The transcendental philosophy seperate famously seperate between the thing-as-itself and the phenomenon the derives from it, by vague comparison, similar to Plato's ideas. My question is, is it possible for the transcendental philosophy to consider the thing-in-itself as a phenomenon of a "higher grade"/"higher dimension (of course not ontological one)" thing-in-itself? Or is the thing-as-itself an ultimate "final"(/"first") idea, that cannot have any "higher" logical level above it (kinda like Aristotle's "first mover")?


I should mention, even though I use Kant's vocabulary (and tagged Kant), I hope to hear voices from all of the transcendental philosophers.

Edit (2):

I would like to clarify my question, as seen in my comments to Geoffrey's answer. The concept is as following: Thing-in-itself (from now on, "noumena" for easier writing) and phenomenon has a 1 to many (infinity) relation, such as a "single" noumena has an infinite number of possible "interpretations" - phenomenons. My question would be, is it possible that such relation, in a "higher dimension" (think string theory, but with things-in-themeselves, such as this concept is purely logical and has no ontological connection [at least not directly]). Let's call an "higher dimension" noumena => "A", a "regular" noumena "a", and a certain phenomenon "a1". The logical relation a->a1 would occur with A->a. Is such concept possible in transcendental philosophy?

I would like to stress again, this is purely logical, no ontological connection whatsoever.

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    First, the real question seems to be whether there are logical dependencies between things-in-themselves in general (as opposed to only noumenon-phenomenon dependencies). Second, one might argue that Fichte's "I" is a thing-in-itself, object of consciousness (phenomenon) and the logical condition of all consciousness (i.e. other noumenon-phenomenon relations and by virtue of this: other things-in-themselves) all at once. I.e. the I that is posited in the triadic action of intellectual intuition that constitutes consciousness itself.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 23, 2018 at 16:50
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    The idea of a thing-in-itself is much simpler than that. Given that all of our experience is mediated by senses, a thing-in-itself is simply the real-world object corresponding to what is experienced, abstracted from the conditions of sensibility. Kant held that we can't speculate about things-in-themselves because doing so would be to consider them apart from how they seem to us. Observing a red apple, for instance, there is no way to think of how it is apart from the red color and shape that are made apparent by the senses.
    – user3017
    Jan 23, 2018 at 18:09
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    In Kant's own words: "[The] objects in themselves are not known to us at all, and that what we call outer objects are nothing other than mere representations of our sensibility, whose form is space, but whose true correlate, i.e., the thing in itself, is not and cannot be cognized through them, but is also never asked after in experience." (CPR A30)
    – user3017
    Jan 23, 2018 at 18:09
  • it it were a phenomenon also, it would lead to an 'ad infintum' series which is not logical. Jan 24, 2018 at 4:28

2 Answers 2


I should say, not, for these reasons. In the Kantian scheme, things-in themselves are ultimately real. Phenomena by contrast, are distinct from them and derive from our engagement, under the fixed and inherent conditions of human cognition, with these ultimate realities.

This makes things-in-themselves unknowable, and there is no way in which we could coherently state how the derivation works. This is because we could only formulate any possible derivation in terms of the categories. Categories are valid only of phenomena.

To go back to your question. If, according to Kant, phenomena (X) derive from our engagement with things-in-themselves (Y) then the two can never be identical since nothing can be one and the same thing as its derivate : X ≠ Y.

That's the textual Kant, but can we be more flexible ?

Could a thing-in-itself and a phenomenon be identical in the sense, not of being the same thing, but of being exactly similar ? Since Kant says but can't know that the categories are valid only of phenomena, it is logically possible for a thing-in-itself to have all the properties - corresponding to the categories - of a phenomenon.

I am unable to extend my answer to 'all of the transcendental philosophers'. These may be within the compass of other members of PSE.

