Friday, March 27, 2009

Notes On Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Judgment" (1790), for Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi

Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi sends me this:

I'm supposed to give a lecture tomorrow on Kant's "Critique of Judgment," but I have a plane to catch and won't have time to read it, so I was wondering if you could provide me with a summary of the work.

Nabil al-Tasnimi

Well, here's what I had time to put together. Hope this helps:

First Book: Analytic of the Beautiful

In his first critique, Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) lays the empirical foundations for a comprehensive theory of knowledge. In the second critique, Critique of Practical Reason (1788), he presents a moral philosophy built upon the theoretical foundations laid in the first work. The third critique, Critique of (Aesthetic) Judgment (1790), is his critique of the aesthetical, or “judicial,” in which he seeks to accomplish two major tasks: first, to bridge the chasm between the theoretical knowledge of the first book and the practical knowledge of the second book through a third, intermediary legislate, which he calls “judgment”; and, second, to reconcile the subjectivity of aesthetic experience with a priori, communal standards of taste (sensus communis), which are based predominately on feelings of pleasure and displeasure. Before we jump into the argument, let me first clarify some of Kant’s more important terms.

First, there are the two kinds of judgment: determinant judgment and reflective judgment. Determinant judgment belongs to the understanding, and refers to a given universal concept. Reflective judgment belongs to the faculty of judgment, and refers to no given universal concept. In reflective judgment, the imagination is required to invent any corresponding universal concept.

The latter type, reflective judgment, is further divided into three kinds: systemic (dealing with a priori systems such as mathematics), teleological (dealing with end- and purpose-related judgments), and aesthetical (dealing with purposeless judgments). The aesthetic type is further divided into two kinds, the beautiful and the sublime.

There are also the mental faculties, which Kant divides into knowledge, feeling and desire. The first, knowledge, is regulated by the understanding, which, as mentioned above, is “the faculty of cognition under universal rules.” The second type of mental faculty, feeling, is regulated by judgment, which is “the faculty of thinking the particular as subsumed under the universal.” The third type is desire, which is regulated by reason. Kant defines desire as “the faculty of determining the particular by the universal.”

The terms purpose and purposiveness appear frequently in Kant’s argument, and are defined thus: purpose is “the concept of an object so far as it contains the ground for the existence of the object,” while purposiveness is “the agreement of an object with the arrangement that is possible only according to purposes.”

As stated above, there are two kinds of judgments, determinant and reflexive, the former having a fixed concept to which it refers, the latter having none. Of the reflexive type, there are four possible judgments: the agreeable, the beautiful, the sublime, and the good. The agreeable involves only sensory perception. The good involves ethics, and therefore is limited to moral judgment. The remaining two― the beautiful and the sublime― are the two aesthetic judgments, and exist somewhere in between the two polar coordinates, the agreeable (a posteriori) and the good (a priori). Kant oxymoronically calls these two aesthetic judgments “subjective universals.” Because they are neither teleological (i.e., concerned with ends or purposes) nor bound to logical reasoning or fixed aesthetic notions, they are subjective; and because the judgments are formed within the sensus communis (or community of taste), they are, to some extent, universal.

The beautiful has the three following characteristics: a wholeness of design, a creative intent (which is to be distinguished from teleological “purposefulness”), and a “form of finality.” By contrast, the sublime, which Kant elaborates on in the second half of this critique, lacks this wholeness, possessing instead an infiniteness of degree. Being infinite, the sublime is therefore beyond the bounds of our finite comprehension, and thus evokes in us a kind of fear or awe that is not experienced through the observation of beauty.

As Raman Selden points out, Kant’s argument marked a shift away from the reader’s response and subjectivity toward a “concern with the internality of the work itself” (377). To my mind, however, it seems that Kant is more concerned with the experience of art as noumenal phenomenon (i.e. the processes of the perceiving mind) than he is with the internal components and structure of the art itself.

To review, for an object to be beautiful, the following conditions must be met: the work must not have any corresponding concept or preconceived notion; each judgment must be treated as particular and singular (i.e. no logical generalizations); the work is not to be judged “in terms of an external purpose” (though it may have internal purposiveness, or what he calls “purposiveness without purpose”). By this logic, then, Selden concludes, “all neoclassical external canons of beauty are likewise of no value, for they posit an external standard on purpose” (377). In essence, Kant is liberating the work of art from the classical idea of mimesis, which holds that the representation is to be judged, at least in part, by its likeness to the object of imitation. (To be continued . . .)

