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The Notion of Phenomenon and the Impossibility of Metaphysics: Focus on Kant's Transcendental Idealism.

Byline: Irfan Muhammad

The aim of this article is to expound the conception of phenomenon in Kant's transcendental idealism. Transcendental idealism is a term which Kant used to express the whole enterprise of his theoretical philosophy. In the course of my argument, I contend that it is the peculiar conception of phenomenon, formulated by Kant in Critique of Pure Reason which became the fountainhead of the doctrine of transcendental idealism. That is to say, Kant's unique conception of phenomenon lies at the heart of transcendental idealism and vice versa. Knowledge, for Kant, is a combination of sensibility and understanding. The former is receptivity of mind through which an object is given to us and the latter is the ability to think the object in relation to that givenness. Kant called the object of sensibility, which is merely the way a thing appears to us, phenomenon. The doctrine of transcendental idealism argues that the proper object of human knowledge is phenomenon.

And phenomenon is defined as a thing as it appears to human mind, in contrast to how it may be in itself, the noumenon whose knowledge is not possible. Kant's philosophy in general and transcendental idealism in particular, not merely advocate a new theory of knowledge but also identify the limits of knowledge.1 In order to establish my argument I have divided this article into three sections:

i) Transcendental Idealism and the (Im)Possibility of Metaphysics.

ii) Transcendental Aesthetic: Space and Time as the Structures of Sensibility.

iii) Phenomenon and its Relation to the Categories: The Sensibility-Understanding Composite of Knowledge.

In the first section, I have explored transcendental idealism as an alternative to old metaphysics. Both rationalism and empiricism failed to provide the foundations to metaphysics. Kant's transcendental idealism changed the framework of metaphysics and redefined the relationship between the knowing subject and the knowable object. This section is further divided into two sections namely 'Copernican Revolution and the Notion of Phenomenon' and 'The Notion of Transcendental in Transcendental Idealism'. In the former section, I have elaborated Kant's Copernican Revolution in philosophy whereby for the first time Kant laid the foundation of transcendental idealism and defined a new relationship between subject and object. In the latter section the emphasis is on philosophical inquiry which rules out the impossibility of metaphysics and redefines the framework for metaphysical inquiries.

Kant argued for transcendental idealism as an appropriate solution to the problem of metaphysics stemming from rationalism and scepticism. In the second section I turn towards Kant's constructive theory of knowledge. For Kant, sensibility plays an indispensable role in human knowledge. The a priori character of sensibility is described in this section which according to Kant proves the veracity of the doctrine of transcendental idealism. Kant argued for space and time as the conditions of human knowledge. In the third section Kant's account of the categories is explained. What one gets through sense experience must be subsumed under these categories if one is to have determinate knowledge of objects. The categories are merely applicable to things as they appear to the human mind, therefore through them only knowledge of phenomenon is possible. The legitimate employment of the categories is restricted to phenomenon.

The role understanding plays in the formation of knowledge is one of the features of this section which ultimately establishes the doctrine of transcendental idealism. In the last part of the article, I conclude that the possibility of metaphysics depends upon the solution of the problem of transcendental philosophy.

The latter is an attempt to determine the possible objects of human knowledge. Transcendental idealism which is based upon the solution of the problem of transcendental philosophy is grounded on the supposition that conceptual features of the world (objects) are derived from our own mode of cognition rather than how things are, independent of our subjectivity. Through the critical examination of human cognitive faculty, Kant claimed that the proper object of human knowledge is phenomenon. Human mind is limited to knowing things as they appear to it. This is Kant's doctrine of transcendental idealism.

1. Transcendental idealism and the (Im) Possibility of Metaphysics

(a) Copernican Revolution and the Notion of Phenomenon

In the preface to the second edition of Critique Kant drew an analogy between his theoretical philosophy and the revolution in astronomy begun by Nicolaus Copernicus.2 This Copernican Revolution in philosophy laid the foundation of transcendental idealism as an alternative to the old metaphysics, especially that of empiricism and rationalism. Kant regarded this revolution as the only possible remedy which could solve the problem of metaphysics.

Historically, Kant argued that rationalism and empiricism resulted in dogmatism and scepticism respectively which undermined metaphysics. Kant contended that although metaphysics is meant to be the 'Queen of all the sciences'3 historical experience turned it into a 'battle-ground', a labyrinth of 'mock combats' in which 'no participant has ever yet succeeded in gaining even so much as an inch of territory.'4 This instability of metaphysics leaves us with no choice but to draw the sceptical inference that metaphysics is impossible, or to become simply indifferent to metaphysical questions. Thus, for Kant, all this shows that the human mind is wavering between dogmatism, skepticism and indifferentism as far as the sphere of metaphysics is concerned.5

Along with substantive claims to having introduced a new theory of knowledge, there is a methodological theme that runs throughout Kant's philosophy, namely the critical approach. This new critical approach involves 'an examination of the human powers of cognition and reason as the basis for all claims about the laws of nature and morality.'6 The approach rules out indifferentism, scepticism and dogmatism on the one hand and provides secure foundations to transcendental idealism on the other. One of the eminent contemporary commentators on Kant, Paul Guyer defines dogmatism as:

an uncritical assertions of laws for nature and morality, that is, a confident assertion of the truth of such laws that is not grounded in an antecedent critique of human intellectual powers, which inevitably results in the assertion of conflicting dogmas about many of the most important matters of human concern.7

For Kant, rationalism is a dogmatic approach towards philosophy because it discards the sense experience and its data, viz. the material world in the comprehension of reality. By relying merely on reason as the only certain source of knowledge, rationalism undermines the actual world, which, according to Kant, must be the first step in philosophical inquiry. Thus, every inquiry which discards the existence of the actual world that one first gets acquainted with through sense experience, is dogmatic. Kant claimed that 'there can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience'.8 Therefore the existence of the world, to which we are related empirically, unlike the rationalists, plays a fundamental role in Kant's theory of knowledge. Kant's critical approach identifies the limits of reason in the sense that reason needs something to function upon and that something is always the outcome of the sense experience.

