Reading this article, I found the following:

Kant is sympathetic to the dominant strain in modern philosophy that banishes final causes from nature and instead treats nature as nothing but matter in motion, which can be fully described mathematically (Part 7.1)

For some reason, I could not help but to wonder if Kant's Transcendent is naturalistic or not. If Kant's excludes the Transcendent from the pure reason (as every science is bound by the appearant and its categories), does he still keep the Transcendental as an expression of natural reality?

I can't chase the feeling that I am maybe experiencing some linguistic confusion.

I am also sure that Kant's Transcendent is not an alternative for the supernatural in any religious meaning (or so I think, at least).

The question could be asked in a different way (different question maybe but highly linked): how does Kant qualify the Natural?

  • You might find Kant's Philosophical Revolution- A Short Guide to the Critique of Pure Reason helpful. Once the realization that Kant pinned his conviction that he had obtained to certainty on the absolute empirical truth of scientific principles hits home, Kant's system begins to appear as one, very long, circular argument. But the mental exercise of tracing the entire set of his works is irreplaceable as a philosophical study.
    – user37981
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 13:29
  • Thanks for the recommandation. As to Kant pinning any notion of certainty on empirical truth, that's only partially true, the transcendental aspect of his philosophy almost avoids any talk of certainty as pure reason would attempt it.
    – Gloserio
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 17:56
  • 1
    I think there are several separate questions. Was Kant a naturalist? No, his noumena, especially with his hints of them being the realm of the Divine in CJ and Opus Postumum, are not naturalistic. But noumena are transcendent as opposed to transcendental, the "transcendental" relates to subject's constitutive role in forming her worldview, and many modern naturalists do endorse something like that. Does Kant banish final causes? From the world of phenomena ("nature"), yes, he only places "purposiveness of nature" into subject's cognitive faculties (reflective judgment) as a sort of maxim.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 7:32
  • Sorry for the mismatch between the transcendent and transcendental (thinking in french). So I take it the natural in kantian philosophy is in the phenomena's scoop (as "parsed" by a human). For some reason I thought his definition of the transcendent (and Godly by extention) is just an abstractive way of saying (that which is out of our cognitive reach), but it might just turn out he really meant God as a supra-natural span of being/reality. Could that be a fair interpretation of his thoughts ?
    – Gloserio
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 8:48
  • 2
    His official position is that any talk of the noumena is indeed empty of substance, abstract talk about something formally consistent that we should stay agnostic about because it is beyond possible experience, and hence synthetic reasoning, either empirical or a priori. But he was a Christian, and while he renounces any talk of it in his epistemology, he makes a point that faith is consistent with it:"I had to limit knowledge to make room for the faith". We just can't know of the supernatural what the theologians tell us of it, or anything else. But we can live it via practical reason.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 9:38

2 Answers 2


Kant never speaks of "the Transcendent". "Transcendental" is a word that acquires very special meaning in the context of Kant's investigations as it describes both the method and the results of the inquiry - there is, for example, a transcendental deduction which is a regressive argument from the premise of the possibility of experience, and there are "transcendental laws of nature" (i.e. principle of causality) which are demonstrated to be constitutive of spatio-temporal experience as such (ex. Second Analogy of Experience), i.e. to be a condition of its possibility.

Which doesn't mean Kant wasn't concerned with topics related to philosophy of religion and theology. He wrote a book on this topic, Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason. I am not sure whether you can call it "naturalistic" but I don't think it's trivially "supernaturalistic" either. Kant interprets religious beliefs as containing moral truths in an impure form of parables etc.


Here is what Kant had to say of the transcendental/transcendent distinction:

It is not at present our business to treat of empirical illusory appearance (for example, optical illusion), which occurs in the empirical application of otherwise correct rules of the understanding, and in which the judgement is misled by the influence of imagination. Our purpose is to speak of transcendental illusory appearance, which influences principles—that are not even applied to experience, for in this case we should possess a sure test of their correctness—but which leads us, in disregard of all the warnings of criticism, completely beyond the empirical employment of the categories and deludes us with the chimera of an extension of the sphere of the pure understanding. We shall term those principles the application of which is confined entirely within the limits of possible experience, immanent; those, on the other hand, which transgress these limits, we shall call transcendent principles. But by these latter I do not understand principles of the transcendental use or misuse of the categories, which is in reality a mere fault of the judgement when not under due restraint from criticism, and therefore not paying sufficient attention to the limits of the sphere in which the pure understanding is allowed to exercise its functions; but real principles which exhort us to break down all those barriers, and to lay claim to a perfectly new field of cognition, which recognizes no line of demarcation. Thus transcendental and transcendent are not identical terms. The principles of the pure understanding, which we have already propounded, ought to be of empirical and not of transcendental use, that is, they are not applicable to any object beyond the sphere of experience. A principle which removes these limits, nay, which authorizes us to overstep them, is called transcendent. If our criticism can succeed in exposing the illusion in these pretended principles, those which are limited in their employment to the sphere of experience may be called, in opposition to the others, immanent principles of the pure understanding.

The obscurity of the concept of naturalism aside, and setting aside the possible anachronism of applying said concept to Kant, then insofar as a transcendent principle is exactly one that guides us into supernatural space, one supposes that it is not a naturalistic principle.


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