Creighton, J. E. “The Nature of Intellectual Synthesis.” The Philosophical Review 5, no. 2 (1896): 135. https://doi.org/10.2307/2175347
It’s one of the commonplaces of modern philosophical theories that knowledge is the result of the synthetic activity of consciousness. There is, perhaps, no notion to which appeal is so frequently made in current epistemological discussion as that of Synthesis. The significance of Hume in the history of speculation, it is often remarked, consists in the fact that he demonstrated the impossibility of accounting foreknowledge from the standpoint of individual impressions and ideas. His investigations proved conclusively that if all mental states are distinct and separate existences, it is impossible to discover any principles of universal and necessary connection which afford at the same time any justification of their use. And the historical expositions with which all are familiar, proceed to show how Kant answered the problem which his predecessor had pronounced insoluble, by bringing to light the synthetic activity of consciousness, and proving that knowledge is the result of a construction on the part of the mind itself. The justification of synthetic propositions a periorbita is, of propositions which do not depend upon this or that particular experience, but are valid for all men, is to be founded on the fact that the thinking process which determines the nature of these propositions is itself a synthetic unity.
Historically, then, we find that the notion of Synthesis was brought into prominence in modern times through Kant. Moreover, the influence of the Kantian system and especially of the Critique of Pure Reason has been so great that there is, perhaps, danger that this principle may become obscure from its very familiarity. For, as the Critique has formed an important factor in nearly everybody's philosophical education, it is probable that one's mode of conceiving of Synthesis has, consciously or unconsciously, been influenced by Kant. It may, therefore, be advantageous, before attempting any exposition of this notion, to undertake a brief inquiry regarding the nature of the function which this principle is called upon to perform in the Kantian theory of knowledge.
It will, perhaps, make the matter plainer if I first state my conclusions. The thesis which I think can be established without going into any very detailed examination of particular passages in the Critique is that Kant always conceived of Synthesis as a process of externally joining part to part. The parts are supposed to be combined together in an order which possesses strict universality and necessity, but yet they are regarded as really existing things which enter externally into the nature of the whole. In short, we may say that the product of Synthesis remains for Kant a mechanical, and not an ideal, whole. I shall also attempt incidentally to show that the negative conclusions of the first Critique are the immediate consequences of the external way in which he continued to think of this fundamental principle. It may also be well to add here, in order to anticipate an obvious objection, that there can be no question that the passages in which Kant exhibits the unity of Apperception as the highest principle of Synthesis can be reads as to refute the interpretation which I have undertaken to defend. Indeed, these passages may be said to contain in germ the whole of the newer doctrine of Synthesis which has been developed since Kant's time. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that Kant was wiser than he knew. Whether or not we accept Fichte's conjecture that the Holy Ghost spoke truth through Kant of which the latter did not dream, both the form in which he stated his problem, and the consequences he deduced from his system regarding the limitation of knowledge, prove conclusively that he could never have realized the full reach and significance of the doctrine of the synthetic unity of apperception.
The mechanical nature of Kant's conception of Synthesis is at once evident from the description of Judgment given in the Introduction to the Critique for in that account he assumes the correctness of the traditional view of Judgment, as a process of passing from a given subject-notion in order to unite a predicate with it. This doctrine of Judgment may be fairly said to be based upon an analysis of the spoken or written proposition, rather than upon that of the thought-process of which the proposition is the expression. In speaking or writing, the parts of the proposition fall outside each other: the subject comes first and the predicate later. The same relations are therefore supposed to hold true of the parts of the Judgment. Where the predicate is not already contained in the subject, as is the case in analytic propositions, Judgment consists in going beyond the subject to a predicate which lies completely outside it. Accordingly, we find that the problem which Kant sets for himself is to discover how it is ever possible, with full assurance of the universality and necessity of the process, to go beyond a given concept A to a foreign predicate B, and also to determine the limits of the validity of this procedure. It is true he maintained that, for so long we are dealing merely with concepts, the analytical function of thought alone has validity, and no synthetic process can find justification. The point which I wish to bring out in this connection, however, as indicative of Kant's thought, is the ideal of synthesis here set forth, and the external character of the function which this principle is called upon to fulfil.
To pass on now to our next argument, we find Kant maintaining that the synthetic use of understanding is only possible in that transcendental or real function by means of which it unites a manifold of impressions into a whole for knowledge. “The same understanding, and through the same operations by which in concepts it achieves through analytical unity the form of a judgment, introduces also through the synthetical unity of the manifold in perception a transcendental element into its ideas." What we have to follow here is the process by which Thought transforms the manifold, given in sense, into a world of objects for experience. This work is accomplished through the synthesizing activity of consciousness. Now in the operation of that function Kant maintains we can distinguish three necessary steps or stages. There is a synthesis of apprehension imperception, a synthesis of reproduction in imagination, and a synthesis of recognition through concepts. It is very difficult to do justice to Kant's account in a summary statement. For beneath the synthesis of the empirical manifold there runs a synthesis of pure or a priori elements to which he constantly refers as the explanation of the former connection. For example, in the first two stages which we have enumerated, consciousness is described as operating with the pure a prior manifold of sense, Space and Time. Space and Time only become wholes through a synthesis of the manifold which sense offers in its original receptivity.1 It is clear, however, that this transcendental synthesis at once involves the connection of the empirical elements which are in Space and Time, and furnishes at the same time the explanation of the necessary character of their union.
It may, perhaps, be worthwhile to turn aside from the mainline of our inquiry for a little, in order to investigate somewhat more closely the nature of this bewildering a priori process to which it seems so difficult to ascribe any concrete meaning. Without venturing to express any opinion regarding the exact nature of Kant's conception of the a priori? we may, I think, see what real significance it had for his system. As we learn from the Introduction, and from numerous passages throughout the Critique universality and necessity are the unfailing criteria of the a priori character of any synthesis. Experience never gives us more than a mere factual union of different objects and carries with it no insight into the necessity and universality of this connection. The function, therefore, which the a priori synthesis is called upon to perform, is to guarantee the objective character of the judgments which enter into and constitute the nature of our experience. But, since Kant took for the object of his inquiry the process by which knowledge is attained in the consciousness of the individual, rather than the nature of thought as such, and as, moreover, he assumes the correctness of Hume's description of the empirical consciousness, he is compelled, in order to explain the universality and necessity presupposed in our judgments, to have recourse to a synthetic process a priori which goes on within the shadowy realms of pure thought.
In order to awaken popular sympathy, it is only necessary to pronounce on the uselessness and absurdity of any such prior or 'transcendental' function. Instead of doing this or delaying criticizing the machinery which Kant introduced to account for synthetic propositions a priori, it is, I think, more important to note the real significance of the conception. For, if we free this from the accidental peculiarities which attach to it in Kant's system, it is evident that to assert the existence of synthetic judgments a priori means only that we do succeed reaching conclusions, into the universality and necessity of which it is possible to see. Or, in other words, it is to assume merely the possibility of certainty with regard to our knowledge. Furthermore, this certainty (as Hume showed) cannot be justified in any way from the facts of the purely empirical consciousness but forces us beyond it. Without attempting to defend Kant's mode of conceiving this a priori function, it is possible to recognize the importance of bringing to light this objective aspect of Thought. Kant's description of pure oar priori processes of Synthesis, then, will not be without meaning, if we understand that his object is to get beyond the individual consciousness, with which he began his investigation, to the objective or necessary conditions presupposed in knowledge as such.