While in Critique Kant attacked at least three types of scepticism, there is one form of scepticism that is central to Kant's concerns.9 This form of scepticism is explicitly associated with David Hume. Kant said: "I openly confess, the suggestion of David Hume was the very thing, which many years ago first interrupted my dogmatic slumber, and gave my investigation in the field of speculative philosophy quite a new direction."10 He further interpreted Hume to have:

[S]tarted from a single but important concept in Metaphysics, viz., that of Cause and Effect (including its derivatives force and action, etc). He challenges reason, which pretends to have given birth to this idea from herself, to answer him by what right she thinks anything to be so constituted, that if that thing be posited, something else also must necessarily be posited; for this is the meaning of the concept of cause. He demonstrated irrefutably that it was perfectly impossible for reason to think a priori and by means of concepts a combination involving necessity.11

Kant stressed that 'Hume had never doubted', whether, 'the concept of cause was right, useful, and even indispensable for our knowledge of nature'. What Hume questioned was only 'whether that concept could be thought by reason a priori, and consequently whether it possessed an inner truth, independent of all experience, implying a wider application than merely to the objects of experience.'12 This was Hume's problem which Kant generalized from the concept of causation to all the fundamental concepts of metaphysics. For Kant, the refutation of Humean scepticism and the possibility of metaphysics consist in the challenge to demonstrate that a principle like causality is truly universal and necessary, consequently valid for all cases whether already experienced or not. Therefore causality is an a priori concept, that is, known independently from any particular experience.

In this way, the problem of metaphysics becomes the matter of reason's relation to itself, therefore its route must be reflexive, that is, 'reason must examine itself.'13 Thus, the process of rationality namely cognition itself is the subject matter of philosophical inquiry. Thus Kant's Critique is a critical inquiry which scrutinizes the most fundamental powers or faculties of human intellect, sensibility, judgment, understanding and reason so that the Humean scepticism may be refuted. Kant's critical approach upholds that there are certain a priori elements in human cognition, and the possibility of cognition is based upon those a priori elements. We cannot know anything which transcends experience because the applicability of these a priori elements is limited to the matter with which we are acquainted through sense experience.

The application of Reason is limited to things lying within the boundary of sense experience, 'the limits of knowledge therefore coincide with limits of experience: what can be known is what can be experienced, and what cannot be experienced cannot be known.'14 Kant's strategy in solving the problem of metaphysics can also be considered as an effort to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate employments of reason. The former is related to sense experience only while the latter incorporates things which lie outside the limits of human experience like God, soul etc. By finding out the limits of reason Kant's critical philosophy ultimately ruled out dogmatism and scepticism. Through self- reflection, reason is released from contradictions found in traditional philosophy and secured in its empirical employment.

In the Introduction of Critique, Kant advanced the case for metaphysics by introducing the notion of synthetic a priori judgment. Kant attached great importance to this issue and stated, 'that (why) metaphysics has hitherto remained in so vacillating a state of uncertainty and contradiction, is entirely due to the fact that this problem.....has never previously been considered.'15 Kant distinguished between a posteriori and a priori cognitions. The former is based upon the experience of particular objects while the latter is not based upon experience of any particular objects, even though it, as Kant ultimately argued, must apply only to such objects. A posteriori knowledge is always contingent, which is to say, 'experience teaches us that a thing is so and so, but not that it cannot be otherwise'. Since a priori knowledge is independent of any particular experience that is why it claims necessity and universality.

Kant stated: "necessity and strict universality are thus sure criteria of a priori knowledge, and are inseparable from one another."16 Furthermore, Kant distinguished between analytic and synthetic judgments.

An analytic judgment is one in which 'the predicate B belongs to the subject A, as something which is (covertly) contained in this concept A', that is, the concept of predicate is already contained in the concept of subject, and which is therefore thought to be true 'through identity', and its denial results in self contradiction. For example, the proposition, "all bachelors are unmarried" is true because bachelor means unmarried male and the proposition "all unmarried males are unmarried" is true through identity, and its denial consequently results in self contradiction ( "all bachelors are not unmarried" says, something like, unmarried is not unmarried: which is merely a self contradiction ). In short, analytic judgments are true by virtue of the meanings of their terms and the laws of logic. Moreover, they do not extend our knowledge but merely clarify and explicate our concepts, that's why, they 'can also be entitled explicative' judgments.

On the other hand, synthetic propositions, conversely, are those propositions in which the predicate 'B lies outside the concept A, although it does indeed stand in connection with it'. Therefore, true synthetic propositions are true, not because of the presence of the concept of predicate in the concept of subject, but by something other than the meanings of the terms involved and the laws of logic. They presuppose a third element, 'something else (x)-in addition to subject and predicate, showing them to be connected'. For example, "all bodies are heavy" is a synthetic proposition because the concept of weight is not contained in the concept of body and therefore added through a third element, in this case, experience. Kant argued that only an act of synthesis can make non-analytic judgments possible. Moreover, synthetic judgments are informative and extend our knowledge, 'and they may therefore be entitled ampliative'17 judgments.

For Kant, there cannot be any analytic proposition known a posteriori but there are certain synthetic propositions known a priori. Indeed, Kant ultimately argued, that all the fundamental propositions of philosophy, mathematics and natural science are synthetic a priori propositions. Moreover, it is the task of Critique to find an answer to the possibility of synthetic a priori judgments which will rule out Humean scepticism, which regarded our most fundamental propositions like "every event has a cause" as merely contingent.

