Ted Talbot offers the following comment: “At the beginning of the Transcendental Aesthetic, when Kant says: “Diese [die Anschauung] findet aber nur statt, sofern uns der Gegenstand gegeben wird; dieses aber ist wiederum, uns Menschen wenigstens, nur dadurch möglich, dass er das Gemüt auf gewisse Weise affiziert” he seems to be attributing a causal relationship (“affizieren”) between objects in themselves and the mind, since „Gegenstand“ here is not the object as it appears to us (the “affecting” occurs prior to mental activity and gets the ball rolling). Is this talk of “affecting” merely the ladder that Kant will soon toss aside à la Wittgenstein, maybe hauling it out again for his ethical theory? (I think I may be raising what Sidney Morgenbesser would have called a "Philosophy 1 question"), but so be it.”
First of all, the passage that Professor Talbot quotes in the original German appears in the Kemp-Smith translation thus: “But intuition takes place only in so far as the object is given to us. This again is possible, to man at least, in so far as the mind is affected in a certain way.” [ A 19 = B 33 ]
The simple answer to Professor Talbot’s question is, “Yes.” But that, to ring the changes on the old joke, is less than he wanted to know about rainbows. What is going on here is so complicated that I have given up any hope of including it in my lectures. There are limits, after all! However, I may be permitted to talk about it for a while on this blog. Those insatiable for the subject can consult my book, Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity, where it is discussed at great length.
The text of the chapter called “The Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding” is, in the First Edition, famously convoluted and apparently internally in conflict with itself, so much so that a great old Kant scholar, Hans Vaihinger, developed an elaborate “patchwork” theory of its composition. According to this theory, Kant, in haste to bring the book to publication [because he was a hypochondriac and thought he would not live to finish it], stitched together drafts lying on his desk from his nine years of labor, apparently not noticing that they contained passages that were flat out in contradiction with one another. No fewer than four layers or stages of the argument could be discerned, Vaihinger claimed, representing a development of the argument from its earliest stage, philosophically barely beyond the position Kant took in the Inaugural Dissertation of 1770, to its most mature stage, recapitulated coherently and successfully in the Second Edition rewrite of the chapter.
Now, as speculative history [Vaihinger did not actually have any datable documents from the Nachlass to which he could point] this is manifestly crazy. The greatest philosopher who has ever lived [he and I agree on that], when he is writing what he correctly believes to be the most important thing he will ever write, fails to notice that in the space of 20 pages or so he says four different incompatible things! Hello? Seriously?
BUT: Vaihinger was smart, and correctly identified a number of places in the text where Kant stops saying one sort of thing and starts saying something clearly different. Indeed, if we simply divide the chapter up by paying attention to the argument in a very intense, careful manner, it all divides up into pretty much exactly the passages that Vaihinger claimed were different drafts on Kant’s desk.
One of the crucial “tells,” as professional poker players call those subtle indications that an opponent is bluffing, is precisely how Kant identifies the object of representations. Sometimes he talks as though the object is a spatiotemporally delimited region of Appearances that affects our sense organs and produces perceptions, which is to say empirical intuitions. Sometimes he talks as though the object is a “Transcendental object = x,” whose status is quite unclear. And in yet other places Kant seems clearly to say that it is the Thing-in-itself that affects our sensibility, generating a diversity or, as he says, a manifold of intuition.
Now it clearly cannot be all three. Indeed, these identifications are not just diverse, they are contradictory with one another. One possible explanation of what is going on is Vaihinger’s Patchwork Theory of the Deduction. Another explanation [mine] is that Kant has so complicated a story to tell, a story so different from any story that had ever been told before by a philosopher, that he can only lay it out in stages, as it were, each stage a complication of its predecessor, until the final full-blown story is given to us not even in the Deduction, but in the Second Analogy.
Professor Talbot’s invocation of Wittgenstein’s ladder is thus, in my view, quite apt. Indeed, if I can keep it in mind, perhaps I will use it [with due credit to Professor Talbot.]