Question about the relation of phenomenal and noumenal, etc.

Just a quick question for clarification; you said that to explain the proper relation of the phenomenal and noumenal “realms”, one must think of the noumenal as a placeholder posited by the mind “because we know we’re not God.”  Now, I just want to make sure that I am following this. I get that Kant explicitly distinguishes between “cognizing” and “thinking” the noumenal, and that we can only (and must) do the latter, and this because our asking questions we cannot readily answer demonstrates our own limits to some kind of omnipotence, creating things simply by thinking them. In this way, vacillating or wondering whether we are or aren’t God, say, demonstrates some limitations to our mental powers.  This, of course, can’t hang upon some idea from special metaphysics of God, right?  I worried about this in class, thinking that “knowing that we aren’t God” is more a turn of phrase expressing self-knowledge of limitations, rather than actually hanging upon some prior conception of the traditional powers and attributes of God, which Kant would not condone as a starting-point (nor am I claiming he is illicitly smuggling it in as a premise here). Could I accurately formulate Kant’s position here by saying that we can recognize the necessity of positing the noumenon without appealing to the concept or role of God (which of course as an entity of dogmatic metaphysics would be subject to all the contradictions of the antinomies), but instead merely appeal to the mind’s recognition that its inquiry is incomplete?  My lingering fear is that residue of the perfections of the divine are playing a role in this formulation, though I am having a hard time getting all my relevant Kantian ducks in a row. I wonder whether you think this is due more to habit of thought or to a poor formulation of Kant’s position.

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One Response to “Question about the relation of phenomenal and noumenal, etc.”

  1. Michael Baur Says:

    What you say here, I think, is largely right. And you are very well-advised to express caution about any explanation that would appeal to the notion of God as a theoretically knowable entity; but on Kant’s view, we cannot altogether expunge all thought about God. It’s fine to say that we posit the noumenal realm as a place-holder, on account of the mind’s recognition that its inquiry is incomplete — but on what grounds does the mind recognize that its inquiry is incomplete? The mind cannot help but think of this incompleteness in connection with its recognition that its being-aware of things is not the same as its being-creator of the things of which it is aware. But then how does the mind know (how do we know) that our being-aware of things is not the same as our being-creator of the things of which it is aware? We cannot possibly know this on the basis of having had any prior experience in which we were aware of things apart from our activity in being aware of things. So how do we ever know that the things of which we are aware, are not a product of our being aware of them? That is, how do we know that we are not creators of all the things of which we are aware? How do we know that we are not God/creator relative to the world of which we are aware (which is the only world for us)? The point of these reflections is not to imply any sort of global skepticism on Kant’s part; the point is to show that we cannot really think about the incompleteness of our inquiry (we cannot really think that there is some possible otherness beyond our act of being aware of things) without also thinking of ourselves as not-creators (not-God).

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