Subjective Universality in Kant s Aesthetics Wilson

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1 Subjective Universality in Kant s Aesthetics von Ross Wilson 1. Auflage Subjective Universality in Kant s Aesthetics Wilson schnell und portofrei erhältlich bei beck-shop.de DIE FACHBUCHHANDLUNG Peter Lang Bern 2007 Verlag C.H. Beck im Internet: ISBN Inhaltsverzeichnis: Subjective Universality in Kant s Aesthetics Wilson

2 Introduction Near the end of the Preface to the CPJ, Kant comments on the particular difficulties encountered in the investigation that he is about to undertake. He begins by noting that he does not intend to provide instruction for taste but that he only means to make taste the subject of transcendental critique, which is to say that the Third Critique will investigate the conditions of the possibility of judgements of taste. However, even once the specific intention has been clarified, some not entirely avoidable obscurity in the solution of this problem which nature has made so involuted will still need to be forgiven (5:170; p.58). Kant delares that what will be crucial is the clear statement of the principle of judgement for which the critique is searching, although, in this case, there will be a lack of the clarity that is to be expected in other critiques. The reason for this difficulty, according to Kant, is that it is not a matter here of cognition from concepts and it is wrong, therefore, to expect the clarity of conceptual exposition. It should be noted that this difficulty will be encountered in particular in the first half of the work, the Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgement, because, as Kant notes, in the second half of the work, the Critique of the Teleological Power of Judgement, he achieves the kind of cognition from concepts for which clarity can indeed be expected. Moreover, a further source of the difficulty of aesthetic judgement, which is not explicitly mentioned and which is perhaps contrary to the chief impression that is given here, is the fact that aesthetic judgement is not even straightforwardly non-conceptual. While Kant repeatedly separates aesthetic from cognitive judgement throughout the Third Critique, he also repeatedly insists on their similarity. Kant s comments at the end of the Preface are far from a mere excuse for the obscurity of his book. On the contrary, he aims to bring to light the obscurity of aesthetic judgement itself. The difficulty in the CPJ is thus the difficulty of aesthetic judgement rather than a difficulty with it. It is through the notion of subjective universality,

3 which is the topic of this book, that Kant attempts to illuminate the peculiar status of aesthetic judgements: while they cannot be compelled by proofs, they are expressed as if they could be. This apparent paradox constitutes the fundamental difficulty of aesthetic judgement, which Kant is determined to examine without thereby explaining it away in the fashion of either objectivizing rationalists or subjectivizing empiricists. What is involved in this examination and its inherent difficulty is further elaborated, deep into the CPJ, in 57, Resolution of the antinomy of taste. The purpose of the Resolution is to show how neither the objectivist position, which insists on the possibility of deciding aesthetic disputes by means of proofs, nor the subjectivist position, which would leave each to her or his own taste, is adequate to aesthetic judgement as a judgement combined with a claim to the assent of others. Having presented his argument for the resolution of the two opposing positions in aesthetics, Kant remarks again that aesthetic judgement cannot be fully accounted for by the usual means: We cannot do any more than remove this conflict in the claims and counterclaims of taste. To provide a determinate objective principle of taste, by means of which its judgments could be guided, examined, and proved, is absolutely impossible; for then it would not be a judgment of taste. The subjective principle, namely the indeterminate idea of the supersensible in us, can only be indicated as the sole key to the decipherment of this faculty which is hidden to us even in its sources, but there is nothing by which it can be made more comprehensible. (5:341; p.217 [translation modified]) Again, Kant implicitly differentiates his investigation into aesthetic judgement from the kind of manual of tasteful instruction that was especially common during the mid- to late-eighteenth century, as well as from the philosophical attempts to fix aesthetic judgement in an objective principle. His insistence upon the impossibility of establishing an objective principle by which judgements of taste could be measured dictates his careful choice of language when describing the subjective principle through which the antinomy of taste is resolved. This principle can only be indicated as the key to understanding the faculty of taste because it is impossible to determine the indeterminate idea of the supersensible in us in more clearly propositional terms. Moreover, what has been achieved by the formulation of a subjective 14

