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There Is No "Thing-In-Itself"

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From a recent discussion:

"Nietzsche also rejects the need for a world beyond the world of appearances (the thing-in-itself)..."

Rand does not merely reject the "need" for noumena. She regards the very concept as invalid: "But 'things-in-themselves' as separated from consciousness and yet discussed in terms of a consciousness—is an invalid equivocation" (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Appendix Discussions). It is an equivocation on "consciousness" because in order to metaphysically sunder an object from its appearance, and posit corresponding gradations of Being (letting the "thing-in-itself" alone participate the Real), the form of conscious awareness must be taken to constitute its object - there is precisely nothing else to be aware of - and more this formatic apprehension must be taken as the "disqualifying element" (Rand's terminology) in coming to know the Real. In other words, in order to make sense of "separated from consciousness" or a principle of absolute unknowability, we have to make recourse to this appearance-object distinction which is itself a form of coming to know the object that is the apparently Real relationship between consciousness and existence ("everything is done from the human perspective" - Rand). Awareness is always awareness of something somehow, and there is an equivocation in treating awareness or identification of the Real with the Absolute - out of all relation to awareness - as something not also thereby distanced from the Real. For it treats of awareness as both capable and not of grasping something independent of what it constitutes - beyond the bounds of representation - just like how Rand sees "consciousness" (in the aforementioned quote) being used to capture a principle of separation and not. In truth, it is simply a category error to speak of "things-in-themselves" or "things-as-they-really-are" - let alone have them alone participate the Real - because the form and object of perception are incommensurable; to offer the objects of perception as "things-as-they-really-are-not" is to completely fail to grasp that there is no magically privileged perspective on anything whatsoever, and no standard of veridicality which does not grip the world with a specific identity. Attempts to evade, subvert, or negate these facts are attempts to judge or re-write the metaphysically given.


Unfortunately, Kant does not posit the relation of his transcendental schema to the world as an accidental one, or some potentially interesting hypothesis. The principle of transcendental idealism is not merely offered as a reflection on phenomenal awareness simpliciter. Kant must be committed to the knowability of the self-in-itself as beyond mere representation if he is indeed to affect the reality of a world of representational content (which is "nothing but representations, and they cannot exist at all outside our minds.” Critique of Pure Reason, B235) whose subject is the seIf-in-itself, i.e., the noumenal mind, which he attempts to establish only indirectly by deduction or inference more generally. But inference is radically dependent upon causality, and for Kant causality is imposed. One does not and can not properly infer the simple existence and operation of those activities which are already a necessary precondition of any right to the concept, performance, and meaning of inference - this is simply another consequence of the illicit character of Kant's epistemological vehicle(s). Indeed Kant is not even allowed some unknown explanans as the cause of the unity of experience precisely because causality is not something to mediate the phenomenal and noumenal worlds. To be imposed is to be of one. To infer the so-called activities of the self-in-itself is to make use of them here, so there is no way to make sense of the notion that their cause could be something beyond representational content, beyond the mere elucidation of an explanatory schema. Knowledge is a causal relation, and the utter incoherence of Kant's transcendental psychology is a consequence of him holding the mind to be constitutive of its contents except where those contents concern the cause of constitution, so as to be offered as something beyond the mere recognition of representational content. The distinction between noumena and phenomena is not synonymous with nor as innocuous as proclaiming the metaphysical independence and priority of the object of awareness, something all realists do. For the realist, form and object are naturally commingled, and the form of awareness is the identity of that specific relationship between consciousness and its objects, the somehow of being aware of something. Think for a moment about the contrapositive of this principle and just how perverse it is to understand the means of awareness as a metaphysical bar to awareness of the Real - that in order to be aware of the Real, of things as they "really" are, you would have be aware of it nohow (I am well aware that Kant doesn't regard our knowledge of the phenomenal world as something delusory). This fashioning the domain of the Real as metaphysically outside the purview of experience and reason is fundamentally Platonic in spirit, and its ruthless philosophical opposition is the basic spirit of Aristotelian epistemology - an unrelenting acquiescence before the evidence of the senses, and a principled recognition that "consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists" (Atlas Shrugged, John Galt's Speech). To quote Marc Champagne:

"Aristotle was able to make change intelligible because he shunned facile recourse to 'appearances' and made it a sort of methodological compact to always strive for concordance with the data that set his inquiries into motion. By our lights, this is the aetiologic posture all philosophers should adopt: to eschew ladder-discarding." [emphasis mine]

And from Leonard Piekoff, who Champagne quotes immediately after giving the above quote:

"According to Aristotle, the question to start with is not: What must reality be like in order to make it possible for us to acquire knowledge of it? But simply: What, as a matter of fact, is reality?"

For Rand there are no boundaries of pure intuition. There is no such thing as anything "in-itself", no das Ding an sich Selbst betrachtet. Objectivism does not hold that we perceive things as they really are because there is no such thing as something as it "really is" or "in itself". Things as perceived by your mind - to paraphrase Galt - are not things as they really are but simply things as they are. There is no such thing as the noumenal world, or the completely unknowable Real. Knowledge is prior to ignorance and skepticism for the same reason existence is prior to consciousness; the latter in each case is itself a relational phenomenon, having meaning only in virtue of being commingled with or otherwise actualized through the former. As such, queries like "is knowledge possible?" or "can we be aware of reality as it really is?" are completely invalid. There is no vehicle for these questions that, to be a vehicle - to have weight, does not necessarily depend upon some form of knowledge and some prior apprehension of the real. There is always and everywhere substance before the void, and all voids are simply an absence of substance. Epistemology is never properly about the possibility of entangling the real, of asking when and how our "ladders" can be "discarded", but only of that entangling's norms and reproduction. Recognizing that we have consciousness or knowledge of the real is the starting point of true and efficacious cognition in general. Consciousness is a faculty of knowing reality; consciousness is conscious.

