How is the most mainstream metaphysical view different from Kantian metaphysics? Kantian metaphysics used to be the dominant metaphysics during Kant's time, but a lot happened in metaphysics, science and mathematics, so that many of the Kantian metaphysics also had to be tweaked into something that I consider to be the mainstream metaphysical view, because I haven't spent nearly enough time to study metaphysics, I don't know what that mainstream metaphysics view or theory is different from Kant's metaphysics.

  • What is "the most mainstream metaphysical view"? Pragmatic ontology of analytic philosophy that describes the "furniture" needed to formulate scientific theories? Kant's metaphysics was not even metaphysics in the traditional sense of the word accepted at his time. His point was that the very idea of such traditional metaphysics (describing "things in themselves" as such) is incoherent, so we might as well use the word for something else (our cognitive templates for framing the empirical world, a.k.a. synthetic a priori).
    – Conifold
    Apr 29, 2021 at 22:59
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    At least in modern analytic philosophy, I think most philosophers nowadays who propose metaphysical schemes wouldn't agree with the idea of a "noumenal" realm that is both separate from any possible conscious experience and also has no intrinsic mathematical properties other than those imposed on them by conscious observers.
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 29, 2021 at 23:39

1 Answer 1


What is the "mainstream metaphysical view"?

According to the only more or less reliable source I am aware of, which is the PhilPapers survey of philosophy professionals, the mainstream view is

Accept or lean toward: non-skeptical realism 760 / 931 (81.6%)

This assumes that you take metaphysics to mean ontology. If you follow the Kantian trajectory, metaphysics cannot be thought independent of epistemology and has to be sceptical/critical.

Funny enough, if you look at the other questions, while there is a clear tendency towards externalist, realist physicalism - which is not Kantian - the results suggest at least some degree of inconsistency between ontological and epistemological beliefs even among philosophy professionals.

How does this relate to Kantian metaphysics?

As already said, this hinges a lot at how epistemological and ontological beliefs are linked. I would guess from the above survey that most philosophers hold some kind of (modified) representationalism, ie. believe that the contents of our consciousness are representations mediated by concepts and knowledge, not some magical direct insight into the fabric of reality itself. This is a Kantian core insight.

The major differences are the following two:

1. The a priori which structures our perception and possible knowledge is not universal, eternal and immutable

Modifying Hegel, philosophers tried to account for cultural plasticity (and contextualisation) of perception itself. This means that a core belief and foundational stone of Kantian epistemology has been shattered and that in a sense, the main drive of his, providing a certain and irrefutable basis for philosophical knowledge against skepticism, has to be considered a failed project.

2. Scientific inquiry eventually transcends the difference between phenomenon and noumenon

Kant held that there is a categorical difference between our representations of reality (structured by the synthetic a priori) and that which is represented by them. These days - and that is why people can hold that physical, external things are (more or less exactly) as we think them to be - the mainstream view is that via scientific inquiry our representations come ever closer to reality itself.1 Since our scientific insight modifies how we perceive the world, the structure and content underlying our perception and knowledge is increasingly congruent with the structure and content of the world itself. Kant fiercely rejected that such a claim would be justifiable and thus said it was mere speculation.

Since we increasingly justify pragmatically - nature behaves exactly like we expect it to, thus it does not make sense to uphold a "transcendent" realm different from it underneath - this position was given up.

To be fair, the noumenal realm was mainly a construct which allowed Kant to have some space left for a God and metaphysical free will. Since modern metaphysics do not necessarily care about these two, the importance of that difference has lessened accordingly.

1 Strictly speaking, this formulation is a bit misleading due to another difference between contemporary philosophy and Kant: Kant held that the term "real" should only be applied to phenomena plus the Moral Law, and that it is speculative philosophy (or no philosophy at all) to speak about how the noumenal or an alleged "reality itself" - in the sense of "that which is the cause of phenomena or to which they correspond" - is like at all (see eg. Opus Posthumum, Ak 21:75)

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    Re. point 2, quoting Riccardo Ridi, p.11 : "are [phenomena] mere appearances, compared to ... noumena, or are they the only existing reality, relegating noumena to mere borderline cases, ...? It is not easy to answer once and for all to this question, also because even Kant oscillated between a "realist" position in which he seemed to interpret phenomena as an appearance (in the first edition of the Critique, of 1781) and a "constructivist" position in which he instead interpreted them more decisively as reality (in the second edition, of 1878)." May 1, 2021 at 10:09
  • @ChrisDegnen Yes, because he realised via the systematisation of his moral philosophy between 1773 and 77 that his notion of "real" was fuzzy and he wanted to reserve noumenal reality solely to the Moral Law. But you've got a point there: the wording is in contemporary use of terms, not Kantian. Will revise that part.
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 1, 2021 at 13:21
  • Regarding your “this position was given up”, I feel it may be too early to judge that. Kant himself emphasized his transcendental idealism/realism is only to practically place a limit to latest human knowledge’s underneath like for a bounded Cauchy sequence, not for any other purposes. So I don’t see much issue of his transcendent even today... His a priori really is out of favor now. May 2, 2021 at 4:44
  • @DoubleKnot The main point I am making there is that according to Kant, the empirical world (appearances) is structured by our cognitive faculties, whereas he holds that it makes no sense to assume that the same structures exist in the noumenal realm (even down to the concept of an individual thing not making sense, see my reference). I think that this categorical position was indeed given up, ie. we assume that even if we could be wrong regarding the details, there is nothing inherently wrong in saying that entities indeed exist and behave like we postulate independently from our minds.
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 2, 2021 at 5:01
  • "Existence independently from our minds" is a contradictio in adjecto for Kant. Existence is constituted by the copula (the logical connective) in a synthetic judgement (empirical or a priori, not speculative), see his Logic. Thus, while external realism is compatible with Kant in the sense of a "Kingdom of Ends", ie. the systematic connection of rational beings by laws, this is not quite the same as the kind of realism that is prevalent these days. I agree that it is, in abstract, close to more sophisticated conceptions if one omits the single lawgiver (God), though.
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 2, 2021 at 5:46

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