After this digression, we may now return to the examination of the process by which knowledge is constituted. The synthesis of sense and that of imagination (which are really inseparably connected and presuppose each other) result in a collocation of images which are not yet objects for knowledge. Before the images, thus held together by imagination, can enter into the unity of experience, the understanding must recognize the necessity of the rule which the synthesis has hitherto been following blindly. That is, the connection must be justified by the recognition, on the part of the understanding, that the process has taken place in accordance with the nature of the highest principle of Synthesis, the unity of self-consciousness. As I have already admitted, this latter doctrine, taken by itself, can easily be interpreted so as to carry us beyond the province of the mechanical categories. But the manner in which the schemata, sensuous on one side and intellectual on the other,' are interpolated to bring the sensuous image into connection with the pure categories, indicates that even here Kant is thinking of the synthetic process as an external union of disparate elements. And this impression receives further confirmation by an examination of the highest application of the categories in the passages treating the Analogies of Experience.
These Analogies are nothing but principles for determining the existence of phenomena in time according to the three modes of the latter." Even when phenomena are determined by the highest of these principles, that of Reciprocity, they do not form a whole of experience in any true sense. For, although the phenomenal objects cohere according to necessary laws, their connection is still an external relation which exists between them. The categories of Relation are external bonds which fix and objectify the temporal relations of phenomena, not ideal principles which transform perceptive togetherness into an intellectual unity. As a consequence, each object refers to something outside itself, and so gives rise to an infinite regress. In spite of the reference to the Unity of Apperception, nature exhibits no true unity, for its objects still retain in large measure the characteristic isolation which belonged to them before their union with the category. Even when these highest categories have done their work, thought has constituted no systematic whole of experience, within which ideal unity objects might fall as mutually determining parts. Our experience remains to the last an external aggregation of perceptive objects standing outside each other in Space and Time, which by their very nature forbid the possibility of complete unification.
Another point which may be put in evidence, is the opposition which Kant maintains between Analysis and Synthesis, as that between the formal, or logical, and the real, or transcendental, functions of thinking. The analytic activity of Thought, as we have already seen, operates in accordance with the Law of Identity, when we are concerned with the relations of concepts to each other. From this field. It, however, finds valid employment in unifying the manifold given in Perception, a field in which Analysis is powerless. Each thought-activity, therefore, is regarded as having its own separate function to which the other is not suited, and each is supposed to work in isolation from the other. But Analysis cannot be opposed to Synthesis in this way, unless the latter is regarded as a process of building up a while, in a way analogous to that by which material wholesale constituted. When we are dealing with a material thing, the process of putting together parts is the opposite of that of decomposition or disintegration. In an intellectual process, as I shall try to show later, this opposition has no meaning. Here Analysis and Synthesis presuppose each other and must go hand in hand. Only if we assume that, in thinking of Synthesis, Kant must have had an image of material processes before his mind's eye, is it possible to explain his separation and opposition of two aspects which are involved in every act of thought.
The most convincing proof that Kant never got beyond a mechanical view of Synthesis is found, however, in the conclusions which he drew from his system, regarding the limitation of knowledge. For it might possibly be maintained that his formulation of the problem, and earlier utterances, are to be taken as merely provisional, and not as indicative of his real position. And it may well be admitted that it is always necessary, in reading the first portions of the Critique, to attach considerable importance to what Professor Card has called Kant's ' pedagogical method ' of going beyond and transforming the point of view which he at first provisionally adopts. But the negative doctrines which are stated at the end of the Analytic, and worked out more fully in the Dialectic, were written after the positive part of the system had been completed, and are, moreover, of such importance in themselves that there can be no doubt that the ideal of knowledge which they presuppose represents Kant's final view. And the arguments upon which these conclusions are based rest, as we shall see, upon that conception of Synthesis which has been found to exist in the earlier passages of the Critique.
