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Philosophy the doctrine that statements about physical objects and the external world can be analysed in terms of possible or actual experiences, and that entities, such as physical objects, are only mental constructions out of phenomenal appearances


the empiricist doctrine (e.g. advanced by J. S. MILL) that things ‘are permanent possibilities of sensations’. Thus phenomenalism is not to be confused with PHENOMENOLOGY. DURKHEIM was influenced by phenomenalism.



a philosophical theory according to which the sole object of knowledge is the world of phenomena—the only reality accessible to man.

An extreme form of phenomenalism, tending toward solipsism, is represented by Machism, for example, or by the theories of G. Berkeley, according to which the world is seen as an aggregate of “ideas” or “complexes of sensations.” In its moderate form, phenomenalism is based on acknowledgment of the reality that lies beyond the world of phenomena; this reality, defined as “idea,” essence, or “thing in itself,” is not fully knowable in its “actual being.” Such traditionally idealist views are characteristic of skepticism and agnosticism. The tenets of phenomenalism are also closely related to those of positivism and neopositivism.

Phenomenalism is refuted by dialectical materialism, which holds that there is no insurmountable boundary between appearance and essence and that reality as the object of cognition is accessible through the phenomenon.