[For an English translation of Kant's essay see J.H. Bernard’s 1931 translation (second edition), which is included in The theory of criticism from Plato to the present : a reader / edited and introduced by Raman Selden. Imprint London ; New York : Longman, 1988.]


TofuUnion said...

Did you write the summary by yourself ? Well done !
After all, Kant's critiques were about three questions :

1. What can we know ?
2. What should we do ?
3. What can we hope ?


Anonymous said...

Here is an outline of the rest of his argument.

The First Moment: Of the Judgment of Taste, According to Quality


The Judgment of Taste is Aesthetical

Reference to Feeling


Empirical-Objective Representation

Empirical-Aesthetical Representation

Conscious Balance (of the faculties of imagination (representations) and understanding (concepts)

Rational Aesthetical

“The judgment of taste is therefore not a judgment of cognition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical, by which we understand that whose determining ground can be no other than subjective” (379)


The Satisfaction Which Determines the Judgment of Taste is Distinterested

Interest: Must be devoid of all interest

Lack of interest (in its purpose, having existence, function)

The important question: Does it please in its pure representation?

Impartiality (free of partiality, desire to possess)

Impurity: any judgment that incites desire ceases to be a “judgment of taste” and becomes a “judgment of the pleasant”

No favoring; no dependence on the usefulness of the thing can be admitted: “It is quite plain that in order to say that the object is beautiful, and to show that I have taste, everything turns on the meaning which I can give to this representation, and not on any factor which makes me dependent on the real existence of the object. Every one must allow that a judgment on the beautiful which is tinged with the slightest interest, is very partial and not a pure judgment of taste. One must not be in the least prepossessed in favour of the real existence of the thing, but must preserve complete indifference in this respect, in order to play the part of judge in matters of taste” (tr. James Creed Meredith)3


The Satisfaction in the Pleasant is Bound Up With Interest

The pleasant: “The pleasant is what pleases the senses in sensation” (Zunjic)

Argument: All satisfaction is pleasant

Ambiguity: Two types of the sensual (sensation and reflective)









The Satisfaction in the Good is Bound Up With Interest

The Good: “The good is what pleases by means of reason through concepts” (Zunjic)

Two kinds of Good: Instrumental Good and Intrinsic Good





Simplified Structure


Distinguishing Good from Pleasant





Comparison of the Three Specifically Different Kinds of Satisfaction


Contemplation: The beautiful is not contingent upon desire. Rather, judgment of taste is contemplative.


Animality - Rationality






The Pleasant, the Beautiful, and the Good. “We may say that, of all these three kinds of satisfaction, that of taste in the beautiful is alone a disinterested and free satisfaction; for no interest, either of sense or of reason, here forces our assent” (381).

Conclusion (First Moment). Explanation of the Beautiful Resulting from the First Moment: “Taste is the faculty of judging of an object or a method of representing it by an entirely disinterested satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The object of such satisfaction is called beautiful” (380)

The Second Moment: Of the Judgment of Taste, According to Quantity


The Beautiful Is That Which Apart from Concepts is Represented as the Object of a Universal Satisfaction




Universality of judgment, which is aesthetical and not logical: “For since it [the reader’s satisfaction] does not rest on any inclination of the subject (nor upon any other premeditated interest), but since the person who judges feels himself quite free as regards the satisfaction which he attaches to the object, he cannot find the ground of this satisfaction in any private conditions connected with his own subject, and hence it must be regarded as grounded on what he can presuppose in every other person” (381).4

Sensus Communis: Judgment of taste is personal, subjective; however, it “must claim validity for every man, without this universality depending on objects. That is, there must be bound up with it a title to subjective universality.”


Comparison of the Beautiful With the Pleasant and the good By Means of the Above Characteristic

The pleasant: personal, each has own taste

The beautiful: collectively agreed upon

“rules” for art impossible: “Thus we say of a man who knows how to entertain his guests with pleasures (of enjoyment for all the senses), so that they are all pleased, ‘he has taste.’ But here the universality is only taken comparatively; and there emerge rules which are only general (like all empirical ones), and not universal, which latter the judgment of taste upon the beautiful undertakes or lays claim to” (382).