The valid use of concepts presupposes that perceptions are given in experience to which they are applied. "What is required of every concept is, first, the logical form of a conception general; and, secondly, something to which it refers. The only way in which an object can be given to a concept is in perception. All concepts, therefore, and with them all principles, though they may be possible a priori, refer nevertheless to empirical perceptions, that is, to data of a possible experience. Without this they would be ampere play, whether of the imagination or the understanding, with their respective ideas." “It is for this reason that an abstract concept is required to be made sensuous, that is, that its corresponding object is required to be shown in perception, because without this the concept (as people say) is without sense, that is, without meaning." " It might therefore be advisable to express ourselves in the following way: The pre categories, without the formal conditions of sensibility, have a transcendental character only, but do not admit of any transcendental use ; because such use is in itself impossible, as the categories are deprived of all the conditions of being used in judgments, that is, of the formal conditions of the subsumption of any possible object under these concepts. Since, therefore, as pure categories, they are not meant to be used empirically, and cannot be used transcendently, they admit, if separated from sensibility, of no use at all. That is, they cannot be applied to any possible object, and are nothing but the preform of the use of the understanding with reference to objects in general, without enabling us to think or to determine any object by their means alone."
A multitude of passages to the same purpose might easily be cited, for this is a doctrine which is constantly reiterated throughout the whole of the Dialectic. On examining these statements, a little more closely, however, there seem to be two ways in which they may be understood. One might take themes simply equivalent to the assertion that thought cannot operate in a vacuum but must always take the facts of sensuous experience as its datum. Or, secondly, their meaning may be that, before we can have valid knowledge about anything, sensuous 'matter' corresponding to that object must either be actually given, or at least be conceivably capable of being so given. The first proposition asserts that, in attempting to understand the world, we must begin with our perceptive experience of it; the second demands that, in the case of each 'object of knowledge,' the appropriate matter be furnished for subsumption under a concept. Now I venture to think that it's not unusual for one, without clearly realizing this distinction, to adopt the consequences of the second of these positions out of sympathy for the undoubted truth contained in the first. Kant brought philosophy back from the fruitless attempt to evolve knowledge out of concepts by purely logical processes, by showing that these latter could only result in the thought of 'an object in general and were utterly incapable of furnishing the determination necessary for a concrete object of experience. The great service which the Dialectic really performed in this respect, by overthrowing the dogmatism of eighteenth-century Rationalism, is to a nineteenth century mind a strong point in its favor. But to overthrow Rationalism, it would have been sufficient to show the barrenness of thought when divorced altogether from the reality given in perceptive experience. Kant, however, as I shall proceed to show, held to the doctrine contained in our second proposition, and on this view is based his denial of a constitutive function to the Ideas of Reason.
When we turn to the different destructive arguments of the Dialectic, it becomes clear that they all rest ultimately on the impossibility of any object corresponding to the various Ideas of Reason being given in experience. Thus in the first Paralogism of Psychology we find Kant arguing: So far from being able to deduce these properties [Immutability, Immortality, etc.] from the pure category of substance, weave on the contrary to lay hold of the permanence of an object given in experience, if we wish to apply to it the empirically useful concept of substance. In this case, however, we had no experience to lay hold of. . .. For, though the Ego exists in all thoughts, not the slightest perception is connected with that idea by means of which it might be distinguished from other objects of perception. In the proof of the Antithesis to the Second Antinomy that there exists in the world nothing simple Kant's argument is simply that no perception of anything corresponding to a simple object can be given in any possible experience. It is the lack of the appropriate ‘matter of perception,' necessary to convert the mere concept of a Supreme Being into a real object of knowledge, that invalidates the Ontological argument, to which the Cosmological and Teleological arguments ultimately go back. As in every case a valid object of knowledge can only come into existence when the matter from which it is to be made can be furnished by perception, is so clear from the whole course of the Dialectic that it seems superfluous to cite more passages in support of the statement. It is, I think, already sufficiently evident that the synthetic activity, by means of which the mind makes its objects, is confined to cases where the ' matter ' necessary for this construction can be given in sense perception. Cognition of supersensible objects is pronounced invalid, not because there is no datum from which Thought may start, but because nothing corresponding to the object which we claim to know, can from the very nature of the case be given in perception. The Category is at hand ready to do its work; there is, however, no 'manifold of sensation' to which it may be applied, and from which it can derive the definiteness and specification which necessarily pertain to an object of knowledge. And we are left with the conclusion that only objects which are in Space and Time are capable of being known, for the material out of which objects are fashioned is not given except under these forms.
