Intuisjon hos Immanuel Kant 1724-1804


Bergson is recognized as the advocate of intuition in European philosophy, and we will turn to him in a minute. Here it suffices to say that his exposition of intuition, in many ways, is intrinsically related to the notion of time. This is also the case with Plato and Kant. In this respect, Bergson is indebted to both. Kant then, is indeed another main proponent of intuition, and no discussion on the subject should leave him out. Kant, as well as Bergson and Plato, supposed that we possess two distinct cognitive capacities, both of them rational and intellectual, namely intuition or anschauung, and understanding, or verstand. Verstand is by Kant, defined only in its logical or discursive employment, Kemp Smith and Falkenstein argues.[1] We may thus be correct in suggesting that Kant here is echoing Plato, and his upper part of the divided line. More specifically, I would like to advocate that we interpret Kant’s notion of verstand, as similar to Plato’s discursive thinking, and I intend to make this plausible as we go along. This distinction is the main one in my thesis, and its relevance is reflected in dual-process theories of modern psychology. They are discussed in the succeeding chapter.[2] There are two Formen der Anschauung then, namely time and space, and twelve Formen der Verstand, where cause and effect are recognized as the more important ones.[3] Kant’s Copernican revolution then, is imposing upon us the idea that these forms are innate in us and that we in fact, do synthesise them with the material provided by the senses. Thus, his epistemology is split into a posteriori and a priori awareness, where the latter is independent of empirical sense confirmation.



Analytic & Synthetic Judgment

Furthermore, he develops the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgment, where the former is recognized by its logical confirmation, e.g. it is necessarily true that either it rains, or it does not. This is analytic and a priori, because we do not need empirical confirmation to comprehend that this is true. In principle, all analytical judgment can be verified in this way. Tentatively, we may relate the analytic mode to discursive thinking or verstand, and the synthetic mode to intuition. This is in agreement with Bergson. Synthetic judgments then, are much more common and more problematic. The synthetic a posteriori judgment is characterized by not being self-contradictory. This is of course the case with most judgments. However, a second criteria is involved. Empirical sense confirmation is required, in order to establish whether it is a true judgment or not. We can judge that an apple is rotten but only empirical sense confirmation can establish whether this is true or not. That is, the Forms and sense confirmation will in this case provide the synthesis of three things; namely the Forms, the apple and rotten, and in this way confirm or disconfirm the judgment.

These distinctions will be especially relevant when we turn to our discussion of rationality, which by Elster is defined as proper judgment or “the capacity to synthesize vast and diffuse information that more or less clearly bears on the problem in hand, in such a way that no element or set of elements is given undue importance.”[4] In his thin theory of rational judgment, logical consistency is the only criteria. This corresponds to analytic judgment. In a succeeding chapter, intuition and rationality will be interpreted in the Platonic and Kantian scheme. The controversial suggestion is that intuition is rational.

The notion of synthetic a priori judgment is the more challenging one to Kant, and to most of his readers, we may add. It is also the crux of the matter in his metaphysical deduction of pure reason. Essentially, he argues as already mentioned, that the Forms are something we apply to any empirical experience, and that they must be anchored in us. Our self guarantees that these Forms can be applied at all. Furthermore, our self-consciousness is a synthesis and a unity in it-self. As such, it is in the end also the instrument that facilitates and guarantees a synthesis with any judgment. In other words, because the unity of our self-consciousness necessitates such a synthesis, Kant calls it transcendental. He is of course here borrowing from Descartes. This argument is among the more important ones in the entire history of philosophy and of special relevance to my line of reason. In summarizing then, we have that:



Synthetic Judgment Analytical Judgment
A priori Rational Intuition + Unity of self-consciousness Discursive Thinking
A posteriori Empirical Intuition



