The encyclopedia Britannica says:

Kant’s immediate successors in German Idealism in fact rejected the noumenal as having no existence for man’s intelligence

A few days ago I asked another question quoting Kant

If, by the term noumenon, we understand a thing so far as it is not an object of our sensuous intuition, thus making abstraction of our mode of intuiting it, this is a noumenon in the negative sense of the word. But if we understand by it an object of a non-sensuous intuition, we in this case assume a peculiar mode of intuition, an intellectual intuition, to wit, which does not, however, belong to us, of the very possibility of which we have no notion — and this is a noumenon in the positive sense

and asking if "in this second sense: we conceive of a thing in itself by imagining we are not imagining it?"

I have two questions really:

  1. Is my death a noumenon in either of Kant's senses?
  2. Who says that the noumenal is inconceivable; why might they?

2 Answers 2


tl;dr: Kant clearly states that we cannot!

Evidence in the Critique of Judgement

The Critique of Judgement, as his last systematic critical book, clearly destinguishes between intuitive understanding, that will be able to conceive noumena, and understandings like ours:

Kant used the intuitive understanding as a limiting concept [Grenzbegriff] to understandings like ours and always disjunctive to it, like the holy will vs. a finite (albeit, in abstraction, pure) will like ours in his practical philosophy. From the Critique of Judgement, §77, paragraph no. 8 (Ak. 407.13-408.23, quoting the paragraph as a whole, bolded by me):

In fact our Understanding has the property of proceeding in its cognition, e.g. of the cause of a product, from the analytical-universal (concepts) to the particular (the given empirical intuition). Thus as regards the manifold of the latter it determines nothing, but must await this determination by the Judgement, which subsumes the empirical intuition (if the object is a natural product) under the concept. We can however think an Understanding which, being, not like ours, discursive, but intuitive, proceeds from the synthetical-universal (the intuition of a whole as such) to the particular, i.e. from the whole to the parts. The contingency of the combination of the parts, in order that a definite form of the whole shall be possible, is not implied by such an Understanding and its representation of the whole. Our Understanding requires this because it must proceed from the parts as universally conceived grounds to different forms possible to be subsumed under them, as consequences. According to the constitution of our Understanding a real whole of nature is regarded only as the effect of the concurrent motive powers of the parts. Suppose then that we wish not to represent the possibility of the whole as dependent on that of the parts (after the manner of our discursive Understanding), but according to the standard of the intuitive (original) Understanding to represent the possibility of the parts (according to their constitution and combination) as dependent on that of the whole. In accordance with the above peculiarity of our Understanding it cannot happen that the whole shall contain the ground of the possibility of the connexion of the parts (which would be a contradiction in discursive cognition), but only that the representation of a whole may contain the ground of the possibility of its form and the connexion of the parts belonging to it. Now such a whole would be an effect (product) the representation of which is regarded as the cause of its possibility; but the product of a cause whose determining ground is merely the representation of its effect is called a purpose. Hence it is merely a consequence of the particular constitution of our Understanding, that it represents products of nature as possible, according to a different kind of causality from that of the natural laws of matter, namely, that of purposes and final causes. Hence also this principle has not to do with the possibility of such things themselves (even when considered as phenomena) according to the manner of their production, but merely with the judgement upon them which is possible to our Understanding. Here we see at once why it is that in natural science we are not long contented with an explanation of the products of nature by a causality according to purposes. For there we desire to judge of natural production merely in a manner conformable to our faculty of judging, i.e. to the reflective Judgement, and not in reference to things themselves on behalf of the determinant Judgement. It is here not at all requisite to prove that such an intellectus archetypus is possible, but only that we are led to the Idea of it,—which contains no contradiction,—in contrast to our discursive Understanding which has need of images (intellectus ectypus) and to the contingency of its constitution.

As you can see this could refer to "pure intuitions" of things-in-themselves ("of a whole as such") - which we shall for now equate with noumena, but is only ascribed to understandings fundamentally different from ours.

Further evidence

This is consistent to all his earlier writings and even his opus postumum:

Ak 21:75 (manuscripts opus postumum, first convolute):

Wenn die Grenze der Transsc. Philos. überschritten wird so wird das angemaßte Princip transscendent; d. i. das Object wird ein Unding der Begriff von ihm wiederspricht sich selbst: denn es überschreitet die Grenzlinie alles Wissens: das ausgesprochene Wort ist ohne Sinn.

My translation would be:

If the borderline of transcendental philosophy would be crossed, the assumed principle became transcendent; i.e. the object becomes a no-thing [ein Unding], the concept [Begriff] of it contradicts itself: Because it crosses the borderline of all knowledge: the uttered word is without meaning.

In fact here he says that as soon as we try to go further than a priori principles as found in the three critiques, we transcend all knowledge ("es überschreitet die Grenzlinie alles Wissens [borderline of all knowledge]"). The object of speculations like that would become a no-thing [Unding]. That doesn't mean that we couldn't contemplate on them. But all contemplation then would never be in the realm of knowledge, but mere speculation.

That is only consequent, because the difference between object [Gegenstand] and thing [Ding] is the one between the table of judgements (necessary conditions of reference to objects as such [Gegenständen überhaupt]) and the table of categories (necessary conditions of reference to things as such [Dingen überhaupt]). The latter only makes sense for intuitions [Anschauung], concepts [Begriffe] and intuitions are interdependent, therefore the proclaimed contradiction in itself (remember the famous quote about concepts and intuitions). As soon as intuitions are involved, we can schematize, and only then knowledge is possible.

I actually think this is the real reason for his needing of a type of the moral law in the second critique, because for the moral law itself, we have no scheme and therefore no (not even practical) knowledge.

Regarding Fichte, Schelling and Hegel

Most contemporary philosophers only learned from CPR through Jacobi's reading of the A edition (which wasn't too accurate) or by the B edition, because there have only been 1000 copies of the A edition and the first edition that featured both has been published in 1838. The readings and (mis-)interpretations of all three critiques by Jacobi, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel are perfectly described in Eckart Förster's The 25 Years of Philosophy. For a detailed answer on their objections and their ways to finally get access to things-in-themselves I would recommend reading the book as a whole.

Regarding the actual questions.

Death, as your example, is an appearance. It appears to us in a certain way. It has, of course, also an accordance in your noumenal self. But a noumenon is a thing in its essential being, it includes all aspects of its being. That is something that we cannot possibly ever get hold of, therefore Kant clearly rejects the possibility to conceive a noumenon.


Is my death a noumenon in either of Kant's senses?

Kant uses the term "noumenon" in the sense of your first definition "a thing so far as it is not an object of our sensuous intuition."

I doubt whether Kant discusses the term in the sense of your second definition. I doubt that Kant speculates about a kind of intution different from our human intuition. The term intution has to be taken in the sense of the "Transcendental Aesthetic".

The long passage from the "Critique of Judgement", which Philip quotes, deals with the difference between discursive and intuitive understanding. In my opinion, here Kant's uses the term "intuitive" not in the technical sense of the Transcendental Aesthetic, but in a more common sense.

Your death will be a natural event. You cannot recognize your death. But this fact does not relate to any philosophical reasoning. It is due to the tautology that a person is dead at the time of his death. Therefore his mind does not work any longer.

Who says that the noumenal is inconceivable; why might they?

Kant says that the noumenal is inconceivable, see "Chap. III Of the Ground of the Division of all Objects into Phenomena and Noumena" of his Critique of Pure Reason. He argues that we cannot know the raw material which lies before our information processing. We know the results of our information processing, but not its input. I think that's a clear and valid argument.

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