Source: p 216, Philosophy: The Classics (4 ed, 2014) by Nigel Warburton PhD in Philosophy (Cambridge)

Kant distinguishes between the world we experience (the world of phenomena), and the underlying reality behind it. The underlying reality consists of noumena, about which we can say nothing at all because we have no access to them. We are restricted to knowledge of phenomena; noumena must for ever remain mysterious to us. Hence most metaphysical speculation about the ultimate nature of reality is misguided, since it purports to describe features of the noumenal world, and our lot is to dwell entirely in the phenomenal one.

[Wikipedia :] The Greek word νοούμενoν nooúmenon, plural νοούμενα nooúmena, is the neuter middle-passive present participle of νοεῖν noeîn "to think, to mean", which in turn originates from the word νοῦς noûs, an Attic contracted form of νόος nóos "perception, understanding, mind".[3][4]

Kant's use of the Loan Word 'noumenon' appears to contradict its original meaning in Greek; to what thinking or perception can nooúmenon refer, if humans can never perceive, understand, or think about noumena? Did Kant intend a semantic shift?

1 Answer 1


Kant gives the following explanation in Critique of Pure Reason, A249:

Appearances, so far as they are thought as objects according to the unity of the categories, are called phenomena. But if I admit things which are objects merely of the understanding, and nevertheless can be given as objects to an intuition, though not to sensible intuition (given therefore coram intuitu intellectuali [to intellectual intuition]), then such things would be called noumena (intelligibilia [intelligibles]).

  • Adding the notion of an intellectus archetypus described in this answer of mine from § 77 of the Critique of Judgement it makes perfect sense to name these objects this way, as they are for this "type of" intuition objects that are exactly as they are thought/understood and in the same moment the perception is not destinguishable from the thought/understanding anymore. Noumena and intellectus archetypus in fact are one and the same concept.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 12, 2016 at 23:28

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