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The combustion of a match is an observable occurrence, or event, and therefore a phenomenon. Streichholz.jpg
The combustion of a match is an observable occurrence, or event, and therefore a phenomenon.

A phenomenon (Greek : φαινόμενον , romanized: phainómenon, lit.  'thing appearing to view'; plural phenomena) [1] is "an observable fact or event." [2] The term came into its modern philosophical usage through Immanuel Kant, who contrasted it with the noumenon, which cannot be directly observed. Kant was heavily influenced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in this part of his philosophy, in which phenomenon and noumenon serve as interrelated technical terms. Far predating this, the ancient Greek Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus also used phenomenon and noumenon as interrelated technical terms.


Common usage

In popular usage, a phenomenon often refers to an extraordinary event. The term is most commonly used to refer to occurrences that at first defy explanation or baffle the observer. According to the Dictionary of Visual Discourse: [1]

In ordinary language 'phenomenon/phenomena' refer to any occurrence worthy of note and investigation, typically an untoward or unusual event, person or fact that is of special significance or otherwise notable.


In modern philosophical use, the term phenomena has come to mean 'that which is experienced in the basis of reality.' In his inaugural dissertation, titled On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World, Immanuel Kant (1770) theorizes that the human mind is restricted to the logical world and thus can only interpret and understand occurrences according to their physical appearances. He wrote that humans could infer only as much as their senses allowed, but not experience the actual object itself. [3] Thus, the term phenomenon refers to any incident deserving of inquiry and investigation, especially events that are particularly unusual or of distinctive importance. [1]


A comparison between a candle flame on Earth (left) and in a microgravity environment, such as that found on the International Space Station (right).
The same burning phenomenon is observed, but different flame shape and colouring phenomena are also observed. Space Fire.jpg
A comparison between a candle flame on Earth (left) and in a microgravity environment, such as that found on the International Space Station (right).
The same burning phenomenon is observed, but different flame shape and colouring phenomena are also observed.
Cloud chamber phenomena. Scientists use phenomena to refine some hypotheses and sometimes to disprove a theory. See also animated version. Cloud chamber bionerd.jpg
Cloud chamber phenomena. Scientists use phenomena to refine some hypotheses and sometimes to disprove a theory. See also animated version.

In scientific usage, a phenomenon is any event that is observable, including the use of instrumentation to observe, record, or compile data. Especially in physics, the study of a phenomenon may be described as measurements related to matter, energy, or time, such as Isaac Newton's observations of the moon's orbit and of gravity; or Galileo Galilei's observations of the motion of a pendulum. [4]

In natural sciences, a phenomenon is an observable happening or event. Often, this term is used without considering the causes of a particular event. Example of a physical phenomenon is an observable phenomenon of the lunar orbit or the phenomenon of oscillations of a pendulum. [4]

A mechanical phenomenon is a physical phenomenon associated with the equilibrium or motion of objects. [5] Some examples are Newton's cradle, engines, and double pendulums.


Group phenomena concern the behavior of a particular group of individual entities, usually organisms and most especially people. The behavior of individuals often changes in a group setting in various ways, and a group may have its own behaviors not possible for an individual because of the herd mentality.

Social phenomena apply especially to organisms and people in that subjective states are implicit in the term. Attitudes and events particular to a group may have effects beyond the group, and either be adapted by the larger society, or seen as aberrant, being punished or shunned.

See also

Related Research Articles

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. In one of his major works, the Critique of Pure Reason, he drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality.

Phenotype The composite of the organisms observable characteristics or traits

Phenotype is the term used in genetics for the composite observable characteristics or traits of an organism. The term covers the organism's morphology or physical form and structure, its developmental processes, its biochemical and physiological properties, its behavior, and the products of behavior. An organism's phenotype results from two basic factors: the expression of an organism's genetic code, or its genotype, and the influence of environmental factors. Both factors may interact, further affecting phenotype. When two or more clearly different phenotypes exist in the same population of a species, the species is called polymorphic. A well-documented example of polymorphism is Labrador Retriever coloring; while the coat color depends on many genes, it is clearly seen in the environment as yellow, black, and brown. Richard Dawkins in 1978 and then again in his 1982 book The Extended Phenotype suggested that one can regard bird nests and other built structures such as caddis-fly larvae cases and beaver dams as "extended phenotypes".

