Kant’s Multiple Concepts of Person

Béatrice Longuenesse

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


INTRODUCTION. THE PROBLEM: In Chapter 1 of the Transcendental Dialectic in the Critique of Pure Reason, the Paralogisms of Pure Reason, Kant criticizes an invalid inference he attributes to rationalist metaphysicians. The inference consists in deriving, from analytic propositions asserting that some marks belong to the concept ‘I’ (functioning as subject concept in the proposition ‘I think’), synthetic propositions asserting that some predicates are true of the entity that thinks –the referent of the concept ‘I.’ Thus from the marks of ‘I’in ‘I think’the rationalist metaphysician is supposed to derive that we are thinking substances (first paralogism), simple substances (second paralogism), simple substances that have the property of personhood (third paralogism), and substances whose existence is distinct from that of material things (fourth paralogism). In the present essay, I will focus on the third paralogism, the inference from supposed marks of the concept ‘I’in ‘I think’to the assertion that, as thinking beings considered merely as such, we are persons. More specifically, the question I want to address is the following: just what is the property of personhood Kant claims we are not justified in ascribing to ourselves on the sole basis of the marks of the concept ‘I’as it appears in the proposition ‘I think’? Clearly, Kant does think we are persons: the concept of person is omnipresent in his moral philosophy. So what is the concept of personhood he does take to apply to human beings, as moral beings? Is it the very same concept he maintains, in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason, we do not have sufficient theoretical ground to endorse as true of human beings? If it is not the same concept, how is it different? Whether or not it is the same concept, just what is the ground on which Kant endorses the statement that human beings are persons? To answer these questions, I will proceed as follows. In Section 2, I will offer an analysis of Kant’s criticism, in the Third Paralogism of Pure Reason, of what he takes to be the rationalist metaphysicians’fallacious inference from our use of the concept ‘I’in ‘I think’to the claim that we are persons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationKant on Persons and Agency
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781316856529
ISBN (Print)9781107182455
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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