Although it has obviously been impossible to undertake herein exhaustive examination of special points in the Critique, the fundamental character of Synthesis as it was employed by Kant and some of its more important consequences have, I hope, been made clear by our discussion so far. We have found that Kant must have interpreted the statement that experience is a compound, in the most literal and external fashion. Each object of knowledge is taken as really composed of a contribution from sense and a contribution from understanding. These elements really enter into it, and can be analyzed out of it, as a chemical substance is decomposed into elements. The synthetic character of thought, which Kant brought to light, is conceived by him as analogous to a process of mechanical fabrication, or chemical combination. The new wine of the Critical Philosophy was still contained in eighteenth-century bottles.
So far, I have not attempted any positive statement as to how Kant's conception of this principle must be transformed. There are two reasons which might be given in justification of the course we have been following. In the first place, consciously or unconsciously, we are almost certain to think of Synthesis through the images which the Critique has made so familiar to us ; and secondly, here, as so often, Kant enables us to see beyond the conclusions in which he himself rests. In going on to indicate how it is necessary to transcend his way of conceiving Synthesis, we shall then be frequently following the direction which he himself has marked out. It was Kant's great merit to show that thinking is synthetic, i.e., that it is not confined to a merely formal use, but indirectly concerned with the nature of real things. For real things, at least insofar as they are of any importance for knowledge, depend for their very existence upon the synthetic activity of thought. But although he admitted that the purely logical use of understanding does not serve in the least to extend our knowledge, and can never carry us very far it was still retained alongside Synthesis as a real and separate characteristic which belonged to the nature of thought.
All thinking is concerned with the nature of reality. Judgment, as a process of operating with concepts which have been divorced from real things by abstraction, has no existence outside treatises on Formal Logic. It will not be difficult, I think, for one to convince himself that every real judgment is an activity by means of which thought seeks to make some part of the real world(and hence the world as a whole) more fully intelligible to itself. If one adopts the view that Judgment deals only with ideas, it is difficult to see how, after having determined, according to the rules of Formal Logic, the consistency of one's thoughts, the horrible suspicion can be averted that perhaps, after all, the whole fabric of supposed knowledge may not be true of reality. When we attend, however, to what takes place in consciousness, when we actually judge for ourselves and do not merely repeat meaningless propositions like, 'Man immortal,' 'Socrates is a man,' the inadequacy of the definitions which make Judgment consist in the connection or separation of ideas becomes evident. 1 The very essence of the judgment process consists in going beyond ideas and professing to specify the nature of something real. I do not wish to discuss here the question, how it is thus possible for Judgment to affirm a relation that holds true beyond itself. That would be to raise the whole problem, how knowledge is possible at all. It is at once evident, however, that we are required to assume: (I) that the judgment function is something more than a psychological process which exists in a single time-moment; and (2) that the real world to which we refer, falls, at least partially, within our thought.
I have already said that the description which Formal Logic gives of a Judgment, as a process of passing from a subject to a predicate notion, is based upon an analysis of the Proposition. A Judgment, however, is a whole, and is not made up of independently existing parts, like the Proposition. It may be urged, nevertheless, that it is always possible to find within a judgment element which correspond to Subject and Predicate. The answer to this is, that differences are just as essential to the nature of Judgment as identity. A judgment always exhibits the identity or unity of different elements or aspects of reality. What must be denied, however, is that the starting point of the process is a whole without differences, a Subject which is subsequently qualified by the addition of a foreign Predicate notion. It is possible that it may still be objected that all judgments presuppose the existence of concepts. May we not have a concept of an object without making any judgment whatsoever? This question might fairly be answered by pointing out that concepts also presuppose that judgments have taken place. The objection, however, rests upon the assumption that a concept is a fixed and substantial existence which maintains itself permanently, apart from any activity of consciousness. The concept is regarded as something lifeless, something which has within itself no capacity of development, but can be altered only by external modifications. To support the contention, it must either be supposed that the concept once formed, though the product of thinking, no longer requires the activity of intelligence to support it in consciousness ; or, secondly, that it is possible to think a concept without making judgment regarding it. The first supposition is seen to be untenable as soon as we ask the question which Berkeley has taught us to raise: What kind of existence can the concept be conceived to possess under such circumstances? It’s supposed existence rests upon the false idea that we can separate entirely the product of thought from the process of thinking. And, secondly, one may easily convince himself by actual experiment of the absurdity of supposing that it is possible to think of something without making any judgment regarding it. For it will be found that it is impossible to apprehend any object as absolutely simple, and, if differences are united in our thought of anything, we have already made it the object of a judgment.
