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Ratio (new series) XIII 2 June 2000 0034–0006



Robert Hanna

Skeptical idealism says that possibly nothing exists outside my own
conscious mental states. Purported refutations of skeptical ideal-
ism – whether Descartes’s, Locke’s, Reid’s, Kant’s, Moore’s,
Putnam’s, or Burge’s – are philosophically scandalous: they have
convinced no one. I argue (1) that what is wrong with the failed
refutations is that they have attempted to prove the wrong thing –
i.e., that necessarily I have veridical perceptions of distal material
objects in space, and (2) that a charitable reconstruction of Kant’s
‘Refutation of Idealism’ in fact provides a sound refutation of
skeptical idealism.
How could it be denied that these hands or this whole body are
mine? Unless perhaps I were to liken myself to madmen, whose
brains are so damaged by the persistent vapours of melancho-
lia that they firmly maintain they are kings when they are pau-
pers, or say they are dressed in purple when they are naked, or
that their heads are made of earthenware, or that they are
pumpkins, or made of glass. But such people are insane, and I
would be thought equally mad if I took anything from them as
a model for myself. – René Descartes1
I can prove now, for instance, that two human hands exist.
How? By holding up my two hands, and saying, as I make a cer-
tain gesture with the right hand, ‘Here is one hand,’ and
adding, as I make a certain gesture with the left, ‘and here is
another.’ . . . But did I prove just now that two human hands
were in existence? I do want to insist that I did; that the proof
which I gave was a perfectly rigorous one; and that it is perhaps
impossible to give a better or more rigorous proof of anything
whatever. – G. E. Moore2

Descartes, ‘Meditations on First Philosophy,’ in The Philosophical Writings of
Descartes, 3 vols., trans. John Cottingham et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984),
vol. II, pp. 12–62, at 13.
Moore, ‘Proof of an External World,’ in G.E. Moore: Selected Writings (London:
Routledge, 1993), pp. 147–170, at 166.

I. Introduction
Here is an old philosophical problem. The realist believes that
there is an external world – a world outside her own mind, con-
taining all material objects – and that she can know some things
about that world. But the skeptical idealist points out (1) that he
is directly aware only of the contents of his own consciousness,
and (2) that for all he knows right now, he might be dreaming.
Both claims seem true, and then his thesis apparently follows
(*) Possibly nothing exists outside my own conscious mental
Now (*) is a deeply troubling thesis. For from (*) we can easi-
ly derive both the possibility of solipsism and external-world skep-
ticism. First, if possibly nothing exists outside my own conscious
mental states, then not only is it the case that those states must be
individuated without reference to anything existing outside
themselves (individualism), it is also possible that only my own
conscious mental states exist (solipsism). And secondly, if possi-
bly nothing exists outside my own conscious mental states, then
every belief I have about the external world is possibly false, and
since knowledge plausibly requires the removal of all relevant
doubts, it follows that I know nothing about the world (external-
world skepticism).
For obvious reasons, many philosophers have tried to refute
(*), including Descartes, Locke, Thomas Reid, Kant, G.E. Moore,
and more recently, Hilary Putnam and Tyler Burge.3 But it is a
well-known philosophical ‘scandal’ that all of these attempted
refutations have failed.4 Indeed, Kant famously says of his prede-
cessors that
See: Descartes, ‘Meditations on First Philosophy,’ pp. 50–55; J. Locke, Essay con-
cerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1975), book IV, chapter xi, pp.
630–639; Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969), pp.
625–627; Moore, ‘The Refutation of Idealism,’ ‘A Defense of Common Sense,’ and ‘Proof
of an External World,’ all in G.E. Moore: Selected Writings, pp. 23–44, 106–133, 147–170;
Putnam, Reason, Truth, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 1–21;
and Burge, ‘Cartesian Error and the Objectivity of Perception,’ in P. Pettit and J.
McDowell (eds.), Subject, Thought, and Context (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), pp.
As I will indicate directly, Kant correctly isolates the underlying flaw in Descartes's,
Locke's, and Reid’s arguments. In turn, Moore argues that Kant’s argument fails (see
‘Proof of an External World,’ pp. 147–159), yet remains unconvinced by his own argu-
ment: see ‘Certainty,’ in G.E. Moore: Selected Writings, pp. 171–196, at 194–196. Finally, A.

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it still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in

general that the existence of things outside us (from which we
derive the whole material of knowledge, even for our inner
sense) must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone
thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter
his doubts by any satisfactory proof. (CPR: Bxxix n.)5
Why do these purported refutations of idealism all fail? Kant’s
diagnostic insight, which he works out at length in the
Paralogisms of Pure Reason (CPR: A341–405/B399–432), is that
they presuppose a Cartesian model of our mind which effective-
ly generates the very worries the refuters are trying so hard to
refute.6 Hence the anti-skeptic is driven by a sort of philosophical
despair to rely upon an unjustified ‘faith’ in the existence of a
non-deceiving God or in the dictates of common sense. Taken
either way, I agree with Kant’s diagnosis. But I also think that
Kant himself, as well as the others I mentioned, even including
Putnam and Burge (who are of course anti-Cartesians), fall prey

Brueckner has made it his business to refute both Putnam and Burge; see his ‘Brains in a
Vat,’ Journal of Philosophy 83 (1986): 148–167, and ‘Transcendental Arguments from
Content Externalism,’ unpublished MS.
For convenience, I cite Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations
normally include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume
and page numbers in the standard ‘Akademie’ (Ak) edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesam-
melte Schriften, 29 vols, hrsg. Koeniglich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der
Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer (now de Gruyter), 1902–). For references to the first
Critique, however, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A
(1781) and B (1787) German editions only. And for references to Kant’s Reflexionen –
entries in one or another of the ten volumes of the untranslated Kants handschriftlicher
Nachlass – I give the entry number in addition to the Akademie volume and page num-
bers. I generally follow the standard English translations for quotations, but modify them
where appropriate. The translations of the Reflexionen are my own. Here is a list of the rel-
evant abbreviations and translations:
A: Anthropology. Trans. M. Gregor. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974.
CPR: Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. N. Kemp Smith. New York: St. Martin’s, 1965.
DS: ‘Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space.’
In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy 1755–1770. Trans. D. Walford and R.
Meerbote. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. pp. 361–372.
JL: ‘Jaesche Logic.’ In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Trans. J.M. Young. Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. pp. 517–640.
OT: ‘What is Orientation in Thinking?’ In Kant: Political Writings. Second edition. Ed.
H. Reiss. Trans. H.B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991. pp.
P: Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. J. Ellington. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett,
R: Reflexionen = Kants handschriftlicher Nachlass.
See esp. the fourth Paralogism (CPR: A344–253), and also H. Schwyzer,
‘Subjectivity in Descartes and Kant,’ Philosophical Quarterly 47 (1997): 342–357.