This two-faculty account of cognition then, or dual processes as modern psychologists will have it, lies at the foundation of Kant’s theoretical philosophy. Almost everything he has to say in the Critique of Pure Reason presupposes it. However, it is also problematic. “At the outset of the Critique, Kant simply assumes the validity of the distinction between intuition and verstand, without in any way attempting to justify it.” In addition, one looks in vain through the Kantian corpus for any explanation that might legitimate it, Falkenstein argues.[5] Even more intriguing, is that Kant does not always draw the distinction in the same way. “Most notoriously, he presents two quite different accounts of intuition, defining it in some places as a singular representation, and in others as immediate cognition.” Recently, this issue has been focused in a number of articles.[6] Though, there is no doubt that concepts or Begriffe is Kant’s name for the representations the discursive intellect delivers, and that the distinction between intuition and concept is of utmost importance for understanding Kant’s critical philosophy. For as Kant himself claimed: “All the distinctive claims of this philosophy rest on and develop out of a detailed account of the way all our cognition of things requires both intuitions and concepts.”[7] Unfortunately, interpreting Kant’s distinction between intuition and concept remains a vexed matter.



There are three issues then, I will work at. The first issue is Kant’s notion of pure, non-sensuous, rational, intuition. Pure here signifies that which is absolutely a priori and which originates from reason itself.[8] Specifically, I start by delineating Kant’s line of argument, when establishing time and space as the two Forms of pure intuition. In this way, we may come fairly close to the nature of pure or intellectual intuition, as perceived by Kant. Another purpose is also involved. In scrutinizing his line of reason, we make explicit key elements in his account of rationality. This will equip us with arguments that prove useful later on.[9] The next step is then to contrast intuition with discursive thinking through its main product, concepts. As this is indeed an intricate matter, I do not at all intend to contribute in the debate. Rather, I try to present one view that apparently is properly justified.[10] Finally, the third issue, which is to be addressed briefly, is Kant’s distinction between the analytic and the synthetic method.




Time and Space as Forms of Pure Rational Intuition

Kant’s conception of space is given in four arguments. They will be outlined below. Then, his conception of time will follow. This summary is derived directly from Norman Kemp Smith’s commentary to The Critique of Pure Reason, which authority is widely recognized.[11] Finally, I attempt to extract key characteristics of pure, rational intuition.



1 The first argument is that space is not an empirical concept, abstracted from outer experience. “For in order that certain sensations be related to something outside me (e.g. to something in another region of space from that in which I find myself), and similarly in order that I may be able to represent them as outside (and alongside) one another, and accordingly as not only (qualitatively) different but as in different places, the representation of space must be presupposed.”[12] As a subjective form that lies ready in the mind, as a potentiality, space precedes experience, and powers the co-operation and generation of it.


2 The second argument is that space is a necessary representation, and consequently it is a priori. The proof given by Kant is that it is impossible to imagine the absence of space, though it is possible to imagine it as existing without objects to fill it. “A representation, which it is impossible for the mind to be without, is a necessary representation. Necessity is one of the two criteria, of the a priori. This proof of the necessary character of space is therefore also a proof of it being a priori and in a psychological not logical sense.” The first argument proves that space is a subjective necessity, and the second argument, that it is a necessary objective ingredient.[13]


3 The third argument seeks to show that space is not a discursive or general concept, but an intuition. “As we intuitively apprehend not only the space of the object which affects our senses, but the whole space, space cannot arise out of the actual affection of the senses, but must precede it in time.”[14] We can represent only a single space, Kant argues. For though we can speak of many spaces, we mean only parts of one and the same single space. “The parts of space cannot precede the one all-comprehensive space. They can be thought only in and through it. The parts, which compose a concept, on the other hand, precede it in thought. Through combination of them, the concept is formed. Space cannot, therefore, be a concept. Only in an intuition does the whole precede the part. In a concept, the parts always precede the whole. Intuition stands for multiplicity in unity, conception for unity in multiplicity. Space must therefore be an intuition.” Kant also stresses that a concept always refers indirectly, to a plurality of individuals. Intuition is directly related to a single individual, Smith argues.[15]


4 The fourth argument is again, intending to prove that space is an intuition, not a general concept. This is proved by reference to the fact that space is given and determined, as an infinite magnitude. This key characteristic of our space representation cannot be accounted for if it is regarded as a concept. “A general conception of space would try to abstract out those properties and relations, which are common to all spaces, and could not possibly determine anything in regard to infinite magnitude. For since spaces differ in magnitude, any one magnitude cannot be a common quality. Moreover, a general conception, which abstracts out common qualities from a plurality of particulars, contains an infinite number of possible different representations under it, but it cannot be thought as containing an infinite number of representations in it.” Space must, however be thought in this latter manner, for it contains an infinite number of coexisting parts. Since, then, space cannot be a concept, it must be an intuition.[16]