In order to demonstrate the possibility of synthetic a priori judgments, Kant proposed a procedure which is kindred to the 'first thoughts of Copernicus'. Kant's proclamation of a Copernican Revolution in philosophy can be understood by the following passage:

A similar expression can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility. Since I cannot rest in these intuitions if they are to become known, but must relate them as representations to something as their object, and determine this latter through them, either I must assume that the concepts, by means of which I obtain this determination, conform to the object, or else I assume that the objects, or what is the same thing, that the experience in which alone, as given objects, they can be known, conform to the concepts.18

It shows that, if we assume that the basic forms of our intuitions and concepts of objects, that is, sensory representations and conceptual organization of objects, are merely derivations from experience, then our knowledge about objects must be a posteriori, that is, contingent. But if the fundamental forms of sensory representations and conceptual organization are already present in the structure of our mind then nothing can become an object for us if it does not conform to our structure of mind. Therefore, these forms universally and necessarily apply to objects of knowledge, that is, we can have justification for synthetic a priori cognition. For Kant, the object conforming to our structure of mind is always a phenomenon not a thing in itself. This is the doctrine of transcendental idealism, the objective of which is to show that the human mind can only know phenomena.

The conformity which we impose on objects can yield knowledge of things as they appear to creatures like us, not of things in themselves. Thus transcendental idealism automatically emerges from Kant's Copernican Revolution in philosophy. Kant's critical philosophy redefined the relationship between subject and object. Object now has to accord with the structure of cognitive mind. Pre-Copernican philosophy took cognitive subject as being in agreement with object while Kant reversed this relationship. If this is accepted as the correct way to understand the relationship between subject and object then, Kant argued, we must distinguish between phenomenon and thing in it self, only the former can conform to the structure of our mind's constitution and the latter remains something unknown. Pre-Copernican philosophy did not realize this relationship and made thing in it self as the object of human knowledge which rendered metaphysics as an impossible enterprise.

Therefore Kant's transcendental idealism in which the concept of phenomenon is at the core is a new orientation of metaphysics itself.

The notion of transcendental in transcendental idealism

The notion of transcendental is central to Kant's doctrine of transcendental idealism. Kant explicitly distinguished between transcendental and transcendent. The former is concerned with the conditions of the possibility of experience, while the latter refers to that which is beyond possible experience. Kant stressed that this distinction must not be confused if one is to understand transcendental philosophy in general and transcendental idealism in particular. That is why in Prolegomena he wrote:

[T]he word transcendental, the meaning of which is so often explained by me, but not once grasped by my reviewer ( so carelessly has he regarded everything), does not signify something passing beyond all experience, but something that indeed precedes it a priori, but that is intended simply to make cognition of experience possible. If these conceptions overstep experience, their employment is termed transcendent, a word which must be distinguished from transcendental, the latter being limited to the immanent use, that is, to experience.19

From the outset, Kant kept his philosophical approach distinct from the rationalists' dogmatism and empiricists' scepticism. The rationalists' approach was based upon the inspection of clear and distinct ideas or application of the principle of sufficient reason. It was wholly based upon non-critical assertions about the nature of world. Kant rejected this approach because it does not critically examine our faculty of cognition which, as Kant contended in the Critique, functioned within the boundary of sense experience. On the other hand, the empiricists' approach consisted in the 'anatomy of sense experience'20, that is, empiricists or rather sceptics relegated all cognition to sense-impressions where human reason did not play any role. In the preface to the first edition of Critique Kant labeled Locke's approach as merely the 'physiology of human understanding.'21

Kant's own approach to philosophy was transcendental in the sense that it consisted in the identification of conditions of possibility or transcendental conditions. These conditions are the conditions of the possibility of experience, or what Kant sometimes called conditions of the objects of knowledge, that is, appearances. Moreover, 'these conditions must be fulfilled before the subject can be epistemically related to an object.'22 In Critique Kant attempted to unveil these conditions. It is very clear that if these conditions are to be fulfilled before subject's epistemic relation to object then these conditions must be a priori. The arguments which are directed towards the investigation of these conditions are transcendental proof. These arguments reveal the manner in which objects conform to the mode of human cognition.

Kant's transcendental approach did not regard the very constitution of objects as independent of mind, as considered by pre-critical philosophy because then objects of knowledge would be things as they are in themselves not things as they appear to us, that is, appearances. Rather it attempted to reveal this constitution as already contained in the human mind. Thus, functions and procedures of the human mind where metaphysical and epistemological inquiries are grounded comprise the transcendental perspective of transcendental idealism. The subject's constitution of objects does not amount to the claim that objects are created by representations because 'the causing of objects by representations is in fact a form of knowledge that can be ascribed only to God.'23 For humans, the relationship between representation and object is a combination of passivity and activity.

Through sensible intuition one passively receives the matter which one actively subsumes under the a priori principles already contained in one's mind. In Prolegomena, Kant said that the word transcendental referred to 'our cognition, i.e. not to things, but only to the cognitive faculty.'24

That is to say, transcendental inquiry is an inquiry about the cognitive constitution of the knowing subject to which objects must conform, if they are to become objects of knowledge at all. Because of this characterization, Kant's transcendental approach is idealistic at its core.

