Can something be noumenal for me and not for you?

My example is death. I can't think of much else that I can never perceive but we are certain exists.

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Kant’s immediate successors in German Idealism in fact rejected the noumenal as having no existence for man’s intelligence. Kant, however, felt that he had precluded this rejection by his refutation of Idealism, and he persisted in defending the absolute reality of the noumenal,

If nothing is noumenal, is it better to think that my post mortem state exists? I've not read much of any of Kant's books, so go gentle.

  • I'm gonna delete self again. Thank you, in advance, for any help.
    – user59394
    Jul 11, 2022 at 7:00
  • I have long wondered why there are not more solipsists.
    – BillOnne
    Jul 14, 2022 at 3:30

4 Answers 4


I will try to unpack this question in Kantian terms and be gentle..

I think you are put off a bit by the term "absolute reality of the noumenal". Of course, it makes sense to say that death is absolute reality but only subjectively, if such a thing as "absolute reality" exists. And then, we could say that if so, maybe the noumenal absolute existence supersedes, in a sense, our subjective reality of death, and, therefore, we could have an existence beyond death.

There are some points here to consider, though:

  1. The term absolute reality is dubious here. I honestly do not know why the editors allowed this to be part of the article, along with other inaccuracies. Basically, for Kant, things are either real or not. The terms absolute or relative reality do not even make sense. Real is whatever can be understood as a thing of the world through the senses and whatever is necessary for this thing (or rather: the perception of it itself) to be possible. That's about it.

  2. A noumenon is basically an idea of his saying if how we perceive things relies in part on how we perceive things (let's call it hard-wired structures of perception, like having to think of things as ordered in time and space), we also need to allow for the idea that the world, while definitely real, could be, in some way, different from how we perceive it. The noumenal world is basically the world as it is without the impact of our way of perceiving and thinking about the world.

  3. Therefore, the noumenal is, by definition, always identical for everyone. At the same time, since we can't escape our own manner of perceiving amd thinking, it is equally unknowable (we cannot say anything definite about it) to everyone.

That being said, Kant himself indeed believed that only because we think of the noumenal as a) real and b) not bound by the limitations of our world, we can think of such things as God, Freedom, and an Eternal Soul as possible, ie. possible noumenal reality. The only caveat is that we cannot meaningfully say how this should work or look like. Even worse, Kant's defence of the reality of these noumenal things is considered dubious from modern perspectives.

Basically, if you already have faith, you are convinced that there is such reality, and Kant made a rather good argument for that there could be a place for this reality. On the other hand, if you are not convinced by faith that there are Freedom, the Eternal Soul, and God, the argument is not very convincing at all: His argument is that freedom was undoubtedly real, and for this to work in reality we need an eternal soul and God to ensure a kind of certain reward if someone acts freely, ie. free from their bodily inclinations and needs and thus potentially against their own happiness

  • Did Kant really advocate choosing against one's own happiness, or more just apart from this? IIRC in the Doctrine of Virtue he spoke of an indirect duty to self-happiness (in addition to a direct responsibility to promote the happiness of others), and in the Religion he critiques the Stoics, no less, for identifying inclinations as the "enemy." Jul 11, 2022 at 11:09
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    @KristianBerry You are correct, it should be potentially against one's own happiness, as without any regard for one's own needs and inclinations since they should play no role as a deciding factor for or against the choice of a given action. I edited accordingly.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jul 11, 2022 at 16:05

In Kantian terms, there is an exquisitely subtle distinction between the an sich and noumena. The words noumenon/noumena in Kant have a negative sense, as the reified limits on transcendental knowledge; but they also have a positive sense that is close to, but does not completely overlap, talk of "things in themselves." The difference is that Kant at one point abstracts over (A) the concept of forms of sensible intuition and attendant understanding and (B) the concept of sensible vs. intellectual intuition.

Per (A), then, Kant speculates that there might be sensible intuition, i.e. passive particular referential consciousness, founded on different external and internal forms than space and time and accompanied by different categories than those of human transcendental logic. Objects of this alien intuition would not be things in themselves, as things in themselves are not supposed to be passively apprehended. But so objects of alien sensible intuition are, for us, noumenal, in that we have a mental appreciation of their logical possibility: our representation of them is as positive noumena, though not as an sich.

Kant knew not of evolution, though he put himself in a good position to anticipate the relevant theories, and would not have looked askance at evolutionary psychology (the weird complaint lodged by some opponents of evolutionary biology, that it would blend our taxonomies into a continuous mush, he preemptively derails in the Transcendental Dialectic when he argues on behalf of scientific continua overall). At any rate, beings with other evolved sensibilities, if they evolve in our spacetime world, might be expected to share spatiotemporal intuition, and so not be given to alternative noumena as such. On that basis, we would be ill-advised to speak of anything in our world as "noumenal for me and not for you."

Kant also confessed the minimum possibility of personal revelation:

Kant makes two points clear about his stance on divine revelation. First, one must never deny the possibility of divine revelation. He writes, "[N]o human being can hold it impossible that God might have given to it, in a higher revelation, certain truths" ... Yet, Kant makes equally clear that were such revelation to occur, it could never be recognized as such. He writes, "if God should really speak to a human being, the latter could still never know that it was God speaking" (7:63).

