1. The Form of a "Merely Reflecting" Judgment

1.1 Reflecting Judgment vs. Determining Judgment

            Suppose I encounter an object in experience and recognize what it is. Suppose this object is a pink cube. According to Kant, the process that takes place in my act of cognition can be broken down into three logical moments: first I receive a manifold of sensible representations which is schematized in space and time; my mind then presents me with a concept that matches this manifold – in this case, the concept of a pink cube; finally, I synthesize this manifold of sense representations with the presented concept of a pink cube. Thus, in my experience, I perceive the object before me as a pink cube. The power of the mind that allows me to make this act of synthesis is what Kant calls the power of judgment.

            Now, for Kant, there are two types of judgment: a determining judgment and a merely reflecting judgment. The above example, where I judge the object of my experience to be a pink cube, is an example of a determining judgment, because here I have applied a determinate concept (the concept of a pink cube) to my experience. A merely reflecting judgment, on the other hand, only occurs when I do not have a determinate concept to apply to my experience. Kant explains the difference between a determining and a merely reflecting judgment in the following way:

If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, then the power of judgment, which subsumes the particular under it… is determining [bestimmend]. If, however, the particular is given, for which the universal is to be found, then the power of judgment is merely reflecting [bloß reflektierend]. (p. 66-7)

It is this merely reflecting judgment that is the main focus of Kant’s attention in the Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment section of the Third Critique. But what exactly does it mean? A determining judgment is relatively straightforward to understand: I encounter an object in experience, I apply a determinate concept to that object, then I judge the object to be such and such. But what happens when I encounter an object which I do not recognize as something or another? What happens when I do not predicate any properties to the object that I encounter in experience?

1.2 The Mere Form of Purposiveness

            When I make a judgment that is merely reflecting, I make use of no determinate concepts and ascribe no distinct properties to the object of my experience. Instead, I make use of a very general and indeterminate concept that serves as the ground for all empirical concepts, but which itself is not empirical. This general, indeterminate, and non-empirical concept is what Kant calls “the transcendental concept of a purposiveness of nature” [der transzendente Begriff der Zweckmäßigkeit der Natur]. (p. 68) Despite the technical sounding name, it has a very simple function: it holds together a multiplicity of sensible representations in the guise of a unified manifold. “Nature,” says Kant, “is represented through this concept as if an understanding contained the ground of the unity of the manifold of its empirical laws.” (Kant, p. 68) Thus the concept of a “purposiveness of nature,” is nothing more than the general form of being unified in an intuition. It is merely an empty concept, which helps us unify experience, even when we have no determinate concept to do the job.

            Kant stresses the fact that this transcendental concept of “purposiveness” is neither an empirical concept (i.e. a concept relating to nature) nor an ethical one (i.e. a concept relating to morality or freedom). “Purposiveness” is merely the form that holds our experience together – the minimally-required condition for an act of cognition. As such, the concept of a mere “purposiveness” cannot have any relation to nature or morality:

[This] transcendental concept of a purposiveness of nature is neither a concept of nature nor a concept of freedom, since it attributes nothing at all to the object (of nature), but rather only represents the unique way in which we must proceed in reflection on the objects of nature with the aim of a thoroughly interconnected experience. (p. 71)

This all sounds very technical, but the general idea is not as complicated as it may seem. The difference between a determining judgment and a mere reflecting judgment can in fact be succinctly summarized in the following way: in a determining judgment, I am aware of the object in my experience as something (e.g. a pink cube); in a merely reflecting judgment, I am simply aware of the object as such (i.e. as something indeterminate, without empirical or ethical content).

            The Three Logical Moments of Determining and Merely Reflecting Judgments
            Determining Judgment                                                   Merely Reflecting Judgment
            I. manifold of sensible representations                         I. manifold of sensible representations
            II. presentation of determinate concept                       II. presentation of purposiveness
            III. judgment of object as such and such                     III. judgment of object as object in general



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