kant addenda

kant walk 2

Joachim Koester The Kant Walk #2, 2003-2004, framed color photograph, 81cm x 69cm

This addenda is to follow-up to my previous post “on Kant’s aesthetics.”  The Curator dropped by with  comments on my notes:

The Curator: “Aurelio, it seems that you’ve made a bit of a mistake in your interpretation here, and while I don’t want to be confrontational, I think I ought to explain why I disagree with you.

I think the basic problem rests in your understanding of the word “subjective.” In common parlance today, we use that word to describe things that are not universalizable, which applies most frequently to the common view of aesthetic judgment. But this is not what Kant means by the word. For Kant, beauty is “subjective” in that it does not exist in the object itself; it is a feature of our judgment about objects. This doesn’t translate to “there is no accounting for taste,” though.

In fact, in the Critique of Judgment, Kant goes to great lengths to account for taste and to prove the “intersubjective validity” of aesthetic judgments. Just because beauty is not in the object doesn’t mean it isn’t valid for me to judge a thing as beautiful, and it doesn’t mean that all aesthetic “judgments” are equally valid.

The full exposition of this is in sections 30-40 of the Critique of Judgment. The argument is commonly called the “Deduction of Taste.” Without going into much detail, the basic thrust of it is that we all have the same cognitive faculties of judgment, so when we make aesthetic judgments we are relying on a sense that everyone has. Kant calls this “common sense” (also different from the way we usually use that phrase). Since everyone has that sense, valid aesthetic judgments are valid for everyone or universalizable as long as we don’t try to say that beauty exists in things themselves.

I agree that this is not really a satisfactory account of taste, but at any rate, I think it’s clear enough that Kant says there IS accounting for taste, and that the beautiful is in fact NOT “subjective” in the way that we usually mean it.

Of course, Kant agrees with you that it’s pointless to try to argue about beauty and expect the argument to get anywhere using concepts, so perhaps your basic point is unchanged by all this.”

 Aurelio: …I was not making the claim that because a judgment of beauty is subjective (i.e. of the subject, that which is felt by the subject) that there is no accounting for taste. I meant that there is no accounting for taste (concerning the beautiful) because as Kant illustrates it cannot be proven by concepts. Kant does, as you say “account” for taste in great detail, but he does say that a judgment of beauty cannot be proven, is subjective, & that it claims universality. Am I really that far off?  Perhaps I should’ve left the cliché out.   

I am thankful The Curator brought me to this nuanced clarification & I apologize for any discomfort over my omission.   I blame the oversight on the delicate intricacies of Kant’s theories that are a spectacular array of precision & are always potentially trenchant for the casual reader (me).

I found a paper online (which I recommend reading for a greater understanding of sensus communis) by Antoon Van den Braembussche that I’ll use to demonstrate that I was “mistaken” to not mention Kant’s sensus communis as it relates to the subjective-universality.  Van den Braembussche writes: “So, according to Kant, our judgment of taste is subjective and nevertheless involves at the same time a claim to being valid for everyone. Our judgment of taste is subjective and at the same time universal. This subjective universality, as it cannot be based on an objective principle, is rooted in ‘a subjective principle, which determines only by feeling rather than concepts, though nonetheless with universal validity, what is liked or disliked.’ And this principle is called by Kant sensus communis.

            This argument of Kant is the locus classicus of the idea of sensus communis. For Kant it is an a priori principle of every judgment of taste; it explains why we assume that our aesthetic judgments will be shared by others, why they are transcendentally necessary.”

Without going into excessive & horrifying (Kantian) detail, the subjective is still: of the subject, or as the subject feels.  The difference is that when one makes a judgment of taste, her appeal to universality (that everyone should believe her judgment of taste to be valid) is an aspect of common sense—sensus communis.  The sensus communis is still a feature of the subjective as we know it & it does not alter my previous view on subjectivity.  While we make a judgment that an object is beautiful, contained within the judgment is the notion that it beautiful for everyone else.  Sensus communis could be understood (very roughly) as a “common-feeling.”  This common feeling is how we “justify” our claim that something that is beautiful must be the same judgment for all (according to Kant).  Sensus communis is presupposed within the aesthetic judgement, it “goes without saying” & it is a prioriSensus communis is a feature of Kant’s aesthetic subjectivity.  Basically, that we can feel beauty subjectively yet the underlying sensus communis almost tricks us into thinking it should be the same for all.  This enhances subjectivity more than it corrects it. 

We are not of the same rational mind when concerning judgments of taste, but since Kant made this clear & it is generally accepted that we can all agree that we’ll sometimes disagree on matters of taste (aesthetics)!  

Van den Braembusshe writes in his post-script that: …sensus communis is something which cannot be put into words or clear concepts. In retrospect, writing or even speaking about sensus communis […] is always questionable: it is above all an experience, which is beyond (or beneath) any discursive or rational argument. And yet, philosophy cannot avoid writing or speaking about it, because it concerns the deeper layers of any human and even transcultural challenge to communicate in a sense, which is not dictated by explicit reasoning or doctrinal commitments. The latter have indeed the tendency to divide people all over the world.”

The Curator: I appreciate your taking my comment so seriously. I particularly liked the link you gave in your response to my original comment:  http://www.uri.edu/personal/szunjic/philos/deduct.htm

This is a nice, detailed laying-out of the whole Deduction of Taste. I would refer you particularly to the Antimony of Taste, sections 56 and 57 (about two thirds of the way down the page). This explains the section of the Critique in which Kant shows that taste is not based on concepts but that judgments of taste can nevertheless be intersubjectively valid.

