Dr W Large


An Introduction to Kant's Aesthetics

30 January 2007




Distinterestedness is what defines aesthetic judgement including personal and non-personal interests - the agreeable and the moral.


Interest means here the existence of the object. What matters to me is the representation in myself.



'It allows me to rely more on myself than my own powers'


No doubt I can get pleasure from natural objects, but it is not dependent on them - since the sunset could equally exist in a picture or in a film. If I was disappointed my its non-existence, then I must have some other reason for liking it - the warmth on my skin for example.


Though conceptually it might be possible to distinguish pure satisfaction from interest one - can I ever be sure that my delight in the beauty of someone is not contaminated by my desire to posses them? This is not a subjective but an objective criterion - no one can tell this from the outside. But also it is logically universal, since it is true for everyone that they must make this decision (form and content)



Beauty for Kant is see from the side of the subject and not the object. But this idea of subjective is very complex, it is not merely subject but involves universal elements and intersubjective criteria


Beauty is a distance from the object but also from oneself - in terms of personal needs - to do this we need to have different conception of the subject - one that it not just pathological - thus there are two subjects in Kant.


In both the agreeable and the good there cannot be a free satisfaction. In the agreeable, I like the object and desire it, in the moral, I desire the object and therefore like it.


But don't we need objects of art to exist if we are going to find any delight in them? Also don't we have to have some knowledge about art to be able to appreciate it?



There are 3 types of satisfaction in Kant which are also 3 types of representation.


Again this is subjective and not objective - I do not get pleasure of the beautiful because something is beautiful, but because I take something to be beautiful, it is beautiful.


In the other two cases, there is always an interest.



The ability to find something beautiful is part of our human nature.


What is agreeable is determined by our sensation - i.e. we are dependent on the existence of the thing


Satisfaction in the moral good is not free but interested because we are determined by the concept of reason.


Kant's argument is negative 1) if something is disinterested then is it beautiful, if something is neither agreeable or good, then it is beautiful


These are only negative moments  - Kant has to give us a positive description of the beautiful.



Universality : The Second Moment



The judgement of the beautiful is accompanied by a claim of universality, but this claim can only be



Objective - rather it is part of my representation and satisfaction. Thus I can only make a claim to universality rather than require it.



Section 6 and 9 have different arguments - the first is negative from disinterestedness whereas the second is positive from the idea of the 'free play of the faculties'.



When we are speaking about universality here, we are not speaking about object here as Kant would speak about them in the first critique, rather we are speaking about our reflection or relation to them with ourselves, and thus also so the same relation in other (this idea of the subject and the intersubjective will be very important later)


But does this let me leap from saying just because it is not in my interest then it must be for everyone? Couldn't there also be a third possibility - a group or an individual for example - but this way of thinking is not possible for Kant. For him there are only two possibilities, one) either one thinks at the level of the individual or at the level of humanity in general (the critique of Kant therefore is that what he takes to be 'the level of humanity' is only Königsberg universalised.



Although philosophically we can make these distinctions, as individuals, i.e. psychologically, we can never be sure (and this is true of ethics as well - can I ever be sure that I act from pure intentions). But for Kant he is only interested in these transcendental questions and never empirical ones.



When we make judgements we sometime expect universality and sometimes not. So in mathematical judgements I would, but for a momentary inclination, I might not. But why would I expect universality in aesthetics?


In the first case, as also in objective empirical judgements, it is the objects which force the intersubjective agreement at least in ideal circumstances.


But judgement of taste are not objective but subjective, and therefore universality becomes a problem - we might immediately what to say that they must be subjective and thus not universal, since subjective statements by definition cannot be universal  - subjective universal by definition seems to be a contradiction in terms.


Taste is based on sensation - I must hear the song my Will Oldham - but what makes taste, taste is not - it is prior to experience. But what of taste is prior to experience? It is the universal. So if we say that there is nothing universal in aesthetics we destroy it


What do we mean by the universal? We have to distinguish the universal from the general. What do we mean by the general? We can imagine an exception - generally people when the hear will oldham like it, but I can imagine that some will not - this is an empirical statement not a judgement of taste. Even if everyone at the moment likes Will Oldham if I can imagine an exception then this is not an aesthetic statement. What is an universal statement. One that has no exception. That is they are conceptual rather than merely description of fact - all triangles are 3 sided figures - if this was merely a description of facts, a generality, then if I came across a 4 sided one, it wouldn't really bother me it would just be the exception that proves the rule - but in fact this is not a generality it is a universality, so I really would be bothered and I would have to change my very definition of triangle or at least realise that there was something wrong with my current one.


