19 Pages

Things in themselves

Notwithstanding the obscurities surrounding Kant’s notion of the thing in itself, it is undoubtedly a crucial component of his position. Indeed, he believes that it is only by accepting it that one can avoid those versions of idealism which fail to make sense of our capacity to engage in thought with mind-independent things. Thus, we are told in the third note to section 13 of the Prolegomenon that Berkeley’s idealism is an idealism concerning the existence of things in themselves, and that in this respect it stands opposed to his own version according to which things in themselves exist. We can leave on one side the fact that Kant’s representation of Berkeley fails to take account of the role played by God in his position – a role which might be thought to provide a reasonable enough placeholder for things in themselves. The important point to grasp is that the thing in itself is intended to be the ingredient which, to use Berkeley’s words, avoids the position according to which ‘we are confin’d barely to our own ideas’. Henry Allison’s way of making a similar point is to say that things in themselves are required if we are to avoid a ‘subjectivistic, psychologistic, phenomenalist’ reading of Kant,35 the implication being that such a reading would fail to engage with Kant’s philosophical aim.