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Synthese (2012) 186:231255

DOI 10.1007/s11229-012-0066-2

Kant on geometry and spatial intuition


Michael Friedman

Received: 14 January 2010 / Accepted: 27 July 2010 / Published online: 7 March 2012
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Abstract I use recent work on Kant and diagrammatic reasoning to develop a reconsideration of central aspects of Kants philosophy of geometry and its relation to spatial
intuition. In particular, I reconsider in this light the relations between geometrical concepts and their schemata, and the relationship between pure and empirical intuition. I
argue that diagrammatic interpretations of Kants theory of geometrical intuition can,
at best, capture only part of what Kants conception involves and that, for example,
they cannot explain why Kant takes geometrical constructions in the style of Euclid
to provide us with an a priori framework for physical space. I attempt, along the
way, to shed new light on the relationship between Kants theory of space and the
debate between Newton and Leibniz to which he was reacting, and also on the role of
geometry and spatial intuition in the transcendental deduction of the categories.
Keywords Geometry Diagrammatic reasoning Space Intuition Schematism
Transcendental deduction

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the second meeting of the Stanford-Paris workshop on
diagrams in mathematics in the Fall of 2008 from which the present special issue is drawn, and it was
originally inspired by a paper presented by Marco Panza on diagrammatic reasoning in Euclid at the first
meeting of the Stanford-Paris workshop in the Fall of 2007. Panzas paper in the present issue is based, in
turn, on his earlier presentation. Since Panzas paper, as it now appears, has since been substantially
revised, I have taken the opportunity substantially to revise my paper as well, and, in particular, I have
chosen to take as my main target work of the Kant scholar Lisa Shabel that is very much in the spirit of
Kenneth Manderss original discussion of the Euclidean diagram (note 1 below). I am also indebted, in
this connection, to comments on the earlier version of my paper from Jeremy Avigad. For helpful
comments on the penultimate version of this paper I am further indebted to Daniel Sutherland and to an
anonymous referee for Synthese.
M. Friedman (B)
Department of Philosophy, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
e-mail: mlfriedman@stanford.edu

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Kants philosophy of geometry can only be properly understood against the background of two more general features of his philosophical position: his fundamental
dichotomy between the two basic cognitive faculties of the mind, sensibility and
understanding, and his distinctive theory of space as the pure form of our outer sensible intuition. Kants conception of space and time as our pure forms of sensible
intuition (outer and inner) is central to his general philosophical position, which he
calls formal or transcendental idealism. And, although a fundamental dichotomy
between the two faculties of sense and intellect precedes Kant by many centuries, and
is characteristic of all forms of traditional rationalism from Plato to Leibniz, Kants
particular version of the dichotomy is entirely distinctive of him. For, in sharp contrast
to all forms of traditional rationalism, Kant locates the primary seat of a priori mathematical knowledge in sensibility rather than the intellect. In particular, our pure form
of outer sensible intuitionspaceis the primary ground of our pure geometrical
knowledge.
Kant characterizes the distinctive role of our pure intuition of space in geometry
in terms of what he calls construction in pure intuition, and he illustrates this role
by examples of geometrical construction from Euclids Elements. It is natural, then,
to turn to recent work on diagrammatic reasoning in Euclid originating with Kenneth
Manders to elucidate Kants conception.1 In particular, when Kant says that spatial
intuition plays a necessary role in the science of geometry, we might take him to mean
that diagrammatic reasoning in the sense of Manders plays a necessary role. I shall
argue that this kind of view of Euclidean geometry, as illuminating as it may be as
an interpretation of the Elements, is not adequate as an interpretation of Kant, and,
more generally, that recent work on diagrammatic reasoning can, at best, capture only
a part of what Kants conception of geometry involves. Most importantly, it cannot
explain why Kant took this conception crucially to involve a revolutionary new theory of spacethe very (three-dimensional) space in which we, and all other physical
objects, live and move and have our being.
Kant, as I have said, diverges from traditional rationalism in locating the seat of pure
geometry in sensibility rather than the understanding, and he thereby gives a central
role in geometry to what he calls the pure productive imagination. Perhaps the most
important problem facing interpretations of Kants philosophy of geometry, then, is to
explain how, for Kant, sensibility and the imaginationfaculties traditionally associated with the immediate apprehension of sensible particularscan possibly yield
truly universal and necessary knowledge. For example, in a well-known passage from
the Discipline of Pure Reason in its Dogmatic Employment in the first Critique, Kant
contrasts philosophical cognition, as rational cognition from concepts, with mathematical cognition, as rational cognition from the construction of conceptsand,
Kant famously adds, to construct a concept is to present the intuition corresponding
to it a priori (A713/B741).2 Kant concludes, [philosophy] confines itself merely
to universal concepts, [mathematics] can effect nothing by mere concepts, but hastens
1 Manderss classic paper, The Euclidean Diagram, has been widely circulating in manuscript form since
1995. It has now finally appeared in print as (2008b), together with a new introduction to the subject (2008a).
2 All translations from Kants writings are my own, and I cite them according to the standard conventions:

all citations of the Critique of Pure Reason are to the pagination in the first, 1781 (A), and second, 1787(B),

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immediately to intuition, in which it considers the concept in concretonot, however, empirically, but merely in an [intuition] that it presents a priori, that is, which
it has constructed, and in which that which follows from the universal conditions
of construction must also hold universally of the object of the constructed concept
(A715716/B743744).
Exactly what, however, is a pure or non-empirical intuition corresponding to a general concepta singular instance of this concept that is nonetheless presented purely
a priori ? Moreover, how can any singular instance of a general concept (no matter
how it is supposed to be produced) possibly be an additional source, over and above
purely conceptual representation, of universal and necessary knowledge? Immediately
after the just quoted sentence defining the construction of a concept as the a priori
presentation of the corresponding intuition, Kant continues (A713/B741): For the
construction of a concept we therefore require a non-empirical intuition, which consequently, as intuition, is a singular [einzelnes] object, but which nonetheless, as the
construction of a concept (a universal representation), must express universal validity, in the representation, for all possible intuitions that belong under this concept.
But how, once again, can an essentially singular representation (no matter how it is
supposed to be produced) possibly express such truly universal validity? Problems of
precisely this kind underlie the contrary conviction, common to all traditional forms
of rationalism, that mathematical knowledge must be conceptual or intellectual as
opposed to sensible.
Kant illustrates his meaning, in the continuation of our passage, by an example of
a Euclidean proof, Proposition I.32 of the Elements, where it is shown that the sum of
the interior angles of a triangle is equal to the sum of two right angles:
A

Given a triangle ABC one extends the side BC (in a straight line) to D and draws the
line CE parallel to AB. One then notes (by Proposition I.29) that the alternate angles
BAC and ACE are equal, and also that the angle ECD is equal to the internal and
opposite angle ABC. But the remaining internal angle ACB added to the two angles
ACE and ECD (whose sum is the external angle ACD) is equal to the sum of two right
angles (the straight line BCD), and the two angles ACE and ECD have just been shown
to be equal, respectively, to the first two internal angles. Therefore, the three internal
angles taken together also equal the sum of two right angles. This construction and

Footnote 2 continued
editions respectively; all of Kants other writings are cited by volume and page number in the Akademie
edition of Kants collected writings, (1902-), abbreviated as Ak.

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proof obviously has universal validity for all triangles, because the required inferences
and auxiliary constructions (extending the line BC to D and drawing the parallel CE
to AB) can always be carried out within Euclidean geometry, no matter what triangle
ABC we start with.
It appears, in fact, that the proof-procedure of Euclids Elements is paradigmatic of
construction in pure intuition throughout Kants discussion of mathematics in the first
Critiquewhich includes a fairly complete presentation of the elementary Euclidean
geometry of the triangle. In the Transcendental Aesthetic, for example, Kant presents
the corresponding side-sum property of trianglesthat two sides taken together are
always greater than the third (Proposition I.20)as an illustration of how geometrical propositions are never derived from universal concepts of line and triangle, but
rather from intuition, and, in fact, [are thereby derived] a priori with apodictic certainty (A25/B39). And the Euclidean proof of this proposition proceeds, just like
Proposition I.32, by auxiliary constructions and inferences starting from an arbitrary
triangle ABC: we extend side BA (in a straight line) to D such that AD is equal to AC;
we then draw CD and note (by Proposition I.5) that the two angles ACD and ADC
are equal, so that BCD is greater than BDC; since (by Proposition I.19) the greater
angle is subtended by the greater side, it follows that BD is greater than BC; but BD
is equal to the sum of BA and AD (= AC). Moreover, Kant refers to the Euclidean
proof of Proposition I.5 itselfthat the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are
equalin a famous passage in the second (1787) edition Preface praising the characteristic method of mathematics introduced by the revolution in thought effected by
the Ancient Greeks; and this proof, too, proceeds by the expansion of an original (and
arbitrary) triangle ABC into a more complicated figure by auxiliary constructions.3
Kants reliance on Euclid is thus very clear, and, once again, it is therefore natural to turn to recent work on the diagrammatic reasoning found in the Elements for
elucidating Kants view. With respect to the issue of how perception of an individual
sensible particular (such as a concrete physical diagram) could possibly issue in universally valid knowledge, for example, we can appeal to Manderss central distinction
between exact and co-exact properties of a Euclidean diagram. The former include the
metrical relations of equality or inequality between lengths, angles, and areas, whereas
the latter include only the topological (or mereo-topological) relations of containment
between the regions defined by these magnitudes. We observe, for example, that the
specifically metrical features of the triangle used in the proof of Proposition I.32the
lengths of its particular sides and the magnitudes of its particular anglesplay no
role at all: it remains true for all continuous variations of these lengths and angles. By
contrast, that the external angle ACD of the extended diagram (ABCDE) contains (as
3 The reference to Proposition I.5 is made explicit in a letter to Christian Schtz of June 25, 1787, where
Kant corrects gleichseitiger in the printed text to gleichschenkligter (Ak. 10, 489). The passage, so
corrected, reads as follows (Bxi-xii): A light dawned on the first man (whether he may have been Thales
or some other) who first demonstrated the isosceles triangle; for he found that what he had to do was not to
inspect what he saw in the figure, or even in the mere concept of it, and, as it were, to read off its properties
therefrom, but rather to bring forth what he had himself a priori injected in thought [hineindachte] and presented (through construction), in accordance with concepts, and that, in order securely to know something
a priori , he had to attribute nothing to the thing except that which followed necessarily from what he had
placed in it himself in accordance with his concept.