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to a slightly different but equally fatal error: that of trying to
prove the wrong sort of thing – namely, that we have some veridical
perceptions of distal material objects in space. Descartes, I think,
was much closer to being correct when he worried that it was
‘insane’ to doubt the existence of his own body; and Moore was
closest to being correct when he selected his own right and left
hands as the targets of his proof.
Pursuing those clues, then, I will eventually argue in section III
that Kant’s Refutation is, on at least one charitable reconstruc-
tion of it, a sound demonstration of a denial of (*):7
(~*) Necessarily for every creature having a cognitive consti-
tution like mine, something exists outside its own con-
scious mental states.
In order to demonstrate the soundness of my reconstruction of
Kant’s Refutation, however, I must satisfy a certain condition of
adequacy. More precisely, it is necessary to avoid or at least appro-
priately de-fang Barry Stroud’s criticism of the Refutation to the
effect that Kant defeats idealism only by invoking his own ques-
tionable brand of idealism, transcendental idealism:8
I have tried to show how the Kantian view would block scepti-
cism and supplant that traditional conception, but only by
giving us a ‘transcendental’ theory which, if we can understand
it at all, seems no more satisfactory than the idealism it is
meant to replace.9

There are, of course, other possible ways of interpreting (*), hence other possible
ways of denying (*). The description ‘every creature having a cognitive constitution like
mine’ is supposed to range over all and only actual or possible human beings. By a
‘human being’ I mean – and so I think does Kant – any creature that is cognitively func-
tionally equivalent to us. That is, the property of being human is ‘compositionally plastic.’
This implies that it is not absolutely necessary that a human being be a member of the bio-
logical kind homo sapiens.
In a nutshell, Kant’s transcendental idealism is the two-part thesis that (1) all the
objects of human cognition are nothing but sensory appearances (phenomena) and not
things-in-themselves (noumena) (CPR: A369), and (2) that all the formal structures of
those objects are strictly ‘imposed’ upon them by the ‘synthesizing’ or generative activities
of the a priori faculties of the human mind, as applied to raw sensory input (CPR:
Bxvi–xix). Kant thinks that both (1) and (2) are directly entailed by his thesis (3) that
space and time are neither things-in-themselves, nor properties of or relations between
such things, but instead only a priori subjective forms of human sense perception or
empirical intuition (CPR: A26–28/B42–44, A32–36/B49–53, A369). There are one or two
other arguments for transcendental idealism in the first Critique, but the argument from
the ideality of space and time is the primary argument in the sense that if it fails, the oth-
ers will too.
Stroud, The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press,

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Now I do not mean to argue that Kant is not a transcendental ide-

alist: he is a transcendental idealist. What I will argue is that my
reconstructed Kantian argument against (*) does not actually
require transcendental idealism, since it rests on logically inde-
pendent grounds. In fact, strange as it may seem, I think that this
Kantian argument is perfectly consistent with externalism10 and
therefore also with at least some varieties of realism.11 But first, in
order to motivate my reconstruction, I want to go through Kant’s
Refutation of Idealism step-by-step, and then criticize the ‘unre-
constructed’ version of it.

II. Interpretation and criticism of the refutation

The nerve of Kant’s Refutation can be found at B275–276 in the
‘Postulates of Empirical Thought’ section in the first Critique; but
I will also take into account the three ‘Notes’ that immediately
follow it in the text (B276–279), as well as a crucial footnote that
Kant added at the last minute to the second Preface
(Bxxxix–xli).12 For each step I will offer a short commentary.
Then, as I mentioned, I will develop some criticisms of the over-
all argument.
The view that Kant is aiming to refute is what he calls ‘skepti-
cal idealism’ or ‘problematic idealism’:
[T]he skeptical idealist [is] one who doubts [matter’s] existence,
because holding it incapable of proof. (CPR: A377)
Problematic idealism . . . pleads incapacity to prove, through
immediate experience, any existence except our own. (CPR:

1984), p. 274. Similar charges are also made in his ‘Kant and Skepticism,’ in M. Burnyeat
(ed.), The Skeptical Tradition, (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1983), pp. 413–434,
and ‘Kantian Argument, Conceptual Capacities, and Invulnerability,’ in P. Parini (ed.),
Kant and Contemporary Epistemology, (The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1994), pp. 231–151.
By ‘externalism’ I mean the view that at least some of our mental states must be
individuated by reference to something existing outside those states, in the worldly envi-
ronment. See: Burge, ‘Individualism and the Mental,’ in P.A. French et al. (eds.), Studies
in Metaphysics, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota
Press, 1979), pp. 73–122; and C. McGinn, Mental Content (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), pp.
More precisely, I think that this version of Kant’s argument entails what I call
‘direct perceptual realism’ (DPR). According to DPR, every self-conscious cognizer nec-
essarily has at least non-epistemic (= non-descriptive, non-conceptual, non-belief-based)
demonstrative perceptual access to some macroscopic causal physical objects.
There is also a wealth of relevant material in the Reflexionen, e.g., at (R: 5653–5654,
5709, 5984, 6311–6316, 6323; Ak 18, 306–313, 332, 416, 610–623, 643).

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Skeptical or problematic idealism says that possibly the external
world does not exist. This is to be sharply contrasted with ‘dog-
matic idealism’ (i.e., roughly Berkeley’s view) which takes the
modally stronger position that the external world ‘is false or
impossible’ – that is, either actually or necessarily does not exist
(CPR: B274). Since Kant takes on the modally weaker form of
skepticism, he has of course given himself a heavier burden of
proof than would be required to refute Berkeley, since it is always
(I take it) harder to show that something is impossible than to
show merely that its denial is actual or possible. In any case, here
is Kant’s argument against problematic idealism.
(1) ‘I am conscious of my existence as determined in time.’
(CPR: B276)
Step 1. Kant begins with what he elswhere in the first Critique
calls ‘empirical apperception’ (CPR: A107). Empirical appercep-
tion is empirical self-consciousness; so what Kant is saying here is
that I have an empirical self-consciousness of myself, as I exist in
‘inner sense.’ In turn, inner sense for Kant is the subject’s direct
nonconceptual or intuitional sensory awareness of a temporal
succession of representational contents (CPR: A22/B37, A107,
B152–155, A357–359, A361–363, B420, B422-423 n.).
Occasionally in the first Critique Kant confuses inner sense and
empirical apperception by calling them both ‘consciousness.’ But
when he is being careful, we can see that he invokes a distinction
between (i) a first-order unreflective consciousness of the repre-
sentational contents of one’s own mental state, and (ii) a second-
order reflective consciousness of the first-order consciousness. In
one of the Reflexionen and in the Prolegomena he says this of inner
(The inner sense) Consciousness is the intuition of its self. (R:
5049; Ak 18, 72)
[The ego] is nothing more than the feeling of an existence
without the slightest concept and is only the representation of
that to which all thinking stands in relation. (P: Ak 4, 334 n.)
By contrast, he says of empirical apperception that it is ‘a con-
sciousness of myself’ through which ‘I can say of all perceptions
that I am conscious of them’ (CPR: A122). And in the
Anthropology he distinguishes usefully between what he calls ‘tak-
ing notice of oneself’ (das Bemerken), i.e., an unreflective con-
sciousness in inner sense, as opposed to ‘observing oneself’

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(Beobachten) (A: Ak 7, 132), i.e., the introspective function of

empirical apperception.
This difference between two levels of consciousness is crucial
to Kant’s argument. To use some non-Kantian terms borrowed
from Thomas Nagel and William James, inner sense is a con-
sciousness in the mode of ‘what it is like to be’: a constantly-
changing succession of unreflectively reflexive representational
states – a ‘stream of consciousness.’13 Empirical apperception, by
contrast, is a second-order judgmental consciousness of myself as
a singular or individuated first-order stream of unreflectively
reflexive representations. The propositional element in empiri-
cal apperception makes it imperative that we further distinguish
it from what Kant variously calls ‘pure apperception,’ ‘transcen-
dental apperception,’ or the ‘original synthetic unity of apper-
ception.’ This is an a priori or empirically underdetermined,
spontaneous or unconditioned, innate capacity for anonymous
content-unification and for propositional self-representation in
general: a universal capacity for attaching the cognitive prefix ‘I
think’ to any representational content of the mind whatsoever
(CPR: B131–139, A341–348/B399–406). Empirical apperception,
which presupposes transcendental apperception, is perhaps best
regarded as the realization of that innate capacity under concrete
empirical conditions. Through empirical apperception, I
become conscious of my own consciousness as a determinate
individual – as an ‘an object of inner sense [which is] called
“soul” ’ (CPR: A342/B400) – by carrying out an introspective
Kant’s idea in this first step, then, is that even the most refrac-
tory skeptic would have to allow for the bare fact of such empiri-
cal introspection. To deny it would entail that we are always
unconscious; or that if we are sometimes conscious, we are never
conscious of our own consciousness (‘meta-conscious’); or that if
we are sometimes meta-conscious, we are never able to make first-
person psychological reports. There may be creatures who are
always unconscious, or who have consciousness without meta-
consciousness, or who have meta-consciousness without the
capacity for introspective judgment: but these are not creatures
sharing our rational cognitive constitution.

