An intuition is a conscious objective direct representation of an object, according to A320/B376-77. It is direct in being non-conceptual, involving no mediating representation, and it is what distinguish it from a conceptual representation. Now someone not familiar with Kant might think that these are our perceptual representations. But central to Kant's philosophy the claim that the use of (pure) concepts is necessary for the cognition/knowledge of objects. Our experiences of everyday objects for example already involve the subsumption under concepts. The problem is that he also holds that:

Objects can indeed appear to us without necessarily having to be related to functions of the understanding. (A89/B122)

How can intuitions be conscious and objective if they do not involve concepts? Maybe they are some kind of representations of objects which are not a cognitions/knowledge. But if our perceptions are cognitions/knowledge, what would be a concrete example of this kind of representations? Giving examples of a priori syntheses, Kant speaks of representations of parts of a house, or visual perception of a stone and a feeling of weight. But these according to his own standards are conceptual representations. It is seems that we can analyse our representation as far as we want without ever encountering some purely non-conceptual representation.

Maybe we could say that it is possible to extract a more coherent theory from Kant's texts by ignoring passages similar to the one above and focusing on his claim that intuition and concept are both necessary for knowledge of objects (for example in A50–51/B74–75). Under such a light, an intuition is more like a kind of uncounscious sensory input which is constitutive of experience but which we never encounter alone. But besides its being explicitly in opposition to the text, it makes the whole notion theoretically not clear enough. It seems also that Kant would have to do more work to clarify their explanatory role to justify their existence and all what he says concerning them (that they undergo a number of syntheses etc), which, if they are unconscious, seems hard using a philosophical introspective method.

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    Possible duplicate (no offence here, search seems to be broken): What is "intuition" for Kant?
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 18:02
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    My professor (having had worked on Kant for quite a while) used to put it that way: Although there are (ALWAYS) textbits that suggest otherwise, one will be safe in generally thinking of intuitions as already sorted by productive imagination through categories and schematism. I think this is the main problem here: He states (quite often) things that have to be relativised after the deduction. One of these is the actual division between intuition and concept imho.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 18:15
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    Second thought to ponder: Kant (not completely coherently, again) distinguishes between object as such, possible object of thought and possible object of experience. It is often worth a try to sort which one is actually meant when.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 18:17
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    @Philip Klöcking. Thanks for your answer. Your second comment is I think the alternative I was adressing in my last paragraph. It seems that even given that, there is little we could positvely say about intuitions, and how we could then be justified in introducing them in a theory of cognition. This is what you expressed in your comment to Conifold's answer too. So I suppose Kant is the one to blame. But since the Critique is considered to be one of the greatest philosophy classics, it is sad to find out that even one of its basic and simple concepts is rather obscure and contradictory.
    – Ouazzani
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 18:41
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    One trait of "the greatest philosophy classics" is that their concepts are never "simple" on a second look - that is why they are classics and still worth consideration imho. I think the definition of Duns Scotus provided by Conifold works quite well if we do not put too much ontological and epistemological commitment into it: Something somehow caused by outer world, mediated by senses and understanding (without the latter, we couldn't grasp it as something), and presenting itself as (only) object of experience. Mind particular intuition of something vs. (manifold of) intuition.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 19:53

2 Answers 2


Kantian intuitions, as I understand them, are basically just changing kaleidoscopic images. That is, heaps of sensible qualities, like colors, stretched over space and time.

a kaleidoscopic image
(source: netdna-ssl.com)

To say that Kantian intuitions are "non conceptual" seems to me ambiguous. The Kantian intuitions do not involve "the concepts of the Understanding", especially the concepts of enduring substances and of causes and effects. But Kantian intuitions can and do involve other kinds of concepts: concepts of space and time, which Kant identified with mathematical concepts (arithmetical and geometrical); qualitative concepts: colors, sounds, smells etc; concepts of strength and intensity.

Kantian intuitions are conscious, at least in potential. Nothing is hidden in them. As to being "objective", this is again ambiguous. Anything that can be thought about Kant calls an "object", including subjective phenomena and unknowable things. The word "objective" he usually reserves for the sensible (material) world, and for the possibility of knowing it. So intuitions can represent objects without being objective; as they do in dreams.

