According to Kant the thing-in-itself or noumena is strictly hidden from us and phenomena are conditioned by the categories of the mind such as time, space, causality amongst others. These categories allow for the possibility of experience.

Originally they were described by Aristotle but were seen as natural and not as Kant saw them as pure concepts of the understanding.

It appears that existence as it is for Aristotle a Kantian category.

We cannot say that the noumena exists nor does not exist because that is an application of the category of existence, to the noumena which we insist we cannot have direct access to.

Similarly We cannot say that the noumena causes nor does not cause phenomena because causality is also a category of understanding.

If we cannot say that the noumena at least exists, then should we retain it? That is does the word 'noumena' actually refer to something? Or must we say that noumena is indefinite in all its qualities including existence? Is this even a sensible thing to say? What does Kant say? Or his followers?

If we drop the noumena are we committed to mind dependent reality? This is different, I think from solipsism, for reality is dependent on mind; but also mind is dependent on reality. That is the two terms have a mutual relation of dependence. Is this how Kants sees it? Or his followers?

Presumably this is how Kant is seen as a founder of German Idealism.


I do realise that its not good to mix & match philosophical traditions - one gets something close to bad fusion music but I think it is at least interesting to notice parallels:

Given that Kant was answering Hume skeptism which was profoundly influenced by Sextus Empirucus texts on Pyrrhonism; and that there is evidence that Pyrrho visited India and debated with gymnosophists which, are most likely to have been Jain philosophers perhaps some of their terminology may be useful here:

Anekāntavāda - literally means not-one-attribute-school-of-thought, from which derives their form of relativism & sceptism. Also, syādvāda - means from-a-perspective-school-of-thought

Under the ontology of syādvāda there are seven propositions that examines the complex and multifaceted nature of reality from a relative point of view of time, space, substance and mode.

Two of them sound useful in this context:

syād-asti-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ — in some ways, it is, it is not, and it is indescribable

syād-avaktavyaḥ — in some ways, it is indescribable.


After reflecting on this, I can only suppose Kant uses existence in several ways. Existence as a pure form of intuition allows him to assert the existence of tables and chair etc. We have direct epistemic & perceptual access to this. Existence as applied to noumena is of a different kind. We know that it is not perceptual or conceptual. All we can say about what existence means here (and this is an assertion) is that it the noumena didn't exist then neither would phenomena. If we think of existence as a predicate in logic (which I know is controversial), it needs to be typed logic, so we can distinguish between the two senses. We could, alternatively call it transcendental existence - I don't know whether this matches with Kants terminology of transcendentally.

  • 3
    Good question. Note, however, that noumena is plural (like phenomena). One noumenon, two noumena.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 15:39
  • @cerberus: I'm not sure that it is. Quantity is another Kantian category. So noumena can't be plural. It can't be single either. We can't apply the category of quantity to it at all. noumena is indefinite with respect to quantitive. Or do you have an argument to back up your supposition? Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 15:43
  • 1
    It's just a grammatical point, I think, about the languages where these terms originated. Noumena (plural); noumenon (singular); similar to phenomena (plural) and phenomenon (singular).
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 15:48
  • @cerberus: oh, ok :). Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 16:01
  • 1
    --Oh, and just for a cite on this for a bit more background: 'The Greek word Noumenon (νοούμενoν), plural noumena (νοούμενα), is the middle-passive present participle of νοεῖν (noein), "I think, I mean", which in turn originates from the word "nous" (from νόος, νοῦς, perception, understanding, mind). A rough equivalent in English would be "something that is thought", or "the object of an act of thought".' from WP:Noumenon
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


Hume's basis of thought: "the science of man is the only solid foundation for the other sciences", and the method for this science assumes "experience and observation" as the foundations of a logical argument

However, noumenon can neither be observed nor can it be experienced through inference.

Kant's term 'noumenon', has a positive as well as negative notion:

Negative noumenon: "If by 'noumenon' we mean a thing so far as it is not an object of our sensible intuition, and so abstract from our mode of intuiting it, this is a noumenon in the negative sense of the term".

Positive noumenon: "But if we understand by it an object of a non-sensible intuition, we thereby presuppose a special mode of intuition, namely, the intellectual, which is not that which we possess, and of which we cannot comprehend even the possibility. This would be 'noumenon' in the positive sense of the term."

Kant and his followers, however, do infer that noumenon definitely exists. The conclusion is drawn through direct observation of all process of mind and its notions of self-identification.


Pure reason is the only thing I have noumenal access to.

Kant was never an idealist, despite the critics' claim (see Prolegomena). His error was that of the scholastic in assuming the Aristotelian categories to be foundational.

  • I'd agree that he isn't an idealist in the way that berkely was. He found a middle ground between idealism & naive realism. Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 0:33
  • Great point. This is precisely the error of the scholastics. I don't know what 'noumenal access' means but would suggest you do in fact have direct access to the noumenon (or what the word stands for). Those who have been there such as Nicolas de Cusa report that it lies 'beyond the coincidence of contradictories'. If only Kant had had the internet. He might have immediately understood Buddhist philosophy . . . .
    – user20253
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 18:24

In the dialectic of the CPR Kant claims that the only way to make sense of the transcendental subject would be to assert the existence of a noumenal soul. Subjectivity, for Kant, is fundamentally understood as a unity--the unity of apperception. This unity provides the basic structure of all experience. Kant claims that the only way we can understand this unity is if we understand it as an enduring self (much like Descartes thinking substance). However, it is beyond the bounds of reason to know anything about this subject, except insofar as it appears to us as the categories of understanding. The existence of the soul, therefore, would be what Kant would call a 'regulative idea'. Furthermore, we can only understand free-will and reason (basically identical for Kant) as a causal power that is not rooted in the phenomenal realm. Therefore reason must be noumenal.

In the context of Kant's larger transcendental project, the noumenal serves an important logical function in understanding the phenomenal world as a whole. Insofar as we can only grasp the world as mediated by Space, Time and the categories, we have to imagine that the objects in the phenomenal world have an existence outside of their appearance to us. In other words, if the phenomenal world is the world of relationships, it is logically necessary for us to posit the existence of objects outside of their relationship to one another.

Thus, I would say that, in regards to subjectivity, Kant does in fact posit the existence of a noumenal soul (but whose existence is ultimately beyond the faculties of reason). But the concept of the noumenon itself, especially in regards to objects, is simply a construct that reason must build for itself in order to make sense of the phenomenal world--a regulative idea.


  • I am not so sure that it is a good idea to mingle the transcendental ego with the noumenal self, which you seem to be doing here, or am I misunderstanding something?
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 13:34
  • How can the transcendental subject be anything but the appearance of the noumenal soul?
    – Charles
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 4:58
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