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8 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Kaladin, would you supply us with the citation for the quotation you have by Marc Champagne?

Sure, it's from his dissertation. Link below.

Champagne, Marc. (2007). Atomism, Wholism, and the Search for a Tenable Third Way.



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  • 2 years later...

It was correct, from the standpoint of her philosophy, for Rand to counter Kant’s notion that our minds cannot grasp things as they are apart from contributions from our minds. But there is a deeper criticism of Kant, based in Rand’s philosophy, that we should observe, one she never expressly stated: there is no such thing as a thing-in-itself in Kant’s most fundamental sense. From Rand’s metaphysics, fully grown, it is not only that Existence is identity and consciousness is identification. It is, additionally, that every existent has measures—they bear magnitude relations—and cognitions engage measurements, discernments of magnitude relations. “If anything were actually ‘immeasureable’, it would bear no relationships of any kind to the rest of the universe, it would not affect nor be affected by anything else in any manner whatever, it would enact no causes and bear no consequences—in short, it would not exist” (ITOE 39; Baumgarten §53– “whatever is entirely undetermined is nothing.” ). Then there is no such thing as Kant’s thing-in-itself. It is not only “as nothing to us,” it is nothing (and not because it would be as nothing to any kind of intelligence whatever, even an omniscient one, contra Rand’s thought in ITOE App. 194). With respect to relations, Rand’s dicta “Existence is identity” should be cashed as “No existents are without relations to other existents.” Among relations to things not itself would be possible real relations of any real thing to human consciousness. Kant’s distinction between things as perceivable or knowable and things in themselves is in reality a distinction between things as perceivable or knowable and things that do not exist. Inability to know things that do not exist is no shortcoming; said thing-in-itself is not something at which our perceptions and conceptions aim. Then too, it is not a thing-in-itself that brings us sensations; from nothing, nothing is supported or arises. Never “is the thing in itself . . . at issue in experience” (A30 B45) is so for the Kant-missed reason that there are no such things as things in themselves. However, although Kant was wrong to characterize things as they are independently of our discernment of them as things as they are “in themselves,” and we have exposed that misidentification of the two notions, it remains to complain against Kant that he should have the human mind, led by the senses, incapable of any discernment of things as they are apart from the human mind. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

One way to rescue the thing-in-itself within the spirit of Kant’ critical philosophy is the way of Salmon Maimon (1753–1800). Maimon urged conception of the thing-in-itself as only an ideal of reason, an  asymptotic concept which human thought requires and under which it can profitably proceed, rather than conceiving thing-in-itself (as had Kant in A250–53, A38; 1783 §§12, 13, 32, 57; Bxxvi–xxvi; A45–46 B62–63, B69, B306–9, A696 B724) as an object in a noumenal domain (Beiser 1993, 306–309). Rand can maintain that no such ideal of reason is necessary for cognition, and of course, for Rand the parts of an existent unknown in present perception or thought concerning it can be things not only as things possibly knowable, but things as they are.



In order to exhibit change, as the intuition corresponding to the concept of causality, we must take as our example motion, as change in space {1786, 4:476–77}; indeed, only thereby can changes, whose possibility no pure understanding can comprehend, be made intuitive. . . . And this intuition is that of the motion of a point in space; solely the point’s existence in different locations . . . is what first makes change intuitive. For in order thereafter to make even internal changes thinkable, we must make time, as the form of inner sense, comprehensible figuratively through a line (i.e., through motion), and hence we must make the successive existence of ourselves in different states comprehensible through outer intuition. (B291–92; see further, Guyer 2018, 161–67)

In all that sort of sensibleness in the second edition (1787) of KrV, Kant was not retreating one inch from his characterization of space as form supplied from the side of the subject, form ideal and without which no outer experience is possible, form that does not exist without a perceiving subject (A26–28 B42–44, A42–43 B59–60, A85–89 B118–22, B148, A492 B520). Kant’s primacy of outer intuition is not Rand’s primacy of existence. Contrary the primacy of existence, Kant writes, for example: “Apperception, and with it thought, precedes all possible determinate arrangement of presentations” (KrV A289 B345).

Rand should have argued against Kant’s tenet that all spatial form is necessarily the product of the subject in episodes of perception. There is elementary form—such as the betweenness-relations (my right index finger is between my right thumb and right middle finger), a right-hand glove is an inversion of a left-hand glove, and so forth—belonging to concrete particulars and belonging to them as particulars and independently of our perception or any overt cognitive process concerning them. Kant’s notion that formalities in our perceptions and understanding do and must bar our discernment of mind-independent reality then dissolves. The betweenness-relations among my fingers may require some conceptualization to fully firm in mind, but like some similarities and magnitude-relations, which Rand did notice (ITOE App. 217, 199–200, 278–79), those betweenness-relations are physical relations lying in the physical, extra-mental world.

