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An Elementary introduction to Kant's terminology

I.a.  An Elementary introduction to Kant's terminology


All Kant’s basic terms belong to the language of perception, because the Critique of Pure Reason is a grand theory of perception. The theories of perception can be divided into three classes: (1) direct realism, (2) representationalism, and (3) phenomenalism.

Kant rejects phenomenalism as well as direct realism and accepts representationalism. He uses the word “sensibility” as a collective label for all organs and functions of sensation. Sensibility contains two elements, a priori and a posteriori. The a priori elements are Space and Time. They belong not to the physical world but to human sensibility. The a posteriori elements of sensibility are called “sensations.” The two terms, “pure” and “a priori,” are interchangeable with each other and are opposed to “a posteriori” and “empirical.” The a priori elements are genetically prior to the a posteriori elements.

When an appearance becomes an object of our awareness, we have a sensation or experience. But the word “experience” in Kant’s lexicon is highly ambiguous. It can mean either a mere subjective sensation or an objective perception, which in turn means the objective knowledge of a perceptual object. Knowledge, however, requires intellect as well as sensibility. Intellect is the faculty of thought that employs concepts. We can use concepts for describing and understanding an object, for example, “This is a dog,” or “This dog is black.” These propositions express what Kant calls “judgments.”

A judgment (i.e., proposition) describes an object by using concepts. Intellect can provide concepts, but not objects. It is the function of sensibility to provide objects. Neither intellect nor sensibility alone is capable of producing knowledge. This is Kant’s epistemic dualism: “Thoughts,” he says, “without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind.”


Kant divides all elements of knowledge into two general classes, to wit, thoughts and intuitions (or concepts and precepts). The demarcation between the two worlds of phenomena and noumena leads to Kant’s recognition of two levels of human intellect, the Understanding and the Reason. The Understanding is concerned with the world of phenomena; Reason is concerned with the world of noumena (things in themselves). The distinction between a priori and a posteriori elements is concerned with the subjectivity or objectivity of experience. A posteriori elements are subjective, a priori, objective (common to all cognitive subjects). Our perception begins with subjective sensations, which are converted into objective knowledge in the framework of a priori concepts and intuitions. Kant calls these a priori elements the transcendental conditions for converting subjective empirical data into objective experience.

Late in his career Kant writes a Critique of Practical Reason, significantly modifying his system. He now claims to see an enormous chasm between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds and proposes to use the faculty of judgment to bridge the chasm. This faculty can establish the ground of unity and mediation between the two worlds, he says, because it lies between the understanding and reason. The new “faculty of judgment” is surprising, for in The Critique of Pure Reason Kant had presented the understanding as the faculty of judgment, but now he says that this new faculty of judgment performs a different function from that of the old.


He distinguishes two types of judgment, determinative and reflective. They are two ways of relating a particular (object) to a universal (concept). If the universal is given, judgment only subsumes the particular under it. This he calls determinative judgment, which belongs to the understanding. If, however, only the particular is given, judgment has to find a suitable universal for it. This he calls reflective judgment (because it requires reflection). Kant says that reflective judgment ascends from the particular to the universal. The understanding begins with pure concepts and makes judgments by subsuming empirical intuitions under them.

Kant also introduces a new kind of judgment, the aesthetic judgment. He recognizes two types of aesthetic experience, the Beautiful and the Sublime. He argues that, because aesthetic judgment is disinterested, it cannot be influenced by private interests and therefore is reliable. Kant’s argument for the universality of aesthetic judgment is not, though, limited to its disinterest. He compares the judgment of the agreeable with that of the beautiful. Whereas the former, he notes, can vary from one person to another (“Everyone has his own taste”), the latter, he argues, must be universal. (When one makes an aesthetic judgment, one implicitly demands consent from others.) In aesthetic judgment, it is not the concepts but the feelings that speak with “a universal voice.” This universal voice, Kant argues, is the ground of universality.


I.b. An Intermediate introduction to several complex Kantian ideas