APPERCEPTION (Latin apperceptio from adpercipere—to become aware, to perceive)—an epistemological category that designates a certain form of consciousness that is not organized in act, which does not possess an objective correlate of its own.
The term “apperception” first appeared in philosophy at the end of the seventeenth century in the writings of G. W. Leibniz and was a key philosophical category in his critique of Descartes’ philosophical principles. The theory of apperception was developed in the psychological works of C. Wolff and many works of Wolffians (especially C. Crusius) and anti-Wolffians. In an altered form it was developed in Kant’s later critical works. In his works the conception of so-called transcendental apperception came to the foreground. At present we are dealing with a certain variety both in the interpretation of different functions and cognitive status of apperception, and in the way apperception is characterized in terms of its moments and structure. In the twentieth century apperception became an object of special interest in different schools of phenomenology (Husserl, Ingarden, Merleau-Ponty).
APPERCEPTION IN THE THOUGHT OF G. W. LEIBNIZ. We may find the classical presentation of apperception in the framework of the so-called Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophy. Leibniz is the philosopher who made the term “apperception” a permanent part of the lexicon of philosophy. It appeared in the context of Leibniz’ polemics with Descartes’ theory of knowledge and his polemics with Locke’s empiricism. Descartes seemed to make no distinction between perception and thought (cogitatio). As a result his disciples, according to Leibniz, disregarded “perception of which they are not aware“ (Monadology, par. 14). On the basis of a distinction between perception and apperception Leibniz argued for the thesis that every soul perceives and also refuted the radical Cartesian dualism of soul and body.
Leibniz introduced the category of apperception into his theory of knowledge (based on monadological metaphysics). He provided the epistemological conditions that allowed him to hold that the soul (every soul) perceives, and that it perceives constantly both when awake and asleep. By introducing this category he could also apply the principle of continuity to the theory of perception. As a result he formulated the thesis that perceptions are continuous: from the least perfect perceptions of whose occurrence we are not conscious, then perceptions that are accompanied by apperception, to the most perfect perceptions that are endowed, apart from apperception, with reflective power (facultas reflectendi) and acts of reflection.
Genetic aspect of apperception. The concept of apperception is strictly connected with the Leibnizian conception of perception by which he understands “the internal state of a monad representing external things” or “a transitional state that contains and represents plurality in unity” (Monadologia, par. 14). Apperception according to him is “consciousness, or a reflective knowledge of this internal state“ (Principles of Nature and Grace based on Reason, par. 4). According to Leibniz at every moment we perform an infinite number of perceptions but are unaware of this fact for they are not accompanied by even a vague awareness, that is, apperception, or an explicit form of awareness in the form of reflection. Apperception is genetically and temporally subsequent or secondary to simple perception, since as Leibniz holds apperception “appears only after a certain interruption, even the most brief” (Nowy rozważania dotyczące rozumu ludzkiego [New meditations concerning human reason], Wwa 1995, I, 14).
The phenomenon of apperception in the process of cognition allows us to distinguish in succession certain perceptions and perceptual data from among others. On the other hand, although we perceive a whole multitude of data in the form of things, phenomena, and processes, but we only notice some of them. We notice precisely those to which we pay attention (Latin attentio). Therefore, states Leibniz, the apperception that accompanies certain perceptions depends upon attention. It appears with the perceptual data that have been differentiated by concentrated attention (ibid., I 68, 107).
Structural aspect of apperception. Apperception occupies a place between direct perception and organized reflection in act (reflexio in actu signato). A subject whose knowledge is limited to perception alone is not able to notice any data that distinguish themselves in the horizon of perception. This subject, as Leibniz describes it, remains in a state of “torpor” or “a swoon”. Only apperception, which is a form of consciousness not in act of the occurrence of an act of perception, recalling the scholastic reflexio “in actu exercito” or “conscientia concomitans”, makes it possible to differentiate particular data from the whole of the field of perception. There is a continuing discussion on the essence of apperception, in particular concerning its structural characteristics. Leibniz’ statements in this regard are not completely clear or consistent. Sometimes apperception is synonymous with consciousness (Monadologia, par. 30), and sometimes it is synonymous with reflection. He occasionally identifies apperception with both (Principles of nature and grace based on reason, par. 4) while at the same time emphasizing the difference between consciousness and reflection (Monadologia, par. 30). With reference to scholastic terminology we may say that apperception is a form of reflection, but a form of reflection lacking an objective correlate. In a word, it is reflection in the course (in the act) of occurrence, that is, “reflecio in actu exercito”. Leibniz in describing apperception speaks of “concomitant reflection” (“conscience ou la réflexion, qui accompagne”—New Meditations […], I 229). Apperception thus conceived has characteristics that coincide with what Aquinas described as “conscientia concomitans. In this connection the range of occurrence of the phenomenon of apperception is extended: besides cognitive acts, Leibniz states, apperception occurs also in the case of volitive acts.