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their sum) the two angles ACE and ECD is essential to the proof, and it, too, remains
true for all continuous variations of the original sides and angles. Thus, by relying
only on the co-exact properties of the extended diagram, we have indeed proved a
proposition valid for all particular triangles whatsoever.
Aware of how his ideas had meanwhile proved attractive to Kant scholars,
Manders briefly addresses the relationship between his conception of Euclidean proof
and Kants conception of (pure) intuition in (2008a, p. 74): [My understanding of
Euclidean diagrams] respects Kants conception (cf. Shabel 2003, Goodwin (2003))
that intuitions (diagrams) are particular, and connected to general claims via schematization (conceptualization via the diagram construction conditions). That diagrambased (co-exact) claims are stable under diagram distortion, hence independent of any
particular empirical realization, might then motivate the necessity or aprioricity of
geometrical intuition. Manders here refers to Lisa Shabels 1997 dissertation at the
University of Pennsylvaniapublished as Shabel (2003) in the Outstanding Dissertation Series: Studies in Philosophyalong with William Goodwins 2003 dissertation
at the University of California-Berkeley.
Shabels basic idea is that a pure intuition is just an empirical intuition (an actually
drawn particular figure) which functions in a certain way in geometrical demonstrationsin precisely such a way that it can then confer both apriority and universality on
such demonstrations.4 She illustrates the characteristic function in question by distinguishing between two different proofs of Euclid I.32: a mechanical demonstration
due to Christian Wolff, based on making exact (metrical) comparisons between the
angles in the extended figure (ABCDE) by transporting an open compass, and the
original Euclidean proof of I.32, which, as we have seen, Kant himself appeals to.
The second mathematical demonstration succeeds in conferring both apriority and
universality on its conclusion, for Shabel, precisely because it does not depend on
exact metrical information. Thus, although she does not explicitly cite Manderss
original 1995 paper, Shabels analysis of the distinction between mechanical and
mathematical demonstrations closely parallels his fundamental distinction between
exact and co-exact properties of particular concrete diagrams.5 Accordingly, Shabel places the same kind of emphasis on the concrete individual diagram (the actually
4 See Shabel (2003, p. 94): I propose that Kant is here [A714/B742] showing how a pure intuition can be

construed as actually drawn, and thus rendered empirically, without ceasing to function as a pure intuition.
The three ways in which an empirical intuition can confer a priority are thus read as ways in which an
individual drawn figure can function purely. . . . [T]he pure intuitions which exhibit and construct mathematical concepts, and on which mathematical demonstrations are based, are intuitions of single, individual,
sensible objects considered in conjunction with the procedure for the construction of those objects.
5 See Shabel (2003, pp. 99100): By contrast [with the mechanical demonstration], the diagram con-

structed for the mathematical demonstration yields no exact information, such as the comparative measures of the interior and exterior angles of the triangle. The diagram [ABCDE] provides information about
part/whole (and consequently lesser/greater) relationships without determining strict equalities between
parts. We might say that the diagram, considered mechanically, provides exact (though possibly imprecise)
information regarding the measures of magnitudes; when considered mathematically the diagram provides
inexact information regarding spatial containment of magnitudes. In the mechanical proof the claim that
the angles ABC and BAC together equal the angle ACD is justified by measuring all three angles with
instruments and comparing the results, whereas in the mathematical proof the same claim is justified by the
previously demonstrated relationships between angles contained by parallel lines and a transversal. Shabel concludes (p. 101): [T]hus, the mechanical demonstration is not distinguished fromthe mathematical

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drawn particular figure) as does Manders: we begin with the former and then connect it with general claims by (co-exact) diagram construction conditions.6 As an
interpretation of Kant, I believe that this emphasis is misplaced.
In the Axioms of Intuition (the principles of pure understanding corresponding to
the categories of quantityunity, plurality, and totality), Kant considers the Euclidean
construction of a triangle in general from any three lines such that two taken together
are greater than the third (Proposition I.22: the restriction is obviously necessary
because of what has just been proved in Proposition I.20). This makes it clear, in my
view, that the construction in pure intuition of the concept of a triangle in general, for
Kant, just is the Euclidean construction demonstrated in Proposition I.22where, in
Kants words, I have here the mere function of the productive imagination, which can
draw the lines greater or smaller, and thereby allow them to meet at any and all arbitrary angles (A164-5/B205). Moreover, in the chapter on the Schematism of the Pure
Concepts of the Understanding, Kant carefully distinguishes the general schema of a
pure sensible concept (i.e., a mathematical concept) from any particular image falling under this concept that may be produced by the general schema (A140/B179-180):
I call [the] representation of a general procedure of the imagination [Einbildungskraft] for providing a concept with its image [Bild] the schema of this concept. Kant
then illustrates this idea, once again, with the example of a triangle:
In fact, schemata rather than images of objects are what lie at the basis of our
pure sensible concepts. No image at all would ever be adequate to the concept
of a triangle in general. For it would never attain the universality of the concept,
which makes it hold for all triangles, whether right-angled, acute-angled, and
so on, but would always be limited to only a part of this sphere. The schema of
the triangle can never exist anywhere but in thought, and it signifies a rule of
synthesis of the imagination with respect to pure figures in space. (A140-1/B180)
This rule of synthesis, therefore, appears to be nothing more nor less than the Euclidean construction of an arbitrary triangle considered in the Axioms of Intuition as a
mere [universal] function of the productive imagination.

Footnote 5 continued
demonstration by virtue of a distinction between an actually constructed figure and an imagined figure, but
rather by the way in which we operate on and draw inferences from that actually constructed figure.
6 For Shabel, this priority of the concrete individual diagram is expressed in her view that a pure intuition
is just an empirical intuition functioning purely. Compare Shabel (2003), p. 102: Despite the fact that
the figures constructed in the mechanical and mathematical demonstrations of proposition I.32 are identical, the former figure is, in Kantian terms, a case of empirical intuition, and the latter of pure intuition.
Since they are not distinguished by the way they appear, nor by the medium in which or tools with which
they are constructed, they must be distinguished by their function in the demonstration. The endnote adds
(p. 160): [T]he pure intuition might be empirical insofar as it is (or can be) of an actually drawn figure,
and not a merely imagined one. But it is an empirical intuition that functions purely. This coheres with her
earlier idea (note 4 above) that pure intuitions are intuitions of single, individual, sensible objects considered in conjunction with the procedure for the construction of those objects (emphasis added). Shabel later
explains that the relevant procedures for construction are what Kant means by schemata, and so a schema,
on her interpretation, is a general condition by which a concrete individual diagram is seen as expressing
universality. I shall return to Shabels interpretation of the schematism below.

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More generally, then, we can take the Euclidean constructions corresponding to


the fundamental geometrical concepts (line, circle, triangle, and so on) as what Kant
means by the schemata of such concepts.7 We can understand the schema of the concept of triangle as a function or constructive operation which takes three arbitrary
lines (such that two together are greater than the third) as input and yields the triangle
constructed out of these three lines as output (in accordance with Proposition I.22);
we can understand the schema of the concept of circle as a function which takes an
arbitrary point and line segment having this point as one of its endpoints as input and
yields the circle with the given point as center and the given line segment as radius
as output (in accordance with Postulate 3); and so on.8 Such constructive operations
have all the generality or universality of the corresponding concepts: they yield, with
appropriate inputs, any and all instances of these concepts. Unlike general concepts
themselves, however, the outputs of a schema are indeed singular or individual representationsparticular instances, or what Kant calls images, which fall under the
concept in question. The outputs of a schema, therefore, are not conceptual or logical
entities like propositions or truth-values.
This last point is crucial for understanding why Kant takes pure mathematics
essentially to involve non-discursive or non-conceptual cognitive resources, which,
nonetheless, possess all the universality and necessity of purely conceptual thought.
Characteristic of conceptual thinking, for Kant, is the logical procedure of subsumption, whether of an individual under a general concept or of a less general concept
(species) under a more general concept (genus). Characteristic of mathematical reasoning, by contrast, is the procedure of substitutionby which, as we would now put it,
an object is inserted into the argument place of a function, yielding another object that
can be inserted into the argument places of further functions, and so on. Reasoning by
substitution is therefore essentially iterative, and it is precisely such iterative thinking,

7 I articulate this interpretation of geometrical schemata in Friedman (1992, pp. 9091, n. 59) and, more
fully, (1992, pp. 122129). Shabel develops a closely analogous reading, based on many of the same passages, in (2003, pp. 109114). The main difference, as already suggested, is that Shabel views such a schema
as a general condition for seeing a particular image as expressing universality (compare note 6 above). As
she herself puts it (2003, p. 114): [T]he pure intuition that is the basis for a mathematical demonstration of
proposition I.32 is a universalizable image since it is intuited with, and only with, the specified procedure for
its construction in imagination . . . Because mathematical cognition considers the universal in the particular
. . . (which is to say that the schematized mathematical concept provides the rule for constructing a pure
and universalizable intuition), the individual pure intuition so constructed can be understood as general.
On my reading, by contrast, the notion of a universalizable image is an oxymoron, since an image (as
opposed to a schema) is precisely that which is not universal and thus can never be adequate to the concept
of a triangle in general. Compare A140/B179 (emphasis added): The schema in itself is always only a
product of the imagination; yet, in so far as the synthesis of the imagination aims at no individual intuition,
but rather at unity in the determination of sensibility alone, the schema is to be distinguished from the
image.
8 See A234/B287: Now a postulate in mathematics is the practical proposition that contains nothing but
the synthesis by which we first give to ourselves an object and generate its concepte.g., to describe a
circle with a given line from a given point on a planeand such a proposition cannot be proved, because
the procedure it requires is precisely that by which we generate the concept of such a figure.

