Kant, Immanuel

Assigned: Kant, Immanuel. From Critique of Judgment, from “Introduction” (429-30); from Book I: “Analytic of the Beautiful” (431-45); from Book II: Analytic of the Sublime (445-63). Also read the editors’ introduction (425-29).

From Critique of Judgment (1790)

From Introduction

1. On 429 (“Judgment in general is the ability…”), what is the difference, as Immanuel Kant explains it, between a determinative judgment and a reflective judgment? Read the section immediately following this brief passage and then respond to this question: if we judge an object beautiful, which kind of judgment would it necessarily be—determinative or reflective? Why?

On the Aesthetic Presentation of the Purposiveness of Nature

2. On 429-30 (“What is merely subjective in the…”), Kant introduces “aesthetic judgments” (die Geschmacksurteile; i.e., judgments that some object is beautiful) and their subjective quality. What is the “aesthetic character” (429) of an object that we behold or otherwise engage with? How does Kant address the feeling of pleasure that fills us in the presence of certain “presentations” without our having to think our way towards that feeling? How does the sense that an object is generally “purposive” (zweckmäßig) arise in the process of our judgment of it? In what sense is Kant introducing us to the key point that beauty (die Schönheit) isn’t a property inhering in objects but that it is instead generated by our minds?

From Book I. Analytic of the Beautiful

A Judgment of Taste is Aesthetic (§1)

3. On 431 (§1. “If we wish to decide whether…”), how does Kant describe the basic features of an aesthetic judgment or a “judgment of taste,” as opposed to a judgment that mainly involves the faculty of understanding (der Verstand,which generates knowledge by means of concepts) and gives rise to cognition? An aesthetic judgment involves imagination (die Einbildungskraft), so in your response, be sure to define this term as Kant uses it—see the Norton editors’ footnote 4 at the bottom of 431. How does an aesthetic judgment involve feelings of pleasure, and in what way does it refer to the human subject rather than to the object that is perceived?

The Liking that Determines a Judgment of Taste Is Devoid of All Interest (§2)

4. On 431-32 (§2. “Interest is what we call the liking…”), Why, according to Kant, isn’t it possible to make “a pure judgment of taste” as soon as “interest” (431) enters the picture? What examples does he refer to of judgments that would never qualify as aesthetic? How do they all involve a bias towards the existence (or non-existence) of the object in question? Kant uses the term “disinterested” (uninteressiert) to describe the sort of “liking” (das Wohlgefallen) for the presentation to which he refers; how should this term “disinterested” be defined so as to capture the appropriate attitude of a person who makes a pure aesthetic judgment rather than a judgment involving interest?

A Liking for the Agreeable Is Connected with Interest (§3)

5. On 432 (§3. “Agreeable is what the senses like…”) how does Kant characterize judgments about “the agreeable” (das Angenehme) ? Why aren’t these judgments aesthetic? (See §1, pg. 431 for a definition of that term.) What would be an example of this kind of judgment of things that are merely agreeable? How does Kant characterize the attitude of people who habitually “aim at nothing but enjoyment”? To what extent does Kant demand a separation between desire and aesthetic judgments, or judgments of taste, as he also calls them?

A Liking for the Good Is Connected with Interest (§4)

6. On 433 (§4. “Good is what, by means of reason…”) how does Kant characterize judgments about “the good” (das Gute)? Why aren’t these judgments aesthetic? (See §1, pg. 431 for a definition of that term.) What key difference does Kant say exists between judgments of the good (whether in the sense of the useful or the good in itself) and judgments of the beautiful? How, too, does a liking for the good differ most significantly from a liking for the agreeable? In what way are they similar?

Comparison of the Three Sorts of Liking, Which Differ in Kind (§5)

7. On 434 (§5. “Both the agreeable and the good…”) with emphasis on judgments of taste, what key differences does Kant explore and summarize among the three kinds of “liking” he has established? Why is the judgment of taste or the beautiful alone “disinterested and free”? In what sense does Kant tie the other two kinds of judgment or liking to need? Finally, in his brief “Explication” of the First Moment, how does Kant define the key term “taste” (der Geschmack)?