4 principle here is the solution of a puzzle, rather than the establishment of a determinate objective principle by which this faculty in a phrase that deliberately hints at the process of conceptual [begrifflich] determination from which aesthetic judgement is to be distinguished can be made more comprehensible [begreiflich]. (5:341; p.217) Establishing the combination of aesthetic judgements with a claim to subjective universality involves an unavoidable obscurity. This book, therefore, focuses upon Kant s notion of the subjective universality of aesthetic judgement as his attempt to elucidate the difficulty of aesthetic judgement. It is helpful to think of this difficulty as having two sides or aspects. First, the difficulty of aesthetic judgement concerns its relation to the object judged beautiful or sublime. It is clear that aesthetic judgements are made about objects in some sense. This can be seen in the fact that aesthetic judgements are expressed in the form this flower, or this poem, is beautiful, or, more problematically for Kant as we will see, this waterfall, or this pyramid, is sublime. In this way, then, aesthetic judgements are very much like particular sorts of conceptually determined cognitive judgements. However, it is also fundamental to Kant s aesthetics that aesthetic judgements are distinguished from cognitive judgements primarily because it is impossible to demonstrate that something is beautiful or sublime by recourse to proofs. This situation that aesthetic judgements are expressed as if they were cognitive judgements about objects but that, unlike cognitive judgements, they are incapable of being proven constitutes what might be called the objective aspect of the difficulty of aesthetic judgement. It is matched, second, by the subjective aspect of the difficulty of aesthetic judgement. Central to Kant s view of aesthetic judgement is that it is subjective in the sense that it is based upon feeling, which, as he emphasizes a number of times throughout the Third Critique and elsewhere, is entirely subjective. Indeed, in exploring feeling, Kant s aesthetics contains his most sustained examination of what is subjective in what might be described as this radical sense. But while it is subjective, aesthetic judgement must also be demandable of everyone else in order to qualify as a judgement of taste or as a judgement of the sublime at all. Of course, the two aspects objective and subjective of this difficulty of aesthetic judgement are related. The object plays a particu- 15

5 lar, carefully delimited role in aesthetic judgement because such judgement is ultimately subjective; what is subjective in an aesthetic judgement is importantly modified in the light of the fact that it must be shareable by all and that, therefore, it forms part of a judgement that seems to predicate something of an object. The relation of the two aspects of this difficulty of aesthetic judgement with subjective universality has thus begun to come into view. That an aesthetic judgement appears to have its basis in some predicate of an object is a result of the demand that everyone agree with this judgement, which is to say that this appearance is a result of the demand for subjective universality. This is the case because demands for universal agreement are most often combined with those kinds of judgement for which such agreement can be compelled, such as, of course, particular kinds of objectively determined judgement. What the meaning of the subjective universality of aesthetic judgement is will also depend very much upon what role the subject plays in aesthetic judgement, and thus upon what subjective means here. This is crucial, then, to the apparently paradoxical concern of Kant s aesthetics with the combination [ ] of what is most individual (feeling) and what is universally shared, or apt to be shared. 1 The rest of this Introduction gives a brief account of my discussion in the following chapters of Kant s attempt to construe this combination in the idea of the subjective universality of aesthetic judgement. Chapter One s main concern is with the development of the idea of subjective universality in Kant s philosophy prior to its more thoroughgoing elaboration in the Third Critique. This chapter, therefore, deals with a range of texts from both Kant s theoretical and practical philosophy. Indeed, the relation of aesthetic judgement to cognitive judgement in particular is a chief concern of this book and this investigation of some of the central aspects of Kant s account of conceptual judgement is therefore important to it. On the one hand, aesthetic judgement is expressed as if it were a cognitive judgement by virtue of its claim to subjective universality. On the other hand, Kant insists on the difference of aesthetic from conceptually deter- 1 Béatrice Longuenesse, Kant on the Human Standpoint (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p