In response to the misinterpretation and criticism of transcendental idealism in the first edition of Critique, in Prolegomena, Kant called it 'formal reality' or 'formalistic idealism'.25 Kant explicitly distinguished his idealism from that of the Cartesian or Berkelian sort. The latter form of idealism is concerned with the 'contents of consciousness (understood in the empirical sense).'26 Kant's transcendental idealism is critical because it is premised upon his critical agenda, which is to say, it is based upon the a priori examination, that is, the critique of human cognitive faculties. This critical reflection on cognitive powers not only determines the objects of human knowledge which Kant termed as appearances but also its limitations. In this way, Kant ultimately ruled out the possibility of transcendent metaphysics and argued for the metaphysics of experience.

Now metaphysics is not directed towards the speculation of God, soul, etc., the entities that lie outside the human experience but to something which is immanent to human experience. In Transcendental Aesthetic and Transcendental Analytic, Kant attempted to demonstrate the possibility of immanent (internal to human experience) metaphysics or metaphysics of experience. In Transcendental Dialectic, Kant attempted to demonstrate the impossibility of transcendent metaphysics, beyond the boundary of sense experience. Thus, Kant's transcendental philosophy formulated a new framework for metaphysical inquiries.

The earliest formulation of the problem of metaphysics came from Kant's famous letter to Herz, which he wrote on February 21, 1772. In this letter, the problem was presented as determining 'the ground of the relation of that in us which' one might call 'representation to the object.'27 Here Kant, for the first time presented the critical problem in terms of the relationship between representation and object. The problem of reality, or the possibility of metaphysics, is closely connected to this critical problem. As Gardener puts it, the problem of reality 'is a generalized version of critical problem identified in the letter to Herz.' Now reality conceived in this way explains 'how objects of experience and thought are possible for us.'28 For Kant, the accomplishment of this task can only be achieved through transcendental philosophy. Transcendental philosophy aims at formulating a complete thought process whereby all those conditions can be uncovered by means

of which we relate pure or intellectual representations to objects. In doing so reason examines itself and demonstrates its sources and limits. And then 'Critique is identified as a propaedeutic or discipline of the system entitled transcendental philosophy.'29 In the introduction of Critique Kant logically formulated this problem by looking into the possibility of synthetic a priori judgments. Moreover, Kant contended that all the fundamental propositions of natural sciences, mathematics (including geometry) and metaphysics are comprised of synthetic a priori judgments.

In Critique Kant used the word transcendental with both knowledge and philosophy:

I entitled transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects in so far as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori. A system of such concepts might be entitled transcendental philosophy.30

It means that transcendental knowledge is primarily knowledge of a certain kind. It aims at identification of conditions of a priori cognition of objects. For the determination of these conditions, by virtue of which objects of knowledge are possible for us, Kant ultimately argued for the critical examination of our cognitive faculty. Thus 'critique itself is part of the transcendental philosophy.'31 And transcendental philosophy is a complete system of all those concepts which make objects of knowledge possible

for us and consequently are a priori. In this way, Kant's transcendental philosophy replaced the traditional framework of metaphysics whereby objects were possible only in their manner of representation. Kant did not deny the independent ontological status of objects and reality because it would otherwise be like the subjective idealism of Berkeley. What Kant meant is that this manner of representation is an imposition of the human mind. The manner of representation of objects as being spatio-temporal or causally connected entities can only be ascribed to their appearances not to things as they are in themselves. The maxim which runs throughout Critique is that the manner by means of which objects are possible 'must reflect the cognitive structure of the human mind (its manner of representing) rather than the nature of object as it is in itself'32. In Transcendental Aesthetic and Transcendental Analytic, Kant uncovered this manner of representation of objects.

In the former this manner of representation of objects is characterized as their being spatio- temporal and in the latter as their being subsumed under the pure concepts of understanding, the categories.

The arguments which uncover those conditions by virtue of which the manner of the representation of objects is possible, Kant called, transcendental proof. Transcendental proof is peculiar in the sense that 'it converts a possibility into a necessity.'33 It attempts to show that the conditions of the possibility of objects are 'necessary for us to the extent that we are to have experience of objects at all.'34

Since these conditions are necessary ones therefore they are a priori with respect to the specific diction which Kant used in Critique. This use of the word can also be applied to the subdivisions of Critique. Aesthetic is transcendental in the sense that it determines the a priori character of sensibility, Analytic is transcendental because it aims at determining the a priori character of understanding and Dialectic is transcendental because it investigates a priori claims which traditional philosophy mistakenly held regarding metaphysics.

Transcendental inquiry follows from the Copernican Revolution in metaphysics in the sense that the latter regards subject as shaping the world while the former investigates that shape as already contained in the cognitive subject. This shape according to Kant is the structure of the cognitive subject to which objects must conform if they are to be objects of knowledge. Transcendental inquiry investigates the relationship between representation and object independently of realism. That is to say, transcendental inquiry is an inquiry about the possibility of objects without 'assuming their independently constituted reality.'35 This constitution, such an inquiry holds, is the contribution of the knowing subject, making the inquiry idealistic in nature.

Thus, the fate of metaphysics which first appeared in the letter to Herz, then in Copernican analogy and finally in its logical form as a possibility about synthetic a priori judgments, ultimately rests upon the solution of the problem of transcendental philosophy. Kant contended throughout Critique that the possibility of transcendental philosophy rests on the premise that objects of knowledge are appearances rather than things in themselves. That is, transcendental idealism is the solution of the problem of transcendental philosophy.

Transcendental Aesthetic: Space and Time as the Structures of Sensibility

Kant regarded "Transcendental Aesthetic", as not merely a theory of space and time but also as one of the two direct proofs of transcendental idealism.36 "Transcendental Aesthetic" is concerned with sensibility. It deals with the a priori elements of sensible perception and attempts to show, as opposed to rationalists/dogmatists, that sensibility is an indispensable contribution to knowledge. There are two central claims which Kant maintained in "Transcendental Aesthetic". The first claim is that space and time are the pure forms of our sensible experience. That is to say, they are the pure forms of sensible representation of objects. The second claim is that, they are not features of absolute reality or things in themselves but 'elements of our subjective cognitive constitution'37, they are the pure forms of our own representations of objects. It means that it is merely the pure forms of appearances which are the objects of our experience.

