Kantian Review


Transcendental Realism, Empirical Realism and Transcendental Idealism

Henry E. Allisona1

a1 University of California at Davis

The debate regarding the interpretation of Kant's idealism is usually seen as turning on the best way to understand his transcendental distinction between appearances and things in themselves: that it marks either a contrast between two types of thing (the ‘two-object’ or ‘two-world’ view) or one between two sides or aspects of ordinary empirical objects (the ‘two-aspect’ view). But, even though I have long been associated with the latter camp, I have also thought for many years that this is not the most helpful way to frame the issue. The problem lies in an ambiguity inherent in the two-aspect view. It can be understood either metaphysically, as a thesis about the kinds of properties attributable to empirical objects, that is, as a form of property dualism in which these objects are assigned both phenomenal and noumenal properties, or methodologically, as a contrast between two ways in which such objects can be considered in a philosophical reflection on the conditions of their cognition. Accordingly, I take the fundamental question to be whether transcendental idealism is to be understood in the latter way or as a form of metaphysical dualism (whether as a thing or a property dualism being a matter of relative indifference). And I have further thought that the best way of addressing that question is through a consideration of the view which Kant opposes to transcendental idealism, namely, transcendental realism. If this realism is identified with a particular metaphysical doctrine then transcendental idealism must be as well; but if, as I maintain, transcendental realism cannot be so understood, then neither can Kant's idealism.