The truths and necessities of geometry can be attained without falling into thinking that (i) if they are empirically founded, they must be established by empirical testing (thereby removing the incontrovertible necessity we honestly find in them and being blind to how we actually proceed in geometry) or (ii) thinking with Kant that that necessity (and applicability to physics) is attainable only if geometry rests on form the constructing subject brings to perception and not on form in the world independently of our perception of it as well as in the world as we perceive it.


Bird, G. 2006. The Revolutionary Kant. Open Court.

Beiser, F. 1993. The Fate of Reason. Harvard. 

Fugate, C. D. and J. Hymers , editors, 2018. Baumgarten and Kant on Metaphysics. Oxford.

Guyer, P. 2018. Baumgarten, Kant, and the Refutation of Idealism. In Fugate and Hymers 2018.


Edited by Boydstun
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PS – I forgot to mention that Hilbert lifted betweeness-relations to the honor of primitive relations useful for a rigorous Euclidean geometry. Their residence, I notice, is not only as assumptions in an abstract geometry, but in given physical reality.

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 6/3/2022 at 6:15 AM, Boydstun said:

even an omniscient one, contra Rand’s thought in ITOE

 The whole post was fascinating but trying to get my head around this part.

I was just wondering if there would be such a thing as an unknown to an omniscient mind.

By definition, won't all knowing, know everything? Meaning there would be no unknowns.

I've always thought that an omniscient mind would not have any unknowns. That is probably the God concept interfering.

Or there are things unknowable to us (as in arbitrary) that an omniscient mind would know. And the unknowable is unknowable to us and an omniscient mind.

I'm not comfortable asking these questions as they have nothing to do with the natural world but there seems to be a context where this issue becomes important enough.



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It does occur to me that there is a class of unknowables, in a particular sense of knowing, to any experiencing or knowing individual, and that is something along the lines of a “what it is like to be” of what one is not.

A third person analysis of humanity and consciousness perhaps by a machine would never know what it is like to be human, although with its word strings and sophisticated pattern recognition it might come close to imitating the words a human might say.

We cannot really every know or truly understand what it is like to be a bat.  We could try to imagine it, but our not being bats is precisely why we never can know what it is like to be one.


Is or can a first person experience, or any experience from a first person view .. ever be anything other than something in itself?

I think this is a unique sort of thing.

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13 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

 The whole post was fascinating but trying to get my head around this part.

I was just wondering if there would be such a thing as an unknown to an omniscient mind.

By definition, won't all knowing, know everything? Meaning there would be no unknowns.

I've always thought that an omniscient mind would not have any unknowns. That is probably the God concept interfering.

Or there are things unknowable to us (as in arbitrary) that an omniscient mind would know. And the unknowable is unknowable to us and an omniscient mind.

I'm not comfortable asking these questions as they have nothing to do with the natural world but there seems to be a context where this issue becomes important enough.



ET, traditionally, it is correct that an omniscient mind would have no unknown, and therefore no unknowables. Leibniz thought that in God's understanding, the contingent occurrences in the world are knowable entirely in an analytical way, or anyway in the way in which we know pure mathematical truths. In medieval and early modern philosophy, when there was talk about limitations of human knowledge, it was mainly about knowledge of those contingent truths, past, future, and present. You are right to talk of omniscience in connection with the idea of God; that was the context of the deliberations. God was thought of as having mind and having life, but of sufficient difference with those things in us that we cannot really know much about their nature. Safe to say, God does not die or undertake actions to remain alive, and for we naturalistic heads in the shadow of Rand, that means that such a conception of God as living is fundamentally without basis (and we suggest that the gravitation to the notion of God as living is due to an underlying knowledge that life is the source and context of all goodness.) God was conceived as unchanging and to the point of having no internal processes. God and his knowledge were thought of as an "eternal instant." That puts any talk of God having analytic knowledge of all contingent realities into really an eternal-instant grasp of that analytic structure, and such, I should say, with Rand, is fundamentally not knowledge at all. I do not myself think there is any knowledge at hand at all in an "intelligence" that never makes errors or that just has knowledge without processes through time in which it acquires the knowledge. Leibniz's conception of God's knowledge was as an "intellectual intuition." Kant maintained that such an all-knowing faculty would have to be creating the things it knows; he took that as part of the notion of an intellectual intuition. (I think I once came across that angle in Leibniz also.) Kant maintained we humans have not a drop of intellectual intuitions, only sensory intuitions, and he questioned any physical, philosophical, or empirical-psychology knowledge we claim to have that does not go back to or project to sensory intuitions. On our mathematical knowledge, though not all-knowing of all mathematical truths, we have creation of the object and their inter-relations in a creative way, according to Kant, in all of it we do know; they are made by us (a sort of miniature of God knowing-plus-making all the world, I notice.) Human scientific knowledge and metaphysical knowledge has to be within those bounds of sensory intuitions, according to Kant. That is a good direction, but instead of saying that although we cannot know there is a God or an afterlife of rewards and punishments, these things are thinkable and things to rationally hope for, he should have confined right thinking and hoping to this natural world and life within it. And ruled out omniscience as a rational construct. 

Edited by Boydstun
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Objectivists typically dismiss the 'thing-in-itself' when understood to mean 'thing as it really is'. Since there's no thing that isn't the way it is, the 'really' part is redundant.

Mind and matter are types of things adding up to the totality (Existence). It's this totality that has primacy, not the specific kinds of things that comprise it.

If you tweak either the biological tissue making up the sensory apparatus, or the objects it interacts with, you create a change in the result; hence, 'thing-as-perceived' refers to an existential event between the two elements.

