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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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As outlined in the Introduction, the three main tasks of my work were: 1) to develop a historical inquiry on the uses of the term schema before and after Kant, aiming at understanding how it becomes a philosophical defined term and how Kant comes to the problem of schematism; 2) to achieve a critical definition of the notion of schema in the well-known chapter of the Critique of Pure Reason, in order to understand whether or not the introduction of schemata is a necessary step in Kant’s work or a redundant addition to the pure forms of sensibility and the understanding; 3) to understand the legacy of the Kantian doctrine of transcendental schema and its relation to analogous psychological notions.

Schema: the history of an idea

Through the inquiry on the use of ‘schema’ before Kant, I have shown that the term did not possess a definite meaning, although its use was widespread within philosophical literature. Especially in early modern thinkers such as Tetens, it was often used to refer to a mediating function between the activity of the intellect and the passivity of sensibility. Kant was not the first thinker to have used the term concerning this topic. More specifically, I have underlined how in ancient times, ‘schema’ possessed the meanings of form, appearance, shape, and that it was used with a variety of connotations, such as: rhetorical (Plato, Aristotle), moral (Plato), geometrical (Plato), logical (Aristotle), ontological (Leucippus, Democritus, Theophrastus, Aristotle), epistemological (Proclus)...

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