Kant Lexicon

Phenomenon Phänomen (German), phainomenon (Greek)

The distinction of phenomenon and noumenon plays a prominent role in Kant’s writing. The title of his Inaugural Dissertation was On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and the Intelligible World (world of phenomena and world of noumena, respectively.) The concluding chapter of the Transcendental Analytic is entitled “On the Basis of the Distinction of All Objects As Such into Phenomena and Noumena” (beginning at A235/B294). Kant also discusses the distinction in his metaphysics lectures.

In the Inaugural Dissertation, Kant gives the following definitions.

The object of sensibility is the sensible; that which contains nothing but what is to be cognized through the intelligence is intelligible. In the schools of the ancients, the former was called a phenomenon and the latter a noumenon. (§3)

A phenomenon is a kind of being (or object), specifically a being of the senses. It is contrasted with a “noumenon,” which in the Critique is construed either negatively, as not a being of the senses, or positively, as a being of the understanding. A world consisting of phenomena would be a “world of sense,” while a world consisting of noumena (in the positive sense) would be a “world of understanding” (A249). Thus, the division between phenomena and positive noumena is metaphysical.

It is common for readers of Kant to use the term ‘phenomenon” interchangeably with ‘appearance’ (Erscheinung). Some might dispute this practice, on the grounds that the notion of an appearance is not metaphysical but perhaps “methodological” or “epistemological.”

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