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At face value, it's difficult to translate the two discussions/terms, but is the "nothingness" of noumenon an empty world? Do noumenon exist only with modal nihilism,

the view that there is a possible world which contains no concrete objects

(from a discussion about question begging from modal nihilists)?

I think a noumenon, which it is claimed is "nothingness", cannot be a local absence, part of a world. If only because I may be able to talk about the noumenon, but I may be unable to divide it from other things, in my imagination, in any sense (Kant calls it "chaos" I think).

Maybe I've misunderstood how modal semantics or mereology (maybe e.g. a post modern like failure or limit of language does not need to be about something that is either a part of a world or a world) about noumenon would work.

Anything seems naively plausible, but I lean toward my conclusion, completely naively, that what we can't experience is a world with "nothing at all".

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  • My (limited) understanding is that Kant's view is that the actual world is both thing-in-itself (noumenon) and also objective reality conditioned by transcendental conceptual structures? In the actual world, the noumenon is a pre-objective reality, but that very same reality when seen through transcendental structures does have objects (e.g., stars, planets, plants, tables, etc). In the other direction, a "world" in the modal logic sense is already an object in the Kantian sense since it is an element of a set of possible worlds. So a possible world with an empty domain can't be a noumenon.
    – Avi C
    Aug 1, 2022 at 7:06
  • I should add that I have not had a chance to read the article you linked to. The author might have a non-standard reading or Kant or a non-Kantian notion of noumenon.
    – Avi C
    Aug 1, 2022 at 7:08
  • This question requires some clarification. The claim being made in the quoted paragraph is that a noumenon is a concept under which no object falls, just like a contradiction such as "a thing not equal to itself" is a concept under which no object falls. How do you get from this to an empty world? A thing not equal to itself does not exist in an empty world. Why would a noumenon? As to the concept of a noumenon, clearly the concept exists in our world, which is not empty. Aug 1, 2022 at 8:31
  • again @DavidGudeman I don't think you've shown that an empty world is an "object" in Kant's sense
    – user61995
    Aug 1, 2022 at 8:34
  • it is not a leap of faith to think that a nothingness is an empty world, and I am asking whether or not it is. I think it might be, by suggesting that it cannot be a part
    – user61995
    Aug 1, 2022 at 8:36

2 Answers 2

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I think your question is based on an incomplete understanding of what noumena are, at least in Kant.

Noumena are not separate entities, at least not as they are originally introduced in the CPR.

One could say that they are the other side of any thing we can empirically verify as existing in our world, like the other side of a coin that you can't flip and hence will never see the backside of. If we see the whole coin, we do not suddenly see two different objects.

That would still be a misleading picture though: introduced as purely negative idea, they are the (possible) object of perception like it is without being modified by any mode of perception. For example, Kant says we perceive objects in relations of time and space to ourselves and one another. This is, he argues, our mode of perception. Therefore, we have to assume that the objects of perception, if not perceived through the 'glasses' of time and space, may turn out to - in themselves - lack any spacey or timey relations or properties.

That, for once, means they are definitely outside of our world and, in a sense, in 'nothingness' since 'the world' is 'the sum of all possible experience' in Kant. And we cannot experience noumena. On the other hand, this would either be an attempt of positively determining them given we use any substantial concept of nothingness, or it would literally be meaningless to say. For Kant, both options are the same since noumena cannot possibly be determined positively by us mere humans due to how our understanding works. It would be a meaningless string of words either way.

Does all this mean Kant has to commit to modal nihilism? Well, in a trivial sense yes, since it is a logical possibility that the noumenal world does not contain any concrete objects. On the other hand, taking his epistemological position seriously, we should certainly not commit to modal nihilism but rather insist that it is moot to talk about such things since we simply cannot possibly know.