  • I might need to explain myself a bit clearer: my question is not if the things-in-themeselves can be phenomenons in the ontological aspect, but if the relation thing-in-itself -> phenomenon can happen to the thing-in-itself to a "higher" thing-in-itself. Vague example - consider thing-in-itself the "real" thing, as Kant says, but the "2nd grade" thing-in-itself being an ultimately more "real" thing. And I'll try to explain - let's say a red apple is phenomenon. A "real",... Jan 23, 2018 at 22:02
  • abstract "apple" is the thing-in-itself, and (and this is a very vague example) "fruit" (or more precisely, "essence") being the "2nd grade" thing-in-itself. Jan 23, 2018 at 22:02
  • @PhilipKlöcking please look at my comments here. Jan 23, 2018 at 22:04
  • @PédeLeão look here too please. Jan 23, 2018 at 22:05
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    @Yechiam Weiss. Your first comment suggests a very clever and subtle angle on the topic. It wasn't apparent from your wording that this is what you were inquiring about. So that we can get the best out of your outstanding contributions, I suggest that you help us as much as you can by spelling out your precise concerns in future questions - of which I hope there will be very many. Cut the risk of misunderstanding as much as you can. This has been a very satisfying exchange, raising a possibility I had not thought about. Thanks - Geoff
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 24, 2018 at 9:47

This seems a good question. It is a source of problems for me that one is not allowed to refer to the thing-in-itself as a phenomenon, entity or thing.

A phenomenon depends on a noumenon (that has phenomenal properties) so to call the noumenon a phenomenon is confusing. In Buddhism's Abhidhamma pitaka (basket of teachings), which itemises the components of existence, Nibbana is called a phenomenon but uniquely among phenomena is without a noumenon. This is the approach I use, calling the final phenomenon a phenomenon but noting that it is different from all others. Otherwise a language problem arises and no word will do for the thing-in-itself (For instance, it is called a thing but defined as not a thing).

Note that Kant is not expert in this area but speculates. He speaks of multiple things-in-themselves which mightily confuses the issues. The idea that what lies behind phenomena is a large number of things-in-themselves is unworkable since by definition there is no way to tell two things-in-themselves apart. If we say there is just one ultimate phenomenon/noumenon then your question becomes a little more simple to address.

Kant supposes that we cannot know the thing-in-itself so must speculate on these issues but this view is not forced on us. For the mystic the thing-in-itself would be the 'I Am' of the Old Testament and this would knowable by identity. But this line of thought would take us OT.

You might like to check out the 'problem of attributes' which is immediately relevant. Here is Colin McGinn as a teenager wrestling with it.

“…[P]icture me sitting on a bench staring at a British mailbox on a blustery spring day in Blackpool. I had just been reading about the questions of substance and qualities, and was suitably transfixed. Is an object the sum of its qualities or does it have an existence that is some way goes beyond its qualities? The mailbox had a variety of qualities - it was red, cylindrical, metal, etc. - but it seemed to be more than just the collection of these; it was a thing, a “substance,” that had these qualities. But what was this substance that had those qualities? Did it lie behind them in some way, supporting them like the foundation of a house? If so, what was this underlying thing like - what qualities did it have? If it had some qualities, wouldn’t there be the same problem again, since it would also have to be distinct from these qualities? But if it had no qualities, what kind of thing could it be? How could these be something that had no qualities? So maybe we should say that there is nothing more to a mailbox than the qualities it manifests. And yet how can an object be just a set of abstract qualities? Isn’t it more solid and concrete than that? … I had a vague mental image of a grey amorphous something that constituted the underlying mailbox, to which its various manifest qualities mysteriously were attached… Yet as soon as I replaced this fuzzy image with the qualities by themselves, trying to think of the mailbox as just a “bundle of qualities,” the object itself seemed to disappear.”

Colin McGinn The Making of a Philosopher Simon and Schuster

  • This answer seems to like like trying to fight Kant with Aristotle - there are no multiple things-in-themeselves, because ultimately there would be only one "first mover" - which will be called the phenomenon. If I understand it correctly, this is a fine answer to my question. Jan 24, 2018 at 17:22
  • @YechiamWeiss Thanks. My argument is not quite as you cleverly put it but is similar. It's more to do with the 'identity of indiscernables'. (If two things are wholly indistinguishable then they are one thing). The difference is that I don't have to commit to a 'First Mover', which for me would incorrectly reify motion.
    – user20253
    Feb 12, 2018 at 11:23
  • OK now that you say this, this reminds me of an article I read yesterday by Helier Robinson "Cosmic Coincidence: Another Explanation", where he provide a Leibniz explanation ("the best possible world"). One of the moves in the argument says exactly what you say - if two possible worlds are indistinguishable then they are necessarilly the same. It's a nice representation of Leibniz' argument in light of the "Cosmic Coincidence". Suggested reading if you haven't yet. Feb 12, 2018 at 13:47

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