Dismissing the notion of 'reality as it really is' still allows for a lack of knowledge regarding certain things. We can know things about the bat's experience in a human conceptual form, but cannot ever directly experience what the bat experiences.

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4 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:


It does occur to me that there is a class of unknowables, in a particular sense of knowing, to any experiencing or knowing individual, and that is something along the lines of a “what it is like to be” of what one is not.

A third person analysis of humanity and consciousness perhaps by a machine would never know what it is like to be human, although with its word strings and sophisticated pattern recognition it might come close to imitating the words a human might say.

We cannot really every know or truly understand what it is like to be a bat.  We could try to imagine it, but our not being bats is precisely why we never can know what it is like to be one.

Is or can a first person experience, or any experience from a first person view .. ever be anything other than something in itself?

I think this is a unique sort of thing.

Yes, there is plausibility of that, and whether such things are unknowable by others and in what senses of knowledge have been much debated in philosophy of mind, such as the famous articles on  Mary with only black-and-white vision, but extensive knowledge of color vision and "What is it Like to Be a Bat?". When I see a deer limping, I may think I've some knowledge of what that is like because I have been in the limping condition myself. But that might include a big dose of anthropomorphism. And perhaps brain scientists would know ways in which a deer's experience of things must be enormously different than human experiences. But if I visit a friend and she is limping and using a cane, I'm more sure I know what her private experience is like, and can sort of share in it. On the other hand, if I see someone doing a good cartwheel, I really have little notion of what they are experiencing as I never learned to do that anywhere near success. There is some echolocation ability in humans, evidently, as here.

Edited by Boydstun
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Leaving aside knowing of private experience of others and leaving aside mathematical theses that have been proven to be unprovable, can we show that, for humans, there is nothing unknowable? That is, can it be shown that there is nothing empirical that cannot be known from the “third-person” perspective? By empirical facts, I mean ones at a level not all the way down to particularities, the level above particularities that is usually aimed for in this issue. The fact that the next guest to step through the front door will lead with either the left foot or the right foot, together with the circumstance that I don’t know who will be the next guest nor which foot will lead is not the level of empirical knowledge of significance and interest, not the level of empirical knowledge of concern in our question.

We firstly should prove there are things at present unknown to us, a precondition to the question of whether there are in fact empirical things unknowable to us. That there are things presently unknown to us seems to be a point on which all interlocutors agree; so it should require no argument. I think, however, when one’s concern is having the fullest possible truth and not merely having enough to convince someone in argument concerning points of disagreement, then we should show there are things presently unknown and how we know that. Might we show that the reason no one bothers to establish this circumstance as preface to making an argument is that it is derivative from axiomatic truths that everyone mentally competent accepts even though they do not know they know them? That is, let us try for a demonstration from “Existence is Identity, and Consciousness is Identification” to “There is empirical knowledge we do not yet have.”

The concept ‘identification,’ I say, presupposes the idea that there are things we do not yet know. That there are things we do not yet know is a presupposition of the endeavor to construct an argument or make an investigation by empirical observations. So, we safely do have a sensible question if we ask if all significant empirically unknown things are knowable. Some will say that due to the indeterminacies discovered in quantum mechanics, we have a counterexample to the thesis that all unknown empirical things are knowable. As a counterexample, this is just confusion. That canonical dynamically conjugate quantities in Hamiltonian classical mechanics were found later, in the 1920’s, to take on simultaneous values jointly determinate only down to a certain minimum value not zero, as a physical fact, is part of our physical knowledge and not a counterexample to the thesis under question here: are there significant empirical fact unknowable to us. Knowing that there is no contiunuum of quantity on down to zero in amount physically occurring in instances of the quantity called action in physics (action being any quantity having the same units of measure had by angular momentum), which yields the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle, is a case of empirical knowing, not unknowability.

The absence of counterexample to the thesis does not mean we have shown the thesis true. So I don’t yet have a proof that all unknown significant empirical facts are knowable.

Rand’s thesis that, for all existents, part of their identity is that they stand in some external relations would seem to at least pile on support to the thesis that all unknown significant empirical facts are knowable. It does more than that.

There are things we already know of all empirical things unknown to us at present. We know that each is a particular and specific identity. We know that each is its complete identity. We know that we ourselves are also in that condition in the existence of our bodies. If we add Rand’s thesis that any existent stands in relations to existents not itself—let us say that the universe as the whole of existence stands in external relations to its parts and to its past phases—then among the components of the identity of each unknown empirical existent are its external relations. All Existents not us standing in such relations to other existents and our own bodies standing in such external relations, yields a network of relations. If our minds are able to grasp one relation between two of those existents not us, there is at least the potential of our minds to grasp all such relations. Beyond two existents not us having relations between them and to us, there are yet other relations they have to other existents not themselves and to us, and so forth, such that all told, they constitute all the part-to-part relations constituting the whole of relations within the whole of physical existence. That includes us. Our own bodily relations to some existents not our bodies connects us indirectly to all existents not our own bodies. Knowing one relation between existents not our body and their relation to our body entails a potential, given far more time than we actually have, to know all presently unknown significant empirical facts.

A counterexample is an example. An example is in relation to other existents. There can be no existents in a counterexample that are not capable of being in relations to other existents. Then there can be no significant empirical fact for counterexample to the thesis that all significant empirical facts are knowable, given Rand's external-relations thesis. Therewith, all significant empirical facts are knowable.