Reductionism Philosophical view explaining systems in terms of smaller parts

Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena.

An epiphenomenon is a secondary phenomenon that occurs alongside or in parallel to a primary phenomenon. The word has two senses: one that connotes known causation and one that connotes absence of causation or reservation of judgment about it.

In metaphysics, a noumenon is a posited object or event that exists independently of human sense and/or perception. The term noumenon is generally used when contrasted with, or in relation to, the term phenomenon, which refers to anything that can be apprehended by or is an object of the senses. Immanuel Kant used noumenon to refute idealism, that the noumenal world may exist, but remains unknowable through human senses. In Kantian philosophy, the unknowable noumenon is often linked to the unknowable "thing-in-itself", although how to characterize the nature of the relationship is a question still open to some controversy.

In philosophy of science and in epistemology, instrumentalism is a methodological view that ideas are useful instruments, and that the worth of an idea is based on how effective it is in explaining and predicting phenomena.

Experience is the first-person effects or influence of an event or subject gained through involvement in or exposure to it.

Phenomenalism is the view that physical objects cannot justifiably be said to exist in themselves, but only as perceptual phenomena or sensory stimuli situated in time and in space. In particular, some forms of phenomenalism reduce talk about physical objects in the external world to talk about bundles of sense-data.

Gottfried Leibniz's theory of pre-established harmony is a philosophical theory about causation under which every "substance" affects only itself, but all the substances in the world nevertheless seem to causally interact with each other because they have been programmed by God in advance to "harmonize" with each other. Leibniz's term for these substances was "monads", which he described in a popular work as "windowless".

Transcendental idealism epistemology, proposed by Kant, in which space and time are merely formal features of how we perceive objects, not things in themselves that exist independently of us

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine is found throughout his Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Kant argues that the conscious subject cognizes objects not as they are in themselves, but only the way they appear to us under the conditions of our sensibility. Thus Kant's doctrine restricts the scope of our cognition to appearances given to our sensibility and denies that we can possess cognition of things as they are in themselves, i.e. things as they are independently of how we experience them through our cognitive faculties.

A conceptual system is a system that is composed of non-physical objects, i.e. ideas or concepts. In this context a system is taken to mean "an interrelated, interworking set of objects".

Naturalism may refer to:

Glossary of philosophy List of definitions of terms and concepts commonly used in philosophy

This glossary of philosophy is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to philosophy and related disciplines, including logic, ethics, and theology.

Schema (Kant) Kantian term referring to how perceptions are matched to concepts

In Kantian philosophy, a transcendental schema is the procedural rule by which a category or pure, non-empirical concept is associated with a sense impression. A private, subjective intuition is thereby discursively thought to be a representation of an external object. Transcendental schemata are supposedly produced by the imagination in relation to time.

Indeterminacy, in philosophy, can refer both to common scientific and mathematical concepts of uncertainty and their implications and to another kind of indeterminacy deriving from the nature of definition or meaning. It is related to deconstructionism and to Nietzsche's criticism of the Kantian noumenon.

Bracketing is a term in the philosophical movement of phenomenology describing an act of suspending judgment about the natural world to instead focus on analysis of experience.

A glossary of terms relating to systems theory.

Branches of science Primary divisions of science

The branches of science, also referred to as sciences, "scientific fields", or "scientific disciplines," are commonly divided into three major groups:

In semiotics, linguistics, sociology and anthropology, context refers to those objects or entities which surround a focal event, in these disciplines typically a communicative event, of some kind. Context is "a frame that surrounds the event and provides resources for its appropriate interpretation". It is thus a relative concept, only definable with respect to some focal event within a frame, not independently of that frame.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to natural science:


  1. 1 2 3 "Phenomenon/Phenomena". Dictionary of Visual Discourse: A Dialectical Lexicon of Terms. 2011.
  2. "Phenomenon". The Columbia Encyclopedia. 2008.
  3. Kant, Immanuel. [1770] 2019. On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World , translated by W. J. Eckoff (1894). – via Wikisource.
  4. 1 2 Bernstein, Jeremy (1996). A Theory for Everything. New York: Copernicus.
  5. "Mechanical Phenomenon". Tudorancea Media Network. Retrieved 23 May 2011.