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Kant and the Claims of Taste, here published for the first time in paperback in a revised version, has become since its initial publication in the standard.
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We have here then, in the first place, a basis for an a priori Philosophy of Taste; and Kant works out its details with great elaboration. He borrowed little from the writings of his predecessors, but struck out, as was ever his plan, a line of his own. Of other writers on Beauty, he only names Batteux and Lessing.

Edition: current; Page: [ xix ] Batteux was a French writer of repute who had attempted a twofold arrangement of the Arts as they may be brought under Space and under Time respectively, a mode of classification which would naturally appeal to Kant. Following the guiding thread of the categories, he declares that the aesthetical judgement about Beauty is according to quality disinterested; a point which had been laid down by such different writers as Hutcheson and Moses Mendelssohn.

As to quantity, the judgement about beauty gives universal satisfaction, although it is based on no definite concept. The universality is only subjective; but still it is there. The maxim Trahit sua quemque voluptas does not apply to the pleasure afforded by a pure judgement about beauty.

As to relation, the characteristic of the object called beautiful is that it betrays a purposiveness without definite purpose. The pleasure is a priori, independent on the one hand of the charms of sense or the emotions of mere feeling, as Winckelmann had already declared; and on the other hand is a pleasure quite distinct from that taken which we feel when viewing perfection, with which Wolff and Baumgarten had identified it. By his distinction between free and dependent beauty, which we also find in the pages of Hutcheson, Kant further develops his doctrine of the Edition: current; Page: [ xx ] freedom of the pure judgement of taste from the thraldom of concepts.

Finally, the satisfaction afforded by the contemplation of a beautiful object is a necessary satisfaction. This necessity is not, to be sure, theoretical like the necessity attaching to the Law of Causality; nor is it a practical necessity as is the need to assume the Moral Law as the guiding principle of conduct. But it may be called exemplary; that is, we may set up our satisfaction in a beautiful picture as setting an example to be followed by others.

It is plain, however, that this can only be assumed under certain presuppositions. We must presuppose the idea of a sensus communis or common sense in which all men share. As knowledge admits of being communicated to others, so also does the feeling for beauty. For the relation between the cognitive faculties requisite for Taste is also requisite for Intelligence or sound Understanding, and as we always presuppose the latter to be the same in others as in ourselves, so may we presuppose the former.

The analysis of the Sublime which follows that of the Beautiful is interesting and profound; indeed Schopenhauer regarded it as the best part of the Critique of the Aesthetical Judgement. The general characteristics of our judgements about the Sublime are similar to those already laid down in the case of the Beautiful; but there are marked differences in the two cases. If the pleasure taken in beauty arises from a feeling of the purposiveness of the object in its relation to the subject, that in sublimity Edition: current; Page: [ xxi ] rather expresses a purposiveness of the subject in respect of the object.

Nothing in nature is sublime; and the sublimity really resides in the mind and there alone.

2Paul Guyer Kant and the Claims of Taste 2nd Ed. 1997

Indeed, as true Beauty is found, properly speaking, only in beauty of form, the idea of sublimity is excited rather by those objects which are formless and exhibit a violation of purpose. A distinction not needed in the case of the Beautiful becomes necessary when we proceed to further analyse the Sublime.

The Pleasures of Contra‐purposiveness: Kant, the Sublime, and Being Human

For in aesthetical judgements about the Beautiful the mind is in restful contemplation; but in the case of the Sublime a mental movement is excited pp. This movement, as it is pleasing, must involve a purposiveness in the harmony of the mental powers; and the purposiveness may be either in reference to the faculty of cognition or to that of desire.


In the former case the sublime is called the Mathematically Sublime—the sublime of mere magnitude—the absolutely great; in the latter it is the sublime of power, the Dynamically Sublime. Gioberti, an Italian writer on the philosophy of Taste, has pushed this distinction so far as to find in it an explanation of the relation between Beauty and Sublimity. In both cases, however, we find that the feeling of the Sublime awakens in us a feeling of the supersensible destination of man. The objects of nature, he continues, which we call sublime, inspire us with a feeling of pain rather than of pleasure; as Lucretius has it—.

As no extraneous charm must mingle with the satisfaction felt in a beautiful object, if the judgement Edition: current; Page: [ xxiii ] about beauty is to remain pure; so in the case of the sublime we must not be afraid of the object which yet in certain aspects is fearful.

Switzerland had not then become the recreation-ground of Europe; and though natural beauty was a familiar topic with poets and painters it was not generally recognised that taste has also to do with the sublime. And it is not a little remarkable that the man who could write thus feelingly about the emotions inspired by grand and savage scenery, had never seen a mountain in his life. The power and the insight of his observations here are in marked contrast to the poverty of some of his remarks about the characteristics of beauty.