The functional aspect of apperception. In Leibniz’s monadological system of metaphysics, apperception performs various functions including the following:
(1) Apperception conditions and reveals the moral identity (identité morale) and directly reveals the ontological identity (identité réele) of the subject. With regard to real identity, it is guaranteed by the completion by the qualities or determinations that create the individual (“omne individuum sua tota entitate individuitur” (De principio individui, I). This kind of identity is absolute and does not admit of degrees. The situation is different in the case of moral identity based on the plain of consciousness and reflection. Here a particular function of apperception is manifested. On the basis of an essential component apperception co-creates the identical person conceived as “a thinking and understanding being, capable of reasoning and reflection, able to regard himself as identical, as one and the same thing who thinks at different times and different places” (New Meditations […], I 295). The person’s mode of being is described as our “appearance to ourselves” (apparance à nous mêmes). Identity of this type is identity “for us” and possesses a rather complex structure. It presupposes real identity and so it is in relation to real identity, that is, to the purely ontological sphere, a full conscious “superaddition”. It also presupposes “a stable bond of self-knowledge” that joins the particular states into one series as a result of which we obtain the effect of the consciousness of persistence. Moral identity is something “in itself” in view of its proper position in the ontological sphere an real identity, and it is identity “for us”, something that undergoes development and admits of degrees, which “appears to us” (apparante à nous mêmes).
(2) Apperception is a special thread that joins the empirical and sensual sphere with the rational and intellectual sphere. The epistemological bond between them which is apparent in the phenomenon of apperception and which was broken in the work of Locke, and especially in Descartes, as a result of which the cognitive powers ordered to these spheres were regarded as completely separate substances, in Leibniz becomes the foundation of the psycho-physical unity of the substance-monad. In his theory of apperception Leibniz developed Locke’s thought that the senses and reflection are the source of knowledge (J. Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding, I 119–130). He discovered a link between the senses and reflection that joined them, a link necessary for the whole process of knowledge, and this link was in the form of apperception. Apperception stands between simple perception, conceived as sense perception, and reflection. Apperception begins in simple perception and constantly manifests the widening field of what is given and what is conscious. To this point it is not subject to active objectifying reflection (New Meditations […], I 18). Apperception, as a certain form of consciousness, is not so much a consciousness of something and possessing an intentional-objective correlate as a non-active “consciousness, that…”. Because of the absence of any limit in the form of an object to which, for example, active reflection aims, apperception is marked by potentiality unique to itself, a lack of definition, and an openness to what has not yet been grasped in knowledge and expressed in language. It takes the form of a horizon that is open because it is infinite. This horizon is the mark of a contingent mode of being.