See Nagel, ‘What is it like to be a bat?,’ in Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1979), pp. 165–180; and James, Principles of Psychology, 2 vols. (New York:
Dover, 1950), vol. I, pp. 224–290.

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(2)‘All determination in time presupposes something perma-
nent in perception.’ (CPR: B276)
Step 2. For Kant, to ‘determine’ something, X, is either to apply
to X some definite attribute, or to show how X enters as a rela-
tum into some definite relation (and thereby takes on the
attribute of belonging to that relation), or to show how X sup-
ports some definite relation. That all time-determination presup-
poses a permanent, is a direct consequence of the arguments
given by Kant in support of the first Analogy of Experience, the
‘principle of the permanence of substance’ (CPR:
A182–189/B224–232). There Kant asserts that
the permanent, in relation to which all time-relations of
appearances can be determined, is substance in the [field of]
appearance, and as the substrate of all change remains ever
the same. (CPR: B225)
The rationale behind this is the plausible thought that every
change of attributes or relations in time requires something
which remains the same through the changes. Now when we
apply Kant’s reasoning to strictly psychological phenomena, it
grounds the conclusion that every determinate sequence of suc-
cessive changes of conscious mental contents in time requires
some or another unchanging substrate (a ‘permanent’) to which
those changes are directly ascribed. We need not, for our pur-
poses, accept Kant’s questionable further thesis – which seems to
reflect a ‘quantifier shift fallacy’ – to the effect that therefore
there exists one and only one unchanging substrate to which
every change of attributes or relations whatsoever is ascribed, in
order to buy into his original point. Nor need we, for our pur-
poses, accept his questionable assumption that the unchanging
substrate is absolutely or sempiternally permanent, rather than
only relatively or temporarily permanent.
In any case, the crucial point Kant is driving at in step 2 has to
do with psychological ‘determination in time.’ This phrase could
be read as referring merely to the application of temporal predi-
cates to my experiences; but I think that Kant is instead picking
out something slightly stronger-namely, the individuating determi-
nation of my stream of experiences.14 This is clearly implied by his

Some determinations are non-individuating by virtue of their form, e.g., ‘N.N. is a
such-and-such’ (indefinite description). But other determinations are designed for indi-

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use of the unusual phrase ‘my existence (meines Daseins) as deter-

mined in time’ – as opposed to, say, ‘my experiences as deter-
mined in time’ – and by his telling remark in the B Preface foot-
note to the effect that
this consciousness of my existence in time is bound up in the
way of identity (identisch verbunden) with the consciousness of
a relation to something outside me. (CPR: Bxl, emphasis
Kant’s idea is that if I am to exist in inner sense as a constantly
changing yet individuated stream of consciousness, then that
stream must be essentially discriminable or uniquely identifiable
in the sense that it is distinguishable from any other such flow. To
individuate my stream of consciousness is to confer upon all the
separate elements of that stream-sensations, conceptions, images,
judgments, etc. – a contingent yet particular ordering. This order-
ing activity occurs primarily through what Kant calls ‘the synthe-
sis of reproduction’ (CPR: A100–102), namely our capacity for
(short-term, long-term, semantic, episodic, and procedural)
memory.15 And what reproductive synthesis does is to make that
otherwise undifferentiated stream of mental contents into a sin-
gle personal history or autobiography, whereby my inner life
takes on a determinate psychological shape or profile.16
Now according to Kant the individuating determination
(through reproductive synthesis) of any such flow of changing
mental contents, requires a relatively fixed underpinning or
matrix – a psychological permanent which ‘as the substrate of all
change remains ever the same.’ It is hard to know precisely what
Kant means by this, but I think that a certain geophysical analo-
gy is illuminating.17 A given river can be individuated only rela-
tively to a spatially fixed material underpinning or matrix which
viduation: e.g., ‘N.N. is here now’ (indexicals) or ‘N.N. is the such-and-such’ (definite
description). Kant is committed to the view that only intuition (i.e., indexicality) can
ground a genuine individuating determination:
Since only individual things, or individuals, are thoroughly determinate, there can be
thoroughly determinate cognitions only as intuitions, but not as concepts. (JL: Ak 9, 99).
This is of course in sharp opposition to the Leibniz-Russell tradition.
See R.J. Sternberg, Cognitive Psychology (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1996),
chapters 7–8.
See J. Campbell, Past, Space, and Self (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), chapters 4 and
7, and ‘The Structure of Time in Autobiographical Memory,’ European Journal of Philosophy
5 (1997): 105–118.
This is not farfetched. Kant lectured on physical geography throughout his career,

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includes its banks and riverbed, its beginnings and its terminus,
and more generally the total path or locus it follows in getting
from one end of the river to the other. Let us call this total path
or locus its ‘route.’ The Mississippi, for example, flows south
along a certain route from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of
Mexico, and could not be the self-same river unless it did so.
Since the actual quantity of water in the Mississippi at any given
time is always changing and running off into the Gulf of Mexico,
the Mississippi would then seem to be uniquely defined by three
physical factors: first, the fact that it is always water that is flowing
in it, and not (say) beer or gasoline; secondly, the actual history
of all the water that has already flowed through it over the years,
and thirdly, its geographical route. This geographical route can
of course vary slightly within certain parameters, due to flooding
or erosion; but those defining parameters exist all the same. Like
water in the Mississippi, the contents of my stream of conscious-
ness are always changing and running off – into the past. So my
own individual psychological life would seem to be uniquely
defined and distinguished from all other such streams by three
analogous psychological factors: first, the fact that only conscious
human sensations, memories, concepts, etc., are flowing in it,
and not (say) either non-sensory or ‘intellectual’ intuitions or
completely alien sorts of sense perceptions (CPR: B71–72); sec-
ondly, the actual history of the various conscious mental contents
that have already occurred in my psychological life; and thirdly,
its ‘psychological route’: a fixed underpinning or matrix which
remains invariant in relation to the constantly changing flow of
my sense-qualities and representations in time. All the psycho-
logical changes in my inner life must be changes of, or changes
ascribed to, this particular fixed something, which in turn func-
tions as a source of unity for my otherwise ever-changing stream
of consciousness. At this point in Kant’s argument, we do not
know yet what precisely will be the uniquely determining substrate
of my stream of consciousness. But just as a river cannot be indi-
viduated without its geographical route (its permanent), so too
the individuation of my stream of consciousness requires a psy-
chological route (its permanent). And also by analogy we can
predict, as in the case of the river’s geographical route, that small
variations within my individuating determining substrate will also

and closely connected it with his studies in anthropology. See H. Caygill, A Kant Dictionary
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 214–215.

