Sylvia asked:

According to Kant, does the fact that we experience objects through our mental framework mean?

That we can know only how things appear to us, and not know objects as they are in themselves?

Answer by Eric George

The best way to understand Kant, is to first understand Hume and then understand the different philosophical approaches between both Kant and Hume. As Kant stated: ‘From this it follows incontestably, that pure concepts of the understanding never admit of a transcendental, but only of an empirical use, and that the principles of the pure understanding can only be referred, as general conditions of a possible experience, to objects of the senses, never to things in themselves…’ — Critique of Pure Reason, 1781.

Influenced by Hume, the basis of Kant’s resistance to the contemporary philosophers of that day (orthodox rationalism) who held that knowledge is expressed from reason, is his ‘thing-in-itself’, that our minds cannot come into direct contact with ultimate reality because our brains are pre-fitted with many various concepts and sensory filters. This follows that since knowledge is expressed through experience rather than reason, what we perceive and understand as reality, is in actuality a step or two removed from things in themselves.

Where Kant differs from Hume is on the very nature of experiences, Kant denied the classical empiricist position (that experiences cement themselves on the brain), to Kant the idea that concepts are a result of experiences and depend upon them and cannot exist before them seemed totally ridiculous. Hume maintained that concepts e.g. such as the minds notions on space, time etc.. are based upon observations within an experience, Kant ultimately refuted this by peeling back Hume’s ideas and evaluating them at square one.

Kant achieved this by the following, in concerns to say the concepts of time and space, how can we as humans experience that one thing is next to another thing (space) or that one event happens after another (time)? Unless we already have concepts such as ‘next to’ and ‘after’ i.e. the concepts of time and space built into our minds to begin with, Kant solidified this argument by making clear that if such things were not already built into our minds to begin with, we could never even make sense of the complexity that is perception. Concepts of space, time along with an army of other ‘categories’ such as quality, relation, cause, quantity must be inherent to thought, Kant believed, they are forms in which we impose on experiences in order that we may understand and organise them — to make sense of them.

In addition to this, since everyone shares the same thoughts on space, time and such therein, Kant also upheld that these ideas are not only innate but are also universally contained. If space and time only exist in the mind, as Kant pretty much implies, then by experiencing the world as existing within time and space we are in fact just experiencing how the world appears to us, not really how it is. The oasis-mirage you see in the desert, is really just sand.