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for Kant, that underlies both pure geometry (in the guise of Euclidean proof) and the
more general calculative manipulation of magnitudes in algebra and arithmetic.9
Kants conception of the essentially non-conceptual character of geometrical reasoning is thus especially sensitive to the circumstance that, in Euclids formulation
of geometry, the iterative application of initial constructive operations represents the
existential assumptions we would express by explicit quantificational statements in
modern formulations following Hilbert. Thus, for example, whereas Hilbert represents the infinite divisibility of a line by an explicit quantificational axiom stating that
between any two points there exists a third, Euclid represents the same idea by showing
how to construct a bisection function for any given line segment (Proposition I.10): our
ability to iterate this construction indefinitely then represents the infinite divisibility of
the same segment. More generally, Euclid constructs all the points in his plane by the
iterative application of three initial constructive operations to any given (arbitrary) pair
of points: connecting any two points by a straight line segment (Postulate 1), extending
any given line segment in a straight line (Postulate 2), constructing a circle with any
point as center and any given line segment having this point as one of its endpoints as
radius (Postulate 3). This procedure yields all points constructible by straight-edge and
compass, which, of course, comprise only a small (denumerable) subset of the full twodimensional continuum whose existence is explicitly postulated by Hilbert.10 In this
sense, the existential assumptions needed for Euclids particular proof-procedurethe
very assumptions needed to justify all the auxiliary constructions needed along the
wayare given by Skolem functions for the existential quantifiers we would use in
formulating a Hilbert-style axiomatization in modern quantificational logic, where (in
Euclid) all such Skolem functions can be explicitly constructed by finite iterations of
the three initial constructive operations laid down in the first three postulates.
Following Leibniz, Kant takes the discursive structure of the understanding or
intellect to be delimited by the logical forms of traditional subject-predicate logic. In
explicit opposition to Leibniz, however, Kant takes these logical forms to be strictly
limited to essentially finitary representations: there are, for Kant, no Leibnizean complete concepts comprising within themselves (that is, within their defining sets of
marks [Merkmale] or partial concepts [Teilbegriffe]) an infinite manifold of further
conceptual representations. But mathematical representations (including the mathematical representation of space) can and do contain an infinite manifold of further
(mathematical) representations within themselves (as in the representation of infinite
divisibility). So such representations, for Kant, are not and cannot be conceptual.11 Of
9 For further discussion of algebra and arithmetic from this point of view see Friedman (1992, pp. 8389,
104122). For a contrasting view see Shabel (1998). Compare also Sutherland (2006).
10 More precisely, we can represent all the points constructible by straight-edge and compass construction
in the Euclidean plane by the Cartesian product of a square-root extension field of the rationals (aptly called
a Euclidean field) with itself, whereas the full set of points generated by a true (second-order) continuity
axiom is of course represented by R2 , where R is the real numbers. An important intermediate case, studied
in Tarski (1959), uses a (first-order) continuity schema and is represented by a Cartesian product over any
real closed field.
11 This is the burden of the fourth argument in the Metaphysical Exposition of Space in the second edition
Transcendental Aesthetic (B3940): Space is represented as an infinite given quantity. Now one must
certainly think every concept as a representation which is contained in an infinite aggregate of different

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course, we now have an entirely different conception of logic from Kants, one that is
much more powerful than anything either he, or even Leibniz, ever envisioned. Nevertheless, we can still understand Kants fundamental insight, from our own point of
view, if we observe that no infinite mathematical structure (such as either the space of
Euclidean geometry or the number series) can possibly be represented within monadic
quantificational logic. Such infinite structures, in modern logic, are represented by the
use of nested sequences of universal and existential quantifiers using polyadic logic.
These same representations, from Kants point of view, are instead made possible
by the iterative application of constructive functions in the productive imagination,
where, as we have seen, Skolem functions for the existential quantifiers we would use
in our formulations are rather explicitly constructed.
We now see, from Kants point of view, why mathematical thinking essentially
involves what he calls the pure productive imagination, and why, accordingly, this
type of thinking essentially exceeds the bounds of purely conceptual, purely intellectual thought. My first problem with using the diagrammatic interpretations of Euclid in
the style of Manders to interpret Kants notion of construction in pure intuition, therefore, is that they do not square with Kants understanding of the relationship between
conceptual thought and sensible intuition. They do not square, more specifically, with
his developed view of the relationship between general (geometrical) concepts, their
corresponding general schemata, and the particular sensible images (particular geometrical figures) which then result by applying these schemata. In particular, whereas
such diagrammatic accounts of the generality of geometrical propositions, as we have
seen, begin with particular concrete diagrams and then endeavor to explain how we can
abstract from their irrelevant particular features (specific lengths of sides and angles,
say) by relying only on their co-exact features, Kant begins with general concepts as
conceived within the Leibnizean (logical) tradition and then shows how to schematize them sensibly by means of an intellectual act or function of the pure productive
imagination. Both the general concepts in question and their corresponding general
schemata are pure rather than empirical representations; and a particular concrete figure occurs, as it were, only incidentally for Kant, at the end of a process of intellectual
determination of pure (rather than empirical) sensibility.
The more general point underlying these considerations is that pure intuition, for
Kant, is the form of (empirical) intuition: it lies in wait prior to the reception of all sensationsthe corresponding matter of (empirical) intuitionas an a priori condition
of the possibility of all sensory perceptions and their objects.12 Actually perceived
Footnote 11 continued
possible representations (as their common mark), and it therefore contains these under itself. But no concept, as such, can be so thought as if it were to contain an infinite aggregate of representations within itself.
However space is thought in precisely this way (for all parts of space in infinitum exist simultaneously).
Therefore, the original representation of space is an a priori intuition, and not a concept. For further discussion see Friedman (1992, pp. 6671). As I shall explain below, however, I now think that the relationship
between the mathematical (i.e., geometrical) representation of space and the original representation of
space described in the Metaphysical Exposition is a bit more subtle: the latter grounds the former but is not
simply identical with it.
12 Kant explains this at the beginning of the Transcendental Aesthetic (A20/B34): I call that in the appear-

ance that corresponds to sensation the matter of appearance, but that which brings it about that themanifold

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concrete diagrams therefore presuppose the prior structure of pure intuition just as
much as all other sensibly perceived objects, and so it is very misleading, at best,
to interpret a Kantian pure intuition as a certain kind of empirical intuition. On the
contrary, we need to connect Kants conception of geometrical reasoning, in the first
instance, with the pure intuitions of space and timenot with particular spatial figures
drawn on paper or a blackboard but with space and time themselves, as pure rather
than empirical intuitions.13 And it is precisely here, as I have intimated, that Kant also
engages Newtons conception of space (and time) as it figures in his controversy with
Leibniz. Space, for Newton, is a great ontological receptacle, as it were, for both all
possible geometrical figures and all possible material objects, and Kants theory of
space as a pure form of intuition is supposed to be an alternativeas we shall seeto
precisely this Newtonian conception.
It is centrally important to Kants philosophy of geometry that all possible objects of
human sense-perception, all objects of what Kant calls empirical intuition, must necessarily conform to the a priori principles of mathematics established in pure intuition
(A165166/B206): The synthesis of spaces and times, as the essential form of all intuition, is that which, at the same time, makes possible the apprehension of appearance,
and thus every outer experience, [and] therefore all cognition of the objects thereof;
and what mathematics in its pure employment demonstrates of the former necessarily
holds also of the latter.14 In order to appreciate the role that pure geometry plays in
our perception of empirical objects, then, we need explicitly to connect the functions
Footnote 12 continued
of appearance can be ordered in certain relations I call the form of appearance. Since that wherein the
sensations are alone ordered, and can be placed in a certain form, cannot itself be sensation in turn, it is
only the matter of all appearance that can be given to us a posteriori; but the form of all appearance must
lie ready for them [the sensations] in the mind a priori , and it can therefore be considered separately from
all sensations.
13 Manders (2008a, pp. 7071) is explicit that Euclidean diagrams, on his view, are individual physical

