Dr W Large


Kant's Theory of Taste

30 January 2007




The quality of judgement is that it is disinterested.


The big problem here is the connection between interest and existence - surely an object has to exist even if I am disinterested in it.




  1. Can pleasure be possible without interest - do I not have to maintain my interest in something?
  1. If I take a delight is something do I not care that it exists?
  1. Contradiction that later he argues for an empirical and intellectual interest in beauty



The notion of interest comes from the moral theory - human agency


Inclination is linked to need - a relation to desire which is not determined by reason, whereas interest in always linked to 'principles of reason' - these must be subjective, since they do have objective moral worth. Inclination for something is not a yet an interest - to be interested in something we must have a reason to be so. Thus it is clear that non-rational beings have inclinations, but they do not have interests. This not being capable of having interests is not the same as being disinterested which is the basis of aesthetic judgements - human beings are both sensuous (animals) and rational beings and this is the ground of their relation to beauty.



For this reason in the CPJ Kant will speak of pathological interest and pure interest, the first which is determined by inclinations and the second by reasons - it is because we are rational that we admire beautiful things.


What is different here from the moral writings, however, is that there is no discussion of existence.



How we might understand the meaning of interest in Kant in morality is that it is always directed to a realisation of a state of affairs where the origin is pleasure which determines the will, or the will, as in the moral law, which determines pleasure.


Having an interest in something necessarily involves desiring its existence, and this holds true regardless of the nature of this interest.


It is not interest in the existence of the object a such, but as the attainment of some end.


Kant's method is negative - both agreeable and morality are the only expression of interest, and beauty is not like them, so therefore it must be disinterested - but this is not sufficient -- why because beauty might be just another kind of interest - what Kant has to do is show that the agreeable and the moral really exhaust every possibility of interest, which unfortunately he does not do.


In the agreeable pleasure is the source of desire - I like the object because it gives me pleasure. It is not merely a inclination because I have a rational representation of the object that gives me such pleasure - I can think about what it is that gives me pleasure


The liking for the good, on the other hand, is based upon a determinate idea or concept of the object, which serves a definite purpose. The beautiful, on the contrary, concerns only the representation of the object, without any relation to purpose.


The agreeable and the good, on the contrary, have to do with liking of x which concerns the existence of x and thus interest  in it, where it is willed or merely wished for



But where is this exhaustive for interest? This has to do with the faculty of Desire - that is there are two possible relations. Either pleasure as the interest in the existence of something  is the ground in relation to desire or it is the product


But does this really explain why those who take pleasure in the beauty of things are not all interested whether they exist or not.




But it is only the determination of the Aesthetic value that must be seen in terms interest, not the existence of the object - of course I must interest that the object exists, but when it comes to make my aesthetic judgement I do not need to take account of this (it might be a political judgement for example) - but these interests cannot be part of the determinate ground of the judgement, because it pure disinterested pleasure which gives rise to their existence in the first place.


Subjective universality


The issue here is how we can have a universality that is not conceptual and then what is the subjective ground of this universality.

 - the ground is the harmony of the imagination and the understanding in free play.



Universality seems first to derive from the independence of interest that we gained from the first moment - but we have to ask ourselves whether this is enough, as in Guyer's critique.



But maybe this first part of the argument is only preliminary for Kant - that the person who believes that his judgements are disinterested takes them to be universal but that is not sufficient for the philosophy. He needs a transcendental proof, since the very idea of a subjective universality is very problematic.



But we have to ask ourselves the question about why an a claim to taste can be disinterested and only private - why must it have a universal validity? But surely something private like not liking paintings with the colour red cannot be disinterested. In other words can we private disinterested judgements?  Every time that we go for examples of idiosyncratic likings then we always discover interests and nothing disinterested.



The analysis in section 6 is analytic - in the same way that to claim that to be free also involves the existence of the moral law  - this does not prove that either freedom or the moral law exist, just that one must follow the other. The argument here is if a judgement is taken to be free (disinterested) then it must have some claims to universality - at this moment Kant has not proved than any such kind of universality exists.



