Béatrice Longuenesse


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Béatrice Longuenesse is Silver Professor of Philosophy and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris, France), the University of Paris-Sorbonne (where she received her Doctorat de troisième cycle (PhD) in 1981 and her Doctorat d’Etat in 1992), and Princeton University. She taught at Paris-Sorbonne, the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris), the University of Besançon and the University of Clermont-Ferrand before joining the philosophy department at Princeton University in 1993. She left Princeton for NYU in 2004. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (2006-7), the American Academy in Berlin (2012-13), and the National Humanities Center (2014-14). Her books include Kant and the Capacity to Judge (Princeton University Press, 1998); Kant on the Human Standpoint (Cambridge University Press, 2005); Hegel’s Critique of Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 2007; and I, Me, Mine. Back to Kant, and Back again (Oxford University Press, 2017). She co-edited with Daniel Garber Kant and the Early Moderns (Princeton University Press, 2008) and edited Le Moi/the Self/le Soi (a special issue of the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 2010-4). Her current work spans the history of philosophy, especially Kant and nineteenth century German philosophy; the philosophy of language and mind; and philosophical issues related to Freudian psychanalysis.


Abstract for Lecture One
Conflicting Logics of the Mind

In previous work, I have claimed that Sigmund Freud’s and Immanuel Kant’s respective views of the structures of human mental life in cognition and in morality present striking similarities. The goal of this lecture is to respond to objections to my admittedly surprising claims. The central objection under consideration concerns the contrast between, on the one hand, Kant’s view of what he calls the “unity of consciousness,” which he takes to be fundamental to our mental life; and, on the other, Freud’s conception of what he takes to be the insuperably conflicted nature of our mental life. Another objection is that Freud’s investigation of the mind is psychological and clinical, whereas Kant’s is epistemological. I acknowledge the force of the objections and offer responses to them. I conclude this lecture by suggesting that one important condition for properly adjudicating the differences between Freud’s view of the mind and Kant’s is to clarify their respective views of “conscious” vs “unconscious” representations. These will be the topics of the next two lectures.

(Note: in presenting Lecture 1, I will briefly summarize sections 1 and 2 of the written draft and focus my presentation on sections 3 to 6. No knowledge of my previous work is necessary, nor is familiarity with Kant’s or Freud’s work. I will explain, as needed, those aspects of their work that are relevant to my argument)


Abstract for Lecture Two
Kant on Representations “with” and “without” consciousness

I argue that we can find in Kant a distinction that is close to Ned Block’s distinction between “phenomenal” and “access” consciousness, namely, between there being something it’s like for the subject of a mental state to be in that state (phenomenal consciousness), on the one hand; and the state’s content being available for judging, reasoning, and guiding action (access consciousness), on the other. I argue that heeding that distinction allows us to understand the very different ways in which cognitive states (for Kant: sensations, intuitions or concepts) can be, for Kant, “with” or “without” consciousness.

Having clarified those distinctions, I argue that for Kant, more fundamental than state consciousness is what we would call “creature consciousness”: consciousness, by the subject of a state, of being, itself, in that state. However, Kant surprisingly claims that this type of consciousness can itself be something of which we are not conscious. I explain how this apparent contradiction may be resolved in light of the distinctions introduced earlier in connection with mental states: the distinction between “phenomenal” and “access” consciousness.

The upshot is that Kant offers rich and subtle insights into the conscious and unconscious aspects of our mental life. Freud was wrong, then, to claim that he was the first to recognize that what is mental is not necessarily conscious. And yet, Freud was right to take his own discovery of what he called “the unconscious” to be radically novel. This is the argument of the next lecture.


Abstract for Lecture Three
Freud’s Concept of the Unconscious

Freud was far from the first to defend the view that many of our mental states and mental activities are not conscious. This is a view Freud shares with quite a few modern philosophers, including Kant.

Nevertheless, Freud is right to claim that his concept of “the unconscious” is radically new. The goal of this Lecture 3 is to clarify what makes it novel. It is also to answer the following two questions. 1) If Freud’s concept of what, in our mental life, is unconscious, puts him at a distance from Kant’s, how is my acknowledging this distance compatible with my claiming that Freud’s and Kant’s respective views of the structure of mental life are similar? And 2) Why did I claim, in Lecture 1, that the consideration of Freud’s and Kant’s respective views of the mind offers tools for a better understanding of the place of mind in nature?

What Freud means by “consciousness,” as a property of mental states, is what we call phenomenal consciousness: the qualitative presence, for the subject of a mental state, of that mental state and its content. A representation that is not conscious is, in the broadest sense, a representation that lacks this phenomenal character. But Freud’s originality lies in his investigation of a narrower subset of representations that lack the quality of being conscious, namely, those that lack that quality because they are repressed. I investigate Freud’s concept of repression and argue that it must be understood in light of its relation to three fundamental aspects of mental life: memory, biological/psychological drives (for instance, hunger or lust), and affective states (pleasure or pain). I argue that what is fundamental in Freud’s concept of “the unconscious” is not so much whether representational states have or lack the quality of phenomenal consciousness. Rather it is how, unbeknownst to us, drives and affects interfere with the rational organization of our memories and their function in cognition and volition.

Investigating this interference leads us back to the central theme of these three lectures: the organization of the mind, the “naturalized” Kantian legacy in Freud and what this legacy teaches us about the place of mind in the natural world.

Upcoming Events

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Tue, Sep 6, 2022 8:00 am-09:00 pm
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Mon, Sep 19, 2022 4:30 pm-06:30 pm
Rutgers Annual Lectures presents Prof. Timothy Williamson (Oxford)
Wed, Sep 21, 2022 4:30 pm-06:30 pm
Rutgers Annual Lectures presents Prof. Timothy Williamson (Oxford)

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