objectswhich suggests that Kantian pure intuitions, understood in terms of Manderss conception of
diagrammatic reasoning, are also individual physical objects (compare the passage to which note 4 above
is appended). Shabel comes very close to this view in insisting that Kantian pure intuitions, in geometry,
are intuitions of single, individual, sensible objects (note 4 above, emphasis added). In the Preface added
to the published version of her dissertation, Shabel explains that her interpretation of Kant has since been
further clarified and elaborated (2003, p. xi): My current project includes an attempt to understand the role
of mathematical construction in the context of a full investigation of Kants theory of sensibility, including
his theory of pure intuition as articulated in the Transcendental Aesthetic. I did not pursue this more general
strategy in the dissertation, which resulted in an incomplete and, at times, unclear account of both the
schematism and the distinction between pure and empirical intuition as modes of sensible representation.
I invite the interested reader to consult Shabels later writings on the subject and to compare (and contrast)
them with the account presented here. See, for example, Shabel (2006), together with the works cited there.
14 Compare the important passage at A223224/B272: It seems, to be sure, as if the possibility of a triangle could be cognized from its concept in itself (it is certainly independent of experience); for we can in
fact give it an object completely a priori , i.e., construct it. However, because this is only the form of an
object, it would remain forever only a product of the imagination, and the possibility of its object would still
remain doubtfulas that for which something more is still required, namely, that such a figure be thought
under pure conditions on which all objects of experience rest. Now, that space is a formal a priori condition
of outer experiences; that precisely the same image-forming [bildene] synthesis by which we construct a
triangle in the imagination is completely identical with that which we exercise in the apprehension of an
appearance, in order to make for ourselves an empirical concept of itit is this alone that connects this
concept [of a triangle] with the possibility of such a thing. Thus, the formal conditions of all sensible or

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of the pure productive imagination expressed in the construction of geometrical concepts with the Kantian forms of pure intuition (space and time), as they are described
in the metaphysical expositions of space and time in the Transcendental Aesthetic.15
In the course of his controversy with the Leibnizean philosopher Johann August
Eberhard in 1790, Kant develops a contrast between the (successively constructed)
space of the geometer and the subjectively given space of our pure form of outer
sensible intuition. Kant begins by asserting that to say that a line can be continued to
infinity means that the space in which I describe the line is greater than any line that I
may describe in it, so that the geometer grounds the possibility of his problemto
increase a space (of which there are many) to infinityon the original representation
of a single, infinite, subjectively given space. [G]eometrical and objective space,
Kant continues, is always finite, for the latter is only given in so far as it is generated
[gemacht]. And this geometrical space is then explicitly contrasted with what Kant
calls metaphysical space:
To say, however, that the metaphysical, i.e., original, but merely subjectively
given spacewhich (because there are not many of them) can be brought under
no concept, which would be capable of a construction, but which still contains
the ground of the construction of all possible geometrical conceptsis infinite,
means only that it consists in the pure form of the mode of sensible representation of the subject, as a priori intuition; hence in this form of intuition, as
singular [einzelnen] representation, the possibility of all spaces, which proceeds
to infinity, is given. (Ak. 20, 420421)
Thus, metaphysical space is the space considered in the Metaphysical Exposition
of Space in the Transcendental Aesthetic, whereas geometrical space consists of the
Footnote 14 continued
empirical intuitions include not only pure space and time themselves, as it were, but also the pure syntheses
of the productive imagination expressed in the a priori constructions (schemata) of geometrical concepts. It
is only by presupposing that the latter are already available that the former (sensible or empirical intuitions)
first become possible.
15 It follows from this analysis (especially note 14 above) that the pure productive imagination is prior
to all empirical intuitions, and thuscontrary to Shabel (compare notes 4 and 5 above)that the difference between an actually drawn figure and a merely (purely productively) imagined one is indeed central
to Kants distinction between pure and empirical intuition. Shabel is perfectly correct, of course, that a
concrete empirical figure (even if badly drawn) can function as a Kantian pure intuition in the context of
executing an actual geometrical proof (compare note 6 above). But it can do so, on my reading, only because
all empirical intuitions (including this one) take place in accordance with, and against the background of,
the pure syntheses of the productive imagination. Immediately following the passage at A713/B741 with
which we began our consideration of construction in pure intuition (see the passage to which note 2 above
is appended, together with its continuation in the following paragraph), Kant continues (ibid., emphasis
added): Thus I construct a triangle, in so far as I present this concept with a corresponding object, either
through mere imagination in pure intuition, or, in accordance with this [pure intuition], also on paper in
empirical intuitionin both cases, however, completely a priori , without having derived its model from
any experience. The crucial point, once again, is that the activities of the productive imagination in pure
intuition are prior to actually drawing a figure on paper in empirical intuition. (I shall return below to what
exactly this priority consists in.) NB: The generally excellent Guyer-Wood translation, which Shabel quotes
to introduce her discussion (2003, pp. 9192), omits the in accordance with this phrasebut Shable (2003,
p. 105) suggests an alternative reading of what cognizing an empirical intuition in accordance with the
conditions of pure intuition might mean nonetheless.

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indefinitely extendible (but always finite) manifold of geometrical constructions which


may (at any finite stage) be actually carried out starting from some (arbitrary) initial
pair of points.16
This important passage, unlike the Metaphysical Exposition, articulates a clear and
explicit connection between space as the pure form of outer intuition and geometrical construction. So let us now turn to the first two arguments of the Metaphysical
Exposition itself, where, I believe, the nature of this connection is nonetheless implicitly suggested.17 These arguments are intended to show, in particular, that space is a
necessary a priori representation that precedes all empirical perceptionsnot a representation that can in any way be abstracted from our empirical perceptions of (outer)
spatial objects.
The first argument attempts to show that space is an a priori rather than empirical representation by arguing that all perception of outer (empirical) objects in space
presupposes the representation of space:
Space is no empirical concept that has been derived from outer experiences.
For, in order that certain sensations are related to something outside me (that
is, to something in another place in space than the one in which I find myself),
and, similarly, in order that I be able to represent them as outside of and next
to one anotherand thus not merely as different but as in different placesthe
representation of space must already lie at the basis. Therefore, the representation of space cannot be obtained from the relations of outer appearance through
experience; rather, this outer experience is itself only possible in the first place
by means of the representation in question. (A23/B38)
This argument emphasizes that space as the form of outer sense enables us to represent
objects as outer precisely by representing them as spatially external to the perceiving
subject, so that the space in question contains the point of view from which the objects
of outer sense are perceived and around which the objects of outer sense are arranged.
Empirical spatial intuition or perception occurs when an object spatially external to
the point of view of the subject affects this subjectalong a spatial line of sight, as
it wereso as to produce a corresponding sensation; and it is in this sense, therefore,
that the pure form of (spatial) sensible intuition expresses the manner in which we are
affected by (outer) spatial objects.18 Let us call this structure perspectival space.
The second argument goes on to claim that space is a necessary a priori representation, which functions as a condition of the possibility of all outer experience:
16 The controversy in question is discussedand many relevant texts are translatedin Allison (1973). In
particular, the entire passage (from Ak. 20, 419421) is translated in Allison (1973, pp. 175176).
17 I develop this analysis, in response to Parsons (1992) and Carson (1997), in Friedman (2000)where, in
particular, I attempt to reconcile what I call the logical interpretation of Kants philosophy of geometry (as
developed by Evert Beth, Jaakko Hintikka, and my earlier self) with the phenomenological interpretation
articulated by Parsons and Carson. The basic idea of my attempted reconciliation is to embed the purely
logical understanding of geometrical constructions (as Skolem functions) within space as the pure form of
our outer sensible intuition (as described in the Transcendental Aesthetic).
18 See again the beginning of the Transcendental Aesthetic (A1920/B3334): In whatever manner and
by whatever means a cognition may relate to objects, that by which it is related to them immediately, and
towards which all thinking as a means is directed, is intuition. But this takes place only in so far as theobject

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Space is a necessary a priori representation, which lies at the basis of all outer
intuition. One can never make a representation [of the supposed fact] that there is
no space, although one can very well think that no objects are to be found therein.
It must therefore be viewed as the condition of the possibility of appearances,
not as a determination depending on them, and is an a priori representation,
which necessarily lies at the basis of outer appearances. (A24/B38-9)
The crux of this argument is that one cannot represent outer objects without space,
whereas one can think this very same space as entirely empty of such objects. And,
since the first conjunct may appear tautological, the burden of the argument falls on the
second conjunct. What exactly does it mean, therefore, to represent space as empty of
outer objects, and in what precise context, moreover, do we succeed in doing this? A
very natural suggestion is that we think space as empty of outer (empirical) objects just
when we are doing pure geometry.19 This would accord very well, in particular, with
the concluding claim that space thereby functions as a necessary a priori condition of
the possibility of outer appearances, for they would then all be subject to the a priori
necessary science of pure geometry.20
What is the precise relationship between the a priori structure attributed to space in
the first argument (perspectival space) and that attributed to space in the second (the
structure of pure geometry)? It is natural, in the first place, to view the former structure as itself a priori, since it does not depend at all on the particular (empirical) outer
objects actually perceived from any particular point of view. On the contrary, this perspectival structure is invariant under all changes in both the objects perceived and the
point of view from which they are perceived, and, in this sense, it thereby expresses the
form rather than the matter or content of outer intuition. Moreover, and in the second
place, these possible changes in perspective themselves constitute what we now take
to be a mathematical structure: namely, a group of (Euclidean) motions or transformations, comprising all possible translations of our initial point of view through space
and all possible rotations of the perspective associated with this point of view around

Footnote 18 continued
is given to usand this, in turn, at least for us humans, is only possible in so far as the mind is affected
in a certain way. The capacity (receptivity) to obtain representations through the manner in which we are
affected by objects, is sensibility . . .. The effect of an object on the faculty of representation, in so far as we
are affected by them, is sensation. That intuition which relates to the object through sensation is empirical.
The undetermined object of an empirical intuition is appearance.
19 Parsons (1992, p. 69) offers this as an obvious idea, although he does not embrace it unreservedly.
20 This point also allows us to answer a well-known objection to the first argument first raised by J. G. Maa

(a colleague of Eberhards), according to which it does not follow from the fact that one representation presupposes another that the latter representation is a priori: in order to recognize red objects, for example,
one must first have the concept of red (and, more generally, color), but it of course does not follow from this
that red (or color) is an a priori rather than empirical concept. See, e.g., the discussion of this objection in
Allison (1983, pp. 8286. The crucial difference, I believe, is that we do have a necessary a priori science
of space (geometry), whereas we do not have such an a priori science in other cases (like color). I am here
indebted to discussions with Graciela De Pierris concerning the first two arguments of the Metaphysical
Exposition; for her own discussion see De Pierris (2001).

