Transcendental (Kantian) is a methodological term employed by I. kant, founder of transcendental idealism. Kant's ideas were further developed in a systematic way by the German idealists, but in doing so the latter departed on important subjects from Kant's original intentions. The earmark of Kantian idealism is the transcendental method. As Kant himself describes it: "I apply the term transcendental to all knowledge which is not so much occupied with objects as with the mode of our cognition of these objects, so far as this mode of cognition is possible a priori" (Critique of Pure Reason, A11). Behind this is the so–called Copernican revolution that implies a "new method of thought" (ibid. B xviii): a priori knowledge of objects is not possible on the basis of the traditional assumption that all man's knowledge should conform to objects: one must start rather from the supposition that objects should conform to man's knowledge (ibid. B xvi). Kant looks for the conditions that make a priori knowledge possible, a knowledge distinguished by its necessity and universality. These conditions are not found in the object, but only in the forms that already inhere in the subject before it receives impressions from without. It is only through these forms that phenomena and objects are constituted or produced. Hence man is only able to know a priori as much of things as he himself projects into them (ibid. B xviii). To these forms belong in particular the two pure perceptions of the sensitive faculties, the twelve concepts or categories of the intellect, and the three ideas of reason. The central element of the transcendental method is the transcendental deduction of purely rational concepts; this method shows that the "conditions of the possibility of experience" are also the conditions "of all objects of experience" (ibid. B 161), that is to say, of objects–for–us but not of things–in–themselves. Therefore, "no a priori cognition is possible for us, except of objects of possible experience" (ibid. B 166), i.e., of human experience.
Contemporary philosophers, unlike modern thinkers, recognize that the transcendental method realizes its full implications only in surmounting the limits set by Kant himself. There really are elements in the subject that condition the possibility of human knowledge, for the formal objects of the soul's faculties correspond to the a priori forms of Kant, as J. marÉchal has shown. But the investigation must be pushed further, through the conditioning factors of the sense faculties and of the discursive power to the highest conditioning factor, that of the intellect, viz, being itself. It is this latter that is missed by Kant. From the vantage point of being, both the thing–in–itself and the realm of metaphysical reality open up to the human mind.
See Also: kantianism; neo–kantianism.
Bibliography: j. marÉchal, Le Thomisme devant la philosophie critique (Louvain 1949), v. 5 of his Le Point de départ de la métaphysique. j. b. lotz, "Die tranzendentale Methode …,"in Kant und die Scholastik heute (Pullach 1955) 35–108; Metaphysica operationis humanae … methodo tr. explicata in Analecta Gregoriana 94 (Rome 1961); Ontología (Barcelona 1962). e. coreth, Metaphysik (Innsbruck 1961).
[j. b. lotz]