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Kant argued that, in matters of perception, there is a noumenon and a phenomenon. The phenomenal world is that which a human can perceive. But the noumenal world exists independently of human perception. Something in the noumenal world is the thing-in-itself (das Ding an sich). Most critically for this question, the noumenal world is completely unknowable through the senses.

So the question is this: given that the noumenal world is unknowable through the senses, but the senses are all that a person has to make observations, then are decisions in the phenomenal world arbitrary in relation to the events in the noumenal world?

  • Talking about "events in the noumenal world" is applying phenomenal categories beyond any possible phenomena, what Kant calls "transcendental illusion" (by the way, noumena are more like rational completions of phenomena than things in themselves). Asking how phenomenal decisions "relate" to things in themselves is part of it, the question is again coached in phenomenal categories, hence meaningless. Senses (rather sensibility) are not all that "observations" are based on, they are also framed by the categories of understanding through schemata of intuition. – Conifold Mar 12 '17 at 20:02
  • Thank you. How could I restate the question? I have never understood how people can do anything at all if they must act in the phenomenal world but are absolutely foreclosed from knowing things in themselves. – Mark Andrews Mar 13 '17 at 1:55
  • A basic understanding of physiology should lead to the conclusion that we are 100% dependent on our sensory faculties, so 100% of our experience is with the phenomenal world. Our thinking forecasts the consequences of all of our actions in terms of phenomena, and the resulting consequences themselves are always phenomenal. Therefore, in response to your question about how people do anything in the phenomenal world, the answer is that we have no other alternative but to act in the phenomenal world. The noumenal is simply beyond our grasp, and we can do nothing but speculate about it. – user3017 Mar 13 '17 at 13:53
  • Kant distinguishes pure and practical reason, which is not capable (or meant) to produce knowledge but lets us act. He hints that practical reason and moral law have something to do with his "supersensible substrate of humanity". German idealists, like Fichte, later developed this into "intellectual intuition" that gives us "glimpses" of things in themselves (our selves), see Did Kant come to believe that we have access to things-in-themselves after all? – Conifold Mar 14 '17 at 20:07

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