This latter claim which regards space and time as the pure forms of our own representations of objects is the doctrine of transcendental idealism, which contends that how things appear to us must be the objects of human cognition and how things are in themselves can never be the objects of human cognition, and consequently unknowable.

For Kant, 'intuition and concepts' constitute 'the elements of our knowledge, so that neither concepts without an intuition in some way corresponding to them, nor intuition without concepts, can yield knowledge.'38 Intuitions are those representations through which objects are given to us and concepts are those by means of which we think about objects. Intuition, Kant contends, is the immediate kind of representation of objects, that is, intuition connects us immediately with objects of knowledge. Kant wrote, 'in whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of knowledge may relate to objects, intuition is that through which it is in immediate relation to them.'39 Concepts, by contrast, relate to objects mediately, 'by means of a feature which several things may have in common.'40 Intuition is always a singular representation, that is, it represents an individual thing or single object.

On the other hand, a concept is inherently general and represents properties common to many objects, therefore it necessarily applies to more than a particular object; because of this a concept always has a mediate relation with object. The capacity which enables us to have objects is sensibility and the cognitive power which enables us to think about objects is called understanding. Objects are given to us by means of sensibility and it alone yields intuitions. Kant distinguished between empirical and pure intuitions. He defined empirical intuition, as the immediate representation of a particular object involving sensation and the 'undetermined object of an empirical intuition is entitled appearance.'41 An appearance has two kinds of features: one which corresponds to sensation, which Kant called matter, and the other in which sensations can be posited and ordered in a certain relation, which Kant called form.

Moreover, 'the matter of all appearances is given to us a posteriori only, its form must lie ready for the sensations a priori in the mind.'42 That is to say, the matter of appearance depends on the ways in which the human mind happens to be affected by object and thus the specific contents of sensations can be determined only empirically or a posteriori - there must exist in the mind independent of any act of object upon it a mode or modes of sensible receptivity which enables it to apprehend sensations. Such a mode of receptivity according to Kant is a priori or pure form of sensible intuition. Kant argued that all sensible intuitions are conditioned with these a priori forms. These a priori forms are pure intuitions.

Kant argued that we have an a priori conception of space and time, that is pure representations of space and time are antecedently conditioned for the possibility of empirical intuition. He wrote:

'space is not an empirical concept which has been derived from outer experiences' because 'outer experience is itself possible at all only through that representation [of space]'43 (outer does not mean external in a spatial sense but rather distinct from myself). Likewise '[T]ime is not an empirical concept that has been derived from any experience for neither coexistence nor succession would ever come within our perception, if the representation of time were not presupposed as underlying them a priori.'44 To reinforce his contention Kant added that we can never represent particular objects without representing space and time, but not vice-versa. That is to say, we can think of space and time as being without objects but it is impossible to think of particular objects in the absence of space and time. Therefore space and time are necessary, consequently a priori representations. Furthermore, space and time are not just pure forms of empirical intuition but are themselves pure intuitions.

Kant argued, we must have pure intuition of space and time because we necessarily represent each as singular, and it has been shown in the opening pages of 'Aesthetic' that singular representations are intuitions. We always 'represent to ourselves only one space' and 'different times are but parts of one and the same time.'45 It follows that space and time are not discursive or general concepts, they are not merely conditions of empirical intuitions but are themselves pure intuitions. 'Transcendental Exposition' of the concepts of space and time begins with an agreed body of synthetic a priori knowledge and concludes that such knowledge is possible if and only if space and time are pure intuitions. Kant specifically contended that our possession of synthetic a priori judgments both in geometry and arithmetic can only be justified if space and time are seen a priori intuitions.46

The conclusions, which follow immediately after the metaphysical and transcendental expositions of the concepts of space and time show a

move from the nature and representation of space and time to their ontological status. In this move Kant strongly argued for transcendental idealism. He contended that space and time are not the properties of things as they are in themselves, nor relations of them to each other because 'no determinations whether absolute or relative, can be intuited prior to the existence of the things to which they belong, and none, therefore, can be intuited a priori'. He then infers that they are only 'subjective condition[s] of sensibility'- space as merely 'the form of all appearances of outer sense' and time 'nothing but the form of inner sense, that is, of the intuition of ourselves and of our inner states.'47

The conclusion that space and time are the subjective conditions of sensibility, that is, 'they are nothing but representations and cannot exist outside mind'48, Kant called, transcendental ideality of space and time. According to the ideality thesis, space and time are empirically real but transcendentally ideal. That space is empirically real means that it is real 'in respect of whatever can be presented to us outwardly as object'49, likewise, time too, is empirically real 'in respect of all objects which allow of ever being given to our senses.'50

That space is transcendentally ideal means, it is not real 'in respect of things when they are considered in themselves'51, similarly, time is transcendentally ideal means it is not real with respect to things in themselves, 'if we abstract from the subjective conditions of sensible intuition, time is nothing, and cannot be ascribed to the objects in themselves.'52 Essentially, the transcendental ideality thesis claims that spatial and temporal predicates are limited to objects of sensibility, which according to Kantian nomenclature are appearances. That is to say, if space and time are elements of our subjective cognitive constitution, pure forms of our own representations of objects, then we must distinguish between appearances and things in themselves. Owing to the conditions of space and time we can have knowledge of things as they appear to us, not what they are in themselves.

This distinction between appearance and thing in itself is the basis of the doctrine of transcendental idealism. When this distinction appeared in the "Preface" to the second edition of Critique, it was expounded in terms of "Copernican Revolution", where object conforming to our mode of cognition was considered as an appearance. In "Transcendental Aesthetic", Kant made this distinction in terms of his theory of sensibility. Here Kant, unlike in "Preface" where this distinction remained implicit, explicitly distinguished between things as they appear through the modes of human sensibility and things conceived apart from them. For Kant, objects given to human sensibility are appearances and objects considered apart from human sensibility are things in themselves. It has previously been shown that human sensibility functions under the conditions of space and time therefore objects of human sensibility, viz. appearances, are necessarily spatial and temporal.

This is the doctrine of transcendental idealism which asserts that 'things in themselves, whatever else they may be, are not spatial and temporal.'53 As far as human cognition is concerned objects cannot be given to us in any other mode except the appearances. By rendering appearance as the only possible object of human cognition, "Transcendental Aesthetic", as Kant intended, not only proved the doctrine of transcendental idealism but also saw human being's cognitive powers as being restricted to mere appearances.

Phenomenon and its Relation to the Categories:

The Sensibility-Understanding Composite of Knowledge Transcendental Aesthetic describes how objects are intuited. But it does not establish their givenness in a cognitive sense. To have fully determinate knowledge of objects Kant contended appearances which we get via sense experience under the conditions of space and time must be subsumed under the pure concepts of understanding which he called the categories. It is essential to bring our intuitions under concepts if we are to make our intuitions intelligible at all. Thus intuitions and concepts are complementary and 'only through their union can knowledge arise.'54 In 'Transcendental Analytic' Kant deduced the pure concepts of understanding, the categories, and again proved transcendental idealism by showing the applicability of the categories to phenomenon only.55

There are three main stages in Kant's derivation of the categories. In 'The Clue to the Discovery of all Pure Concepts of the Understanding', which in the second edition of Critique Kant called 'metaphysical deduction', he argued, first, that all knowledge of objects is expressed in judgments and therefore can never be constituted by intuitions alone. Mere observation of an object does not amount to knowledge, for knowledge requires thinking or asserting over what is observed, that is, application of a concept is necessary over the observed and 'it is in and through judgments that we apply concepts to given data [what is observed].'56 Kant bases his argument on the premise that all cognition involves the combination of concepts into judgments, that is, acts of conceptualization are represented in judgments.57

Since all synthetic knowledge also involves intuition by means of which concepts refer to objects, in every judgment the concepts ultimately, whether directly or indirectly refer to intuitions, 'no concept is ever related to an object immediately, but to some other representation of it, be that other representation an intuition.'58 This is not to say, that concepts are themselves singular. In his logic textbook, Kant stated that there can be no singular concepts but only singular uses of concepts.59 It means in a judgment about a particular object, the concept of subject which is general and can refer to any object in a certain class, refers to that particular object because the actual context in which judgment is ascribed to a particular intuition is always singular. Briefly put, by means of intuition sensible content is provided to judgment which is determined through the pure concept or category. Because of this reason, Kant regarded the relation between concept and object as mediate.

In the second stage of his argument Kant claimed that there are certain ways in which concepts may be linked to form judgments. They are functions of unity by virtue of which one representation is brought into relation with another in order to yield 'unity among our representations.'60 The various ways in which unity is possible, irrespective of the content that is unified, Kant called, "forms of judgment". Following Aristotle's logic, Kant contended that there are twelve functions of unity in judgments or forms of judgment in which each form yields a different kind of unity. Kant grouped these twelve forms under four titles each containing three particular forms beneath it. Every judgment with regard to its quantity is either universal, particular, or singular, while in quality it is either affirmative, negative, or infinite and so on.

In the final stage of his argument Kant claimed that the logical functions of judgment, which are identified in the preceding paragraphs, are purely formal. The pure concepts of understanding or the categories that Kant is trying to identify must necessarily be related to judgment but they must also have content. It is important to consider how they get their content. Kant argued that they derive their content 'only from their relation to (their role in organizing) intuition.'61 Therefore pure concepts of understanding do not only correspond to logical functions of judgment but are also capable of organizing intuition. Kant put it this way:

[T]he same function which gives unity to the various representations in a judgment also gives unity to the mere synthesis of various representations in an intuition; and this unity, in its most general expression, we entitle the pure concept of understanding.62

Pure concepts of understanding or categories are those ways by means of which we structure our concepts of objects in order to make judgments about them. In defining categories, Kant also held that categories are 'concepts of an object in general, by means of which the intuition of an object is regarded as determined in respect of one of the logical functions of judgment.'63 Categories are the most fundamental concepts which enable us to unify representation in a sensible intuition.

Kant extracted from each of the forms of judgment a corresponding category which in turn related to objects given in intuition. This table of categories is grouped the same way as the table of judgments. All the categories are divided into four groups, each group containing three particular categories under it. Categories of quantity are unity, plurality, totality, that of quality are reality, negation, limitation and so on.

Categories themselves are not concepts of objects, for example, the concept of substance is not a concept of any particular substance like silver or gold, similarly, the concept of a property is not a concept of a particular property like green or red. Rather 'categories are forms of particular concepts of objects.'64 In addition to their categorical form, those particular concepts must

involve some empirical contents such as greenness or redness. Like space and time categories are the pure forms for empirical intuition. Since space and time are single representations therefore we also have their pure intuition but regarding categories we have no such thing as pure concept of substance or property as such. In "Transcendental deduction" Kant contended that these categories possess objective validity in the sense that they are universally and necessarily applicable to all our experiences, to whatever might be presented to us in space and time. Categories relate to objects a priori, thus they are 'conditions of the possibility of all knowledge of objects.'65 Since, categories necessarily apply to all our experiences, these have been shown in "Transcendental Aesthetic", as always being spatio-temporal, therefore, categories necessarily apply to an experience that is spatio-temporal.

