May 12, 2008
The Double Citizenship of Human Existence
Immanuel Kant's theory of knowledge has been one of the most influential in modern Western philosophy. His basic premise is that we do not experience the world directly, but we do so by using certain intrinsic cognitive concepts. “Appearances, to the extent that as objects they are thought in accordance with the unity of categories, are called phenomena. If, however, I suppose there to be things that are merely objects of the understanding and that, nevertheless, can be given an intuition, although not to sensible intuition, then such things would be called noumena.” (A249) According to Kant, it is crucial to make a distinction between the two realms of phenomena and noumena. Phenomena are forms of our intuition which are processed by the basic categories of our understanding through time and space, this constitutes our experience. He states that the things that we perceive are real and that they do not simply exist in our mind. Kant argued that we can only achieve knowledge of things as we perceive them, phenomena, on the foundation that we perceive things through a variety of cognitive filters. Without these cognitive filters the world would be meaningless to us. “We cannot make abstraction of the condition of sensibility, without doing away with the essential reality of this world itself. The world of sense, if it is limited must necessarily lie in the infinite void. If this, and with it space as the a priori condition of the possibility of phenomena, is left out of view, the world of sense disappears.” (CPR: 271) Phenomena means that our knowledge, what we can know, is limited by our ability to perceive things. For example, because we require the cognitive concept of time to distinguish between events going on around us, while trying to make sense of what we do, we cannot reach knowledge of anything which might be said to be outside of time. We are so...