Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Noumenon refers to the 'thing in itself' as opposed to the appearance of an object.

explanatory context

Noumena are the external source of experience. However, they can not be known directly. Noumena can only be inferred from experience of phenomena.


This distinction was first expressed and developed as crucial in Kant's philosophy.


Kant argued that the noumenal world of God, although inaccessible to speculative reason is apprehended through people's capacity to act as moral agents.


The concept of noumenon is at the nub of Kant's idealism.


In some respects noumenon is similar to essence.

analytical review

Kemerling (2011) writes :

According to Kant, it is vital always to distinguish between the distinct realms of phenomena and noumena. Phenomena are the appearances, which constitute the our experience; noumena are the (presumed) things themselves, which constitute reality. All of our synthetic a priori judgments apply only to the phenomenal realm, not the noumenal. (It is only at this level, with respect to what we can experience, that we are justified in imposing the structure of our concepts onto the objects of our knowledge.) Since the thing in itself (Ding an sich) would by definition be entirely independent of our experience of it, we are utterly ignorant of the noumenal realm.

Thus, on Kant's view, the most fundamental laws of nature, like the truths of mathematics, are knowable precisely because they make no effort to describe the world as it really is but rather prescribe the structure of the world as we experience it. By applying the pure forms of sensible intuition and the pure concepts of the understanding, we achieve a systematic view of the phenomenal realm but learn nothing of the noumenal realm. Math and science are certainly true of the phenomena; only metaphysics claims to instruct us about the noumena.

associated issues


related areas

See also




Kemerling, G., 2011, 'Kant: Experience and Reality', available at, accessed 11 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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