Immanuel Kant – Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790, 1793)

The third critique attempts to bring together the two previous critiques. The Critique of Pure Reason asked, what is possible for one to know? The second asked how ought one to live? And the third posits judgment as the means by which we can transition between the many binaries staged in the first two: between reason and experience, liberty and necessity, nature and will, the sensible and the suprasensible, etc.

The first critique can be thought of as answer to Leibniz (rationalism) on the one hand, and Hume (empiricism) on the other. It wants to prove that we can make a priori (pre-experiential)  synthetic (substantial) judgments. He basically claims that our cognitive faculty are endowed with certain necessary structures that mirror the structures in the realm of appearance (appearance for Kant just means physical reality, phenomena, etc.). We can never know the noumena–and even conceiving of phenomena as correlating with some “thing-in-itself” is incorrect. In this realm of nature, there is no freedom, only necessity. This falls under the theoretical branch of philosophy, which Kant somewhat counter-intuitively associates with nature. In contrast, the practical sphere of philosophy has to do with the supra-sensible, morality, freedom, duty, etc.

Now judgment (the subsuming of particulars by categories) has been talked about in previous Critiques, but in the third critique Kant distinguishes between determinate and reflective judgment. The latter searches for the universal but does not subsume the particular. There is therefore a split that goes down the middle of this critique: between aesthetic-formal-reflective-taste-natural beauty-subjective purposiveness AND teleological-formal-conceptual (determinate)-reason-natural ends-objective purposiveness. [Yes, these categories grow and grow.] The former type of judgment is called taste (but when he starts talking about the teleological power of judgment, the distinction between these domains becomes less explicit).

To grasp purposiveness in an object is to feel pleasure, it is the feeling of life. But taste does not involve a judgment about the object, but about the subjective relationship I have with that object. However, a pure judgment of taste must have nothing partial about it–it must not involve any personal interests (the categories of the second critique loom). The agreeable is distinguishable from the beautiful in that it is a judgment combined with interest. The good is likewise excluded from judgments of taste, because it is related to the useful. Taste is the faculty for judging an object without interest. For this reason, “Only when the need is satisfied can one distinguish who among the many has taste or does not” (96). Thus one may speak of the beautiful, even though it is a subjective thing, as if it were objective, because one does not have any personal or material interest mixed in. Now this means Kant must separate the taste of the senses from the taste of reflection. The former is private, related merely to the object, while the latter is subjective and therefore potentially universalizable (counter-intuitive Kant at his best). This is important for Kant, because for him the feeling of pleasure does not arise immediately from the object, but only after the judgment of taste has occurred.

THE BEAUTIFUL: Now Kant tries to diagnose what exactly is pleasing about the beautiful. In a word: the form of purposiveness (as opposed to REAL purposiveness, which is the doman of reason and desire): or formal subjective purposiveness. This leads to a feeling of unity in the play of the power of the mind (113).  The focus on the subject is crucial: for Kant, there can be no objective rule of taste (116). However, he gets to this by means quite other than Hume. Taste is not a set of standards (determinate concepts) one inherits (from culture, critics, etc.), but rather must be developed individually as a relationship objects that are experienced. Further, unlike Hume’s argument from habit (we find tasteful those things we habitually find tasteful, etc. reducing everything to mechanics), Kant believes that the faculty of taste is appealed to as a break from habit–it allows for a breach in personal modes of desiring, reason, cognition, etc… Nevertheless, one must accept the idea of sensus communis–in Kant this does not refer to some nebulous prevailing opinion (vulgar, barbaric even), but rather to the sense that is common, that is, to the possibility of what everyone could sense at a given time. When we find something beautiful, we appeal to this abstract ideal of possibility in order to substantiate our feeling of pleasure (everyone MUST find this beautiful, etc.). Put another way: it is what is potentially sensually common at a given time.

THE SUBLIME: The sublime offers negative pleasure. An object exceeds the boundaries of sense and is then recuperated by the faculty of desire and reason. Put otherwise, it is when apperception exceeds comprehension (135)…but that we know this to be happening in turn confirms the power of reason and the enlargement of the mind. The beautiful is this associated with rest and the understanding. The sublime is associated with movement and reason. Whereas the beautiful imagination produces subjective purposiveness when it AGREES with the understanding, the sublime produces subjective purposiveness when it disagrees with reason. The sublim = reason over judgment. The beautiful is that which pleases in the mere act of judging. The sublime is that which pleases immediately through its resistance to the interest of the senses. (150). One could point here to the origin of Adorno’s SHUDDER.

Now Kant moves onto a deduction of pure aesthetic judgments of taste. Think of this as trying to perform the work of the 1st critique within the boundaries of the third critique. In short, he will conclude that what is asserted a priori, universal rule, etc. in the judgment of taste  is the universally validity of this pleasure perceived. The sublime reaches universal validity by other means, in its congruence with the suprasensible realm of reason and freedom.

Kant offers a three part system in which humans graduate from understanding to reason by way of judgment: 1. thinking for oneself (unprejudiced, understanding) 2. thinking in position of another (broad-minded, judgment) 3. thinking in accord with oneself (consistency, reason) (174). Interesting to compare this to the Schillerean three-step process by which human become politically responsible. one notable difference is that Schiller has a more robust sense of the polis, and what can go wrong when communication break down (French Rev. etc.). But this requires Kant to think a bit more about taste’s relationship to interest. He writes that interest cannot be part of taste’s determining ground, but it can be combined afterwards or indirectly (connect with Mill and discourse of indirection) (176).

Genius is the talent that gives rule to art (186), or, rather, that through which nature gives the rule to art (Kant CANNOT let go of nature’s primacy of the second half of this books is going to work out). Taste is the faculty of perception. Genius is a faculty of creation. Indeed, taste regulates the products of genius according to the categories of judgment (197). This is a weird claim–just saying–given that taste is supposed to be passive, receptive, not productive. Also, is it that taste (beautiful) regulates the genius (sublime)–if so, how does it work with the “reason in nature” thesis as it relates purposiveness in nature. At the very least, Kant is getting closer to connecting beauty with the representation of the good, such that categorical imperative has content: convergence of taste and moral feeling.

We now approach the antinomy of taste: 1. that taste is based on no concpet and therefore cannot be argued about 2. that taste is based on a concept and therefore can be argued about, and therefore universally valid. Kant solves this by saying that taste is based on a concept that is not determinate, from which nothing can be cognized–namely, the indeterminate “suprasensible substratum of appearances” (216). Yes, we are in the realm of the second critique. The move to the teleological will state from the go that there is objective purposiveness in art, for which Kant will eventually invoke the divine. This is crucial: nature is either teleological or mechanistic. Kant does distinguish between natural and practical ends (human vs. divine, mechanic vs. entelechy, etc.). Kant will argue, in fact, that all those forms of judgment are necessary for the correct perception of the various ends in nature: judgment precedes perception…which puts experience at a strange remove from the realm of appearances. Indeed, the reflective power of judgment must “conceive of causality different from mechanism, namely that of an (intelligent) world-cause acting in accordance with ends” (260). Thus ends on nature are added by reflection as regulative principle (270). In short, natural ends cannot be proved objectively (they given by the object to understanding) but they are necessary for the actual functioning of human reason.


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