Kant and Jung on Sensing and Intuition

As Jung says in the Face-to-Face interview with BBC in 1959, he was studying Kant during the early parts of his career in order to better understand human cognition. As Jung says: “I was studying Kant. I was steeped in it.”

Kant believed that sensing and intuition are factors that condition our conscious experience of reality. In a famous passage in the first Critique, Kant indicates what he takes a representation to be (A320/B376-77):

As will be seen here, Kant regards intuition as always objective and outwardly directed while he regards sensation as always subjective and pertaining directly to the subject. Thus, to Kant, intuition is always extroverted and sensation is always introverted.

Jung then improved upon Kant by showing how sensation can also be extroverted. Kant had said that sensations do not represent anything apart from the person sensing it. But this is only true when sensation is introverted, that is, when sensation becomes a repository for an impressionistic order of facts as it is in the introverted mode (Si).

But when sensation is extroverted (Se), it is in fact conditioned by outer objects in the same way as extroverted intuition (Ne). Of course it is true that Se is to some extent still dependent on the subject, but so is Ne; no two Ne users will experience exactly the same associations, even if subjected to the exact same stimuli. So in the extroverted mode, sensation is in fact steered by outer objects as much as any other extroverted function. In fact, Se is attracted by those objects that release the strongest sensation-stimuli. Thus, Kant was wrong to say that sensation can only pertain to the subject itself, for Se aims to represent the outer objects photographically, that is, on their own terms and with a purity of immediacy that is exclusive to the ES-P types.

Jung also showed how intuition could be introverted. Indeed in its introverted mode, it is intuition that does not represent anything that is distinct from the person experiencing that intuition. As has also been pointed out by J.H. van der Hoop in his book Conscious Orientation, this difference between extroverted and introverted intuition is exactly the reason why in philosophy INTPs tend to construct systems that are outside and apart from themselves, whereas INTJs tend rather to make a forceful case for something that is more directly dependent upon them as a subject. That is the difference, for example, between a Kant and a Nietzsche. It is also something we cover in our Dawkins vs. Hitchens infographic.

This same difference could also be visualized like this:

(Respective models of consciousness, reworked from van der Hoop.)


Finally, when Kant formulated his theory, why did he find that intuition is naturally extroverted while sensation is naturally introverted? Was he perhaps, as an Ne-Si type himself, projecting his own type on to all of humanity? We leave it to the reader to decide.


  1. Well Kant can hardly be blamed for trying to make clear cut all encompassing theories and; therefore, in turn sacrificing accuracy and nuance.

    From reading Bertrand Russel’s history of Western Philosophy i get the impression that this was a general trend among past philosophers, and I think Kant did better than many anyway.

    Come to think of it the only who I think was able to conjure up a decent philosophy with the character of a “theory of everything” was Spinoza, I think he stands out in that regard, comparatively Kants own and the moral philosophy of others appear rather crude to me!

    Also, aren’t all functions prone to becoming more and more subjective in their processing with time as their given focus is determined by past experiences? I see potential for the same subjective selectiveness of impressions that partly define Si in Se, as the latter steers towards certain objects over others, desiring certain stimuli over others.

    I can see the difference in subjectivity practically, but the distinction seems a little arbitrary to me on a principal level.

  2. Indeed, the blog post should not be taken as an attack on Kant. – We stand in awe of his working out every nook and cranny of the philosophical system he produced. Likewise it is very likely that were it not for Kant, Jung’s system would not have been as good as it ended up being.

    On a more personal level we are impressed with the fact that you came away from Russell’s exposition with a favorable impression of Kant. In our view, Russell fails to do justice to Kant :-)

  3. Yeah Im pretty sure he didnt do much justice to him but he made him a bit more graspable for me.

    My past attempts to read Kant have failed miserably because juggling all his different terms and their complex meanings and relationships to one another have always ended up with me in chunking hell, and I hate being in chunking hell because I have ADD :D

  4. I think you are making a big mistake by assuming that Jung’s idea can be translated in the same way as you do on this site. Jung never said that there are 8 cognitive functions, and never said that a judging type can have intuition as a primary function.

  5. Where do we say there are eight cognitive functions? There are four functions, each with differing orientations. That’s what we say on the site. Rational types cannot have intuition, of course, but Myers’ J types can (if they are introverted). They are really P (or irrational) types with the P/J swapped around for didactic reasons.

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