I am trying to understand Kant's taxonomy of ideas (or "representations") and I am stuck on his meaning of "intuition", in particular, whether or not the object of an intuition always refers to something that is empirically real. My working interpretation of "object" is something like "the thing that the thought is about", and hence could refer to something that can be given in experience or not (like the things studied in math). That he does mean that the objects of intuitions always refer to material things in the world is suggested to me in how he says that these objects must be "given to us" through our sensibility and that these intuitions are acquired through the way objects "affect" us.

If I restrict to thinking only about external objects in the world affecting my senses, then I think I can understand what he means well enough, but once I start contemplating other forms of thought I get confused as to the difference between objects and ideas. For example, if I dream up some object in my mind that doesn't exist in the world, like a chair or a triangle, but nonetheless think it singularly and picture it in my mind, is this an intuition? If so, what is the object and how do you distinguish it from the idea itself?

  • The brain is structured in such a way to get a grasp on reality. All processes in the world can be reoresented by huge collections of neurons acting in concert. You can even dream a wirld like the real wirld. Intuition is the ability to feel how processes in the world evilve. These can be macroscooic processes and microscopic ones for which everyday exoerience doesn't apply directly but nevertheless have a big influence in getting an intuition for what is going on. Different physical processes can be represented (not calculated) in the same neural networj which excells in plasticity. Different Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 21:43
  • Kant uses both "object" and "intuition" in his own peculiar senses. "Intuitions" are unstructured starting points of cognition supplied either by sensations or by productive imagination, images, sounds and the like. "Objects" are intuitive unities brought under a concept. Your idea of his "object" as what Brentano and Husserl later called "intentional object" is close, but it does need to be attached to something sensible, unlike "idea", i.e. concept of the understanding alone, see What is Kant's view of a mathematical object?
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 22:27
  • What is the relation between the two? Do intuitions always require objects? Are intuitions always objects of something in the understanding? Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 23:12
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    Sensibility (sensations or imagination) supply intuitions, understanding supplies concepts, objects appear when the two are synthesized. Sensibility and understanding are independent faculties, one does not require the other, but both are required for knowledge ("concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind"). There is no "external world" with what we call "objects" in it for Kant, only impenetrable thing-in-itself. On the last questions see the link, even imagined object is not an idea, an idea doesn't need an attached image.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 23:30
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    There is a definition of object (B 137) which effectively says that an object is constituted by subsuming the manifold of intuition under a concept, giving an intuition (Anschauung) of something. There is also the difference between possible object of thought (table of judgements) and possible object of experience (table of categories), which allows to say that abstract objects are possible in Kant, but still only as a literal abstraction from input via the manifold of intuition (using an abstract concept).
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 12:05

4 Answers 4


In general, from a philosophical perspective (debatable), the object is the counterpart of the subject in the interactive process of knowledge. That is, Schroedinger's cat is the object, and Schrodinger is the subject, or also, the observer. If the object, or concept is something that exists in the mind, the thing is what corresponds to the physical world. That is, the cat, as it exists in Schroedinger's mind, is the object, and the cat, the one inside the box, is the thing.

For Kant, the object seems to raise in the Transcendental Logic, specifically in the first part, the Transcendental Analytic.

Sensible experience (odor, flavor, color, form) are a disparate set of intuitions (which can be understood as representations) that don't have any sense as they are perceived. That is basically what the Transcendental Aesthetic is about.

Those intuitions are manifolded (grouped in spite of their disparity) and integrated to become concepts of the understanding, in the Transcendental Analytic. The object "cat" raises at such point, and is granted of a status among the categories. That is, it is the object of categorization. So, the object seems to raise here: the subject classifies the object, which is now an integrated entity, by means of the categories, in order to become a concept. At this point, the object is already part of the interaction process with the subject: judgements.

In the Transcendental Dialectic, the object becomes integrated with other sets of judgements, in what Kant calls the unity of the self. The former object is at this point not only the target of perception, but a concept, or even transcendental idea, which is radically different. There is no sense in referring to the concept as an object here, because it would imply a psychological target, which is not anymore Kant's goal.


For mathematical objects, the formal reality is the objective reality. By formal i mean the logical definition of the thing and by object i mean the thing referenced by its idea. Kant believed in the correspondence theory of truth so the idea or proposition has to agree with its object. So he does think about "thinghood" as an object of our mental ideas.

Intuition is the receptivity of the mind while the understanding is the spontaneity. For Kant intuition is only empirical and rejects humans having a intellectual or rational intuition. So objects are given to us empirically through the intuitions of inner sense and outer sense. Mental phenomena like desires are objects of inner sense (inner intuition). Intuitions have a form and matter. The form of sensible intuition are space and time. Space for outer and time for inner (and thus for other as well). The matter is the content, the feeling of that sensation.

Kant is not a materialist necessarily, but a transcendental idealist. This means that the world is structured by rationality of the mind (phenomena are dependent on the categories of the mind of their reality). Kant the objective deduction says objects are a "transcendental X" which just means non-sense to me. What he means, as informed by Paul Woff in his youtube series on the Critique of Pure Reason, an object for Kant is a structure or schemata of the phenomenal data according to the categories in the mind. So the table is all the sense data of it in accordance with the category of substance. This is when it has its "thing-hood" and is an empirical object in the everyday sense.

Noumena or things-in-themselves are not given to us with the categories of the mind. An object does not give its unity, number, substance, etc. to us. There are merely a manifold (or multi-told) of representations that are given to us between the interaction of us as subjects and the object-in-itself. Objects-in-themselves need not be things or units, the unity as well as every other category is introduced by the unitary time consciousness. So reality could be a plurality like most of us think or even monism could be true as well...we just don't know. We can't know anything about things-in-themselves even that they are unitary objects. Things-in-themselves is an ontological term, and noumena is an epistemological term. Things-in-themselves is "being" and its ability to be thought but not sensed is where it gets its noumenal designation. Since speculative reason relies on something of possible experience to give it meaning, we cannot know what is noumena or things-in-themselves. It is different in practical reason, but that's a whole 'nother book.

  • Kant strongly rejects the Correspondence Theory of Truth. See this.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 12:48
  • thank you for this observation. when i read it, i thought he noticed its limits but subscribed to it as a nominalist, but after reading this for a 5th time. it seems he rejects correspondence as it is bot general to all instances of truth (something maybe true but not correspond to the right object). he even says coherance theory of truth is merely analytic. aim i reading this passage better? im not really sure how to read Kant then...i do still think he is not using object as thing but the object of a thought which can be a non-thing, a universal on the other hand. Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 13:51

I'm thinking that objects, like the subject-object example, refers to a coordinate pair that must exist in cognitive processes, so that when Kant says something like, ". . . reason really has as object only the understanding. . . " (A644/B672), he is saying that Reason needs something to reason about so its object is understanding, and Intuition needs something to intuit, so its objects are the senses, and the Understanding needs something to understand, so its objects are the particular objects and the empirical concepts they constitute, etc.


Kant says that the category (he sometimes uses this term to denote the totality of the categories) constitutes the notion of the object. So your question: What is an object? Kant would answer with his table of categories which is derived from the forms of judgement. This constitutes the notion that judgement is objective, i.e. that the object of judgement in general (not some particular judgement) is identical with the notion of object as such. People like Hegel expressed this idea as the unity of thought and being or, in other words, Metaphysics = Logic. This is not true, for example, for the object of sight which is distinct from object as such. Similarly, the object of spatio-temporal intuition is not object as such. That's the distinction between phenomena (things as they appear to some particular form of sensibility which, Kant says, is contingent and mutable) and things in themselves. By positing things in themselves to be unknowable, Kant asserts that judgement alone doesn't have any content and thus has to depend on sensory intuition, even in the case of a priori knowledge. Therefore our knowledge is always perspectival and finite and, in consequence, the notion of object as such is entirely empty, without Inhalt.

Kant speaks of objective reality, objective reference, content etc. - all of these can be considered to be essentially equivalent for the purpose of the explanation. His insistence on all reference to objects being mediated by intuition, and all intuition being sensory, spatio-temporal intuition, is then, again, equivalent to what has been just said about his claim that things-in-themselves are unknowable, because knowledge, cognition, is simply contentful thought in Kant's dictionary. "Contentful" is here none other than "objective", so we can retrace this other line of thinking, to which you're referring, back to our original claim that the essence of judgement is its objectivity or, as you put it, "[object is] the thing that the thought is about" (this sense of aboutness is called intentionality in modern philosophy).

Your confusion seems to stem from Kant's insistence that sensory intuition must be given in order for our judgements to acquire content (as discussed above). This seems to suggest that all judgements must be perceptual, that we cannot think what is merely possible, but not actual and directly present "before our eyes". What Kant actually means by speaking about this givenness is that all judgements must relate to an object of intuition, an object of possible experience. This means that judgement cannot hope for providing us with knowledge of an object unconstrained by forms of our sensory intuition, that we can know only what is within the bounds of experience, not that we must have the object "before our eyes" (what Kant terms: material conditions), as I said. Compare Postulates of Empirical Thought in the Transcendental Analytic where Kant discusses the modal categories of possibility and actuality.

One more remark: Regarding mathematical knowledge, Kant holds the position that mathematics is the study of forms of space and time. This view has been challenged by many thinkers, especially since Frege. There are various reasons why Kant thinks this. A good book on this topic is D. Sutherland's Kant's Mathematical World.

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