The Beautiful Is What Is Presented without Concepts as the Object of a Universal Liking (§6)

8. On 435 (§6. “This explication of the beautiful can…”), Kant explains how those who make judgments of beauty can legitimately feel that even though those judgments remain “subjective” and do not refer objectively to any determinate concept of the things judged, they have the right to suggest that others ought to agree with them. How can this be? If we say, “this rose is beautiful,” why do we suppose everyone else should nod in approval? How should we understand Kant’s newly introduced term, “subjective universality” (subjektive Allgemeinheit)? In what sense or to what extent is Kant positing a universal human capacity, whether actual or potential, to make aesthetic judgments?

Comparisons of the Beautiful with the Agreeable and the Good… (§7); In a Judgment of Taste the Universality of the Liking Is Presented only as Subjective (§8)

9. On 435-37 (§7, §8. “As regards the agreeable everyone…”), In §7, Kant reiterates the sense of universality that accompanies a judgment of taste, saying that just as it would be absurd to insist that everyone should agree with one’s mere liking of something like “canary wine” (435), it would be preposterous not to demand that one’s judgment of the beautiful should receive the assent of others. Still, what does Kant suggest is “strange” (436) about this demand for universal agreement? Even though we know that we can’t argue someone else into such agreement and that not everyone will actually agree with every judgment of taste we make, why do we still insist on that very assent, and believe we speak with “a universal voice” (437)?

Investigation of the Question Whether in a Judgment of Taste the Feeling of Pleasure Precedes the Judging of the Object or the Judging Precedes the Pleasure (§9)

10. On 437-38 (§9. “The solution of this problem…”), according to Kant, the feeling of pleasure attached to aesthetic judgments does not precede the judgment but is instead its consequence. In other words, we make the judgment first and then feel pleasure. What reasoning on Kant’s part leads him to this assertion? What is the exact source of the pleasurable feeling we have in the presence of an object that we judge to be beautiful? What does the solution to this question have to do with the “presentational powers”—namely, imagination (die Einbildungskraft) and understanding (der Verstand)? Finally, in his “Explication” based on the Second Moment, how does Kant now define “beauty” (das Schönheit, 438 bottom)?

A Judgment of Taste Is Based on Nothing but the Form of Purposiveness of an Object (or of the Way of Presenting It) (§11)

11. On 439 (§11. “Whenever a purpose is regarded as…”), why, according to Kant, is it impossible for a judgment of taste to have as its basis a “subjective purpose” or, for that matter, an “objective purpose”? Kant has said repeatedly that aesthetic judgments cannot be connected or referred to any firm concept; why is that the case? What is the difference between his terms “purpose” (der Zweck) and “purposiveness” (die Zweckmäßigkeit)? What is he suggesting about how an aesthetic judgment is enabled when he describes “the liking that, without a concept, we judge to be universally communicable” as “the subjective purposiveness in the presentation of an object, without any purpose […] and hence the mere form of purposiveness […] in the presentation by which an object is given us”?

A Pure Judgment of Taste Is Independent of Charm and Emotion (§13); Elucidation by Examples (§14)

12. On 439-41 (§13, §14. “All interest ruins a judgment of taste…”), what “always happens,” according to Kant in §13, when we make an aesthetic judgment about an object that “gratifies or pains us” (439)? What renders a person’s taste “barbaric” (439) instead of pure? In spite of this harsh term, why does Kant (in §14) grudgingly find a place for “charm” and “emotion” alongside a properly aesthetic judgment? For what propaedeutic (i.e., preparatory, educational) reasons may a beautiful object be accompanied with “charms” (a painting’s colors, an instrument’s rich tones, etc.), that appeal to our senses or instill emotions other than the “dry liking” (trockenes Wohlgefallen) Kant approves of? But since “design is what is essential” (440) to a pure judgment of taste, look up the German word for design, die Zeichnung. What is this word’s range of meanings? Why is design central, and why are “charm,” “emotion,” and “ornament” at best merely ways to “make the form intuitable more precisely, determinately, and completely” or to “enliven the presentation” (441), and at worst distractions?