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On 7/1/2022 at 10:14 AM, Boydstun said:

Leaving aside knowing of private experience of others

I just wanted to emphasize that private experience, i.e. subjective experience is not unknowable as the person having it, knows it. It maybe unascertainable or duplicatable by others but it by definition is knowable because it is known at some point by someone. When I say eternally unknowable, I mean never ever known, past present future by ANYONE.

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  • 9 months later...
On 7/9/2019 at 4:40 AM, KALADIN said:

. . .

To quote Marc Champagne:

"Aristotle was able to make change intelligible because he shunned facile recourse to 'appearances' and made it a sort of methodological compact to always strive for concordance with the data that set his inquiries into motion. By our lights, this is the aetiologic posture all philosophers should adopt: to eschew ladder-discarding." [emphasis mine]

And from Leonard Piekoff, who Champagne quotes immediately after giving the above quote:

"According to Aristotle, the question to start with is not: What must reality be like in order to make it possible for us to acquire knowledge of it? But simply: What, as a matter of fact, is reality?"

. . .

A recent fine composition from Marc Champagne:

Kantian Humility and Randian Hubris?

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  • 1 month later...

Things-in-themselves exist in the phenomenal world.  The real world is the phenomenal world that we know through our senses & it's the only world that actually exists.  Kant was a mystic who  recycled Plato's 2 world theory.  In order to save religion from philosophy, Plato & Kant posit that we live in a mere world of appearances (Kant's phenomenal world or Plato's cave shadows) and are therefore unable to experience the real world (noumenal world where things-in-themselves exist) without the help of mystics to guide us and tell us what they believe our duties should be.

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16 hours ago, NameYourAxioms said:

. . . Kant was a mystic who  recycled Plato's 2 world theory. . . .

On 10/23/2010 at 8:02 AM, Boydstun said:


One philosophic home of spiritual mystics is idealism. Other homes are Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Aristotle-adapted-to-Islam-or-Christianity, rationalism, skepticism, and empiricism tied to either idealism or skepticism. In his Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff classes Plato, Plotinus, and Augustine as idealists (1991, 30). That is not without scholarly precedent (including that of Kant 1783, 4:375). I hew to the historically stricter sense of idealism. The import is that I class those three figures simply as spiritualists, who predated idealism. I take idealism to have a predisposition towards spiritualism, but not to be simply a narrower class within spiritualism.

The erroneous alternatives spiritualism and materialism are each rooted in the error of taking consciousness to be fundamentally prior to existence, taking any putative knowledge of mind-independent existence to be dubious and to be settled by a consciousness that knows something of itself (Rand 1957, 1027, 1036–37, 1042, 1063; cf. 1961a, 14–20; Peikoff 1991, 20–21, 30–36). Tracking Kant, our focus will be on staging for mysticism provided by Platonic and idealist priority of consciousness, staging for denial of the reality of material existence. Such a progression is a slide from philosophy to mysticism.

In “For the New Intellectual,” Rand described people of faith as mystics and as attempting to avoid “the necessity, the risk and the responsibility of rational cognition” (1961a, 15; also 1966–67, 79). A mystic desires immediate, involuntary, and infallible knowledge; he retreats from rational cognition to his emotions and visions of a supernatural realm (1961a, 14–15, 17). Rand notes that Plato’s philosophy as taken up by Plotinus and Augustine served well as handmaiden of theology in the Dark Ages (22; cf. 1957, 1051). That is commonly understood. More novel is Rand’s picture that the Scholastic debate between nominalists and realists degenerated into the early modern schools of rationalism and empiricism. She sees the rationalists as abandoning reality by not deriving knowledge from physical facts (1961a, 30). Descartes gave modern philosophy a wrong starting point in presupposing the existence of the external world not self-evident (28; also 1957, 1058). Rand saw rationalists such as Descartes as confederates of the mystics of spirit (1961a, 30).

Berkeley was an empiricist and idealist. He had maintained that knowledge derives from the senses, though not by abstraction, and that there is no such thing as matter independent of perception. Berkeley was an empirical idealist. Kant called Berkeley’s idealism mystical. Rand passed the same verdict on Hegel’s absolute idealism (1961a, 33).

In the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Kant had criticized a general argument to the ideality of outer relations: Outer appearances cannot be perceived directly, but must be inferred as the cause of given perceptions. Inference to the existence of a cause is merely doubtful existence. Therefore existence of all objects of outer senses is doubtful (A366–67).

Kant countered that objects of outer sense are given to us just as directly as objects of inner sense. If we will but accept matter as not more than matter as something in the realm of appearance, there is no need to trip down the Berkeley lane of idealism in which the reality of matter is denied. The existence of objects of outer senses need not be inferred from effects on inner sense. Inner objects are referred to inner sense. Outer objects are referred dually to inner and outer sense; one’s outer presentations exist, and they are presentations had by oneself, which also exists with each outer presentation (A369–72).

In Kant’s critical perspective, spiritualism (pneumatism), materialism, and dualism are each falsely based positions if their affirmations are of things as they are outside appearance. Dualism is sensible and correct where we mean by it only that both matter and the thinking subject are given in sense, outer and inner (A379; see also B420, A406 B433, A690 B718).