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be permissible, so long as they always remain within certain para-

(3) ‘But this permanent cannot be an intuition in me. For all
grounds of determination of my existence which are to be
met in me are representations; and as representations
themselves require a permanent distinct from them, in
relation to which their change, and so my existence in the
time wherein they change, may be determined.’ (CPR:
Bxxxix n.)
Step 3. This is the first of the two most crucial steps of the proof.
From step 2 we know that every changing conscious individuat-
ing determination of myself in time presupposes something per-
manent, in relation to which I can uniquely determine the con-
scious stream of contents in my inner sense. But this permanent
thing must be outside my own conscious mental states, and not
merely inside me. For if it were merely inside me, it would then
belong to the ever-changing stream of consciousness, and so could
not provide a uniquely determining substratum for the mental
modifications I experience directly. Hence it must fall outside the
proper domain of my inner sense, that is, outside the series of
first-order consciousnesses of which I am directly aware via my
second-order introspective consciousness or apperception
Now at this point it might well occur to us that something else
in inner sense might plausibly function as the permanent, name-
ly the form of inner sense, as opposed to its contents. And indeed
according to Kant the form of inner sense always remains the
same, since it is invariantly presupposed by any actual or possible
inner experience (CPR: A22–23/B37, A31/B46). But the form of
inner sense is nothing other than the representation of time itself.
And it is incoherent to suggest that time itself could be a perma-
nent or enduring thing in time. Time is a necessary formal pre-
condition for the series of changes in my stream of conscious-
ness; it could not also function as an enduring substance or sub-
strate to which the changing conscious states are ascribed. Hence
nothing in the content or form of inner sense can function as the
permanent or substrate required for the unique determination
of my stream of consciousness.
(4) ‘Thus perception of this permanent is possible only
through a thing outside me and not through the mere
representation of a thing outside me; and consequently the

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determination [of my existence] in time is necessarily
bound up with the existence of actual things which I
perceive outside me.’ (CPR: 245; B275–276)
Step 4. This is the second crucial step. In order uniquely to
determine my own successive existence in time I must presup-
pose the existence of outer things perceptually represented by
me, and not merely the existence of my internally flowing repre-
sentations of those outer things. The radical nature of what Kant
is saying here cannot be overemphasized. He is saying that any
individuating temporally determinate introspective awareness of
myself is necessarily also a direct veridical perceptual awareness
of some real material thing existing outside my stream of con-
scious experiences and at a distance from me in space. The latter fac-
tor is especially to be noted. In the Transcendental Aesthetic
Kant argues that ‘in order that certain sensations be referred to
something outside me’ they must be referred to ‘something in
another region of space from that in which I find myself’ (CPR:
A23/B38). My unique individuality at the level of first-order con-
sciousness is therefore inherited from the world of distal physical
objects. In this way, despite the fact that via empirical appercep-
tion in a loose and everyday sense we introspect ‘an object of
inner sense [which is] called "soul",’ there is strictly speaking for
Kant no independent ‘inner object’ of inner sense:
Inner sense, by means of which the mind intuits itself or its
inner state, yields no intuition of the soul itself as an object.
(CPR: A22/B37)
That is, what is truly inner for Kant cannot be reified – it is nei-
ther a noumenal inner thing nor a phenomenal inner thing.18 As
he puts it in the first Note following the Refutation, ‘inner expe-
rience is possible only mediately, and only through outer experi-
ence’ (CPR: B277). So insofar as I am aware of myself in empiri-
cal apperception as a uniquely determined psychological being, I
must directly assign the changing contents of my mental states to
the furniture of the distal material world.
This crucial point needs further emphasis. Far from having the

This point yields a result very similar to S. Shoemaker’s attack on what he calls the
‘perceptual model of self-knowledge’ in his seminal paper, ‘Self-Reference and Self-
Awareness,’ Journal of Philosophy 65 (1968): 555–567, at 562–564, and also the ‘object per-
ception model’ of self-knowledge in his 1993 Royce Lectures, ‘Self-Knowledge and "Inner
Sense",’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54 (1994): 249–314, at 249–269.

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problem of escaping from a ‘Cartesian box’ into the outer world,

Kant’s problem is instead that of distinguishing himself from dis-
tal objects in the outer world!19 This problem comes out clearly if
we put it in non-Kantian terminology, this time borrowed from
G.E. Moore and Jean-Paul Sartre. One element of Kant’s view
comes close to a fairly amazing doctrine defended by Moore in
his 1903 essay, ‘The Refutation of Idealism,’ a doctrine which he
calls the ‘transparency of consciousness’:
[W]hen we refer to introspection and and try to discover what
the sensation of blue is, it is very easy to suppose that we have
before us only a single term. The term ‘blue’ is easy enough to
distinguish, but that other element which I have called
‘consciousness’ . . . is extremely difficult to fix. That many
people fail to distinguish it at all is sufficiently shown by the
fact that there are materialists. And, in general, that which
makes the sensation of blue a mental fact seems to escape us:
it seems, if I may use a metaphor, to be transparent – we look
through it and see nothing but the blue. We may be convinced
that there is something but what it is no philosopher, I think, has
yet clearly recognized.20
Here consciousness is not an inner thing; it is merely a noetic
searchlight on outer things. Later, in the 1930s, Sartre pushes this
idea of transparency one step further and describes something
he calls the ‘transcendence of the ego.’21 Sartre’s idea is that the
ego receives its unity solely and directly from the outer things
which it is transparently conscious of. Add the Sartrean transcen-
dence of the ego to the Moorean transparency of consciousness,
and you have Kant’s doctrine in step 4.

Kant of course attempts to solve this problem in the second Analogy of Experience
by sharply distinguishing between arbitrary and necessary orderings of representational
contents in time (CPR: A189–211/B232–256). P.F. Strawson and Paul Guyer have con-
vincingly tied this argument both to the B Deduction and to the Refutation; see the for-
mer’s The Bounds of Sense: An Essay on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (London: Methuen,
1966), pp. 72–152 and the latter’s Kant and the Claims of Knowledge (Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), chapters 3–5, 10, and 12–14. Unfortunately, Kant’s solu-
tion fails because he does he does not notice that both waking experiences and dreams can
include either arbitrary or necessary orderings of perceptions. See R. Hanna, ‘The
Trouble with Truth in Kant’s Theory of Meaning,’ History of Philosophy Quarterly 10 (1993),
pp. 13–17.
Moore, ‘The Refutation of Idealism,’ p. 37.
Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness, trans. F.
Williams and R. Kirkpatrick (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Geroux, 1987).

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(5) ‘Now consciousness [of my existence] in time is necessar-
ily bound up with consciousness of the [condition of the]
possibility of this time-determination; and it is therefore
necessarily bound up with the existence of things outside
me, as the condition of the time determination.’ (CPR:
245; B276)

Step 5. This step is fairly straightforward. Insofar as I am empir-

ically self-aware, and individuate myself in time, I must also be
directly consciously aware of this act of time-determination;
hence I must also be directly conscious of the existence of a dis-
tal permanent thing outside me which individuates me, since this
is the necessary condition of time-determination.
(6) ‘In other words, the consciousness of my existence is at the
same time (zugleich) an immediate consciousness of the
existence of other things outside me.’ (CPR: B276)
Step 6. This adds a crucial factor to step 5. Kant is saying that
for any particular empirical apperception of myself as uniquely
determined in inner sense, I am also directly aware simultaneous-
ly of some existing or actual distal material object in space as the
individuating substrate to which I ascribe the changing contents
of my mind. So to sum up the whole Refutation: Necessarily, if I
am determinately aware of myself in empirical apperception,
then I am also thereby at that very same moment directly aware
of some actual distal material object in space.