It is instructive, in the present regard, to compare the Kantian intuitions, that is sense experience, to that of the classical empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, Hume). The empiricists conceived of sense experience as consisting of bundles of sensible qualities, such as colors and shapes. All our concepts were, according to the empiricists, subsequently derived from the encounters with these bundles. Kant added over these encounters with bundles of qualities that (1) time and space are not derived from sense experience, but are its apriori forms; and that (2) the concepts of the Understanding, concepts of enduring substances, and of causes and effects, also have an apriori basis, and so are not derived from sense experience. There could be an experience of objects which does not abide by the concepts and rules of the Understanding (in this sense, the Understanding is not like space and time). But there could not be an objective experience, i.e. an experience that can lead to knowledge of an objective world, which does not abide by the concepts and rules of the Understanding. And this makes those concepts apriori valid.

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    I think a) that the main drive of your argument is only applicable to the manifold of intuition(s) and that b) space and time as pure forms of intuition are definitely involved, as concepts not so much imho. There is a clear distinction to be made between those two meanings of space and time (just as of the categories, tbf). Regarding intuition, he distinguishes at least the manifold of pure intuition (of which space and time are the form) and intuitions of something particular. There is some less abstract manifold somewhere in between there, but that's hard to pin down.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 23:43
  • Thank you Tobolski for your answer. But imho it seems that your interpretation doesn't match Kant's meaning, and isn't really philosophically tenable either. First, as Klocking already said, the forms of intuiton space and time are not, for Kant, the concepts of space and time. It is almost part of the definition of intuition, immediate representation of objetcs, that it does not involve concepts. And when Kant characterizes intuition, he systematically distinguishes it from conceptual representations (e.g. A19/B33, A68/B93).
    – Ouazzani
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 21:56
  • Second, I do agree that 'objective' is ambiguous, but it seems that Kant when talking about the necessary use of the categories for objective representations really means it only as 'representing an object'. Your interpretation is founded on the very problematic notion of an objective sensible world in Kant's philosophy (it is problematic in the kind of objectivity it is supposed to involve since it is still a world of appearances).
    – Ouazzani
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 21:57
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    @Ouazzani You're welcome. And (1) if intuition/sensibility does not include the concepts of space and time, then where would you locate these concepts, on Kant's map of faculties? They belong neither in the Understanding, nor in Reason. There just does not seem to be another place for Kant to locate the concepts of space and time than in intuition/sensibility. Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 22:29
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    And (2) as for seeing trees and chairs in dreams, yes, these were the objects that I had in mind. In a mere "heap of sensible qualities" you don't get even objects, unless you somehow isolate one heap from the others. Anyway, I didn't mean to provide a thorough account of dreams. They just seem to fall short of Kant's full demands for ascribing objectivity. Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 22:35

What Ram Tobolski says is incorrect. He reads into Kant a conception that he was, in fact, explicitly opposed to.

An intuition is an representation that directly refers to an object of our sensory awareness (unless we speak of formal intuitions of Space and Time or intellectual intuition - which for Kant is a faculty that a God or some other metaphysical being may perhaps have... but not us, humans). Intuitions refer to objects directly, not mediately, via some characteristics, but also not via causal connections. The object of intuition is definitely structured, as Kant asserts and proves (given some assumptions about the role of time in experience) in the First Analogy, according to the Subject-Property schema (one of the Categories).

Kant is a direct realist about perception. He holds that we don't perceive sensations, which are merely causes of our sensory awareness, which is what Locke, Berkeley etc. claim. We perceive, he says, genuine external objects. He is, furthermore, a conceptualist about perception. What we perceive is not sensations, modifications of the subject, but external objects (unless we're talking about introspection or what Kant calls the inner sense). He thinks that the objects of our empirical knowledge are already structured conceptually because they otherwise couldn't give us contentful cognitions: "Concepts without [empirical] content are empty; Intuitions without concepts are blind". This means, as Kant asserts at B131, that intuitions are structured in the very same way as judgements and, as he says in a famous quote, "I think" must be able to accompany all of our representations. This means that, although intuitions don't always involve conscious judgement, i.e. we can perceive that it is such-and-such without judging that it is such-and-such, they're already structured so as to make judgement with identical content as the intuition (remember that Kant insists that only empirical intuitions can provide any content to our thoughts), i.e. an empirical cognition, possible.

Empiricists, Kant claims, mistakenly took our concepts to be merely abstract sensory representations (the rationalists were mistaken in the very opposite way, they took experience to be confused thought). But, in fact, both sensory intuitions and concepts, both pure and a priori and derived from experience, are indispensable for our cognition. There is, as the (explicitly Kantian) philosopher Wilfrid Sellars put it in his Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, a sense in which our knowledge depends on our senses being affected by stimuli. But there is another sense in which only our prior posession of concepts enables us to make sense of these stimuli to produce knowledge.

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