Moreover, our spatio-temporal experience is always of appearance, that is, how things appear, not of things in themselves, therefore categories yield knowledge only of things as they appear, that is phenomenon, not of things in themselves. Categories are those concepts by means of which we constitute objects of experience and only because of them can we form empirical concepts of objects. That is why, 'they[categories] serve only for the possibility of empirical knowledge.'66

In his chapter on "The Ground of the Distinction of all Objects in general into Phenomena and Noumena", Kant strengthened the above claim by maintaining that 'understanding can employ its various principles and its various concepts [categories] solely in an empirical and never in a transcendental manner'. The empirical employment of pure concepts or categories consists in their 'application merely to appearances', while the transcendental employment of categories involves their 'application to things in general and in themselves.'67 It means categories are of limited scope. And if someone, Kant argued, applies categories beyond their limited field [spatio-temporal objects] then ultimately illusion will emerge, in which traditional metaphysics was engaged. Kant's detailed discussion of this issue is the subject matter of "Transcendental Dialectic".

Kant's contention that categories are merely applicable to appearances also gave rise to the conception of a thing-in-it-self which he called noumenon. The concept of noumenon, Kant added, enables us to realize the limitation of our knowledge to mere phenomenon. Since noumenon is not a representation of our sensible intuition, therefore, we can never have its determinate knowledge, that is, we cannot speak about it in a positive sense.

Thus in "Analytic" the doctrine of transcendental idealism is again proved which affirms the knowability of phenomenon and rejects the cognition of things in themselves. It is very clear that Kant's constructive theory of knowledge moves around the notion of phenomenon. It is the peculiarity of the conception of phenomenon which gives rise to the doctrine of transcendental idealism and vice versa. Because of the a priori modes of our sensibility we can have mere appearances to which categories can be applied, therefore all of our knowledge is restricted to phenomenon. This is Kant's doctrine of transcendental idealism.


Kant's theory of knowledge revolves around the notion of phenomenon. This theory regards objects, as they appear to human mind, as the only aspect of reality which human beings can cognize. What lies beyond appearances or phenomenon is something which they can never know. Kant called it noumenon, that is, things as they are in themselves. Since Kant admitted the indispensable role of the sense experience in the formation of knowledge, noumenon has to remain unknowable, as by its very nature it lies beyond the sense experience. Kant noted that in the heritage of western philosophy metaphysics became an impossible enterprise. Despite providing secure foundations to human knowledge both empiricism and rationalism resulted in scepticism and dogmatism respectively. They relegated metaphysics to the realm of the impossible.

Moreover, Hume's critique of causation also shattered the foundations of Newtonian sciences which was thought to be a great achievement of the western mind68. In the light of these three systems of thought namely, rationalism/dogmatism, empiricism/scepticism and Newtonian sciences, Kant initiated his philosophical inquiry. Kant proposed a revolution in metaphysics analogous to the Copernican Revolution in astronomy. As Copernicus changed the relationship between the observer and heavenly bodies in order to resolve the problems stemming from the Ptolemaic model of the universe, Kant changed the relationship between the knowing subject and the knowable object so that the problem of metaphysics could be resolved, by refuting dogmatism and scepticism.

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is a critical examination of man's cognitive faculty. He contended that the knowing subject must reflexively examine his most fundamental cognitive powers so that its scope and limitations can be defined. Human reason is restricted within the boundary of the sense experience. The proper function of reason is merely concerned with the experiential world. As Kant put it:

When once reason has learnt completely to understand its own power in respect of objects which can be presented to it in experience, it should easily be able to determine, with completeness and certainty, the extent and the limits of its attempted employment beyond the bounds of all experience69.

Traditional philosophy did not base inquiry upon the critical examination of the cognitive faculty and so could not provide secure foundations to both metaphysics and epistemology. In the process of critical examination of human cognition, Kant came to know that there are certain necessary conditions which must be fulfilled before subject can epistemically relate to object. These conditions are a priori. Kant introduced the idea of transcendental which investigates these a priori conditions. Thus, philosophical inquiry became transcendental inquiry and systematic treatment of all a priori conditions and notions become the subject matter of transcendental philosophy. It means that the fate of metaphysics, is to be determined by transcendental philosophy. If a thing is to become an object of knowledge then it must fulfill these conditions.

It means that the structure of the cognitive mind (which is comprised of both sensible and intellectual conditions, that is, space-time and the categories) must be reflected in objects if they are to be objects of knowledge at all. Objects do not have any independently constituted reality as pre-critical philosophy thought.

Thus, this is not the subject which is in agreement with the object rather it is the object which must accord with the subject. That is to say, objects must conform to the structure of cognitive subject to the extent that they are objects of knowledge. Since objects are given to us always in sensible intuition, that is why, these conditions are not only conditions of objects of knowledge but also the conditions of experience. If this was the way to establish relations between the knowing subject and the knowable object, then Kant contended that one must distinguish between phenomenon and noumenon. Only the former can conform to the structure of cognitive subject and is therefore knowable, while the latter remains unknowable. This is Kant's doctrine of transcendental idealism which considers all the necessities of experience as being derived from the human mode of cognition.