* * *

We can now move on to critical objections. It seems to me that

steps 1 to 3 are acceptable, assuming the correctness of both
Kant’s philosophical psychology (of inner sense, outer sense, and
apperception) and of the ‘weak’ reading of the First Analogy that
I proposed. Yet critics of the Refutation often hold that the fun-
damental gap in the proof is to be found in step 3.22 Why, such
critics ask, is it necessarily the case that the intuition of the per-
manent be an intuition of something outside me? Why couldn’t
it be an intuition of some permanent thing inside me – that is, of

See, e.g., J. Vogel, ‘The Problem of Self-Knowledge in Kant’s "Refutation of
Idealism": Two Recent Views,’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (1993): 875–887.

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some ‘thinking thing’? This option immediately fails, however,

when we remember just what sort of intuition an inner intuition
The determination of my existence can take place only in
conformity with the form of inner sense, according to the
special mode in which the manifold, which I combine, is given
in inner intuition. Accordingly I have no cognition of myself as
I am but merely as I appear to myself. (CPR: B157–158)
In other words, in empirical self-consciousness I am not directly
aware of myself as a Cartesian ego-in-itself. That would require an
‘intellectual intuition’ (CPR: B72) of myself. But as a finite
human cognizer my intuition is strictly sensory and not intellec-
tual; I am directly aware only of the phenomenal flotsam and jet-
sam of consciousness. I am aware only of my conscious states, not
of some deeper noumenal substrate of those conscious states.
But even if steps 1 to 3 hold up tolerably well, nevertheless in
my opinion steps 4 to 6 as they stand are highly questionable.
Here is a worry about step 4. Even granting that my empirical
self-consciousness of my stream of consciousness in inner sense
requires an outer intuition of something permanent, neverthe-
less it does not seem to follow that inner intuition in general
requires any outer intuition of actually existing distal material
objects in space. For so long as space alone can be represented, by
means of a ‘pure intuition,’ as a single unchanging outer form or
framework, as Kant explicitly argues in the Transcendental
Aesthetic, then that seems sufficient to meet the requirement
that there be a single permanent over against me, to which I must
refer and ascribe my ever-changing conscious inner states. And
the pure representation of space does not require the existence
of any distal material objects in space. For Kant says that ‘we can
never represent to ourselves the absence of space, though we can
quite well think it as empty of objects’ (CPR: A24/B38–39).
What is the content of this pure representation of space?
Three features are essential. First, Kant holds that ‘the represen-
tation of space is an a priori representation, which necessarily
underlies outer appearances’ (CPR: A24/B39). What he means is
that the representation of space is presupposed by every percep-
tual representation of an object in space, yet is also essentially
underdetermined in its own content by every such perceptual
representation. Secondly, Kant holds that the representation of
space is intuitional and not conceptual in nature:

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Space is not a discursive or, as we say, general concept of things
in general, but a pure intuition. For . . we can represent to
ourselves only one space. (CPR: A25/B39)
What he means is that the representation of space is essentially
singular, because space itself is unique; and he also means that
the representation of space is directly referential, since every
intuition by definition ‘refers immediately to the object and is
singular’ (CPR: A320/B377). Put in more contemporary termi-
nology, for Kant the representation ‘space’ functions as a proper
name, or a non-indexical ‘rigid designator’ in Saul Kripke’s
sense: it picks out the same unique individual in every context of
application of that term and in every possible world (in which
that term has a meaning).23 Thirdly and finally, Kant also holds
that ‘space is represented as an infinite given magnitude’ (CPR:
A25/B40). Here he is saying that while space is not represented
as a material thing, it is also not represented as nothing either
(CPR: A291/B347). In fact it is nonconceptually represented as a
complete non-empirical holistic system of formal extensive or
mereological relations: as a phenomenologically-given infinite
3–D Euclidean manifold. This is what Kant also calls the ‘formal
intuition’ of space:
Space and time are represented a priori not merely as forms of
intuition, but as themselves intuitions which contain a mani-
fold, and therefore are represented with the determination of
the unity of this manifold. . . Space, represented as object (as we
are required to do in geometry), contains more than mere
form of intuition; it also contains combination of the manifold,
given according to the form of sensibility, in an intuitive repre-
sentation, so that the form of intuition gives only a manifold, the
formal intuition gives unity of representation. (CPR: B160, text
and note combined)
We need not unpack Kant’s extremely interesting doctrine of
pure spatial representation any further. My point is only that the
unique non-empirical referent of pure spatial representations –
that is, space itself – has not been ruled out as the permanent
Kant needs in order to meet the requirement of step 2. It is inco-
herent to suppose that time itself might function as an enduring

See Kripke, Naming and Necessity, second ed. (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press,
1982), p. 48. The proviso in parenthesis is needed to avoid the problem of vacuous names.

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entity in time, but not incoherent to suppose that space itself

might function as an enduring entity in time. And if space itself
can meet that requirement, then since Kant explicitly says that
space can be represented as empty of all material objects, it fol-
lows that Kant has not ruled out the possibility that I ascribe my
changing mental states directly to empty space itself.24
Just in case my objection to step 4 is not convincing, here is
another objection, this time to step 6. Even if we grant what I
think we should not grant – namely, that my self-conscious aware-
ness of my stream of consciousness in inner sense entails that I
have some outer experiences of actual distal material objects in
space – it does not seem to follow from that, that on every occa-
sion of self-awareness I must be simultaneously veridically aware of
a distal material external object. What about dreams and halluci-
nations? In Note 3 of the Refutation, Kant himself admits that
from the fact that the existence of outer things is required for
the possibility of a determinate consciousness of the self, it
does not follow that every intuitive mental representation of
outer things involves the existence of these things, for their
mental representation can very well be the product merely of
the imagination (as in dreams and delusions). (CPR: B278)
So Kant is certainly aware of the dream problem, and must then
implicitly grant that step 6 as it stands, with the simultaneity con-
dition, is false.
Where does this leave us? By virtue of his admission of the
dream problem, Kant has admitted that not every self-conscious-
ness of my own uniquely determined conscious existence in time
entails a simultaneous veridical perception of a distal external
object. So since Kant is no fool, perhaps his concluding step 6 is
best interpreted as saying the same as these two alternative for-
mulations of the conclusion of the Refutation:
The required proof must, therefore, show that we have experi-
ence, and not merely imagination of outer things; and this, it
would seem, cannot be achieved save by proof that even our
inner experience, which for Descartes is indubitable, is possi-
ble only on the assumption of outer experience. (CPR: B275)
The mere, but empirically determined, consciousness of my
Later I will argue that Kant is, ultimately, able to rule out the possibility that empty
space is the permanent needed for step 2. But this cannot be done without bringing in
some resources from other Kantian texts.

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own existence proves the existence of objects in space outside
me. (CPR: B275)
Taken together, these formulations say that my having a self-con-
scious awareness of my individuated stream of inner conscious-
ness entails my also having some veridical experiences of distal
material objects in space. Even so, there is no necessity that I be
having a veridical outer experience of a distal material object at
the very same time that I am in one of these self-conscious states,
so long as I also have some veridical outer experiences of distal
spatial objects at other times. The simultaneity condition can be
This charitable interpretation is backed up by a footnote
appended to the Refutation, which says that even when we are
dreaming or hallucinating, and merely imagining space, it is pre-
supposed that we already have an outer sense through which we
do sometimes get access to outer material things:
In order even only to imagine something as outer, that is, to
present it to sense in intuition, we must already have an outer
sense, and must thereby immediately distinguish the mere
receptivity of an outer intuition from the spontaneity which
characterizes every act of imagination. For should we merely
be imagining an outer sense, the faculty of intuition, which is
to be determined by the faculty of imagination, would itself be
annulled. (CPR: B276–277 n.)
In other words, space cannot be even imagined without our
already having a capacity, sometimes realized, for veridically intu-
iting distal material objects in space. And this reading is in turn
backed up by two other texts. First, in the Anthropology Kant notes
that imagination ‘cannot bring forth a representation that was
never given to the power of sense; we can always trace the materi-
al of its representations’ (A: Ak 7, 168). And secondly, in one of
the Reflexionen he is even more explicit:
Dreams can represent to us things as outer, which are not
there; however, we would never be able to represent something
as outer in dreams, if these forms were not given to us through
outer things. (R: 5399; Ak 18, 172)

Later, however, we will see what Kant was really driving at – somewhat obscurely –
by including the simultaneity condition.

