Kant distinguishes three fundamental faculties of the mind—cognition, desire, and feeling.
- Kant on the faculty of cognition
- Kant on the faculty of desire
- Kant on the faculty of feeling (or pleasure)
The division of the faculties
The clearest discussions of this fundamental tripartite division occurs in Kant’s later works, in particular his Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of the Power of Judgment, and Anthopology. The fact that his view on this develop over time means that not all that he says in, e.g., the lectures is reliable, though his basic view that there are faculties and that these are distinct from the substance itself (i.e. the substance is not a faculty) remains consistent.
For example, his view prior to 1787 was that no a priori science of feeling/taste was possible.
The faculty of knowledge, the feeling of pleasure and displeasure, and the faculty of desire, are the three powers of the human soul. In all three understanding and sense can come into play. If understanding is present, then the following sciences are possible: (1) logic, in regard to the understanding; (2) aesthetic, the feeling of pleasure and displeasure in the understanding, which is taste; (3) practical philosophy, the faculty of desire in relation to the understanding…. In all these sciences, the question is: Can anything be known a priori there? With the feeling of pleasure, etc., we get nowhere, for there it is a matter of how I am affected. But we can have cognitions and acts of will a priori, in regard to certain objects. There is no a priori science of taste. (MMr, 29:597 [1782–3]; compare Pro, 4:299n )
But this changes by 1787:
This is an inner conviction that grows, as I discover in working on different topics that not only does my system remain self-consistent but I find also, when sometimes I cannot see the right way to investigate a certain subject, that I need only look back at the general picture of the elements of knowledge, and of the mental powers pertaining to them, in order to discover elucidations I had not expected. I am now at work on the critique of taste, and I have discovered a new sort of a priori principles, different from those heretofore observed. For there are three faculties of the mind: the faculty of cognition, the faculty of feeling pleasure and displeasure, and the faculty of desire. In the Critique of Pure (theoretical) Reason, I found a priori principles for the first of these, and in the Critique of Practical Reason, a priori principles for the third. I tried to find them for the second as well, and though I thought it impossible to find such principles, the analysis of the previously mentioned faculties of the human mind allowed me to discover a systematicity, giving me ample material at which to marvel and if possible to explore, material sufficient to last me for the rest of my life. This systematicity put me on the path to recognizing the three parts of philosophy, each of which has its a priori principles, which can be enumerated and for which one can delimit precisely the knowledge that may be based on them: theoretical philosophy, teleology, and practical philosophy, of which the second is, to be sure, the least rich in a priori grounds of determination. I hope to have a manuscript on this completed though not in print by Easter; it will be entitled “The Critique of Taste.” (Letter to Reinhold, C 10:514-15 [December 28 and 31, 1787])
And by the time of the CPJ he is clear that he structures the philosophical system in accordance with the principles of the faculties:
Now the faculty of cognition in accordance with concepts has its a priori principles in the pure understanding (in its concept of nature), the faculty of desire, in pure reason (in its concept of freedom), and there remains among the properties of mind in general an intermediate faculty of receptivity, namely the feeling of pleasure and displeasure, just as there remains among the higher faculties of cognition an intermediate one, the power of judgment. What is more natural than to suspect that the latter will also contain a priori principles for the former? (CPJ, First Introduction, 20:207–8 )
Higher vs. Lower faculties
Kant typically distinguishes between the ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ faculties. The best way to think about this is in terms of his distinction between passive (receptive) and active (spontaneous) capacities.
[s]ensibility is the passivity of my capacities, intellectuality is the spontaneity of the same: of cognition, feeling, and desire…. All spontaneity requires the consciousness of life” (R 202, 15:78 ; also R 204, 17:79 ; R 223, 15:223 )
All our representations have a twofold origin; they arise (1) from sensibility and (2) from the intellect. The first is called the lower, and the other the higher cognitive faculty. The first belongs to sensuality and the other to intellectuality. Everything that is sensible rests on receptivity; but what belongs to spontaneity belongs to the higher powers. We will have sensible cognitions, sensible pleasure and displeasure, and sensible desires. All three of these powers can be sensible. Intellectual pleasure is called moral feeling…. (Metaphysik L_2, 28:584 [1790–1])
Though this is the best way for one (including Kant) to think about the higher/lower division, it does generate some problems. For one, if one recognizes a radical difference between spontaneity and receptivity then it isn’t clear how to reconcile the higher and lower as a unitary faculty or set of faculties.
Second, the imagination in particular poses a difficult challenge here, since the ‘higher’ imagination is (i) either to be understood purely intellectually, which seems odd; or (ii) the intellectual/sensible distinction doesn’t map spontaneous/receptive distinction, which also seems bad.