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A phenomenon (Greek: φαινόμενo, pl. φαινόμενα is an observable event or, quite literally, something that can be seen. Derived from the noun φαινόμενον, (phainomenon, df. appearance), it is also related to the verb - φαινειν phainein, df. to show.

General sense and use

In general, apart from its original use as a term in philosophy, phenomenon stands for any observable event. Some observable events are commonplace, while others require delicate manipulation of expensive and sensitive equipment. Phenomena make up the raw data of science, and are often exploited by technology. Phenomenon can also mean a "surprising development" or "unusually successful person".

Kant's use of phenomenon

Phenomenon has a specialized meaning in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who contrasted the term phenomenon with noumenon in the Critique of Pure Reason. Phenomena according to Kant are objects of sensible intuition, sensible entities coextensive with appearances. A noumenon on the other hand is an object exclusively of understanding; it is an object that is given only to a subject's intellect or understanding, i.e., not given by sensibility. As such, the noumenon and Kant's thing-in-itself (Ding an sich) are closely related; for Kant they refer to the same things. However, they differ in that the thing-in-itself is an ontological concept of an object as it is constituted in itself, while the noumenon is an epistemological concept of an object of a certain mode of cognition, namely intellectual intuition. Both, however, cannot be known. The concept of 'phenomena' relates to the tradition of philosophy called phenomenology. Leading figures in phenomenology - the science of objects as they appear - include Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and influenced Derrida, Deleuze and many other thinkers. Kant's account of phenomena has also been influential in the development of psychodynamic models of psychology, and of theories concerning the ways in which the brain, mind and external world interact.


  • "No phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon" Niels Bohr.
  • "Scientific theory is a contrived foothold in the chaos of living phenomena." - Wilhelm Reich
  • "To study the phenomenon of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all." Sir William Osler
  • "If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only fact, or the description of one actual phenomenon, to infer all the particular results at that point." Henry David Thoreau

See also