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So it seems to be Kant’s view that our ‘outer imagination’ is

parasitic upon some veridical outer sense perceptions of distal
material objects. If he is right, and if we interpret step 6 in such
a way as not to commit Kant to the implausible thesis that every
individuating act of empirical self-consciousness requires a simul-
taneous veridical perceptual awareness of a distal material object,
then he in fact avoids the dream problem. But even so, is he
right? Well, it seems likely that it is empirically true, as a fact in
cognitive psychology, that normal image-construction and
manipulation is originally funded by veridical sense-perception
of distal material objects.26 But is it necessarily true for creatures
like us? Surely we can conceive of a possible human being whose
empirical imagination-content is entirely funded by some source
other than veridical outer sense perception of distal material
objects. Or, to put it another way, if a creature had an outer imag-
ination entirely empirically funded in some non-standard way
which was systematically insulated from contact with the distal
outer world – suppose someone was fitted for life with a micro-
scopically thin computer-driven ‘virtual reality suit’ covering her
entire body – would she necessarily fail to be one of us? Of course
not. Such a creature, cocooned inside her total perceptual pros-
thetic, would certainly be odd, and perhaps somehow handi-
capped; but she would certainly still share our human cognitive
My preliminary conclusion, then, is that taking together as a
cumulative package my objections to steps 4 and 6, Kant’s proof
as it stands is unsound.

III. Space, externalism, and human embodiment

I would like now to shift philosophical gears, and move from the
quite negative evaluation of Kant’s Refutation given at the end of
the last section towards a more positive line of analysis. For I
think that the Refutation implicitly contains something of real
See, e.g., S. Kosslyn, Image and Brain (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), esp. ch. 9.
Admittedly, this is controversial territory. Putnam’s famous argument in Reason,
Truth, and History, pp. 1–21, against the ‘brains-in-a-vat’ hypothesis seems to show that any
such ‘Cartesian possibility’ is in fact conceptually impossible. Two things can be briefly
said. First, Putnam’s argument, even if sound, holds only for the entire community of cog-
nizers or speakers, not for an isolated individual. And secondly, it seems to me that the
possibility of a person-in-a-virtual-reality-suit is not a ‘Cartesian possibility’ at all, but rather
a ‘plain possibility’ in Thompson Clarke’s sense. See Clarke, ‘The Legacy of Skepticism,’
Journal of Philosophy 69 (1972): 754–769.

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philosophical significance. Suppose, now, that steps 4 and 6 are
indeed fallacious as they stand. Nevertheless it seems to me the
case that Kant has proved this weaker thesis:
All that we have here sought to prove is that inner experience
in general is possible only through outer experience in
general. (CPR: B278–279)
My reasoning is this. Crucial to this thesis are two phrases: ‘inner
experience in general’ and ‘outer experience in general’. I want
to read ‘inner experience in general’ as meaning ‘to have a self-
conscious awareness of myself in inner sense’; and I want to read
‘outer experience in general’ as meaning ‘to have an actual outer
sense.’ That is, I want to read the thesis as saying:
To have a self-conscious awareness of myself in inner sense is
possible only through my also having an actual outer sense,
Each and every inner self-conscious experience of a given
mental state of my own is possible only through some veridical
outer experience of an actual distal material object in space.
That my proposed reading is at least plausibly Kantian is also well-
supported by a passage in the Reflexionen:
The question, whether something is outside of me, is just the
same as to ask, whether I represent to myself an actual space.
For this is outside of me. (R: 5400; Ak 18, 172)
Otherwise put, I want to distinguish quite sharply between three
distinct meanings of the phrase ‘x is outside my own conscious
mental state’:
(1) x is a mind-independent substance;
(2) x is a material object in another part of space from that in
which I am located = x is distal; and
(3) x is necessarily spatial in character.
What I want to argue on Kant’s behalf is that in order to refute
(*), or skeptical idealism, it is necessary only to prove that I myself
satisfy (3), not to prove that something else satisfies (1) or (2).
The issue on the table right now is whether a dreamer or hal-
lucinator could have an ‘outer imagination’ without having an
actual outer sense. I think not. That is, I want to argue that an
outer imagination, even in dreams or hallucinations, is not

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possible without an actual outer sensibility. This becomes evident

when we recognize that having an actual outer sense is at a bare
minimum equivalent to having a capacity to represent space itself
in pure intuition. For Kant every representation of space whatso-
ever either simply is, or else is parasitic for its representational
content upon, the pure intuition of space. Indeed, even every
concept of space presupposes the pure singular intuition of space:
‘an a priori, and not an empirical, intuition underlies all concepts
of space’ (CPR: A25/B39). Further, every imaginary representa-
tion of space presupposes the pure intuition of space, because
the imagination is necessarily constrained by our forms of intu-
ition (CPR: B151). Now the representation of space is an essen-
tially singular directly referential term – a rigid designator. So
even in dreams and hallucinations, the representation of space
picks out space if it picks out anything at all. If it failed to pick out
space in some context or in some possible set of circumstances, it
would be vacuous: it would not represent anything. In dreams or
hallucinations I can of course have illusory images of material
objects and their spatial locations, and I can also certainly be mis-
taken about which particular part of actual physical space I am in
right now, or at other times; but there is no such thing as a ‘fake
representation of space per se.’ Even visual illusions require the
genuine singular representation of space in order to fool the eye.
Only if space were a thing-in-itself would an illusory representa-
tion of space per se be possible. But space, as Kant argues in the
Transcendental Aesthetic, is ‘empirically real’ in that it functions
as necessary a priori nonconceptual form of outer sensibility,
regardless of whether the representations of that outer sensibili-
ty are veridical (CPR: A22–25/B37–40). Therefore even in
dreams or hallucinations of space, the genuine singular repre-
sentation of space must be invoked.
Because the Kantian thesis I am interested in says that having
a self-conscious awareness of my determinate self in inner sense
is possible only through my also having an actual outer sense, we
need not assume that every or even any act of introspection maps
nicely onto an actual material object distally in space; on this
reading, Kant is only saying that we could not have the intro-
spective awarenesses that we in fact have, without also at the very
least actually representing space – without having a genuine rep-
resentation of space, even if that representation is only of pure
empty space. And that is a pretty interesting conclusion, since it
yields externalism. Externalism, as I am construing it, is the view

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that at least some mental states must be individuated by reference
to something existing outside the mind, in the worldly environ-
ment. Kant has shown, I think, that empirical self-consciousness
of oneself as an individuated stream of consciousness in inner
sense presupposes at the very least a direct intuitional represen-
tation of actual space as the substrate or permanent to which I
ascribe those states. So Kant is an externalist. Now granting only
Kant’s externalism, and explicitly bracketting his transcendental
idealism, it also seems to me plausible that, consistently with
some other views that Kant expresses elsewhere, a sound argu-
ment can be teased out of the Refutation.
In order to do this, I will rely heavily on a short essay written by
Kant in 1768, ‘Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the
Differentiation of Directions in Space.’ Despite its brevity, this
essay is seminal because it effectively prepares the ground for the
theory of space, time, and sensibility which Kant first worked out
in his Inaugural Dissertation in 1769. Indeed, as Kant remarks in
one of the best-known Reflexionen: ‘the year ’69 gave me great
light’ (R: 5037; Ak 18, 69). For our purposes, the most important
passage in ‘Directions in Space’ is this one:

