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(Ding an sich; veshch’ v sebe, chose en soi; cosa in se), a philosophical term designating things as they exist “in themselves,” as distinguished from how they appear to us—in our knowledge.
This distinction had been closely studied even in ancient times, but it took on a special significance during the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was joined to the question of the capacity (or incapacity) of our knowledge to comprehend things-in-themselves. The concept of the thing-in-itself is fundamental in I. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, according to which theoretical knowledge is possible only in relation to phenomena, not in relation to the thing-in-itself—the unknowable foundation of objects perceived by the senses and conceived by the mind. The concept of thing-in-itself also has other meanings for Kant and includes objects comprehended by the mind—that is, ideas of reason such as god, immortality, and freedom, which are unconditioned and beyond experience. There is a contradiction in Kant’s understanding of the thing-in-itself; though it is beyond the senses and transcendental, it nevertheless affects our feelings and evokes sensations. Idealist philosophers have criticized the concept of thing-in-itself from two points of view. Subjective idealists, such as J. G. Fichte and the followers of Mach, considered the concept of an objectively existing thing-in-itself to be untenable. G. Hegel, though he acknowledged its existence from the standpoint of objective dialectical idealism, nevertheless criticized the idea of the unknowability of the thing-in-itself and of the impossibility of crossing the boundary between it and phenomena. Dialectical materialism acknowledges the existence of things-in-themselves—that is, of a reality independent of human cognition— but it rejects the idea of their unknowability (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 102). The question of the knowability of things is transferred by dialectical materialism to the sphere of practical experience (F. Engels, Liudvig Feierbakh . . ., 1953, p. 18).
V. F. ASMUS