Whether this means that (Kant is indicating that) God could instill positive noumenal information in people in varying ways, I am not sure. But even if this is the ramification of possible revelation as such, we would be confronted by the inability to articulate the information to anyone who God had not also shared it with anyway.

Addendum. An even subtler option is noumena as objects of spatiotemporal intuition, but for space and time of different dimensionality than Kant credited to us. Kant defines intuition (vs. discursion) as having to do with particulars. Now we do have a sort of intuitive/particular knowledge of various 4-dimensional structures: we can draw out some polytopic nets in three dimensions of 4-dimensional polychora, we can stereoscopically retroject some 4-dimensional patterns into 3-space, we can have 3-dimensional rotational images of tesseracts, etc. We have a fainter sense of 5-simplexes, et. al., and fainter still an intuitive handle on 6, 7, 8, ...-polytopes (though for some weird reason, I think we can more easily prove a specific point about the 8- and 24-dimensional kissing numbers). There is, as it were, an asymptotic decrease in our intuition, the higher we go dimensionally. But so whether we might account information about those spaces as noumenal is a question that opens a door to another way to use the concept of noumena, maybe.

  • Thanks for the answer, I need to read is slowly, so I'll get back to it
    – user59394
    Jul 11, 2022 at 20:07
  • I hope my answer is relevant; I know it doesn't seem to touch on whether death can be variably noumenal, depending on the person in question. Kant says in the first Critique (Meiklejohn trans.), "We may assume that this life is nothing more than a sensuous representation of pure spiritual life; that the whole world of sense is but an image, hovering before the faculty of cognition which we exercise in this sphere, and with no more objective reality than a dream," not as an absolute objective possibility but as a relative logical possibility. Jul 11, 2022 at 23:04

According to Wikipedia, the Greek word νοούμενoν (nooúmenon) is the neuter middle-passive present participle of νοεῖν (noeîn) meaning "to think, to mean", and which in turn originates from the word νοῦς (noûs) meaning "perception, understanding, mind."

Noumena were brought into philosophy by Plato who distinguished between his notion of Platonic Ideas and Forms as noumena, which are intelligible to the mind only and phenomena are things displaying themselves only to the senses.

The simplest noumenal ideas are numbers. This is referred to as mathematical Platonism. Eugenia Cheng, a category theorist, is a nominalist when she thinks about the philosophy of numbers but when she actually comes to work with them, that is in her everyday normal working routine, she simply considers them to exist. Hence as noumena.

Such noumena, if you subscribe to the idea - and not to be confused with the Platonic Idea, are accessible by all minds.

Now your own personal death, were it to happen in front of us, is something that we of course would experience but as bystanders not as you, yourself as going through that 'experience' - if one can call a cessation of all experience, an experience. But this is true of all subjective experience. Which to some seems to be astonishing. But what of it? If I put an apple on my table and then tried to put another apple in exactly the same place, it won't be possible. This shows that this 'solipstic' idea of one's own experience as being solely one's own is not very useful, philosophically speaking and has its kin in the ordinary natural physical world. What is much more useful is because men and women are alike they have similar and alike experiences and this is the root of empathy and understanding.


No. If something is noumenal (in the Kantian sense of the word; Plato is known more for phrasings in terms of eidos/"auto to"), that means it is not an object of experience of any human (but may be an object of sensible intuition for beings with another form of sensibility, or intellectual intuition for beings who are not passive as such at all (e.g. God)). "Noumenal" is an absolute term. There is however a category of experience that can only be experienced by one person. This is what "subjective" means. No one else can experience your subjective mental states.

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    -1: Aren't you imposing your own philosophical views here? After all Plato considered noumena to be intelligible and he is certainly no supernatural being ... Jul 11, 2022 at 7:45
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    @MoziburUllah, I did not say that noumena are not "intelligible"; I said that they are not objects of experience, which applies to Plato's noumena as well as Kant's. Furthermore, I am expressing no philosophical views at all in that answer, but merely explaining terminology as it is used today. Your downvote is a petty retaliation for a disagreement we are having in another thread. Jul 11, 2022 at 11:17
  • There you go again, accusing me of 'petty retaliation' when I down-voted you because of your philosophical mistake in understanding what noumena are. You say that noumena "may be an object of experience of supernatural beings if they exist". The word "intelligible" is not used at all in your post and the assumption is that tgey can only be "experiences of supernatural beings if they exist". This is wrong-headed. Jul 11, 2022 at 11:26
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    @MoziburUllah, What was my mistake in understanding what noumena are? Your only comment was that Plato believed noumena are intelligible, but I did not say that they are not intelligible. As to this comment, what difference does it make that I didn't use the word "intelligible"? As to the parenthetical about spiritual beings, that's roughly what Kant said, and Kant is the philosopher most associated with noumena in modern philosophy. Jul 11, 2022 at 11:43
  • I've said what your mistake is. I'm not repeating myself. Jul 11, 2022 at 11:56

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