This argument, perhaps unfortunately, relies heavily on Kant’s preceding critiques, where he claims to show that there must be something beyond what we perceive to “ground” what we perceive. Although we can’t have rational, determinate-conceptual knowledge of that something beyond (the “suprasensible”) we know it is there because it logically has to be there (according to Kant). Its existence allows us to know things and to say that there is truth and falsehood, a “matter of fact” about the things we experience.

In his solution to the Antimony of Taste, Kant uses this same argument. We know there are judgments of taste, so Kant asks what makes these judgments possible. His answer is the suprasensible. Judgments of taste are, as Van den Braembussche has it, “rooted” in the suprasensible. Since they’re rooted in something, there is a fact of the matter about them. Hence, they cannot be relative.

There is an important point here about the difference between being proven by rational concepts and referring to concepts, as well as an important distinction between determinate and indeterminate concepts. I won’t try to rehash this, because I think the link I referenced above does a better job than I could. Suffice it to say that a complete relativism of taste does not follow from the claim that we cannot prove the beauty of a thing using concepts.

And, yes, judgments of taste do have an inherent claim to universality, as you point out, but that claim to universality is also justified, according to Kant. It’s a mistake to think that the claim to universal validity contains an implication that judgment of taste does NOT have such validity.

 Aurelio: To what great fortune do I owe this dialogue we’re having?  I have tried to ask people about Kant’s aesthetics before & have been unable to get a reply.  Now that you’re here, I’d like to thank you for the time.

Okay, so Kant is not arguing for an aesthetic relativism & what he writes confirms this:

 (§ 57) Solution of the antinomy of Taste: …The judgement of taste must refer to some concept; otherwise it could make absolutely no claim to be necessarily valid for every one. But it is not therefore capable of being proved from a concept; because a concept may be either determinable or in itself undetermined and undeterminable. The concepts of the Understanding are of the former kind; they are determinable through predicates of sensible intuition which can correspond to them. But the transcendental rational concept of the supersensible, which lies at the basis of all sensible intuition, is of the latter kind, and therefore cannot be theoretically determined further.

[…] the judgement of taste is based on a concept (viz. the concept of the general ground of the subjective purposiveness of nature for the Judgement); from which, however, nothing can be known and proved in respect of the Object, because it is in itself undeterminable and useless for knowledge. Yet at the same time and on that very account the judgement has validity for every one (though of course for each only as a singular judgement immediately accompanying his intuition); because its determining ground lies perhaps in the concept of that which may be regarded as the supersensible substrate of humanity.”

From what The Curator has pointed-out & Kant seems to be saying is that there is a kind of “justification” for the claim to universality & that it is not arbitrary, but it does not present itself easily.  It is (oddly enough) a concept, but one that is “the transcendental rational concept of the supersensible, which lies at the basis of all sensible intuition.”

Now that we (may) have found a common ground, (untrammeled) I’ll continue to ask: can we agree to acknowledge a diversity of opinion & or taste?  Are we the unable to accept a difference of taste?  Should we all agree the same thing is beautiful or ugly?  Does my taste have to be the same as yours?  Perhaps these questions are restrained by Kant’s presumed specificity, orthodoxy & parochialism, or invalidated by his antinomy of taste.  Yet I’m of the mind to see Kant as an authority on aesthetical  convolutions & am always willing to bend for my own views, while allowing for the good/bad taste of others.  I’d be happy to read anymore of The Curator’s response & to thank him/her again for the fine Kantian clarifications. 

 Aurelio Madrid

3 thoughts on “kant addenda

  1. I think a way to account for empirical divergence in taste while remaining in Kant’s circumstances is to allow a fair bit of perversion in our response to beauty. Kant supposes that an input which has universal cognitive effects will cause similarly universal judgment. The sublime complicates this entirely, but the plain ugly should as well, and in turn the interactions between sublimity, beauty and ugliness (if we are going to leave ourselves with only these few notions). Now it’s clear that Kant regards these categories as those which cause the certain effects of experiencing pleasure at encountering, etc, but if we abstract slightly and assert that there are existing particles of beauty with cause internal effects of a certain order, then perhaps I can like or dislike this certain effect or like certain amounts of the effect as they occur in relation to other amounts.

    1. “One evening I pulled beauty down on my knees, I found her embittered & I cursed her.” –Rimbaud


      …located a moment & solidified a response to the visit. The didactic nature of your message has not been forfeited, or squandered. As I’ve already mentioned (via twitter & elsewhere) I’m sitting beside Heidegger’s essay: The Origin of the Work of Art. Surprised by its poetry, I’ll see it as an adventure well heeded. In its mist is an older (antique: MDCCLIV/1854) copy of Hume’s: Of the standard of Taste. I’m thinking (I pray) I’ll have something to say from that too.

      Bourdieu should not be eliminated as I move forward. I’ll push aside doubt (possibly (& I mean only as a possibility) without my own fragile & vainglorious results). Attach to this that his approach understandably is not any less studious & so we might have a tragicomic rupture all the same.

      As a true teacher (& friend) you’ve taken my conclusions to a remarkable lesson: give Kant back to his shelf & invigorate the argument with another voice, one who could be resonant to my needs, in my circumstances.

      Thank you,

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