Intuitions and Concepts and Analytic and Continental Philosophy - Cutrofello

Intuitions and concepts: the central question is Are they different? and If so, how? Answering these questions is one basis for the distinctions between Analytic and Continental philosophy, according to Cutrofello. Kant believed that the empiricists (Locke and Hume) and rationalists (Leibniz and Wolff) before him failed to understand that intuitions and concepts were different kinds of representations (pp. 5-6).

  • Locke and Hume's mistake: "to think of concepts as abstractions or copies of sensible intuitions" (p. 6)
  • Leibniz and Wolff's mistake: "to think of intuitions as confused concepts" (p.6)
  • Kant, "Leibniz intellectualized the appearances, just as Locke totally sensitivized the concepts of understanding (CPR A271/B 327)" (p. 6)

Our distinctions between a priori and a posteriori cognitions arise from the intuition/concept distinction. Kant argued that human experience indeed begins with a posteriori empirical sensation, but we "provide a priori (non-empirical) 'forms' to which the matter of sensation must conform in order to be apprehended by us (CPR A1-2/B1-2)" (p. 6). Kant wanted to establish the rightful place of these concepts but also keep them from overstepping their appropriate boundaries.

Analytic / synthetic judgments

  • analytic - known to be true by definition. A is B, where the predicate B belongs to A
  • a priori synthetic - known to be true by empirical investigation, the predicate B lies entirely outside the concept of A - a posteriori (p. 6)

Kant argued that some synthetic can be known a priori: in math, such 5+7=12 and a straight line is the shortest distance between two points (CPR B16). These are synthetic but known to be true a priori (p. 6). Space and time are forms of human sensibility, not pure concepts. This makes math and geometry possible. However, their truths are not discovered by analysis of concepts (analytic), they are discovered by an intuition of space, but this cannot be empirical. Therefore, we must have an a priori intuition of space (p.7). "Spatiotemporal properties pertain only to appearances" (p.7). Things in themselves do not have such properties. "Our sensible intuitions of objects must conform to space and times as the a priori forms of human sensibility, so these same objects must conform to pure concepts which serve as a priori forms human understanding (p. 7). [Prof. Levi Bryant's summarizes this material here]

Kant surmises four groups of categories: quantity, quality, relation, and modality (CPR A80/B106). Twelve categories in all.

Transcendental Deduction - of the pure concepts of the understanding A threefold synthesis:

  • apprehension of a manifold in one intuition
  • reproduction of this manifold in the imagination
  • conceptual recognition of the unitary object that is given to us thereby (CPR A97-103) (p. 8) of Cutrofello

The aim in TD is to show

  1. appearances are governed by principle of pure understanding
  2. the principles are valid "only in relation to appearance and not to things in themselves" (p.8). * the spatiotemporal conditions of our experience are the grounds for the meaning of the categories (p. 8).

Noumena - objects of thought (we cannot know that these exists) Phenomena - objects of appearances

The domain of the understanding is properly constrained to the immanent conditions of possible experience Our faculty of reason tempts our understanding to overstep these boundaries (CPR A295-6/B352) (p. 8).

Unlike the categories, whose employment is restricted to the conditions of possible experience, the ideas of reason refer the understanding to transcendent objects that can never be given in sensible intuitions. By appearing to extend human cognition in this way, reason seems to offer us the hope of purely rational--i.e., non-empirical--sciences of psychology (doctrine of the soul), cosmology (doctrine of world-totality), and theology (doctrine of God) (CPR A334-5/B391-2). These hopes turn out to be in vain, because although the ideas are subjectively useful insofar as they direct the understanding to aspire to a standard of completeness which it can never actually attain, they have no objective employment whatsoever. The negative task of the Transcendental Dialectic is to prevent us from succumbing to the "transcendental illusions" of reason (CPR A295/B352). The supposed proofs in rational psychology of the substantiality, simplicity, and personal identity of the soul--as well as of the empirical ideality of objects in space--are only so many "paralogisms" (i.e., badly formed syllogisms). Likewise, rational cosmolgy can only generate "antinomies," apparent conflicts of reason with itself. Finally, the supposed proofs in rational theology for the existence of God can do no more than posit an "ideal" to which no actual object corresponds (p. 9).


Cutrofello, A., 2004, Continental philosophy a contemporary introduction, Routledge, New York; London.