Kant’s idealism is not empirical, but transcendental. Kant’s transcendentalism is not realist, but idealist. The form of inner sense is time. The additional form of outer sense is space. Perception is of outer actualities in time and space. Those forms are not preexisting in the outer world, but come from us. So empirical realism is true, provided it does not exceed the rational limits of cognition by ascribing space and time (which are fixed subjective conditions of experience) to a putative physical world itself. On the other hand, empirical idealism is false. Transcendental idealism does not deny or doubt, rather it affirms, the actuality of the empirical world (A373–80).

An anonymous review of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason appeared in 1782. The review was written by the German empiricists Johann Feder and Christian Garve. The opening paragraph is a snide caricature of transcendental idealism, which it refers to as a “higher idealism.” In the second paragraph, the reviewers report that Kant’s system

(Text between curly braces { } in quotations is from me; text between square brackets [ ] is from the translator; text in parentheses ( ) is from the author.)

Berkeley had been a figure much ridiculed in German philosophical circles. Kant was incensed at the review, and he replied to elements of the review he found offensive. This he did in an appendix to his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783, 4:372–80). Kant points out, as one would expect, that his ideality of space and time does not transform the world into sheer illusion, which is precisely, Kant alleges, what Berkeley and all previous idealists had done (4:290, 374). Kant would now rather call his system formal or critical idealism (4:375). Transcendental misleads one to expect a visionary idealism. Kant’s system cuts down, he thinks, such idealism and in particular the “mystical and visionary idealism of Berkeley” (4:293). (See further, Emundts 2008. For the proper way to refute Kant’s idealism, see Pistorious 1786, 1789.)

In the final and brief chapter of Critique of Pure Reason, Kant sketches different conceptions of metaphysics through the history of that discipline. Concerning the legitimate object of metaphysical thought, Kant contrasts the purely sensualist philosophers, such as Epicurus, with the purely intellectualist philosophers, such as Plato.

Kant is saying that Plato’s realm of the intellect was mystical. As concerns the origin of our concepts, Kant poses Aristotle as the head of the tradition holding that concepts are derived from experience, Plato as the head of the tradition holding that concepts have an origin that is independent of experience. Kant goes on to say that “Locke has followed Aristotle, and Leibniz has followed Plato (although keeping sufficient distance from Plato’s mystical system)” (A854 B882; cf. Leibniz 1704, 47).

Kant regards Berkeley’s system as mystical, but he does not regard the system of Leibniz as mystical. Why not? I think one reason is that Leibniz did not deny the reality of matter. Further, although Kant understood Leibniz as having “intellectualized the appearances” (A270 B326; also 1790a, 8:218–21, 148–49), which includes the material world, Kant would not have seen Leibniz as mystifying appearances as had been done for example by Malebranche (Kant 1770, 2:410). (On Kant’s understanding of Leibniz, see Garber 2008.)

Kant would have seen Leibniz’ conception of human intuitive knowledge as simply adequate immediate apprehension (Leibniz 1704, 366–67, 434, 490), and his conception of human reason as adequate for truth without Platonic recollections of knowledge from a life earlier than our earthly one. Intuitive knowledge in Leibniz’ system is not visionary. Furthermore, Kant would applaud Leibniz’ emphasis on the coherence of our perceptual experience as a way of distinguishing it from a dream. Leibniz writes:

Kant maintains that by his purely intellectual organization of sensory experience Leibniz cannot in fact “bring the propositions of experience into necessary agreement with . . . a priori mathematical assertions” (A40–41 B57). What is needed in addition to general logic in our cognitive repertoire for experience are Kant’s pure forms of sensory intuition (space and time) and his categories and principles of the understanding. Content supplied by the senses into this formal organization yields empirical knowledge universal and necessary (A57–60 B82–85).

“Since truth rests upon universal and necessary laws as its criteria, for Berkeley, experience could have no criteria of truth, because its appearances (according to him) had nothing underlying them a priori; from which it then followed that experience is nothing but sheer illusion, whereas for us space and time (in combination with the pure concepts of the understanding) prescribe a priori their law to all possible experience, which law at the same time provides the sure criterion for distinguishing truth from illusion in experience.” (1783, 4:375)

Kant pleads that his own idealism confines intuition to that of the senses and is oriented to “grasping the possibility of our a priori cognition of the objects of experience” (ibid.). Visionary idealism, by contrast, steps from a priori cognitions, such as in geometry, to non-sensory, intellectual intuitions, which are gateway to visionary, mystical realms (ibid.)

Kant speaks of visionary idealists “from the Eleatic School up to Bishop Berkeley” (1783, 4:375). Kant’s understanding of Plato and Berkeley and of their alleged likeness in metaphysics and epistemology was congruent with contemporary German scholarship in the history of philosophy (Winkler 2008, 161–64).

In what way does he think of Plato’s system as mystical? “From the way in which Plato employed the expression idea we can readily see that he meant by it something that not only is never borrowed from the senses, but that far surpasses even the concepts of understanding . . . inasmuch as nothing congruent with it is ever found in experience” (A313 B370; Republic 510d–e).

Pure mathematics is a splendid achievement of intellectual reflection.