So do aesthetic claims make a claim to universality? Kant wants to show that they do by distinguishing between the agreeable and the beautiful. The first part of the analysis is normative and linguistic - thus that everyone takes it to be the case that no one thinks that statements about agreeableness have nothing at all to with universality - they are just about my own private tastes, whereas when I say that something is beautiful, I don't just mean that it is beautiful for me but that you should take it to be beautiful as well, and if you don't then you lack taste.




Since this universality is has nothing to say about the object, then it cannot be logical. But is this a question of quantity or validity? It cannot be the former since all aesthetic judgements are singular because they are not conceptual - 'this rose is beautiful'.


A subjective universality has to do with feelings rather than logical universality which has to do with the concept of an object.  Kant seems to want some kind of parallelism between logical and aesthetic judgements as though we could use the same tables, but this is not possible. Rather we have to think of a universality which is quite different from any kind of logical universality.


This universal voice is the origin of the claim to universality in aesthetic judgements.


This is what I am saying when I claim that something is beautiful - of course I cannot be sure that I am speaking with a universal voice, just as with moral judgement I cannot be sure that I am not acting out of self interests, though I can make the distinction between the moral law and interests. The universal voice is only an idea, and not an empirical reality.



So we can be certain that we have made a judgement of taste, but that we can never be certain whether we have be successful.



Universally communicable means universally shareable. This means that when I make a judgement of taste I speak with a 'universal voice', that is my experience must subjectively accessible by everyone.


What section 9 is concerned with is to show that it is not pleasure in the object in which this universability is to be found but in the 'judging of the object'



The universality of taste comes for the universal communicability of a mental state and that has its basis in 'universally communicable act of judging or reflection'.



This aesthetic reflection is related to cognition even though the judgement itself in non cognitive in the free play of the relation of faculties - imagination and the understanding. - it isn't cognition but relates to it - this is the subjective condition of any aesthetic judgement.  This subjective condition is necessary but it does not determine any object. It applies to the subjects universally and not to any object as in the conditions of knowledge (space and time and the other categories).


It is these free play of the faculties which leads to the possibility of disinterested liking. If the free play is harmonious then it leads to pleasure and if it is disharmonious then it leads to displeasure.


So what the mind feels is not the object as such, which would be mere sensation, but this harmony or interplay of the faculties. This is not determinate since it is not lead by a concept of the object, but it is still rational or intellectual, because it relates to the cognitive faculties of imagination or the understanding and in this way it is universally communicable to all human beings.


Beauty, Purposiveness and Form



The relation in question here is between the judging subject and the representation of the object.


For the first time it appears that Kant is turning towards the object of aesthetic judgement rather than just the subject, but it is not about finding a restrictive list of properties that would determine in advance what an art object would or world not be.  Rather it is a matter of the representation of the object, without reference to any practical or theoretical concern. The aim of this section is the characterisation of this relation such that it makes possible the universal communicability of the harmony of the faculties.


What is central to this endeavour is the idea of 'purposiveness without purpose' and form.


It is beauty which is the purpose of the object, without this appearing as the end of the object.



The aim of section 10 is to give a 'generic account' of purposiveness.



He understands this intentionally - a concept of the object - what is it meant to be - in this case the effect (what it does) proceeds the cause (what it is) in our representation.


'Purposiveness' is derived from this idea of purpose, and can be explained as the causality a concept has in relation to is object in terms of purposive form.



A pleasure for Kant, which is an awareness of increased activity of thinking through the harmony of the faculties, is not merely a feeling but includes judgement, otherwise we would not speaking of aesthetic judgement at all. Because it is a judgement it involves a 'certain kind of intentionality' and here we might see the link to purpose.



Our liking for a representation of an object stems from our consciousness (not just feeling) of its power to keep our attention, but it only does so because it is inherently pleasurable


In terms of action we conceive of a purpose in terms of an end - I will such a such in order to do this or that (I buy a bus ticket in order to get to college). We can also describe object, state of mind or action as purposive - the hammer is for hammering, fear is for fleeing lions, reading secondary texts is for understanding the primary one. This is the case even if something does not have such an intrinsic purpose - the rock does not have the purpose for smashing some one's brains in.



But the problem here is that Kant's first definition is that purpose is the causality of the concept (know what something is), whereas here it is an attribute of 'certain products' which are not conceptual purposive.