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the given point.21 In particular, any perceptible spatial object, located anywhere in
space, can thereby be made accessible by an appropriate sequence of such translations
and rotations starting from any initial point of view and associated perspective.
But there is a clear connection between this modern, group-theoretical structure
and geometry in Kants sense; for, as Kant himself explicitly emphasizes in his controversy with Eberhard, the two fundamental Euclidean constructions of drawing a
straight line and constructing a circle are generated precisely by translations and rotationsas we generate a line segment by the motion (translation) of a point and then
rotate this segment (in a given plane) around one of its endpoints.22 On the present
interpretation, therefore, it is precisely this relationship between perspectival space
and geometrical space which links Kants theory of space as the form of outer intuition or perception with his conception of pure mathematical geometry in terms of the
successive execution of Euclidean constructions in the pure productive imagination.23
The same relationship between perspectival and geometrical space appears to play
a central role in the second edition version of the Transcendental Deduction of the
Categories.24 In a central step of the argument, entitled On the Application of the
Categories to Objects of the Senses as such ( 24), Kant introduces what he calls
the figurative synthesis (synthesis speciosa) or transcendental synthesis of the imag21 In a modern mathematical setting, the concept of a group of Euclidean rigid motions (translations and

rotations) need not involve the notions of perspective and point of view. The latter notions were introduced,
in this context, by Hermann von Helmholtz and Henri Poincar as part of a program for explaining how our
(mathematical) concepts of space and geometry can be grounded in and arise from our actual perceptual
experience. I here aim to apply these ideas to the interpretation of Kants conception of space and geometry:
see note 23 below.
22 See Ak. 20, 410-411 (not translated by Allison): [I]t is very correctly said that Euclid assumes the possibility of drawing a straight line and describing a circle without proving itwhich means without proving
this possibility through inferences. For description, which takes place a priori through the imagination in
accordance with a rule and is called construction, is itself the proof of the possibility of the object . . ..
However, that the possibility of a straight line and a circle can be proved, not mediately through inferences,
but only immediately through the construction of these concepts (which is in no way empirical), is due
to the circumstance that among all constructions (presentations determined in accordance with a rule in a
priori intuition) some must still be the firstnamely, the drawing or describing (in thought) of a straight
line and the rotating of such a line around a fixed pointwhere the latter cannot be derived from the former,
nor can it be derived from any other construction of the concept of a magnitude. (NB: In accordance with
the passage quoted in note 14 above, mathematical construction can only demonstrate the real possibility of
the corresponding mathematical concept against the background of the Transcendental Deductiona point
to which I shall return below.) Straight lines and circles thereby appear as what we call the orbits (confined
to any two dimensional plane) of the Euclidean group of rigid motions in space. (For the construction of
a circle compare the passage from A234/B287 quoted in note 8 above. For the construction of a line, and
more generally, compare also A162163/B203204: I can represent no line to myself, no matter how
small, without drawing it in thought, that is, gradually generating all its parts from a point . . .. On this
successive synthesis of the productive imagination in the generation of figures is based the mathematics of
extension (geometry), together with its axioms, which express the conditions of a priori sensible intuition
under which alone the schema of a pure concept of outer appearance can arise.)
23 As explained in Friedman (2000), an advantage of this reading is that it then allows us to connect Kants

theory of pure geometrical intuition with the later discussions of Helmholtz and Poincar (who were selfconsciously influenced by Kant)although there can of course be no question of attributing to Kant himself
an explicit understanding of the group-theoretical approach to geometry.
24 I begin to develop this connection in Friedman (2000) and (2003). I shall indicate below where I now

go beyond and correct these earlier accounts.

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ination. This synthesis establishes the first connection between the understanding or
the transcendental unity of apperception and sensibility, and, Kant explains, it is thus
an action of the understanding on sensibility, and its first application (at the same
time the ground of all others) to objects of the intuition that is possible for us (B152).
Kant continues:
As figurative, it is distinguished from the intellectual synthesis merely through
the understanding, without any [use of the] imagination. In so far as the imagination is spontaneity, I sometimes also call it the productive imagination, and
thereby distinguish it from the reproductive imagination, whose synthesis is subject solely to empirical laws, namely, those of associationand which therefore
contributes nothing to the explanation of the possibility of a priori cognition, and
for this reason belongs not to transcendental philosophy but rather to psychology.
(B152)
Thus, the synthesis of the pure productive imagination is not only non-empirical and a
priori, but it is also what Kant calls transcendental: viz., constitutive of the explanation
of possibility of a priori cognition.25
What is especially striking, however, is how Kant then goes on to illustrate this
transcendental synthesis:
We also always observe this in ourselves. We can think no line without drawing it
in thought, no circle without describing it. We can in no way represent the three
dimensions of space without setting three lines at right angles to one another
from the same point. And we cannot represent time itself without attending, in
the drawing of a straight line (which is to be the outer figurative representation
of time), merely to the action of synthesis of the manifold, through which we
successively determine inner sense, and thereby attend to the succession of this
determination in it. Motion, as action of the subject (not as determination of an
object*), and thus the synthesis of the manifold in spaceif we abstract from
the latter and attend merely to the action by which we determine inner sense
in accordance with its form[such motion] even first produces the concept of
succession. (B154155)
And in the footnote Kant explicitly links motion in the relevant sense with the imaginative description of space underlying the axioms of geometry (in the construction of
lines and circles):
*Motion of an object in space does not belong in a pure science and thus not
in geometry. For, that something is movable cannot be cognized a priori but
25 See the beginning of the Transcendental Logic at A56/B8081: I here make a remark whose influence
extends over all the following considerations, and which one must keep well in mind, namely, that not
every a priori cognition should be called transcendental, but only that by which we cognize that and how
certain representations (intuitions or concepts) are applied, or are possible, wholly a priori (i.e., the a priori
possibility or use of cognitions). Thus, neither space nor any a priori geometrical determination of space
is a transcendental representation; rather, only the cognition that these representations are in no way of
empirical origin, and the possibility that they can nevertheless relate a priori to objects of experience, can
be called transcendental.

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only through experience. But motion, as the describing of a space, is a pure


act of successive synthesis of the manifold in outer intuition in general through
the productive imagination, and it belongs not only to geometry, but even to
transcendental philosophy.
Thus motion in the relevant sensethe pure act of successive synthesis in space as transcendental activity of the subjectgrounds or underlies geometry by also belonging
to the metaphysical consideration of space characteristic of transcendental philosophy.26
But what is the precise connection between the transcendental synthesis of the
imagination, as an action of the understanding on sensibility, and the metaphysical consideration of space in the Transcendental Aesthetic? The concluding argument
of the second edition Deduction, entitled Transcendental Deduction of the Universally Possible Employment in Experience of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding
( 26), crucially depends on this connection:
We have a priori forms of outer and inner sensible intuition in the representations
of space and time, and the synthesis of apprehension of the manifold of appearances [through which perception becomes possible] must always accord with
them, for it can only take place in accordance with this form. But space and
time are represented a priori, not merely as forms of sensible intuition, but as
intuitions themselves (which contain a manifold) and thus [represented a priori] with the determination of the unity of this manifold (see the Transcendental
Aesthetic*). Therefore, unity of the synthesis of the manifold, outside us or in
us, and thus a combination with which everything that is to be represented in
space or time as determined must accord, is itself already given simultaneously,
with (not in) these intuitions. But this synthetic unity can be no other than that
of the combination of the manifold of a given intuition in general in an original
consciousness, in accordance with the categories, only applied to our sensible
intuition. (B160161)
Kant here wants to show that all possible objects of our spatio-temporal intuition
are necessarily subject to the transcendental unification of all representations in one
consciousness in accordance with the categories, and he does this by appealing to
the unity of space and time themselves as already established in the Aesthetic. So
what is the precise connection, we now need to ask, between the unity of space and
26 According to the main passage in the text at B154155, the transcendental synthesis of the imagination
not only grounds the science of geometry (in terms of the drawing of a straight line and the describing of
a circle), it also grounds the concept of succession and what Kant calls the general doctrine of motion
(B4849). Compare B291292: How it may . . . be possible that an opposed state follows from a given state
of the same thing is not only inconceivable to any reason without example, but it is not even understandable
without intuitionand this intuition is the motion of a point in space, whose existence in different places
(as a sequence of opposed determination) alone makes alteration intuitive to us in the first place. For, in
order that we may afterwards make even inner alterations intuitive, we must make time, as the form of inner
sense, intelligible figuratively as a line, and inner alteration by the drawing of this line (motion), and thus
the successive existence of our self in different states by outer intuition. In this way, the transcendental
synthesis of the imagination also explains the possibility mathematical physics: for further discussion see
Friedman (2003).

