Philosophy of the Arts


Making Sense of Kant’s Ideal of Beauty.

On Exemplary Art as the Symbol of Morality.

According to Kant the experience of knowledge of the world depends on the categories of our understanding and the forms of our intuition. What exceeds this experience, the supersensible, comes in two guises: either as the substrate of appearances, the thing in itself; or as the moral law within us. Metaphysics is one way to deal with this transcendentally unknowable: a centrifugal effort to look at the world from a God’s eye point of view.1 Art is, I think, the other: a centripetal effort to deal with the supersensible from our own point of view. In what follows, I shall be concerned with the second project only. As scholars of Kant’s philosophical aesthetics, we tend both to stress the issue of aesthetic judgements’ claim to universal validity, and to neglect the sheer intimacy of our encounters with beauty or artistic merit. The question is: how can we claim a universal validity to something as private as our encounter with a beautiful work of art? Dangers lurk in this corner: is the judgement of beauty merely an expression of personal preference? No, it isn’t. Should we be subjectivist relativists? I don’t think so. Kant perceived his challenge as having to address the subjectivity of beauty without giving up its assent to universal validity. Approaching the intimacy of aesthetic judgement without giving up the search for a notion of correctness motivates my present discussion of Kant’s centripetal effort to think the analogy of art (sic) to morality. (…)
‘On Exemplary Art as the Symbol of Morality. Making Sense of Kant’s Ideal of Beauty.’ In: Kant und die Berliner Aufklärung. Akten des IX. Kant Kongresses, Bd. 3, 553-62, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2001.
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