Now when we make claims to taste this are universal but they are not objective - they are not statements of generality, but of universality - all human beings should feel like me and if they do no they are lacking taste.' This is normative and not objective - the universality of the judgement of triangles has to do with the concept and not with my relation to my own feeling - here the relation is purely subjective - my perception and my feeling and the judgement that everyone else should feel like this too.


When we say that this universality is not given by the object, we are saying that it is not conceptual. The reference of universality is not the object but the subject - other subject - subjective in the sense that others should think the way that I do. This should be distinguished from the subjective ground of judgement of taste.


What then is the link between subjective in the second and I first sense - what Kant is trying to say is that right at the heart of aesthetics judgement already involves the relation to others, and it is this what distinguished moral judgements from merely agreeable ones or moral ones


Is there not a relation to Others in Kant's morality - how would it be different from this relation?



What is important is that there are no external rules for Kant (it is this that makes him different from his contemporaries) - thus something is not beautiful because it is x - rather it is my relation to my representation of x which makes it beautiful. Thus it is the redness of the chair that determines that my statement that the chair is red is true or not - for Kant this not my relation to the aesthetic object, even if it is the same object, rather it is 'free play of the faculties' between imagination and the understanding. It is this free play which cause the feelings of pleasure and displeasure which are wholly related to the subject and not the object. What makes them universal is that they are 'accessible to every human being'.



What is the difference between a transcendental philosopher and a mere logician. The latter is only interested in the relation between the definitions of objects - whereas the former is interested in the relation between judgement perception and the object itself - thus the relation between the imagination and understanding - intuitions and concepts - the philosopher is interested in how we related to the world - for Kant time and space and how this relates to how categories which are the basis of our conceptuality - the application of concepts to objects - in these sense singular and universal judgements are the same for the logician since tree and trees are the same, but for the transcendental philosopher they are not.


What concerns Kant is the application of concepts to experience - this is what transcendental means. This means what is the correct relation between concepts and intuitions (not just the formal relationship between definitions). The incorrect application is called transcendent whereas the correct is transcendental.



When we say that judgement of taste is subject, we mean that it is origin is in the subject. Section 9 tells us that the true origin of the aesthetic judgement is the free play between the faculties in the subject - the faculties being reason, imagination, and the understanding. The second part of this subjective origin is 'subjective purposiveness' which is at the heart of this free play.


In Kant's other critical writings - universal assent was thought possible only in terms of objectivity. It is this notion of subjective universality which is so novel in the CPJ.


So the aesthetic judgement is both singular and universal. This means that the representation of the object in the subject must be very different from cognitive judgement. The source of this difference must be in the idea of singularity, which means that we have one object in our minds, but we represent this object to ourselves in a very different way.



Why should judgement of taste be singular meaning that the statement 'all roses are beautiful' could not be an aesthetic, but only 'this rose is beautiful'. But Kant seems to imply that the idea of singular universal judgements are peculiar which is not the case since the following is singular and universal 'the number 5 is a prime number'.



It must be that these judgements are singular and universal in a special way.


This rose is beautiful  - does not depend on sensation, or a determinate concept.



Thus it can only be a judgement of the beautiful and not the agreeable and morality.  It still involves concepts, but in an indeterminate way. That is there is no necessary relation between what concepts I use to express by satisfaction in the beauty of the flower.  I could express it is a 'gesture or a poem'. They simply ways of expressing my feeling, but there is no necessary relation between them.


It is precisely this lose of indeterminacy which is lost in the analysis of literature.



In cognition there is a necessary relation between the object and the predicate - rose and red for example, whereas in aesthetic judgements, I leave this relation open.


