Dr.med. Othmar Mäser, Psychiater Psychotherapie

ideal object (object in mind)

An ideal object is an object that exists in a person`s mind but does not exist physically, not even in a hypothetical sense.  (-> Kant quotation 7)

In German, Immanuel Kant called an ideal objectGegenstand in der Idee“.

An ideal object is a schema, which is useful for the purpose of representing other objects in relation to this idea.

or, according to J. M. D. Meiklejohn (see Kant quotation 7)

“…. which is useful only for the purpose of representing other objects to the mind, in a mediate and indirect manner, by means of their relation to the idea in the intellect.”

Such an ideal object is a schema which makes it possible to conceive other objects in relation to this idea.

Our thinking operates with terms. On the basis of the terms we can think about things. We compare things on the level of ideas with each other, decide if a thing applies or not and argument about the things.

In this sense our thinking is based on terms.

On one hand we find that certain terms correspond to objects in an absolute sense (real physical objects) and, on the other hand there are terms which do not “relate directly to an object, not even in a hypothetical sense, but which are useful only for the purpose of representing other objects to the mind, in a mediate and indirect manner, by means of their relation to an idea in the intellect.” (see Kant quotation 7). These terms are abstract terms.

The following terms are abstract terms which correspond to “ideal objects“:







loss of interest

low self esteem

disorganized speech and thinking





tension headache


somatoform pain disorder


As one can see the psychiatric diagnoses (diagnoses of mental disorders) are all based on abstract terms which are but ideal objects (“Gegenstand in der Idee”) and these terms do not correspond directly to a real “physical” object. These terms do not relate directly or indirectly to objects in an absolute sense but  relate to objects in an absolute sense in an indirect manner, by means of their relation to the idea in the intellect” (see  Kant quotation 7)

The diagnosis depression for example relates to the terms: low mood, low selfesteem, loss of interest and other phenomena (which are all conceived under this term) and which are recognised by seeing and hearing the patient – but they do not relate to physical objects.

So there is a process of thinking before the phenomena are reached and before the diagnosis is reached according the phenomena.

Since we know what we mean by using an abstract term like depression in our daily communication and the other person does as well, we can communicate reality to a certain extent without having explicit definitions of these abstract terms.

So far for the daily use it is not necessary to have clear definitions of these terms.

In science and professional use and professional communication on the other hand it is necessary to have clear determined definitions – as far as possible – to make the subjects as far as possible communicable. Therefore in psychiatry cetegories have been introduced which all together build a classification. These categories are all determined by explicit definitions.

First different classifications were introduced in different countries. In this way the DSM classification was developed and introduced in the U.S.A –  latter on the psychiatric part of the ICD classification became the international standard.

So all these objects of our reasoning are ideal objects represented by abstract terms to communicate for example the mental disorders.

In medicine one should be aware of the great difference of the objects of our thinking and reasoning, which means one should be aware of the great difference whether an object is given to my reasoning as a real object or merely as an ideal object (see Kant quotation 7).


(the article is under development, last modification 28.12.2013, listed under medical diagnostics / psychiatric diagnostics)


Link to the article: object in an absolute sense


Link to the page: medical diagnosis – psychiatric diagnosis


Antiloop GmbH / bechtold.at.