APPERCEPTION IN THE THOUGHT OF C. WOLFF. The question of apperception was developed in the writings of Wolff, principally in his work Psychologia empirica in which we read that “apperception belongs to the mind, insofar as the mind is conscious of its perception” (ibid. par 25). In Wolff’s thought, apperception co-constitutes the act of thought (cogitatio) which is described as “an act of the soul by which the soul is conscious of itself and of things beyond itself” (ibid. par. 23) Therefore in the thought of the founder of the first system of modern ontology “every thought joins perception and apperception” (ibid., par. 26). Like Leibniz, Wolff stated that it is in our power to direct apperception: “we can make ourselves distinguish certain data more clearly (magis appercipimus) than the rest” (ibid. par. 234). Apperception makes possible an increase in the degree of the clarity (claritas) of acts of perception, while the faculty (facultas) by which we obtain this effect Wolff calls attention (attentio) (ibid., par. 237). In the work Psychologia rationalis, however, we find much more extensive meditations on apperception. He states therein, among othe things, that the immediate source of apperception is the clarity (claritas) of a perception (par. 20) and that by apperception acts of comparison (actus comparationis) are realized in which “the soul compares perceived things among themselves and with themselves” (par. 22). At last, through the apperception of the particular components of particular perceptions the way leads to the apperception of all the components that appear consequently at the level of representation. As a result, states Wolff, “the soul reflects the whole of perception” (par. 23). Wolff defines reflection as “the successive direction of attention to these [data] which are contained among the components of the perceived thing” (Psychologia empirica, par. 257). Wolff mentions among the conditions for the occurrence of apperception, besides attention, also memory (Psychologia rationalis, par. 25). This last element especially, together with the the elements that possess a position distinguished by intellect, respectively reason and will (appetitus), indicates the Augustinian provenance and basis of the solutions made in the framework of this system which is one of the most radical rationalistic systems of philosophy.
APPERCEPTION IN THE THOUGHT OF KANT. In the case of Kant’s exposition of the epistemological meaning of perception we are dealing in large measure with a continuation of the doctrine of perception developed in the school of Leibniz and Wolff. Apperception in Kant’s thought rises to the rank of the source and basis of knowledge. In the first edition of Critique of Pure Reason (A 115) we read: “there are three objective sources of knowledge upon which is based the possibility of experience in general and of the knowledge of its objects: sense, imagination, and apperception”. On the pages of the cited work (especially the second edition), we find many statements on apperception but nowhere in these statements does the term “apperception” take on a leading meaning, and instead we find a certain mosaic of meanings for this term.
The description closest to a general definition of apperception is this: “a representation, I think, must be able to accompany all my representations” (ibid. B 132). Apperception as identified with a function that unites all the variety of representations is called pure or original apperception. It is “pure” because it has no reference to impressed data. Rather, its “originality” consists in this: that it accompanies all representations and “cannot be derived from any other representation” (ibid. B 132). This kind of self- consciousness is marked by two moments: a unity that Kant calls the transcendental unity of apperception, and stable identity. The latter contains a synthesis (connection) of data evident in each representation (ibid. B 133). Besides this type, Kant distinguishes the above mentioned empirical apperception by which he understands “the consciousness of ourselves with regard to the property of the state in which we find ourselves” (ibid., A 107). A synonym for this is “internal sense”, and its meaning is most adequately rendered by the Cartesian “ego cogito.” He also distinguishes as a preceding condition that transcendental apperception “which is the unity of consciousness which precedes all the data of evidence and in view of which alone all representation of objects is possible (ibid.). Kant thinks that this type of apperception has the nature of pure, original and unchanging consciousness which could be conceived as “cogito me cogitare.” Transcendental apperception as the deepest “transcendental foundation of the unity of consciousness in a synthesis of the variety of all evident data and […] in a synthesis of the concepts of objects in general” (ibid., A 106), in Kant’s thought takes on the meaning of the deepest principle of being and knowledge.
The genesis of apperception is strictly subjective. It is not something given or found but it is characterized by its existence on its own. It is manifested only as a result of an awakening which has its source in sense impressions. Its function is synthetic and unifying, that is, it joins into a unity the entire variety of evident data and makes it possible to know them, and also constitutes the unity of self-knowledge. In this latter function, besides representations that remain in an inseparable bond of unity with evident data, the identity of the subject (the transcendental unity of apperception) has its place. In the opinion of some, Kantian apperception is concomitant reflection limited to its own primitively varied functions (W. Chudy).
FURTHER HISTORY OF THE PROBLEMATIC OF APPERCEPTION. This history is a direct continuation of Kant’s conclusions. The influence of the author of the three Critiques is clearest in the writings of J. G. Fichte, especially in his Theory of Knowledge (Teoria wiedzy, Wwa 1996), where the Kantian doctrine of apperception was subjected to a sharp critique. Fichte there makes the accusation that Kant, while he showed apperception as the source-principle of knowledge, “did not show that the categories he provided were conditions of self-knowledge, but only said that they were” (ibid. I 527). One new element is that Fichte seems to accept Kantian transcendental apperception and intellectual inspection (German, intellektuelle Anschauung) as analyzed by himself in that work as synonymous in meaning.