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  • OK. Are empty worlds "separate entities"?
    – user61995
    Aug 1, 2022 at 19:39
  • @unhelpful_people_rules The noumenal world certainly is not empty, nor does "no concrete objects" mean empty. It could be full of information we just cannot organise into concrete objects.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Aug 1, 2022 at 19:44
  • I just quoted someone that said than an world that has "no concrete object" is a world that is "empty". I am genuinely confused!
    – user61995
    Aug 1, 2022 at 19:46
  • @unhelpful_people_rules Well yeah, basically Kant's view is that while we have to perceive in particular objects in spatiotemporal relations that doesn't mean that every being has to, nor that this is how things are, taken our mode of perception away. Thus, the noumenal world could well be "empty for beings like us" without being an empty set or the like. We may not see any thing there...
    – Philip Klöcking
    Aug 1, 2022 at 19:50
  • OK I get it... you cannot infer that Kant's noumenon is an "empty world" because doing so would be knowledge for us. Right? That's a bit of a trip thinking about 'critical philosophy' and its uniqueness.
    – user61995
    Aug 1, 2022 at 19:52
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Inasmuch as at least some classes of noumena could be objects of intellectual intuition, then inasmuch as intuition compasses its objects in particular and so in concreto, a world containing noumena would not be a world containing only general facts and abstract objects (indeed, an abstract object is not supposed to exist in a concrete world except in the slight sense of concrete objects instantiating abstract properties; although see also discussion of "contingently abstract" things).

However, Kant does bring up noumena in his fourfold table of "forms of nothingness," so there is a metaphysical nihilism entangled in his terminology on this score, but it is not a nihilism of empty worlds insofar as Kant did not make his modal metaphysics depend on such a strong notion as a full array of possible (and impossible) worlds. Noumenal emptiness is not absolute emptiness; it is not the void of contradiction, but a different void.

One might think of it in terms of analogies between the fourfold nothingness of the first Critique, and Platonic Forms of Zero, Imperfection/Imperfect Participation, Nonexistence, Destruction, etc. The differences between such Forms, and the logical problems they face (at least in Plato's theories), might be comparable to the identities of/issues with the Critique-voids. Noumena need not be inexistent; neither destructive or imperfect self-participants; they are closer to an "empty set," here, perhaps, then. But so again, not an absence of an object so much as an objectual absence. (This raises the question of whether an otherwise empty world could be reasonably construed as having at least one object to its name regardless, namely its own emptiness as an object. Monism about the number of concrete objects in a world often ends up styling a given world as the one such object "of" each such world, with e.g. "The fox is in the garden," as something like, "The world is arranged (fox-in-a-garden)wise here," so an empty world might be such as, "The (one object that is the) empty world is arranged nothingness-wise throughout.")

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  • oh right well that's answered the question so I accepted it. Thought I had deleted the question
    – user61995
    Aug 1, 2022 at 12:08
  • What do you mean by "objectual absence"? Without knowing, I do not know the relevance of suggesting that an empty world is an empty set. You seem to covertly start with the assumption that noumena exist, which may be where we disagree
    – user61995
    Aug 1, 2022 at 12:11
  • @unhelpful_people_rules, an objectual absence is when we treat an absence, like a hole, as a presence of its own. Now I don't need to say that any noumena "really" exist, for my reasoning to flow well enough; maybe not even that they are knowably possibly existent. Just that, per Kant's table of nothingness, their place on that table is akin to some other possible table of nothingness with empty sets under one of four (or however many) headings. (OTOH, empty space/time on Kant's table might be more akin to empty sets... But then noumena are less like empty worlds, too.) Aug 1, 2022 at 12:25
  • Empty worlds, according to the subtraction argument, it seems, are formed when concrete objects do not exist in them media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/assets/pdf_file/0006/27447/… . So it is not sufficient to show that noumena are concrete. And I do not see how showing they are akin to an empty set shows they are not an empty world. I might agree that empty worlds are not "present" to us though
    – user61995
    Aug 1, 2022 at 12:29
  • @unhelpful_people_rules, if we're going off Kant's definitions, this is just how it is. However, we can of course reformulate the levels of the noumenon-concept, so that we might characterize empty concrete worlds as noumena "after a fashion." However, how much understanding (of nothingness or anything else) is gained by such redefining of terms? Aug 1, 2022 at 12:32

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