It is the only the latter which seems to make sense of purposiveness without purpose - that is we take the object has having an aesthetic purpose without positing a will behind it.



The problem with this definition is that it covers the whole of reflective judgement - it takes the object as purposive (nature) without postulating an original will, and not just aesthetic judgements.


Kant's argument is eliminative is § 11 - first of all because judgements of taste (JT) are disinterested we cannot be speaking of a 'subjective purpose', i.e. that I like something, nor can it be based on an objective purpose, which would be conceptual. Rather the purpose of the JT must be to do with the free play of the faculties - the 'subjective purposiveness of the representation'.



But we might ask why does the JT have to do with purposiveness at all? Because it can't be agreeable or moral, Kant ends up with the strange phrase purposiveness without purpose, and then he links this to the idea of 'form of purposiveness', but all these seems to beg the question that it has to be purposive at all.


For Kant subjective purposiveness and purposiveness without purpose are the same, since it make no sense to speak of a objective purposiveness without purpose.


No for Kant an object can be given a purposive even if it does not have one through the subject's will - that it is it intended as if it were designed (form) in this way - the rock bashing some one's head in.  Thus if JT is based on subjective purposiveness then it must be related to form or design


But why must be take the art work to be purposive at all. This is linked to the previous moment and § 10 and the universally communicable of the mental states of JT.


The mental state of the free play of the faculties is subjective purposive since it determines the actual ground of JT. What is purposive here is not the will, but the attunement of the faculties, which is without purpose (it is in free play - we could say that it is without reason)



Although we might say that the mental state is without purpose, since it is not cognitive or volitional, it does seem strange to say that the aesthetic object is not purposive, since it's purpose seems to be to cause the free play of the faculties in the first place.


But if we start talking about the object, then we are flying in the face of Kant's view, because he is precisely he knew this position (Baumgarten), but he precisely rejected it. His argument is that aesthetics is both subject, and yet universal, and this is the problem of the CPJ.



In § 11, the analogy with the moral law is that the feeling that is produced is not caused by any determination of the will (I do not decide to feel respect or pleasure) but is 'an ingredient in the consciousness of such a determination'. It is the consciousness of the formal play of the faculty which is the pleasure of the JT - it is not the cause of it. It is this what I communicate in the universal claim. 'it is not purposive because it produces pleasure, but rather it is pleasurable because it is purposive.



There is no external purpose in this - it is the just the subjective relation between the faculties and the desire to maintain this relation.


In § 13 and 14, Kant give a formalist account of JT - what I attend to in the object is merely its formal qualities and nothing empirical (which would be charm and emotion for Kant).


We need to distinguish between form of purposiveness and purposiveness of form  - in the first case we are merely speaking about mere form - it appears to have a form, but has no determinate conceptual end. JT are purposive because they 'occasion' the free play of the faculties, but this in itself has no determinate end, either conceptually or practically although it is the source of the universally communicable JT.



The second phrase, purposiveness of form, on the contrary, seems to indicate that the form of the object has some purpose. This seems genuinely objective even if it only refers to the representation of the object and not its matter. Kant gives us no argument to move from the former to the latter, and moreover appears to end up with a very restrictive formalism which appears to contradict the idea of beauty he himself has set up.


The answer must be that the formalism has its origin in the harmony of the faculties which is the purposiveness of JT. The problem is that Kant restricts his account of form to space and time of the first critique which ends up with a very restrictive formalism.


Again Kant's method is eliminative - beauty can have nothing to do with charm and emotion because this is linked to interest



Nonetheless he goes further than this in § 13 by arguing that charm has to with matter, whereas JT has to do with form. It is here that he introduces the idea of 'purposiveness of form'.


Only in § 14 is matter equated with sensation and form with space and time.



Kant's argument here is against those who would think that tone or colour are JT since they refer to sensations. They can only be so if they are considered as forms as Euler's theory of colours and sounds as temporal. But this seems to allow a scientific theory, one that is conceptual, to determine JT.



In JT it is matter of pure configurations of time and space, design and composition, abstracted from any kind of sensation.


But this seems to limit JT of taste to the form of the object in perception as it is described in the first critique. But this would take away what most would consider to the be intrinsic to the experience of art - colour in painting, and tone in music for example.



