. According to Kant the contents of consciousness must have causal connections to be unified (Brooks 2004).

             Kant argues that in the present progressive one can be aware of oneself by an act of representing (Kant 1789). Representation is not intuitive but a spontaneous act of performing or doing things. Man knows that by doing and fulfilling activities that these impressions cannot be simply sensations resulting from the senses. Representation fulfills three acts. An act of representing can make one conscious of its object, itself and oneself as its subject; the representational base of consciousness of these three items. Becoming conscious of our selves is simply an act of representation and nothing more (Brooks 2004).

Kant postulates that there is a plurality of representations that gives rise to our view of self as a “single common subject”. This concept requires a constant undivided self. This concept is a continuation of global unity that spans many representations, one does not have to be conscious of the global object but of oneself as subject of all representations (Kant 1787).

 

Kant’s self has a unity of self reference, “When we are conscious of ourselves as subject, we are conscious of ourselves as the “single common subject” [CPR, A350] of a number of representations.” (Kant 1787). Here Kant confirms that the impressions we perceive have one single common aim and that is the self as subject of these experiences.

 

 Kant postulates both senses as empirical but with the object of inner self being the soul. Transcendental apperception is a priori. Kant maintains the use of intuitive faculties of intuition and synthesis in inner self where innate material unites the spatially located objects from the outer self. Here, this permits a downward deductive operation to act from Kant’s theology while preserving an inductive operation from the sense world of our experience.

Summary

            Kant’s model is a response to a purely material based inductive model of the self proposed by Hume. Hume’s self is a passive observer similar to watching one’s life pass before as a play or on a screen. Hume is a strict determinist, no free will. The final determination for Hume then is the self is a fleeting linking of objects by our memory to objects. Any concept of self is simply memory and imagination. Hume is not totally a behavioristic precursor but his imprint is noticeable.

Kant however has a rationalistic motive and posits that the mind is actively manipulating data through acts of synthesis. The model contains a flaw - Transcendental apperception should have been placed in inner sense. Overall the case remains for Kant’s use of synthesis from faculties in the mind for unifying objects, representations, experience, and consciousness into a coherent reference to the self has implications in present day cognitive psychology (Brooks 2004).

Works Cited

 

                Boeree, Dr. C. G. (1999). Hume and Kant. Retrieved from the World Wide Web November 24, 2004: http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/humekant.html

                Brook, A. (2004). Kant's view of the mind and consciousness of self. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from the World Wide Web November 24, 2004: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2004/entries/kant-mind/

           Cohon, R.(2004) Hume's moral philosophy . The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from the World Wide Web November 24, 2004. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2004/entries/hume-moral/

           Hume, D. (1789). A treatise on human nature. Retrieved from the World Wide Web November 24, 2004: 

           http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/pi.htm

           Flew, A. (Ed.) (1962). David Hume: On human nature and understanding. New York: Macmillan.

           Kant, I. (1798) Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view (trans. Mary Gregor). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974 (Ak. VII).

           Kant, I. (1781/1787) Critique of pure reason (tran. P. Guyer and A. Wood). Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.


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