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time themselves and the synthesizing activities (via the transcendental synthesis of the
imagination) of the understanding?
Kant explains in the footnote to this passage, which is unusually difficult even by
Kantian standards:
*Space represented as object (as is actually required in geometry) contains more
than the mere form of intuitionnamely, [it contains] the [act of] putting together
[Zusammenfassung] the manifold, given in accordance with the form of sensibility, in an intuitive representation, so that the form of intuition gives merely a
manifold, but the formal intuition [also] gives unity of representation. In the Aesthetic I counted this unity [as belonging] to sensibility, only in order to remark
that it precedes all concepts, although it in fact presupposes a synthesis that does
not belong to the senses but through which all concepts of space and time first
become possible. For, since through it (in that the understanding determines sensibility) space or time are first given, the unity of this a priori intuition belongs
to space and time, and not to the concept of the understanding (24).
Two points are especially mysterious here. On the one hand, it is the burden of the
third argument of the Metaphysical Exposition of Space (in the second edition) to show
that the characteristic unity of space cannot be a conceptual unity.27 It would seem,
therefore, that this unity must be intuitive rather than intellectualand so how can
such a distinctively intuitive unity possibly illustrate the synthesizing activities of the
understanding? On the other hand, if the synthesis responsible for the unity of space
(and time) does belongs to the understanding, why does it precede all concepts?
And why, in particular, does the unity in question belong to space and time, and not
to the concept of the understanding?
The above interpretation of the distinction between metaphysical (that is, perspectival) and geometrical space, as articulated in the controversy with Eberhard, helps
us to answer these questions. Metaphysical spacethe space of our pure form of
outer sensible intuitionconsists in the totality of possible perspectives from which
the subject can be affected by outer objects. What unites this totality into a single
all-encompassing space, therefore, is the transcendental unity of apperception, which
entails that any possible outer object is in principle perceivable by the same subject
by an appropriate sequence of translations and rotations starting from any particular

27 See A24/B39: Space is not a discursive, or, as one says, general concept of relations of things in general,
but a pure intuition. For, first, one can only represent to oneself a single [einigen] space, and if one speaks of
many spaces, one understands by this only parts of one and the same unique [alleinigen] space. These parts
cannot precede the single all-encompassing [einigen allbefassenden] space, as it were as its constituents
(out of which its composition would be possible); rather, they can only be thought in it. It is essentially
single [einig]; the manifold in it, and the general concept of spaces as such, rests solely on limitations. From
this it follows that an a priori intuition (that is not empirical) underlies all concepts of space. Thus, space
is not a conceptual representation because, first, there is necessarily only one particular individual falling
under it and, second, the parts of spaceunlike the parts (marks) of a conceptare not constituents (out
of which its composition would be possible). A related asymmetry between the whole-part structure of
concepts and that of intuitions underlies the immediately following fourth argument: see note 11 above,
together with the paragraph to which it is appended.

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initial perspective.28 This singular, all-encompassing, and infinite space then grounds
the possibility of geometrical constructions, which are based, as we have seen, on
our ability, in pure intuition, to draw a line by the translation of a point and to rotate
such a line (in a plane) around one of its endpoints.29 The exercise of this ability, in
turn, is an expression of the transcendental synthesis of the imagination, which is an
action of the understanding on sensibility, and its first application (at the same time the
ground of all others) to objects of the intuition that is possible for us (B152). Thus,
the synthesis responsible for the characteristic unity and singularity of space (as the
pure form of outer sensible intuition) does indeed belong to the understanding. It does
not follow, however, that the unity in question is a conceptual unity.
For, in the first place, this action of the understanding on sensibility precedes all
particular geometrical constructions, and thus all particular spaces (spatial regions)
since these are constructed within the singular, all-encompassing, and infinite space of
pure intuition by an indefinitely extendible (but always finite) sequence of particular
acts of the pure productive imagination. Therefore, in the second place, the original
transcendental synthesis of the imagination responsible for the characteristic unity and
singularity of space also precedes all geometrical concepts (of triangle, circle, and so
on), since these concepts are generated by particular geometrical constructions in
accordance with their schemata.30 Finally, and in the third place, the same original
synthesis precedes all (schematized) categories or pure concepts of the understanding, and therefore precedes all (schematized) concepts whatsoever, since each of the
former has its own particular schema in pure intuition (as a particular transcendental
determination of time)none of which are identical with the action of the understanding on sensibility that first gives both space and time their characteristic unity
28 This is how I interpret the third argument of the Metaphysical Exposition (note 27 above). And it is
in explaining the characteristic unity and singularity of space in terms of what I call perspectival space,
and thus in terms (ultimately) of the transcendental unity of apperception, that I differ from the accounts
of this characteristic unity offered by Parsons and Carson (see note 17 above). In particular, I do not take
this all-encompassing unity as a given quasi-perceptual fact, but base it on the prior condition that all
possible outer objects be perceivable, in principle, by the same perceiving subject. For further discussion
see Friedman (2000).
29 See notes 21, 22, and 23 above, together with the paragraphs to which they are appended. That the
limitations mentioned in the penultimate sentence of the passage at A24/B39 quoted above (note 27)
involve geometrical construction is suggested by its immediate continuation (ibid.): So, too, all geometrical principles, e.g., that in a triangle two sides together are always greater than the third, are never derived
from universal concepts of line and triangle, but rather from intuition, and, in fact, [are thereby derived]
a priori with apodictic certainty. As we have seen (in the paragraph to which note 3 above is appended),
Kant is here referring to Euclid I.20.
30 I am here indebted to an illuminating conversation with Vincenzo De Risi. That geometrical constructions generate the concept constructed is explicitly stated at A234/B287 (compare notes 8 and 23 above).
See also the passage from the controversy with Eberhard quoted in the paragraph to which note 16 above is
appended. Kant there says, first, that metaphysical space (because it is singular) can be brought under no
concept, which would be capable of a construction, but [it] still contains the ground of the construction of
all possible geometrical concepts, and, second, that in this form of intuition, as singular representation,
the possibility of all spaces, which proceeds to infinity, is given. Thus, Kant here makes explicit the relationships among the singularity of space as the (all-encompassing) pure form of outer intuition, the plurality
of its parts (bounded spatial regions), and geometrical constructionrelationships that are only implicit
in the third argument of the Metaphysical Exposition (compare note 28 above). He therefore clarifies the
sense in which the characteristic unity of metaphysical space precedes all geometrical concepts.

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and singularity.31 The original synthesis responsible for this unity does not express
the schema of any particular category, but rather what we might call the schema of
the transcendental unity of apperception itself.32 Therefore, although it does represent
a determination of sensibility by the understanding, the unity of this a priori intuition indeed belongs to space and time, and not to the concept of the understanding
(emphasis added). The unity in question is indeed intellectual, but it is nonetheless
characteristic of an intuitive rather conceptual representation.33
31 Kant introduces the notion of the schema of a pure concept of the understanding as follows
(A138139/B177178): The concept of the understanding contains pure synthetic unity of the manifold in general. Time, as the formal condition of the manifold of inner sense, and thus of the connection
of all representations, contains an a priori manifold in pure intuition. Now a transcendental determination
of time is homogenous with the category (which constitutes the unity of this determination) in so far as
it is universal and rests on a rule. But it is homogeneous with the appearance, on the other side, in so
far as time is contained in every empirical representation of the manifold. Therefore, an application of the
category to appearances becomes possible by means of the transcendental determination of time, which, as
the schema of the concept of the understanding, mediates the subsumption of the latter under the former.
Since this passage characterizes time as a formal condition, and emphasizes that, as such, it contains an a
priori manifold in pure intuition, comparison with the crucial argument at B160161 quoted above (in the
paragraph following the one to which note 26 is appended), suggests that the time in question is not merely
the form of (inner) intuition, but also the (singular) intuition itself (formal intuition), represented with
the determination of the unity of this manifold. This explanation of the schema of a pure concept of the
understanding therefore appears to presuppose that the determinate unification of time by the transcendental
synthesis of the imagination has already taken place. (Note, however, that what are sometimes called the
pure or unschematized categoriesunlike pure sensible conceptsstill have a meaning independently
of their schematization, although this meaning is of no use at all in the cognition of phenomena: only the
schematized categories have what Kant, at A238249/B297299, calls an empirical use.)
32 Compare Kants discussion of the schema of the category (or categories) of quantity or magnitude at
A142143/B182: The pure image of all magnitudes (quantorum) for outer sense is space; that of all objects
of the senses in general, however, is time. But the pure schema of magnitude (quantitatis), as a concept of
the understanding, is number, which is a representation comprising the successive addition of One to One
(homogeneous [units]). Therefore, number is nothing other than the unity of the synthesis of the manifold
of a homogeneous intuition in general, in so far as I generate time itself in the apprehension of the intuition.
From this passage we see that the schema (rule for the determination of time) associated with the category
(or categories) of quantity or magnitude is not the representation of singular space or singular time but
the representation of number. We also see that the representations of singular space and singular time are
images (as opposed to schemata) corresponding to the category (or categories) in question. Since Kant
also says that the schema of a pure concept of the understanding is something that can be brought into
no image at all (A142/B181), these images cannot be the product of the schema of any category. They
are rather the products of the original transcendental synthesis of the imaginationwhich results in space
given or presented as what I have called perspectival space, and time given or presented under the image
of a line, in so far as we draw it, without which mode of presentation we could in no way cognize the unity
of its measure or dimension [Einheit ihrer Abmessung] (B156). For a subtle and illuminating discussion of
the difficult passage at A142143/B182 (which, however, I am not entirely following here) see Sutherland
(2004, III).
33 In particular, the asymmetries Kant emphasizes between intuitive and conceptual representation in the
third and fourth arguments of the Metaphysical Exposition of Space (see again note 27 above) are all
retained. And, on this basis, I can now indicate where the present account goes beyond and corrects my earlier discussions in Friedman (2000) and (2003). With respect to the former (2000, pp. 198199), it is crucial
to distinguish (as we have seen) between the claim that the characteristic (singular) unity of space and time is
or involves an intellectual unity (in so far as it is the result of an action of the understanding on sensibility)
and the claim that it is or involves a conceptual unity (depending on the characteristic unity or generality of
a concept). That the intuitive unity in question depends directly on the unity of consciousness does not
entail that it is a conceptual unity (contrary to p. 198). With respect to the latter (2003, pp. 3941),
it is simply a mistake to claim (contrary to p. 40) that the reference to the Transcendental Aesthetic