Private Feeling

“Permissible” Variations

Judging for Everyone


Presupposing Sameness




Empirical Taste


The Universality of the Satisfaction is Represented as Subjective

“subjective universality”

“In respect of logical quantity, all judgments of taste are singular judgments” (382). Inferring from one’s roses beauty that all roses are beautiful is not an aesthetic judgment, “but a logical judgment based on an aesthetical one” (382).

The judgment that “the rose is pleasant” is aesthetical and singular, yet it is “not a judgment of taste but of sense.” This statement has no “aesthetic quality of universality” (i.e., a “validity for everyone”), whereas the statement about the rose’s beauty does.

Not dependent on concept: “If we judge objects merely according to concepts, then all representation of beauty is lost” (383).

(categories: logical, aesthetical, satisfaction, universality, purposefulness, has concept)

The Good:

The Pleasant:

The Beautiful:




General Validity


Logical Status




Second Simplified Model


Individual Request for Universal Assent

Universal Voice

Explanation: “The universal is that which pleases universally without requiring a concept.”

Conclusion (of the Second Moment). Explanation of the Beautiful Resulting from the Second Moment: “The beautiful is that which pleases universally without requiring a concept” (384).

The Third Moment— Of Judgments of Taste, According to the Relation of the Purposes Which Are Brought Into Consideration in Them


Purposiveness in General


Definition: Purpose, Concept, Purposiveness

Final Purpose

Forma Finalis



Without Purpose

Purposive Worlds: Subjective Purpose (Pleasant); Objective Purpose (Good); No Purpose (Beautiful)



The Judgment of Taste is Based on the Form of Purposiveness

Absence of Purpose


Determining Ground


The Judgment of Taste Nothing at its Basis But the Form of the Purposiveness of an Object or of its Mode of Representation


The Pure Judgment of Taste is Independent of Charm and Emotion


Elucidation by Means of Examples

Two types of aesthetical judgments: empirical (asserts either pleasantness of unpleasantness; formed through sense) and pure (assert “beauty of an object or of the manner of representing it”; formal, strict judgment of taste).






Framing the Frame



The Judgment of Taste is Quite Independent of the Concept of Perfection


The Judgment of Taste, By Which an Object is Declared to be Beautiful Under the Condition of a Definite Concept, Is Not Pure

Free beauty (pulchritudo vaga) and dependent beauty (pulchritudo adhaerens).

Music, as it refers to nothing and has no concepts to which it must adhere, is a “free beauty.” “The first is called the (self-subsistent) beauty of this or that thing; the second, as dependent upon a concept (conditioned beauty), is ascribed to objects which come under the concept of a particular purpose” (387).

“Flowers are free natural beauties,” writes Kant. Also, “many birds . . . and many sea shells area beauties, in themselves, which do not belong to any object determined in respect of its purpose by concepts, but please freely and in themselves” (387). As for creations of man which fit this category, “we can refer to the same class what are called in music fantasies (i.e. pieces without any theme), and in fact all music without words.”

“But human beauty (i.e. of a man, a woman, or a child), the beauty of a horse, or a building (be it church, palace, arsenal, or summer house), presupposes a concept of the purpose which determines what the thing is to be, and consequently a concept of its perfection; it is therefore adherent beauty” (387).


Of the Ideal of Beauty

No “rules” or “ideal” possible: “To seek for a principle of taste which shall furnish, by means of definite concepts, a universal criterion of the beautiful is fruitless trouble, because what is sought is impossible and self-contradictory” (388).

Polemic with Hume:







Ideal of the Beautiful

Conclusion: Explanation of the Beautiful Derived from This Third Movement: “Beauty is the form of the purposiveness of an object, so far as this is perceived in it without any representation of a purpose” (390).

Fourth Moment: Judgment of Taste According to Modality




Second Book: Analytic of the Sublime

Anonymous said...

Never seen such shameless self-promotion. Write a new article, for Christ's sake!

-Ian Hogarth

Dr. Vladimir Kutznutzov said...

Dearest Face,

You are indeed quite a wonder - you're writing in the future now!


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