Scruton in his Sexual Desire, a philosophical investigation says

we must distinguish the world of human experience from the world of scientific observation. In the first we exist as agents, taking command of our destiny and relating to each other through conceptions that have no place in the scientific view of the universe. In the second we exist as organisms, driven by an arcane causality and relating to each other through the laws of motion that govern us as they govern every other thing. Kant described the first world as transcendental, the second as empirical.

He then goes on to describe the relation ship between the two worlds in two ways:

[in the first view] the transcendental world is a separate realm of being from the empirical world, so that objects belonging to the one are not to be found in the other. On the other view, the two worlds are not distinct, but rather two separate ways of viewing the same material: we can view it either from the 'transcendental' perspective of the human agent or from the 'empirical' perspective of the scientific observer.

Is Scruton correct in his characterisation of Kants Transcendental world? This is a different use of the word transcendent than I've come across before: There is his 'Transcendental Idealism' which distinguishes between the noumena (things-in-themselves) from phenomena; there is his 'Critical Philosophy' which is grounded epistemologically versus (the then traditional?) 'Transcendental Philosophy' which was grounded metaphysically.

And of the two views on the relation between the transcendental and empirical world; the first being that is there is no relation: the world of empirical facts, of science is entirely distinct from that of human actors, of beings with conscious intent; the second that these two worlds are simply two aspects of the same world; which one predominates in the secondary literature - presumably it being difficult to say which one Kant advocates himself?

  • Is there any chance I might be able to persuade you to unpack/spell out the question a bit further? (In particular, it might improve it somewhat to try to paraphrase the two positions on the transcendental-empirical correlation -- if only so that it's a bit easier for a quick responder to indicate which is more like what Kant might have said/what most scholars think Kant was saying.)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Mar 22, 2013 at 22:48
  • This seems to me an excellent question, so really just trying to optimize here. :)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Mar 22, 2013 at 22:50
  • @weissman: any better? Mar 23, 2013 at 19:10
  • @MoziburUllah What do you mean by "This is a different use of the word transcendent than I've come across before"? I'm pretty sure we had that discussion before. He's differentiating between the transcendental and the empirical, not the transcendent and the later...
    – iphigenie
    Jan 18, 2014 at 14:19
  • Also I don't really see where, in the passages you quoted, he "characterises" the transcendental world, and further, I'd even say that this is simply impossible, for reasons @biodiplomacy already mentioned.
    – iphigenie
    Jan 18, 2014 at 14:22

1 Answer 1


Scruton analyses Kant's writings as providing different accounts of the relationship between what Kant characterises as the empirical and the transcendental worlds. Scruton's points are clearly expressed and his analysis is accurate. His characterisation of Kant's views is thus both helpful and correct.

Kant's own views are not consistent. That is because he has set himself a compelling riddle but one which is insoluble in its own terms. If our knowledge of the phenomenal world is conditioned by the framework within which we experience it and if the properties of that world are thus also conditioned by that framework, what can we say about the properties of any world not so conditioned? Kant's noumenal world of "the thing in itself", independent of the conditions under which we experience it, is by definition "unknowable". So, is the relationship between the noumenal and the phenomenal worlds part of both these worlds or not? Kant's conceptions of time and action have both empirical and transcendental dimensions, but these dimensions (to put the point metaphorically) are themselves incommensurable.

  • 1
    I don't think this a bad answer, but I think the equation between noumenal and thing-in-itself is part of the problem. The thing is the base upon which forms of sensibility and the categories of understanding give us impressions and objects. It's not clear how this can be something with a noumenal existence. But this is just a different way of parsing the problem area.
    – virmaior
    Feb 12, 2014 at 7:35
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    To echo @virmaior, it isn't really clear (at least to me) how Kant himself thinks of the relationship between the empirical and the transcendental and it looks to me like what Scruton is doing in the passage above is outlining the two major interpretive options common in Kant scholarship today. The first view is the two worlds view (endorsed by Guyer and others) and the second is called the two aspects view (championed by Henry Allison). Those terms might give the interested reader grist to throw into google. My $0.02 is that Kant actually thinks the former, but the latter makes more sense
    – user5172
    Mar 21, 2014 at 14:05

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