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In any case, it is precisely the argument of the Transcendental Deduction (as


expressed in 26 of the second edition) which now puts Kant in a position to claim
that pure mathematical geometry is necessarily applicable to all possible objects of
empirical perceptionso that [t]he synthesis of spaces and times, as the essential
form of all intuition, is that which, at the same time, makes possible the apprehension
of appearance, and thus every outer experience, [and] therefore all cognition of the
objects thereof; and what mathematics in its pure employment demonstrates of the
former necessarily holds also of the latter (A165166/B206). And it is precisely this
argument which underwrites Kants later explanation of the same claim (A224/B272):
[T]hat space is a formal a priori condition of outer experiences; that precisely the
same image-forming [bildene] synthesis by which we construct a triangle in the imagination is completely identical with that which we exercise in the apprehension of an
appearance, in order to make for ourselves an empirical concept of itit is this alone
that connects this concept [of a triangle] with the [real] possibility of such a thing.34
The urgent need to establish such a result places Kant in a completely different intellectual environment from the Ancient Greek schools of Plato and Aristotle, against the
background of which Euclids Elements was formulated. For it is characteristic of the
new view of mathematics arising in the seventeenth century that pure mathematical
geometry is taken to be the foundation for all knowledge of physical reality. Pure
mathematical geometry, beginning with Descartes, is taken to describe, in principle,
the most fundamental properties and interactions of matter; and, in this sense, physical
space and geometrical space (that is, Euclidean space) are now taken to be identical.
Kants own understanding of this idea, as I have suggested, is framed by the controversy between Newton and Leibnizwhere both took the geometrization of nature to
be a now established fact, but they reacted to this fact in radically different ways. Newton understood the situation quite literally: mathematical space and timetrue
or absolute space and timeconstitute the fundamental ontological framework of
all reality. Even God himself is necessarily spatial and temporal (existing always and
everywhere), and all physical or material objects are then created and moved, as
Newton puts it, within Gods boundless and uniform Sensorium.35
Footnote 33 continued
at B160161 is to the Transcendental as opposed to the Metaphysical Expositions of Space and Time. On
the contrary, the reference is indeed, first and foremost, to the Metaphysical Expositions (especially to the
third argument in the case of space); and the synthetic a priori knowledge whose possibility is explained in
the Transcendental Expositions (geometry and the general doctrine of motion respectively) is grounded
in or explained precisely by the prior (singular and unitary) structures of space and time articulated in the
Metaphysical Expositions. This brings my position even closer to that defended in Carson (1997), although
it is still essentially different from her account (see note 28 above).
34 See note 14 above, together with the paragraph to which it is appended.
35 Newtons famous discussion of absolute, true, and mathematical space and time occurs in the

Scholium to the Definitions of the Principia. This, together with other relevant texts, can be found in Newton (2004). In particular, Newton develops his metaphysical conception of space and its relation to God
most fully in the manuscript De Gravitatione, where, under the influence of the Cambridge Platonism of
Henry More, he says that space is neither a substance nor an accident but rather an emanative effect of God
and an affection of every kind of being (2004, p. 21). In the General Scholium to the Principia Newton
writes (2004, p. 91): [God] endures always and is present everywhere, and by existing always and everywhere he constitutes duration and space. And in Query 31 of the Opticks Newton argues (2004, p. 138):
[These natural phenomena] can be the effect of nothing else than the Wisdom and Skill of a powerful

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For Leibniz, by contrast, the entire physical world described by the new mathematical science (including the space in which bodies move) is a secondary appearance or
phenomenon of an underlying metaphysical reality of simple substances or monads
substances which, at this level, are not spatial at all but rather have only purely internal
properties and no external relations. And this point, in turn, is closely connected with
the fact that Leibniz self-consciously adheres to the idea that purely intellectual knowledge is essentially logical. For, although Leibniz appears to have envisioned some sort
of extension of Aristotelian logic capable of embracing the new algebraic methods of
his calculus, there is no doubt that the traditional subject-predicate structure of this
logic pervades his monadic metaphysics: it is precisely because ultimate metaphysical reality is essentially intellectual in the logical sense that the entire sensible world,
including space, is a merely secondary reality or phenomenon.36 Thus, although Leibniz, like everyone else in the period, holds that there are mathematical laws governing
the sensible and material world (the phenomenal world), he reintroduces a new kind of
necessary gapa new kind of Platonic gapbetween reality as known by the intellect
(noumenal reality) and this sensible world.
Kants philosophy of transcendental idealism is also based on a fundamental dichotomy between reality as thought by the pure understanding alone (noumenal reality)
and the phenomenal world in space and time given to our senses. But Kant sharply
differs from Leibniz in two crucial respects. First, mathematical knowledge, for Kant,
is sensible rather than purely intellectual: indeed, mathematics is the very paradigm of
rational and objective sensible knowledge, resulting from the schematism of specifically mathematical concepts within our pure forms of sensible intuition. Second, and
as a consequence, we can only have theoretical knowledge, for Kant, of precisely this
sensible (phenomenal) world: the noumenal reality thought by the pure understanding
alone remains forever unknowable from a theoretical point of view, and we can only
have purely practical knowledge of its inhabitants (God and the soul) via moral experience.37 Indeed, it is precisely this necessary limitation of all theoretical knowledge
to the sensible or phenomenal world that ultimately results from Kants doctrine of
the schematism of the pure concepts of the understandingwhich, as Kant sees it,
Leibniz entirely missed.38
Footnote 35 continued
ever-living Agent, who being in all Places, is more able by his Will to move the Bodies within his boundless
and uniform Sensorium, and thereby to form and reform the Parts of the Universe, than we are by our Will
to move the Parts of our own Bodies. For further discussion of Newtons metaphysics of space, in relation
to Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant, see Friedman (2009).
36 An individual simple substance, for Leibniz, is characterized by a complete concept consisting of an
infinite conjunction of all the marks or partial concepts that are (ever) true of it, and Leibnizs metaphysics
of ultimate simple substances is thus intimately connected with his commitment to the traditional logic of
concepts. Precisely because he rejects the possibility of such a complete concept (for finite human thinkers),
Kant, as we have seen, argues that the representation of space cannot be a concept (note 11 above, together
with the paragraph to which it is appended).
37 For further discussion of this aspect of Kants view see again Friedman (2009) and also Friedman (2005).
38 See A145147/B185187: Thus the schemata of the pure concepts of the understanding are the true

and sole conditions for providing the latter a relation to objects and thus a meaning; and the categories
are therefore, in the end, of no other than a possible empirical use, in that they serve merely . . . to subject appearances to universal rules of synthesis, and thereby to make them suitable for thoroughgoing

