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Kant´s Notion of a Transcendental Schema

The Constitution of Objective Cognition between Epistemology and Psychology


Lara Scaglia

The main aim of this book is to provide a critical and historical inquiry into Kant’s schematism chapter contained in the Critique of Pure Reason. More specifically, the book argues that Kant’s schematism chapter is a necessary step within the project of the Critique. It deals with a problem of its own, one which is not the object of the previous chapters: How can categories be applied to intuitions? The author shows that the term ‘schema’ has an interesting and long tradition of different philosophical uses that finds in the works of Kant a point of no-return. In the philosophical works written before Kant, the notion of schema did not have a specific and distinctive meaning and function of its own but was rather used in different contexts (from rhetoric to logic to psychology). After Kant, all philosophers who speak of schemata refer in one way or another back to Kant’s distinctive notion, which possesses a specific, epistemic meaning. Moreover, this book aims to provide a contribution to the understanding of the relation between philosophy and the sciences. It is by means of demonstrating the importance of the schematism chapter not only within the Critique but also from a broader perspective, deriving from the fact that Kant’s doctrine of schemata had an impressive influence not only on philosophers but also on psychologists.

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3.Kant’s notion of a schema in twentieth-century psychology


Among the literature on Kant and psychological studies and cognitive sciences, there is no entire monograph devoted exclusively to schematism, rather there are general works on Kant and functionalism (Sellars 1970; Dennett 1978; Meerbote 1989; Powell 1990) or on Kant and the cognitive sciences (Marshall 1995; Clapin 1999). In his Kant and Cognitive Science Andrew Brook regards Kant as a precursor to cognitive scientists:

“Unlike the [philosophical] tradition but like contemporary cognitive science, he simply took it for granted that we have knowledge: a priori knowledge about conceptual structures and perceptual knowledge of the world of space and time.” (Brook 2003, p. 136)

And Sandra P. Marshall points out:

“The term schema has a long and rich background. Both the word and the concept it reflects are prominent in the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers. It permeates the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, It guided the research of many early psychologists, and now it has a place in cognitive science. As one might expect, schema has not carried exactly the same connotations over this long period of usage, although there are important continuities.” (Marshall 1995, p. 3)

However, excluding Marshall’s introductory chapter, these works are mainly interested in interpreting Kant as a precursor to cognitive scientists, rather than in analysing historically the influence of Kant on particular authors.

In the following sections I will give a general introduction regarding contemporary schema theories in cognitive psychology and their pioneer,...

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