Time as the other Form of pure, rational intuition, is especially interesting due to the pivotal importance it has in Platonic cosmology and in Bergson’s doctrine on intuition. The latter will be elaborated in the next paragraph. Kant then, is arguing in the following way;


1 The first argument is in all respects the same as the first argument on space. The thesis is that the representation of time is not of empirical origin. “The idea of time does not originate in, but is presupposed by the senses. When a number of things act upon the senses, it is only by means of the idea of time that they can be represented whether as simultaneous or as successive. Nor does succession generate the conception of time; but stimulates us to inform it. Thus the notion of time, even if acquired through experience, is very badly defined as being a series of actual things existing one after another. For I can understand, what the word after signifies only if I already know what time means. For those things are after one another which exist at different times, as those are simultaneous which exist at one and the same time.”[17]


2 The second argument is again the same as the second argument on space, namely that it is given a priori. Proof is found in the fact that it cannot be thought away, Smith notes. “There is an innate subjective necessity, and from this follows objective necessity, as far as all appearances are concerned. Time may be necessary to appearances, once appearances are granted.”[18]


3 The third argument differs only slightly, from that given in regard to space.


4 The fourth argument differs fundamentally, from that considered in regard to space, and must therefore be independently analyzed. The thesis is again that time is an intuition. “Proof is derived from the fact that time is a representation in which the parts arise only through limitation of one single time, and in which therefore the whole must precede the parts. The particular times will always arise as secondary products.”[19]



In summarizing then, we have that rational or pure intuition is characterized by being a necessary, infinite, innate, psychological, subjective, co-operative and a priori representation. Furthermore, it is a singular whole that precedes any part, and with immediate representations in it, not under it. Let us then turn to a comparison with the discursive intellect and its main product, Begriffe or concepts.



Intuition versus Conception

Before we contrast the workings of intuition with that of conception, a few remarks about empirical or sensuous intuition are perhaps necessary. It differs from pure or a priori intuition, primarily in that it refers to an external percept, e.g. objects.[20] They are both synthetic in their approach, and how this relates to the analytic method is further discussed in the next paragraph. A strict division between the two types of intuition is perhaps illusionary.[21] For Bergson it is. In many ways, it resembles Jung’s notion of extraverted intuition, which will be elaborated later on. Kant then, defines empirical intuition as knowledge, which is in immediate relation to objects. It is thus clear that he has in mind its distinction from conception, which is related to objects only indirectly, Kemp Smith argues.[22] Kant also argues that all representations consciously referred to an object are either intuitions or concepts and that intuition is immediate and singular, the concepts mediate and generalize. A concept is thus a symbolic representation of a class or genus, it refers to features and marks that several things have in common.[23] Around the above mentioned passages a rather lengthy debate has arisen, which can be traced to modern psychology as well. On the one side, there are those who emphasize that intuition is to be understood in terms of singular representations and on the other side are those who favor the immediacy view.[24] Is there a chance that this controversy can be reconciled?

Let us start by looking again at the contrast between intuition and discursive thinking or cognition. According to scholastic theory, a discursive cognition is one, which requires mental discourse that is the drawing of a conclusion, not immediately evident to the mind by a process of reasoning. Discourse, therefore, has stages and it takes time. Intuition is the opposite – it occurs immediately. Whereas all God’s thinking was supposed to be intuitive, the human cognition was supposed to be largely discursive, Falkenstein argues.[25] For Kant, our verstand is exclusively discursive, in principle it is incapable of an intuitive cognition and it is essentially a classificatory function. Rather than representing objects, as such it reflects on representations obtained from elsewhere and from these it infers or extracts, in a discursive manner, specific differentia features and marks. Concepts or Begriffe is thus Kant’s name for the representations that the discursive intellect delivers. Kant adhered to this doctrine more stringently than his predecessors did, Falkenstein argues.[26]