For instance, he puts forward the curious doctrine that colour in a picture is only an extraneous charm, and does not really add to the beauty of the form delineated, nay rather distracts the mind from it. His criticisms on this point, if sound, would make Flaxman a truer artist than Titian or Paolo Veronese. But indeed his discussion of Painting or Music is not very appreciative; he was, to the end, a creature of pure Reason. Upon the analysis he gives of the Arts, little Edition: current; Page: [ xxiv ] need be said here. Art differs from Science in the absence of definite concepts in the mind of the artist.

It thus happens that the great artist can rarely communicate his methods; indeed he cannot explain them even to himself. Poeta nascitur, non fit; and the same is true in every form of fine art. Genius is, in short, the faculty of presenting aesthetical Ideas; an aesthetical Idea being an intuition of the Imagination, to which no concept is adequate. And it is by the excitation of such ineffable Ideas that a great work of art affects us. That nature appears to be full of purpose is mere matter of fact.


It displays purposiveness in respect of our faculties of cognition, in those of its phenomena which we designate beautiful. And also in its organic products we observe methods of operation which we can only explain by describing them as processes in which means are used to accomplish certain ends, as processes that are purposive. In our observation of natural phenomena, as Kuno Fischer puts it, we judge their forms aesthetically, and their life teleologically.

We may either say that it was actually designed to be beautiful by the Supreme Force behind Nature, or we may say that purposiveness is not really resident in nature, but that our perception of it is due to the subjective needs of our judging faculty. We have to contemplate beautiful objects as if they were purposive, but they may not be so in reality. And this latter idealistic doctrine is what Kant falls back upon. He appeals in support of it, to the phenomena of crystallisation pp.

Kant and the Claims of Taste : Paul Guyer :

The beauty of a rock crystal is apparently produced without any forethought on the part of nature, and Edition: current; Page: [ xxvi ] he urges that we are not justified in asserting dogmatically that any laws distinct from those of mechanism are needed to account for beauty in other cases. Mechanism can do so much; may it not do all? But no one could maintain that from this definition it follows that we are not compelled to postulate design in the mind of the artist who paints a beautiful picture. If we watch, e. The operations of nature in organised bodies seem to be of an entirely different character from mere mechanical processes; we cannot construe them to ourselves except under the hypothesis that nature in them is working towards a designed end.

The language of biology eloquently shows the impossibility of eliminating at least the idea of purpose from our investigations into the phenomena of life, growth, and reproduction.

Kant and the Claims of Taste

A doctrine, like that of Epicurus, in which every natural phenomenon is regarded as the result of the blind drifting of atoms in accordance with purely mechanical laws, Edition: current; Page: [ xxviii ] really explains nothing, and least of all explains that illusion in our teleological judgements which leads us to assume purpose where really there is none.

It has been urged by Kirchmann and others that this distinction between Technic and Mechanism, on which Kant lays so much stress, has been disproved by the progress of modern science.

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The doctrines, usually associated with the name of Darwin, of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest, quite sufficiently explain, it is said, on mechanical principles the semblance of purpose with which nature mocks us. The presence of order is not due to any purpose behind the natural operation, but to the inevitable disappearance of the disorderly.

It would be absurd, of course, to claim for Kant that he anticipated the Darwinian doctrines of development; and yet passages are not wanting in his writings in which he takes a view of the continuity of species with which modern science would have little fault to find. But he is careful to add that such a theory, even if established, would not eliminate purpose from the universe; it would indeed suggest that certain special processes having the semblance of purpose may be elucidated on mechanical principles, but on the whole, purposive operation on the part of Mother Nature it would still be needful to assume p.

Crude materialism thus affording no explanation of the purposiveness in nature, we go on to ask what other theories are logically possible. We may dismiss at once the doctrine of Hylozoism, according to which the purposes in nature are explained Edition: current; Page: [ xxx ] in reference to a world-soul, which is the inner principle of the material universe and constitutes its life. For such a doctrine is self-contradictory, inasmuch as lifelessness, inertia, is the essential characteristic of matter, and to talk of living matter is absurd p.

A much more plausible system is that of Spinoza, who aimed at establishing the ideality of the principle of natural purposes. He regarded the world whole as a complex of manifold determinations inhering in a single simple substance; and thus reduced our concepts of the purposive in nature to our own consciousness of existing in an all-embracing Being.

But on reflection we see that this does not so much explain as explain away the purposiveness of nature; it gives us an unity of inherence in one Substance, but not an unity of causal dependence on one Substance p. And this latter would be necessary in order to explain the unity of purpose which nature exhibits in its phenomenal working.

Spinozism, therefore, does not give what it pretends to give; it puts us off with a vague and unfruitful unity of ground, when what we seek is a unity that shall itself contain the causes of the differences manifest in nature. We have left then as the only remaining possible doctrine, Theism, which represents natural purposes as produced in accordance with the Will and Design of an Intelligent Author and Governor of Nature.

Thus the contemplation of natural purposes, i.