Wikipedia gives an explanation of Kant's usage of the term noumena, part of which reads as follows:

By Kant's account, when we employ a concept to describe or categorize noumena (the objects of inquiry, investigation or analysis of the workings of the world), we are in fact employing a way of describing or categorizing phenomena (the observable manifestations of those objects of inquiry, investigation or analysis). Kant posited methods by which human beings make sense out of the interrelationships among phenomena: the concepts of the transcendental aesthetic, as well as that of the transcendental analytic, transcendental logic and transcendental deduction.[5][6][7] Taken together, Kant's "categories of understanding" are descriptions of the sum of human reasoning that can be brought to bear in attempting to understand the world in which we exist (that is, to understand, or attempt to understand, "things in themselves"). In each instance the word "transcendental" refers to the process that the human mind uses to increasingly understand or grasp the form of, and order among, phenomena. Kant asserts that to "transcend" a direct observation or experience is to use reason and classifications to strive to correlate with the phenomena that are observed. By Kant's view, humans can make sense out of phenomena in these various ways, but can never directly know the noumena, the "things-in-themselves", the actual objects and dynamics of the natural world. In other words, by Kant's Critique, our minds may attempt to correlate in useful ways, perhaps even closely accurate ways, with the structure and order of the various aspects of the universe, but cannot know these "things-in-themselves" (noumena) directly. Rather, we must infer the extent to which thoughts correspond with things-in-themselves by our observations of the manifestations of those things that can be sensed, that is, of phenomena.[8][9]

I would like some help understanding this and in particular how to properly characterize Kant's usage of the term noumena. Some of my questions are as follows.

  • Does this mean that one can only know or deduce from phenomena?
  • Is phenomena the "same" as that which appears to our senses?
  • Is Kant using phenomena to define noumena?
  • Are the terms "subjective" and "objective" relevant here?
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    I think you're under the impression that Kant said anything about noumena (the true thing which gives rise to the transcendental object). He didn't. The ONLY thing he said is that it exists, which it, of course, it has to. Something has to give rise to the representations that appear before us, and that something is—as Kant defined—the noumena.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 5:36
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    Just for future reference, this site works very differently from a traditional forum, and reposting the same question is strongly discouraged. Even though your last one was closed, you can still edit it to clarify what you're asking. And once edited, it can be re-opened by a moderator. Editing is always a better solution than reposting. I have removed any references to the old question here and deleted it from the site just to keep things clean. Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 6:20
  • @stoicfury To be is to be something instead of another thing. i.e. To be is to have attributes and characteristics. Noumena is that which is not accessible to observation. Kant claims to know that attribute about Noumena. If it is not accessible to observation how can he claim the attribute that it is not accessible to observation? Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 11:55
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    I have edited in a suitable citation of Wikipedia, as well as performed some cleanup and attempted to isolate your most important questions. It is still far from ideal and I would absolutely encourage you to improve it and narrow it down even further if you can -- keep in mind good questions are focused and clearly ask about one specific thing. You can always ask more questions
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 14:25
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    @Louser Actually, not according to Kant. Whereas Hume and other philosophers would typically argue that causality is an a posteriori concept, Kant actually argued that it is an a priori one. To him, it is derived from a pure concept - the concept of the relation of cause and effect. He does not rely on phenomenological experience to infer causality.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 16:15

1 Answer 1


Since we can never think outside of our own minds, anything we ever think or perceive will inherently be subjective. "Objectivity" is and has only ever been just a form of collective subjectivity. The "way things truly are" may very well be vastly different than our human minds and senses can possibly perceive or comprehend. You should note, however, that Kant did think we could discern some objective truths about the nature of the universe, but only a very limited few (the Pure Categories of understanding, the reality of space/time/causation, etc). He is often seen as a bridge between rationalism and empiricism in this regard.

Update: I wanted to add to my answer to also provide another refutation to the main concern that you seem to be having regarding existence as a predicate. You write:

To be is to be something instead of another thing. i.e. To be is to have attributes and characteristics. Noumena is that which is not accessible to observation. Kant claims to know that attribute about Noumena. If it is not accessible to observation how can he claim the attribute that it is not accessible to observation?

This is not actually true. The way you word it in this particular passage it's not entirely clear, but based on your other responses to me in more than one question on this site, it seems that you are insisting that existence is an attribute or characteristic, when in fact is it not. If I am to say that ice cream exists, I am not adding anything more to the concept of ice cream; it is not a "characteristic" of the ice cream. It is only a relation of the object (ice cream) to the subject (me).

See "Existence" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existence , although you will probably find more thorough literature on it under the arguments against the Ontological argument for the existence of God.
For example:
http://www.existence-of-god.com/ontological-objections.html (section labelled "Kant’s Objection to the Ontological Argument: Existence is not a Predicate")

  • Thanks again for your answer. If collective subjectivity is all we have, then does that mean, if 50 million Frenchmen think gravity is unreal then so will it be? I think even if only 1 Frenchman thinks gravity is real and the rest disagree, the unbelievers of gravity would still fall into a unseen pit on the ground. Sorry to be confrontational, but I think everybody is getting bored with subjectivity in philosophy. It ain't cool anymore. Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 5:36
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    If everyone on the planet believed that the Sun was made out of ice cream, that doesn't mean the Sun is made out of ice cream. It means that everyone on the planet believes that the Sun is made out of ice cream. Thoughts do not make reality. Unfortunately, because of how things just are, getting to know the "pure objective truth" about really anything at all appears to be impossible. Nevertheless, given the cards we were dealt, our collectively subjective beliefs about things have worked pretty well so far. All our cool science and technology and medecine, after all, is built on it.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 5:47
  • @stoicfury if everyone on the planet believed the sun is made of ice cream then either it is or isn't. But if it isn't then everyone is wrong and we would see the consequences of that- or else it wouldn't matter if the sun is made of ice cream or not. Thus you have defined the subjective experience: what is ice cream (or the sun)? I like your answer- but I think your dogma is- well at lack of a better word- dogmatic.
    – user151
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 0:58

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