Kant's conception of the harmony of faculties does require some connection to form, but perhaps not to the restrictive account of form that is given in the transcendental aesthetic.


What he have to remember is that JT are reflections for Kant - they are representations of the object within the subject, in the free relation between the imagination and the understanding (in other words they are not determined by a specific concept). No some kind of ordering (form) must be the origin of this relation rather than just an isolated sensation. Thus it is not the sensation of colour that occasions the JT, but a reflection upon the sensation of this colour. Where we might differ from Kant is restricting this notion of form to merely space and time, but including all formal arrangements of the imagination.



It is Kant's search for the universality of JT that leads him to conflate perceptual and aesthetic judgements. But we don't need these objective properties (transcendental objective forms) to account for the universality of JT - what is universal here is the universal communicability of a mental state, and is only the form of the object as it is taken up in the imagination that can provide the basis for such reflection.



In other words the object is the occasion of the free play of the faculties, form of purposiveness, but it is only so because it is taken up formally, purposiveness of form.


The next sections are to show that any conceptual content that is added to a JT (what I know about the author, the paint, production of the art work and so) destroys the purity of the JT. However, the different is that this conceptual content is to some extent positive for Kant, whereas sensible content (charm and emotion) is not.



Kant demonstrates the non-conceptual content of JT, by showing that beauty has nothing at all to do with perfection - again is argument is against objective definitions of art a la Baumgarten. But he does seem to retreat slightly from the pure judgement of beauty by accepting the notion of dependent beauty, which allows conceptual content. Free beauty does not require a concept of what a thing is (the examples are natural) whereas dependent beauty does.



What is particular of importance for Kant is the relation between aesthetic and moral considerations. But by admitting dependent beauty doesn't all of Kant's distinctions fall apart?


How Allison answers this question is by saying that JT can enter in relation to other judgement, even a subservient one, without losing its own purity as aesthetic judgements.



Thus we might say that the beauty of a church is constrained by its function, but this


function does determine the judgement of the beauty  -just  because the building is a church does not make it beautiful per se.



The issue for Kant is that for some objects it is hard to separate form from function, whereas others it is not, but this does not undermine the difference between form and function, and nor does it imply that the JT is linked to the function as such. The distinction is between ways in which the beauty of the object is considered - either in its own terms, or in relation to a greater whole which is the function of the object.


The Modality of Taste and the Sensus Communis



The modality of JT have nothing at all to do with the content but the relaton to others - its 'evaluative force'.


The demand for agreement pressuposses common sense, which is in fact a combination of all the other 3 moments.



Logical judgements concern the conceptul content of representation - that is the relation between the representation and the object. But JT have to do with the relation between representations and feelings, and here it does not seem possible to claim that there is a universality.


First of all we have to say that this judgement is subjective, as opposed to the objectivity of knowledge and the objectivity of morality. The universality comes in because when I make a JT, I claiming that I am judging an object that ought to be judged in the same way by others. I do this because I treat my judgement as making a universal rule. - however because it is aesthetic rather than cognitive, I cannot state what this rule is - it has the form of a rule, but not the content.


The second moment is quantitative - the different between the private and the universal, the 4th moment is evaluative, you ought to judge the same way that I judge.



The mysterious unstatable rule is linked to common sense. If I am claiming the agreement of all, the exemplarity of JT, then it must be based on some principle (by what right can I make this claim), and this principle is common sense, which is the free play of the faculties occasioned by the object, and which is attributable to all other subjects



What this principle is trying to answer is the paradox that one can have a feeling that is universally shareable, when feelings appear to be what is most private about us.


Common sense is feeling for what is universally shareable.



Kant's argument concerns first of all cognition in general - so we must convince ourselves that he is right to suggest that one cannot have knowledge with the common sense, but also why this is relevant to JT.



The problem with this argument is that it seems to imply that we can speak about aesthetics in cognitive terms, which is precisely what Kant has argued against in the rest of the analytic of the beautiful. Also its seems to imply that cognition is dependent on aesthetics which would be very strange for Kant to argue for.



Common sense can be defined as a immediate seeing (a feeling) of how a given manifold falls under a concept.