What is the things-in-themselves philosophy in simple terms? What are some illustrative examples to help me understand it?

An interesting topic…here’s my take.

From a Kantian perspective, we have what I would call categories of abstraction in our encounters with and understandings about “what is.” They are:

1. The thing-in-itself (i.e. “what is”).

2. Positive and negative noumena (i.e. unknowable and knowable conceptions of “what is.”)

3. The unknown something (i.e. a given transcendental object within the noumenon).

4. Perceived phenomena (i.e. representations to ourselves of that unknown something).

5. Concepts and categories of understanding to boundarize and organize all-of-the-above, often via dualistic contrasts (i.e. space and time; cause and effect; existence and non-existence; plurality and totality; possible and impossible, activity and passivity, etc).

6. That which can be intuited, but remains unknown.

This is a very fancy way of saying that “what is” (i.e. the thing-in-itself) is separated from the objects of thought that represent it by a vast mediating chasm of a priori processes and imperfect perceptions. It is this chasm that many philosophers have attempted to bridge or explain in various ways. For example, I would say this is what Hegel’s subject/object dialectics regarding alienation from the Absolute seeks to address. It is also what many cognitive and spiritual disciplines (in particular, those from contemplative, mystical and enlightenment schools) seek to engage through “direct apprehension” of the noumenous/numinous (i.e. via unmediated experiential gnosis). In other words, other approaches before and after Kant embrace some version of the “intellectual intuition” that he mostly dismissed, specifically to navigate the mediating chasm Kant seemed to view as insurmountable.

As for examples, consider of the adage: “Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.” Kant was simply saying: “Hey, we’re all wearing rose-colored glasses…we just don’t realize it.” If it were possible to take those glasses off, we could finally apprehend what really is (the thing-in-itself).

My 2 cents.


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