In describing Kant's idea of the "thing-in-itself" Thomas Pogge (in response to

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In describing Kant's idea of the "thing-in-itself" Thomas Pogge (in response to a recent question on this site) recently wrote that "According to this explanation, space and time are then features only of objects as they appear to us." I'm having a difficult time deciphering this statement. To me when you speak of a feature of an object you are referring to that object in-itself almost by definition. It seems like space and time could be either a feature of the world or a feature of our mind/cognition or psychic tendencies which we project onto the world but not both. To say that space/time is a feature of the world as it appears seems to involve a confusion of how language is used to speak about being. Appearances can reveal or distort being but I don't see how they can contribute to being. We don't speak of colors as features of the (outer) world as they appear to us do we? We try to figure whether colors originate in the mind or in the world and though we allow that there is some degree of interaction between the world and our faculties it is still in some ultimate sense one or the other.

You are quite rightly puzzled by the distinction that Pogge, following Kant, draws between appearances and things-in-themselves: it's caused trouble for Kant's readers since the publication of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. The distinction is, however, at the heart of Kant's project in the first Critique, and indeed, I would go so far as to claim that it's crucial to underpinning the entire Critical philosophy. (I see the first Critique as setting the foundations for Kant's overarching project, which I take to be aimed at ethics rather than at metaphysics and epistemology. This is a somewhat idiosyncratic view, but it is, I think, defensible; in any event, nothing in what follows turns on it.)

Now the distinction that Kant wants and needs to draw is between the world as it is independently of human cognizers, and the world that appears to human beings. Yet Kant does not want to claim that the way things appear to human beings is merely a way that they appear, as if they could appear to human beings in some other way: hence he wants to resist the idea that space and time are merely "features of our mind/cognition or psychic tendencies which we project onto the world." (Hence Kant says that space and time are "empirically real," thereby implying that they are not mere projections.) But Kant also wants to maintain that space and time are not features of objects considered apart from the human cognitive faculties, as if space and time, for example, conditioned God's understanding of objects: this is why he wants to maintain that space and time do not apply to things-in-themselves. (Hence Kant says that space and time are "transcendentally ideal," which means that they are not features of objects-in-themselves, apart from "the human standpoint," as he puts it in the Transcendental Aesthetic.)

Now it might seem that Kant here is trying to have his cake and eat it too. On the one hand, he says that space and time are forms of intuition, in which the world appears to human cognizers, and hence not conditions of things-in-themselves, apart from human cognitive capacities; on the other hand, he wants to claim that the way that the world appears is not some sort of illusion, to be contrasted with a veridical cognition of the world as it is in itself. I am inclined to think that the key to understanding these positions is to see that, on the one hand, Kant means to claim that only insofar as an object is conditioned by space and time can it be cognized by human beings, but that there nevertheless is a conception of objects independent of human cognitive capacities that remains open, even if objects cannot themselves be cognized by human beings apart from these cognitive capacities. By leaving open this way of conceiving of objects, Kant thereby means to reject the two options that you propose, which in fact fit together, according to which space and time would either be features of objects in themselves or mere ways in which objects appear to us.

Whether Kant is successful in making out this distinction is quite another matter, one about which his readers have been arguing since the eighteenth century. As you try to grapple with this distinction, I recommend that you reread the Prefaces and Introductions to the first Critique, the Transcendental Aesthetic, and also the Antinomies of Pure Reason. I wish you good luck in working through this thorny nest of issues!!

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