Kantian Journal

2017 Vol. 36. №4

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Kant’s transcendentalism and concept of the thing in itself



This article analyses Kant’s transcendental philosophy (transcendentalism) and its central concept — the thing in itself is the kind of concept without which it is impossible to enter Kant’s philosophy (a paraphrase of Jacobi’s maxim). Methodologically, transcendentalism implies a transcendental turn from studying [empirical] objects to analysing the [transcendental] conditions of their cognition. Metaphysically, Kant’s transcendentalism rests on the crucial distinction between the thing in itself and the appearance. To give a more precise definition of Kant’s thing in itself, this article considers three theses. Firstly, Kant’s thing in itself is not an object in the usual sense. It is a methodological notion rather than an actual object. There are several possible conceptualisations of Kant’s thing in itself [that use the apparatus of contemporary logic]. Secondly, the thing in itself has two modes — the empirical and noumenal ones (B306). This should be taken into account in analysing the concept of transcendentalism. Thirdly, Kant introduces the concept of the thing in itself through a negation. Being a notion of the ‘family resemblance’ type, the concept comprises three dynamically connected elements — the object in general, the transcendental object, and the noumenon (sometimes, Kant uses them interchangeably). Each element represents a phase of Reduction- Realisation (Buchdahl) in the cognition of empirical data (Kant defines such phases as thingness, using the concept of ‘transcendental object’). The data are obtained through the transcendental analysis (reflection) of the process of cognition. The thesis (2) about the dual nature of the thing in itself suggests a solution to Kant’s problem of causality. The thing in itself serves as the referent of the phenomenon, whereas the noumenal thing-in-itself (or the ‘negative noumenon) serves as its meaning (Frege’s semiotic triangle).


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