Because of its three dimensions, physical space can be thought

of as having three planes, which all intersect each other at
right angles. Concerning the things which exist outside
ourselves: it is only in so far as they stand in relation to
ourselves that we have cognition of them by means of the
senses at all. It is, therefore, not surprising that the ultimate
ground on the basis of which we form our concept of direc-
tions in space, derives from the relation of these intersecting
planes to our bodies. . . . Even our judgments relating to the
cardinal points of the compass are, in so far as they are deter-
mined to the sides of our body, subject to the concept we have
of directions in general. Independently of this fundamental
concept, all we know of relations in heaven or on earth is
simply the positions of objects relative to each other. No matter
how well I may know the order of the compass points, I can
only determine directions by reference to them if I know
whether this order runs from right to left, or from left to right.
. . . The same thing holds of geographical and, indeed, of our
most ordinary knowledge of the position of places. Such
knowledge would be of no use to us unless we could also orien-
tate the things thus ordered, along with the entire system of

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their reciprocal positions, by referring them to the sides of our

body. (DS: Ak 2, 378–379)
As I read this text, Kant is arguing as follows. First, every space
represented by creatures like us in sensory intuition contains
directions, namely special topological features which cannot be
determined merely by the relational properties of objects in
space. Indeed, as Kant argues two pages later, the fact of ‘incon-
gruent counterparts’ or enantiomorphic objects – e.g., 3-D phys-
ical objects such as my right and left hands, which are isomorphic
mirror images of one another and yet cannot be made to coin-
cide by any continuous translation of the figures in 3-D space –
shows the falsity of the relational theory of space.28 Secondly,
directions in space are unintelligible unless there exists a fixed
frame of reference for spatially orientating distal objects. Thirdly,
any fixed frame of reference for distal spatial orientation is nec-
essarily centered on an egocentric origin-point or ‘egocentric
space’29 consisting of the 3-D rectilinear axes of the representing
subject’s own body: up/down, right/left, in front/behind.
Fourthly, therefore, necessarily for all creatures with cognitive
constitutions like mine, if any one of those creatures represents
space, then its own body must also exist in that space.
Now, can my own body, construed as an egocentric, indexical-
ly-fixed material reference-frame for any possible representation
of a directionally-structured space, function as the ‘permanent’
in the original Refutation? If so, then it seems to me that the
Refutation can be charitably reconstructed as arguing that nec-
essarily for every creature cognitively constituted like me a self-
conscious awareness of its own uniquely determined stream of
consciousness in inner sense requires the existence of its own
body in space. Here is a more explicit version of that argument:
(1) I represent myself through empirical self-consciousness as
an individuated stream of consciousness in inner sense.

See (DS: Ak 2, 381–383). Kant famously uses the very same argument from incon-
gruent counterparts in 1783 in the Prolegomena (P: Ak 4, 285–286), in order to prove the
transcendental ideality of space. But as many have noted, since Kant uses the same argu-
ment in ‘Directions in Space’ to prove Newton’s theory of space, it cannot alone establish
idealism. As I see it, however, the fact that Kant uses the case of enantiomorphs to argue
for spatial realism and spatial idealism alike simply shows that it is neutral as between real-
ism and idealism, and thus consistent with both.
See G. Evans, The Varieties of Reference (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1982), pp.

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(2) In order to represent myself in empirical self-conscious-
ness as an individuated stream of consciousness in inner
sense, I must represent myself, at the very least, in a direct
relation to space, which functions as a substrate for tem-
porally determining my own stream of consciousness.
[The rationale for this crucial step is given by Kant’s argument
for steps 1 to 3 in the original Refutation, plus my criticism of
steps 4 and 6.]
(3) In order to represent space, I must represent it as having
(4) In order to represent directions in space, I must interpret
those directions by means of a 3-D egocentric frame of ref-
erence centered on my own body.
(5) Therefore, necessarily if I represent myself in empirical
self-consciousness as an individuated stream of conscious-
ness in inner sense, then my body must also exist in space.
By using modus ponens on (1) and (5), and then generalizing
the result, we easily obtain:
(~*) Necessarily for every creature having a cognitive consti-
tution like mine, something exists outside its own
conscious mental states.
Reconstructed in this way, the Refutation conforms very nicely to
Kant’s original idea that all conscious changes in inner sense are
necessarily immediately ascribed to an actual spatially existing
permanent or substrate. For we can now see that the most natur-
al way of reading this is as saying that necessarily the contents of
my own consciousness literally belong to my own body.30 The big

See also Q. Cassam, ‘Inner Sense, Body Sense, and Kant’s Refutation of Idealism,’
European Journal of Philosophy 1 (1993): 111–127. This necessary ascription of conscious
states to the body should not, I think, be construed as a token-token identity thesis,
although R. Meerbote takes it this way: see his ‘Kant’s Refutation of Problematic Material
Idealism,’ in B. den Ouden (ed.), New Essays on Kant (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), pp.
112–138. Instead, I think that Kant anticipates the increasingly popular contemporary
view that the human mind is an ‘embodied mind.’ See: M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology
of Perception, trans. C. Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), part one, ch. 3,
pp. 98–147; J.L. Bermudez et al. (eds.), The Body and the Self (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995);
and F. Varela, E. Thompson, and E. Rosch, The Embodied Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press,

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problem with steps 4 and 6 in the original argument was the

assumption that the external substrate in question was distal, not
proximal, in relation to the self-conscious subject. But suppose the
substrate Kant is talking about is strictly proximal: suppose the
substrate is none other than my body. Then Kant is saying that in
order to individuate myself psychologically, I must ascribe each of
my mental states directly to my own body in space.31 The ascrip-
tion of my mental states to my body individuates my mental states
by locating them uniquely.
In the 1786 essay, ‘What is Orientation in Thinking?,’ Kant
calls this capacity for bodily self-location ‘self-orientation’:
To self-orientate (sich orientiren) in the proper sense of the word,
means to use a given direction – and when we divide the hori-
zon into four of these – in order to find the others, and in
particular that of sunrise. If I see the sun in the sky and know
that it is now midday, I know how to find south, west, north,
and east. For this purpose, however, I must necessarily be able
to feel a difference within my own subject, namely that between
my right and left hands. I call this a feeling, because these two
sides display no perceptible difference as far as external intu-
ition is concerned. . . . I can now extend this geographical
concept of the process of orientation to signify any kind of
orientation within a given space, i.e., orientation in a purely
mathematical sense. In the darkness, I can orientate myself in a
familiar room so long as I can touch any one object whose posi-
tion I remember. But it is obvious that the only thing which
assists me here is an ability to define the positions of the
objects by means of a subjective distinction: for I cannot see the
objects whose position I am supposed to find; and if, for a joke,
someone had shifted all the objects round in such a way that
their relative positions remained the same but what was previ-
ously on the right was now on the left, I would be quite unable
to find my way about a room whose walls were in other respects

This should be compared with P.F. Strawson’s famous argument in Individuals
(London: Methuen, 1959), chapter 2, that one can in principle individuate oneself pure-
ly in terms of a system of auditory experiences alone, as an isomorphic analogue of spa-
tial representation. If correct, Strawson’s argument would suffice to show that psycholog-
ical individation does not require that I ascribe my mental states directly to my own body
in space. But Strawson’s sound-system cannot distinguish between incongruent counter-
parts, hence cannot distinguish between the very different experiences of the same sound
heard as ‘coming from my right’ and as ‘coming from my left.’