It seems impossible, therefore, to maintain any essential difference between Conception and Judgment, or to distinguish them as earlier or later in time. One must rather regard a concept as the embodiment of a whole series of judgments. The concept of anything may be said to be a shorthand formula for the judgments that we are accustomed to make regarding it. Or, perhaps, it would be truer to say that our concept of an object at any time represents the permanent judgment, or implicit series of judgments, which consciousness then affirms. A concept, then, is simply a permanent habit of judging about any content.
If this interpretation be accepted, the statement that our starting point in Judgment is the concept may be allowed to stand. It will now only signify, however, that we must set out from what we know. In seeking to specify and determine any part of reality more fully, our actually existing knowledge is the datum which is modified and supplemented. It would be a mistake, then, to suppose that the datum is ever merely a raw, unrelated ' atom ' of sense. No matter how far one goes back in the development of consciousness, he will not come upon anything which is passively given. Nor is experience logically divisible into a matter of sensation ' and a contribution from understanding. For consciousness itself is always a unity which takes the form of Judgment. The various stages of conscious life differ indeed in degree of explicitness but are identical in essential character. In the more fully developed stages, systematic unity of whole and parts is more easily recognized than would be the case in its less advanced condition. The earlier consciousness, nevertheless, like the later, is a judgment, a whole into which differences enter, and not a mere lump of passive sensation. It is, then, a false theory of Judgment which describes it as an advance from the consciousness of a simple subject, which might be represented by A, to that of its relations with a 'foreign predicate/ resulting in the connection is B.
The symbolic method of representing Judgment is another snare which always lies in wait for the writer on Formal Logic. It is a very serious question whether the symbolic representation of intellectual processes by circles, letters, and signs denoting numerical operations, does not always promote confusion rather than correctness in thought. It is certain that no external images of this kind can adequately exhibit the nature of Intelligence, and that all are open to the most serious objection. If, however, judgments are to be expressed symbolically, it must be borne in mind, not only that the form of Judgment belongs already to the consciousness which forms the datum, but also that the result of the further determination of the latter should find place in both parts of the proposition. That is, since Judgment is a synthetic activity which transforms the whole content from within, the modifications to which it gives rise are not adequately represented as additions attaching themselves to the Predicate side of the proposition. If our way of judging regarding the real world, or some part of it, be represented by A=B, the result of a new thought determination is not A=B-\-C. Subject and Predicate must be exhibited as developing Pari passu, and our formula should rather read, a = 3, or perhaps better still, A (a, 7, 8, etc.) =B (3, 97, 0). Although this statement has defects, it does not, like the old formula, lead one to suppose that Judgment supplements a simple datum by the addition of qualifications which lie outside it. Nor does the process appear to be an advance to something entirely new, which turns its back, as it were, upon the datum. For we see that it is the latter which emerges in a new form, though without loss of its identity, at the other end of the process. This transformation through which an identical content passes is the result of the activity of consciousness bringing to light, and relating within the systematic unity of the judgment, elements, and differences hitherto unrecognized. The result of the process is to put the old in a new form. It is a process of development which results, here as everywhere, in increasing differentiation of parts, which are yet connected in a closer and more systematic unity.
