An intuition is a kind of presentation, in which an object is presented to the human mind. More specifically, it is a cognition, a presentation with consciousness, which refers to objects (unlike sensation, which refers only to the mind, insofar as a sensation is a modification of the state of the mind).
Intuitions are characterized by contrast to concepts. There are two differences. First, intuitions are singular. An intuition refers only to a single object. Concepts of the understanding, on the other hand, have an extension or “sphere” of objects to which they refer. Second, an intuition refers to an object immediately, whereas a concept refers to an object through its characteristics. “An intuition refers directly to the object and is singular; a concept refers to the object indirectly by means of a characteristic that may be common to several things“ (A320/B377).
For example, one might have a visual presentation of a house by looking at it. The presentation is of a single object and does not require any kind of characterization. In fact, a human with no experience of houses and hence no concept of a house could still have an intuition of a house. On the other hand, a house may be presented through its characteristics, such as being a place of dwelling. Then a house is thought conceptually as a dwelling-place and hence not immediately. Moreover, being characterized as a dwelling-place does not establish reference to any specific house, as it applies to all houses.
In theory, intuitions may be of one of two kinds: sensible and intellectual. Sensible intuitions have their source in the receptivity of the human mind, in that they require affection by the objects which they represent. Intellectual intuitions would not require affection but would originate intuitions spontaneously. On Kant’s view, human intuition is sensible only.
Our kind of intuition is dependent on the existence of the object, and hence is possible only by the object’s affecting the subject’s capacity to present. . . . [I]t is derivative (intuitus derivativus) rather than original (intuitus originarius), and hence is not intellectual intuition. (B72)
It is conceivable that some mind has an intuition that is original or intellectual. Such a mind would represent objects immediately without being affected by them. Kant held that we do not know whether this is possible, since we do not know how it could occur. The only clue we have is that if there is a God or primordial being, it would have to have original intuition. The reason is that such a being’s cognition must be intuitive, but it could not intuit anything sensibly, as this would be a limitation, which a God could not have (B71, cf. B138).
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