Thursday, February 11, 2016


I thought I might slip in a somewhat "technical" philosophy post, since I'm blogging every day this month and those of you not interested in such things can just hold on until tomorrow. Today, I'm going to say a bit about Kant, and a tiny little thing that has been nagging about his Critique of Judgment for years now.  Full disclosure: I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a "Kant scholar." I teach Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals every semester, I know that text like the back of my hand, and I was trained in a "pluralist" undergraduate program (UMemphis) and "Continental/historical" graduate programs (Villanova and Penn State)... but none of that makes me anything more than well-educated reader of Kant.

Anyway, in the Critique of Judgment, after explicating the four moments in the Analytic of the Beautiful (quality, quantity, relation and modality), Kant remarks in his “General Comment” that his preceding analyses all come down to “the concept of taste, namely, that taste is an ability to judge an object in reference to the free lawfulness of the imagination.”[1]   The effect of the “General Comment” is to underscore the clam that this operation of the “free lawfulness of the imagination,” which is necessary for a judgment of taste, is synonymous with the operation of “purposiveness without a purpose.” Only where the understanding serves the imagination, and not vice versa, are judgments of the beautiful possible. The “General Comment” reinforces this relation by systematically eliminating other considerations of “purposiveness” or “lawfulness,” most notably utility, teleology, regularity, and intentionality.[2] I think this raises an interesting interpretive question: viewed from the perspective of the concluding “General Comment,” is there a “privileged” moment in the Analytic of the Beautiful?

The first two moments, quantity and quality, constitute the “mathematical” characteristics of a judgment of taste and, as such, comprise the “what” of a judgment of taste. That is, the mathematical moments describe the structural configuration of a judgment of taste: what it is (a liking) and to what it applies (the universal assembly of judging persons). In complement, the third and fourth moments of the Analytic, relation and modality, constitute the “dynamical” characteristics, and comprise the “how” of a judgment of taste, its purposiveness and necessity. Taken together, the four moments of the Analytic constitute the logical whole of a judgment of taste. These moments describe a judgment of taste in its most general features and are indispensable to, though not always fully adequate for, an analysis of any particular judgment of taste.[3]

It seems clear from the “General Comment,” to my mind anyway, that these four moments of the Analytic are not, technically speaking, to be merely “understood.” The crucial operative faculty in a judgment of taste is the imagination and, more importantly, the imagination considered in its freedom. (If it were the sensibility, the aesthetic judgment would be only of the agreeable. If it were the understanding, the judgment would be of the good.) The only way to preserve all four moments in their interdependence is for judgments of taste to be within the specific operational domain of the imagination, what Kant calls a free lawfulness. “Free” lawfulness, unlike the lawfulness of the understanding, is lawfulness without a law, a “free and indeterminately purposive entertainment of the mental powers.”[4]   When the imagination is considered in its freedom, the understanding gives up its preeminent place in the ordering of things, without human cognition losing order altogether. Whereas the understanding provides objective harmony, the imagination (in a judgment of taste) provides subjective harmony, that is, a pleasurable ordering of the subjective faculties without an over-arching rule to that order. For Kant, the absence of a determinate principle for this purposiveness is what distinguishes it from orders accomplished by way of the understanding, such as utility, intentionality, or regularity.

Given the significance of the imagination considered in its freedom, or “free lawfulness,” for a judgment of taste, a reconsideration of the four moments of the Analytic shows that they do not all enjoy equal importance. The first moment (quality), which determines a judgment of taste as one that involves a liking, must first make a further distinction from other aesthetic judgments (the agreeable, the good) by insisting on a complete lack of interest. The second moment (quantity), which determines that a judgment of taste is universal, must first make a further distinction from other cognitive judgments (conceptual universals) by insisting that a judgment of taste cannot be subsumed by a concept. The fourth moment (modality), which determines that a judgment of taste is necessary, must also first make a further distinction from logical judgments (apodictic) by insisting that a judgment of taste assumes the condition of common sense. Only the third moment, which determines that a judgment of taste involves “purposiveness without a purpose,” appears to be unique to the analysis of the taste.

I think the third moment presages, and in many ways mirrors, the “General Comment.” Kant even explicitly notes the affiliation between purposiveness without a purpose and free lawfulness. Both involve a kind of subjective ordering that is neither logical (objective) nor determinable (conceptual). Rather, both operations evidence an operation of freedom that is within the realm of possible human experience or that is, for lack of a better term, cognizable (in the broadest sense of the term, involving all the faculties of cognition). Free lawfulness or purposiveness without a purpose both includes all of the senses of ordering involved in the concepts of law or purpose (utility, telos, intention, regularity, appropriateness) and at the same time eclipse the concepts of law or purpose by not being bound to them. Within the purposiveness of the imagination, one may experience the (cognitive) pleasure of a rule satisfied, or freedom properly exercised, without actually having conformed to a rule. As Kant notes in the section “On Purposiveness in General,” purposiveness without a purpose can affect the subject in the same way as both forma finalis and nexus finalis.[5]   Yet, a judgment of taste is not bound in the same way as forma finalis or nexus finalis insofar as it bases itself on merely the form of purposiveness of an object, or “the way of presenting it.”[6]

Although Kant claims that the answer to the question [7]  posed in §9 is the “key to the critique of taste,” this claim in fact seems to redouble the privilege of the third moment (and not the second, which includes §9). For it is in §9 that Kant claims that the subjective condition of universal communicability, which is the condition for the possibility of all judgments of taste, must itself assume “the mental state in which we are when imagination and understanding are in free play.”[8]   That is, everything is dependent upon the free play of the subjective presentational powers, which is possible only by virtue of the imagination considered in its freedom, or free lawfulness. Inasmuch as the free lawfulness of the imagination is coterminous with purposiveness without a purpose (the third moment of a judgment of taste), ought we not infer that the “relational” moment of the Analytic is, pace Kant, the key to the critique of taste?

It is in the third moment of relation that Kant elaborates the complex role of freedom in judgments of taste, the element that will finally distinguish them either from judgments of the beautiful or of the agreeable. It will be the very unique relation of freedom, unconstrained by concept or object, a relationship between subjective presentational powers, which will come to characterize the beautiful.

Anyway, so that's been bothering me for a while.

[1] Critique of Judgment, 91. (citations refer to page numbers in the Pluhar edition) 
[2] CJ, 92-93. 
[3] It seems to me that, for Kant, any analysis of any particular judgment of taste is troublesome. I suspect this may be true because judgments of taste are first and foremost subjective experiences, and the experience of the subject is more essential than the content of the judgment. As a result, any attempt to objectively determine a judgment of taste—from a third person perspective, for example, as Kant offers in his anecdotes—necessarily circumvents the primary operation involved in a judgment of taste, i.e. the subjective harmony of cognitive faculties. If one gives an example of a particular judgment of taste, one runs a double risk: either one is over-determining taste (as a concept) or one is overly-dependent upon an determined object (as an exemplar). In both cases, from the third person perspective, the understanding usurps the freedom and authority of the imagination for the sake of determining a particular example of taste.
[4] CJ, 93. 
[5] CJ, 65. 
[6] CJ, 66. 
[7] “Investigation of the Question of Whether in a Judgment of Taste the Feeling of Pleasure Precedes the Judging of the Object or the Judging Precedes the Pleasure” 
[8] CJ, 62.

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