The major problem then is perhaps not so much the discursive nature of our verstand, but rather the immediacy and singularity of our intuition. What exactly does it mean? No one seems to be able to provide a cogent account of singularity, Kelley writes.[27] Though, Kant says something that may prove useful, namely that “it is a mere tautology to speak of general or common concepts, a mistake based on a wrong division of concepts into general, particular, and singular. Not the concepts themselves, only their use can be divided in this way.”[28] So, what are we to make of this? Let us start by looking at the essence of pure or rational intuition. It is defined as a universal and undivided whole that precedes any part, and with representations in it. I suggest that we interpret the meaning of this as identical to the meaning inherent in Plato’s unique world argument, which was presented earlier on.

Apparently, there are intrinsic similarities. To recapitulate: “Let us rather say that the world is like that Living Creature of which all other living creatures are parts.” When we scrutinize Plato’s argument, it becomes clear that The Creator’s Model is one where individual or singular wholes are embedded in universal and undivided wholes. My reading then of Kant is this; what he is trying to convey is that intuition is a representation or mental picture of the undivided whole, which is immediately present in every part of the whole. The difficulties we have with the term singularity are thus to some extent resolved. It is to be comprehended as an individual part where the undivided whole is innate and where this part is not separated but intimately embedded, integrated, and one with the universal, like a hologram or a human cell in a body.[29]

To make my interpretation more persuasive and to bring this inquiry one step further we still need a more detailed and precise description of the immediacy of intuition. To facilitate this we may quote Steiner who was an arduous student of Kant: “An abstract concept taken by itself has as little reality as a percept taken by itself. The percept is the part of reality that is given objectively, the concept the part that is given subjectively, through intuition.”[30] Our mental organization then, tears the reality apart into these two factors. One factor presents itself to perception, the other to intuition. Only the union or synthesis of the two, that is, the percept fitting systematically and orderly into the universe, constitutes the full reality.[31] An observed object of the world thus remains unintelligible to us until we have within ourselves the corresponding intuition, which adds that part of the reality, which is lacking in the object of perception. What appears to us in observation as separate parts then becomes combined bit by bit, into one singular piece, through the coherent, unified world of our intuitions.

To anyone who is incapable of finding intuitions corresponding to the things, the full reality remains inaccessible, Steiner argues.[32] Houston Smit is advocating a similar view: “Explaining Kant’s positive conception of the immediacy of intuition, that is, the way intuition relates to an object simply through itself, would require examining his account of synthesis. For synthesis is the act of mind that produces intuitions, in a fashion analogous to the way reflection produces concepts. …. This act of synthesis is the act that orders appearances into the whole representation of a single phenomenal world …… Insofar as appearances have this ordered relation to each other, and constitute such grounds of cognition, they constitute empirical intuitions.”[33] A unified mind is thus characterized by rational intuition, as contrasted with a discursive or fragmented one.

Kant defines intuition, as a singular and immediate representation, and concepts as something that mediate. The word representation, or vorstellung, is thus pivotal. We have discussed the terms singular and immediate now let us look at representation. It is by Kant, employed in the widest possible meaning. It covers any and every cognitive state, and is equivalent to his term gemüt or mind.[34] This is somewhat vague. Poppelbaum thus suggests that we interpret representation as the mental picture, which the thinker forms to represent the concept in her individual way.[35] If this is correct, we have that intuition is a universal, singular, undivided, unified mental picture, and that this mental picture can be focused and operated in and through individuals, who use various concepts to mediate between percept and intuition.

As the meaning of representation is not clearly distinguished by Kant, we may again quote Steiner who defines a mental picture as a percept in him self and as an individualized concept.[36] “I know that something happens in me while I am observing a tree. When the tree disappears from my field of vision, an after-effect of this process remains in my consciousness – a picture of the tree. This picture has become associated with my self during my observation. My self has become enriched; its content has absorbed a new element. This element I call my mental picture of the tree.”[37] Mental pictures may also evolve from within. He concludes, in accordance with Kant and his notion of synthetic a priori, that we should never have occasion to speak of representations or mental pictures if we did not experience these mental pictures in the percept of our own selves. Perceptions would then come and go; the I should let them slip by.