The mystical bent imputed to Plato so far is this much: Plato holds there is a realm of original and most important truth that is accessible only by turning from the world of sense to a world of ideas not observed by sense, a world of ideas not obscured by sense, a world of intellectual understanding not restrained by sense. That much would place Plato at least at the door of mysticism. (Consider Phaedo 65b–67b, 74b–75d, 78d–79d, 99d–101e; Republic 507–17c, 525d–29, 596–97d, 602c–3a; Timaeus 28b–29b, 43c–44c, 45d–47c; Sophist 248a, 252e–54a.) Under my first dictionary definition of mysticism, Plato is thus far not entirely through the door of mysticism because although the Forms are beyond perceptual apprehension, they are not entirely beyond intellectual apprehension. Similarly, under part of Rand’s definition, Plato is thus far not fully through the door because although Plato is claiming a knowledge that is non-sensory, he is claiming a knowledge that is rational and definable.

Then too, Plato does not hold that man’s mind is impotent. We can say, nevertheless, that Plato is walking right through the door of mysticism. Looking to Rand’s full definition, and to my second dictionary definition, we notice that Plato’s posit of the Forms is not groundless, and the posit is supported with arguments. But the ground is loose and the arguments shaky. Consider Plato’s doctrine that the Good (an intelligible form not adequately knowable) is most fundamental, that all being, truth, and susceptibility to being known are its derivatives (Republic 508d–509b). Under Rand’s conception of reason, an existential posit that is really contrary the senses is really contrary to reason. Plato’s posit of self-subsisting archetypical Forms, or Ideas, “distorts reality into a mystical construct” (Rand 1966–67, 53–54). Dr. Peikoff maintains, furthermore, that at least some of Plato’s intellectual apprehension of Forms is intuition, another mark of mysticism contra reason (1967, 95–96).

William Tait argues powerful well against the view that Plato’s texts uphold intellectual apprehension of Forms as knowledge by acquaintance, thence by intuition (2005, 166–67, 180–81, 190–92). One of Rand’s definitions of mysticism was worded this way: “Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as ‘instinct’, ‘revelation’, or any form of ‘just knowing’ (1960, 62–63). Insofar as Plato has the Forms knowable to humans in their earthly life, they are not known by reason in Rand’s sense. They are not known with support of senses and by logical identification and integration of perceptual material. They are not known by this sayable positive way or that, set out in positive, literal relations to sense and reason (Republic 508d–509a). Intellectual apprehension of the Forms is left by Plato as “just knowing” (and partly as something beyond knowing, something not definable), notwithstanding his intimations that knowledge of the forms is supramathematical (see further, Mueller 1992, 183–95; Sedley 2007, 268–71; Denyer 2004; Miller 2007).

As part of our conception of mysticism in opposition to reason, we want to include that second dictionary definition I quoted: “confused and groundless speculation; superstitious self-delusion.” Kant would think mystical in this sense Plato’s speculations that Ideas are divine and that at birth our minds have been thrust into a body that obscures those ideas. Kant would depart from Plato “in his mystical deduction of these ideas” and “in the exaggerations whereby he hypostatized them” (B371n110). Kant is likely correct to denominate these speculations of Plato mystical in the present sense, rather than to take Plato to be posing them as myth. Mystical in the sense of confused or groundless speculation would be: the existence of the soul prior to birth in this world, the different access the mind has to Ideas before and after birth, and the delimitation and organization of the Ideas (Meno 81; Phaedo 64c, 66b–e, 72e–77a, 81a, 91e–95a; Republic 517b–c; Phaedrus 249c–50c; Philebus 15a–18d, 20b–30d, 59c–67a).

Kant would count Plato as mystical under not only my second, but my first dictionary definition of mysticism: “belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension but central to being and directly accessible by intuition.” Kant writes that “the sensualists {such as Epicurus} granted intellectual concepts, but assumed only sensible objects. The intellectualists {such as Plato} required the true objects to be merely intelligible and asserted that there is an intuition through a pure understanding unaccompanied by any senses” (A854 B882).

Kant is evidently incorrect in ascribing to Plato the idea that we have a power of intellectual intuition. Certain it is, however, that mystical intellectuals of Neo-Pythagorean, Middle Platonist, Neo-Platonist, or Christian stripe sometimes extended or remolded Plato to support human apprehension of divinity, apprehension visionary, intellectual, and intuitive.

Kant denies that we possess any purely intellectual intuitions. He divides cognitions into “either intuition or concept . . . . An intuition refers directly to the object and is singular; a concept refers to the object indirectly, by means of a characteristic that may be common to several things” (A320 B377). Concepts are unities we actively contrive among diverse things according to their common characteristics. Intuitions are given to us, given as single things whose diversity is contained within them only as parts we apprehend by limitation of the single whole (A25 B39).

We have some concepts that are not empirical; rather, they have their origin solely in the understanding. Kant reserves the name idea for a concept framed from wholly non-empirical concepts and “surpassing the possibility of experience” (A320 B377; see also A568–69 B596–97).

Let us take as “Platonic” the entire tradition of spiritualist metaphysics from Plato to Plotinus. Under this broad rubric, we speak of Platonic elements in Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, Alfarbi, Algazel, Avicebron, Bonaventure, or Malebranche, and we speak of Platonic revivals such as occurred within the Italian Renaissance, at Cambridge in the time of Newton, and in some German idealist circles in the 1790’s and early 1800’s. (On the last, see Beiser 2002, 364–65. On Platonist elements in Leibniz and his mentors at Leipzig, see Mercer 2001. On the opposition between Neo-Platonic interpretation of Plato and Christian appropriation and redefinition of Plato’s concepts, see Siniossoglou 2008.)

Kant is correct to fault Platonic Ideas as objects given by the direct and productive intuition belonging to divine understanding. And Kant is correct to fault Platonic “intuiting of these divine Ideas” here and now by us as in a shadow land (1796 8:391). This is an error of mysticism.

Kant rejected the realist views of universals, Platonic, Aristotelian, or Leibnizian. We have no intuitions of things as they are in themselves, only of things as they appear in our forms of sensory intuition. Our concepts are concepts of those forms (space and time), or our concepts are of objects as they are in those forms, which forms are from the side of the subject (B160–62). We have no concepts of things as they are in themselves. We have no concepts of forms imputable to things as they are in themselves (A266–89 B322–46).

On the other hand, Kant does not accept the nominalist strain in Locke, who writes: “General and universal belong not to the real existence of things; but are inventions and creations of the understanding, made by it for its own use, and concern only signs, whether words or ideas” (1690, 3.3.11). Neither does Kant accept the Berkeley-Hume critique of general and universal ideas and their abstraction. A concept is a universal representation; it is not a singular image, as Berkeley and Hume would have it. Locke errs not in thinking we have general ideas, but in thinking that any of them are gotten from perception of particulars unconditioned by fundamental and profound subjective forms (space and time) or that they are gotten from empirical experience unconditioned by pure concepts (the categories) of the understanding (A271 B327, A89–94 B121–27, A78–79 B104–5, B127–29, A124–28, B146–48; see also Guyer 2008, 79–85; Longuenesse 1998, 125–26; Pippin 1882, 90–116).

Kant rests concepts on the spontaneity of thought, specifically on “the unity of the act of arranging various presentations under one presentation” (A68 B93). Concepts serve as rules, general because endlessly repeatable in application, under which particulars can be grouped by characteristic marks. The unity among diversity on which concepts as generals rests is not in the world, but must be in the numerical identity of the conceiving subject (A106–12, B129–36).

Kant’s theory of concepts, like Rand’s, does not fit on either side of the traditional realist-nominalist division. Rand’s theory of concepts is accurately classified as neither nominalism (including conceptualism) nor realism. It can be rightly classed as mensural objectivism. Kant’s theory can be rightly classed as synthetic formalism.

Concepts are determinate thoughts in Kant’s view. Our conceptual power of understanding is through sensory intuitions; our understanding does not itself intuit. Ours is not “an understanding wherein through self-consciousness alone everything manifold would at the same time be given” (B135).

By our conceptual understanding, we have no commerce with the supersensible. Reason lays claim to the supersensible not through understanding, but in use of the inexplicable fact of freedom. Our Ideas of practical reason, such as God and immortality, must not be transported into the realm of possible theoretical understanding, “because if so they turn theology into theosophy, moral teleology into mysticism, and psychology into a pneumatics” (Kant 1793, 20:310; also 1788, 5:120–21).

Wisdom is not infused into a person from above by inspiration. Wisdom is a “height to be scaled from below through the inner power of his practical reason” (Kant 1800, 8:441). We have no passive means of cognition, no possibility of supersensible experience. Philosophy is the opposite of mysticism (ibid.).



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On 10/23/2010 at 8:33 AM, Boydstun said:


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17 hours ago, NameYourAxioms said:

Things-in-themselves exist in the phenomenal world.  The real world is the phenomenal world that we know through our senses & it's the only world that actually exists.  Kant was a mystic who  recycled Plato's 2 world theory.  In order to save religion from philosophy, Plato & Kant posit that we live in a mere world of appearances (Kant's phenomenal world or Plato's cave shadows) and are therefore unable to experience the real world (noumenal world where things-in-themselves exist) without the help of mystics to guide us and tell us what they believe our duties should be.

NYA, things-in-themselves taken as things not in relation to any things not themselves are non-existent (ITOE 39). If one is thinking of things-in-themselves as not what the name says on its face, but as things as they are independent of any consciousness of them, then one has taken things-in-themselves as saying things-as-they-are-independently-of-mind. That last thing exists. But we should call it what I called it there and not call it things-in-themselves.

Kant's talk of things-in-themselves smuggles things as existing independently of mind, which is a legitimate conception, and mixes it together with the idea of things as they are, out of all relation to other things. Were there things existing out all relation to to other things, then naturally they could not stand in the known-knowing relation with consciousness. But as Rand argued, no such thing-in-itself exists. All existents have identity, and all stand in some relations to existents not themselves. I concur.

Kant contrasted the phenomenal world and appearances composing it with his things-in-themselves, but in his outlook, that is not a contrast between the illusory and what truly exists. For Kant the phenomenal world is a reality and one worth caring about and learning more about. An analogy would be with Locke's view of material substance, which he took to exist and to support the traits of the material world, though he thought that only those traits are knowable. He thought that the substances cannot be known by the human mind. Leibniz took issue with Locke's view on that, and the history of science since then vindicated Leibniz and has ground Locke's view into dust. The point of the analogy between Kant and Locke is that just as Locke held both substance and its traits to be real, so too did Kant hold both the phenomenal world and the noumenal world (and things-in-themselves) to be real.

"Still less may appearances {Erscheinung} and illusion {Schein} be regarded as being the same. For truth and illusion are not in the object insofar as it is intuited, but are in the judgment made about the object insofar as it is thought. Hence although it is correct to say that the senses do not err, this is so not because they always judge correctly but because they do not judge at all." (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A293/B349-50; see also B70. Against the idea that Kant’s “appearances” are illusions, see Anja Jauernig, The World According to Kant [New York: Oxford University Press, 2021], pp. 248–57 and 267.)

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