G. F. W. Hegel in his system based on a dialectical vision of reality in the pages of his Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807) continues the critique of the Kantian, and indirectly the Leibnizian, doctrine of apperception. Referring to Kantian idealism and Kant’s conception of apperception, Hegel in a certain sense removes apperception conceived as the source of knowledge, but he describes Kant’s system as a historic form of spirit. He notes that both Kant’s philosophy and Kant’s exposition of apperception leads, by its one-sided approach to truth, to “empty idealism.” The one-sidedness (inadequacy) of apperception in Kant’s version is that in its unity it does not encompass the cognitively inaccessible “thing in itself” (Ding an sich) which coincides with an “external stimulus” but only an object created from sense data and concepts that have their source in the intellect (Fenomenologia ducha, [Phenomenology of the Spirit], Wwa 1963, 276–279).
The basis of Hegel’s critique is his famous statement that “truth is the whole” which is the “becoming of itself” (ibid, 26, 28). Only the reason (Vernunft) together with its becoming, which is a process of the development of self-knowledge, is such a whole. Kant’s one-sided idealism is overcome by a dialectical movement of consciousness that leads to the “abolition of the object as different from consciousness”. Then it is the reason that proclaims “its certainty that it is the entire reality itself and its object” (ibid., 277). In the Science of Logic, however, Hegel pays little attention to the question of apperception. Hegel situates the position of the “I” on the background of the phenomenon of pure apperception of which Kant wrote earlier, and compares it to “a crucible and fire in which the encompassed variety [of empirical data] is consumed and reduced to a form of unity“ (Sämtliche Werke, St 1959, VIII 129). Hegel pays somewhat more attention to apperception in Lectures on the History of Philosophy where he refers to Kant’s views and remarks, among other things: “Thought takes such a form that reduces what is varied to unity. The I, the apperception of self-consciousness, is this unity” (ibid.). Hegel refers to a certain known statement of Kant and embarks on a radical critique of his exposition of apperception. He states that the “I” so conceived “should accompany [all my representations]; but this is a barbaric exposition. I am self-consciousness, the entire empty and abstract I, and then apperception; it is what we call description in general. Perception means feeling ( (Empfindung), representation; apperception is the operation by which something is brought to my consciousness (in mein Bewußtsein gesetzt). I am the whole generality, something completely lacking in definition, that which is abstract; insofar as I transfer some empirical content to the I, I apperceive. Then it must be [reduced] to what it simple. For it to enter into this unity, into what is simple, it must first be simplified (wereinfacht), it must be infected with simplicity.” The unity of plurality of which he speaks here is placed (gesetzt), Hegel says following Kant, in a spontaneous way. As such it is what is called thinking in general. For Hegel, as for Kant, thinking is identified with “the synthesis of the manifold” (das Synthesieren des Mannigfaltigen). In the Lectures cited above Hegel accuses Kant of failing to make an adequate distinction between the two different moments present in the theory of apperception, namely: the fact of being a unity as an essential attribute of the I (“Ich das Eine bin”) and the moment of establishing this unity by the I (“[Ich bing] als denkend tätig, Einheit setzend”).
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century there was the phenomenon of a renewed consideration of the problem of apperception. This consideration was inclusive. It took into account the thought of Leibniz and Kant. It should be connected with the domination of Kantianism and the discovery of an enormous body of unpublished work by Leibniz. The most original analyses of apperception were in twentieth century phenomenology. The chief representative and the founder of modern phenomenology, E. Husserl, in his phenomenological analyses drew on the problematic of apperception, among other things, to describe the knowledge of another I and to reify consciousness. In the latter question he wanted by apperception to connect consciousness with the corporeal (Husserl called this connection the apperceptual braid) while losing nothing of its essence. In the thought of the author of Ideas of pure phenomenology and phenomenological philosophy, as in the case of Kant’s transcendental apperception, apperception should accompany all the experiences of consciousness. Apperception in the function of reifying consciousness by connecting it with the physical world (the body) was banished, as it were, (as in Hegel) as a result of the application of the so-called phenomenological reduction, which was intended to “put in brackets” all transcendents that go beyond the sphere of consciousness.
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