What has preceded brings us to notice more explicitly the relative positions of Analysis and Synthesis in the evolution of thought. It is plain, from what has been already said, that these are correlative aspects or moments of thinking which mutually presuppose each other. If analytic reflection did not bring to light differences, there would be nothing for Synthesists to do; and if these differences were not comprehended as parts of one system, they would not be parts at all, but simply disparate units. There can be no Analysis without Synthesis, and no Synthesis without Analysis. This statement does not merely imply that these operate alternately upon every content, as two different functions or modes of activity. We rather mean to express the fact that Intelligence is a two-edged function, which unites while it separates, and separates while it unites.
Synthesis as a process of intellectual construction, so far from being opposed to Analysis, includes the latter as an indispensable aspect of its own activity. For, when we are dealing with thoughts, the opposition between the process by which things are put together, and that by which they are taken to pieces, has no longer any meaning. It cannot be repeated too often that the product of an intellectual constructionism ideal, not sensuous. That is, an object of knowledge is not the result of fusion, in mechanical or chemical fashion, of discrete psychological ideas which exist separately in different moments of time. For even if it could be shown how such psychical elements are held together, the product of their union would differ essentially from what is denoted by the expression 'unity of knowledge.' It is possible, of course, to conceive of psychical processes being fused together so as to form a sensuous unity or continuum; but this is not identical with that ideal connection of meanings to which synthetic intelligence gives rise in the act of judgment. I have elsewhere pointed out, that when the falsity of the ' atomistic ‘view of consciousness, which the Kantian system presupposes, has been shown, it by no means follows, as some modern psychologists have supposed, that the principle of Synthesizes no longer required to account for knowledge. For the continuous wholeness of conscious processes, which it is the merit of modern psychology to have substituted for the separate and distinct ideas of Hume, is after all a merely factual combination of psychical existences, and without the synthesizing "and interpreting function of Thought would, like the unrelated 'atom' of sensation, be as good as nothing foreknowledge.' For it must be emphasized that a system of knowledge is wholly different in kind from any combination of mere psychological ideas. Synthesis, insofar as the word has any application in a theory of knowledge, denotes the process by which fragmentary contents or meanings resystematized and ideally connected, and is quite distinct from any combination of ideas on the side of their sensuous particularity. If one should insist on making existence in a particular time-moment the sole test of reality, it would be necessary to admit that Synthesis is not concerned with the real, but with the ideal. Or, finally, we may say that intellectual Synthesizes not a function of binding together really existing processes to make a really existing whole, but is the idealization and interpretation of a content which, as we have seen, differs only in degree, not in essential character, from the final result.
An objection may here be raised, however, that we have altogether lost sight of Perception, with which, after all experience begins. Is not knowledge, in large part at least, derived directly from Perception; and does not this form of knowing show a connection of real existences which is characteristically different from the ideal union of thoughts in terms of which we have hitherto endeavored to describe knowledge? Is not the view, so far maintained, guilty of neglecting fundamental distinction between Perception and Conception, and so open to the charge, which Kant brought against Leibniz, of having intellectualized phenomena? It is plain that, if we are to reply to this objection, we must maintain that the distinction which it urges between Perception and Thoughts is merely one of degree. There cannot be two distinct and separate forms of knowing. Perception is incipient thinking, and Conception nothing but more fully systematized Perception. And, in spite of Kant's express statements, this is a view to which the teachings of the Critique inevitably leads. For it is shown that perceptions only become objects of knowledge through being thought. Whatever may be the ground of distinction between phenomena and noumena, it is clear that these cannot be separated into two classes, of which the ones ' given' but not 'thought,' while the other is 'thought' but 'given.' For it is only in so far as Perceptions over intellectualized that they have any cognitive value at all; while, on the other hand, all valid conceptual knowledge must have its roots in perceptive experience.