In cognition, it is the relation between intuitions and concepts which determine the object, whereas in aesthetic judgements it is the facilities themselves. I still have a perception of the object, but what is important about is not my knowledge of it; rather I enjoy it in terms of 'open possibilites' of concepts and attributes and even memories and association through the 'free play' of the imagination and the understanding.



In beauty it is not the concept itself which matter - again I know that it is rose, but the fact that I do know this is not important to my judgement. This is what makes it different from other types of singular judgements which are determinate concepts - fixed relation between a concept and attributes. It is singular because it is about an object, but also it is only about the relation between faculties and not intuitions and concepts, and the 'object is not even cognized as an object'.



Also what is relevant is the feeling that the subject has, rather than what is said objectively about the object.



If aesthetic judgements have nothing to do with logical judgements, then where does the universality come from?


The universality does not lie in something about the object in terms of logical judgements, nor in rules or social taste, but in the autonomy  of the subject, which has open up the free play of the faculties in relation to the object.



We say that is judgements of taste that everyone should agree - but this can't be because of something in the object. Why don't we find this in the subject instead - and not in my subjectivity, but subjectivity in general, or what we might call - intersubjective - what we might call the 'idea of humanity'.  But here it is linked to the idea of purposiveness.



Does feeling precede judgement or judgement feeling - what concerns Kant here is the logical order and not the temporal. That is that the judgement of tastes implies a specific kind of judgement, without which it would not be possible, and in this sense it must precede the judgement of taste.


When Kant talks about 'judging about the object' he does so in terms of communicability. If there were only 'mere' pleasure then there would be no possibility of saying that a judgement of taste has a universal claim.



Thus what is peculiar about judgements of taste is that at their heart they are communicable, it is not merely just a subjective pleasure, and this communication is not just added onto our experience of pleasure, but belongs to this pleasure itself. The ground of this is the universal capacity for the communication of the state of mind. This can be read in two ways. One as the capacity of communication which is held by the state of mind, and then the capacity of communicating a state of mind - it is the second which is important for Kant's interpretation.


It is this universal capacity which makes the aesthetic judgement different from the merely agreeable


So what is it that is universally communicable - is it a certain state of mind - what kind of mind is this?  The answer is purposiveness.



In cognition it is the object which serves as the common ground which is universally communicable. What is the reference state in aesthetic judgement is that state of mind in the play of faculties - this isn't just personal, rather there is something universal about this state of mind.


What is universal here is the relation to cognition in general - it is in free play but not chaos or insane - rather there is something in it that we can all follow - 'it still makes sense'. It is universal because it involves faculties that every human being has happens in relation to 'cognition in general'. It is this judging which must precede the feeling of pleasure



The condition is the free play of faculties which is a certain state of mind.  - but this free play of the faculties is itself the condition for cognition in general. The Judgement of cognition requires the harmony of understanding and the imagination which is determinate, which is different from the free harmonious relation in the aesthetic judgement. It is through the relation between the imagination and the understanding, which is either determinate, as in cognition, or free, as is aesthetics, that the judgement of taste has the ground for the source of its claim to universality.



Purposiveness : Third Moment



We can understand ends in terms of purposiveness - what is the purpose of the thing that I am looking at - for Kant when I look at an object aesthetically, I am not at all interested in its purpose - what is it for.


In terms of the First Critique, the most important logical relation is causality and that there are two notions of causality: efficient and final. It is the latter which is applicable to aesthetics for Kant.



How can a concept be a cause of an object? We might think that in terms of an intention or will - we say the roof is built to keep the rain out. It would not exist without that intention.



But Kant does not refer to intention or will but to representation. In other words he is interested in subjective and not objective relations, subjective and not objective causality - what he means by that is that I imagine a house and then build it according to my image. This means that in the imagination the effect is prior to the cause - I already imagine the house there, and in so doing I cause the house to exist.


This has to do with aesthetics because it is subjective and not objective. It is the feeling of pleasure that maintains the relation between the representation and the effect. Thus I have the image of the house in my mind and its effect is maintained through the subjective feeling of pleasure. The important thing is to hold onto the notion of final causality and not translate it into efficient causality - the representation does not cause our pleasure, rather it is the result of the 'animation of my imagination and understanding through the representation of the object. It is what Kant will call a 'inner causality'.


