in Kant's philosophy : the noumenon is inaccessible to humans and the phenomenon exists and accessible to humans (is what we live). Sartre in Being and Nothingness criticizes the Kantian philosophy and says that not only is noumenon inaccessible, it also does not exist. The appearance is the only reality. From this starting point, Sartre argues that the world can be seen as an infinite series of finite appearances. Such a perspective helps eliminate the dualism of classical philosophy, especially the inner / outer distinction.

My question here is, what about thought? Thought is not a phenomenon -it is unrecognizable by any of the five senses- then what is thought in the existentialist meaning? and did Kant argue that thought comes from noumenon or phenomenon? and to which of these categories does thought belong to ?

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    It'd be helpful to have a page number from BN to understand what passage you are thinking through.
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 1:47

2 Answers 2


It's an interesting question, but I think it might be helpful to first review Kant's view on the phenomenon and the noumenon before giving an answer as to what Sartre does with thought and how that relates to the Kantian position and his denial of the existence of the noumenal or things-in-themselves.

Kant's account of knowledge looks something like this: There are things that we render through the forms of sensibility to get sensibles (=perceptables). Then, we push those through the 12 categories (the categories of the understanding) and have objects that we can know.

This method yields two effects: (1) knowledge of reality and (2) the inaccessibility of the thing-in-itself.

the thing-in-itself is sometimes called by Kant "noumenal."

The phenomenon vs. noumenon language also occurs in the Critique of Pure Reason and in Kant's moral philosophy as a distinction between the determined world where we encounter phenomenon and the noumenal world where our wills are free.

Being and Nothingness is an extremely long book (my copy is around 800 pages), so I can't just guess exactly where you are reading. But my understanding in general would be that Sartre's critique of the "noumenal" is not of the freedom of our wills but of the existence of an objective reality (especially for social objects) that is not a product of our wills. In other words, he denies there are things in themselves that ground our knowledge claims. Thus for Sartre, knowledge claims are also will claims.

There's some complex slight of hand going on in what Sartre is doing. To get a good hold of it, we need to look at Hegel's philosophy which has a very large influence on Sartre's Being and Nothingness. Specifically, I'm thinking of a passage I've published about in an obscure journal on the nature of objects in Hegel. Namely, insofar as objects are things that we know, the nature of objects is for Hegel both grounded in what they are and in our acts of knowing that arrange them into types and give them properties. For instance, "marriage" is a type of social object, because the nature of its existence for a society depends not just on physics but on social understandings of who can relate to whom how and whether such relations are accepted.

Sartre accepts this concept of how social objects work (I assume he's not trying to apply this to physics per se). But he disagrees with Kant about the necessity of the underlying hinge whereby what we are saying is objectively true.

Now we are in a position to talk about "thoughts." For Sartre, thoughts would be part of the activity of our reason, rather than an object for our reason. In other words, they are somewhat veiled but only because they are the method of consciousness rather than its object.

I'm sure if we make them the object, that they are largely what we will them to be. To give a plausible example, if we can read people's mind, we can categorize their thoughts "hate speech" , "anti-governmental", "rebellious" , "sinful". And we do this with other people's utterances.

That's the best I can do without a specific reference.

  • Though my english is not well enough to understand your complex (to me) wording from a first try, I can't but appriciate with big +1. And to modestly add: For Sartre, things are phenomena themselves and there are no other entities such as noumena or essences. However, Being of a thing (phenomenon) is, like noumenon, concealed in its purity from man. But being is not a thing out there, it is a (immanent) "side" or "attribute" of a phenomenon.
    – ttnphns
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 10:54
  • (cont.) And since phenomena emerge (are opened) by consciousness, being can come to play only as long as human mind is here. But Sartre does not claim that consciousness (for-itself) preexists being (in-itself). It leaves it circular like egg/han problem.
    – ttnphns
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 10:55
  • A note on "thoughts": if by thoughts and reason you mean reflective, positional consciousness then thoughts are objects for Sartre. If I see that tree a way so I can judge anything about it, i.e. I have knowledge, that knowledge is an object to me nearby the tree. The thought then does not only stream, it feels itself as being watched from aside.
    – ttnphns
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 10:55

I will give this a whirl... From Wikipedia - Noumenon, it explains Kant's perspective:

Kant asserts that to "transcend" a direct observation or experience is to use reason and classifications to strive to correlate with the phenomena that are observed. By Kant's view, humans can make sense out of phenomena in these various ways, but can never directly know the noumena, the "things-in-themselves", the actual objects and dynamics of the natural world.

So Kant is an Idealist of some form. Sartre is of course an Existentialist. Neither one of them apparently has anything to do with Nonduality, which dispenses with the subject-object split through direct experience. Add to this that Buddhists regard the ability to be mentally aware as a "sense" like the 5 physical senses. We can, after all, close our eyes and be aware of thought, or even simply, consciousness. This makes thought a phenomenon in the sense that it occurs and can be apprehended, like any experience. (It is private, but so are all of the senses.)

So the answer is that Kant is "not even wrong" because he decided that there are essents that are not of the world we can apprehend - ideals like the Platonic ones, as best I can tell. He describes these as categories, but to categorize is an activity of the mind, not contact with an unseen realm. Sartre is correct to criticize him, but he does not answer the issue properly: he seems to say that thought is not real (yes?). Nonduality is direct apprehension of what-is, without thought.

  • what do you mean by "essents"? Also, Kant is only an idealist after a somewhat convoluted fashion -- he's a "trasncendental idealist". Also, there's plenty of dualisms in philosophy not all of which relate to nondualism in Buddhist thought.
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 1:46
  • @virmaior you seem to know far more about these topics than I do, I just wandered in here because I am trying to find a good place to discuss nonduality. I wasn't so much interested in will, or free-will, or considering thought as a method or means of doing something, or as an object. If you are thinking, "well, what is left to discuss?" then we can get started if you like. Not sure how to start.
    – user16869
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 2:16
  • I'm not quite following your comment. If you don't feel you can give a good answer, you don't need to answer. I'm explaining in my above comment where I think your answer is inadequate -- not so much seeking lengthy discussion
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 2:19

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