6 mined judgement. This similarity and difference between aesthetic and cognitive judgement already begins to emerge when we examine the role of subjective universality in Kant s philosophy before the CPJ. Crucially, it is shown in Chapter One that subjective universality before the Third Critique is never thought to be obtainable other than by recourse to objective universality or in the case of individual judgements of experience, which is the most important case for the CPJ because it is such judgements to which aesthetic judgements are most similar conceptual determination. No claim to subjective universality, that is, stands alone in Kant s theoretical and practical philosophy, and the articulation of subjective universality without support from objective universality or conceptual determination in the Third Critique is a significant development of his earlier thinking. Of course, such an investigation into the role of subjective universality before the CPJ would stop short were it not also to consider the deployment of this and connected notions in Kant s practical philosophy as well. Indeed, when we turn to the practical philosophy, a different set of concerns attaches to terms such as subjective, objective, and universal, as well as to the idea of subjective universality. Perhaps most importantly, in his practical philosophy Kant begins forcefully to elaborate a distinction that will be important to his aesthetics between mere generality and genuine universality. This distinction is crucial, of course, to his case against merely empirical aesthetics. Chapter One, therefore, has a twofold approach to the development of the idea of subjective universality in Kant s philosophy prior to the CPJ. It is first of all a historical or genealogical investigation into some of the central terms and the central idea, that of subjective universality to the Third Critique. In this way, it provides the background to the arguments advanced in Kant s aesthetics. Second, such an investigation is necessary for the fulfilment of the more interpretative task of showing not only how the idea of subjective universality in the CPJ develops from earlier deployments of it but also how it perhaps departs from such deployments. The central features of the idea of subjective universality having been established, Chapter Two is thus more fully in a position to explore how the subjective universality of aesthetic judgement is de- 17

7 veloped in the Third Critique. The central focus of this chapter is on the way in which Kant insists that aesthetic judgements are not objectively determined while at the same time acknowledging that they are unavoidably expressed as if they were. Indeed, Kant thinks that it is only on the basis of his view of aesthetic judgement that beauty can be a meaningful designation at all. This is a striking claim because the role of the object is extremely complicated in judgements of taste and, moreover, as various post-modernist commentators have repeatedly sought to emphasize, in judgements of the sublime as well. 2 First, then, I begin Chapter Two with a more detailed examination of Kant s insistence that aesthetics can only be critique and not doctrine because no objective principle can be supplied for it. Second, I turn to Kant s concern with the way in which aesthetic judgements are expressed as if they were cognitive judgements. Indeed, Kant s attention to the way in which such judgements are expressed is perhaps unusual given his perceived indifference to language as such. 3 Furthermore, this attention to the expression of aesthetic judgements becomes increasingly complicated in connection with judgements of the sublime. Kant insists a number of times that it is wrong to call an object sublime. However, it is clear from close attention to the Analytic of the Sublime that, in fact, this ban on calling an object sublime is not or cannot be maintained. The logic of as if which rules the Analytic of Beauty is, then, extended to the Analytic of the Sublime as well. 2 For an example of the post-modernist commentary on Kant s theory of the sublime see Jean-François Lyotard, Lectures on the Analytic of the Sublime (1991), trans. by Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), pp For a useful summary of what Lyotard means by the term differend, which is central to his account of the sublime, see his The Differend: Phrases in Dispute (1983), trans. by Georges Van Den Abbeele, Theory and History of Literature, 46 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p.xi. 3 This criticism of Kant s alleged lack of consideration of language was perhaps first made by Johann Georg Hamann. See his A Review of Kant s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), in Ronald Gregor Smith, J.G. Hamann : A Study in Christian Existence (London: Collins, 1960), pp and Metacritique of the Purism of Reason (written 1784; published 1800), in Gwen Griffith Dickson, Johann Georg Hamann s Relational Metacriticism, Theologische Bibliothek Töpelmann, 67 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1995), pp

