Idealistic Studies 5 (2):108-126 (1975)

Richard E. Aquila
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
I want to state as clearly as I can the sense in which Kant is, and the sense in which he is not, a phenomenalist. And I also want to state the argument which Kant presents, in the Transcendental Deduction, for his particular version of phenomenalism. Since that doctrine has been stated by Kant himself as the view that we have knowledge of “appearances” only, and not of things in themselves, or that material objects are nothing but a species of our “representations,” it will of course be part of my task in this paper to deal with these fundamental notions. Some recent works on Kant have completely misinterpreted these notions, and because of this they have failed to capture the peculiar character of Kant’s phenomenalism. Jonathan Bennett, for example, interprets Kant’s claim that “objects are nothing but representations” as the claim that “statements about objects must be translatable into statements about intuitions.” I shall call such a view a reductive phenomenalism and argue in this paper that Kant is not a reductive phenomenalist. But Kant is, all the same, a phenomenalist. I shall call him an existential phenomenalist. The difference is this: Kant does not maintain, as Bennett claims, that all propositions which assert or presuppose the existence of objects must be translatable into statements which refer to intuitions alone, but he does hold that all such propositions are translatable into statements about the existence of intuitions alone. When Kant tells us, therefore, that objects are mere “appearances,” he is not offering a theory about what empirical objects are or about what we are really referring to when we refer to such objects, but he is offering a theory about the sense in which any empirical objects can meaningfully be said to exist. The significance of the distinction between reductive and existential phenomenalism is great. For it both allows Kant to do justice to those considerations which appear to lead to idealism or phenomenalism, while it does not at the same time require him to deny that the level at which we speak of material bodies and states is, and must be, a basic level of our conceptual framework. It cannot be one which is itself built upon, or constructed out of, some more basic level, e.g., out of talk about sense-data or sensory states. The uniqueness of Kant’s phenomenalism lies precisely at this point.
Keywords Continental Philosophy  History of Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 0046-8541
DOI 10.5840/idstudies1975525
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