Notebook, 1993-


Immanuel Kant


German metaphysician, one of the greatest figures in philosophy, b. Königsberg [now Kaliningrad, USSR], where he was educated. He tutored in several families and after 1755 lectured at the Univ. of Königsberg in philosophy and various sciences. He became professor of logic and metaphysics in 1770 and achieved wide renown through his writings and teachings . . . . [Harris, William H., and Judith S. Levey, eds. The New Columbia Encyclopedia. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1975.]

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Kant, like all the very greatest figures in human culture, sums up a past age and inaugurates a new one. His earliest reading and correspondence gives evidence of wide familiarity with the aesthetic and critical theories of German, French, and English thinkers. From Leibniz, Baumgarten, Winckelmann, Sulzer, Lessing, and Mendelssohn; from Fontenelle, Dubos, Rousseau, Batteau, and Diderot; form Shaftesbury, Young, Hutcheson, Kames, Hogarth, Burke, and Hume he learned much and often borrowed ideas. So impressed was he by the problems of art and aesthetics that as early as 1772, in a letter to Marcus Herz, he anticipated writing a treatise on criticism and taste. He devoted one essay prior to the writings of the Critique of Pure Reason [1781] to Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime [1764]. Although this early work, as well as the reading which lay behind it, prepared Kant for his later philosophical inquiry into beauty and art, it was only after the mature philosophical reflections of the first two critiques that he was ready to elaborate a philosophy of art. When he did come to write that in his final critique, he had so transcended the limited theories of taste characteristic of his day that he set the curse for the richest development in philosophical aesthetics.

Kant is important for us because it is in his thought that the philosophy of art in the modern sense is adumbrated, and it is in his Critigue of Judgment that many of the key ideas of modern aesthetics are first set forth. To be sure, in the French and British writers of the eighteenth century there is a great deal of incisive and critical thinking about art, but it is of the sort characterized by Dilthey's expression "psychological analytical aesthetics." The dimension of a philosophy of art is lacking in that work which was addressed to analyzing the aesthetic impression and establishing its conditions both objective and subjective. Kant's great step is in going beyond empirical analysis to the identification of the aesthetic as a domain of human experience equal in dignity to the theoretical and practical [i.e., the cognitive and the moral]. For Kant the existence of a genuine domain of human experience was signalized by the presence of a unique form of the a priori. To illustrate this we need only turn to the end of the introduction to the Critique of Judgment, where there is a brief table giving a complete view of the sphere of philosophy. There the three great domains, nature, freedom, art, are distinguished; each has its own a priori principles. To nature belongs the principle of conformity to law; to freedom belongs the principle of final purpose; to art belongs the principle of purposiveness. These correspond to the employment of the three fundamental cognitive faculties of understanding, reason, judgment; and these in turn correspond to the three faculties of the human mind itself: the faculty of cognition, the faculty of desire, and the faculty of pleasure and pain. For each of the three Kant discovers a fundamental mode of universal necessity and validity in human experience. Each of his three great critiques is devoted to a detailed examination of these a priori principles.

What Kant attempts to do in the "Critique of Aesthetic Judgment" [the first part of the third critique and that which alone interests us here] is to give an explication of the unique validity of judgments of beauty and sublimity. This accounts for the extreme formalism of sections 1-22. Kant argues that since the judgment of beauty or of taste must be universally and necessarily valid for all men, its ground must be something identical in all men. But as Kant points out, only knowledge is communicable [section 14] and therefore the only thing in experience which can be supposed to be the same for all men is the form and not the sensations of representations. With this position we first encounter modern formalism.

Each of the moments of the judgment of taste contributes to the total picture of the aesthetic judgment of the beautiful. The first moment, according to quality, explains how the judgment of taste is disinterested, i.e., how it is to be distinguished from judgments of the pleasant and the good. The second moment, according to quantity, stresses universality which is one of the two essential characteristics of the a priori. As is to be expected this universality is subjective, not objective. The third moment, according to relation, develops the idea of purposiveness without a purpose, arguing the independence of judgments of beauty from the sensuous, emotional, and conceptual. The fourth moment, according to modality, explains how the necessity of the judgment of taste must be a peculiar necessity distinct from that of the theoretical and the moral. Since necessity is the second essential characteristic of the a priori, the second and fourth moments exhibit fully the a priori nature of judgments of taste. The first and third moments distinguish the aesthetic from the nonaesthetic, thus emphasizing that autonomy of the aesthetic which was to remain a lasting theme in modern thought. In addition, the fourth moment introduces the concept of a common sense which later forms the key idea of the deduction of aesthetic judgment.

The analysis of judgments of taste is followed by a discussion of the nature of art. The artist produces an art object for the purpose of submitting it to aesthetic judgment and thereby satisfying taste. His task is to produce an object under the specific conditions of the particular art [e.g., painting, architecture, etc .] which will at the same time be beautiful. The artist as a genius, then, has to produce an object that fulfills the purpose of the particular art but also simultaneously fulfills the generic aesthetic purpose of satisfying taste. For instance, an architect must produce a building which will accommodate itself to its use and at the same time be beautiful. Likewise, a musical composition must both express and excite emotions, and at the same time be beautiful. The two purposes, it must be stressed, are not the same for Kant. Insofar as a work is beautiful it is like nature; hence Kant says that art can only be called beautiful if we are conscious of it as art while yet it looks like nature [section 45]. Beautiful art is possible only through genius, which Kant defines as the "innate mental disposition through which nature gives the rule to art" [section 46].

Through genius the real foundation of human nature speaks to human feeling. The genius operates by providing in his imagination what Kant calls an aesthetic idea, i.e., a representation of the imagintion that arouses much thought but cannot be encompassed by any body of concepts. This is the first modern definition of the art symbol. Genius thus becomes the faculty of aesthetic ideas. These aesthetic ideas must be expressed in the work so that a work of art is the outward expression of the aesthetic idea in the artist's mind. This outward expression of aesthetic ideas Kant identifies in the latter part of the passages here presented with the beauty he had earlier defined in terms of purposiveness without a purpose. The outward expression of aesthetic ideas is therefore a form--whether musical, architectural, poetic, etc. -which is the proper object of a judgment of taste.

This form is at the same time a symbol of the morally good, for as Kant shows, there is a thoroughgoing analogy between our judgment of such a form as beautiful and our judgment of the morally good. As a result, the education of moral feeling is a propaedeutic for the cultivation of taste.

[Hofstadter, Albert, and Richard Kuhns, eds. Philosophies of Art and Beauty, Selected Readings In Aesthetics From Plato to Heidegger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964. [pp. 277 - ]



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