8 Roughly speaking, the opening two chapters of this book deal mainly with what I have called the objective aspect of the difficulty of aesthetic judgement in Kant s account. Thus, by the end of Chapter Two, this book will have considered in detail the main features of the kind of claim that Kant takes to be expressed in an aesthetic judgement, with particular attention having been paid to the peculiarities of this judgement. Therefore, the third and fourth chapters turn to the second, subjective, aspect of the difficulty of aesthetic judgement. Of course, the flaws in any such stark division between different aspects of Kant s philosophy in general and of his aesthetics in particular can immediately be seen. The concerns of the first two chapters are hardly left behind in what follows them, but rather those concerns are built upon by means of an investigation into the kind of subjectivity that appears to be presupposed in the Third Critique. First of all, Chapter Three establishes the background to such an investigation. It has been argued that there is no role for the Kantian subject in Kantian aesthetics because the pure concepts of the understanding and of the I think, which form the core of Kant s theory of the kind of subjectivity presupposed by cognition, are not ascribed a comparable role in aesthetic judgement. This chapter investigates precisely the theory of subjectivity that is supposed not to be operative in the Third Critique. What emerges through detailed investigation of Kant s theory of the I think and of apperception is the emphasis Kant places on the emptiness of the subject. By some, this has been seen as the clearest virtue of Kantian subjectivity; by others, it has been seen as its chief failing. While Chapter Three ends by beginning to suggest some ways in which the Kantian subject might, as it were, be filled out especially by recourse to the discussion of the soul in the LM, the textual status of which will be touched upon here, this task is the main focus of Chapter Four s investigation into the notion of the entire subject in Kant s aesthetics. What does Kant s intermittently deployed but important phrase entire subject indicate? On the one hand, Kant emphasizes that the feeling upon which aesthetic judgement is based is entirely subjective. The role of feeling is thus explored in the first section of Chapter Four. In particular, Kant s various theories of life are central here because of the connection that he establishes between the feeling of pleasure and the feeling of life. On the other hand, 19

9 moreover, the term entire subject seems also to suggest a particular type of subjectivity that is developed, albeit intermittently, in his aesthetics. What is crucial here is that, again, Kant s aesthetics demands the serious revision of a number of his central doctrines. Thus the concepts of life, subjectivity, and, importantly, of the human being are radically altered in the context of their deployment in the CPJ. It may be suspected whether at this point this book will have ceased to be an exploration of Kant s aesthetics and turned instead into a discussion of various aspects of Kant s theory of subjectivity, human being, and so forth, for which his aesthetics simply happens to be the main source. Of course, such a suspicion would rest on a false opposition because while information regarding the kind of subjectivity that Kant was beginning to explore toward the end of his career is perhaps pre-eminently to be found in the Third Critique, it is also clear that his notion of subjective universality cannot adequately be understood without a proper conception of what subjectivity would be here. Indeed, the precise relation between Kant s insistence on the subjectivity of taste and the claim to universality is developed more fully in Chapter Five. This relation is brought into focus by one of the many apparent paradoxes of the CPJ. While Kant argues that the view that taste is merely one s own is the slogan of relativist aesthetics, he also insists that taste must be one s own in order for it to be capable of the genuine universality that he seeks to establish for it in the Third Critique. In many ways, this double insistence goes to the heart of the frequently paradoxical attempt in the CPJ to consider the universal communication of what is most individual. This chapter, therefore, considers some of the most significant and controversial arguments for the subjective universality of aesthetic judgement encountered in Kant s aesthetics. In particular, I explore the way in which the relation between judgement and pleasure is envisaged in the much-studied 9, as well as the role of exemplarity in Kant s arguments that taste is expressed as if with a universal voice and that it relies upon the presupposition of a common sense. Finally in this chapter, where it was seen in Chapter Four that Kant s aesthetics involves a revision of his sense of what a human being might be, likewise here I touch upon his notion of humanity [Humanität] developed toward the end of the Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgement. Humanity, it emerges, 20

10 is associated with the paradoxical power universally to communicate precisely what is most internal. The main body of this book, then, is dedicated to detailed examination of the idea of subjective universality in the CPJ. However, that is not its only aim. Rather, this book also aspires to give a sense of what the Third Critique would mean for the theory and practice of aesthetic judgement. The Conclusion thus performs two tasks. First, it sets out how the kind of reading offered here might begin to answer some especially critical engagements with the CPJ. Second, it briefly explores what role statements of aesthetic judgement might actually be like on Kant s view. In this way, it aims to fulfil the second of the two promises that have been made for this book in this Introduction: to explore the inexpungible difficulty of aesthetic judgement on Kant s account and to establish what such an exploration would mean for the theory and practice of aesthetic judgement today. 21

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