According to this doctrine the object of human knowledge is phenomenon which Kant defined as things as they appear to the human mind. The notion of phenomenon is the central theme of Kant's doctrine of transcendental idealism. Transcendental idealism being the solution of the problem of transcendental philosophy revolves around the notion of phenomenon. That is to say, this peculiar conception of phenomenon gave rise to Kant's doctrine of transcendental idealism.


1. The identification of the limits of knowledge is one of the genuine contributions of Kant's philosophy. According to Kant, not identifying the limits of knowledge is the source of fallacies and contradictions found in traditional philosophy which failed to recognize such limits. Since we cannot know anything outside the experiential world, because of the limits of knowledge, therefore we cannot theoretically demonstrate the existence of God, our own freedom and immortality of the soul. But, Kant argues, they can neither be disproven, and they are necessary presuppositions of moral conduct - objects of moral belief or faith although not knowledge. In a famous statement in the preface to the second edition of Critique Kant found it necessary "to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith". See also, Paul Guyer, Kant (London: Routledge, 2006), 33-34.

2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. N. Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1958), 22,25.

3. Ibid, 7.

4. Ibid, 21.

5. This peculiar state of metaphysics stood in complete contrast to the progress made by the natural and mathematical sciences in the 16th and 17th centuries. The success of such sciences was based upon some secure foundations provided by scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. Kant greatly admired their work and tried to provide such secure foundations for metaphysics.

6. Paul Guyer, Kant, 9.

7. Ibid.

8. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. N. Kemp Smith, 41. Such a great emphasis on experience led many commentators to label Kant as an empiricist. It can easily be claimed that Kant's theory of knowledge is more inclined towards the empiricist position than the rationalist one.

9. Two other types of scepticism are Cartesian and Pyrrhonian. The former type emerges by doubting the existence of the world and the latter by contradictory but apparently well-grounded propositions about the most fundamental human concerns. For details, see Paul Guyer, Kant, 9-12.

10. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, trans. Paul Carus, (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1951), 6.

11. Ibid, 3.

12. Ibid, 4-5.

13. Sebastian Gardner, Routledge Philosophy Guide Book to Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason (London: Routledge, 1999), 22.

14. Ibid, 24.

15. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 55. In his later writings Kant formulated the fundamental problems of ethics and aesthetics too in terms of synthetic a priority.

16. Ibid, 43-44.

17. Ibid, 48-49.

18. Ibid, 22.

19. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 128n.

20. Sebastian Gardner, Routledge Philosophy Guide Book to Kant and the Critique, 45.

21. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 8.

22. Gardner, Routledge Philosophy Guide Book, 45.

23. Ibid., 43.

24. Immanuel Kant, 42.

25. Ibid.

26. Henry E. Allison, Kant's Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense (London: Yale University Press, 1983), 26.

27. Kant's letter to Herz, Kant's gesammelte Schriften, vol. 10, (Berlin, Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, 1900), 130-31

28. Gardner, Routledge Philosophy Guide Book to Kant, 33.

29. Camilla Serck-Hanssen, "Kant's Critical Debut: The Idea of the Transcendental in Kant's Early Thought" in Jeff Malpas (ed.), From Kant to Davidson: Philosophy and the Ideal of Transcendental (London: Routledge, 2002).

30. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 59.

31. Serck-Hanssen, "Kant's Critical Debut: The Idea of the Transcendental in Kant's Early Thought".

32. Henry E. Allison, Kant's Transcendental Idealism, 27.

33. Gardner, Routledge Philosophy Guide Book to Kant, 45.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid., 49.

36. Kant says that transcendental idealism "will be proved, apodictically not hypothetically, from the nature of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding". For this see, Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 25. It means that the second direct poof of transcendental idealism is presented in "Transcendental Analytic". Kant also gives a third indirect proof in the "Antinomy of Pure Reason"; according to this proof, the assumption that objects of knowledge are things in themselves ultimately leads to contradictions.

37. Gardner, Routledge Philosophy Guide Book to Kant, 65.

38. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 92.

39. Ibid., 65.

40. Ibid., 314.

41. Ibid., 65.

42. Ibid., 66.

43. Ibid., 68.

44. Ibid., 74.

45. Ibid., 69,75.

46. For the status of synthetic a priori propositions in geometry and arithmetic see Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 52-54. Also see, Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 31.

47. Ibid., 71-72,76-77.

48. Ibid., 440.

49. Ibid., 72.

50. Ibid., 78.

51. Ibid., 72.

52. Ibid., 78.

53. Guyer Paul, Kant and the Claims of Knowledge, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 333.

54. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 93.

55. Here we can make a distinction between appearance and phenomenon which Kant confuses in the text. The word phenomenon rarely occurs in Critique; if it does, Kant interchanges its meaning with the word appearance most of the time. But as far as the development of Kant's constructive theory of knowledge till the end of Analytic is concerned, there is a technical difference between them. In Aesthetic, appearance is defined as 'the undetermined object of an empirical intuition'. It means that appearances are those objects which merely consist in sense contents. When we interpret these contents through the employment of the categories, they become phenomena. It is very clear from the definition of phenomenon which Kant gives in the first edition of Critique but omits in the second edition: "appearances, so far as they are thought as objects according to the unity of the categories are called phenomena". For this see, Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 265.

56. Allison, Kant's Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense, 68.

57. J.H. Paton, Kant's Metaphysics of Experience, Vol.1, (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 251.

58. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 105.

59. Kant's detailed treatment of the concept is presented in Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Logic, edited and translated by Michael J. Young, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), sec-1.

60. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 105-106.

61. Gardner, Routledge Philosophy Guide Book, 132.

62. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 112.

63. Ibid., 128.

64. Guyer, Kant, 75.

65. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 124.

66. Guyer, Kant, 91.

67. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 259.

68. Ibid., 55-56.

69. Ibid., 57.
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