Kant on Self-Knowledge and Self-Formation - The Nature of Inner Experience

In my book Kant on Self-Knowledge and Self-Formation (Cambridge University Press, 2020), I develop a novel interpretation of Immanuel Kant’s theory of empirical self-knowledge and the self-formation of individual persons. Despite the huge amount of work devoted to Kant’s conception of the thinking subject, surprisingly little work has been offered on the question of what, according to Kant, makes us the individual persons we are. The few interpretations available differ hugely over questions such as what, for Kant, an empirical self or person is and whether Kant allows for a substantial notion of empirical self-knowledge.

My book not only offers systematic discussions of central themes, such as the perception of one’s own mental states, the reflexivity of consciousness, kinds of self-consciousness, personal identity, self-reference and the self-ascription of mental properties, but also transforms our understanding of human individuality in Kant by fundamentally rethinking the role that reason (Vernunft) plays in it.

The first main thesis of the book is that inner experience is empirical cognition (in the Kantian sense) of oneself as a psychological person, rather than as a mere object. More specifically, I cognize myself only qua my psychological features, including occurrent mental states and more temporally stable psychological properties, rather than as a persistent mental substance. Such self-cognition not only must meet the sensible and conceptual conditions of cognition, but also requires the regulative use of an idea of reason, the idea of the soul as the concept of a unified mental whole.

The second main thesis is, then, that persons form themselves in the course of realizing their mental capacities under the normative guidance of the idea of the soul. A person is an empirical reality in the process of becoming – a process that is guided by a rational ideal. My interpretation finally suggests that the way in which Kant conceives of personhood is closer to an Aristotelian soul-form, than to a Cartesian mind-substance.


“Scholars have provided countless studies of Kant’s theory of object cognition. Katharina Kraus has produced the first positive and comprehensive account of Kant’s theory of self-cognition. It is a signature achievement.” Patricia Kitcher, Columbia University, European Journal of Philosophy

“Kraus’s ambitious and impressively researched book is bound to generate a good deal of debate for the foreseeable future. Anyone interested, not only in Kant’s views on self-knowledge and personhood but also in Kant’s critical system as a whole, should have this book on top of their to-read list.” Béatrice Longuenesse, New York University, Philosophical Review

“This book deserves to become a standard reference point for any discussion of Kant’s view on the self.” Pirachula Chulanon, Toronto Metropolitan University, NDPR

“Katharina Kraus’ important book offers a careful discussion of Kant’s account of the self and self-awareness that is both hermeneutically and philosophically rewarding. On her highly original reading of Kant, our self or person is not something we find, but something we must achieve. Kraus develops this deep and difficult idea with impressive ingenuity and sophistication.” Marcus Willaschek, Goethe-University Frankfurt

  • European Journal of Philosophy 29: 679–682 (2021), Patricia Kitcher.
  • Journal of the History of Philosophy 60(3): 515-517 (2022), Stefanie Buchenau.
  • The Philosophical Review 131 (3): 365–369 (2022), Béatrice Longuenesse.
  • Kant-Studien 114 (2):388–395 (2023), Ekin Erkan.
  • Notre Dame Philosophical Review (2023), Pirachula Chulanon.
  • Kantian Review 27(3): 461–508 (2022), Comments by Patrick Frierson, Janum Sethi, Clinton Tolley, and Allen Wood and author’s replies.
  • The Journal of the Society of German Idealism and Romanticism 5(1): 1–41 (2023), Comments by Karin Nisenbaum and Julia Peters and author’s replies.