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identical. But in fact, I can soon self-orientate simply by the
feeling of difference between my two sides, my right and my
left. (OT: Ak 8, 134–135)
There are obvious parallels between this text and the passage
from ‘Directions in Space’ quoted earlier. But the most impor-
tant thing is this: When we take the idea of self-orientation from
‘What is Orientation in Thinking?,’ and add it to the original
Refutation and the ‘Directions in Space’ essay, we can derive a
profound Kantian doctrine to the effect that to be self-con-
sciously aware of my own uniquely determined psychological life
is automatically also to be intuitionally aware of the unique loca-
tion – and also of the unique locus of movement32 – of my own
body in space. All human empirical apperception is ‘orientating
apperception’: Necessarily, I become aware of myself as myself
only by setting up my own body, the unique location and kinaes-
thetic locus of all my mental states, as a 3-D egocentric frame of
reference in a directionally-structured total space.
This result, happily enough, also produces a version of per-
ceptual realism. For it is obvious, I think, that self-orientation
requires perceptual access to at least one distal material object in
space: to orient myself, I need to get a ‘fix’ on at least one spatial
object ‘out there.’ And this is where we can begin to make some
sense of Kant’s including a simultaneity condition in the conclu-
sion of the original formulation of the Refutation. What gives it
its sense is the Third Analogy of Experience. I can properly ori-
entate myself in space only if the distal material object I am get-
ting a fix on, is in ‘dynamical community’ with me – is now caus-
ing my experience of it.33 Objects presented in dreams, hallucina-
tions, and by time-lag perception34 will not suffice. Indeed, Kant
argues that by uniquely locating one’s own body in space, one

See B. Brewer, ‘Self-Location and Agency,’ Mind 101 (1992): 17–34. Brewer argues
that perceptual self-location is based on a more basic perceptual grasp of determinate pos-
sibilities of spatial bodily self-movement. The text I quoted from ‘Orientation in Thinking’
can be used to support Brewer’s conclusion, although in both ‘Directions in Space’ and in
the first Critique Kant places more emphasis on perceiving the motions of other bodies than
on the movement of one’s own body. Also, some qualifications will be needed to handle
tricky cases in which self-movement is reduced or ruled out. See note 40.
See H.P. Grice, ‘The Causal Theory of Perception,’ in Studies in the Way of Words
(Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 224–247.
Sailors using an astrolabe or sextant, e.g., navigate by referring to the contempo-
rary apparent stars in the night sky, not by referring to the much earlier causal sources of
those light signals.

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thereby determines the relative locations of all other bodies in a

macroscopic causally-structured spatial system of reciprocally-
interacting bodies (CPR: A213/B260).35 Therefore my recon-
structed version of the Refutation yields not only externalism and
the necessity of human embodiment but also what might be
dubbed ‘direct perceptual realism’ (DPR): creatures like us nec-
essarily have intuitional or non-conceptual demonstrative access
to macroscopic causal physical objects if we are empirically self-
Nevertheless, since the direct perceptual access at issue need
not be descriptively or conceptually correct – because of the lin-
gering dream problem – DPR will not satisfy traditional refuters
of idealism. For such refuters want not only a direct perceptual
access to external objects and to the worldly environment: they
also want a veridical access which justifies perceptual judgments.
As I see it, however, it takes only a ‘non-epistemic’36 use of one’s
perceptual capacities to be able to carry out a self-locating act of
empirical self-consciousness. That is, so long as one can ‘feel’ the
primitive difference between one’s right and left sides, and can
intuitionally locate oneself in space relative to other things, no
correctly-applied concepts or true beliefs about one’s actual
outer situation are strictly required.37 On Kant’s behalf, then, I
find it necessary to deny (empirical) knowledge in order to make
room for animal faith.38

IV. Conclusion
If I am right, then although Kant’s Refutation of Idealism fails to

See B. Longuenesse, Kant and the Capacity to Judge (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ.
Press, 1998), pp. 391–393.
See: F. Dretske, Seeing and Knowing (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1969),
chapter II; and R. Hanna, ‘Direct Reference, Direct Perception, and the Cognitive Theory
of Demonstratives,’ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 74 (1993): 96–117.
See N. Eilan ‘Objectivity and the Perspective of Consciousness,’ European Journal of
Philosophy 5 (1997): 235–250, at 247–248, for a defense of the opposing position. Eilan’s
view implausibly entails, however, that if I wake up suddenly in total darkness and cannot
for the life of me remember where I am, then I am neither perceptually conscious nor
empirically self-conscious.
See G. Santayana, Skepticism and Animal Faith (New York: Dover, 1923), chapter
xviii, esp. pp. 171–176. Otherwise put, from a Kantian point of view one can refute skep-
tical idealism and be an externalist, while conceding ‘content skepticism.’ By contrast,
most contemporary externalists are also ‘content infallibilists.’ But this view does not
stand up to critical scrutiny: see A. Brueckner, ‘Trying to Get Outside Your Own Skin,’
Philosophical Topics 23 (1995): 79–111.

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establish the veridicality of our outer perceptions of distal mater-
ial objects, it does nevertheless establish the truth of externalism;
and when it is supplemented by some points from ‘Directions in
Space’ and ‘What is Orientation in Thinking?’ it also refutes
skeptical idealism and establishes direct perceptual realism by
means of the quite substantive thesis of the necessity of self-ori-
entating embodiment for all self-conscious creatures sharing our
cognitive constitution.
It must be stressed, however, that even assuming the soundness
of this reconstructed Kantian argument for the necessity of self-
orientating embodiment, it certainly does not follow that I must
be able to know what my own particular body is like. I could be
wrong that I have limbs, as ‘phantom limb’ cases show. Or my
body might be nothing but a brain floating listlessly in a vat. Still,
for creatures like us there is no such thing as having a ‘phantom
body.’ I could not be utterly disembodied and still be me. For
without a body of some sort, I would lack self-orientation in
space, and without self-orientation in space I would fail to indi-
viduate my stream of changing mental states.39 So necessarily, if I
am self-consciously aware of myself as an individuated stream of
consciousness in inner sense, then my body must exist as a
uniquely located and (at least in principle40) movable 3-D ego-
centric material reference-frame for directions in space.
Seen in this light, ironically enough, Moore’s notorious proof
of an external world is almost sound, but not at all for the reasons
Moore thought. Moore was quite wrong about being certain that
he had a right hand and a left hand: but he was absolutely cor-
rect about being certain that he had a right and a left. And even
more ironically, we can see that on this one point at least
Descartes was absolutely correct when, for a brief moment in the

Strawson, by contrast, argues that although persons are normally and paradigmat-
ically embodied, it is at least conceptually possible for them to be disembodied; see
Individuals, pp. 115–116. A Strawsonian critic of my account might grant Kant’s point
about the necessary connection between psychological individuation and unique spatial
location, and also claim that one can in principle be uniquely located in space, yet dis-
embodied. For example, it might seem that someone could have a disembodied purely
visual awareness of directions and of various purely visual objects in a purely visual phe-
nomenal space. But that seems to me absurd. It would be to say that I could somehow be
uniquely in space without literally occupying any space. If I were an extensionless point, I
certainly could not look around.
I could, of course, have a body which is tied down, paralyzed, limbless, or listlessly
floating around in a vat. But in principle it could be moved about, either by myself or by
some external agency.

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first Meditation, he saw that it was utter madness to doubt that he

had a body.41

University of Colorado at Boulder

Boulder, Colorado 80309

I grateful to Evan Thompson and Dana Vanzanten for very helpful conversations
about these and related topics. And I would also like to thank an anonymous referee at
this journal, and audiences at York University and the University of Colorado at Boulder
– especially George Bealer – for equally helpful critical comments on various versions of
the paper.

 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2000