Kant Lexicon


Sensualism is a metaphysical doctrine concerning “the object of all our rational cognitions” (A853-4/B881-2). Specifically, it holds that the only actual or existing objects are objects of the senses. Alleged objects of the pure intellect are, on this view, only imaginary. Kant considered Epicurus to be “the foremost philosopher of sensibility” (A853/B881).

The spare ontology of the sensualists does not preclude the “reality” of “the concepts of the understanding” (A854/B882). But such concepts admit of a logical use only.

Sensualism is the only metaphysical doctrine compatible with the epistemological doctrine of empiricism, which holds that all pure rational cognitions are derived from the senses. There would be no way to establish the reference of empirically-derived concepts to non-sensible objects.

Classically opposed to sensualism is intellectualism, according to which the objects of our rational cognitions are not sensible, but are objects of the pure intellect. Kant’s critical or transcendental philosophy also rejects sensualism, in that it leaves open the possibility of objects which are not sensible.

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