Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

William Bristow

Committee Members

Michael Liston, Nataliya Palatnik


The topic of this paper is Kant’s distinction between given and made concepts. A made concept is ‘created by us arbitrarily’, while a given concept is ‘produced either through the nature of our understanding or through experience’ (24:131). Kant’s most frequent examples of made concepts are mathematical concepts, such as. But mathematical concepts exemplify just one kind of made concepts, namely made a priori concepts. Concepts can also be made a posteriori. The question ‘What is a made a posteriori concept?’ has received little attention. The purpose of this paper is to address this question. I argue that made a posteriori concepts are representations of real essences. As such made a posteriori concepts serve to explain—or grant ‘insight’ into the causes of—observable properties of objects. I show further that made a posteriori concepts are not abstracted from experience. Rather, they are posited as hypotheses in the course of scientific investigation and are for this reason ‘created by us arbitrarily’. Hypotheses are justified by their explanatory power in relation to observable properties of objects and are for this reason a posteriori. In closing I suggest that my reading helps account for the connection between making a concept and making an object which Kant draws, not just in mathematics, but also in the empirical sciences.

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