Christo Stoev

Transcendent (transzendent)

Transcendent is the status or the use of those functions or basic propositions of our cognitive capacity, whose application completely goes beyond the bounds of possible experience.

Transcendent and transcendental should be carefully distinguished. If transcendent refers directly to what is extra-experiential, then transcendental refers what precedes any experience with respect to the possibility of the latter. If the opposite of the transcendent is the immanent, then the opposite of the transcendental is the empirical taken in a methodological sense.

Therefore, transcendent in the context of critical philosophy means “going beyond” (hinausgehend), “going over” (überfliegend) the bounds of experience. It needs to be emphasized that Kant himself applies the term “transcendent” not to things, objects but mostly to the concepts of reason, i. e. to ideas and the basic propositions that ensue from them or to reason itself[1] and respectively their/its use. Accordingly, the basic propositions that are defined as transcendent are those that “strive to go beyond the bounds of possible experience” or “even require that they be transgressed”. But outside the bounds of experience no objects of intuition could be given to us, which is why the transcendent use of the forms of reason raises a claim to supersensible cognition from pure reason. Such a claim, however, cannot be justified in the least and therefore Kant sets as the task of the critique of reason “to uncover the illusion in transcendental judgments, while at the same time protecting us from being deceived by it” (A297/B354).

Given the above the opposite of the transcendent is the immanent, i. e., what stays completely within the bounds of experience. The criterion of their difference, as it becomes clear, is inside or outside the bounds of possible experience, the only field where we could be given contentfully (intuitively) certain objects. In fact, the expression “transcendent use” is the more precise term of, as Kant puts it, its “hyperphysical” use in contrast to the “physical” or immanent one.

            In accordance with the above, it becomes clear why Kant says that the ideas of reason (in so far as they concern the “absolute totality of conditions”) are “transcendent and go beyond the boundary of any experience”. Nevertheless, it needs to be emphasized that the expression “transcendent”, according to Kant, is to be associated not with reason itself or its forms but exclusively to their use, since the ideas of reason could be used fully legitimately, namely – regulatively in the sphere of experience, without going beyond it in search of some illusory objects. It is in this sense precisely that Kant says that “it is not the idea itself but only its use can, with a view to the totality of possible experience, be either external (transcendent) or internal (immanent)”.

            In the secondary literature on Kant the expression “transcendent” has started to be used in a wider sense and to denote not simply the use of our cognitive capacities that goes beyond experience but objects themselves or things in themselves, which with a view of their unknowability are outside the sphere of possible experience. In this new sense “transcendent” has begun to mean inaccessible for experiential (empirical) knowledge.

[1] Thus, for example Kant speaks of the decree and of the claims of a “transcendent reason” (p. 642, p. 650).


Kant, Immanuel (1974) Kritik der reinen Vernunft. – In: Werkausgabe in 12 Bänden. Band III/IV. Suhrkamp.

Kant, Immanuel (1998) Critique of Pure Reason, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Allison, H. (2004) Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, Revised and Enlarged Edition.

Höffe, O. (1994) Immanuel Kant, Albany: State University of New York Press.

How to Cite:

Stoev, Christo (2021) Transcendent, in Thesaurus. Sofia University Dictionary of Philosophy. Online edition. Sofia: St. Kliment Ohridski University Press, 2021, ISSN 2815-2832.