In German philosophy (particularly Kant and Husserl), the concepts Gegenstand and Objekt (and their conjugations Gegenständlichkeit and Objektivität) are used to describe very different things while they are both translated as “object” or “objectivity” in English. I was wondering if someone could explain the differences between these two terms? Thank you very much!


2 Answers 2


In German philosophy, the terms Gegenstand and Objekt are used to refer to different aspects of the concept of an object. In general, the term Gegenstand refers to the relation between a subject and an object, while the term Objekt refers to the object itself.

For example, in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the term Gegenstand is used to refer to the way in which the mind structures and organizes the sensory information it receives from the world. Kant argues that the mind imposes certain concepts and categories on sensory experience, giving it a certain form and structure. In this sense, the Gegenstand is the product of the mind's activity, and it is distinct from the raw sensory data that is received by the senses.

The term Objekt, on the other hand, is used to refer to the thing in itself, independent of the mind's activity. Kant argues that the true nature of an object is unknowable, and that our knowledge of objects is always mediated by the categories and concepts imposed by the mind. In this sense, the Objekt is the thing in itself, beyond our knowledge and understanding.

In the philosophy of Edmund Husserl, the terms Gegenstandlichkeit and Objektivität are used in a similar way to refer to the relation between the subject and the object. Gegenstandlichkeit refers to the way in which an object is given to the subject, while Objektivität refers to the object itself, as it exists independently of the subject.

Overall, while the terms Gegenstand and Objekt are often translated as "object" in English, they have distinct meanings in German philosophy and are used to refer to different aspects of the concept of an object.


There is a relevant quote in the CPR, although Kant does not necessarily keep this distinction in every instance (as ever so often with his terminology):

We have representations in us, of which we can also become conscious. But let this consciousness reach as far and be as exact and precise as one wants, still there always remain only representations, i.e., inner determinations of our mind in this or that temporal relation. Now how do we come to posit an object [Object] for these representations, or ascribe to their subjective reality, as modifications, some sort of objective reality? Objective significance cannot consist in the relation to another representation (of that which one would call the object [Gegenstand]), for that would simply raise anew the question: How does this representation in turn go beyond itself and acquire objective significance in addition to the subjective significance that is proper to it as a determination of the state of mind? If we investigate what new characteristic is given to our representations by the relation to an object [Gegenstand], and what is the dignity that they thereby receive, we find that it does nothing beyond making the combination of representations necessary in a certain way, and subjecting them to a rule; and conversely that objective significance is conferred on our representations only insofar as a certain order in their temporal relation is necessary. [A197|B242-3]

We can infer some consequences from that (I won't cite half the book here, but the idea is there):

  1. Every Object is different from the subject
  2. Subjectivity and objectivity have something to do whether and how the representation is linked with a Gegenstand (in Kant).
  3. Every Gegenstand also is an Object
  4. Not every Object is also a Gegenstand.
  5. As we can infer from this textbit and others, Gegenstand is not any object of thought, but only those thought in space and time, something linked to intuitions, ie. what current philosophy calls particulars as opposed to abstract objects.

I'd also like to add that the page after the quote, it is made clear that a distinctive feature of any object is its distinctiveness, ie. we need to be able to single out certain features of it from our mind and the general "noise" of the manifold.

As becomes clear from a variety of textbits, both Object and Gegenstand are "that which representations/thoughts/insights/judgements of the subject (modifications of the mind) refer to" (see e.g. B106, 121, 190...). Here, I have to object (sic!) Yoel's answer.

Many editors of German editions use the terms as synonyms in their glossars. But the general Object = rather abstract and Gegenstand = with particular features of what we know from "objects of experience" roughly remains relevant throughout his works.

  • Afai understand it the thing is essentially that objects are entities in the real world that are distinct from other entities and that are at the same time a "thing" and a "thought". Like the empiricist says it's just the thing that matters, the rationalist it's just the thought While Kant basically argues you can't have one without the other. Without an understanding the thing would just be it's appearance but without a perceptual relation to the thing the thought would just be a meaningless illusion. So the object can at best get transcendental not transcendent, right?
    – haxor789
    Dec 16, 2022 at 15:17
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    @haxor789 Kant tends to use Object for every object of the mind, which includes logical entities. "Gegenstand" is the reference point of both imaginary and empirical representations that have intuitional and conceptual content, while "Ding" (without the "an sich") is specifically reserved to the object of an empirical representation and the only "Object" of which we can gain empirical knowledge. In a sense, "Ding"=empirical "Gegenstand" is a representation (formed of structured intuition and conceptual subsumption) of a representation (manifold sensory input) of an object.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Dec 16, 2022 at 16:22
  • And the latter "Object" has only transcendental reality as it must be thought as a causal reason for us having the ability to have these representations. The legitimacy of them having a reality in their own right is questionable in Kant, even if his texts are somewhat contradictory in that regard.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Dec 16, 2022 at 16:24

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