A Judgment of Taste by Which We Declare an Object Beautiful under the Condition of a Determinate Concept Is Not Pure (§16)

13. On 441-42 (§16. “There are two kinds of beauty…”), according to Kant, what is “free beauty” (pulchritudo vaga)? What examples does he offer? Why is it important that our liking for such objects does not refer to any definite concept, i.e., that we don’t refer the object to a fixed purpose or concept? By contrast, what is “accessory beauty” (pulchritudo adhaerens)? Kant does not provide examples of accessory beauty (other than perhaps music with lyrics), but list a few that you can think of. Even though Kant addresses human beauty in Critique of Judgment only briefly (and not in our selections), consider it on your own: why would human beauty be “accessory” rather than “free,” like a bird of paradise, or a starfish, or instrumental music?

On the Ideal of Beauty (§17)

14. On 442 (§17. “There can be no objective rule of taste…”), why, according to Kant, can’t there be any “objective rule of taste”? To generalize from this point, why can’t we set forth an ideal or archetype of beauty in a facilely determinate, solid manner? Even so, Kant suggests that we do have some capacity to generate an ideal or archetype that aids us in judging objects as beautiful. What is the only “empirical criterion” (i.e., the only practical or “real-world” standard), according to Kant, that we can appeal to as validation of our judgments of taste? Why is that the case—what does this criterion lead us to suppose about humanity’s collective perceptual capacities? Finally, how does Kant define what he calls the “archetype of taste” (das Urbild des Geschmacks) that we may be able to generate within ourselves as a guide in making aesthetic judgments? How is it generated, and how much value does Kant grant it?

What the Modality of a Judgment of Taste Is (§18); The Subjective Necessity That We Attribute to a Judgment of Taste Is Conditioned (§19)

15. On 443 (§18, §19. “About any presentation I can say…”), how, according to Kant in §18, can it be that the beautiful has “a necessary reference to liking”? What kind of necessity is Kant referring to here? What kind of necessity is he not referring to? In §19, Kant says that the “ought” in a declaration such as, “Everyone ought to find this rose beautiful” must be spoken “only conditionally”? Why must its speaking remain merely exemplary rather than certain (“apodeictic”)? All the same, why do we nonetheless boldly “solicit everyone else’s assent” instead of keeping our judgment to ourselves?

The Necessity of the Universal Assent That We Think in a Judgment of Taste Is a Subjective Necessity That We Present as Objective by Presupposing a Common Sense (§22)

16. On 444 (§22. “Whenever we make a judgment…”), how do you understand Kant’s term “common sense” (444; Kant’s German is die Gemeinsinn; he also uses the Latin term sensus communis)? In what way is this an “ideal standard” rather than a standard grounded in empirical experience? Kant feels compelled to interrogate his own thinking on this point, so he asks, “But is there in fact such a common sense…?” and “is taste an original and natural ability, or is taste only the idea of an ability yet to be acquired…?” (444) How does he respond to these questions? Does he settle the matter, or leave it open-ended at this point? If one or both answers turned out to be “no,” what would the implications be for Kant’s theory of beauty and how we arrive at judgments of taste? Finally, in his brief “Explication” of the Fourth Moment, how does Kant again define “Beauty”?

General Comment on the First Division of the Analytic

17. On 444-45 (“If we take stock of the above…”), how does Kant sum up the aesthetic theory he has been developing throughout Book I of Critique of Judgment—namely, his exploration of what is involved in making a “judgment of taste” (die Geschmacksurteile), a judgment that an object presented to us is beautiful? He writes that “taste” (der Geschmack) is central to his analysis, and that this is “an ability to judge an object in reference to the free lawfulness of the imagination” (444). How does Kant describe the operation of the imagination in the process of making a judgment of taste? In what sense is the imagination in a state of “free play” rather than being tied down in its working? In a judgment of taste, how, according to Kant, does the imagination (see editors’ definition of “imagination” in footnote 4 on pg. 431) operate in relation to the other power of presentation; namely, the understanding (der Verstand), which generates knowledge by means of concepts?