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Kants philosophy of geometryseen against the background of his more general transcendental idealismcombines central insights of both Leibniz and Newton.
For, in the first place, Kants emphasis on the perceptual and intuitive aspects of
geometry (and mathematics more generally) corresponds to Newtons approach, in
contrast to the logico-algebraic approach of Leibniz. And, in the second place, Kants
sharp distinction between the faculties of intellect and sensibility, together with his
parallel sharp distinction between logical or discursive and mathematical or intuitive
reasoning, arises precisely against the background of the Leibnizean conception of the
pure intellect, and it is aimed, more specifically, at Leibnizs view that pure mathematics (including geometry) is, in Kants sense, analyticdepending only on relations
of conceptual containment within the traditional logic of concepts. Nonetheless, Kant
accepts Leibnizs characterization of the pure intellect in terms of the traditional logic
of concepts, and Kants point about pure mathematics, against Leibniz, is simply that
the pure intellect, characterized in this way, is not, after all, adequate to the task.39 It is
for precisely this reason, in Kants view, that the pure understanding must be applied
to, or schematized in terms of, a second rational faculty modelled on Newtonian absolute spaceno longer conceived along the lines of Newtons divine sensorium, but
rather as a pure form of our human faculty of sensibility.40
In this way, Kants distinctive conception of geometry and spatial intuition addresses
the fundamental intellectual concerns of both Leibniz and Newton, while simultaneously rejecting their metaphysical and theological ambitions. Kant rejects Leibnizs
theological perspective by disavowing his conception of an (infinitary) complete concept as inaccessible to our (necessarily finite) human cognition; and it is for precisely
this reason, in Kants view, that space must be a pure form of sensible intuition rather
than any kind of conceptual representation (note 36 above). Only so, Kant thinks, can
Footnote 38 continued
connection in an experience . . .. Therefore, the categories, without schemata, represent only functions of the
understanding for concepts, but do not represent any object. This meaning accrues to them from sensibility,
which realizes the understanding by simultaneously restricting it. Kant is here discussing the schemata of
the pure concepts of the understanding, not those of mathematical concepts (pure sensible concepts). Nevertheless, the above analysis of the central argument of the second edition Transcendental Deduction of the
Categories implies that the schemata of mathematical concepts are also implicated in the schematism of the
categories, since the original transcendental synthesis of the imagination responsible for the characteristic
unity and singularity of space and time thereby grounds the possibility of both the science of geometry and
the general doctrine of motion (see notes 26 and 33 above).
39 Kants argument for this, as we have seen, depends on his rejection of the possibility of Leibnizean
complete concepts (for finite human thinkers), and thus depends, in the end, on the circumstance that Kant
understands the traditional logic of concepts in a substantially more limited way than does Leibniz himself
(compare note 36 above).
40 For Newton, God, by his immediate omnipresence throughout all of space, brings it about that all matter

obeys the laws of motion by a creative act of his will. For Kant, it is our human understanding (not Gods)
that injects itself into our pure forms of sensibility (not Gods), and, at the same time, brings it about
(through precisely the schematism of the categories) that material or phenomenal substances necessarily
obey the (Newtonian) laws of motion. For further discussion see again Friedman (2009). This is because the
schematism of the categories, as we have said, is intimately connected with both the mathematical science
of geometry and the new (Newtonian) mathematical physics (see again notes 26 and 38 above). And this
point, in turn, is connected with the fact that the schemata of the categories are determinations of time (note
31 above), and that time, as a pure image, is intuitively presented by the motion of a point in space in the
drawing of a straight line (notes 26 and 32 above).

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our a priori knowledge of the geometrical structure of space be made intelligible.


Similarly, Kant rejects Newtons theological perspective by insisting that the mathematical structure of nature must ultimately be due to the action of our pure intellect
(not Gods) on our pure forms of sensible intuition. The Newtonian conception of
space as the divine sensorium, for Kant, is completely impossible.41
In a famous passage in the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant therefore depicts his
conception of space and time as pure forms of our sensible intuition as combining the
advantages of both the Leibnizean and Newtonian conceptions while simultaneously
avoiding their respective disadvantages:
The [Newtonians] gain this much, that they make the field of appearances free
for mathematical assertions. On the other hand, they confuse themselves very
much by precisely these conditions when the understanding pretends to extend
beyond this field. The [Leibnizeans] gain much in the latter respect, namely, the
representations of space and time do not get in the way when they wish to judge
of objects not as appearances but merely in relation to the understanding; however, they can neither give an account of the possibility of a priori mathematical
cognitions (in so far as they lack a true and objectively valid a priori intuition)
nor bring empirical propositions into necessary agreement with these [mathematical] assertions. In our theory of the true constitution of these two original
forms of sensibility both difficulties are remedied. (A4041/B5758)
Kant thereby avoids the twin absurdities of taking space and time to be either two
eternal and infinite non-things [Undinge] subsisting in themselves, which are there
(without there being anything actual), only in order to contain all actuality within
themselves, on the one side, or relations of appearances (next to or after one another),
abstracted from experience, although in the abstraction represented confusedly, on
the other (A39/B56). The passage quoted above then represents the culmination of the
main argument of the Transcendental Aesthetic.42
41 Kant is particularly concerned in the second edition Transcendental Aesthetic to emphasize that his
conception of space and time as pure forms of sensibility is the only real alternative to the (theologically
impossible) Newtonian view (B7172): In natural theology, where one thinks an object that is not only no
object of sensible intuition for us, but cannot even be an object of sensible intuition for itself, one takes care
to remove the conditions of space and time from all of its intuition (for all of its cognition must be intuition
and not thought, which is always a manifestation of limitations). But with what right can one do this, if one
has previously made both into forms of things in themselvesand, indeed, into forms which, as a priori
conditions of the existence of things, even remain when one has annihilated the things themselves? (For,
as conditions of all existence in general, they must also be conditions for the existence of God.) There is
therefore no alternative, if one does not pretend to make them into objective forms of all things, except to
make them into subjective forms of our outer and inner mode of intuition. [This kind of intuition] is called
sensible, because it is not originali.e., it is not such that the existence of objects of intuition is itself given
through it (which, as far as we can comprehend, can only pertain to the primordial being), but it depends
on the existence of the objects, and is thus only possible in so far as the representative faculty of the subject
is affected by them.
42 The Aesthetic begins (in the discussion of space) by indicating three alternatives (A23/B3738): What,
now, are space and time? Are they actual beings? Are they only determinations, or even relations of things,
but in such a way that they would pertain to them also in themselves, even if they were not intuited? Or are
they such that they only attach to the form of intuition alone, and thus to the subjective constitution of our
mind, without which these predicates cannot be attributed to any thing at all? These three alternatives

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We are now in a position to appreciate more fully why the diagrammatic interpretations of Euclids Elements offered by Manders and Shabel are not adequate as
interpretations of Kants conception of geometry and spatial intuition. As we have
seen, although an actual empirically drawn physical diagram (even if badly drawn)
can function as a Kantian pure intuition in the context of an actually executed geometrical proof, this can only be the case for Kant himself if the empirical diagram in
question is drawn in accordance with a prior construction in pure intuition by the pure
productive imagination (note 14 above). The ultimate reason for this, as we now see,
is that Kant has a much more ambitious philosophical agenda than providing a satisfying account of Euclids proof-procedure. In particular, the characteristic constructive
activities of the pure productive imagination are invoked not only to explain what Kant
takes to be the paradigm of pure mathematical geometry (namely the Elements), but
also to explain howthrough the original transcendental synthesis of the imagination
grounding the objective reality of the categoriesboth space itself and physical nature
in space necessarily acquire their objective mathematical structure.
Diagrammatic interpretations of Euclids Elements originating with Manders, by
contrast, have more modest explanatory goals. The aim is to explain how reasoning
with individual physical diagrams, actually produced on the blackboard or on paper,
can underwrite the generality and necessity of Euclids geometrydespite the obvious
fact that such diagrams are both particular and imprecise. The explanation proceeds
in terms of Manderss fundamental distinction between exact and co-exact features of actually drawn diagrams (roughly, between their metrical and topological
features), and there is absolutely no need to claim that the planes upon which these
diagrams are executed are precise Euclidean planesmuch less that the three-dimensional physical space within which we live and move and have our being is itself
precisely Euclidean.43 The discovery that, according to the general theory of relativity, the physical space around us is only approximately Euclidean therefore poses no
threat at all to Manderss program. Yet Kants theory of construction in pure intuition,
as we have seen, aims to explain how we knowand know a priorithat physical
space is precisely Euclidean; and it aims to explain this, as we have also seen, by the
Footnote 42 continued
Newtonian, Leibnizean, and Kantianthen frame the following main argument, culminating in the passage
quoted above. After this passage Kant adds a set of General Remarks to the Transcendental Aesthetic
which summarize and comment upon the main argument. In the second edition there are four such remarks,
where the first is common to both editions and the last three are added only in the second. The comment on
natural theology, quoted in note 41 above, is the final such remark.
43 As Manders (2008a, pp. 7071) explains there are now two approaches for reconstructing Euclidean

diagrammatic reasoning based on the distinction between exact and co-exact features of diagrams: Manderss original approach, which takes the diagrams in question to be actually drawn physical objects (and
uses what Manders calls diagram control theory appealing to our human abilities and practices to explain
how idealized consideration of such objects is possible), and a second approach, exemplified in recent
work by Nathaniel Miller and John Mumma, which involves constructing rigorous formal systems of diagrammatic reasoning where diagrams appear as abstract formal elements within the system (topological
or combinatorial configurations) alongside the discursive text (linguistic formulas). Although Kant has no
place for abstract mathematical objects in his conception (where the only objects, strictly speaking, are
spatio-temporal objects or appearances), I believe that this second approach to diagrammatic reasoning
is closer in spirit to Kant (where, as we have seen, already idealized pure intuitions precede all perception
of appearances). I hope to have the opportunity to address this issue further in future work.

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very same activity of construction in pure intuition that underwrites the generality and
necessity of Euclids Elements. This is the sense, as I claimed at the beginning, that
Manders-style diagrammatic interpretations of the Elements can, at best, capture only
a part of what Kants conception of geometry involves.44
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44 As I pointed out in note 13 above, although there is no doubt that Shabel, in her dissertation, develops an
interpretation of Kantian construction in pure intuition that is very much in the spirit of Manderss original
account of diagrammatic reasoning, she also aims, in her later work, to incorporate such an account into a
fuller discussion of Kants theory of space as a pure form of intuition in the Transcendental Aesthetic. Once
again, I invite the interested reader to compare (and contrast) the interpretation Shabel develops in her later
work with the interpretation I have developed hereand I also invite Shabel to explain the place she might
now find for Manders-style diagrammatic reasoning in relation to this same interpretation.

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