Reality shows itself to us as percept and concept. The subjective representative of this reality shows itself to us as mental picture. We may hypothesize that intuition provides the larger and singular picture, where individualized pictures are nested, connected and embedded. It is the wallpaper, against which all perception and conception can be seen. It is a source, which so to speak provides the glue that connects concept and percept. It is also the faculty synthesizing them into more encompassing concepts and a grander scheme. To conclude this paragraph then, we can list the main differences between intuition and conception in a table.




Rational Intuition


Representation in it Representation under it
Immediate Mediate
Direct Indirect
Given Derived
Non-discursive Discursive
Singular General
Whole precedes the part Parts precedes the whole
Multiplicity in unity Unity in multiplicity




The Analytic and Synthetic Method

Kant’s central problem is, as we have already indicated, focused in the question; How are synthetic a priori judgments possible? Kant personally believed that the possibility of valid a priori synthetic judgment is proved by the fact that we have the sciences of mathematics and physics. In Prolegomena, he argued that they are synthetic, not analytic, and because they are not empirical, they have to be synthetic a priori. This is only possible, if mathematics can be said to be contingent upon time and geometry upon space. Being so, there were for Kant two very different methods, which could be employed in accounting for their possibility, the synthetic or progressive, and the analytic or regressive.[38]

The synthetic method then, starts from given, ordinary experience, to discover its conditions, and from them to prove the validity of knowledge that is a priori. The analytic method, start from given a priori synthetic judgments, assuming them as valid. The synthetic method may easily be confounded with the analytic method. For in the process of its argument it makes use of analysis, Kemp Smith points out. “By analyzing ordinary experience in the form in which it is given, it determines the fundamental elements of which knowledge is composed, and the generating conditions from which it results. From these the validity of the a priori principles that underlies mathematics and physics can be directly deduced.”[39]

Kemp Smith thus argues that the fundamental differentiating feature of the so-called synthetic method is not its synthetic procedure, since it employs an analytical method in the most difficult portion of its task. Rather, it is its attitude towards the one question of, the validity of a priori synthetic knowledge. It does not postulate this validity as a premise, but proves it as consequence of conditions, which are independently established. By a preliminary regress upon the conditions of our de facto consciousness, it acquires data from which it is enabled to advance by a synthetic, progressive or deductive procedure to the establishment of the validity of synthetic a priori judgment.[40]

The analytic method, on the other hand, does not attempt to prove the validity of a priori knowledge. “It seeks only to discover the conditions under which such knowledge, if granted to exist, can possess validity.”[41] In addition, it seeks to discover to what degree its paradoxical and apparently contradictory features can be viewed as complementary to one another, Kemp Smith notes. The conditions, thus revealed, will render the validity of knowledge conceivable, will account for it once it has been assumed, but they do not prove it. The validity is a premise. The whole argument rests upon the assumption of its truth. The conditions are postulated only as conditions. Their reality becomes uncertain, if the validity, which presupposes them, is itself called in question. If we attempt to reverse the procedure, and to prove validity from these conditions our argument must necessarily adopt the synthetic form. This involves the prior application of a very different and much more thorough process of analysis.[42]

Kemp Smith thus maintains that the distinction between the two methods may be stated as follows. “In the synthetic method, the grounds which are employed to explain a priori knowledge are such as also at the same time suffice to prove its validity. In the analytic method, they are grounds of explanation, but not of proof. They are themselves proved only insofar as the assumption of validity is previously granted.”[43] Kemp Smith adds that the analytic procedure, which is involved in the complete synthetic method, ought for the sake of clearness, to be classed as a separate, third, method. It is because this new transcendental method is an integral part of the complete, synthetic method that the synthetic method alone serves as an adequate expression of the Kantian standpoint.[44] There is no doubt, that the synthetic and the analytic method, in important respects, are copies of Plato’s two distinct methods. In addition, when we turn to Bergson, we will see the same structure in his two methods. The following table thus summarizes our main findings:




Rational Intuition

Discursive Thinking








Metaphysical Science

Physical Science


[1] Kemp Smith, 1979, p. 81. Falkenstein, 1991, p. 171-172.

[2] Stanovich & West, 2000, p. 658.

