Phenomenal includes everything originating from personal experience, while Noumenal includes everything except personal experience; something is Ontological when it includes both.

The ability to separate phenomenal from noumenal is similar to separating personal from objective, so the term 'not objective' is close. Delusional is also close because it is not conscious/intentional, but it refers to something that is false despite evidence to the contrary according to Merriam Webster, as opposed to not even recognizing there is anything besides what you believe is true. Narcissistic and Egocentric are some more words that come close, but they are focused more on self, not the inability to recognize there's more to reality than one's self. What I'm searching for is a word or term that describes the inability to recognize the difference between phenomenal and noumenal...the inability to even recognize what 'objective' is, much less 'be objective.'

My instincts go to words like stupid, immature, foolish or self-absorbed...surely I can do better than that, with your help. Thanks.

  • Being or not being delusional or narcissistic has very little to do with the difference between the phenomenal and the noumenal. The term noumenal (and phenomenal when used in contrast to it) presupposes familiarity with Kant's philosophy and is almost never used outside the context of philosophical discussions of his theory or later theories that are built upon his theory.
    – jsw29
    Jan 23, 2021 at 22:12
  • 3
    "Noumenal" that "includes everything except personal experience" is not what Kant's "noumenal" means, it is inaccessible to any sense perception whatsoever, subjective or otherwise. It can only be reasoned about in abstraction. The tendency to apply such reasoning to phenomena is what Kant calls "transcendental illusion" and it leads to "antinomies of pure reason", but it is not any kind of psychological disorder.
    – Conifold
    Jan 23, 2021 at 23:45
  • @Conifold - I'm not suggesting the 'inability to reason about abstractions' is a psychological disorder...I'm talking about a characteristic...an ability...and a word to describe someone who is unable to do it, or do it well enough to recognize, "just because you have not experienced or thought about it, doesn't mean it's not possible." Jan 25, 2021 at 23:25
  • @jsw29 - I'm curious, if I use a word like phenomenal, 1) must it always relate to what the first person who used the word meant; 2) can it mean what other notable philosophers have meant by it, and if so, must the current writer declare which version is being used; or 3) can it mean something similar to 1 or 2 that a new writer brings additional specificity? It seems rather obvious to me that noumenal + phenomenal realities = ontological reality...or do you believe I've clearly missed something? Jan 25, 2021 at 23:32
  • "Phenomenal" is pretty generic, so you can use it loosely (although the standard meaning is not exactly what you describe), but "noumenal" almost always refers to Kant's meaning even when used by other philosophers. Using it otherwise requires lengthy explanations and may still be confusing, so is best avoided.
    – Conifold
    Jan 26, 2021 at 1:50

4 Answers 4


What I'm searching for is a word or term that describes the inability to recognize the difference between phenomenal and noumenal.

Following Kant, phenomena is what we perceive, the thing as it appears. Noumena is the reason of such appearance, what we cannot perceive, the thing in itself.

Then, the noumena is the thing in itself, something we cannot perceive. Therefore, we CANNOT know the noumena. So, you cannot recognize the difference between them, because you don't have access to one of them.

FYI, a person who can't recognize differences is said to have some form of agnosia. But check for the precise definition of such term. It has multiple scopes. If you are interested in more, look for "The man who mistook his wife for a hat", from O. Sacks, an amazing book.

[...] something is Ontological when it includes both.

Wrong. In such case, we would be able to say that "something is philosophical when it includes both". Ontology is the study of the thing as an object, which obviously excludes the subject. Ontology can be said to be an assessment of the thing from the noumenal point of view, something evidently impossible; that is just one of the multiple problems of ontology.

Since the subject defines the object[1], pure ontology is just not possible, because the study of the subject would imply studying the thing within a complete exclusion of the subject. Ontological implies the absolute negation of the subject and the universal truth of the object, again, something we don't have access to. Modern philosophy tends to other approaches: the interaction between the object and the subject is said to be epistemological, and focusing knowledge just from the perspective of the subject is epistemic.

[1] Kant and the Spirit of Critique, John Sallis

  • Re your final sentence "focusing knowledge just from the perspective of the subject is epistemic". A wikipedia search of epistemic turns out just same as epistemology, so maybe "phenomenology" is a more western philosophical term for your purpose? Apr 1, 2021 at 21:58

I'm going to take a page from the DSM-5 on concerning "Key Features that define Psychotic Disorders."

There are several flavors of delusions; all of them have some degree of lack of objectivity and demonstrate some difficulty of separating the personal from the objective.

Delusions are fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence.

Persecutory delusions (i.e. belief that one is going to be harmed, harassed, and so forth...) are most common.

Referential delusions (i.e., belief that certain gestures, comments, environmental cues, and so forth are directed at oneself) are also common.

*Grandiose delusions (i.e., when an individual believes that he or she has exceptional abilities, wealth, or fame) and erotomaniac delusions (i.e., when an individual believes falsely that another person is in love with him or her) are also seen.

Nihilistic delusions involve the conviction that a major catastrophe will occur, and somatic delusions focus on preoccupations regarding health and organ function.

Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, Fifth Edition, p. 87.

You might refine your choice depending on the direction of the delusional person's theme.

  • @rajah9 - thank you for the delusional variations, but I'm not looking for variants, I'm looking for the inability to think in the abstract. Delusions create something that is not there, I'm on the other spectrum, people who can not deduce or induce something unless they know it is there. Jan 25, 2021 at 23:35
  • If you want to stick with the realm of psychology, children are born with concrete thinking, according to psychologist Jean Piaget.
    – rajah9
    Jan 28, 2021 at 13:46

I'd have to agree with others that there seems to be a confusion of philosophical terms here, and that in any case these may not readily translate into psychological terms.

The noumenal is almost always associated with Kant's Ding an Sich, which is not accessible to human perception, conceptualization, or consciousness in any sense. This should not be confused with "not being objective" or with some psychotic egocentrism.

In some sense most philosophical idealism, such as Kant's, would deny that there is some external "objectivity" in the sense of escaping from or superseding a coherent subjectivity enclosed in its categorically organized phenomena.

The extreme of subjective idealism, carried to a point of incoherence, might be a definition of solipsism, the failure to recognize any reality or minds beyond one's self, whatever that means.There is apparently something called solipsistic syndrome which adopts the philosophical concept as a more psychological term. I don't know how it might be used in psychology, where presumably some therapeutic access is at least theoretically possible.

Beyond this, it seem to me unlikely that anything called a conscious state can be described as lacking any objects of consciousness while retaining a "self." Perhaps the best term here would simply be catatonic. Or maybe we can make up a new psychosis called Cogito Interruptus, being a state of mind like Descartes' before he began to rebuild his connections from a fetal cogito ergo sum to objective phenomena. If you know people suffering from this condition, I recommend group therapy.


It seems like you are set against a whole major strand of philosophical thinking, Nondualism. The Yogacara school of Buddhism which is nearly synonymous with Mahayana, is called the 'mind only' school, rejects the idea that any phenomena can be outside the mind. The metaphor Indra's Net helps understand reality like this, as composite of subjectivities, or intersubjective.

Both causality, and any moment existing except now, may arise from how we experience, rather than from the world, underlining the need to be wary of assumptions of what objective means. See eg. Is the idea of a causal chain physical (or even scientific)?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .