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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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