What does Kant mean by the term "category" and did the term change meaning with Hegel? I'm not asking about for an enumeration of his categories, but what the term means, therein.

I read the wikipedia article, but it's not super clear because it leaves "understanding" undefined, and I was left wondering how e.g. that term linked to a posteriori knowledge.

Obviously some philosophers are going to use the term differently if not discussing Kant, but e.g. Aristotle or something more contemporary perhaps. But I'm also interested in what Hegelians mean by the term, how its application may differ from how it appears in Kant.

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  • well maybe you can do better @Not_Here should i delete the question :
    – user6917
    Feb 7, 2017 at 18:01
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    No I wasn't saying you should delete the question, I don't see anything wrong with it. I was just giving you something else to read that might give you an answer. I haven't spent more than a few days of time studying Hegel so I won't be able to give a full answer to the question.
    – Not_Here
    Feb 7, 2017 at 18:06
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    Categories of the being are going back to Aristotle. Hegel just expands the way categories are derived but in general accepts the Kantian categories as a base en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_of_being
    – John Am
    Feb 7, 2017 at 18:50
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2 Answers 2


A category is a class. The term "category" implies classification. We classify a topic into classes. We categorize a subject into categories. In Western philosophy, the term 'categories' pertains usually to general metaphysics, that is ontology. An ontologist categorizes the kinds of being, such as: substance, quality, quantity, relation, fact, etc. The origin is apparently in Aristotle, who laid out his ontology in the Categories and later developed it in the Physics and in the Metaphysics. Many later philosophers discussed the list of categories. The special thing about Kant was that his list of categories was not derived from purely metaphysical considerations, but largely from subjective i.e. epistemological and psychological considerations. Hegel continued this tendency. In Hegel's philosophy the very distinctions betweem subjective, objective and absolute become blurred by a to and fro "dialectic" movement of derivation. And while Kant's list contained 12 categories, Hegel's list stretched to about 270 categories.

  • Isn't Aristotle's Categories a logical work? In Aristotlian logic "category" is synonymous with "predicament." Cf. "What is the philosophical study of classification called?" and its chosen answer.
    – Geremia
    Feb 21, 2017 at 2:52
  • @Geremia Hi. I'm not sure how your comment relates to my answer. What do you mean by "a logical work"? And what does it matter here whether the Categories is a logical work, or not? Feb 21, 2017 at 16:51
  • I'm commenting on this: "In Western philosophy, the term 'categories' pertains usually to general metaphysics, that is ontology." By "logical work" I mean "a work treating the subject of logic," logic being "the science of reason (rationalis scientia)," "not so much a science as an instrument of science" ("reply to 2" of In Boeth. de Trin., q. 5, a. I). Aristotle's Physics is the science of changeable being (ens mobile), and his Metaphysics is the study of being qua being.
    – Geremia
    Feb 22, 2017 at 1:29
  • @Geremia There are some logical chapters in the Categories, but it is, I think, mostly a classificatory work, which the Metaphysics (whose main theme is substance) carries on. Feb 22, 2017 at 18:15

The OED defines "category" as:

Greek κατηγορία accusation, assertion, predication, abstract noun

  1. b. Kant applied the term to: The pure a priori conceptions of the understanding, which the mind applies (as forms or frames) to the matter of knowledge received from sense, in order to raise it into an intelligible notion or object of knowledge.

This quote shows the difference between Kant and Aristotle:

1829 W. Hamilton in Edinb. Rev. Oct. 211
The predicaments of Aristotle are…objective, of things as understood; those of Kant subjective, of the mind as understanding… In reality, the whole Kantian categories must be excluded from the Aristotelic list…as determinations of thought, and not genera of real things.

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