This kind of auto-pleasure of the mind is related to the cognition in general. The actual feeling of pleasure is empirical, but the origin of this pleasure is transcendental.


and this transcendental condition of possibility is purposiveness.


This self-pleasuring of the human mind cannot be willed or forced - its only purpose is internal - it is self-purposive. Here cause and effect are the same: free play. We want it to last, but it is a present or a gift.



We can make preparations for it, go to a concert or a museum, but there is no certainty that such a feeling of pleasure will happen - it is rare and fleeting. Thus to truly experience aesthetically I have to lose my intentions and will.


What do we mean by purposiveness? The example of the watch - I find this object thousand of years later - I know that it has a purpose from the way that it is made, but I do not know what it is. But if I find out what it does, or what its function is for, then it would no longer be purposiveness without purpose. When we think of objects then there is not purposiveness without a purpose, but when we think of the subject, its inner causality, then we might speak of a purposiveness without a purpose. Our feelings are not the object of some external investigation, rather they have to do with the way that we feel - there is no object of nature that would correspond to them.


Everything to do with aesthetic judgement is purposive in some way, the imagination and the understanding. But this purposiveness is felt subjectively. It is purposiveness which is a relation within our mind, and not between our mind and a object, and which does not require any reference to something outside of it - even an intention or a will that would cause us to have such thought - the a priori condition of aesthetic judgement is that we can have a relation to representations within our minds that are purposive without a purpose.


Why does Kant drop efficient causality for final causality - why can't we think of an efficient cause between the object and the subject - that the object causes this pleasure in my mind?



But this would imply that there are objective rules to aesthetic judgements - that if an object had such and such properties, then we could claim it to be beautiful in itself without any relation to any subject.


The difference from morality is that the freedom of causality is an efficient cause - I have an idea then I change the world through it - but such a process is via reflection and principles. Aesthetic judgements have nothing to do with principles - it is a subjective feeling. What they have to do with is 'inner causality' and animation of our cognitive powers internally.


If we say that there is a purpose to aesthetics judgements then we would have to ask who had that purpose in mind.



Rather for Kant we just happen to have aesthetic judgements that are without purpose.



Beauty for Kant has to do with form and not matter.


It is the formal as opposed to the material aspects of the states of mind which are communicable. Charm has to do with our immediate sensation of an object, and is therefore personal and not universal which involves cognition (the beautiful involves reflection even though it is not conceptual - it is not merely a sensation, which would make the beautiful the same as the agreeable. Because charm has to do with sensation, it has to do with interest, and therefore it cannot be impartial as aesthetic judgement are meant to be.


What Kant is aiming to do is make a connection between the purposiveness of form (the object, space and time) and forms of purposiveness that are in the subject. His argument that it is only formal aspects of the object (space and time) which can be part of any aesthetic judgement (the play of the faculties)




Wenzel claims that there are 3 kinds of purposiveness in Kant


  1. purposive for the free play of the faculties of the imagination and the understanding
  1. They are purposive in the relation between the imagination and the understanding
  1. They are purposive in relation to cognition in general


In the case of the latter to we might say that they strengthen both our faculties and cognition in general.


We can therefore understand what Kant means by purposiveness without purpose - it has to do with the powers of cognition in general without reference to an object or the concept of the object (auto-affection of the mind - increasing the power of the mind, the pleasure of the mind).


But what has this to do with the formal properties of the object (space and time?)



purposiveness without purpose is the a priori principle of judgements of taste. This is the source of the universality of judgements. Thus it is not the object which makes us say that it is beautiful, but the subject. However Kant does not want to reduce aesthetic judgements to the merely subjective (since this would be to reduce the beautiful to a mere sensation). But what is it about the object that we are communicating in aesthetic judgement (we might want to make the distinction between secondary and primary qualities as in Hume, but this is too simple). There are two problems - one are we not sure that the examples that Kant gives, tone and colour, cannot be reduced to time and space, and secondly is it really possible in the aesthetic judgement to abstract from form and sensation - where is the dividing line between the two?


It is important for Kant though that if we are going to make sensations the object of aesthetic judgements that we can abstract them - thus his reference to Euler's theory of colours. But what would this have to do with aesthetics? Isn’t this science?


