Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780262080866 | 380 pp. | 6 x 9 in | January 1991
Paperback | $30.00 Short | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780262515351 | 380 pp. | 6 x 9 in | January 2003

The Natural and the Normative

Theories of Spatial Perception from Kant to Helmholtz


Gary Hatfield examines theories of spatial perception from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century and provides a detailed analysis of the works of Kant and Helmholtz, who adopted opposing stances on whether central questions about spatial perception were amenable to natural-scientific treatment. At stake were the proper understanding of the relationships among sensation, perception, and experience, and the proper methodological framework for investigating the mental activities of judgment, understanding, and reason issues which remain at the core of philosophical psychology and cognitive science.

Hatfield presents these important issues as living philosophies of science that shape and are shaped by actual research programs, creating a complex and fascinating picture of the entire nineteenth-century battle between nativism and empiricism. His examination of Helmholtz's work in physiological optics and epistemology is a tour de force.


“This is a major reinterpretation of Kant's work and its continued relevance to cognitive science as revealed through nineteenth-century attempts to pursue implications suggested by Kant"s writings, culminating in the work of perhaps the most important cognitive scientist of the time, Hermann Helmholtz. In a brilliant reinterpretation of Kant"s work certain to provoke lively discussion among Kant specialists, Hatfield shows that Kant embraced both the naturalistic and the normative positions in a manner consistent with his philosophical enterprise.”
Timothy Lenoir, Stanford University