18. General question: in Critique of Judgment, Book I. Analytic of the Beautiful, Immanuel Kant consistently reinforces a key claim that judgments of the beautiful can only be made in the absence of any “interest” in the sense of desire or bias regarding the object of one’s judgment. He posits a “subjective universality” that allows us to arrive at something like a common capacity to make similar judgments: if you say a rose is beautiful, you expect everyone else to agree; making a judgment about a beautiful thing is very different from making a judgment about a slice of pizza or judging something to be morally good or useful. All the same, on what grounds might someone object to Kant’s aesthetic principles? How might the emphasis on “disinterestedness” rub some art lovers the wrong way? What about the problem of “universality”? Is it necessarily good to emphasize uniformity in judgments about beauty? What if what one values most about works of art is their ability to provoke passionate, eccentric responses? What if one finds Kant’s theory of beauty more “culturally specific” than universal, as he claims it to be? Choose your issue and explain.

19. General question: in Critique of Judgment, Book I. Analytic of the Beautiful, Immanuel Kant says that in matters involving the merely agreeable, i.e., when something pleases us in direct connection with the senses, it would be ridiculous to demand universal assent. (§7, pp. 435-36) We would look like fools if we insisted that our pleasure in eating a bowl of Dutch chocolate ice cream be met with universal accord. All the same, he reminds us that even with regard to this lower kind of taste, “there actually is, at times, very widespread agreement” (§8, pg. 436). This confession on Kant’s part raises a question: isn’t there a widely accepted hierarchy in these matters? Don’t many of us judge others on precisely this kind of taste involving the palate, or fashion sense, or popular entertainment preferences? How do you assess the cultural significance of such judgments, which, though they may not rise to the rarified level of “aesthetic judgments,” nevertheless matter to most of us, at least to some extent?

From Book II. Analytic of the Sublime

Transition from the Power of Judging the Beautiful to that of Judging the Sublime (§23)

1. On 445-47 (§23. “The beautiful and the sublime are…”), in what respects, according to Kant, are the beautiful (die Schönheit) and the sublime (das Erhabene) similar? (445) What “significant differences” does he address between them? Which difference is the most important, and why? (446) What reason does he give for considering “the beautiful in nature” (447) more important than the “the concept of the sublime in nature” (447)? What can our experience of the beautiful do for us in terms of our relationship with and feelings toward the natural world, in Kant’s view, that our experience with the sublime cannot?

Explication of the Term Sublime (§25)

2. On 447-48 (§25 “We call sublime what is absolutely…”), how does Kant successively define the term “sublime” (das Erhabene, 447-48)? What does the expression “absolutely large” imply about the thing that calls for such a phrase? Why is it that “nothing that can be an object of the senses is […] to be called sublime” (447)? How does the feeling of the sublime arise because of an “inadequacy” of the imagination (which Kant on pg. 448 describes as “our power of estimating the magnitude of things in the world of sense”), to fulfill a task given to it by our faculty or power of reason? (See the editors’ footnote 7 on pg. 446 for a gloss on that faculty.)

On Estimating the Magnitude of Natural Things, as We Must for the Idea of the Sublime (§26)

3. On 448-49 (§26. “In order for the imagination…”), why, according to Kant, does the imagination (die Einbildungskraft) need to perform two acts to estimate the magnitude of something: “apprehension” and “comprehension” (448)? What is apparently meant by these terms? Why does the perceiver’s attempt at “comprehension” soon run into a fundamental limitation of capacity? How does Kant’s “Egyptian pyramids” analogy illustrate the problem? Moreover, why should we most properly turn to “crude nature” and neither to “products of art” (449) nor to, say, animals in our attempt to understand how the faculties work together in the experience of the sublime?

4. On 449-51 (§26. … “The infinite, however, is absolutely large…”), Kant offers a remarkable analysis of how the mind wrestles with infinity, beginning with the observation that “to be able even to think the infinite as a whole indicates a mental power that surpasses any standard of sense” (449) and leading to the declaration that “true sublimity must be sought only in the mind of the judging person…” (451 top). To the best of your understanding, explain how Kant believes the experience of the sublime arises from the mind’s confrontation with its own difficulties in appreciating the “infinite,” the “absolutely large.”