[3] The other Formen der verstand are: unity and multiplicity, thing, reality, possibility, negation, being & necessity, contraction, community. The question that we would like to consider is to what degree these Forms are naturally applied by a discursive intellect.

[4] Elster, 1983, p. 16. My italics.

[5] Falkenstein, 1991, p. 165.

[6] Kelley, 1997, p. 289. He refers to Hintikka 1969, Parson 1969, Thompson 1972, Wilson 1975, Mitscerling 1981, Gram 1982, Gloy 1984, and Kolb 1986. See also Falkenstein 1991, and Smit 2000, p. 235.

[7] Smit, 2000, p. 235. See also Falkenstein, 1991, p. 172, Weathersston, 1991, and Weinberger, 1997.

[8] Kemp Smith, 1979, p. 1-2.

[9] Falkenstein, 1991, p. 172. Intelligence or rationality is by Kant, defined as the faculty of a subject, by which it has the power to represent things, which cannot by their own quality come before the senses of that subject.

[10] This view is represented by e.g. Houston Smit and Rudolf Steiner.

[11] Kemp Smith, 1979, p. 99-112 and 123-128.

[12] Ibid. p. 99.

[13] Ibid. p. 103.

[14] Ibid. p. 106.

[15] Ibid. p. 105. See Palmer, 1963, for peculiar research demonstrating the role of space in the navigation of birds.

[16] Ibid. p. 108-109.

[17] Ibid. p. 123.

[18] Ibid. p. 123-124.

[19] Ibid. p. 125. Kant’s view is especially interesting, when compared with modern science, which has virtually nothing to say about time. More specifically, Penrose argues that; “according to general relativity, time is merely a particular choice of coordinate in the description of the location of space-time event. There is nothing in the physicists’ space-time descriptions that singles out time as something that flows. Indeed, physicists quite often consider model space-times in which there is only one space dimension in addition to the single time dimension; and in such two-dimensional space-times there is nothing to say which is space and which is time.” Penrose, 1994, p. 384. See also Penrose & Hawking, 1996, Feynmann, 1997, Heidegger, 1972 and Jaques, 1982.

[20] Parson, 2000, p. 310. Parson argues that a factor that makes intuition rational is the absence of an accompanying event like an external perception. See also Sher & Tieszen, 2000.

[21] Rational intuition is characterized by its synoptic qualities, and thus it embraces empirical intuition.

[22] Kemp Smith, 1979, p. 79. See also the fourth argument on space.

[23] Kelley, 1997, p. 290. Smit, 2000, p. 235-236. The word mediate originates in the Latin mediare, and its meaning is e.g. to reconcile differences. The concept thus occupies a middle position, between intuition and percept.

[24] Ibid. p. 289.

[25] Falkenstein, 1991, p. 171.

[26] Ibid. p. 172. ”This doctrine was a constant of his philosophy, figuring in ID (10), in the Critique (A230=B283), in Prolegomena 46 (Ak 4 333), and given its fullest exposition in 1-16 of his lecture on logic (Ak 9, 91-100), published only a few years before his death.”

[27] Kelley, 1997, p. 290-291. The most noteworthy proponents of the singularity view are Parson and Hintikka. Figuring on the other side, are e.g. Kelley and Falkenstein. Apparently, Smit tries to reconcile them.

[28] Ibid.

[29] All the information required to build a whole human being is embedded in each single cell!

[30] Steiner, 1964, p. 213, xvi. The German word Wahrnehmung, like the English ’perception’ can mean either the process of perceiving or the object perceived as an element of observation. Steiner uses the word in the latter sense, and the word percept, though not in common use, does avoid the ambiguity.

[31] Thus, we have Geistwissenchaft und Naturwissenschaft, Spiritual Science and Natural Science.

[32] Steiner, 1964, p. 73, 84.

[33] Smit, 2000, p. 265. My italics.

[34] Kemp Smith, 1979, p. 81, 104.

[35] Steiner, 1964, p. xvii.

[36] Ibid. p. 49, 84.

[37] Ibid. My italics.

[38] Kemp Smith, 1979, p. 44.

[39] Ibid. My italics.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid. p. 45.