It is the form of the object that then becomes the source of the free play of the faculties which is universal to all - this is the basis of the universal claim - it is not a mere sensation, it is cognitive, but it is not conceptual (related to an object) but internal (the relation of the mind to itself), which I can say anyone could have (sensations on the contrary are always personal) - of course you might not have it, since aesthetic judgements are singular not conceptual, but I can imagine that you might have it.



We tend to think that when we say that something is beautiful that it is perfect. Kant's argument is thought ideas of perfection might accompany judgements of taste, we should not confuse the two. This is because ideas of perfection always include the concept of an object.



Here Kant is arguing against Baumgarten. Even if we thing that beauty contains perfection in a confused way, then we are still promising that in some future date, we might have a concept of beauty, and this would make beauty something objective as opposed to subjective - that we could have a definition of what art is from the outside, listing certain properties, which if something did not have, it would cease to be art at all. Again we need to remind ourselves that aesthetics has to do with subjective and not objective purposiveness - animating the mind, and not defining the function or purpose of an object. We do not need to know what an object is for in order to feel that it is beautiful, and even if we do know what an object is for then we can always abstract from its use, when we take it to be beautiful.



This means, against Baumgarten, there can be no rules for taste. The object does not have to 'live up' to a perfect idea of what the object must be, rather all I am concerned with are its formal properties which cause the powers of mind to increase and to become animated - art makes me think but not in a conceptual way.


Thinking is not conceptual - or not just conceptual - art increases by power to think (what could even think of this in terms of Spinoza) that is its purpose.



If we look at a house and say that it is beautiful because it is a perfect embodiment of what a house should be, then for Kant, we are not making an aesthetic judgement, since this must be based upon a concept of a house. At best we might say that we are making a impure judgement of beauty.


Of course it is almost impossible for us in reality to abstract from such knowledge, therefore in relation to certain object (such as houses) it might be impossible for us to make pure aesthetic judgements, because we cannot forget that we know what the object is. But even with what we might call purely aesthetic objects such as music is it right to say that we don't need any conceptual knowledge, or that we can abstract from this knowledge complete - doesn't one appreciate Bach more because one understands musically what Bach is?



When it comes to nature it seems easier to say that we don't  need conceptual knowledge, because when we observe a natural object as beautiful then precisely we are not viewing it in terms of its function (the colour of a flower is to attract bees). But then we did not make these things, so to appreciate them we do not need to know how they work.


What Kant means by free beauty is that they just 'signify for themselves' we don't need to look outside of them in order to appreciate their beauty. But this does show that are experience of them as beautiful as nothing at all to do with our objective knowledge of them, since we can still say that they are beautiful even if we do not have any knowledge of them - beauty is subjective, not objective.



We other objects, because we do have knowledge of them, it is difficult for us to abstract from our knowledge.


This is why Kant makes the distinction between free and dependent beauty. The first does not presuppose a concept of the object, the other does. Thus in entering a gothic church, I cannot say that the beauty is totally free, because to understand it I have to have some knowledge of what it means to be Gothic (human history and the purpose and function of cathedral building). And in this sense taste becomes fixed in terms of knowledge, and also beauty becomes to have a function and a purpose - the gothic church is beautiful because if fulfils a purpose.



The difference between the two is that in dependent beauty, concept are more important in the experience of beauty - the free play of the faculties - sensations are immediately referred to representations without the mediation of concepts


Are concepts then just attached to dependent beauty - if they are determinate then how can we say that this is a judgement of beauty at all?


This is especially the case with art, since they are man made objects, and therefore we can also speak of the intentions of the artist (which must be an end) in relation to our aesthetic judgement - but this still cannot be a pure judgement.


The real reason perhaps why Kant will allow concepts to re-enter our experience of beauty is that he want to tie together morality and aesthetics. This has to do with the ideal of beauty and the importance of the human figure



Kant makes a threefold distinction between


  1. Idea
  1. Ideal
  1. Normal idea





The latter two are empirical - the ideal is an empirical image, whereas the normal idea is the figure of the universal of a species.


The normal idea has to do with the imagination - thus if we reflect in our mind images of horses, if we combine them together we will get the normal idea of a horse. This is purely empirical and is determined by what we imagine - thus the normal idea of human being will differ between the Chinese and the European. Once such a normal idea has been established then we have a norm in which to judge specific instances - we appear to have a rule. The exemplar. This isn't beautiful in itself, though it does not have to contradict it, since for Kant, the beautiful is always the singular and the individual - it is without comparison - otherwise beauty would be conceptual - if such and such a object had these properties then I would find it beautiful.



The ideal of beauty has to be more that the normal idea, because it can always break with conventions (in fact Kant's definition of genius means that it must). But such an ideal of beauty is only obtained through the idea of morality. This means that the ideal can only be the human figure where we connect the play of representations with the moral idea of humanity as a whole.


The difference between the normal idea and the ideal of beauty is the notion of the idea - it is the idea of humanity as an end in itself, which makes the difference between the ideal, connected to the play of representations, and the normal idea. The question is how can something empirical exhibit what is purely rational, an idea which cannot be perceived? The connection is ourselves - and has to do with the power of reflection - only human beings can be moral because only human beings can be both the subject and the object of the moral law, and this is analogous with aesthetics - I am both the subject and the object, because it has to do with reflection - the difference is that morality is conceptual.



The human ideal is moral not beauty, but beauty can express this ideal - thus the human ideal is not a pure aesthetic judgement - but one that is attached to a moral idea.


What Kant is driving at is that beauty can serve as the bridge between nature and freedom, because it is the sensuous manifestation of freedom.



When Kant says that this is no mere judgement of taste, then we should not view this negatively - for Kant it might be quite the opposite, that a mixed judgement of taste is more valuable than a pure one.


Necessity: Fourth Moment



Kant first begins with how we think and speak about aesthetics - only later does he go onto the philosophical reflections - thus the way that we speak about aesthetics is that they do have some necessity - the question is what kind of necessity is this?



The answer goes back to what has already been said about universality. The claim to universality can only be made if some one actually makes this judgement. It is not derived from some conceptual or logical definition. Rather the free play of the faculties has to happen in order for you to make the claim.


This is why the necessity here is called exemplarity


This seems to be a rule, but in fact it isn't - the JT comes first and then set up the rule - it is exemplary for others to follow (and they might not).






Thus the JT is original and it is an example that other can follow (just as genius work of art is something that other can follow, though the rule cannot be know in advance, and even the author of the work might not know how they produced it). This means that one has to have genius in order to make a JT, otherwise one just imitates what everyone else things, and not follow one's own tastes.


There are only two possible forms of necessity in the JT


  1. The agreement of others
  1. The relation between the object and my feeling of pleasure.


The JT is the free play of the cognitive faculties - this is what it is based upon and subjective purposiveness - there appears to be a necessary relation to this and the free play of the faculties. And then having this feeling also necessitates the assent - I have this feeling why don't you as well?



Although there isn't any rule, given in advance, it seems to us that there is. This is supported my what Kant calls a 'common feeling' - I have to allude in an aesthetic judgement that to something that we all feel. Does Kant mean that I would be able to have the aesthetic taste of Martian, or he of me?


This common feeling is what takes the place of the rule which we don't have - it is only an idea. That is I imagine that we all feel the same way.


It isn't the common feeling which explains the play of the faculties and the subjective purposiveness, but the other way round - it is they that make sense of the common feeling - we only have the idea of the common feeling because the free play of the faculties and subjective purposiveness.



But this still does not tell me what justifies me making this appeal to necessity


What we should not think is that idea of a common feeling appeals to a real common feeling such that we would all feel the same in relation to the same object. This is why for him the real ground for agreement is the free play of the faculties and the subjective purposiveness.


There must be principle by which I can argue that others ought to have my taste, and this common ground is this common feeling - but all Kant means by the common feeling is precisely what he explained before hand in the other 2 moments.



In aesthetic reflection we demand the agreement of others, thus we reach out to them, we think of them as being in our situation.


To be able to do this, we have to abstract from any thing that is personal - indeed anything that might be personal about the object itself, and our interest in it - this is why it is the form that is important, because it is this that relates to the free play of the faculties.