On the Quality of Liking in Our Judging of the Sublime (§27)

5. On 451-52 (§27. “The feeling that it is beyond our ability…”), how is it that the feeling most relevant to our experience of the sublime, according to Kant, is “respect” (die Achtung, 451)? What is it that we respect when we experience the sublime, and why? Kant writes that human beings, when faced with a task beyond their ordinary powers—with the sublime, a failure of the power of imagination to be adequate to what it must engage with—nonetheless are pushed towards “respect for [… their] own vocation” (451). What is the “vocation” that Kant refers to here? How does the experience of sublimity entail “a feeling of displeasure” (451) and a feeling of pleasure? (451) In what way is the experience of the sublime structurally similar to the experience of the beautiful with regard to the intimation in us of the “purposiveness of the mental powers” (452)? Ultimately, how does the experience of the sublime encourage human beings to recognize that the power of their minds is greater than anything in the material world?

On Nature as a Might (§28)

6. On 452-54 (§28. “Might is an ability that…”), in what regard does Kant suggest that nature can be a might (die Macht)? What is a might? In making a judgment of the “dynamically sublime,” why must we “consider [… nature] as an object of fear” (452)? Kant also says that “we cannot pass judgment at all on the sublime in nature if we are afraid” (452-53). For example, what would happen to our experience of sublimity if we were clinging to a flimsy branch over the edge of Niagara Falls instead of viewing the Falls (an “object of fear”) from a safe distance? In what sense does Kant claim that the experience of nature’s might or power offers us a feeling of our own superiority over, and independence from, the natural world? (453) Why doesn’t it matter that the danger isn’t real when this superiority is experienced? Finally, what does Kant suggest about the supposedly greater potential for sublimity in generalship and war than in politics and peace? (454)

On the Modality of a Judgment about the Sublime in Nature (§29)

7. On 454-55 (“§29. Beautiful nature contains innumerable…”), how does Kant differentiate between the experience of beauty and the experience of the sublime with regard to the amount of “culture” or cultural preparation required? (454) Why is the sublime more demanding than the beautiful in this way? At the same time, how does Kant argue that neither judgments about beauty nor judgments about the sublime are a matter of “mere convention” but are instead grounded in “human nature” itself (455)?

On Taste as a Kind of Sensus Communis (§40)

8. On 455-57 (“§40. We often call the power of judgment…”), what is Kant’s definition of the sensus communis, or “common sense” (456), and why is such a capacity important to his framework for explaining aesthetic judgments? In what way does this sense involve more than simply being able to compare our own judgments with other people’s actual judgments? With what do we compare them instead? With regard to the “common human understanding” (gemeine Menschenverstand, not to be conflated with sensus communis), what three maxims does Kant offer us? In 1784, long before publishing his Critique of Judgment,Kant had written an essay called “What is Enlightenment?” Here in the Critique, how does he define “enlightenment” (die Aufklärung) in the process of analyzing the “common human understanding” (456)? Finally, how can taste “be called a sensus communis with greater justice than can sound understanding” (457)? How does Kant go on to define this key term, “taste” (der Geschmack)?

On Art in General (§43)

9. On 457-58 (§43. “1. Art is distinguished from nature…”), Kant writes that “Art is distinguished from nature as doing (facere) is from acting or operating in general (agere)…” (457). What further distinctions does he make so as to clarify what is meant by “art” (die Kunst)? Why, for example, isn’t the amazing work that bees do in making honeycombs fairly labeled art? How, in addition, does Kant distinguish art from science—why isn’t something art unless we can’t carry out the work as soon as we know what the work is? How is art, according to Kant, also to be distinguished from craft (das Handwerk)? Why does art also require some measure of “constraint” (458)—what happens when that constraint is not present in the production of art?

Fine Art Is the Art of Genius (§46)

10. On 458-59 (§46. “Genius is the talent…”), how does Kant, in this section, most fully define “genius” (das Genie) in relation to nature and art? (458 bottom) What four precepts does he establish on the basis of how genius relates to the notion of “rules” that might govern its operations (459)? Why is originality a vital property of genius, and why must genius be able to serve as “a standard or rule by which to judge” works of art? How does “nature” prescribe rules as or through genius? How might we compare Kant’s treatment of “genius” with that of the romantic theorists Coleridge (Leitch 587-97), Shelley (Leitch 598-619), or Wordsworth (Leitch 563-86)?