Nevertheless, it may still be objected that it is idle to attempt to efface the essential differences of these two forms of knowing. Perception reveals to us a world of real objects, each occupying its own position in Space or Time, and therefore by that very fact isolated from other objects. Space and Time are forms of perceptive knowing, and, as principles of individuation, impose upon the objects existing in them a character essentially different from the nature of general conceptions. It may as well be admitted that this difficulty Is a very serious one. I am not sure that any answer can be found which would be completely satisfactory. At any rate, to discuss the question fully would carry me beyond the limits of the present paper. It would, of course, be wrong to say that the presence or absence of Time and Space does not affect the nature of our experience. It must not be forgotten, however, that perceptive experiences are never purely spatial and temporal. That is, mere coexistence and mere sequence are both abstractions. If Perception were the result of a purely passive apprehension of the 'given,' it might conceivably be described wholly in terms of external space and time relations. But what we call our perceptive experience, in so far as it yields us real knowledge, has already got beyond the externality of mere coexistence and sequence to the apprehension of necessary relations between objects. That is, Perception is a form of knowing only in so far as the synthetic activity of intelligence breaks down and destroys the isolation which belongs to objects as in Time and Space. Without this act of Synthesis, Space and Time themselves could never be apprehended. “The consciousness for which there is Time, has begun a process which tends to abolish Time." 1 It is not, however, real Space and Time, i.e., Space and Time as sources of possible intelligible relations, which are thus removed, but the externality and isolation which belong to abstract Space and Time. We conclude, then, that even in Perception the elements of knowledge never fall wholly outside each other. Insofar as objects are known as in Space and Time, they tend to cohere in an intelligible system. When, in the process of knowledge, we pass from Perception to Conception (if, indeed, it is possible to draw any dividing line), we follow the same course upon which we are already embarked. That is to say, Thought continues the process of unifying experience, already begun, by transforming what at first sight appear to be purely external relations^ into relations of organic necessity.
It still remains to inquire what conclusions regarding the possible extent of knowledge naturally follow from the view here advanced. It has been found possible to trace Kant’s limitation of knowledge to the inadequate manner in which he conceived the nature of synthetic intelligence. As we have seen, Synthesis was supposed to be analogous in nature to processes of material construction. Where the appropriate matter was not at hand, no object of knowledge could possibly result. If, however, we substitute for this conception the notion of an internal transformation, or interpretation of a datum in the sense already described, it is clear that the arguments of dialectic will no longer apply. Nevertheless, it is well to remember that these arguments completely refute the Dogmatism against which they were directed. Dogmatism sought to completely forsake the field of experience, in order to pass to something entirely different from it. From what has preceded, it is evident that the nature of Thought affords no justification of any absolute transition which leaves its data behind. The experience which forms the starting point of a process of thinking, undergoes reconstruction and transformation, but passes over in its altered form into the result. An inference does not involve a passage from premises to a conclusion, but in thinking the premises the latter is already present.
To admit, however, that it is impossible for Thought to get beyond experience, is by no means to limit knowledge to sense perception. For if we think at all and without thinking no knowledge is possible, we must, ipso facto, go beyond the given and reach results which are not capable of being expressed in the form of sensuous particularity. Although no knowledge can transcend experience, all knowing transcends mere perception.
When we have once got beyond Perception, however, I do not see how it is possible to fix any limits to the possible extent of knowledge. One's ability to go on progressively determining and interpreting the nature of reality, will obviously not depend upon the quantity of the datum. For, as has often been remarked, to fully exhaust all the relations of a single object, would be completely to understand the universe. The possibility of advance will be rather conditioned by the capacity of thought to discover the incompleteness of any conception at which it has arrived, that is, by its power of bringing to light, by any means, new differences or aspects which demand a more adequate mode of interpretation. The possibilities of thinking, then, with which the range of knowledge is coincident, occupy no definitely bounded field like that which marks the sphere of possible perceptions. And it follows, further, that reality is not divided, by any such line as that which Kant drew between phenomena and noumena, into a knowable and an unknowable portion. Instead of supposing that certain parts of the real world may be fully known, while others are completely beyond cognition, it must rather be maintained that our knowledge is nowhere complete, but that reality is accessible to thought at all points. The history of Science and Philosophy will then indicate the various stages through which thought has successively passed, in the attempt to determine more and more completely the nature of that which is.