On the Relation of Genius to Taste (§48)

11. On 459 (§48. “Judging beautiful objects to be such…”), in §48, how does Kant distinguish “taste” (der Geschmack) from “genius” (das Genie, 459)? How does he go on to differentiate “natural beauty” (die Naturschönheit, which, in Kant’s hierarchy, unlike that of Hegel after him, is considered the superior kind of beauty) and “artistic beauty” (die Kunstschönheit) in a way necessary to a proper understanding of genius and taste?

On the Powers of the Mind Which Constitute Genius (§49)

12. On 460-61 (§49. “Of certain products that are expected…”), how does Kant define and expand upon the term “Spirit” (der Geist, 460) in relation to his thinking on the matter of genius and art? In what sense is Spirit the “animating principle in the mind” (460)? In what ability does this “animating principle” consist? By what means does the imagination go beyond what nature itself gives us, beyond empirical experience’s bounds, and free us from the overbearing “law of association” (460)? Why is poetry the art that most fully demonstrates the power of the imagination to present us with “aesthetic ideas” (460), as Kant defines that phrase? Under what circumstances, according to Kant, can we say that the imagination is truly “creative” (461)?

13. On 461-62 (§49. … “In a word, an aesthetic idea…”), how does Kant summarize the nature and stimulating effects of “an aesthetic idea” (ästhetische Idee 461) as it pertains to the faculty of imagination? What further summation of “genius” does he also offer in this passage—what two abilities or talents does genius require? What sort of “communication” (461) from creator to perceiver or reader does the second ability make possible? Finally, how does Kant sum up the four main things he wants us to understand about the nature and power of “genius” (461 bottom – 462)? To what extent does his now fully developed explanation strike you as a Romantic theory of genius? Explain.

14. On 462 (§49. … “These presuppositions being given…”), Kant offers another definition of genius (das Genie): “genius is the exemplary originality of a subject’s natural endowment in the free use of his cognitive powers.” Why does he reject the notion that one artist should merely “copy” the work of another? What is the more productive way for one genius to approach the work of another, and why? How do “schools” of art arise (in painting, say, the Florentine school, which boasted artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo; more recently, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; impressionism, cubism, abstract expressionism, etc.), and to what extent does it make sense for its members to imitate the work of their progenitor or their fellows? Finally, why is a certain boldness entirely appropriate for a genius, but not for an imitator?

On Beauty as the Symbol of Morality (§59)

15. On 462-63 (§59. “Now I maintain that the beautiful is the symbol…”), how, according to Kant, is beauty the “symbol of the morally good” (462)? How does he analogize the experience of the beautiful with the demand we make on behalf of the morally good? (463) What enables us to make a connection between beauty and morality, rather than suppose the two must remain completely separate? How is “taste” (der Geschmack) a sort of bridge from pleasurable aesthetic experience to the realm of ethics, one that allows us “to make the transition from sensible charm to a habitual moral interest without making too violent a leap” (463)? To what extent, then, is Kant offering a low-key but firm defense of aesthetic experience as something that deserves the appreciation or those who are mainly concerned with the moral dimension of life?

16. General question: In our selection from “Analytic of the Sublime” in Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant directly says that the experience of the beautiful (die Schönheit) is more worthwhile, more affirming, than the experience of the sublime (das Erhabene). (Book 2, §23, pg. 447) This makes sense in keeping with Kant’s Enlightenment principles, which seek balance, harmony, and accommodation over the struggle to overcome the chaos that the sublime implies. But from the time of the English Romantics onward, even to postmodernism, doesn’t it seem as if there’s a decided preference for sublimity over beauty? If so, why might that be? Or is it an overstatement to say we have all but abandoned beauty for sublimity? State your own view of this issue.

17. General question: What is philosophical idealism, as opposed to philosophical realism? (Research these terms on a reliable internet site.) How does philosophical idealism describe the relationship between the human mind and the external or material world? What implications might idealism of Immanuel Kant’s sort in Critique of Judgment and other works have for personal identity, politics, collective social organization and art theory? In responding, consider that while Kant was more a man of the Enlightenment (his essay “What is Enlightenment?” offers us a brilliant exploration of that period) than a passionate romantic philosopher, his assertion of the mind’s great powers and remarkable theory of the sublime at least indirectly inspired the English and Continental Romantics to their own revolutionary poetics.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake